With muscle power and a big hammer

Since writing last months article on my memories of how the windmill worked, a number of people have asked how I remember such details as the floor boards being not grooved and tongued, but having both edges grooved with a steel strip inserted between them.

Well the simple answer to this is that I spent rather a lot of my childhood in and around the mill. With regards to floor boards, I have a vivid recollection of how one day on the third floor, I ran across to look out of the window, and my right leg went through the floor up to my thigh. I would be about 8 at the time, and as the hole I made got bigger as my leg went through, I left most of my skin behind.

When dad saw what had happened, his only comment was not so much how I was, but getting a new floor. Although dad was a good man in his trade of baker, he was not very clued up on milling by the way, anything out side of baking was done for the most part with muscle power and a big hammer. So he knocked the old floor out and I fitted the new, this by the way when I was still in short trousers.

So if my knees could talk, they would have quite a tail to tell. After finishing that floor he decided that the one below was not that safe, so when my knees thought it was all over, we replaced that on also, about that time, I asked dad , as my work resulted in no pocket money, if I could have some hens of my own to get money from selling eggs.

Dad was not the sort of man to give favours , even to his eldest son, so his first words on the subject were, how are you going to buy and feed them.with no money, this presented something of a problem. His next question was where are you going to keep them. The latter was easily answered, when shortly after two GPO maintenance men arrived close by to replace an underground telephone line.

This line had been encased in long lengths of wood about 6ft long tunnel shaped, two sections when fitted together forming a 6ft length with about a 3 inch hole down the middle.When this lengths had been laid under ground I have no idea, but they had been protected from rot by being heavily pitched . A bit like railway sleepers.

When these were offered to mum for fire wood by GPO Fred and Jo, to repay her kindness in brewing tea etc., I picked the best bits out to make my hen pen.When dad could see I was serious, he told me that if I kept the mill floors clear of spilt wheat and milled grist, I could use that as feed. I then had the problem of how to buy my hens with no money. Fortunately my mum came to the rescue, and said if I sold my eggs to gran (her mum) she would help me buy them.

As point of lay pullets were out of my price league, another problem arose .As dad was already running lots of hens, these eggs going to the Banbury egg producers Packing Station in Swan Close, Banbury, we always had broody hens.They would sit on eggs their mates had laid, and when I as often as not went to collect the eggs, they would become quite aggressive towards me, taking their eggs from under them.

Often pecking madly as my hand went under them. It was OK for my dad, his hands were as tough as old boots, but not mine. I very soon had had enough of their antics, so I found a shaped stick in the form of a letter Y and when it was necessary to do so pinned the neck of the hen to the back of the nest box in the fork of the Y.

With broody hens around, I decided to hatch my own hens, and so a clutch of eggs, I seem to remember 13 was a clutch, was purchased from my old school mate Richard Worrall's dad, just down the road from my gran on Coventry Street. After sitting on them for the duration of incubation, which I think was 21 days; every egg hatched.

Dad then said ''I wonder what sex they are''? After a few weeks I was told that 6 were girls and 7 boys. I knew then what he was on about.So for the next 5 years my main job in the mill was keeping it clean to feed my hens. As to the boy chicks, they were reared up to the following Christmas, when they became dinner for various family members. Sold for money of course. Well, remember we were still on war time rations, and as we often locally recalled you never got out for nowt.

Another of my jobs in the mill was white washing the interior walls. Although the primary purpose of this was to make the work place look clean, when done it also made the interior much lighter. It's impossible for me to put in to words the atmosphere that for me anywa , I felt and encountered , when the old mill was silent.

It being something akin to going in to church. As the walls were so thick and it being a round tower mill, all outside noise was lost. It when running, being the very opposite, possibly like sitting in the middle of a hi-fi speaker. For the most part, my memories of being in the mill are pleasurable ones, albeit of work, work and more work. However one memory in particular, remains with me to this very day.

My dad never went very far from home, and when he did as often as not it would be to see my grandparents, his mum and step father in Mountfield Gardens or mum's dad and mother in Coventry Road. As the Southam of the 1940s was a place where every one knew each other, you never ever got very far without having some one stop and talk to you. Our local word for such being kanking.Where on earth that word came from, I have no idea, suffice to say that dad like a good old kank.

On one occasion he went out and when he seemed to have been gone for quite a long time, I asked mum why he had been away for so long . Quite innocently she said''; I don't know;maybe something has happened to him''. This left me panic stricken. Although his feelings towards my brother's and I were never ever expressed, my feelings for dad was exactly the opposite, and to think something may have happened to him left me in a state of dire distress. When more time past by and he still had not returned home, I could bear it no longer.

So I went up to the third floor of the mill, where through the window you could see to Watson's corner on the Coventry Road.The mill wall was so thick that a child could sit on the window ledge, with back against the wall edge, and look down on the world. I must have sat in that window for three hours before I sighted dad coming up the road. I was so happy at this that I scampered down the flights of steps and ran down the road to meet him. He never did know why I was so excited to see him, I when asking him where on earth he had been , got the usual Southam answer of , ''to see a man about a dog''. Incidentally, when the mill was destroyed, and as this window held such a memory for me, I managed to save that very window. Dad to his dying day never knew why . It being the only bit left of the old lady whom I thought so much of.. So these are a few of the many very personal memories I have of being in the mill.

In one of my recent articles I said that the mill sails had been removed at some time shortly after the first world war. It's driving force then coming from steam. Although I know nothing about the steam engine, it must have been quite something as the boiler chimney from it was almost as high as the old lady herself .It was built of brick and at its base was I guess about 5ft square.During work around the yard and buildings we found various somewhat mysterious , brick built gulleys and chambers. What purpose they served in the operating of the steam engine I have no idea.

One quite important find was actually under the yard, it coming to light during the digging of foundations for a row of pig pens. On that day, my grandfather dad and I were digging when one of us, I cannot recall who, suddenly came upon what we thought was the foundations of a previous building. Dad soon had the crow bar out, and after a few heavy blows to dislodge as he thought the bricks, they suddenly disappeared, leaving a hole. Not quite knowing what we had come upon, work was stopped , and I went to got the torch to look down this mysterious black hole.

What we saw remains a mystery to this very day. I am well aware that depth and distance when viewed as a child is not that of an adult, but in my minds eye, I recall looking down in to a brick built chamber that I would guess to have been about 10ft deep and of an un known surface area. It was half full of water , and so could have been the water reservoir for the steam engine, the channells and gulleys previously mentioned either being the supply to the engine, or the return of hot water from it. Who knows. On finding it , all worked stopped until such time as it was filled in with rubbish and ash from the bakehouse fire.

Dad never had an interest in anything mechanical or of possible historic value. His ideas being more associated with knock down or fill in. Such as the time he decided to destroy the steam boiler chimney .It was a large chimney, so tall in fact that we had no ladder to reach the top. So dad decided to fell it like a tree, by hacking away at the base and when it started to fall run like hell. This was long before we had heard of Mr.Fred Dibner, and any way, dad could not prop with timber and burn the timber away; as to do so would burn the yard buildings down.

After removing quite a few bricks from the chimney base he did eventually listen to my grandfather Lakes advice, that it was not perhaps as good an idea as he thought. So the base hacking was stopped and the possibility of a top down demolition was given serious consideration.

That in next months issue generating a situation something akin to the hilarious happenings in the TV series; The Last Of The Summer Wine. Cheers to all. Bill Griffin


This article has been kindly written by Bill Griffin

> Return to articles

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
> Hot Oil, the drive that followed steam Bill Griff
> How can I get a quality tenant in the shortest possible time Jordans Rentals
> The fifty five rung ladder Bill Griff
> The poor are always with us Mary Rock
> 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
> Not a Liberty Mary Rock
> May: the garden approaching its most exciting period Farnborough Garden Centre
> Farms in Southam in the 1900's Irene Cardali
> A few facts about Southam’s past Mary Rock
> 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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