John Eaton’s memories of life in Elmley Castle

JOHN Eaton’s memories of Elmley Castle and the nearby hamlet of Kersoe go back 80 years.

John was born in 1931 at Middle Farm, Kersoe, where he lived with his parents and his elder brother Gerald.

John Eaton

John Eaton

“Things were very basic then with no toilet or bathroom,” he recalls. “A bath was taken in a tin bath by the wood fire and the toilet was a privy timber shed up the garden.

“There was no electricity, just oil lamps, and the water came from the well which in a hot summer dried up.”

John has always had a love of horses, which he inherited from his father Bob Eaton.

“My father did a bit of farming but his true station was as a horseman,” he says. “He broke, rode, jumped, raced all his life and he won 99 point-to-point races. He was considered one of the leading riders for this part of the country. He won at Cheltenham the premier race for amateur riders, the United Hunts Championship, in 1932.”

John with his horse and carriage

John with his horse and carriage

John recalls being put in a basket seat strapped to a pony almost before he could walk.

“When I was still young, at the age of seven or eight, I went to the village school in Elmley Castle and we used to ride a pony down to the school and we used to park it up at the Mill Inn, where there was a little stable. We put it there all day long and we used to ride it home at night.”

The village school was much smaller then than it is now, with only about 23 pupils under headmistress Miss Gertie Head. After she died, Mr Dick Sykes took over as headmaster.

“We had a brick toilet with a little wall separating the boys and girls and the fun was to throw a coup of water over the wall onto the girls, as there was no roof in those days.

“The highlight of the school year was the Maypole performed outside the Queen Elizabeth and Mr Revers, the landlord of the Mill Inn, gave us pop afterwards.

“Another great day in our school life was the visit of the whole school to Bricklehampton Hall where the owner, Miss Huntingdon, gave us all tea and cakes and each child had a packet of sweets to take home. We were all very happy at school.”

“The Cornmill by the Mill was the centre part of this village years ago. People from all over the country would bring their corn to have it ground. Underneath they had a steel wheel where they pressed cider.”

Miller family owners of Corn Mill by Mill Pond 1894

Miller family owners of Corn Mill by Mill Pond 1894

When the Second World War came, things were very different with all the rationing and the drill for air raids and gas masks to be worn.

When John’s mother volunteered for service to work at Leamington, he went to live with an uncle at Hinton-on-the-Green and moved to Hinton School.

But his mother saw an advertisement in the Gloucestershire Echo – “Headmaster requires a boy to drive trap into town with teaching free”.

“I was quite handy with ponies so when I was eight or nine they secured me a job in Cheltenham with a headmaster of Battledown School and my job was to drive the pony and trap for the headmaster shopping every day in Cheltenham.”

At the age of 13, John got a place at King’s School, Worcester.
“I can honestly say it was one of the best times of my life and the friends I made at that school I still correspond with today. The highlight of my life there was learning the game of rugby.”

Back in good old Elmley, John says that as a youngster all they had was pushbikes for many years.

“Most people, unless in high society, had to put their cars up on ramps for the duration of the war. But a certain old lady known as Miss Compton, in Hill Lane, had a wooden garage in the garden and she kept her car in there. Myself and a friend who was then in the petrol business managed to get a drop of petrol and decided one night to see if we could get the car to go and take it off the ramp and roll the wheels.

“We were fed up with push-biking around the hill. We pushed the car to the Queen Elizabeth, jumped in and it started first go and away we went. Some of the other youngsters became jealous and a quiet word was whispered in the local constable’s ear. So a roadblock was set up outside Elmley on the Kersoe road. But we had our own jungle telephone and when we got near we decided to drive a cross a field and get the old Morris Minor parked back in the correct resting place. Those were happy days.

“The highlight of Saturday nights were the dances held alternatively in every village hall around the hill.

“Although we had a little village hall we managed to raise enough money to build it. It isn’t like the glorification that is there now. We used to have a gymkhana and raise the money to build it.

The Queen Elizabeth pub at Elmley Castle

The Queen Elizabeth pub at Elmley Castle as it used to be

“The village had three public houses – The Plough, The Queens and The Mill – and they were all very active, which is amazing.

“There was no such thing as buses. The only bus in the whole district was at Ashton-under-Hill belonging to Mr Buchanan. In neighbouring Bricklehampton years ago there was a ladies hockey team and he used to take them round the district on a Saturday in his coach.

“Farming was very poor in the area and generally things were not good but people were happy and contented and in the evenings would go to each other’s houses and play cards. We also had the women’s institute, church meetings, dances and the dramatic societies.”

After leaving school at the age of 16, John joined the Royal Air Force on conscription for three years.

He then returned home and served an apprenticeship for W A Cox of Evesham as a carpenter.

“After about four years I was getting a bit restless so I approached T G Higgins of Sedgeberrow who erected steel buildings all over the place. I used to cycle from Kersoe to there. I was with Higgins for two or three years and then I got restless again.

“I got two men from this village, Don Wide and Ticker Haines, and the three of us put up these steel buildings all over the country – Dutch barns, cowsheds etc. We went down to Cornwall, up to Scotland, all over the place, to put these buildings up.

“I can always remember the one chap. We were up near Campden and it was a really hot day and we had got the barn half up but not finished. The farmer came along and said: ‘You want to hurry up and get the barn finished; I want to get these cattle in the shade. Ticker replied: ‘If yur in a hurry gaffa, you should buy um all a straw hat apiece’.“

During the 1950s John spent two years working in Canada for a builder he had met in The Queens.

But with his parents’ health a concern, he returned home and started odd-jobbing around the district. He married Diana Crump from Grafton in 1959 and they were to have four children, Sarah, Robin, Julia and Lisa.

Over the next few decades, John had a prolific career as a builder and property developer.

“We’ve built 400 homes and other things, including a police station and the biggest contract was 28 flats in Cherry Orchard, Pershore,” he says.

Apart for his life-long live of horses, John enjoyed a long career as a wing forward for Evesham Rugby Club, which he helped to revive in the early 1950s.

“They were wonderful times – the best part of my life,” he says.
As for cricket, he says: “I played for Elmley in my early days. It probably wasn’t my best subject! The afterwards was better! Straight into the pub to celebrate. There was a fellow by the name of Dr Snow whose son, John, played for England.

“The cricket was played in the Deer Park in those days. The swings were in the middle of the current cricket pitch. In the war it was ploughed up and they grew potatoes in it.

“I build the present pavilion in 1962. Worcestershire fast bowler Reg Perks came and opened it. The kids were very fit and very active in those days.”

Asked how he compares the life of his childhood to modern-day living, John reflects: “There wasn’t so much pressure. Today we are trying to do too much. You’ve got to go here, there and everywhere.

“We are using these lovely little villages as commuter places just to live here and go. We don’t enjoy the beauty of what we’ve got here. It’s very sad really.”

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