Tag Archives: Rugby

Scrap Book Project – Danger, Water, Roads and Building Sites

Talking of catching things, we used to go fishing down the canal and this wasn’t quite so dangerous except when my friend Colin Barratt (who was forbidden by his parents to go to the canal on account of not being able to swim) fell in while struggling to land a four-ounce Perch with a home made rod and line.

One minute he was standing on the towpath with his garden cane rod and bit of string and there was an almighty splash and Colin was thrashing about in the water struggling for his life.  Between us we dragged him out without having to jump in ourselves and took him home and didn’t see him again for about three months after that but to make him feel better we told him that it was a monster Pike that had pulled him in.

Water always had a special attraction and when we weren’t messing about on the canal there was always Sprick Brook where we used to fish for minnows and red-breasted Sticklebacks and take them home in jam-jars in the days before goldfish.  Sprick brook ran under the railway bridge on Hillmorton Lane and was just the sort of place where you could have an accident and no one would find you for days.

One place that wasn’t nearly so dangerous as it is today were the roads and we used to play on our bikes without any real sense of danger and certainly without those silly cycle helmets that kids wear today.

Cycling however did get me into trouble once when I was about ten and persuaded some friends to tackle a cycle ride one afternoon to Leicester to see my grandparents without checking with anyone first.  I have to confess that this was both ambitious and thoughtless especially on a Raleigh Junior bike with 18” wheels and no lights and not in any way suitable for a fifty mile round trip.

Getting there was reasonably straightforward but the return journey was a bit more difficult on account of it being dark and us being completely knackered.  There was a search party that night for sure and I can remember being astonished about how much fuss was made over such a trivial incident when Dad intercepted me at Abbots Farm and sent me home immediately for a good telling off from Mum which turned out instead to be an emotional and tearful reunion and I can remember being thoroughly confused by that.

Building Site 1

Apart from the dangers presented by the transport system there were other equally hazardous places to play as well.  Building sites for example.

There was a building boom in the 1960s and this presented all sorts of opportunities.  Especially good fun was climbing ladders and playing on the scaffolding and hiding in part constructed rooms.  There were piles of bricks to build camps (much better than Lego), sewer pipes to crawl through, sand and cement to kick around and oil drums and bits of timber to take away and use to build rafts to sail on the canal but this never worked either.

Once a passing police patrol car stopped and the officers watched us building a waterway craft with bits of material that we had ‘borrowed’.  They teased us by asking to see our boat license and then as we dawdled about hoping they would just drive off told us to hurry up and get on because they wanted to see us fall off and get wet before getting on with their duties.  We clambered aboard and didn’t disappoint them.  I can still hear them laughing as I write this.

Perhaps the dumbest and most dangerous thing we ever did on a building site was to go underground.  In preparation for new houses on Bridley Road there were some new storm drains installed so we lifted the manhole cover and went inside, crawled through the pipes and made a camp in an inspection chamber where we sat in candle light and thought that it was all great fun.  I dread to think now what might have happened if there had been a storm while we were down there.  I certainly wouldn’t be writing this retrospective journal.

Most of these dangerous places are closed off to children these days, the railway line is fenced, building sites are secure, the canal locks have wooden guardrails and you would have to be just plain daft to take a bike out on a main road.  Given the modern restrictions it’s hardly any wonder I suppose that today children have to stop at home and watch the television or play computer games and are denied the pleasure of real dangerous activity and that is a real shame.

Scrap Book Project – Hillmorton

The family settled in Hillmorton in 1960 when Dad took up a new job at the Rugby Rural District Council (created 1894, abolished 1974) and we moved from Hinckley in Leicestershire, about fifteen miles away.  In those days Hillmorton was only a small village and although there was no discernable boundary from the town it was undeveloped and had only a fraction of the population that it has today.

We moved into a brand new bungalow at number 47, The Kent that was one of the first new developments in the village at that time.  It cost £2,000.  All around there were exciting places to explore and play and there was lots of time to do so because parents were not nearly so paranoid about children wandering off to enjoy themselves in the 1960’s as they are today.  In those days it wasn’t uncommon to go out in the morning and only return home when empty tummies demanded that food was required and there certainly weren’t search parties out looking all over the place.  It’s a shame that these days children are confined to their back gardens or have to be taken back and forth to school by car because there was so much more fun when young lives were not subject to so many restrictions on movement.

The house we lived in was built on an old tip and over the back was a big hole perfect for sifting through and finding old junk and behind that was ‘The Bank’,which was a strip of trees and undergrowth that was good for playing jungle war games.  A narrow path ran from Sandy Lane to Tony Gibbard’s garden at no. 37 where two trees, one large and one small, were converted into tree houses and frequently doubled up as a Lancaster bomber and a Spitfire fighter.  You certainly had to have a vivid imagination to achieve this childhood fantasy transformation.

What is now Featherbed Lane used to be Sandy Lane which was an unpaved track and in the adjacent trees was a long abandoned car that in our imagination we converted into a Churchill Tank.  Beyond Sandy Lane was the ‘Sand Pit’, which was a bit of a forbidden zone on account of the large number of rats that lived there.  Mum didn’t like us going there and with her exaggerated warnings of how they would either dash up your trouser leg and chew your penis off or alternatively take a flying leap and rip your throat out was enough to make you think twice about venturing too far inside.

A few years later they built some houses on the sand pit and a lot of them fell down quite soon after because of inadequate foundations in the soft sand.

Further down the road there were some derelict old terraced houses that had been condemned by the Local Authority that we convinced ourselves were haunted, they were knocked down a few years later and some Council flats built there to replace them.  These days they would be boarded up and made secure but in the early 1960s they were left open so we used to go inside and frighten ourselves half to death exploring the empty rooms looking for their secrets.

On the road down to the Locks and the Oxford Canal there was the site of the old Hillmorton Manor House that lay in ruins surrounded by dense undergrowth of trees and vegetation.  This is where Constable Road is now.   Around the Manor House the bigger boys in the village had constructed a scramble track (a sort of pre-BMX thing) where we had bike races and pretended to be the Brandon Bees motorcyclists.

This wasn’t my favourite game I have to say because I used to prefer to go down to the canal and mess about on the locks.  This is where my best pal David Newman and Gary James lived and his parents allowed us to build a camp in an old outbuilding in the garden.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the locks for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

School was about three hundred metres away and to get there we had to pass what was euphemistically called the ‘corn field’.  There never actually was any corn in it of course it was just a piece of uncultivated land with long grass that was waiting to be developed and it wasn’t long before the Council built a clinic and some houses on it and took away another useful recreation site.

At the back of the school was the Elder Forest, which wasn’t a forest at all just an area of overgrown vegetation with a predominance of Elder Trees.  That’s all been grubbed up and built on too of course now.  Given the shortage of playing space it’s hardly any wonder I suppose that today children have to stop at home and watch the TV or play computer games and are denied the pleasure of real play!

Scrap Book Project – Swimming Lessons

Regent Street Swimming Baths

I didn’t learn to swim until the final year of Junior School when I was eleven years old.  I remember that we all looked forward to moving up to class seven so that we could have an hour or so away from the class room and be taken to the public baths in Regent Street in Rugby.

Rugby had two public swimming baths, the indoor pool and an outdoor Lido on Newbold Road but we didn’t go to either very often.  Once one summer we went to the Lido when I was about seven and as we stood by the water’s edge, just for a joke, my dad said “go on then jump in” and I did.  I don’t think he expected that because firstly we were standing near the deep end and secondly and perhaps more importantly I couldn’t swim and after going under several times he had to jump in himself and pull me out! 

I remember that episode being rather a shock but everyone else seemed to find it amusing.

Avon Mill Outdoor Pool

The odd thing about swimming is that is like riding a bike – once you can do it it is so very easy but learning how to do it seemed to take several weeks.

Anyway, the hire bus would turn up shortly after morning assembly and we would line up with our duffel bags and make our way to the  worn out old coach that would take us the two mile twenty minute journey into town along the Lower Hillmorton Road.

The Regent Street Baths were a functional brick built building that had been built in the early 1930s and opened in 1932.  Public baths in the 1930s were built for sanitation and public health and hygiene so they weren’t the sort of place that you would go to enjoy yourself as you would today.

We clicked one by one through the iron turnstile, through the double doors and then the boys filed away to the right and the girls to the left to their respective changing rooms.  On public swimming days there was a locker room with an attendant who handed out wire baskets for our clothes but on school swimming lesson day there was no need for this so everyone found one of the individual cubicles that ran down each side of the pool and being careful not to drop our clothes on the wet floor we changed into our swimming costumes, hung our clothes on a peg and then went to the side of the pool and stood rather nervously and self-consciously and waited for the swimming instructor.

This was Mrs Dick who, rumour had it, had once been a professional swimmer and had represented England but I’m not absolutely sure if that was true or not.  Mrs Dick used to frighten us, she had very short cropped hair, wore shorts and a track suit top and had a silver whistle hanging around her neck and when she gave the first shrill blast that was the signal to go down the steps into the icy cold water.

There was always a sign up which made some preposterously exaggerated claim about the temperature of the water but I swear it was hardly ever a degree or two above freezing.  To be fair it must have been a devil of a job keeping the water room  because they didn’t have pool covers in those days and the baths were a big high building with an awful lot of glass so any heat must have just gone literally through the roof.

Swimming Baths interior

I don’t really remember the process or the sequence for learning to swim but I do recall that it seemed to involve a lot of wasted time hanging on to the rail at the shallow end and trying to lift our legs out of the water to see if we could float.  I think they may even have taught us how to tread water before they progressed to anything ambitious like strokes.  Once we had overcome our fear of the water and could bob about a bit then we progressed to leaving loose of the rail and going to the centre of the pool with a polystyrene float to hold on to as we got used to kicking with our legs and one by one over the weeks everyone (well, mostly everyone) started to swim unaided and the first test of competence was coming up.

This was being able to demonstrate that we could swim the colossal distance of a whole length of the swimming pool – thirty-three and a third yards.  We started at the deep end underneath the shadow of the three stage diving platform and set off one by one towards our target at the shallow end.  Some failed the first attempt and had to be fished out of the water by a long pole and some just gave up and had to be thrown a polystyrene float but I am fairly sure that I did it at the first attempt and a few weeks later was rewarded by being awarded a certificate that was signed by several important civic dignitaries including the Chairman of the Baths Committee and the Town Clerk of Rugby Borough Council although looking at it again now the Town Clerk’s signature appears to be a stamp rather than genuine.

Swimming Certificate

After the lesson Mrs Dick would blow her whistle and we were sent to the showers to warm up and to try and get rid of the smell of chlorine that stuck like glue to our hair and bodies and then it was back to the bus and the journey back to Hillmorton County Junior and Infants School.

It was a good thing to learn to swim because after that I was allowed to go the swimming baths with my pals David Newman and Tony Gibbard on a Saturday morning and we used to catch the R76 bus into town and visit the Regent Street Baths by ourselves.  During the summer we wanted to swim outdoors but by now the Newbold Road Lido had been demolished and turned into a waste transfer station so we used to cycle eight miles to the Daventry outdoor baths instead.  Once or twice we swam in the canal near David’s house but quite frankly, when I think about it now, that was very dangerous and not such a clever thing to do and if we’d ever been caught by our parents we would have been in an awful lot of trouble that’s for sure!

Hillmorton Canal

The Regent Street Baths stayed open for about forty years and then in the early 1970s they were replaced by the Rugby Sports Centre in Whitehall Road Park and with no further use they were demolished and the land turned into a public park called Jubilee Gardens where there is a statue of Rugby born poet Rupert Brooke.

The Rugby Leisure Centre later became the Ken Marriott Leisure Centre in memory of one of the Councillors and that only lasted forty years as well as it was closed in 2013 and demolished to make way for the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Leisure Centre.

Sports Centre

Scrap Book Project – School Crossing Patrols

In April 2003 the School Crossing Patrol service in the UK celebrated its 50th anniversary.  Britain’s first Patrol, a Mrs Hunt was appointed by Bath City Council in 1937 to work outside Kingsmead school.  Despite the bombing raids, Mrs Hunt continued to work throughout the Second World War, moving to a new site with the children when the building was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942.

Experimental Patrols appeared in London in the 1940’s and Traffic Wardens were used to assemble children in Dagenham in 1949.  The idea proved very popular and other boroughs in London began to follow suit, leading to the Metropolitan Police deciding that this was something it should adopt and take over.

Patrols were formally recognised in Britain by the School Crossing Patrols Act in 1953 and allowed to operate across the country and the School Crossing Patrol Service in London officially came into being with The London Traffic (Children Crossing Traffic Notices) Law of 1953.

My Grandad Ernie was a school crossing patrol man in the 1970s.  He was Londoner and worked as a bus conductor on the old London double-decker Routemaster buses operating from the Catford depot in South London.  I can still remember him in his dark blue London Transport uniform with his red conductors badge and his leather satchel slung over his shoulder walking home from work in a jaunty sort of way all along Barmerston Road back to the flat my grandparents lived at, at number 50.  Grandad Ernie liked to have a drink (or two) and would always give my dad (who was a hopeless drinker) a headache after a night out and he used to smoke forty Embassy cigarettes a day until the doctor told him to quit or die.  He spent a lot of time sitting in his favourite chair watching the horse racing on the TV.

He was a really nice man but he never quite seemed to have the time for or the understanding of children that my other grandad (Ted) used to have.  He was generous and kind but just didn’t seem to have the time to spend with us on all of the trivial things that the other one did.  So it was a bit of a surprise when, after he had retired and moved to live in Rugby, that he became a lollypop man!

His first assignment was on High Street in Hillmorton but after they moved to Lower Street he had a transfer to Abbotts Farm shops where he used to see children across a stretch of dual carriageway near the Jolly Abbott pub.  The children seemed to like him and he would often come home with impromptu gifts.  Dad and I used to drive past him every day when we went home from work for lunch and he was always embarrassed to be caught holding a child’s hand because this exposed him as a softie when he had worked quite hard on his image of not really caring for the company of kids that much.

I like the picture of him on duty, it was taken by the local newspaper, the Rugby Advertiser, but I don’t know why.  I like the way he has got his raincoat on over his white coat which sort of missed the point about it being white for health and safety reasons! I posted it on a ‘I rememmber Rugby’ page on Facebook and lots of people responded to it saying how they remembered him and I was surprised by that!

He was a good man. He died in 1977 aged 75.

In Memory of Woolworths

Woolworths Rugby

When I was a boy the Rugby store at 30 High Street was one of my favourite shops in town.  It was big, it was bright, it was cheap and gaudy and it was like an Aladdin’s cave full of treasure.

I don’t know for sure how long it had been there but there are some old pictures of the town that show it in the 1950s in a fine old building but some time in the early 1960s Rugby got the full attention of the modernist town planners and much of the historic centre was swept away in a frenzy of demolition and rebuild and by the 1960s Woolworths was located in a modern brick and glass building with a concrete façade which would have looked trendy then but now just looks firmly and inappropriately time locked in its post war conception.

The dark days of Winter were the best time to visit Woolworths because stepping out of the gloom into the bright lights was like visiting Santa’s grotto.  The Rugby store was a big one, on three levels and with entrances from both High Street and Sheep Street which pre pedestrianisation were busy main roads cutting through the middle of town from Market Place to Hillmorton Road and as well as Woolworths there wasMarks and Spencers, Boots the Chemist, International Stores and a number of small local shops, sadly, mostly now gone.

Before it was modernised with tills at the exits it was a curious mix of the old and the new shopping experience. It had worn wooden floors and counters arranged in sections that were part self-service and partly manned by shop assistants.

Each section advertised its wares with a cardboard sign in a sort of aluminium picture frame which wobbled about on the counter. ‘Pick n Mix’ was close to the door with a mouth watering array of fizzy and hard boiled sweets sponsored probably by the local dentists.  Once past this distraction there were toys and games, hardware, gardening, shoes and clothing counters.  There were records too but these were mainly cheap long playing records not performed by the original artist.

old woolworths

Shop-lifting was a problem for Woolworths and on the subject of thieving, Rugby School Boys were not allowed to shop in the store and I always thought this was due to some snobbish rule imposed by the public school itself but it turned out that it was in fact a ban by the management of Woolies because despite the fact that the pupils were from very well off families they used to nick so much stuff that it had a negative effect on store profits.

Progressing deeper into the store the counters became less interesting for young children , clothes, kitchen ware, electrical items and furniture.  Upstairs, via the escalator on one side and stairs on the other, was really for serious mum and dad shopping and there was a cafeteria for tea and a sandwich.  The third floor was accessed by what seemed to be a curious set of back stairs but I can’t remember anything especially interesting on this floor.

Woolworths was rather like a giant indoor playground with lots of interesting things to do.  One of my favourites was the weighing machine right near the door.  It was big and red and had a massive dial which swung round when you stood on the metal plate.  You had to put money in the machine to make it work, probably no more than a penny or so, so we used to try and fool it to weigh each one in turn but this never worked because as soon as two people got on and one stood off then the dial collapsed to its starting point as though by magic.

Woolworths was at its very best around December time when the place filled up for Christmas and for a young boy with a few shillings to spend on family presents this was the place to spend a Saturday afternoon and get all the shopping done in one go in just one store – it was brilliant.  I seem to remember that it was good at Easter as well when there were rows and rows of chocolate Easter eggs taking up more than its fair share of floor space.

Sadly, Woolworths ceased trading and went into voluntary liquidation in November 2008 and shortly after that the Rugby store, along with all of the others across the country, closed their doors for good on 27th December. I don’t know what replaced it because I don’t visit Rugby any more but the loss of Woolies in Rugby and High Streets across the country must surely remain one of the biggest retailing disappointments of the last few years.

Rugby Woolworths

The Wonder of Woolies!

The very first Woolworths store opened in the United States on 21st June 1879 and when I was a boy the Rugby store at 30 High Street was one of my favourite shops in town selling things you don’t see any more like Melba chocolate, spud guns, Embassy records, pick ‘n’ mix, broken biscuits, Homemaker china, Californian Poppy perfume, and Ladybird children’s clothes.

It was big, it was bright, it was cheap and gaudy and it was like an Aladdin’s cave full of treasure. I don’t know for sure how long it had been there but there are some old pictures of Rugby that show it in the 1950s in a fine old building but some time in the early 1960s Rugby got the full attention of the modernist town planners and much of the historic centre was swept away in a frenzy of demolition and rebuild and by the 1960s Woolworths was located in a modern brick and glass building with a concrete facade which would have looked trendy then but now just looks firmly and inappropriately time locked in its post war conception.

The dark days of Winter were the best time to visit Woolworths because stepping out of the gloom into the bright lights was like visiting Santa’s grotto.  I think there was a sort of Star Trek tractor beam that pulled people in off the streets. The Rugby store was a big one, on three levels and with entrances from both High Street and Sheep Street which pre pedestrianisation were busy main roads cutting through the middle of town from Market Place to Hillmorton Road and as well as Woolworths there was Boots the Chemist, International Stores and a number of small local shops, sadly, mostly now gone.

Before it was modernised with tills at the exits it was a curious mix of the old and the new shopping experience. It had wooden floors and counters arranged in sections that were part self-service and partly manned by shop assistants.  Each section advertised its wares with a cardboard sign in a sort of aluminium picture frame which wobbled about on the counter. ‘Pick n Mix’ was close to the door with a mouth watering array of fizzy and hard boiled sweets sponsored probably by the local dentists.  Once past this distraction there were toys and games, hardware, gardening, shoes and clothing counters.  There were records too but these were mainly cheap long playing records not performed by the original artist.

Shop-lifting was a problem for Woolies and  Rugby School Boys were not allowed to shop in the store and I always thought this was due to some snobbish rule imposed by the public school itself but it turned out that it was in fact a ban by the management of Woolies because despite the fact that the pupils were from very well off families they used to nick so much stuff that it had a negative effect on store profits.

Progressing deeper into the store the counters became less interesting for young children, clothes, kitchen ware, electrical items and furniture.  Upstairs, via the escalator on one side and stairs on the other, was really for serious mum and dad shopping and there was a cafeteria for tea and a sandwich.  The third floor was accessed by what seemed to be a curious set of back stairs but I can’t remember anything especially interesting on this floor.

Woolworths was best around December time when the place filled up for Christmas and for a young boy with a few shillings to spend on family presents this was the place to spend a Saturday afternoon and get all the shopping done in one go in just one store – it was brilliant.  I seem to remember that it was good at Easter as well when there were rows and rows of chocolate Easter eggs taking up more than their fair share of floor space.

Sadly, Woolworths ceased trading and went into voluntary liquidation in November 2008 and shortly after that the Rugby store, along with all of the others across the country, closed down. I don’t know what replaced it because I don’t visit Rugby any more but the loss of Woolies in Rugby and High Streets across the country remains one of the biggest retailing disappointments of the last few years.

Rugby Central Railway Station

‘And quite where Rugby Central is, does only Rugby know’  – John Betjeman

Rugby Central railway station was opened in 1899 and had services between London and Manchester via Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield as well as various cross country services to places such as Southampton and Hull.  The station was under the management of the Great Central Railway until it was grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923 and it then came under the management of British Railways in 1948.

Rugby Central was located roughly midway along the Great Central line, and was a stopping point for express services, as well as a changeover point for local services. Until the early 1960s the station was served by around six daily London-Manchester expresses, and was the terminus for local services from Leicester or Nottingham from the north.

Rugby Central Railway Station

After we moved to Rugby and before dad could drive we used to use the line to get to Leicester but 1963 was a bad year for railways and the Beeching report in March proposed that out of Britain’s then twenty-nine thousand kilometres of railway, nearly ten thousand of mostly rural branch and cross-country lines should be closed.  The name derives from the main author of the report ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’, Dr. Richard Beeching, and although this report also proposed the development of new modes of freight service and the modernisation of trunk passenger routes, it is best remembered for recommending the wholesale closure of what it considered to be little-used and unprofitable railway lines, and the removal of stopping passenger trains and closure of local stations on other lines which remained open.

The report was a reaction to the significant losses which had begun in the 1950s as the expansion in road transport began to transfer significant passenger and goods traffic away from the tracks and British Railways continued making increasingly large losses despite the introduction of the railway modernisation plan of 1955.  Beeching proposed that only drastic action would save the railways from increasing losses in the future.  Thousands of kilometres of railway track were removed and hundreds of stations were closed in the decade following the report and many other rail lines lost their passenger services and were retained only for freight.

Most of the Great Central line was closed in September 1966 and on this date, the line south of Rugby Central and north of Nottingham Victoria was closed. The section between Rugby Central and Nottingham (initially Victoria, later cut back to Arkwright Street) remained open as self-contained branch carrying a local passenger service until 3rd May 1969; the station formally closed on 5th May.

This was significant for us because the Beeching Axe closed the Great Central Railway that ran from London Marylebone to Manchester Piccadilly but rather critically for us connected Rugby to Leicester and my grandparents.  Every other Saturday we used to use the steam train to Leicester via Lutterworth, Ashby Magna and Whetstone to Leicester Central and then a bus to Narborough Road (if we were lucky) to visit the folks.  With no convenient alternative route available to visit them, or to get to the football matches, this must have been an important factor in dad’s decision to learn to drive and join the motoring age.

More than 40 years after the end of rail services, you can still catch a bus at the site of Rugby Central. The station passenger entrance was by the lamppost; the houses are built on the former goods yard.

More details about Rugby Central Station…

Town Twinning Rugby and Evreux

“I’ve never approved of the idea of twinning, because places are inevitably matched with places like them.  So if you live, say, in a stunningly beautiful medieval town… then you’ll be twinned with your exquisite European equivalent.  If you live in Warrington or St Helens then you’ll be twinned with another industrial casualty.”                                                                                                  Pete McCarthy, ‘McCarthy’s Bar’

Town Twinning became a big thing after the Second World War as people sought to repair shattered relationships with their neighbours and I have often wondered what the process was for getting a twin town.

Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful; or perhaps it was a sort of international dating service and introductory agency.

Anyway, the city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins.  That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry.  Perhaps even more surprising is that Sherborne in Dorset, a town of only ten thousand residents has fifteen twin towns.

Rugby, my home town, twinned with Evreux in France on 3rd May 1959.  From 1975 to 1980 I worked at Rugby Borough Council and there was a strong Town Twinning Association with a regular group of Council bigwigs rotating biannually between visiting the twin town of Evreux in Normandy, France and then entertaining French visitors the following year.  In 1977 Rugby twinned with a second town, this time Russelheim in Germany, and this meant new people were required to fill the coaches and provide accommodation for visitors.  We expressed an interest in the Gallic option and in 1979 joined the twinners.

1979 was a year when the French visited the UK so we joined in the fund raising and the planning meetings in preparation.  We were excited about this cleaned the house from top to bottom, manicured the garden and prepared appropriate menus.  In 1979 I had only been to Europe twice, Italy in 1976 and Spain in 1977 and this hadn’t involved a lot of getting familiar with the locals so to have visitors from France staying in our house was a bit of an adventure.

The visitors from Evreux arrived one evening in September and we were introduced to our guests for the weekend Charles and Marie Rose Freret and we had a interesting first evening of ‘getting to know each other’  .  Luckily Charles and especially Marie Rose spoke good English so this happily meant that we didn’t have to communicate through embarrassing nods, pointing gestures and shouting but this was nevertheless an occasion when I wished that I had paid more attention to Pluto Thompson in school French lessons.

To be honest there wasn’t a lot of time for awkward or uncomfortable moments because the weekend was well planned with a civic reception, a garden party, an evening out and the inevitable visit to Stratford-upon-Avon.  The only clumsy time was when I produced a bottle of Piat D’or white wine.  I thought that this would be a winner because the adverts said ‘The French adore le Piat D’or’ but it turned out that they didn’t actually and Charles had never even heard of it.  He drank it but I don’t think he was impressed!

Playing host was good fun but it was even better of course to travel to France and be entertained in Evreux and in the following year we joined the coach outside the Town Hall and set off for the English Channel.

Charles and Marie Rose lived in a middle class suburb just outside the city and the house and the ambiance confirmed what we already knew – that Charles was a traditional Frenchman through and through, proud of the culture and the French way of life.  He knew about wine and had different bottles for each course of evening meal (and he didn’t feel obliged to drink the bottle all in one go, which I thought was strange because doesn’t wine go off once the cork has been removed?), Marie Rose knew about French cooking and prepared an excellent meal and Charles turned out to be an expert on cheese (French of course) and the precise order in which it should be eaten.

The itinerary of visits was tremendous and we visited Paris (my first time) and did the main sights including to trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower on a disappointingly misty day.  On the second day we toured the pretty town centre of Evreux, visited Monet’s delightful house and garden at Giverney and finished the day with a trip to the Palace of Versailles where in the evening there was the most spectacular fireworks and water fountains display accompanied by Handel’s Water Music.

The final civic reception was held in the countryside at a Chateaux some way out the town and there was a sumptuous buffet of dining treats including caviar on wafer thin savoury biscuits.

Now, this was still at a time when my gastronomic experience could best be described as limited and I had never had caviar before so I took two.  How I wished I hadn’t because to me it tasted awful and with my fist bite I had a mouthful of slimy fish eggs that was beginning to make me gag and it looked certain I was about to make a show of myself.  I tried to wash it down with a generous swig of champagne and somehow managed to get it past the point of no return without serious incident but this left the problem of the one and a half biscuits still on my plate.  I thought about the toilets but it would have looked odd taking my food to the gents but fortunately there was an unnecessary log fire at one end of the room so I casually made my way across to it and discreetly disposed of it in the flames.

In the following year I changed jobs and moved away to Rugby and that put an end to Town Twinning for a while until over twenty years later in 2002.

Ernest Steel, School Crossing Patrolman

In April 2003 the School Crossing Patrol service in the UK celebrated its 50th anniversary.  Britain’s first Patrol, a Mrs Hunt was appointed by Bath City Council in 1937 to work outside Kingsmead school.  Despite the bombing raids, Mrs Hunt continued to work throughout the Second World War, moving to a new site with the children when the building was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942.

Experimental Patrols appeared in London in the 1940’s and Traffic Wardens were used to assemble children in Dagenham in 1949.  The idea proved very popular and other boroughs in London began to follow suit, leading to the Metropolitan Police deciding that this was something it should adopt and take over.

Patrols were formally recognised in Britain by the School Crossing Patrols Act in 1953 and allowed to operate across the country and the School Crossing Patrol Service in London officially came into being with The London Traffic (Children Crossing Traffic Notices) Law of 1953.

My Grandad Ernie was a school crossing patrol man in the 1970s.  He was Londoner and worked as a bus conductor on the old London double-decker Routemaster buses operating from the Catford depot in South London.  I can still remember him in his dark blue London Transport uniform with his red conductors badge and his leather satchel slung over his shoulder walking home from work in a jaunty sort of way all along Barmerston Road back to the flat my grandparents lived at, at number 50.  Grandad Ernie liked to have a drink (or two) and would always give my dad (who was a hopeless drinker) a headache after a night out and he used to smoke forty Embassy cigarettes a day until the doctor told him to quit or die.  He spent a lot of time sitting in his favourite chair watching the horse racing on the TV.

He was a really nice man but he never quite seemed to have the time for or the understanding of children that my other grandad (Ted) used to have.  He was generous and kind but just didn’t seem to have the time to spend with us on all of the trivial things that the other one did.  So it was a bit of a surprise when, after he had retired and moved to live in Rugby, that he became a lollypop man!

His first assignment was on High Street in Hillmorton but after they moved to Lower Street he had a transfer to Abbotts Farm shops where he used to see children across a stretch of dual carriageway near the Jolly Abbott pub.  The children seemed to like him and he would often come home with impromptu gifts.  Dad and I used to drive past him every day when we went home from work for lunch and he was always embarrassed to be caught holding a child’s hand because this exposed him as a softie when he had worked quite hard on his image of not really caring for the company of kids that much.

I like the picture of him on duty, it was taken by the local newspaper, the Rugby Advertiser, but I don’t know why.  I like the way he has got his raincoat on over his white coat which sort of missed the point about it being white for health and safety reasons! I posted it on a ‘I rememmber Rugby’ page on Facebook and lots of people responded to it saying how they remembered him and I was surprised by that!

He was a good man. He died in 1977 aged 75.

A Life in a Year – 27th December, The End of Woolworths

When I was a boy the Rugby store at 30 High Street was one of my favourite shops in town.  It was big, it was bright, it was cheap and gaudy and it was like an Aladdin’s cave full of treasure. I don’t know for sure how long it had been there but there are some old pictures of Rugby that show it in the 1950s in a fine old building but some time in the early 1960s Rugby got the full attention of the modernist town planners and much of the historic centre was swept away in a frenzy of demolition and rebuild and by the 1960s Woolworths was located in a modern brick and glass building with a concrete facade which would have looked trendy then but now just looks firmly and inappropriately time locked in its post war conception.

The dark days of Winter were the best time to visit Woolworths because stepping out of the gloom into the bright lights was like visiting Santa’s grotto.  The Rugby store was a big one, on three levels and with entrances from both High Street and Sheep Street which pre pedestrianisation were busy main roads cutting through the middle of town from Market Place to Hillmorton Road and as well as Woolworths there was Boots the Chemist, International Stores and a number of small local shops, sadly, mostly now gone.

Before it was modernised with tills at the exits it was a curious mix of the old and the new shopping experience. It had wooden floors and counters arranged in sections that were part self-service and partly manned by shop assistants.  Each section advertised its wares with a cardboard sign in a sort of aluminium picture frame which wobbled about on the counter. ‘Pick n Mix’ was close to the door with a mouth watering array of fizzy and hard boiled sweets sponsored probably by the local dentists.  Once past this distraction there were toys and games, hardware, gardening, shoes and clothing counters.  There were records too but these were mainly cheap long playing records not performed by the original artist. I was in there one day with my friend David Newman when he shop-lifted an LP of Warren Mitchell (Alf Garnett) singing war time songs.

On the subject of thieving, Rugby School Boys were not allowed to shop in the store and I always thought this was due to some snobbish rule imposed by the public school itself but it turned out that it was in fact a ban by the management of Woolies because despite the fact that the pupils were from very well off families they used to nick so much stuff that it had a negative effect on store profits.

Progressing deeper into the store the counters became less interesting for young children , clothes, kitchen ware, electrical items and furniture.  Upstairs, via the escalator on one side and stairs on the other, was really for serious mum and dad shopping and there was a cafeteria for tea and a sandwich.  The third floor was accessed by what seemed to be a curious set of back stairs but I can’t remember anything especially interesting on this floor.

Woolworths was best around December time when the place filled up for Christmas and for a young boy with a few shillings to spend on family presents this was the place to spend a Saturday afternoon and get all the shopping done in one go in just one store – it was brilliant.  I seem to remember that it was good at Easter as well when there were rows and rows of chocolate Easter eggs taking up more than its fair share of floor space.

Sadly, Woolworths ceased trading and went into voluntary liquidation in November 2008 and shortly after that the Rugby store, along with all of the others across the country, closed their doors for good on 27th December. I don’t know what replaced it because I don’t visit Rugby any more but the loss of Woolies in Rugby and High Streets across the country remains one of the biggest retailing disappointments of the last few years.