Wallace Phillips, known as ‘Wally’, was a reporter for the Dursley Gazette. He wrote several interesting articles on life in Thornbury.
When I first came to Thornbury in November, 1932 it was a quiet, peaceful, most attractive country market town with a population of just over 3,000, which had changed little since the turn of the century. The most important events had probably been the removal of the cattle market from the streets to the present site at Streamleaze which took place in 1911 and the controversy over the removal of the ornamental pump which had stood in the centre of the Plain, reverberations from which were still rumbling when I arrived although this has happened some years previously. It was a closely-knit community in which everyone knew everyone else.
Until quite recently the physical appearance of the west side of High Street had altered but little. Now the new pavement, the road leading to Castle Close and the new car park have caused appreciable changes and although the shopping facade has been largely maintained, even here there have been some innovations although the character has been preserved. The east side of High Street has changed out of all recognition not just with the advent of St. Mary’s arcade and the shopping precinct but with the appearance of big multiple stores with their typical city-type shop windows. Of Silver Street and Soapers Lane which connected High Street with St. Mary Street little remains but the street name plates.
On looking back it is a little depressing to realise that almost all the old familiar faces of the shopkeepers of the early thirties have departed and there have been many other changes. The premises of the old Westminster Bank at the top of High Street are now occupied by the Midland Electricity Board offices, private houses lower down are now occupied for professional purposes – banking, solicitors offices and dentists surgery. Marcus Mogg’s, the newsagent, was then kept by Miss Brown whose brother Edward Brown was the founder of the South Gloucestershire Chronicle which had been taken over by The Gazette in 1922.
Then came Joe Pavey’s saddlery, harness and leather goods business, the Post Office tucked up in the corner kept by Charlie Pitcher, C. R. Sweet, the butchers; Ernie May kept the wine shop; Mrs. Madge Horder, nee Prewett, Prewett’s newsagents; Lawrence Roach, leather goods; Frances Hopkins, grocer; Vic Yarnold, jeweller; Weatherheads, drapers; the White Lion, licensee Mr. Parsons; what is now the clock shop was a butchers kept by a Mr. Taylor and there was no break before the Register Office now an insurance agents and the Methodist Church which still stands four square as it did then.
On the east side of High Street there was A. E. Thompson’s confectionery and bakery at the top of the town with the King’s Head Inn (editor’s note – this pub was actually called The Queens Head) on the opposite corner of Chapel Street and the Exchange Hotel, still in business, a few steps lower down. The grocery business of L. E. Riddiford still remains in the family but lower down changes occurred with Dennis Beszant’s dairy and Pearce’s grocery, G. B. Symes outfitters, A. G. Excell’s boot and shoe shop all in other hands. Below the Police Station, now serving only as Magistrates Court, Len Smith’s, newsagents has been replaced by the Westminster Bank and H. M. Councell’s grocery and provisions stores by the Co-op. Sid Gayner’s drapery stores; Beard’s tobacconists and sweets; Miss Gladys Balls, hairdresser; Williams seed supply; Wilkins drapers whose business was carried on by a grandson, John Cullimore, at the former post office until the business closed down at the end of 1976; the premises which housed the social club-all have either disappeared or been taken over by ???. The licensee of the Swan Hotel was then John Cornock. The chemist was Mr. Ellis, noted for his teeth pulling as a sideline.
On the Plain the sweet shop was owned by Mr. Fred Church, the shoe ‘shop by Mr. Sidney Dearing and the butchers shop by Mr. Coombs. On the corner of St. Mary Street and St. John Street Trayhurn’s butchers shop ‘continues under Mr. Don Trayhurn as it did under his father, Mr. Harry Trayhurn over forty years ago and at the top of Castle Street, Savery’s is now conducted by Mr. Adrian Savery continuing a family connection which has existed for over 100 years. The auctioneers business continues in the same premises on the Plain but has undergone many changes in the names of the partnership. At Porch House in Castle Street where the Roman Catholic Club premises are, Mr. T. C. Smith, a venerable figure with a neat, pointed beard, carried on business as a bespoke tailor. Tony Iles still carries on the barber’s business started by his father, Mr. Bert Iles. On the Plain Maurice Symes owned the ironmongers business and the forge and on the opposite corner Rose Symes owned a greengrocers and fruiterers now an electrical goods shop. J. English had a bakery and shop in St. John Street next to premises where Tucker Bros. carried on their business of builders and decorators. At the far end was Wall’s sweet shop and just off Pullin’s Green was the forge owned by Mr. Fred Pearce. The builders merchants yard of P. G. Hawkins and Sons has been moved from the centre of Thornbury to the new industrial estate and their shop from the former Silver Street to High Street but Mr. Elwyn Pitcher still carries on the family business of builders and decorators of W. W. Pitcher &t Sons at the old premises in Gloucester Road.
It may be of interest to recall that St. Mary Street was known to all locals as Back Street due to its rows of cramped, mean houses, now demolished. Opposite the Market entrance was a group of small stone-built cottages where the Old People’s flats now stand while on the corner below the Market entrance stood the Common Lodging house kept by old Mrs. Smith and below that another group of stone-built cottages, known as the Ox Houses, where the new police station now stands. At that time Pullin’s Green had a pleasant area of green sward before it became convened into the present concrete and tarmac cul-de-sac.
Meetings of Thornbury Rural District Council and the Board of Guardians were held in what is now the main committee room of the administration block of Thornbury Hospital. The chairman in 1932 was Mr. S. J. Simmonds of Rangeworthy soon to be succeeded by Mr. J. H. Cooke, M.B.E. of Pilning, a strong and colourful personality who gave over half a century of service to the council, was awarded the M.B.E. for his services and who attained the age of 100 before his death some two years ago. Mr. J. G. Wicks was the part-time clerk to the RDC, squeezing it in with his other commitments as a busy solicitor until Mr. John Judd became the first full-time clerk in January, 1939. Mr. Wicks’ deputy was Mr. Billy May and Mr. Fred Mumford was the treasurer, Mr. F. W. Davies was chief sanitary inspector succeeded on his sudden death by his deputy, Mr. Ronald Huntington. Mr. G. R. Millard was highways surveyor until he and his duties were taken over by the County Council. In 1932 minor chaos was caused as the streets were dug up to accommodate the sewers in trenches up to 15-20 feet in depth in places. It was common knowledge that the contractors (McAlpines) lost thousands as they found themselves struggling to excavate the notorious Thornbury rock which blunted their compressor-driven drills and defied their blasting.
The Board of Guardians which became defunct with the advent of the Welfare State was until that time responsible for looking after the Workhouse – known as The Spike – where tramps who roamed the countryside in quite large numbers could get a night’s lodging and food in return for work on the allotments. The Master, Mr. Sem Davies, was a small, jovial man who was a strict disciplinarian although of a naturally kindly disposition. It was in the early thirties that the Thornbury Hospital section was built by P. G. Hawkins and Sons but it took many years before a certain stigma to being in the Hospital was lost because of its association with the Workhouse although it was in a separate block and had a purely hospital function in no way connected with the tramps and vagrants.
At the meetings of the RDC and Board of Guardians lunch used to be provided in the adjoining dining room. This was always good, plain fare, a memorable feature of which was the nutty-flavoured bread baked by local baker, Mr. Roberts, at his steam bakery located on the site adjoining the United Reformed Church. Mr. Roberts was known as The Midnight Baker because he made his deliveries in a baker’s cart drawn by a pony at night and could be found traversing the lanes around Thornbury at all hours after dark.
The chairman of Thornbury Parish Council in 1932 was the stately, white-bearded figure of Mr. Edmund Cullimore, owner of the Brick Works and Timber Yard and a man of considerable influence in the town.
As a small market town Thornbury’s economy was based largely on agriculture with Edmund Cullimore’s saw mills and brickworks providing almost the only industrial employment in the town although the Tytherington Stone Quarries and the Littleton Brick Works were other small industries in the locality. Many were already commuting to the Bristol Aircraft Company’ works at Filton and Patchway.
Nevertheless farming was of prime importance and the Thornbury National Farmers Union was a body of no little consequence. However in the early thirties they had their difficulties no less and probably even more severe, than those of today as the low prices for milk saw farmers carting their own milk into Bristol to try to get rid of it at almost any price. These conditions led in the thirties to the setting up of the Milk Marketing Board which proved the salvation of many farmers. Mr. Tom Daniell, sen. and Mr. Hector Knapp, then secretary of the Thornbury NFU, spent hours travelling round to farmers trying to persuade them to support the idea of the MMB and Sir Edward Grigg, the chief architect of the MMB, came to address a big meeting of farmers in Thornbury.
Milk distribution in those days was far different from that carried out by the big combines today. Farmers used to bring milk in big pails carried in horse-drawn carts around the streets of the town. Housewives would come to the door with their jugs and milk was ladled into them from the pail by the farmer. In those days there were two deliveries of milk every day of the week including Sundays and it was possible to have half a pint or even smaller measures with some of the poorer families asking for skimmed milk.
One of the big events locally of the farming year was the Christmas Fat Stock Market and Show. In those days the Christmas Market always seemed to be held in conditions of freezing rain with a bitterly cold wind making even the well-covered local yeomen farmers shiver. The market buildings were lit with hissing and spluttering naphtha lamps hung from the eaves giving a murky light which only slightly relieved the grim atmosphere of the encircling gloom.
Another important event of the NFU calendar was the annual dinner with its abundance of toasts responded to by an abundance of speakers. For a number of years the Hon. Mrs. Mundy of The Farm, Thornbury – at the bottom of Alveston Hill – was the only woman present at these dinners. I recall her as a slight figure dressed in black robes driving a pony and trap through the town to attend church services or in her country tweeds at the market chatting on level terms to the farmers. It was she who made the invaluable gift to the town of the Mundy Playing Fields.
Looking back, it seems that this period of the thirties, at least up to the end of 1938, was on the whole one of peace and tranquillity. It was a period of steady growth in employment and prosperity, the pace of life was steady, even slow, in comparison with the frenetic activity in later years but the pulse was strong and lively. Despite, or perhaps because of, efforts to arouse interest in the League of Nations, the rumours of an approaching war were either not seen or ignored even as late as the autumn of 1938 when there was the never-to-be-forgotten message from Chamberlain after Munich of ‘Peace in our time’. For the next twelve months there was a quickening of tempo as Thornbury in common with the rest of the country set up its preparation for Civil Defence, preparations which continued up to and after the outbreak of war in September, 1939.