John Walker’s memories of life in Kemerton
John Walker lived most of his life in the Bredon Hill village of Kemerton, and for most of it he ran the family butchers on the edge of the village towards Bredon. He died on November 19th 2010, aged 90. This article is based on an interview John gave a year before his death.
Not many people in England can claim to have looked out their window at the crack of dawn and seen an elephant walk past their house – but John Walker can. That incident happened when John was about four years old when his family were living at the former Railway Inn in Bredon.
“It was the early hours of the morning in the summer and my sister came in to me and took me into her room which looked out onto the road,” recalled John. “There had been a circus at Tewkesbury and it was moving to Pershore. The animals were pulling all the trolleys as there weren’t any lorries or anything in those days and just as I looked through the window and there was a blinking elephant coming past pulling a cart!”
John was born on May 25th 1920 in Cheltenham but the family moved to Bredon when he was four.
“I can remember very vividly when we lived at Bredon at the Railway Inn we used to be out in the road playing with our whips and tops and different games like hopscotch and all of it. Of course, there wasn’t any cars, just horse and carts.”
John’s father had a house built between Kemerton and Westmancote when John was seven and the family moved to the present site of the Walkers family butchers business which is closing down at the end of March 2012 after 85 years trading.
“I started school at Bredon in the Infants School opposite the Village Hall, then we moved up here but I didn’t go to Kemerton School. My Dad got me in at Overbury School and then when I was 12 Bredon Hancocks opened for 11 Plus pupils and I went there.
“I was the first lad to get the cane down there. The teacher walked out and a lad behind me, a Bredon lad, gave me a jab in the behind with his pen. Of course, I turned round and biffed him. Just as I hit him, in walked the headmaster, Mr Hurlstone. He marched me into his study and I had six of the best across my backside. Then when he had done it he said ‘why did you do that?’ so I told him. The next thing I knew in comes the Bredon lad and he had six. We were very good friends after that!”
John described his schooldays as ‘smashing times’. “We had a cricket team, football team, anything. There were a set of boxing gloves there. We used to have them on occasionally. They were good days.
“My Dad died when I was 16 and I helped my mother with the business. I never wanted to be a butcher but I was.
“In Kemerton, Lower Court was Mrs Till’s residence. I think she was something to do with the Watson’s Soap people. I remember when I was about 13, I went into the village shop and she was sat outside in her car. I didn’t see her. And as I was going in there was an old peg-seller just coming out and I pushed in front of her.
“The next thing I knew Mrs Till’s chauffeur tapped me on the shoulder and said she would like to see me. I went out to her she said: ‘I have just seen you push in front of a lady‘. I said: ‘It wasn’t a lady’ but she said: ‘She is as much of a lady as I am – it’s bad manners to push in front‘. And that was the attitude in those days.
“Mrs Till used to come down to the butchers four or five times in the year and give us a list to take this to these people and to put it on her bill. And I know there was one old chap he lived up at Pepper Cottage and his name was George Cresswell. She said ‘take him a nice brisket of beef, he likes that‘. And Bert Peach, he used to get a lump of meat and it all went on her bill and she was helping the people. There was an awful lot of that in those days.
“This old man Peach he had a horse and dray and he used to go round once a week in the village collecting the ashes. He used to charge them a penny. It was all coal fires in those days.
“I can always remember one morning I was in the shop I was working in there 8 o’ clock and three or four of us saw our first double decker bus. I’d be round about 20 at the time.
John has been heavily involved in village life in Kemerton.
“I was churchwarden at Kemerton for 29 years,” he says. “My grandfather did 27 years as churchwarden before me. Many more people attended church in those days. There wasn’t any television and there wasn’t anywhere to go.
“I think I’ve done most things in the village. I was chairman of the village hall for 25 years. I took it on when it was bust and nearly closing and we pulled it around eventually. The first fete we held we raised 90-odd pounds which was a lot in those days.”
When John was 50 he suffered a heart attack and handed the family butcher’s business to his son Martin. He suffered a stroke at 60 but, after recuperating, was still able to lend a hand in the butchers before finally retiring.
John said the things that have changed most about Kemerton are the traffic and the people.
“Kemerton is a retired person’s village now,” he said. “It’s a nice village but it’s nothing like it used to be. At one time everybody knew each other and you would all help each other but there’s none of that now.
“It’s the attitude of people. Everybody’s in a rush and too busy looking after themselves. There’s not the community spirit that there used to be.
“In the old days you didn’t need to have bothered to have locked your doors, shut your windows or anything.
“We used to have two shops, three bakers and four pubs, including the Crown, the Gardener’s Arms and the Wagon and Horses.
“When I was churchwarden I used to like to go and have a browse through the registers. And it was amazing, the marriage register. They were all ‘of this village‘ and ‘of this village’ and then you get one somebody married somebody from Bredon or from Overbury. And then somebody married someone from Cheltenham. There was only about one of them in this register.”