Recollections - Amroth

Go to content

Main menu:


These recollections were started, in the first instance as a result of a request from Mary that I should record for her some of my memories of my father, the Grandfather whom she never knew, but had heard a lot about. These memories have since been expanded to cover not only Dad but other members of the family, and life in Kingswear during my boyhood.

Archie Wills

Philip Henry Wills, always known as Harry Wills, Born circa 1865-67? Died March, 1954.

Dad was born at Bridford, a small village in the Teign Valley, and as his parents had died very young, he was brought up by an elder sister, Caroline. I believe that there were other brother who also died young, but I never remember hearing of any other sisters. His forebears were farmers in the area, and Dad always said that one of his ancestors was a notorious gambler who lost their possessions. Later in life, Dad was left a small farm at Bridford, a legacy from an aunt, but it was a very poor farm on the edge of the moors, and it was a millstone around his neck rather than an investment, and eventually he sold it. Dad used to say that he thought his family were distant relatives of the Wills Tobacco family but there there were so many Willses in that area, and probably inter-related that it would need an expert to sort them all out.

Dad had a very sketchy education, and I think that he left school at the age of 12, but later on he attended night school, but was mainly self-taught. I think that was the reason, why he insisted that his own children had as good an education as possible. Considering his lack of a formal education he was quite erudite, he had read widely, was very fond of poetry, and could quote a lot of Scott, Longfellow, Wordsworth, as well as the Bible. Proverbs was often quoted.

He was very intelligent, and there was nothing hazy about him, he was a man with a very clear mind, and I am sure that under more favourable circumstances, he could have achieved a good deal.

Dad learnt his trade as a millwright, when this was a dying craft, but it meant learning how to work in wood and metal. I don't know where he was trained, but later he worked with a firm of Engineers, called Hamlyn, I think, at Buckfastleigh. He lodged with Mrs. Youlden, whose younger daughter, Winnie, married Les Lane, who you will remember we used to visit. Apparently Dad married a young lady from that area, who died quite young, and I believe she is buried at Buckfastleigh.

For some reason or other we were kept in the dark about his previous marriage, as though there was something shameful about it, and. in later years I never tried to find out anything, certainly Dad never mentioned it, and I don't think Mum was keen to talk.

When the Engineering firm at Buckfastleigh began to decline, a number of young men Dad included, came to Kingswear, to work in the Shipyard at Noss, then run by the firm of Simpson Strickland. Dad worked as a fitter, and one of the Directors owned a car and for several years Dad was his chauffeur, and drove the car. In those days a skilled engineer was needed to keep a car on the road, and Dad drove his Boss to many places in England, and also toured in Ireland and Scotland. At one time there was a Photo at Belmont of Dad at the wheel of the car, which had a registered number T 12, which means that it was the twelfth car registered in Devon. However, Dad was too independent a man to be a chauffeur, and after a couple of years he went back to his proper job.

I don't know how Mum and Dad met, her parents were living at Lustleigh, but I think she was working at Torquay in service. When they were courting, Dad would leave work at Noss at 5 p.m. go to Kingswear and change and then set off for Lustleigh, to see her, coming back to Kingswear late on Sunday night. I think that there was sometimes a train that he could catch for part of the journey, he would have had to change at Newton Abbot, but if not, he would walk each way. Although this was a walk of 20 - 25 miles, he was always a good walker, and as a young man could do it quite easily.

When we were young, Dad never seemed, to be interested in sport, but I recall a photo at Belmont of Kingswear Cricket Club, and Dad was in it, so presumably before he was married to Mum, he played cricket. My clearest recollection of him, when I was a boy, is of a man who was always busy. Apart from the garden at Belmont he had two allotments, and if he wasn’t working in the garden, he was out on a farm, repairing farm machinery. I don't think he ever got paid any money, for all the jobs he did. Farmers were very tight-fisted and hated parting with gash, and Dad would get promises of poultry for Christmas, a big basket of apples, or very occasionally a load of manure for the garden. Some farmers were quite good, we nearly always had a turkey for Christmas, once a goose which we did'nt appreciate, and Dad did jobs on nearly all the farms in the district, but there was one farmer whom Dad refused to help, as he never kept his promise to give Dad anything. Other farmers would give Dad permission to catch rabbits on their land, and I always thought that he ought to have been paid for his efforts, as he was helping to keep down the rabbits, but at least it augmented our rations, and roast rabbit was quite nice.

We kept a couple of ferrets which I detested, and we would sometime have to go rabbiting on a Saturday afternoon. Clem seemed to enjoy it but Gib and I would much rather have played football or watched Rugger. Sometimes an old man called Martin would go with us, and Gib and I were always 3n the same side of the hedge as Mr. Martin. He wasn’t very agile, and we were expected to grab the rabbits caught in the nets before they managed to get free. We never enjoyed rabbiting very much and it was agony having to keep still and not talk when old Martin was there.

As you probably know, Dad made all the concrete steps at Belmont, and I often wonder if Dad and Fred Roberts were the originators of concrete blocks. Probably concrete blocks or Breeze blocks, as they were called were in general use, but it was an innovation as far as Kingswear was concerned to make reinforced and moulded steps and slabs.

Dad was very versatile, he could work with wood and metal as a result of his training as a Millwright and when he was over 70 and retired, he decided that he would find out if he still had the skill. Farmer Jeffery at Croftland, needed a new cart, and Dad offered to make one. It took rather a long time as farm carts were made of very hard wood, but he managed it and even made the wheels. How he did it I don't know as he never worked from plans or blue prints, and it was all in his head, but he was an outstanding craftsman.

Mention of Fred Roberts reminds me that in the 1950 's, Philips shipyard practically closed down and Dad was out of work. He and Fred Roberts used to buy trees, and cut them down, and saw them up at the Sawmill at the end of the top lane near the Cemetery. Dad was the expert, he sharpened the circular saw and did the tree-felling, and I think the main job that Fred Roberts did was to provide the capital for their joint venture. I well remember one instance when Dad was cutting down a tree in Higher Contour Road, for our own consumption for firewood. There were a lot of unemployed men around, who were only too pleased to be able to watch the operation, and quite a crowd had gathered. As usual there were some who felt it was their duty to give advice. "You'd better be careful, Harry, or you'll hit that other tree, it won't fall down where you are expecting it to fall". Dad wasn’t short-tempered, but wouldn’t put up with too much of that sort of talk. He put down the axe he was wielding and said, "If you think that you can do this job better than I can, here's the tools, come and have a go.". "Didn’t mean it like that Harry, I'm sure you know What you are doing". The onlookers rather reluctantly drifted away, and Dad was left in peace to continue felling the tree. There was one tree-felling operation which however did not go exactly as Dad had planned. This again was a tree for our own use, and was across the other side of the Creek, and was an old and gnarled tree, and Dad had lopped all the branches, and decided that the trunk was going to be difficult to saw. The old wooden viaducts at Noss were very shaky and the cuttings were being blasted out with gunpowder or T.N.T.

Dad got to know the Foreman of the site, and managed to get the necessary explosives, for his plan was to blow up the tree trunk. He bored holes in the trunk and on Saturday afternoon we all went over to watch the operation. Dad made us all stand back a long way, and when he was satisfied that it was safe, he detonated it. There was an almighty BANG, and large lumps of the tree were blown high in the air, and landed down in the Creek.

I don't think that Dad managed to get most of the wood, and the ducks, geese and poultry which Mrs Wadland kept at the end of the Creek were frightened out of their wits. Mrs. Wadland complained bitterly that it put them off laying for weeks.

Some years after Dad died, I met a man who had learnt his trade as a fitter at Noss Works. In those days the apprentice would be moved around from one workman to another, so that they were taught every aspect of the job. He told me, ".we apprentices had mixed feelings about working with your father, as he was very strict, and reprimanded us for swearing, and wouldn't allow any smoking. On the other hand, he was the best fitter in the workshop, and we would learn more frorn him than anyone else ". I have always regretted that I heard this too late to be able to pass it on to Dad.

I don't remember ever smelling tobacco smoke in the house at Belmont. Dad wouldn't allow us to smoke or drink until we were 21 years of age. That doesn't mean that we didn't try it before that age, but never at home. When Mum took in lodgers in the summer, they seemed to know that the house was a "No smoke area "but I can recall one regular lodger smoking in the garden.

Dad wasn’t averse to a little drink with his friends at Croftland, but perhaps we were not supposded to know this and we never had any in the house.

Dad's strictures were always aimed at making sure that we were old enough to be responsible for our actions.

He didn't like us to go swimming on Sunday, especially at Lighthouse Cove, so in deference to his views, we often walked to Mansands on a Sunday afternoon. We played football with a tennis ball on the road on the way out but were in too much hurry to do that on the return journey, as we had to be back in time for evening Chapel. As it was a walk of 5 miles each way, we didn't have a lot of time for swimming, and it’s no wonder that Gib would sometimes drop off to sleep during the sermon.

Dad's philosophy was that Satan finds mischief for idle hands, and so he liked to keep us busy during Saturdays. However he was very fair, and never stopped me from playing football in the School teams and often it was both morning and afternoon. I presume that the jobs which I would have done, like chopping firewood or breaking up stones for concrete, were done by Gib or Clem or Dad himself.

I hope that I've not given the impression of a very strict autocratic father. Certainly his word was law, but he was amenable to reason, and we were never resentful of his edicts, and had a very happy childhood. I think we realised that discipline was good for us.

As I stated at the commencement of these recollections, this started off simply as memories of my father, and were written in manuscript, and have now been typed. Further memories will be typed direct so will probably be disjointed and haphazard.

I have no records to refer to, as Mum died at Kingswear Court, and I suppose that Clem and Jean had any papers, and thay may have been taken to Australia.

I do not know when or where Mum and Dad were married, but I think that Mum was born at Torquay, and her parents later moved to Lustleigh. After she left school and when she was quite young, she went out to Egypt as a nursemaid, looking after the son of an Army Officer. They were stationed in the old Citadel, in the heart of Cairo, and Mum told me that whenever, she took young Arthur, as I think he was called, for a walk, she always had an escort of a soldier.

Mum wasn't in Cairo for very long, as she contracted some kind of fever, and eventually was sent to Malta to recuperate. I think the Military Hospital was actually at Gozo, a small island off the island of Malta. I don't know how long she was there but, in the meantime, the Officer who employed her was sent to India with his Regiment. It was decided that it would not be wise for Mum to go there, and so when she was well enough, she was sent back to England.

I believe that she was at home for quite some time before she was well enough to resume work, and she continued to carry on as a Nursemaid or Nanny. One of the families for whom she worked was called Scott, and she looked after a little boy called Archie Scott. Later on she became a parlourmaid and towards the end of her years in service, she was a Lady's maid. I think she always worked in-houses owned by rich people as only the rich could afford to have a Lady's Maid as well as all the other staff, and the Lady's Maid and Nanny ranked with the Butler and Cook as the hierarchy of the household.

She told me once that work in such houses was quite pleasant, and the staff were welI looked after. One employer, and I think it was Mr. Scott, used to get tickets for the staff to go to the Music Halls, which were then in their heyday. Mum had seen all the top Music Hall performers and at one time had a number of picture postcards of the stars but I don't know what happened to them. She worked in London for a number of years, but when she met Dad. I think she was working at Torquay. Dad's elder sister Caroline was a Cook, and I know that she worked in Torquay, and it is possible that it was through her that Mum and Dad met, although I never heard that Mum and Auntie Carrie ever worked in the same house together.

Mum always had a great love for the theatre, but after her marriage I doubt whether she ever managed to go to a show. It wasn't Dad's cup of tea.

Mum's training in service stood her in good stead when she started to take in lodgers, as many of them seemed to come year after year. As children, we never saw much of the lodgers, as we had to keep out of the way as much as possible. Sleeping was a problem and I remember that several times Gib and I slept at a house owned by one of Dad's friends, the Pethericks, and I fancy that very often Peg slept there. When we boys were Scouts, the problem was eased, as we had the use of a bell tent, and would camp out, (sleeping only) all the summer. Very often it was in a field at Fountain Violet farm, but sometimes we had to move to another field, because of haymaking, and sometimes we had to share the field with a herd of cows.

As a family, we never had a holiday together, and I doubt if there were many working class families in Kingswear who did. We children had holidays at Lustleigh, with Mum's parents, and I was always peeved, as Gib and I were not allowed to go together, but Gib went with Clem, and I used to go with my cousin Lowen, at a another time. It was a great adventure for two small boys, going to Lustleigh on our own, by train. At Kingswear we would be put in the care of the Guard, and when we got to Newton Abbot, he would pass us over to a porter, who would escort us to another platform for the Branch Line to Lustleigh, and hand us over to the Guard on that train. The same procedure for the return journey, and I was always worried in case we got on to a Plymouth train.

I have an idea that Peg's holiday was at Buckfastleigh with Winnie Youlden.

As far as we boys were concerned, the holidays with Grandma Hill, ceased when we were old enough to go camping with the Scouts Clem was a keen Scout, and when Gib and I joined he was a Patrol Leader, and very highly thought of by the Scoutmaster. Clem retained his interest in the Scouting movement for many years, but when Gib and I started work, we lost interest, neither of us ever became a Patrol Leader.

Mum told me, many years after, that she used to rely on the money she got from the lodgers, to buy boots and shoes and clothes for her children, for the winter. She certainly worked hard in those days and she was an excellent housekeeper.

I doubt whether she had to buy jam from the shops, as she made lots of different varieties, Plum, Apple, Blackberry and Apple, Gooseberry , even at a pinch, Marrow Jam. A lot of fruit was bottled in Kilner Jars, and when the fowls were laying well in Spring or early Summer, the surplus eggs were pickled in earthenware jars in isinglass. No food was ever wasted, the fowls got potato peelings, cabbage leaves and any food scraps boiled up and mixed with bran.

No crusts of bread were ever wasted, because Mum had a large earthenware Bread Bin, and the crusts were put in there. If we came home from School, and were hungry, we were allowed to go to the Bread Bin, and help ourselves to a crust. When I went to school at Dartmouth, and Gib was still at Kingswear School, I seldom got a crust of bread, as Gib always got there before me. Apples were never bought, but we u;uslly had some around Christmas, if Dad was given a large basket in lieu of payment for work done on a farm. It seems hard to imagine, but if you ever took an apple to School, you would be surrounded by other boys asking if they could have the core. If it was a nice Eater, the answer would always be, "There won't be any core". Only sour, or Cider apples ever had a core.

I think your Mum got treated in the same way, when she was at school, as she always seemed to eat all except the stalk. I think we were lucky as regards fruit, as the front garden at Belmont had Loganberries, Raspberries, Blackcurrants and Gooseberry bushes.

Mum used to conjure up all sorts of meals, and I remember that if we were going off rabbiting on a cold winters afternoon, we often asked Mum if she would make a hot potato pudding for us when we came home. Cold and hungry, we were warmed up whilst rabbiting at the thought of hot Potato Pudding. I'm not sure how she made it but I think that mashed potato was mixed with curranta and raisins and baked in the oven, No such recipe in modern cookery books but it tasted lovely.

I mentioned earlier Plums, and I expect that Mary will remember how when she was a girl, that we would get them at Dittisham. This was carrying on a tradition from my youth, and one of the rare occasions when Dad joined us for a picnic. When we were younger we didn’t have a boat of our own, but Dad had a half share in a boat with an old man, called Kelland, who lived in College View. If we wanted to go for a picnic, we had to go and ask him for the oars and rowlocks, which he kept, and it always irked me to have to go to his house, and say, "Please Mr Kelland can we borrow the boat to-day?" and to have to take them back again in the evening. Mr. Kelland never used the boat himself, but in the summer when his sons were home on holiday, they sometimes used it but not very often. Later on Dad acquired the boat for himself, and we all learned to row at quite an early age, with small oars and rowlocks that Dad had made. Clem was a very good oarsman, and Peg could row quite well. Mum never did. Usually Mum and we four childreriwould go for a picnic, leaving Dad at home, or more likely

working on a farm. We always went up the river, never out to Lighthouse or Baker's Cove which was a wise ruling on Dad's part as we could hug the river bank and were in no danger from other river traffic. Of course we had to cross the route of the Higher Ferry, and we would always wait for it to leave the Kingswear side or be over on the Dartmouth side before we crossed its path. In any case it was so slow moving in those days that there was plenty of time to get out of its way. If Dad ever went with us for a picnic, there was usually an ulterior motive such as going on to Dittisham for plums.

Sometimes Dad would decide to visit some friends who had a small farm at Kiln Gate on the opposite side of the river from the Shipyard. This was the wrong side of the river as far as we were concerned, as the beach on that side of the river was in the shade in the afternoon and evening, so our picnics there were never very enjoyable. The boat featured in several episodes which are still in my memory, after all these years.

One evening, in late summer or early autumn, when Gib and I were about eight years old, we were told that we were all going to Dartmouth by boat, and so the whole family set off across the river. When we got to Dartmouth, Dad handed over the oars to Clem, with instructions that he should row around near the Double Steps until Dad came back, and Dad went ashore on his own, and we had to wait until he hailed us. I suppose it was about half an hour, or perhaps a bit longer, when it was beginning to get a bit dimpsey, when we were hailed, and a man got in the boat, and sat in the stern, with Mum and Peg. and Clem started to row us back to Kingswear.

Gib and I were sitting in the bow, and we had a worried whispered conversation. Was it Dad or someone else? We couldn't be sure, the man didn't look like Dad , but surely Mum wouldn't have allowed anyone else to get in the boat. Our worries only ended when we got home, and in the lamplight we saw that Dad had visited the barber, and had his rather bushy moustache shaved off. I don't know if Mum was in on the secret, but if Dad had heard our whispered conversation, he probaby had a quiet chuckle to himself. He never grew a moustache again.

When Clem left school, he worked for Edmondsons Electricity Corp. at Sandquay, where electricity for Dartmouth and Kingswear was generated, and in his late teens he became a Shift Engineer and operated the Power Station. Electricity was generated by day but at night, at midnight, the plant was shut down and electricity was provided by a large bank of batteries. The generators had to be running again by 6 o'clock in the morning, or the batteries would get run down, and so Clem used the boat to get to Sandquay early in the morning, before the ferries were running, and when he was on the late shift, he used the boat to get home after midnight. He rowed up to Sandquay and back so many times that he claimed that whatever the weather, he could do it in the dark without any difficulty. This was really put to the test when there was a blinding snowstorm one night. We at home felt sure that he would have to spend the night at Sandquay and come home the next morning, but he found his way home, down and across the river that night, despite the terrible conditions.

I don't suppose that it happens now, but in those days, young men who were courting girls at Brixham, would sometimes get to Kingswear too late to catch the ferry, so they would borrow any boat which was moored outside the Creek, and row across to Dartmouth. To their credit the boat would usually be found tied up to the Embankment, but sailors from Naval ships in the Harbour, would simply cast the boat adrift, and if the tide was going out, more than one local rowing boat was lost for ever.

Clem never lost the boat like that, but at one time he kept finding his boat tied up at Dartmouth in the morning. Of course he had to wait for the ferry and was late for work and in trouble because the generators had not been started up when they were needed. Clem had his suspicions about one particular young man from Dartmouth, and decided to try to catch him. He waited at Dartmouth and one night, this chap who I think was called Ferris, duly appeared in Clem's boat. They had an altercation, which ended in a fight. Clem was a good boxer, he had learned in the Scouts, and he knocked Ferris off the Embankment into the river. The irony was that Ferris couldn't swim, and Clem had perforce to jump in after him, and haul him to safety. However, Clem never had any trouble after that, and I expect that Ferris warned his mates not to take Clem's boat, if they needed one to get back to Dartmouth, at any time.

For many years Dad was a Society Steward at the Chapel, and this meant that sometimes he had to take his turn in giving hospitality to a visiting preacher. Quite often the minister or a local preacher from Brixham would be planned at Kingswear in the morning and then at Dartmouth or one of the small villages on that side of the river, in the evening. As there wasn't the transport in those days, Kingswear Chapel had to give them dinner and tea. I can remember the dinner occasions, but not the teas, and as often the tea was provided fairly early, it is likely the guest would have it alone in the sitting room, and we had our tea later in the kitchen.

Mum didn't seem to mind having to provide the meals, and she could put out her best crockery and cutlery and starched napkins in their silver or ivory (probably bone) serviette rings.

It was always an occasion if the minister was the guest, and I remember one Sunday when a newly appointed minister was due for dinner, and he was reputed to be a very stiff and stodgy person. Auntie Carrie was living at home at that time, and she tried to impress on Peg that she would have to be on her best behaviour. Peg teased Auntie by saying that she would pinch the minister's bum. "You wouldn't dare to do anything like that " said Auntie, quite shocked at the thought, but whether by accident or design, Peg was seated next to the minister, around the circular dining table. About half way through the meal Peg leaned over and gave the minister a good pinch on his bottom. He jumped in surprise, and Peg immediately owned up by saying, "She said I wouldn’t dare to do it, but I've pinched the minister’s bum." He burst out laughing and we all joined in the merriment, and Peg even escaped a reprimand from Dad. That particular minister was quite a nice old boy, and perhaps Peg sensed this, but some guests were very aloof, and hard to entertain.

Dad was always- pleased to welcome an elderly local preacher, a farmer from Cornworthy, who used to ride his horse to Dartmouth, where he stabled it at Middleton's blacksmith shop while he came across to Kingswear. He and Dad had lots of things in common to talk about. People nowadays have no idea of the long walks that preachers in rural areas had to do to carry on their preaching appointments.

I have mentioned Auntie Carrie several times so I'd better put you in the picture. She was Dad's elder sister and had looked after him when their parents died, and Dad always felt that he had an obligation to provide her with a home, whenever it was necessary. She went into service and eventually became a cook, but there were times when she was out of work, and after Dad married, there was always a room for her. At Belmont the small bedroom was always known as Auntie’s bedroom. I don't expect that Mum was altogether happy about having another woman in the house, but Mum always did the cooking and generally speaking the atmosphere was amicable.

When Auntie Carrie was at home her main occupation seemed to be mending and darning clothes. In her opinion, there was nothing to be ashamed of in having a darn or a patch on your clothing but it was disgraceful to be seen in ragged clothes.

She and Peg often engaged in verbal battles and I remember on one occasion when auntie had declared that when she died she would go to heaven. Peg couldn't accept this and demanded proof. Auntie didn’t believe in any theological arguments and simply replied. I KNOW,

I remember another episode involving Peg, when she was old enough to be interested in boy friends. At one time she was keen on a boy who lived not far away, but dad did not approve, and one summer's evening she was forbidden to go out and see him. However Peg locked herself in the lavatory which was on the ground floor and climbed out of the small window, and went to keep her assignment with Sidney Prowse. Whether Dad ever found out, I can't recall, but we boys knew, as one of us had to climb through the window into the lavatory and unlock the door. Peg had put paid to one of our favourite tricks on each other. The lavatory door had a button fastening on the outside and a bolt on the inside, and we often used to put the button fastening in the horizontal position, and stop whoever was in there from getting out. We boys knew that if we were shut in we could open the door by gently shaking it until the button fell into the vertical position, and the door would open. If Mum or Dad was inadvertently locked in by mistake, there was trouble for the culprit. When Peg had shown that it was possible to get in or out of the window, which we hadn't realised before, there wasn't much point in shutting each other in the lavatory. Proper toilet paper was only provided for the lodgers, or guests, otherwise squares of newspaper were cut up and hung on a piece of string for our use. It was frustrating if one found something interesting to read whilst sitting on the throne to search through the rest of the other squares but never find the continuation of what one had been reading. No doubt many children in those days wore equally frustrated, as newspaper was the usual toilet paper.

Before Kingswear Hall was built, there was some rough ground but also an old Bakery owned by an old man named Pitts. As a rule Mum made her own cakes, and never bought any, but sometimes as a special treat, she would give us some money to go and buy something from Mr. Pitts. He used to sell Puff pastry tarts, and we would ask if we could get some Pittses Wind tarts.", as we called them, as we considered they were full of wind.

Kingswear Hall was built by Sir Thomas Lennard of Lennards Boots, and was great asset as the the only other places where functions could be held was the Methodist schoolroom or the Trust Rooms.

Not long after, a new Vicar who was a very High Churchman was appointed, and he and Sir Thomas fell out. With the support of the World Evangelical Alliance, Sir Thomas started afternoon Sunday services in the Hall, and these attracted people from the Methodist and the Anglican churches, and kept going for several years.

The Hall was equipped with a film projector, and the curtain for the stage were provided by the screen, which was fitted with a spring and had to be hauled down by a rope and hooked into fittings on the stage. Films were shown on Saturday nights, black and white silent ones of course, and a lady called Mrs. Bird, played the piano and tried to provide appropriate music. She didn’t always keep her eye on the screen, and sometimes she would be playing music for cowboys and indians, when the film was a tender love scene.

Catcalls from the audience would alert her to the error. The films were always breaking down, with delays whilst they were being repaired, and were not a great success.

However, the Hall, with its stage, allowed scope for live entertainment, and a feature for some years, was an Annual Talent concert These were organised by a Mr. Durnford and friend, two men who came to live in a large house in Church Hill, just above the Church. Local people didn't think much of two middle aged gentlemen living together, but it was widely believed that they were retired actors, and of course a lot of actors in those days were thought of as queer. The local concerts were always supported by three vocalists, and the two ladies invariably sang the same songs each year. Betty Popham, whose parents lived at the Beacon, a big house above Lighthouse Beach, always sang "Cherry Ripe" in a very posh voice, and we boys always declared that she didn’t know any other song. Despite calls of encore, she never gave an encore, and we never heard her sing anything else, but her rendition was so notable that for days afterwards, irreverent boys could be heard doing their version of Betty Popham singing "Cherry Ripe". The other lady vocalist was the wife of a farmer at Lower Brownstone, now called, I think, Home Farm. She had a fine contralto voice, and always sang "The Bells of St. Mary". I think she did sing other songs as an encore, but her "piece de resistance" was "The Bells of St. Mary".

The third vocalist was Dick Wedlake - Mr. W.R.Wedlake - the Headmaster of Kingswear School. He had a really good baritone voice, and would belt out songs like "Drakes Drum',' Devon, Devon Glorious Devon’, ‘Men of Harlech’, or ‘The Fishermen of England’.

There must have been non-musical items, perhaps Mr. Durnford or his friend did monologues or something, but I cannot recall anything very humorous, and if there was a comedian, his act was soon forgotten.

A recent survey, by Kingswear schoolchildren, into Mr. Wedlake’s reign at Kingswear, suggest that he was at Kingswear School for 45 years and that he was Chairman of the Parish Council for 27 years, If this is correct, he did all his teaching at Kingswear. He was a strict disciplinarian, and his cane was usually in front of him on his desk, but he was recognised as an excellent teacher, and Dartmouth parents would try to get their children into Kingswear School. He suffered from Gout, and it was a sure sign that if he came to School with a bandaged foot the cane would be widely used. I always felt sorry for some of the boys, who because of stupidity or a lack of attention received plenty of strokes of the cane. However, Dick Wedlake wasn't selective, and girls also managed to feel the cane. Dora remembered being caned, but Edna says she never was. Doreen used to tell the story that Mr. Wedlake would say to her, "Shorty, have I ever given you the cane? ". "Yes Sir, on my birthday!" This must have amused him, for he often asked the question.

Dick Wedlake taught us to sing and would walk among us when we were singing, to hear if we were singing properly. We were taught at first in Tonic Solfa, and why I was never in trouble I do not know as I couldn't understand Tonic Solfa, and it was only when we sang the words that I picked up the tune.

Another of his favourite teaching methods was to arrange the class in a semi-circle and we had to take it in turns to read the leading article in the "Times" aloud. This didn’t worry me as I could always read better than most of the class, but I well remember one morning when I mispronounced a word that I had never met before. And I had to hold out my hand for a stroke of the cane. I was so annoyed about this that I was emboldened to say "Sir, nobody else knew how to say it.

"YOU should have, hold your hand out " and I got another stroke for having the audacity to complain.

All former pupils that I have spoken to remember "the Times" reading circle, but I have never met any who resented Dick Wedlake 's discipline. I know that I was always scared of him, and after I left Kingswear School, and went to Dartmouth, I used to avoid meeting him, and would walk on the other side of the road rather than pass close to him.

I don't think he ever got any words of thanks from any of his pupils but perhaps he did from some of the parents. I have mentioned earlier that he was known as very good teacher.

He was a freemason, and well known in Dartmouth and Kingswear and Doreen used to claim that three of the Wills family went to the Grammar School as Dad was also a Freemason.

Dick Wedlake was a very imposing figure, always with a wing collar and with a gold watch chain across his waistcoat. I never recall him wearing anything else, and all the old school photos show that he always looked the same.

Back to content | Back to main menu