Do you remember when elephants walked through Bury St Edmunds?
- Credit: Archant
Here’s the perfect formula for a winter’s night: a cosy fireside, a mug of something warm and a copy of Martyn Taylor’s latest book, as Steven Russell discovered.
I get by with a little help from my friends, sang The Beatles, nearly 50 years ago. Martyn Taylor enlisted the help of a clutch of folk when he dreamed up his latest book project, and they’ve done him proud – producing a rich and colourful collection of memories of life in his home town.
It will connect with the soul of anyone who knows Bury St Edmunds and recognises names such as Rollerbury and Croasdales Chemists. But you don’t have to be born and bred in Bury to appreciate reminders of how we used to live before we sent rockets to the moon and when there weren’t two cars or more parked outside virtually every house.
As local history tour guide Martyn says in his introduction: “Life in bygone years was set at a more sedate pace, without the hustle and bustle of today, and there was little in the way of luxuries; the austerity of the world wars saw to that.”
He interviewed more than 70 people, about 65 of whom he knew, for his third book. It has been, he confesses, a labour of love – and he’s even included some of his own memories.
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“I have been extremely lucky to tap into that reservoir of stored knowledge of some of the residents of Bury St Edmunds who can remember their childhood, school and working life, pastimes, conflicts, etc,” he says. “What it has also shown me is what you put into life so you take out.
“It is often said that fate plays a strange hand when dealing out the cards of fortune. I, like the many people who have contributed to this book, consider that we are extremely fortunate to have grown up in such a wonderful place as Bury St Edmunds.”
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Here are just a few anecdotes plucked from his pages, in the words of those who remember how life used to be.
When elephants walked through town!
Thomas Pike, my father, was manager of the gas showroom in the Traverse, and my mum, Gladys, was a window dresser for Woolworths.
I was born in Risbygate Street, near the Barracks, and my first school, Victoria Infants, had a big ‘tortoise stove’ that had a fireguard around; we used to hang our wet clothes on it when it was raining.
On Coronation Day, all we kids went up to Angel Hill, where we were given a coronation mug and a small cardboard box with a sandwich, sausage roll and a bun in.
When I was around thirteen, dad took me to the railway station to see the circus come off the train; the elephants used to walk through the town, and people came out of their doors with a bucket and shovel to collect the necessary for their rose beds!
Another time, he took me up to the railway crossing on Beetons Footpath to see the Flying Scotsman go by.
Shirley Ransome, née Pike (born 1942)
Saturday morning at the Odeon – just sixpence
Growing up in Bury was wonderful as we could go about without a care in the world.
I liked going to the cattle market and loved the smell of the pigs. Sometimes, I would see them after taking rabbit skins to Brahams in Risbygate Street.
I used to go into Croasdales Chemists and stare for ages at the beautiful coloured glass bottles, especially the blue ones that fascinated me.
I learnt to swim up at the open-air swimming pool on the playfields. I can also remember going down to the Abbey Gardens, dancing around a maypole on 1 May with peacocks strutting about.
On Saturday mornings, like loads of other children, I used to go to the Odeon cinema that cost 6d. When my son was very small, we always went into town via the pig market, something that kids miss out on today.
Shirley Pattle, née Wraight (born 1940)
I was born at No. 5 Abbot Road (it was renumbered 10 in 1957). My mother was a good cook, honest and simple; stew and dumplings, steam puddings and rabbit pie, etc. Dad worked at the sugar beet factory and would acquire a brace for five bob from the pest control officer there.
We only had a coal fire in the living room, so it wasn’t uncommon to have ice inside on the bedroom windows.
Every so often I used to push a barrow down to Whitmore’s timber yard in Fornham Road during the winter to collect logs for the fire. I was told to give the old boy who filled the barrow a piece of chewing gum so he would put extra logs in!
Opposite our home, a member of the wealthy Ridley family lived in a splendid house. When built around 1906, it was called ‘Fairyland’. It had a colonial style veranda overlooking a wood. This was known to us kids who played in it as ‘Old Ma Ridley’s Wood’.
Very little traffic used the road, and we played rounders and tennis in the street. Occasionally, delivery men such as Bluett’s fruit and veg van or Childs’ the baker’s horse-drawn float would interrupt the game.
Martyn Taylor (born 1950)
Six swipes on the hand!
My mother’s maiden name was Alice Mary Taylor, but everyone called her ‘Doll’ as she was so short. I lived with her and her parents at No. 52, Northgate Street, her father’s house. My first school was St John’s Infants. One day I was with my cousin Ted in the playground when teacher Miss Candler called the children in. She did this by clapping her hands loudly; the trouble was, we never heard her, resulting in us getting into the classroom late, plus six swipes of her ruler across the palms of our hands.
We never cried, which went down well with our classmates, but we never let on it really did hurt!
My next school was The Guildhall Feoffment. One day I wore my ‘Sunday best’ patent leather shoes there; I scuffed one, splitting the toe. The poor teacher was worried that mother would come up to the school and blame them for allowing these expensive shoes to get damaged. She never did.
Peter Dove (born 1927)
Sent on a fool’s errand
I always wanted to be a hairdresser, and while at school I got a Saturday job at Fulcher & King in The Traverse. While here I was sent out on a fool’s errand one day to get some striped paint for a barber’s pole; after all, what did I know?
I did my apprenticeship at Dennis Burgess hair salon in Risbygate Street. My first day was eventful. The water heater had packed up, and I was told to get a pail of water from downstairs as the salon was on the first floor. I got to the top and dropped it right down the stairs!
I worked for Dennis for twenty years before leaving and running my own business in the Regency Hotel.
Rosemary Rayson, née Vickers (born 1948)
They’d pay five shillings for a meal!
My grandfather worked at Bobys, on weaponry, during the First World War but my father, Bob Burroughs, worked at the nearby Gasworks.
The King ‘Billy’ pub (William IV) in Long Brackland could be seen from our house and soon as it opened dad was in there till closing time.
I was one of three children and life for all the people around there was hard.
After St John’s Infants and St Edmundsbury, I went to the Silver Jubilee, leaving at fourteen. I got a job at Stetchworth Dairy in The Traverse, waiting on tables in their café at the front.
They had a dairy that backed onto Skinner Street.
I then progressed onto the restaurant in the cellar, where the better off in Bury used to pay five shillings for their meal!
When the war ended, a party with what we had was thrown in Long Brackland and we all danced in the street.
Phyllis Chapman, née Burroughs (born 1930)
News of the World wanted Dad’s story
My first home was in Pakenham. My father James ‘Jubilee’ Bluett was a dealer but also did fruit and veg; he was a cripple and once was caught driving a car on a learner’s licence out at Tostock.
When taken to court he was fined £1; however, the police and magistrate were sorry for him.
The News of the World paper wanted to print it but dad said no; he could have made a lot of money from it.
My mother, Mary, was the daughter of the road sweeper in Pakenham whose surname was Sexton; I can’t remember his first name but he always wore a collar and tie and bowler hat!
Mother never forgot my birthday as she always knitted me socks for it; plus, the day I was born, she had been into Bury to get some new false teeth!
We moved into Bury to live on Hill 60 (Priors Estate). Here, aged ten, I won a fancy dress competition that was held to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of George V.
Spencer Derek Bluett (born 1925)
The first time I travelled by train
I couldn’t get on with some of the teachers at the Jubilee and left without any certificates. I had an interview for a job as a telephonist at the telephone exchange; I was up against girls from the grammar school.
Surprisingly, I got the job and went on a six-week course down at Canterbury; this was the first time I had travelled by train.
The exchange was manual then and required a lot of staff; over 120 people, mainly women, worked shifts there. The supervisor was a Dorothy Dixon, and she was ever so strict! I worked there for eight years from 1960 and even became the union representative; perhaps I wasn’t as thick as I thought.
I then went abroad, returning in 1973 to work as the secretary to the manager of Motor Body Specialist in Eastgate Street. I left here after a while and embarked on a new career, gaining qualifications to work in the Adult Training Centre in Hollow Road. This eventually led me to working within social services until I retired as Locality Resource Manager in 2005.
Wendy Wells, née Smith (born 1945)
Bury St Edmunds Memories is published by Amberley at £14.99 (though this week its website offers a special price of £13.49)