With Christmas and as my 80th Birthday now “recent history”, my mind drifted back to “my historical past”!
What brought this about you might ask? Simple; I went to see the restored Lych Gate at Saint Mary the Virgin, the Parish Church of St Marychurch.
The ‘Gate’ had stood the test of time very well but, the lower timbers and roof had clearly succumbed to the dreaded rot. Previously, in 1975, Mr Henry Rice Keen, a local builder had been given the contract to rebuild the gate. Mr Denis Green, Mr Keen’s, Carpenter & Joiner carried out the work on his behalf.
As a young man of 15 years, I too, had been privileged to have been employed by Mr Keen to serve a five year apprenticeship, learning the trade of a Carpenter & Joiner. I can say from my experience that Mr ‘Henry’ or “Skipper” as we used to call him – was probably the kindest, fairest employer one could have. Being a small firm, if woodwork jobs were in short demand, I would help out with any task I was asked to do. As a result, I came out of my apprenticeship with a vast well-rounded knowledge of building construction. So, naturally, I was very interested in viewing the part restoration of the Lych Gate which was carried out in 2015 by Gibbs & Lugg, a similar sized firm to the late Mr Henry Keen’s.
Leaving the Lych Gate behind I set off with Mary my wife to stroll down Fore Street. To help me remember how things were in the 1950’s Mary put on her thinking cap. Opposite the gate now stands the Snooty Fox formerly known at the St George Hotel, later called The Links. Where what is now the Cornerstone Charity Shop stood Callard’s Bakery adjacent to which, was Gould’s the greengrocer followed by the surviving shop of Drowers the ironmongers. This shop was very familiar to me. As well-equipped ironmongers, I was often sent there to get some hinges, nails, screws etc. I recall Mr Drower’s son-in–law showed me how to splice a rope, a skill I needed to know to make up a washing line between two pulleys on opposite walls; something I still know how to do it to this day! Crossing Rowley Road, Cathy Clow’s greengrocers stood were the Happy Apple Supermarket exists today. Close by was Hockin’s Sweetshop where, Stella, who died recently, continued to trade until a few years ago. Moving on, we are not sure of the location of the following ‘old traders’ but there was— Cutmore’s Chemist — Bunces Toys & Prams — Joyce’s Jewellers — Freddie Matthews Betting shop. All these shops were on the left of the road.
On the right side of the road just before the Halcyon dolls house shop was the site of the Philip Gosse’s Gospel Chapel. Whilst Kiddy’s the newsagent stood at the corner with St Margaret’s Road. As we cross over I notice number 45, Mr Henry’s house complete with his original brass name plaque. His daughter Barbara still lives there.
As we pass the Dolphin Street Lamp the memorial to Leslie Lownds Pateman it is hard to imagine now, that double decker buses once came up and down this street. When they were passing, it was common practice for one of them to mount the pavement. The consequence of this was, that, many a shop sun blind was ripped from its fixings.
On the corner of St Margaret’s Road stood the Commercial Pub, now known as the Dolphin; the hairdressers next door was previously occupied by Frearson’s Fireplaces whilst the Babbacombe Café & Restaurant used to be Melhuish’s Wet Fish Shop.
Crossing over to the left side of the road is the point at which Mary and I stood to watch the Queen & Prince Philip drive down Fore Street on one of their rare visits to St. Marychurch. In this vicinity there existed an ironmongers from where I used to earn a few extra bob by sharpening their customer’s saws in my home workshop in Empire Road. Nearby was an electrical shop called Biddick & Avery and also Skinner’s Bakery where the Bazaar is located today. Mr Skinner was also the owner of property around the corner at the end of Hampton Lane where my employer Mr Keen rented a store that served as a workshop in which I learned my joinery skills. From this base I worked on building individual new quality houses all around Torquay, Shaldon, Bishopsteignton and Paignton. Furthermore, together with Phil Keen a skilled joiner and brother of Henry, we carried out many shop front repairs and alterations to the Fore Street buildings.
After passing Molloys formerly the Manor Inn and subsequently owned by the Plymouth Brewery and the former site of the Hampton Court Hotel, now the Co-op, we leave Fore Street behind.
With the Chilcott Memorial on our left we make our way into Greenway Road, passing the Babbacombe Corinthian Sailing Club , formerly the showroom of Harry Grant Marble Works and then enter an area of very recent commercial redevelopment. Sainsbury’s now occupies a site where Creamcars used to have a coach garage. At the end of the road are five brick built modern town houses.
On this site Mr Arthur Moase had a store-come-workshop where I spent many hours of my free time chatting about the past. He sold everything imaginable. Most people would say “ a load of old junk’’ but to me, it was a fascinating step back in time. I still have some items I bought ‘just for interest ‘.
…“Oh dear, how the years have flown by…”
I guess some readers will find some mistakes and omissions, but please put that down to the advancing years! Best wishes for the New Year and those yet to come.
Jim and Mary Gill January 2016
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