44 Years on the Drove
Memories of Collyweston by Albert Blake - Written by Sandra Johnson
Following my request for readers memories I was delighted to be invited by long standing Collyweston residents Albert and Audrey Blake to visit them and chat about their, and my, early days in Collyweston.
Albert, a sprightly 92 year old, and his delightful wife have lived on The Drove in Collyweston for 44 years (sending my 35 years well in touch!)
Albert’s pre Colly days were spent in nearby King’s Cliffe where at the age of just 12 he had an evening job at Elliott’s Bakery in West Street and on leaving school at just 14 he became a full time employee commencing a long career helping to bake and deliver bread to the nearby villages including Duddington, Easton on the Hill and of course Collyweston. He fondly remembers the little fleet of traders who toured the village every week; Arthur Scott in his green van delivering groceries, Harold Close with pots and pans and Albert with his bread van.
Although Collyweston was a much smaller village then, it had within its parish boundary Forest End and Corner Green, both long since demolished. Forest End was sited at the end of the Drove at the junction with the A47, families lived in the former metal framed billet huts at Forest End and prefab bungalows at the Prisoner of War Camp at Corner Green whilst waiting for permanent accommodation to be built in Easton and Collyweston. Pictured is No 7 Corner Green, my family home until age 7 when we moved into the ‘new’ houses at Westonville. Other families moved on to the other new development in Westfields, Easton on the Hill.
At the age of 18 Albert left his childhood home and joined up and although he had acquired a keen eye for the rifle under the tutorage of a local farmer, he found himself in the Auxiliary Catering Corps at Tilbury preparing food and rations for the forces on their way to battle. National Service completed in 1947 Albert returned to King’s Cliffe and took up his old post delivering bread and cakes to local residents. 1947 was of course the winter of dramatic snow storms and Albert’s van became well and truly snowed in at Collyweston. After attempting to walk back to King’s Cliffe across the fields and ending up at the Rectory in Duddington Albert and his colleage headed back to Colly and took refuge in The Slater’s Arms (now the Collyweston Slater). Albert recalls the village then had 2 other pubs, the Blue Bell Inn, run by the Hamitts, and the Engine, both on the High Street. Both of which still retain part of their sign structure.
As we talked we guided each other through Collyweston’s businesses and residents. The ‘roving Post Office’ which started life at No 6 High Street (unfortunately neither of us remember the Postmaster/Mistress) the 4 farms, Wood Farm (brothers Tom and Harry Woolley predominately sheep!) and Park Farm (Nom Burbidge and family also sheep) on High Street, and Manor Farm (Mr & Mrs Shelton) and The Poplars (Philip Beaver). Manor Farm and Wood Farm are no longer active but happily Mr Burbidge’s daughter Davina, and her family and Mr Beaver’s grandson, Tim, are still residents in the village and continue to be custodians and maintain our beautiful landscape.
As the memories came flooding back, we talked about the allotments on The Drove, now occupied by Ash Tree Gardens, Sanders and Woods builders yard (now Sanders Walk) and of course the slating businesses of the Osbornes (my Gran’s family) at Greystones and Gadsby’s
field and the Stapletons on Slate Drift (now Claude Smith and once again producing our famous Collyweston Slate). Other business in the village were Albert Harrod’s Butchers (now the Community Shop), Harold Close’s hardware store, the diminutive but very stoic Mr & Mrs Hemphrey’s grocery shop at 18 High Street where all the goods were displayed at a very low level! The Post Office run by Mrs Milne in the front room of her home at Corner House at the bottom of the High Street and Mr Hubbard the Blacksmith next door to The Slater’s Arms.
Albert clearly loved his time on the ‘bread van’ and recounted many tales of his deliveries and how “in those days” we didn’t lock our front doors, everyone knew each other, children could play happily and safely in the streets knowing someone was looking after their welfare (of course it also meant you got caught if you got up to mischief!) and, if you were delivering goods, you were able to tap the door, walk in and leave the goods on the kitchen table. I promised not to reveal the identity but he chuckled when he recalled visiting a customer in Blue Bell yard, tapped the door and let himself in only to find the resident having a bath in front of the fire in the kitchen!
Other residents are clearly remembered with fondness as was singing Nancy Nash (my neighbour) who sang day in day out as she did her chores, hung out her washing or tidied the garden.
Albert was tempted away from the bakery by a dramatic increase in wages from £3 to £10 a week when took up driving the tarmac lorries around the boundary of Wittering airfield adjacent to the A47. However on completion of the contract he returned to the Bakery where he met his lovely wife Audrey and together they spent 30 years delivering bread in and around Collyweston.
Thank you Albert and Audrey, we had a delightful afternoon, remembering old friends and family.