Family and Friends
Memories of Mervyn Upton
28th August, 1930 ~ 29th November, 2012
The House and Peacock Families
Great Grandmother Louise Fussell married a man surnamed Peacock.
Great-great Uncle Isaac Fussell died in the 1900s, whilst a Chelsea Pensioner…mother remembers seeing him. A family story suggested that he was in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1845 Crimean War). However, when we checked The Cavalry Museum, Winchester, a kindly, retired colonel produced the battle roll and his name was not on there. Later we heard there was a family called Fussell, living in the Bedminster area, who were Farriers. Was Isaac Fussell a farrier with the Light Brigade? If so he was much too valuable a man to risk his life in combat, except in the most extreme emergencies.
Great Grandmother Peacock
Great Grandmother Peacock had a large family only a few of which I met or heard of ~ Polly, Alice, Bessie, Fred, Sid, Albert, Louise (my grandmother), and Jin (Charlotte Jane). Some of these will be mentioned later. Great Grandmother lived into her nineties and I remember seeing her twice…a very old lady, huddled by the fire wearing a shawl at Grandma’s and in bed at the house of Aunt Jin.
Grandmother - Louisa Annetta & Grandfather - Alfred House
My Grandmother, Louisa Annetta, and my Grandfather, Alfred House were both born in 1878 and married in about 1900. Grandfather was a tinsmith by trade. They lived in many different houses but the address I remember is
46 Bedford Street, which was off Claremont Street in the Stapleton Road area. During World War I, Grandfather worked for Avro at Hamble. Later, he was largely unemployed but, during World War II, did casual work as a driver’s mate for Hodges and Son. The firm, originally furniture removers, used their pantechnicans for moving aircraft parts around the country from sub-contractors to production lines. In 1942, I was taken on one of the journeys. First we visited the factory of Parnall & Sons in Filwood Road Fishponds, to collect fins for Short Stirling Bombers. We drove to South Marston, 4 miles NE of Swindon, an aerodrome and factory originally built for Phillips & Powis (who built Miles aircraft) but taken over by Short Brothers after their Rochester factory was bomber in 1940. At the entrance gate, Grandpa and the driver showed their special security passes but would I be allowed to enter as I had no pass?...No problem. Soon we were on the airfield’s perimeter track passing parked aeroplanes (Supermarine Walruses?) until we came to a large hanger which we entered to unload. Here we were given cheese sandwiches and cups of tea. Outside, a Miles master tested its engine…my first visit to an aerodrome but certainly not the last.
Grandpa House poured his tea from his cup into a saucer from which he drank. Naturally, I wanted to follow suit but this was strictly forbidden. Unknowingly, I was learning a great truth – there’s one law for some but a different one for others!!
Grandmother was an attender at Kensington Baptist Tabernacle (as it was then called). She enjoyed meetings at other establishments besides Kensington and regularly attended Women’s ‘Bright Hour’ at Salem Methodist Church, Wesley Methodist Church and The Central hall. Alcoholic drinks and playing cards (Devil’s tools she called them) were banned from her home. She was a hypochondriac and must have visited all the doctors on Stapleton Road. In her younger days, one of them was W G Grace.
In 1938, aged 60, she decided to become wheelchair bound and so was pushed everywhere. However, when war broke out in 1939, the chair was abandoned and not required for the final 20 years of her life.
She was always kind to me and twice in my life, when aged about 4 and 12, when Mother was ill, I stayed with her and was well looked after. During my second spell there, Sunday breakfast was always sausages, freshly delivered by a buxom young friend, Sylvia, who worked in a sausage factory.
I remember, in pre-school days, being taken to various ‘Bright Hours’. Salem was the best as they served iced cakes and one was mine if I behaved well. When at college and in the RAF, she regularly wrote to me and, occasionally, sent a parcel.
Grandfather, as previously mentioned, was regularly unemployed. He was a non-church attender but a regular at The Claremont Tavern. He was a life-long supporter of Bristol Rovers, attending their matches until he was about 80. When he had arguments with Grandmother, he referred to her as a ‘Ly’on Whelk’! When small, if I was misbehaving, he threatened to take off his belt (he was a belt and braces man) but, of course, he never did. However, there was something done to me that I hated and terrified me. He would lift me up until my head touched the ceiling. Is this why I later had a fear of heights?
Grandfather and Grandmother died within a month of each other in February and March 1959. They had five children ~ Ernest Alfred, May Louise (mother), Frederick (died in childhood), Ruby Elsie and Grace Beatrice.
During the 1930s, grapes were expensive luxuries and were seldom seen except in the bedroom of the sick.
It was Harvest Festival at EPMC and Mother was sick (nervous breakdown ?1934). Nothing arrived for her from the church so, when she recovered, she wished to know what had happened to her grapes! Inquiries were made and someone stated that grapes were packed and labelled ‘to Mrs May Upton’. Later someone else stated that they had delivered them to Mrs May Upton in Herbert Street. Mother then lived in Marlborough Street. They had been delivered to Auntie May who was not sick! To her dying day, Mother never forgot the incident of HER grapes.
Mother’s war work was knitting – socks, pullovers, scarves for the services. Throughout the city, knitting groups were formed, organised by the Bristol Evening World newspaper who supplied the wool.
Mother’s group was ‘The Ladies of Eastville Labour Party’ – led by Mrs Connell, one of the formidable lady members who lived in Berkeley Street and Coombe Road.
Mother always attached her name and address to the garment and often received letters of thanks from this country and occasionally from overseas.
Three men - Reg, Colston and Cecil – corresponded regularly. After the birth of my sister, Reg ceased writing – he must have thought Mother to be much older. After demobilization, we had a single visit from Colston (who lived near Newfoundland Road) but Cecil, who lived in Redding Road, Eastville, for many years, was an occasional visitor to 336.
Mother always wanted a ‘percolator’. At last one of us gave her a coffee percolator of which she as very proud and it was shown to all her friends and relatives. It was given a special prominent place on the sideboard in the front room at 336 Fishponds Road. It was never used for making coffee!
Grandfather Upton and Eastville Park
Grandpa Alfred Upton married his fiancée, Annie Preece c1890 to make himself eligible for the post of the first Park-ranger. Previously, the land had been part of the estate of Ridgeway House (demolished in 1938). My father and his brothers and sisters were born in the Park House.
In the 1900s, a lake was constructed – a job creation scheme for the unemployed.
In … the boat house was burnt down by suffragettes. Father was sent to unlock the park gate for the firemen but, when he arrived, he discovered that the park gates had been knocked down. Grandpa was not pleased!!
Grandfather had the reputation for obtaining obedience and good behaviour from children and young people using the park. One day, two cyclists, seeking revenge, encountered Grandpa crossing Fishponds Road…
”There’s old Upton – let’s give him a scare.”
They sped towards him but came a little too close. Grandpa stretched put his arms and knocked them off their machines.
Photographs exist of the movement of tree trunks by a team of six horses, Grandpa superintending the rescue of two men from the roof of the boathouse where they sought refuge from a flash flood and the placing of a cannon facing Eastville Boys’ School.
Father attended that school and, during World War 1, two refugee boys from Belgium became pupils. Their long hair attracted the attention of those who delighted in pulling it. To catch the culprits, the Headmaster requested that a member of staff should hide in a plantation to record the names of the miscreants. That day, father was not one of them!
Grandfather retired in 1929 and died in 1936. He was replaced by Mr Lennard.
Father had sentences he often repeated…
“Wass wanna say that about I for?”
“Theese always on to I, never on to ‘e’ ”(I was ‘e’)
“Let I get at ‘em.”
and his firm’s motto…
“Let ‘um wait.”
Frequently he used an adjective beginning with the letter ‘b’.
When I used it I received a smack or was sent to bed early, sometimes receiving both!
Father was repairing the roof of the garden shed at 336 Fishponds Road when the steps, on which he was standing, slipped. Hearing the swearing, Mother and I rushed into the garden to see his arms supporting him on the cross beams. His legs could be seen dangling and his head poked over the top yelling obscenities. The more we laughed, the more he swore until, at last, we recovered sufficiently to replace the steps beneath him.
Father liked to prepare the supper cups of cocoa. One day there was a great crash followed by swearing. Mother and I rushed out to the kitchen to discover that the indoor drying rack had fallen and was resting on Father’s shoulders with his swearing head visible above. Again, our laughter produced more swearing.
While on holiday in Weymouth, Father asked Mother, Carole and me if we would like an ice-cream. Carole and I accepted but Mother refused. Nevertheless, he purchased 4. A row (in public) broke out so Father threw Mother’s ice-cream into the gutter. The intensity of the row and the noise engendered was embarrassing to one child and frightening to the other. If wealth came to me, perhaps the event should be commemorated with a large ice-cream cone monument at the junction of The Promenade and King Street (West side).
Hunt the sugar!
Mother thought Father was greedy and so sugar was rationed. This was not during the war-rime years of shortage but in the plentiful sixties.
Mother always put the sugar into Father’s tea – a level spoonful. Before bed she would leave three spoonsful in the bowl – two for Father’s breakfast and one for her early cup of tea she had in bed. The rest, in its packet, was carefully hidden. Sometimes Father found it and was not sufficiently careful about sealing it or exactly replacing it in its hiding place. This led to another row! Some mornings, Father would put so little sugar in Mother’s in-bed cup that she would complain that it was like drinking poison! Father always made the evening cocoa and would, if possible, manage to consume the mixture of cocoa powder, milk and sugar. Sometimes, Mother would creep out into the kitchen to attempt to catch him in the act. Another row!
Father and his brothers, Ray and Percy, were keen footballers and played for Eastville Park United Methodist Church XI. One year the team won two local competitions and Father was proud to own two medals. I believe Percy played a few games for Bristol Rovers Reserves. Much later, a team mate of Father told me he was the worst member of the team but ‘poached’ goals. Father would relate details of a game played at St Philips Marsh, a notorious, rough area. Injury prevented him being a member of the team but one player failed to appear so Father played in normal clothes. Towards the end of the game, with the score 0-0, his team forced a corner kick. The goal keeper told a full back to mark Father. He replied that father was no good, had no kit and was on the field to make up the numbers. The ball came over and reached Father who slammed it into the back of the net. The goal keeper and full back then exchanged blows.
Unlike the Conservative Party, the Labour Party does not reward its volunteer workers with National Honours such as the CBE, OBE and MBE. Instead, there is their own honour that is seldom awarded.
In 1972, father was rewarded with the ‘Certificate of Merit for Outstanding Voluntary Service’ for about 40 years of work for the Party. The other recipient known to me is Miss Clare Elsbury, aunt of Brian and David.
Uncle Ern attended St Gabriel’s Boys School and, when he left, attained employment at Mardon and Sons for the rest of his working life. In his younger days, he belonged to various organisations ~ Boy Scouts, Church Lads’ Brigade, Broad Plain Club. About 1928, he married Bertha Honey but they had no children. It was understood that, if my parents died, I was to live with them and I’m sure I would have had a loving, stable second home. Uncle Ern learned gardening from Father and became a good, enthusiastic allotment holder. In 1938, both decided to join the Auxiliary Fire Service to be prepared should war break out. On Sunday 25th November, 1940 he was fighting fires in the Bristol Docks area with bombs falling around him. As he later said, he did not expect to see the light of day.
He had been a member of Mardons’ Gymnastic Club and I remember (pre-war) going to view an Open Evening performance. To Mother, he was the perfect man and forwarded as an example to Father and me. However, he eventually fell from his pedestal when it was revealed that he did drink and he was not a printer (with credentials) but merely a machine minder.
He died in his early 90s having lived at 35 St Werburghs Road all his married life.
Auntie Ruby was an enigma. Born in 1912, she, like her sisters, became a tailoress. She was a keen Girl Guide, a member of the St Simon’s Company, where she rose to the rank of Lieutenant. When a vacancy occurred, she transferred to the New Castle Green Company, eventually becoming Captain, maintaining the Company through the difficult early war years. To me she was particularly kind and treated me as if I was the sole boy in the world. In other words, she ‘spoiled me’. In pre-school days, I wanted an elephant egg cup, although I didn’t like eggs. Ruby searched far and wide until she found one…but it had little use. Ruby enjoyed drama and appeared in plays at Kensington and Castle Green. A ‘party piece’ of hers was to dress up as an old woman, Miss Busy. At Grace’s 21st birthday party (more later) she dressed up as Miss Busy and was dared to descend to Stapleton Road and get a policeman to escort her across the road. (In those days police patrolled the road on foot and were regularly observed). It wasn’t long before a policeman appeared and helped the ‘old lady’ across the road, not realising that her real age was 25.
Ruby was popular with everyone but seemed unable to obtain a suitable male. Apparently there was one in the early years of the war, a Royal Marine. He was killed when HMS Dunedin was sunk. Ruby, then approaching 30, tried the old trick of keeping company with an attractive younger woman who could interest the males and perhaps leave someone for her. However, there were changes in her life. Todds the Tailors was bombed and Ruby was unemployed and sought employment as a sorter at the Station Sorting Office, Temple Meads. Here she encountered a soldier from London, John Jones who, after the war lived with her, worked also as a sorter at the Station Sorting Office and eventually they married in 1972.
With the arrival of my sister, Carole, in 1943, Ruby’s attitude to me changed dramatically. Now Carole was the subject of her attention and I was virtually ignored. My parents felt that Ruby was not a good influence but, for the sake of family relationship, nothing was done. Ruby wasted money on ballet dancing lessons for Carole ~ a rip-off.
Later, Ruby obtained promotion in the Post Office and obtained a job for Carole in the office where she worked.
Mother and Carole holidayed in Jersey with Ruby and John in 1955, leaving Father and me at home. For Sunday 29th July, Cambrian Airways was advertising day trips to Jersey so we booked. We flew in Douglas Dakota G-AMSX, my first flight in this famous type of aeroplane.
A time of meeting was arranged at Jersey Bus Station, St Helier. We arrived on time and waited and waited. Father grew impatient and annoyed and was ready to depart but I managed to convince him to wait. The four finally arrived about an hour late with a very lame excuse. Mother and Father had another public row.
Ruby married John Jones when she was 59. They married at Speedwell Methodist Church. Carole was the only bridesmaid and I was best man. Father sulked throughout because he thought he should have been chosen. Uncle Ern gave away the bride and Mother acted as her principal female relative, a position Auntie Bertha attempted to usurp much to Mother’s annoyance. The reception was at Kingswood, in a room much too large for the number of guests attending. Ruby, who I had never known to drink alcohol, was plied with drinks by her workmates so that she became so intoxicated she needed Carole and mother to assist her changing into her going-away outfit.
Mother and Carole regularly holidayed with Ruby and John, usually at the Chelsea Hotel, St Helier, Jersey. When they returned Carole and I would time how long it took for the first row to begin…the record was 2 minutes.
Much later, a major quarrel broke out between my parents and Carole and Janet and I became involved. Ruby, naturally, sided with Carole and after she harangued me in the street, I never spoke to her again. Once we did come face to face in a post office and I was tempted to misquote Shakespeare “I know you not old woman”. Ruby lived into her nineties
Auntie Grace was born in 1916. She was a good singer, had ginger hair and a volatile personality but, often, was very generous. At one time she had a very pleasant boyfriend, Fred Brake, who came from Yeovil but he was dumped although he maintained occasional contact with my grandparents.
I shall never forget Grace’s 21st birthday party in 1937. It was the first adult party I had attended and did n0t go to bed until after midnight. It was held in a two storey flat over a butcher’s shop in Stapleton Road where her friend Christine Jenkins lived. The front, lower room was very large, the width of the shop. In those days, games were played at parties and I especially remember playing ‘Murder’. Somebody produced exploding cigarettes but Father detected something amiss and was not caught out.
Like Ruby, Grace was a member of St Simon’s Girl Guides where she later became a Lieutenant. Again, like Mother and Ruby, she went to St Gabriel’s School and, on leaving, became a tailoress. Her life changed about 1939 when she had appendicitis and, after the operation, was never fully well again.
Auntie Grace was keen to be of use during the war but her ill health reduced her opportunities. She built up a first-aid kit which, fortunately, was only used for slight domestic injuries. She worried that Grandma might go shopping without her gas mask and so she devised a rescue kit that she could quickly don. Several times I was requested to time her preparations. First she fitted her gas mask and then came wellington boots. She wore a black leather coat and an oilskin hood. I wondered how much protection these garments would have given her. Fortunately she was never tested – I think she got the idea from a cigarette card in the Air-raid Precautions series. Later, the leather coat was replaced by a blue rubber-surfaced mackintosh.
In her younger days, Auntie Grace was a good singer and often had success at the Bristol Eisteddfod. She performed, occasionally, at Kensingotn Baptist Tabernacle (now church) and at other religious establishments. Lack of coaching (then referred to as ‘having your voice trained’) and ill-health finally terminated this activity.
I can recall occasions when ladies with less-good voices performed in public (Florence Foster-Jenkins types!):
I was about 8 years old and at a friend’s party – their Auntie Maggie sang…my laughter was rewarded with a smack from Father!
When aged about 14, instead of Sunday School, a circuit youth rally was held at EPMC. One item was a solo by an elderly lady. My friends and I managed to control ourselves but laughter broke out in several parts of the building.
When I was about 17, a new choirmaster was appointed at EPMC and, shortly afterwards, there was a Sunday evening never to be forgotten.
The choir, as their anthem, was singing ‘Hear my Prayer’ by Mendelssohn. The solo, ‘O for the wings of a dove’, was being sung by Mrs B, the choirmaster’s wife. She managed to wobble on all the high notes. In the gallery, handkerchiefs were stuffed into mouths as we enjoyed the experience…she never sang another solo!
This sad experience occurred at EPMC in my early 40s. An old member of the congregation had died and, in her Will, had requested that MH should sing a solo during the next evening service. By now the good lady was aged about 70 and her voice was no longer capable of solo singing. She tried her best but it was an embarrassing experience for all.
B decided to sing at her son’s wedding. She was another lady who, at one time, had a good voice but did not know when to stop singing in public! Sniggers from younger members of the bride’s family could be heard during her performance.
I think a few of the good singers encountered should be recorded:
Uncle Percy Upton / Eileen Tanner (Poole) / Millie Toogood (Boult) / Gordon Toogood / Alan Beck and Harvey Lansley (KAC) / Percy Sledge / Christopher Sledge / Rosalind Sledge (Dyer).
During the war Auntie Grace became a telephone operator for the GPO. Grace was always making friends with other women and, at one time, left home to live with May Smith and her parents. Her health deteriorated, anaemia was diagnosed (was it leukaemia?) she had a stroke, made a partial recovery but died in December 1957 aged 41.
Aunties Ruby and Grace were rivals. One of the objects of their rivalry was me. Ruby was 18 years older than me and Grace 14. After much thought, I can only remember one occasion when the three of us (without others) did something together. When aged about 12, Mother was ill and I went to stay with Grandma and Grandpa House in Bedford Street. Sleeping arrangements were changed – Grandma and Ruby in the front bedroom, Grandpa and me in the middle bedroom and Grace in the small back room. I knew, and had good relations with, contemporary boys in the area (still see one – Bill Coles – regularly).
On a Bank Holiday Monday, both Ruby and Grace were home and, in the afternoon, took me to Durdham Downs – a place I had very rarely visited at the time. The weather was not particularly good so both aunts wore their rubberised mackintoshes. Both had identical designs but Ruby’s was blue and Grace’s brown. After a while they decided to give me another treat so we walked to the Whiteladies Cinema, the first visit there. Unfortunately, I do not remember the films we saw.
Great Uncle Fred
Great Uncle Fred I knew well. In the 1900s he had joined the 2nd Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. After service in Malta he went to India. In 1912, at the time of the ‘Sun Yet Sen’ rising, he was part of the international force sent to China to defend the embassies in Peking. He then saw much service on India’s West Frontier. Descriptions of life there revealed dangerous conditions - at night soldiers never went outside to the toilet on their own - sentries had their rifles chained to them. However, for a few, Indians would be employed to clean huts and equipment and laundry was done by the dhobi wallahs. Uncle Fred was fortunate that his regiment remained in India during World War I so he missed the slaughter on the Western Front. Regular Infantry did not last long. When the third Afghan War broke out in 1919 on May 7th, the 2nd Somerset Light Infantry was hurried though the Khyber Pass in 67 lorries. Hostilities ceased on 3rd June and, for the rest of his life, Uncle Fred regretted that his regiment had not been given the opportunity to reach Kabul.
When he left the army he became a postman, married Auntie Annie and lived at Washington Avenue, Easton. A keen supporter of Bristol Rovers, he had a grandstand season ticket for many years. He died in his late eighties.
Great Uncle Albert
Great Uncle Albert (Our Alb) was poor and usually unemployed. Invariably he wore a cap and muffler. He had three children ~ Verdy (who, pre-war joined the Royal Marines and survived WWII), who I never met, Gabrielle who wore an iron leg and Esme.
Great Uncle Sid
Great Uncle Sid was wealthy and lived in a large house on the side of Worlebury, Weston-Super-Mare. He was always smartly dressed in a suit. Once, in my pre-school days, when Grandma House took me to WSM, we encountered him. He invited us to his home and, on the way there he purchased fancy cakes - those we didn’t eat were given to Grandma to take home. Usually, fancy cakes were obtained on very special days so I thought he must be very rich, a fact confirmed as he was the first person I knew who had flown. He had made the trip to Cardiff from Weston - a service operated by Western Airways. Curiously, in 1950 and 1951, I used the same service then operated by Cambrian Air Services.
Great Aunt Polly
Great Aunt Polly lived in Fishponds Road, near Royate Hill. She had a daughter named Maud.
Grandma House’s youngest sister was Charlotte Jane ~ Aunt Jin. She was a large, kind lady with a personality to match her size. There was much sadness in her life. Her first husband and only child had early deaths and she then married Uncle Bill and had a stable marriage with a quiet, pleasant man who was employed by Fry’s at Somerdale, Keynsham (plenty of chocolate for good boys!).
Aunt Jin gave a home to and then adopted Uncle Bill Busteed’s nephew Bert (more about him later). When she visited the annual Bristol Boys Brigade Camp at Weymouth, she was very popular with the boys of the 9th Company as she brought them chocolate. For several years, pre-war, we would spend a week of our Weymouth holiday with Aunt Jin, Uncle Bill and Bert.
They were happy, lively days. However, Jin was not someone to upset. After tea at an EPMC Sunday School Outing in Weston-Super-Mare, the children present were asked to go outside for a photograph. We all assembled with Bert and me in the front row. Then Old Mother Slade came and stuck her bulk in front of us. Aunt Jin was enraged and threatened to ‘fill in’ OMS who quickly withdrew to the rear.
Sadly, Bert was killed in France in August 1944 and, a few years later, Uncle Bill died. Fate had one more blow for Jin. Mother went to her funeral in Greenbank Cemetery and was heard by the undertaker saying she thought it was the wrong grave. An investigation was made and Mother was proved to be correct so the Home Office had to be sought to exhume Jin and to reinter her in the correct grave.
Bert Busteed had a sad beginning and end to his short life. His father died when he was very young, his mother went into a mental hospital and Bert into a home for orphans until he was rescued by Aunt Jin and Uncle Bill who gave him a home and adopted him. He grew to be a big lad and, when on holiday at Weymouth, he acted as an elder brother to me. He was a keen member of EPMC 9th Company of Bristol Boys Brigade. He became a staff sergeant and had ambitions to become an officer when old enough. Because of his size, he played the big drum in the company band. He left school at 14 and obtained employment with Bristol Co-operative Society in Whitehall Grocery Store ~ at that time, considered to be ‘a good job with prospects’. At the age of 18 he was ‘called up’ and joined the Wiltshire Regiment.
Bert’s last leave was in early June 1944 at the time of the D-Day Landings. After returning to his unit, he was sent to France and was killed in August. What actually happened to him I do not know but an account was read that, during the battle for Caen, the Wiltshire Regiment advanced under heavy shell fire and suffered heavy casualties.
Billy Peacock was Mother’s cousin. As a young man he offered himself as a candidate for Methodist Ministry but was declined, so he was ordained in Moravian Church and went to Labrador to work as a missionary with the Eskimo (Inuit) people. When on furlough, he regularly spoke about his experiences at EPMC.
Finally, two stories about my aunties…
Grandmother promised to take Ruby and Grace to the Vestry Hall, a local fleapit cinema where the fleas had fleas!! First Ruby had to receive a piano lesson so she was told to come to the cinema afterwards as Grandmother would have pay for her. After her lesson, Ruby turned up and explained to the doorman that she had been having a piano lesson and Grandmother had paid for her to attend. “Alright Miss, in you go” she was told. After the film, Ruby waited outside for her mother and Grace. They did not appear so Ruby made her way home. “Where have you been?” said Grandmother and Ruby replied that she had done what she was told - piano lesson then cinema. The answer she received was that Grandmother had changed her mind and decided not to go to the Vestry Hall after Ruby had left for her lesson.
1935 was a bad year. Work was scarce and many firms put their employees on short time so they worked one, two or three days per week. This meant the employees would be available when conditions improved but it was a hard time. The tailoring business was particularly hard hit. Who could afford new clothes? In those days, before I went to school, Mother visited Grandma House twice a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays. After lunch they usually went to a ‘Bright Hour’ either at Salem or Kensington. In those distant days, my grandparent’s only toilet was outside so, under each bed were chamber pots. One unpleasant morning activity was to collect the contents in the slop bucket and dispose of them in the toilet. One day, when we arrived, Grace, on short time, was employed with the slop bucket. Possibly excited by our arrival, descending the stairs, she managed to drop the bucket, emptying the contents. Grandmother was furious and slapped her causing her to cry. I had never seen one grown-up hit another but I was 3 then and Grace was 17.
In the early sixties, mother offered to buy me a motor car. I refused as I was not interested and I also realised the consequences. Carole, then about 18, accepted the offer. She took driving lessons and quickly passed the driving test. Mother purchased a good second-hand black Morris Minor for her. She was delighted but Mother regarded the car as her private taxi and expected to be regularly driven in it. Carole wished to use it for her personal use, often with her boyfriend, Royston (later her husband). This led to a dispute and Carole refused to drive the car. After a few weeks of neglect, Mother decided to sell the car and contacted a dealer (name unknown) to dispose of it for her. The next she heard was that the car had been written-off on the M4 motorway by an employee of the garage who had ‘borrowed it’. He had not insured the car and had no money so there was no chance of obtaining compensation from him. To obtain something from insurance, Mother had to state that she had given permission for the car to be used by the errant employee.
Uncle Ernie Wall
Uncle Ernie Wall was the Downs League Referee and was, for a few times, employed as a linesman at Eastville Stadium.
New Year’s Eve 1938
In February 1938, we moved to 336 Fishponds Road, a much bigger house and, on 31st December, Mother decided to hold a party for the House and Upton families. I believe Ern and Bertha did not attend as Bertha was not very social. For use at teatime, Mother had purchased a dozen attractive table napkins (then usually called serviettes). After tea, she discovered three were missing. Inquiries were made and it was discovered that Grandma Upton was hiding one. The other two were never found. Mother was displeased and disgusted by this petty theft.
As usual, party games were played, popular ones being ‘Murder’ / ‘Family Coach’ / ‘Passing the Ring’ / a quiz. Usually, Percy sang.
One new game appeared for the males–a few went outside, returned blindfolded one at a time and sat in a chair. The others poked, prodded and tickled the victim and Percy, using his shorthand skill, recorded remarks made. Much of Father’s had to be censored before it could be repeated!
Geoffrey was proud of his new microphone and asked if he could attach it to the radio set. He, Eileen, Alan and Raymond then retired to the kitchen to give the family a broadcast. They did well and everyone enjoyed it. At one point the words “Shut your hole” could be heard in a voice resembling Alan’s! Towards the end of the party, I remember standing outside listening to the distant sound of Great George (University Tower, Park Row) striking twelve. What would happen in the new year?...WAR!!
Christmas Day, 1947
Christmas Day, 1947 at 336 Fishponds Road. As a surprise for Carole, John Jones dressed as Father Christmas. He went outside and rang the doorbell and Ruby, in her eagerness, grabbed Carole and rushed to the door without using the hall light. Carole saw only the silhouette of a man using a familiar voice and was surprised when lights appeared and she saw ‘Father Christmas’. It was then suggested that John would visit next door with small gifts for the two small boys who lived there. He rang the bell and a drunken voice shouted “Who’s there?”… “Father Christmas” said John and the reply came “What’s yer game mate?” After a few more words, normality was restored and the boys received their gifts.
My Methodist upbringing, with a Baptist Grandmother, obviously shaped my life. The drinking of alcoholic liquids, smoking, gambling and, later, the use of drugs were all avoided. Temptations came my way but, fortunately, I was able to ignore them. In the RAF this would entail isolation but I was the one who was never completely devoid of cash. Later, my resources enabled me to purchase photographic and cine equipment and to enjoy continental holidays before the arrival of cheap, mass-movement to sunny resorts.
Mother and Father were social drinkers – Christmas, weddings etc when wine was afforded. Father smoked but never at home in the evenings. This had given him a characteristic cough. In his early 60’s he ceased smoking. He, weekly, invested in football pools (never horses) but winnings were very few and Mother frequently reminded him he was providing Littlewood with his Rolls Royce car.
Grandpa regularly attended ‘The Claremont’ for his beer but Grandma would not allow any in the house. He smoked a pipe, often dangerously in bed!
In his younger days (circa 1880) Grandpa Upton had been left £1,000 and four substantial houses (2 in Station Road, Staple Hill). He died virtually penniless despite having full employment as Park Ranger in Eastville Park. The money had been spent on gambling and whiskey.
Grandmother neither drank, smoked or gambled.
In previous years, the Upton family spent one day of Christmas together. After retirement as the Ranger at Eastville Park, Grandpa and Grandma moved into one of his houses in Station Road, Staple Hill.
From 1929 to 1934, these parties consisted of Christmas dinner, tea and supper. Between these events there was chatter and family games. Those attending were Auntie Lily, Uncle Ernie, Geoffrey and Marion, Auntie Frances, Uncle Bert and Raymond Napier, Uncle Reg, Aunt Nell, Eileen and Alan, Uncle Percy, Auntie May and Heather, Father, Mother and me.
One year, in 1933 or 1934, there were two other guests – Mr and Mrs Ashworth (Mr Ashworth was wounded in World War I and brought to Bristol for recovery. Grandma Upton visited him regularly and contact was continued)
Uncle Reg took me to one side and told me not to kick Mrs Ashworth. Why he said this I do not know as I did not kick people…but… the idea was planted and I felt a challenge had been made. I bided my time and, at last, during a scrambly game, I had the opportunity to kick the lady. Nobody seemed to notice so I had succeeded – Uncle Reg…learn a little more child psychology!!
After Grandpa and Grandma Upton left Staple Hill (c1935) Auntie Frances maintained the tradition – the last party being in December 1939.
Kenneth (never Ken) was one of the most memorable characters I ever met.
When a teenager, during World War 1, he would spend time watching the aeroplanes at Filton. He heard there was a scheme whereby officers on leave could obtain a flight at a nearby aerodrome to enable them to realise what could be observed from the air. Kenneth obtained an officer’s uniform and, suitably clad, went to Filton. The policeman at the gate instantly recognised the enthusiastic youngster and said to him “You don’t expect me to salute you dressed like that. If you go lad, I hope you’ll be lucky.”
Indeed, he was and he received a flight in a Bristol F28 fighter. When he emerged, the friendly policeman warned him not to attempt the trick again. Later, he became a member of the Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club but, sadly, he crashed and lost a leg and most of his hearing. While in hospital, one of the ward visitors was a woman Salvation Army officer. Romance developed and Robbie resigned her commission in order to marry Kenneth. She remained an ordinary member of the Army but preached in other churches. I heard her give an excellent address at Eastville Park Methodist Church. They had two children…Graham, at one time an Evening Post photographer, and Elinor.
Kenneth, in his spare time, became an excellent aircraft photographer. In 1938, the Bristol Aeroplane Company was selling Blenheim 1 Bombers to Turkey. The aircrafts were flown with civil registrations from Filton to Whitchurch for customs clearance and then on to Turkey. It was a confidential cooperation.
One pilot, after landing his Blenheim at Whitchurch, noticed Kenneth with his camera. Air Traffic Control was immediately contacted to be told that Kilsby was not to photograph the aircraft. Kenneth was sought and he promised to obey the order. He did so because he had already photographed it! The photograph is sometimes still published in Aeronautical literature.
Captain Frank Barnwell was Bristol’s chief designer and one of the best in the country. At Whitchurch, he built a light aircraft for himself, the Barnwell BSW Mk1. Kenneth was allowed to photograph it and, shortly after taking off from Whitchurch on 2nd August 1938, the engine, a Scott Squirrel, failed. Barnwell made a fatal mistake…he attempted to turn and return to the aerodrome. The machine stalled, crashed and killed Barnwell.
I first met Kenneth at Whitchurch in the mid 1950s. There were MCA Police at Whitchurch who banned entrance and even deterred over fence observation. On this occasion, there were no police on duty (they had been withdrawn) so in I went. Before taking photographs, I thought permission should be sought so I approached an authoritative man who was present. “I always do” was the reply from Kenneth.
A couple of aeronautical friends told me a chap was taking them to an air show somewhere out of Bristol and invited me to join them. At the junction of Muller Road and Fishponds Road, an elderly battered vehicle stopped for me and it was driven by Kenneth. It proved to be an unusual car as the road could be viewed through a hole in the floor.
The stories of Kenneth are many and varied. He refused to have a disabled sticker for his car because he maintained that, despite his artificial leg, he was not disabled. Then double yellow lines appeared and, overnight, he was disabled!
We were in a hangar at Thruxton when Kenneth asked a mechanic if he could borrow a can of oil. Permission was readily granted and he rolled up a trouser leg to oil his artificial limb, remarking it was beginning to squeak. The mechanic’s face was a delight to behold.
Arriving at RAF Colerne for a Battle of Britain Show, the SP controlling entry, told Kenneth to park at the far end of the field. He wanted to be much nearer the aircraft so he told a sob story. If he parked down there he wouldn’t be able to view the aircraft as he had an artificial leg…knocking it with his hand. The SP, with tears almost welling up in his eye, told him he could park wherever he liked. For the rest of the show, Kenneth was charging about, frequently returning to his car to deposit exposed films.
There was an air race and display at Lulsgate, the only one that took place there. Kenneth drove me there and then he led me through a small gate onto the field saying, “I don’t see why we rate payers should have to pay to enter our own aerodrome” (at that time, Lulsgate was owned by Bristol Corporation). We photographed racing and visiting planes and spent the show time in the middle of the aerodrome with the official photographers. Nobody questioned our rights to be there.
One Winter Kenneth slipped on ice and fractured his good leg. He was determined to visit the first air show of the year and did so, on crutches, adding more photographs to his collection.
Being an only child up to the age of almost 13 and attending a boys’ grammar school, girls did not feature much in my life and, possibly, I did not possess the necessary charm or appearance to attract them. However, certain young ladies should be mentioned.
‘C’ was in the 4th Year class at Eastville Junior School. She became very friendly ~ was it me or the stream of kittens produced by our cats that attracted her? We then went to different schools and drifted apart. Anyway, she grew too tall for me.
‘J’ (1) was a bit younger than me and somewhat shy but a delightful girl. A work colleague interested her very much more and they married.
‘J’ (2) was an attractive young lady, always well-groomed, who developed a liking for young men with fast sports cars. Also, she would not have enjoyed country walks
‘I’ was a kindly, pleasant girl, but again, joint interests were few. Later, she was to become a good friend to Janet and me.
‘A’ was a smartly dressed, pleasant girl who I would like to have known better but she preferred a totally different kind of man. On her wedding day, her mother told my mother that she wished she was marrying me!
‘K’ was much younger but we were beginning to become very friendly when a bombshell was dropped. Her mother was moving to a distant city and K was to go with her. Postal communication did not last long.
The relationship with Janet began slowly! At least she was only a year younger. For a short time, there was a rival. I thought it best to be my normal self and let Janet choose. She did! Gradually we came together, accepting our different interests. After Saturday afternoon rugby at The Memorial Ground, there was always an excellent tea awaiting at Cornwall Road where Janet had a flat ~ meats from the delicatessen and a selection of fancy cakes! She knew how to attract me! There was one untruth to be revealed ~ sometimes when visiting her parents in Essex, she would say she’d stayed in a caravan. Eventually I was invited to join her on one such visit and the truth was discovered…there was no caravan. Instead there was a second home near to the boat mooring. Janet came from a wealthy family!
However, we became engaged and married. We enjoyed 35 years together until Janet died on 12th December 2006, three days before her 75th birthday.