Southam of Yesteryear - April 2011 - Looking Back

With Spring about to explode upon us, I hope the doom and gloom prevalent in every aspect of our daily existence, will at last and at least be lifted. Looking back upon the 1910 list of Southam folk, whos footsteps we walk in every day; I am left wondering if perhaps their way of life, was more satisfying than ours. Its thought provoking to think that in a 100 years from now, we too will be just names on bits of paper. Maybe they will feel the same as us; as it is predicted they will be paying for our extravagant life stile.

I, you, we, having apparently lived beyond our means, according to our lords and masters. As to the us /we , why, and how; are questions that are unanswerable. Maybe we in Southam, should get The Old Mint up and running, to mint our own money to spend locally. Such a scheme was, I believe; run successfully in Southams distant past. However, what do I know being a no brainer, What I write, coming from as Hercule Poirot would say, my little grey cells. Although I manage to string a few words together to make some sense; I have to admit that I get little satisfaction from my efforts. As an engineer, my pleasure once came from projects worked on, in my life long workshop at my parents house. The death of dad, who, having talked to every day for 60 years; being the basis of my looking back As for the project I gained most satisfaction from this was a job I did for the late Mr. Robin Cooper of Leamington Spa; whom I understand had some connections with the property where now the opticians are based.

Mr. Cooper had when a young man purchased a 1934 BSA saloon car. This model being a bit special for BSA as most of their cars were the sporty type. His model was when purchased, a very staid looking 4 door with 5 seats It having many of the attributes found in todays vehicles. It had for example, a Wilson pre selector gear box; and an ignition system that went under the name of Lucas Startex.

This was a fuel saving system; the ignition automatically cut the engine out when the vehicle came to a stop; and locked back in when the accelerator pedal was pressed to pull away from the stationary position. It really was a car way ahead of its time. Unfortunately for it, Mr. Cooper decided, when his next car was purchased, that his old car was worthy of restoration. So he systematically took the car to pieces, even down to engine pistons out, to the removal of every body part, from door latch mechanisms, instruments. Everything that could be taken apart he accomplished Those familiar with engineering practices will know all too well that taking to pieces is the easy bit, putting back together is a bit more difficult, especially when no notes have been made of how they came apart. This then was the basis of what I call my finest hour; or rather hours and hours. When I was asked to put it back together, my first view of it; was a body shell minus doors seats instruments; sliding roof etc. It was nothing short of a metal box, surrounded with about a dozen tea chests full of bits. The only technical information I had was from a BSA sales leaflet; expounding its technical advances. I did get it all back together; its rebuild being a kin to doing a 2,000 piece jig saw without a picture.

The last I heard of it ,it was in America with Mr. Robin Coopers son. So much for my finest hour. My epitaph for it being; Never in the field of car construction; has so much been achieved by me, from so many parts.

Before moving on, or rather back to Southams past; the most daunting task I ever accomplished was having to cut rather large holes in the side of a De Havilland Trident airliner, and install all the surrounding structure required for the forward and rear freight holds. The tolerance measurement for this was ten thousands of an inch from a set datum point. The first 6 aircraft of which were required for flight test, having been manufactured without the need for freight holds. When flight test was finished, the aircraft were delivered to us at Hawker Siddeley at Bitteswell, for all the necessary systems required to bring the machines up to airline use. This was a major undertaking, I believe covering some 25.000 plus modifications that some 200 plus men, each working a 40 hour week plus overtime, took about 9 months to accomplish. That was the time when as a young ex apprentice I met one of my war time heroes. Namely De Havillands chief test pilot Captain John Cunningham.

Better know as cats eyes. I consider thats enough for you to digest from my large head and mouth ; so will move on from my big head to my not quite so big feet. In todays world of war earthquakes and tsunamis, I guess we in leafy Warwickshire consider our selves to be in a very stable under foot situation. However, in the very dim and distant past, Southam and the surrounding area has experienced up heavily on a massive scale. By coincidence, a few days before the Japan tsunami befell a vast area of northern Japan, I had been investigating a rock strata, that is to be found in the rock face of the cement works quarry. There apparently easily seen, is a rock formation called pudding rock. This taking on the appearance of a Christmas pudding. My interest in this being that in similar rock formations in parts of the world, gold diamonds and other rare minerals have been found. Maybe below our feet is a budding Southam gold mine; or maybe not.

What I think is in abundance below us is coal. Many years ago, the sub terrain below us, was surveyed by means of small bore drilling. This I seem to recall, went down to a similar depth as Binley Colliery. I remember talking to one man who was part of a group drilling close to the Coventry to Stockton road junction; he telling me that there was a coal seam close by that was 20 feet deep. There was talk at the time of a coal mine being sunk in the Rugby Portland Quarry; but, maybe fortunately for us, nothing came of it. So although we may not be sitting on a gold mine; we are sat on a possible coal mine.

With the burning of coal being a major contributor to global warming; with hind sight, I think we came close to being part of the problem. As dad was the last miller at Southam windmill, and I was coerced in to its destruction; I hope one day to re build it to its magnificent 1890 glory; not to grind corn, but make electricity. Maybe its just a dream; but it would be an apt epitaph to Southam if we had the first town windmill to produce electricity. Although it would not produce a vast amount of electricity; compared to what would come from a wind farm being planned in rural Warwickshire; it could perhaps supply enough for Southam college.

Maybe Stoneythorpe water mill could also be resurrected to produce power? It was used to grind corn, was as efficient with water power as the mill was with wind. There was also another water mill between Southam and Long Itchington; close to the foot bridge that takes you over to Bascote. The field close by being where local history has it, that the battle of Southam took place in August 1642.

This was more a skirmish than a battle; the battle at Edge Hill a few weeks later, receiving all the publicity. However, the first deaths ........from that civil war was in the field close to the aforementioned foot bridge, the bodies of those killed, being unceremoniously throw in to the nearby water. As far as I am aware; no search of the area has ever been conducted to verify that this was the very spot of the battle of Southam. Maybe the day will come when a ground radar check can be carried out as done on Tony Robinsons Time Team. I had thought of contacting them, but as there will be only metal objects; shot and cannon balls etc, to dig for; it was in modern day language a no brainer. I guess there is a possibility of human remains being found; but history would suggest that unlikely, as I already have said, it is believed that those killed were thrown in to the adjacent water course. With civil war raging I wonder who they were and who mourned at their loss? On the subject of war, soldiers and death; I will to bring my story to a close; tell you the following. Perhaps by doing so, it will be somewhat thought provoking.

My grandfather was an early Southam casualty of WW1; he bring killed on January 8th 1915. So my grandmother was as a young girl of 28 years; left with 3 boys all under 5 years of age. Fortunately her own mother, my great grandmother only lived 4 doors away; so came to her daughters aid in her hours of need. Grandfather Griffins body was never found, so he is one of the many commemorated on the Menin Gate war memorial. During that same war; as well as our men being taken prisoner by the Germans; many Germans were taken prisoner by the English. Un known to me; many of them were brought to England as POWs; where they were held in POW camps. I know in WW2 a large camp was established close to Birdingbury; but was surprised to hear that we in Southam had a German POW camp at Field Farm. As there are 3 Field farms in our vicinity; its location as of now is unknown.

Recently my brother Alan; whilst going through past editions of the Leamington Courier, found mention of a Southam POWs death in November 1918. After some digging around ( sorry for the pun) it was found that he had been buried in Southam church yard.

After contacting the German Embassy and other sources; it was found his name was Brune or Bruno Sprott, aged 48 years. Other than this, as of now; little more is known of him. His remains were exhumed in the early 1960s and he now lays in the German Cemetery at Cannock Chase. By coincidence, my great grandmother; who was helping her daughter on the death of grandad Griffin; died 3 years later from the so called Spanish flue epidemic; which here in Southam killed 26 people in a 6 week period. In the parish magazine of November 1918; is the list of Southam dead. A few days after her funeral date is that of Brune Sprott; his funeral being 5 days after the armistice was signed.

So he survived the war but was killed by influenza on almost the very day that great gran died. Her and grandad Griffins death threw grans life and her children; dad and his two brothers, in to absolute turmoil; some of which remains with me to this very day. As grandfather lost his life fighting the Germans and Bruno Sprott lost his life here, I am trying to ascertain if he has any descendants. My thought being that as Southam was his last place on earth, I through my own family connections; it would be nice to contact them.

Perhaps by doing so, showing them that we are nice people, and even though it is now some 93 years on from his death; he is still remembered in our thoughts Having started with doom and gloom; I will this month end on a note that even those who know me may find a little out of character. All my life I have found the music of the Finish composer Jean Sibelius, very inspiring.

Particularly as his early works were written when Finland was experiencing its own desperate plight. Through working for British Airways, I had the chance to visit Scandinavia. This included Finland; and to the home of Sebelius called Aionola; this being the name of his wife by the way. Unfortunately; on the day I visited, the house was closed; however I did walk around the hedge that surrounded it, and was able to absorb the atmospherics and beauty of the place. His studio window looked upon the stunningly beautiful Lake Tuusula and with the bluest of sky imaginable; it really was a heart rendering view. It is perhaps a fitting tribute to Jean and Aino; that they were buried in the garden of the house whose presence brought them so much joy. So my feet that now plod around Southam, have I hope also trod in Sibeliuss footsteps. I could well imagine the effects swans flying over and landing in the lake had, in some of his music. From all the stirring music he wrote; I think the most fitting and inspiring as an uplift to our present plight is called Night ride and sun rise. This in musical terms takes you through a night horse ride in the dark forest; coming out just as the sun is rising I when I first heard it; had hearing in both ears, cancer since then robbing me of its full heart inspiring influence. Have a listen. Maybe it will have the same effect on you ; and NO I have no financial connections with its sale (Ha).


This article has been kindly written by Bill Griffin

> Return to articles

Articles Published during 2011
Article Name Author
> Cardalls Corner - April 2011 - Weddings in the News Robert Cardall
> Southam of Yesteryear - Looking Back - April 2011 Bill Griffin
> Pete's Piece - Down the Garden Path - April 2011 Farnborough Garden Centre
> Pet Corner - Fresh Eggs for Easter - March 2011 Avondale Veternary Centres
> Pete's Piece - Down the Garden Path - March 2011 Farnborough Garden Centre
> Pet Corner - Lost and Found Pets Avondale Veternary Centres
> Cardall's Corner - February 2011 - “Money Matters” Robert Cardall
> Southam of Yesteryear - February 2011 - Agatha Christie Bill Griffin
> Pete's Piece - Down the Garden Path - February 2011 Farnborough Garden Centre
> Pet Corner - Fresh Eggs for Easter? District Advertisers
> Pet Corner - Keeping Pets Safe in Winter Weather Avondale Veternary Centres
> Cardall's Corner - January 2011 - “Snow Business” Robert Cardall
> Pete's Piece - Down the Garden Path - January 2011 Farnborough Garden Centre
> Pet Corner - Keeping Pets Safe in Winter Weather Avondale Veternary Centres

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