Christmas had changed little from pre war days

Writing this a few days before Christmas, my thoughts are concentrated upon how I could compare Christmas 2006 with Christmas some 55 years ago and concluded it was a bit like trying to envisage how the Christmas Turkey in front of you was once a chick that had pecked it's way out of an egg.

It's the same bird but the likeness ends there. I think it fair comment to say that up to the early 1950s Christmas had changed little from pre war days. That's to say, we had rather a lot of nothing, and what we did have was either grown or reared in the Parish. Entertainment was also locally made be it Mr.Cardall's dance band the Southam Players or the weekly picture run by Mr. Johnson who was the manager at Rugby Portland Cement's Long Itchington works.

Our picture house was the Parish Hall, now the Stoneythorpe Hotel, and later on the big room in the Craven Arms yard. Now private apartments. At the boys school we always had a party. Some of the food was donated by our parents, but the bulk of the feast was food purchased from the proceeds of the school allotment. We grew vegetables all year round on the plot, which I note is now fenced off close by the Graham Adams Centre. What was grown we sold to our parents thus in turn helping to feed ourselves and our families, the money received was then put in to the school party fund, again eventually feeding us.

So Christmas was the high light of what was a very dour period in our young lives. We usually ceased our school work at mid day, on the day we broke up for the Christmas Holiday. In the morning we listened to Carols on the BBC school radio ''Singing Together'' with William Appleby. The radio which was the size of a cupboard, had doors on it, that when not in use was padlocked shut. Our head master Mr.Dencer keeping that key locked in a cupboard in his class room.

Within the four walls of the boys school were two folding glass screens, running the width of the building, thus dividing the available space in to three class rooms. On one end for the 7 to 9 year olds was Mr.Bates's class. On the far end near to Brewster's corner was Mr.Seikrie's (hope I have spelt his name correctly ) class for 9 to 11 year olds He shortly after my going to the boys school was replaced by a Mr.Kelly.

In the middle of this glass cage was the head masters classroom, where from 11 to 15, you were not so much taught but educated with the proverbial rod of iron. You were with each teacher for every lesson from the start to finish of every day for the span of time designated to be in their class. So there was no getting away with anything. When in Mr.Dencer's class it was quite normal if he thought we were somewhat thick in arithmetic, for him to abandon all other lessons for the day. We having arithmetic blasted in to us for the entire day. Likewise, on the day we had to write our weekly composition, on such wonderful subjects as how to make a cup of tea, what I did at the week end or Southam mop. If we failed in our spelling, or could not think of anything worth writing about, and thus was short on his two page, semi compulsory requirement, we would be brow beaten all the following day with that.

On the subject of the mop, this was more a mackerel to catch us little sprats as Mr. Headmaster was very much against us spending money on anything at the mop. I must say that I never ever saw any of our teachers out on mop night. Not that he need have worried, because some boys had no money to spend anyway. Those of us that did, were told that the mop folk, living in there accommodation caravans which were always parked up nose to nose along the length of Pendicke Street, looking towards Brewster's corner, would on the following morning be waving at us as they moved off. He saying that as they past us at play in the school playground, they would under there breath be saying ''Tara Mugs'', thanks for giving us your pocket money.

So it was somewhat difficult to write anything enjoyable about the mop and mop night, despite the fact that we had looked forward to its arrival for weeks and weeks. How could you write that on Sunday you had walked with your mum, dad and brothers, along Leamington Road, just to wave at the on coming mop lorries and caravans. Our walk if dry being back through, Stoneythorpe past the water mill through mill pits, returning up Horn's Lane now called Watton's Lane back up Park Lane on to Market Hill, where some of the lorries would have parked up.

If wet we turned back, still waving madly. On closure of school on mop night we went home with his advice ringing in our ears. On the subject of composition, many is the time that despite my best efforts, I have had my writing book returned with two red lines through my work with the heart warming comment ''This Is Rubbish'', or some derogatory comment on my spelling or grammar. Quite what he expected from us is to this very day beyond my understanding.

The fact that we were only country kids with hard working parents, who, having little or no time to help us with home education. For some of us anyway, we went from school back home to work. I remember on one occasion he placed me on school detention. As I had to help dad feed pigs, poultry wash and pack eggs and help in the greasing of 200 plus bread tins etc, I was worried because at 16-30 hrs I was still at school.

The head master seemed unable to realize that I had work to do, and neither he Mr.Turpin or Mr. Noyes would be available to help me. No matter how hard I, and almost every other boy that pass through his class worked, very few ever received any praise. As an example of this, he endeavoured to bang in to our heads the basics of musical composition; a subject that to this very day I know little about. However I recall that when in the Church choir, we learnt of the importance of E.G.B.D. and F in music, and to help us we were told Every Good Boy Deserves Favours. However Mr.Headmaster showed no favors to us, so his method of getting us to remember it was by Ethel Grant's Beef Doesn't Fry.

Miss Grant being the butcher on Market Hill. So with this method of teaching, it will come as no surprise that school Christmas party day, was like the mop, looked forward to weeks and weeks away. Mid afternoon on the big day, the glass dividing classroom screens were wound back and we gave a carol concert for the mums that were willing to help with serving us the party food.

Desks were then arranged in lines running the full length of the building. We had to take our own cup, plate, spoon and tea cloth to act as a table cloth. No knives or forks were required as we had nothing to cut up. Sandwiches, cakes and jelly being the order of the day. On reached the point when we finished the prayer. For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful, he gave the order ''START EATING ''. It was obvious that some boys had never had so much food set before them. They eating as if it were a race, lest there be non left.

I guess to be polite you would sum up their table manners as eating with gusto. On finishing the food nothing was ever left the desks were pushed to the wall and the centre of the room cleared for games or at least that was what they were called. I must explain that the room floor was wood and somewhat uneven, it having knots in it akin to bunions.

One of the games we had was the treacle tin race. Those wishing to enter this had to take two empty but clean treacle tins to school. A chalk start and finishing point were drawn on the floor and the race was started by toeing the line with a tin in each hand. On giving the go, one tin was placed on the floor and you stood on it on one leg the other leg being in the air, the other tin was then placed just ahead. You then transferred the foot in the air on to that, balancing on one leg whilst the first tin was moved up, this continuing to the finish line, some 20 feet away.

With such an un even floor, much swaying and falling off was the order of the day and how no one was ever hurt is something of a miracle. In my minds eye it was as elegant a game as would be watching pigs race on stilts. Another game was stick bun eating. A line was strung across the room and from it on two string about a yard long were attached sticky buns. The two competitors had their hands tied behind their backs, and the buns were aligned to the height of the mouth.

On giving the go the winner was the first to eat the bun. However, this took quite some time as the bun swung around on the string, and as you were not allowed to move from a seated position, it would swing through both the air and hair. Whilst this was going on every boy was watching and would be screaming on his best mate to win.

Other games played was blindfold porridge feeding, where you wore protective clothing, were blindfolded and had to try to find your mates mouth, with a wooden spoon full of porridge and blind fold pigs bladder fighting. We liked blind fold bladder fighting because occasionally you clobbered the head master, unintentionally of course the cheer that went up when you accidentally hit him would raise the roof. We hoped by saying ''sorry Sir '' at the end of the bout he would come the start of school in the new year, having forgotten incident. Any way, the idea was a five minute round where you tried to strike your mate with the pigs bladder that was on a rope.

The most strikes being the winner. To start the game you were blind folded and spun around in the corner to disorientate you, then you went out swinging the bladder trying to find and hit your mate. The screaming telling you how near you were to your mate or better still, the head master, who was the referee. I think it fair comment to say that they were all somewhat gruesome games to play, but play them we did. Christmas time during and after the war, was very much a home made event, it brightening the end of what were dark worrying bleak years, with food on ration and toys unknown.

I think under the circumstances we found ourselves in, that despite the doom and gloom there was a mood of happiness at Christmas. Many went to the Christmas morning service at the church of their choosing, returning home for Christmas dinner that for many was roast pork. I'm afraid Christmas if you were a pig was bad news. Last month I mentioned Mr. Fred Russell who was an undertaker. Most Christmases Mr.Fred came to us for Christmas or Boxing Day dinner.

When not with us, he would most likely be with Mr. Harold Brown's family. Their house and Iron mongers shop was next to the Old Mint, where is now a new building housing the opticians. In 1947 when dad purchased the Windmill he had about 80 customers on his books for supplying pig food, all who were members of Southam pig club. As well as dads customers, Mr.Brewster, Mr.Grant on Coventry Street and others, kept the pigs supplied with food. Almost every household kept a Christmas pig, and at a rough guess I would say in Southam there would be 200 +.

So come Christmas the local butchers were much in demand. Among the local men who were kept very busy were Mr. Hancocks in Daventry Street. Dad's old school mate in Oxford Street, and most likely another distant relative, Mr.Griffin from Napton, who with Mr. Phil Turner worked for Miss Ethel Grant, the butcher or should that be butcheress. I mentioned earlier who's business was on Market Hill. She also run the slaughter house that once stood in Bull Street, next to the electricity sub station on the Corner of Chickabiddy Lane.

I remember spending hours by my dad's knee, being too small to see over the pig sty wall, whilst he discussed with Mr. Harold Browne or Mr.Len Bicknell, Mr.King, Mr.Bert Holder, Mr.Henry Winbush and Mr.White, Mr.Fennell and others who resided at the Dwellings.That being the Union work house, transformed in to living accommodation by Builder Mr.F.C.Watson in 1923 at a cost of £1,240 pounds. This at today's value being £48,000. Others in Southam that come immediately to mind, who had Christmas pigs that generated considerable debate as to their condition for the kill were Bill Lake of Coventry Street, step grandad Mr.George Powell of Mountfield Gardens, his brothers Ralph also in Mountfield gardens and Len Griffin in Abbey Lane, dad's best friend Mr.Ted Hudson who lived just down the road from the Mill, Mr.Thacker in Abbey Lane, Mr. Percy Neal on Tattle Bank, Mr. Jo Best at the Gas House and so many more.

All of them seeking dad's views on ''Do you think my pig is fat enough to kill''. Fat pigs were then very much in vogue, and the fatter they were at the kill the better the owner liked it. Indeed for the last few weeks of the pigs life, to put on extra fat, it was fed with barley meal. Quite what this did I have no idea other than it made the pig very very lethargic, and by cutting down its exercise it put on an extra layer of fat.

To write about pig killing day in today's pre packed meat world, will for some be viewed as gruesome and gross, but for the inhabitants of Southam some 50+ years ago, it was just the day when the pig became food. We the children of the time accepted it as just another day, were well aware of what went on and were quite conversant with the internal plumbing of the pig. One pig killing Christmas is burnt in to my memory, as that day something happened to me that no one would likely forget. I would be about 7 or 8 years old, my dad's old school mate, and a distant relative was Mr.Bill Hughes, who kept a butchers shop where Mr.Bench now has his TV shop in Oxford Street. Mr.Bill arrived early one Saturday morning with the tools of his trade with him. We had prepared our side of things, straw to singe the pig on, two bricks to stop him from rolling over during the big singe,and buckets of hot water taken from the bake house oven for scrubbing down.

Mr.Pig was blindfolded by placing a hessian sack over his head , was lead out on to a bed of straw, and was promptly dispatched with the humane killer gun. Not as I had seen done, with a knife. With the pig on it's bed of straw, this was lit, more straw was added and the white pig quickly became a black one. It was then scrubbed and soon had skin looking akin to my own. It was then man handle in to the windmill where it was hung up on a beam from its snout ring. By then we were getting excited at thought of soon having a football to play with, or rather the pigs bladder.

Our tin bath was placed under Mr Pig and Mr. Bill started his abdominal operation which very soon filled the bath with lots of bits n bobs. Just as he was about to satisfy our longing for the bladder, mum came out of the bakehouse to tell him she had just made a pot of tea. As he had reached a point where he could leave off for a time, he went to have his cuppa. We didn't want him to leave just then, not until we had our ball. On seeing our long faces he said ''you know what it looks like get it yourselves.

As the oldest of my brothers , I took it upon myself to search for , and eventually extracted the item from the bath of parts. When located it was nothing like what Mr.Bill gave us to play with, it being full of you know what. We had seen him at previous kills, empty the bladder by squeezing it in his hands, washing it in hot water and then blowing it up, however when I tried to do so, I had insufficient strength in my small hands to accomplish it.

A bit of quick thinking resulted in my laying it on the ground and standing on it. Nothing happened So I jumped on it, and was instantly showered in the face with you know what. Mum came flying out to see what all the yelling shouting and laughter was about, and when she saw what had happened ,I was taken to be washed down. Although this was almost immediate, the damage had been done, as my complexion the next day looked as though I had been laying for hours in the tropical sun.

The acid within the urine was so potent that within two days I had lost much of the skin on my face, it peeling off worse than any sun bathing If you find my close encounter with a vengeful pig a little bit over the top, all I can say is '' it did happen''. Before ending on this happy little note I will recall what President Kennedy of the United States once said. When enjoying an egg and bacon breakfast, ‘remember the hen was concerned but the pig was fully committed’. I wish one and all the very best of good fortune, for by the time you read this another new year will be with us.

This article has been kindly written by Bill Griff

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Previous Articles Published before 2010
Article Name Author
> Twentieth Century Defences in Warwickshire Nimrod
> Warwickshire Murders District Advertisers
> Clerical activities Mary Rock
> The bake house oven Bill Griff
> Warwickshire county links Mary Rock
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> The fifty five rung ladder Bill Griff
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> Ensure the garden can cope with the heat of summer Farnborough Garden Centre
> It can be very pleasant to walk along the towpath Mary Rock
> With muscle power and a big hammer Bill Griffin
> July, a time to relax and enjoy your garden. Farnborough Garden Centre
> Most peoples daily transport was the bicycle Bill Griffin
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> May: the garden approaching its most exciting period Farnborough Garden Centre
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> April is one of the most exciting months for gardeners Farnborough Garden Centre
> Remembering the Warneford Irene Cardall
> Notable events in our vacinity during the last war Bill Griff
> Where is Southam or the Country Heading? Peter Crosby
> Christmas seems top fly past so quickly District Advertisers
> Christmas has changed little since the pre-war days Bill Griff
> Midwinter in the garden: January Farnborough Garden Centre
> Going to the post Irene Cardall

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