A Portishead Apprentices Tale

We all departed from the Training School at Yelland in the summer of 1970. The year had closed with a formal dinner at the Sports & Social Club and an open day for parents to come to the Training School to see what we had all be doing in our first year away from home. It was also an opportunity for parents to visit the lodgings where their off-spring had been staying and could meet the various landladies – if they so wished. Those who would have read my first “Blog” about Yelland may remember that I mentioned the rumour that one of our group was supposedly “romantically involved with his landlady”. This memory made me think about how awkward the conversation could have been if the parents had actually met her. “So you are my sons landlady and for £3 10s a week he’s also shagging you”. I suppose you could say that’s pretty good value for money!

We had all taken our exams at the College and using the end of year reports Joe Kemp and Alan Fisher had sat us all down as individuals and “suggested” what route we might now like to take – Mechanical, Electrical or Instrument Apprenticeships. I was offered Instrument and took Electrical. Mainly because the Instrument course meant another year away in lodgings – at Penarth I think? My Parents turned up and I introduced them to Phyllis Becklake and her husband Stanley – and then we all departed for home.

The first disappointment I had was that unlike School we didn’t get six weeks off for the summer holiday! So after a couple of weeks leave I was off to Portishead and its two Power Stations, one coal and one that had been converted to oil.

In a list of my “best or worst anti-climaxes” this has to be at near top. You spend a full twelve months away from home – working in a very controlled environment, learning techniques that would hopefully last you for a life time. (I spent bloody hours making that tapered drift so it was parallel to 3/1000” all over. God know how many hours I spent with a file in my bloody hand). And when I got to Portishead – well!

Looking back now you have to take into context where we were at that time as an industrial nation and of course the power of the Trade Unions at that time. I became a fully paid up member of the E.E.P.T.U – who had the one and only Frank Chappell as its General Secretary. The Shop Steward for Union was a certain Ray Critchley – and he approached with the application form to join within about 10 minutes of me arriving at the Electrical Workshop on my first day. I duly signed up – after all it was a “closed shop”. If you mention “closed shop” nowadays people thing the local convenience store has been wound up! Apprentices were not allowed to do anything on their own – and we certainly were not allowed to carry our own tools. I recently published a book about my career at Bristol Water and in it I reflect on the working practices that existed throughout the whole of the 1970’s. There must have been around ten apprentices in total at Portishead and we did have a laugh – even if we were spread over the two Power Stations “A” & “B”. However, the life of “A” was coming to a close.

All the Power Stations (1960’s terminology) had their characters, that was obvious from the discussions we all had when we met up every three months in Barnstaple to attend the College. As apprentices we were often “set up” to be the brunt of some mischievous act of some sort. In the 21st Century they would call it “abuse”, we knew it as “banter” and part of our learning about “life in the workplace”. We had a Fitters Mate at Portishead who was rather “well endowed”. Mates used to hand out the tools to the Tradesman. They would set up an apprentice to do a job in a tight space so the apprentice had to be handed the tools with his back to the mate. He would wait for the apprentice to put his hand behind his back to be handed a tool and then flop his own “tool” in his hand! You wouldn’t get away with that now! I was once told that a “water otter” had got into the bottom of the intake and I should go and have a look. I climbed 80ft down the ladders to see a bloody kettle (“water hotter”) sat at the bottom. Trips to the stores for “0BA Flogging Spanners” and “Long Weights” were routine for any new apprentice.

One of the other things often found circulating around the workshops was pornography. Like many of my age group at that time our knowledge of the sex industry had been limited to “Tit-Bits” and “Men Only”. When one of the tradesman thrust a coloured magazine in my hands and said “get some of that”, I wasn’t sure which way up I should be looking at it! This was hard-core stuff – and not something I had ever seen before. People sometimes talked in code. I learned what taking a “2171” was – bizarre. The telephone number for the station was Portishead 2171 (again, what a useless piece of information to retain after fifty years). If you were sick you had to ring in – so going sick was called “taking a 2171”.

Industrial Britain was going to change but not that drastically or indeed quickly in my years as an apprentice. There being two Power Stations on the same site provided ample opportunities to go “missing for hours”. High up in the roof or low down in the basements, or take a walk out to the coal plant. We had two bicycles with large baskets on the front so we could cycle around the site. On a good day go out on the roof and watch the boys from Portishead Nautical School (a local approved school for miscreants) row up and down the docks between the Station and Albright & Wlson, the chemical plant on the other side. I say “nice day” but these poor souls would be doing this in vests and shorts in the middle of January. If it rained we put on our wet weather gear and got paid “wet money”. If we worked in the dust we got paid “dirt money”. The highest additional rate was for working in the electrostatic precipitators, and if my memory serves me correct that was an “extra” 7s 6d per hour. There were numerous advantage points for Tradesman to get “lost”. As an apprentice the tact was to find a tradesman that was actually “interested in the apprentices”, and not seeing them as a “hindrance to their day”, and then build a relationship with that tradesman so you actually benefitted from their guidance. The practice of moving the apprentices around so they got the benefit from the various skillsets all the tradesman only really worked if you ended up with someone who was intend to train you. I found some of the practises bizarre. How many men does it take to change a light bulb?  Or at Portishead – how many different trades can you involve in disconnecting one bloody fan? An electrician to disconnect it. A fitter to remove the coupling guard and the coupling bolts. A rigger to put the strops on. A crane diver to move the fan to a dilly and a dilly driver to drive the actual dilly. And when it was all back together a bloody painter to paint two numbers on the side of it!

We routinely went off to North Devon College, at the top of Sticklepath Hill, (Barnstaple)  and these  three month get together’s were often an opportunity for getting pissed in the evenings and occasionally causing havoc.  Celebrating Birthdays was a favourite – usually by giving the individual the “bumps” in the refectory (posh name for canteen) in the College and then throwing them up that high they went through the ceiling tiles! Our relationship with the Lectures had progressed to Christian name terms, whether they were comfortable with that or not. The drugs scene passed are way – getting joints was easy if you wanted them.

I was lucky to have lodgings with a great family in Fort Street – the house has since been demolished to make way for the widening of Alexandra Road. I had the same lodgings for the next three years. I’m not aware of anyone in our intake that did not complete the apprenticeship, but that isn’t to say there wasn’t anyone – I just can’t remember this far on.

I still find it odd how the smallest decision, sometime taken out of your control, can have a huge impact on your life. Such was Trade Union dominance back in the mid-seventies any tradesman position that became available had to be offered to an apprentice coming out of their time in the first instance. If there was more than one apprentice it had to be offered to the oldest first. We competed our final exams in May/June 1973, and shortly afterwards a vacancy occurred on shift at Portishead. My fellow apprentice Barry Helps (sadly now deceased) was a couple of weeks older than me was offered the post – and declined. I was offered and accepted. There were two Mr Lowe’s at Portishead – “High Low” and “Low Low” they were called. On offering me the post Low Low said “I don’t like appointing apprentices but the Union says I got to” – he sure new how to inspire confidence! Of course in many ways he was right. You serve a four year apprenticeship where the work you do is completely controlled. You are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to work on your own – and then you get an appointment as the only bloody electrician on nights for two power stations!

I’m not sure what would have happened if Barry had accepted the post – perhaps I would have gone elsewhere. To another CEGB site maybe. Barry took a job at Yelland and married a girl from the area. I stuck it on shift for five months and then left – taking a post at Bristol Water.

The apprenticeship I had was probably one of the best that existed at that time. The first twelve months gave me a basic grounding in engineering and gave me skills that I would not have ever had otherwise. In a world where there appears little basis for the so called friendships that are created through the world of social media there was a camaraderie between all of us throughout that four year period. No, of course we weren’t all “best buddies”, that was never going to happen. Many of us came from different social backgrounds and had differing views on many things. But we were all aware that on “this journey” we would sometimes need the support of each other.

Whist we eventually benefitted from a telephone at home any real desire for keeping in touch when we all went our own way didn’t exist. It is now all these years later that we sometimes find ourselves thinking “I wonder what happened to xxxx?” It’s also now that I find myself with time to record some of the events over a lifetime at work – as much for maintaining my own sanity in retirement as anything else.

As I left Portishead Power Station for the last time on December 31st 1973 Britain was in turmoil. The Government was in dispute with the country’s mine workers, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in particular. The country was on a three day week. In January 1974 the NUM turned down a 16.5% pay rise and Prime Minister Edward Heath called a General Election for the following month, February.

In the last few weeks I met up with Steve Savage, a fellow Portishead Apprentice of the same year group. We spent a great few hours reminiscing over those years and as he had stayed in the industry, he was able to update me on the whereabouts of a couple of our former colleagues., and also on a couple that had sadly passed away.   Many of you reading this blog would have lived through the same period as me, and probably remember some of the turmoil and the angst created in those turbulent years, as well as the great times. Perhaps it’s because we were the first Post War Generation and we understood  some of the hardship that our parent’s generation went through,  or maybe  just maybe – it’s simply because, in a world free of the technology that now exists where distractions were limited we only truly had the support of one another to get through it. But we did get through – didn’t we!.

Zion History Group – Tales of Bedminster Down and International Woman’s Day

With it being International Woman’s Day I thought it would be appropriate to pay tribute to the many woman who have had a pivotal role in the making of this great community of Bedminster Down.

At the end of the 19th Century the Community of Bedminster Down was still very much a mining area. It sat between the old Bristol Boundary at the bottom of what is now Bedminster Down Road and the Village of Bishopsworth, which was then in Somerset. As the years progressed and the building of a new housing estate came it was populated with many families that had moved from the poverty stricken areas of the City. This was still very much a male dominated society, something that wouldn’t change for a hundred years. It was the woman in the community that became the rock of all families, staying at home to raise the children, whilst the men worked, often long long hours or in subsequent years when they went  to serve their Country in two World Wars. When WWII ended many family’s were left short of a husband and father.

In 1927 when the first school opened in Cheddar Grove it had four staff. In charge was a Miss Salter, and Miss, Brown, Miss Orchard and Miss Pearce were her Assistant Teachers (as they were then called). The Infant school continued to have females at the helm with Miss Moon, Miss Latimer and Mrs Lovell dominating the years that followed.

Whilst Bedminster Down Boys’ Club had a male Leader, its success over the decades that followed can also be attributed to the huge volunteer support network it benefitted from – especially the Ladies Group. Initially ran by Mrs Hurditch (Eastlyn Road) it was driven for many years that followed by Stella Rogers (Brunel Road). The Ladies Group contributed thousands of pounds to the clubs fund raising over the years – including providing at last two new mini buses.

Our uniformed organisations always had women involved, and whilst that might be typical of the generation of its time, in this “new world” the work being undertaken by the likes of Charlotte at Blenheim Scouts, and the staff at St. Oswalds that are the forefront of providing what limited services that remain on this estate. “The Grove” as it was called at its inception was the dream of one local mother, determined to provide facilities for the young females of this estate.

I was lucky that I worked with some fantastic female colleagues over the years, both in Employment and in Youth Work. Yes, of course I saw discrimination at first hand, and its sad that in this 21st Century many industries are still so male dominated at a decision making level.

The Elected Local Councillors in South Bristol are both male, and it would seem that even Political Parties do not understand the concept of “balance”.

So, on this 2020 International Woman’s Day, I salute those woman from the Community of Bedminster Down who dedicated so much of their lives for the benefit of others. I see the work that goes on a daily basis, from those involved in the many support groups at Zion, to those who work with our young people, those who work with the vulnerable in our community and those who strive to bring about the change that is needed.

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“A Year at Yelland”

In September 1969, I packed my suitcase and made my way to Bristol Temple Meads Railway Station. This was to be the start of a four year Apprenticeship with the CEGB (Central Electricity Generationg Board), and the first of those years would be spent at their own Traing School on the grounds of East Yelland Power Station, midway between Barnstale and Bideford in North Devon. There were to be around forty eight of us from all over the South West. From up as far as Berkley across to Southampton and down as far as Cornwall, and all points in between. Many had never been away from home before for any significant period  – it was going to be an eye opener. Now, over fifty years many of us have retired – and we look back with a great deal of pleasure on that “Year at Yelland”

Looking back after so many years now it is difficult to recreate the obvious fears and level of apprehension that many of the intake had during those first days and weeks. For me I wasn’t that uncomfortable about being away from “home”, however, what was it going to be like living in lodgings with five others?

We had been met at Barnstaple Railways Station by a member of the Training School staff, who it was is now a distant memory. I travelled from Bristol, and a lad called David Lloyd (not the tennis player) from the same school was making the same journey. I didn’t know this beforehand which is a pretty good indicator of the lack of any contact we had during our schooldays! I can remember quite clearly from looking around the train that there was quite a few of us of a similar age, making the same journey, which was endorsed when we changed trains at Exeter St. David’s and a large group of 16-17years olds with suitcases all changed platforms to get the train to Barnstaple. Of course, in 1969 we would have all been guaranteed a seat – it would be rather different some fifty years on.

I was being l was going to be in lodgings in Fremington, three miles outside of Barnstaple. It might as well have been Mars to me as I had never heard of the place – and “Google Maps” hadn’t been invented then, we didn’t even have a home telephone.  Our landlady was to be a Mrs Becklake, and the early indications was she was going to be pretty “formidable, and certainly not backward in laying down the law with her new intake of lodgers. There was six of us – two to a bedroom. I was going to be sharing a bedroom with Graham Parry (Plymouth). Colin Miller (Fawley) and Derek Jenkins (Porishead) were in one of the other bedrooms, and then two older Engineering lads, Steve and Malcolm in the third. Mrs Becklakes long suffering husband was the diminutive Stanley, and to make the whole thing more interesting they had a sixteen year old daughter, and a younger son. Mrs Becklake (Phyllis) was the ultimate matriarch, which was probably exactly what was required.

It was comforting to know that all of us were pretty much in the same boat, and the first morning we were all in the same “bus” as the Yelland Bus picked us all up on its route from Barnstaple to the Training School on the grounds of  East Yelland Power Station.

If I thought that moving from school to a work environment was going to be a huge change then a certain Joe Kemp, Head of the Training School, was going to shatter that illusion. I had visited a few Borstals, or “Approved Schools” as some were called in previous years (educational visits I might add), and the disciplined environment of my new work base mirrored elements of those establishments. I have to admit that having 48 or so young adults in that one environment needed some controlling, and Joe Kemp, Alan Fisher and the team ensured that happened. It was “Mr Kemp” and “Mr Fisher”, there were no “first names”. If you forgot your locker key you were sent back to your lodgings to get them, and they would deduct your pay, although I am sure this was just a threat as I can’t remember it ever happening. Our starting pay was £6 4s 8d – funny what useless information you can store in your head isn’t it. We paid our land ladies £3 10s per week, which was paid separately into your weekly wage packet.

At the end of the first week I started to think “who is going to our washing”, after all “my mum always did it”. We weren’t going home at the end of every week, none of us had cars, well not any of the Craft Apprentices anyway. We had been told that arrangements would be made to take us home about every eight weeks or so, which meant one weekend between now and Christmas. The answer to my washing dilemma was through a local lady who had an arrangement with Mrs Becklake to do our washing, at a cost. Every item was charged individually, socks, pants (this was pre-boxer shorts), shirts, and trousers – our washing was returned with a slip of paper detailing the payment required.

The backgrounds and “worldly experience” of the group was as diverse as it could be. There was the loud gregarious, confident ones, the quiet ones, and the slightly devious ones. When it came to money there was those that would always run out by the end of the week, and those that “still hadn’t opened last week’s packet”. There was some that ran a good “money lending side-line”. There was those that drank and those that didn’t. there was some that had never been in a pub – which was no more obvious in the first week when a few of us went into the The Fox & Hounds in Fremington (is now just called “The Fox”?) and somebody asked for “ half of brown-split!”.

And so we began our “Year at Yelland”, for many of us it was our first year as a member of Great Britain’s industrious workforce. We bonded as much as any large group could. We had a football team – and good one that we kept going throughout the four years of our apprenticeship. The dire nights of a winter in Barnstaple were eased by visits to The Regal and The Classic, Barnstaple’s two cinemas. Watching “dirty films “ at these venues wasted some time. I slept through 2001: A Space Odyssey, and when ten or so of us went to see “Oliver – the Musical”, we were all thrown out for “sobbing” as Oliver sat on a coffin singing “Where is Love”. And “where was love”, well two of our intake must have found it as at the end of our first year they announce their girlfriends were pregnant, and there was also a story of one of group managing to get his leg over the landlady”.

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There is no doubt that our “year in Yelland” gave us knowledge and skills that would never leave us. Whether everyone was comfortable in that environment I couldn’t say – I was, I loved it. At the end of that first years we all gathered again every three months, to attend North Devon  College. On the odd occasion I drive through that area I pass the Wrey Arms Hotel, as it was called then, at the top of Sticklepath Hill, and I smile. Joe Kemp used to drink their – a pint and whiskey chasers, accompanied by a fag or two.

Yes, Yelland was a good year.

Bedminster Down – A Child in War

The school was then filled with sounds of the sirens, it was 3.15pm and nearly home time, but that seemed to be lost on everyone as the colour drained from their faces as they made their way to the shelters with their gas masks over their shoulder’s.  The date was Monday November 11th 1940.

“Everything was different before the war, my Dad was home then and he would read me stories at night before I went to bed. Now I go bed with my gas mask as my companion. I can hear the sirens all the time, even when there aren’t any. They have dug a hole in our garden and we have a metal container sticking out of it, which they have no covered with mud. When the sirens go at night we have to hide in there, all of us, my mum, sisters and Granny & Grandad. Mrs Smith across the road sometimes comes as well, as she doesn’t like being on her own. Mummy says it’s ours shelter from the bombs, but if it can keep out the bombs why can’t it keep out the spiders? It’s cold and damp in there and I don’t like it. I miss my Daddy and I think my mum does as well, as I can hear her crying when I am in my bed at night, and she is on her own. Even school is different. I used to go every day but now we all have one day off a week. They say it’s because if the Germans come when we are at school there are not enough shelter to fit us all in. Some of us who used to live near the school used to run home when we heard the sirens but we are not allowed to do that now, they say it’s too dangerous.”

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February 18th 1941

“My best friend John has gone on holiday for a while. My mum says he has gone to Ilfracombe with his mum and his four brothers and sisters. They say that twenty children were in the party that went to the seaside, and they have been evacuated, but I don’t know what that means. Mum says we need to stay here with Granny and Grandad, because she needs to look after them. I don’t have my normal Teacher anymore. The Headmaster, Mr Farrar says that some of the teachers have gone off to do their bit for the Country, a bit like my Dad. Mum says she hasn’t heard from dad, but she thinks he is in across the sea somewhere. On some days we don’t go to school as they have ran out of coal and its cold.”

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“We still have a hole in the school playground where a piece of bomb dropped but I suppose they won’t fill it in until the war is over. I wonder when that will be. Will it be soon and my friend Albert will be able come home from his holiday, and we can play together like we used to before the bombs started dropping. We can run in the fields at the back of Brooklyn Road and play hide-and-seek. We can pick blackberries in the summer and my sister Dorothy can make daisy chains and hang them around her neck like a necklace. Then Daddy will be home from the fighting. He will sit me on his knee and tell me stories about when he was a boy. He will tell me again about how his Daddy went off to fight in the Big War, but he didn’t come home. And as he told me I would look up and see the tear fall from the corner of his eye. I say my prayers every night and I pray for my Daddy to come home”

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Zion Local History Group

In Every Drop Of Water Is A Story Of Life

I don’t in anyway pretend to be a professional author, I write for my own pleasure – but with a purpose! I became a “published author” more by accident than anything else. My first book, “Girls Not Allowed” was published five years ago, and was a personal account of my association with a South Bristol Youth Organisation. I wrote it to give an historical account of the events that ultimately led to its closure in 2004. The satisfaction was in “writing an account of my involvement there”, and it was my friend Di Toft that advised me to “publish it”. I will ever be thankful for that advice as I now find myself publishing my second book, which in much way continues the theme of the first, “a personal journey”.

“In Every Drop Of Water Is A Story Of Life”, is a memoir with a difference. It commences in 1974 and finishes just last year, in 2018. Much has changed in a period that spans some forty-four years as you would expect. I reflect on some of those changes, what triggered them and what the impact was. There are not many people who can honestly say that there personal life has not been impacted by work at some point, or indeed the other way around, where personal issues impact professional performance. Recession and divorce for instance, two things to create stress in many of our lives – and sometimes they occur at the same time. This book attempts to reflect on the many changes that have occurred during my time at Bristol Water, and to give an honest account on the impact of them, both personal and professional. Importantly for me I write quite openly about the impact of change on the many colleagues I have worked with over the years. This is not a “doom and gloom” book, or one that sets out only to criticise decisions made, after all Political, Social and Environmental changes can impact Businesses. The National Utility Strike in the 1980’s done nothing for the position of the Trade Unions, and for ever changed the “perceived balance of power” in the Water Industry. Now, as we near 2020, Trade Union membership is at its lowest – with many employees not having any workforce representation. Communications between employers and employees are not as good as they should be. With many Utilities employing a “mobile” workforce – effective communications strategies are essential, and yet in many Companies they are dreadfully lacking.

My career at Bristol Water has seen me go through most of the basic human emotions. There has been laughter, tears, frustration, surprise, joy and relief. This book recalls many of the characters I have worked with, and re-lives some of the stories we shared, situations we have faced – and how we came out the other side.

We are all entitled to “have an opinion”, and the ones detailed in this book are mine, others may view things differently. Like many others who have now left and some that are still there, I loved my time at Bristol Water. For me and many others the company had a “family feel” to it for many years, regrettably it seems that is no longer the case. Everything changes and we move on accepting them or not – that’s life, and this book is an account of mine at Bristol Water.

“In Every Drop Of Water Is A Story Of Life” is published by Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and is available through Amazon Store

You can also contact me direct at: andylewis1953@gmail.com

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Bedminster Down – Laying the New Foundations

And so the demolition of the former Bristol Water Depot on Bishopsworth Road has been completed, and one assumes at some point in the very near future the work to lay the foundations of the new houses will commence.

As I stand here viewing the City of Bristol form the “Down”, my eyes are naturally drawn to the view of Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, but it’s the area nearer to the place that I am standing which interests me more. Behind me is the former Zion Chapel.  The first “Zion Primitive Methodist Chapel”, as it was then called, and was the dream of Joseph Jenkins. When it opened for its first service on Sunday October 25th 1863, with twelve pews and seating for 150 it served amongst its parishioners the local mining community. Mining provided that vital employment to the working class families that soon began to populate the area, an area that was previously barren and occupied by thieves, robbers and vagabonds.  Standing on the green opposite the Cross Hands Pub and looking down on to Ashton Vale the former mining area is still clearly visible. Turning my head slightly to the right is the new Ashton Gate Stadium. The City have been there since 1904, and of course football was the game of the working class, and yes, whilst accepting that there is no place in a modern society for a “class system”, it cannot be ignored that the very roots of our modern post 20th century world have been built on the pain of the class system, a class system that was designed to keep the “working class” in their place. Every Saturday in the football season thousands of working men would make their way to Ashton Gate or Eastville Stadium to watch City or Rovers. Many would just alternate between the venues just to watch “footy”, devoid of any primeval feelings of hatred or loathing to any of the teams. They went to watch a game played by “working class” sportsman, many of which took other paid employment when the season was over.

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Photo  provided by Alana “Curly” Lewis

On working on a project recently at the local school to catalogue their historical records I became very much aware of the struggles that challenged the lives of many of the residents of Bedminster Down post World War 1. The School in Cheddar Grove opened in 1927 in a Temporary Building, and moved into its present building two years later, the Junior School came some five years later in 1932. It served the children living in the recently built Council Houses that were now part of the growing Bedminster Down Estate. It had 80 pupils or “scholars” as they were called, and the Head Teacher was a DE Salter.

The School and the Chapel provided a base for much of what went on during that post war period, and continued until society, and communities begun to change, or perhaps I should say “evolve”.

The challenges for children growing up in the period between the two wars were great, and yet there was obviously a great sense of nationalism that existed at that time. Every opportunity was taken to celebrate a Royal Birth, or “The Empire”. Empire Day was celebrated every year, the “Great” in Great Britain signifying our status in apparent world domination at that time. However the wheels on the “Great” bit were slowly coming off and it wouldn’t be long before the “days of the Empire” would be gradually destined only for the history books.

As many households return to putting their central heating back on to cope with sudden drop in temperature over the Bank Holiday weekend, our children of the era I refer to had no such luxury. Schools closed when they run out of coal for the boilers. In a period prior to the formation of the National Health Service, epidemics of influenza, chicken-pox or measles were commonplace, and tragically – so was infant death. On the 5th January 1931, the School opened after the Christmas Holidays with over 100 children absent due to a measles epidemic.

On Monday August 12th 1940, the Air Raid Warning sirens sounded for the first time in anger across Bedminster Down. Having been given an instruction from the Education Authorities that Schools should remain open during the summer holidays, the children at both schools in Cheddar Grove ran for cover. I cannot for one minute image the fear that went through those children’s minds at that time. All pupils had already been given instruction in the use of a gas-mask, and now they were running from “bombs”. On the basis that there was not enough room at the shelters for all the children at the school, a rota system was introduced to reduce the daily attendance at school to the maximum number the shelters could accommodate, effectively giving every child one day off from school every week. Just twelve days later on Saturday August 24th four incendiary bombs hit the school grounds.

On September 11th 1941, as the estate tried to cope with so many of its men folk either in the Armed Forces or on other War Work, a Club for Lads was started at the Junior School. Bedminster Down had always found a way of looking after its own, and it is also worth mentioning that in September 1951, with over 550 pupils at the Junior School alone the Lower Church Hall at St Oswald’s, and the Cooperative Building on Bishopsworth Road were used as classrooms.

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Photo provided by Christine Parmenter

I am always mindful when writing of not to be caught in the very dangerous mind set of always looking, referring or talking about the “past”. I do believe however that it is important to ensure that the human stories related to our history are recorded for prosperity. And of course, with so many new people moving into this wonderful area there does seem to be a renewed interest in local history. The number of “locals” who lived through that period between the late 1920’s and 1940’s is reducing, and there memories will soon be lost for ever.

For me as I walk “The Crescent” (Ilchester Crescent) on this brisk Spring morning in May I can’t help but remember many of the families that lived here when I was a mere boy walking the streets. As a cub I used to walk around here on “Bob A Job Week”, looking for the tale-tale sticker in the window that somebody had already visited the house. If there was no sticker there was an opportunity to “knock” the door. An errand to the local shop, cut the grass, sweep the steps, washing the car was not much of an option as there weren’t that many– anything to get that “bob” for Cub Funds.

Zion is empty this morning, so I have consumed my bacon sandwich on my own, with just Tanya to listen to the sound of my laptop keyboard tapping away as I do a duet with Bruno Mars (I think I’m going to marry you).

Building  foundations for the future – sometimes we have to rip the existing one’s up and start again. Whilst on other occasions we just need to build on the solid basis that has already been put down by others.

 

Published by: The Retired Utility Worker at Zion Community Space.

 

The End of another Bedminster Down landmark

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And so, several years after the last of the staff left they have began demolishing the former Bristol Water Depot on Bishopsworth Road. I stood and watched for several minutes as bit by bit the walls came down. And then there was a pause, and I hear noises – ghosts from the past perhaps?

“The wheels of the tea trolley rumbled over the concrete floor, the doors at the end were open and the wind whistled through”.

“You lot want tea”, said Daisy.

“Of course we do, and where is the bloody biscuits? Big John Peters had big hands, a deep voice and a heart to match.

“There aren’t no biscuits John, they are cutting back” replied Beat, as she poured good old “builders tea” from a very large tea pot.

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The Depot was a hive of activity from morning until night. Men in long gabardine mackintoshes, adorning peaked hats collected their meter reading books before jumping in their two-tone Morris Minor vans and heading out for a day’s toil. The day for many was a simple routine, stopping at Press Newsagents opposite on the way in to work and pick up their fags and a morning paper. At the end of the day the reverse – collect a copy of the “Post”, and top up with 20 Embassy, or No 6 – not many “roll you own” bods – too much hassle when your knee deep in water. Around 150 staff making the Depot their first point of call in the morning. You didn’t take your vehicles home in those days. If you couldn’t park your car in the Depot then Ilchester Road was a good spot.

In the winter when it snowed we would sit on the wall and watch the cars and Lorries attempt to negotiate the hill up from Bedminster. Press Newsagent had left their corrugated cabin and taken over the Wool Shop next door, the cabin was now occupied by a taxi-company. Moylan’s, Ted Coombes (The Barber), Sticklers, the Post Office, Amburys Chemist and Long’s Wet Fish Shop all adjacent to Press’s. Further up the road was two Grocers Clarkes Gro and further up Bryant’s (where Cardill Close now is). Of course on the opposite side of the road was Dyer’s Fruit & Veg, and Zion Methodist Church, where I sit this lunchtime, once again contemplating the past history of my beloved “Bemmy Down”. Over the years they have all gone – its progress they say!

The covered yard of the Depot became a bit like a street market on some days , as certain employees wandered up and down selling a multitude of “questionable goods” – including towels, tea-shirts, dodgy cigarette lights and of course cigarettes themselves. On Thursdays at 4pm we would line up and collect our weekly pay packets. Small brown envelopes with little holes in the front and with the corner cut off that allowed you to count your notes and any loose change before opening.  On Friday morning’s John Williams would do his rounds collecting money for the Christmas club, something many of us relied upon.

Over the years the people and the roles changed. We moved to monthly pay, and vending machines replaced the canteen. I like others have many great memories that are embedded in the fabric of the Building that once stood opposite the Cross Hands PH. It has stood on the corner of Bishopsworth Road for as long as I can remember. I passed it every day on my walk to school from our family home that sat at the back of it.

When the Depot closed a few years ago people lost their jobs, not many I know – but it doesn’t matter how many does it, they all had families and mortgages. People are important, its people that make the communities that we all live in. It’s those communities that give us a sense of prospective on what is going on all around us.

A hundred and fifty years ago Bedminster Down was a pub, and there was nothing much else between the Cross Hands and Bishopsworth Village. Miners from South Wales made their way to the area to work in the pits in Ashton Vale, and slowly the community of Bedminster Down grew. As the community grew so the need for “facilities” grew with it. Small independent shops, supplemented by your local delivery service from the butcher, grocer and veg man were at the heart of the community. And then of course the big conglomerates arrived sucking the blood out of those who had for years sustained a moderate living by supplying all our needs. The local shops disappeared, our great national mobilisation plan replaced bicycles with cars, and our communities started unwinding as we all found the world outside of it more interesting. We lumped our kids in the cars and took them out of the community for such things as schools, sport clubs, and of course holidays. The need for providing young people with activities locally was waning and with it when attendance at Youth Groups. Youngsters decided that hanging about on street –corners, and now –sat in front of a games consul was far more interesting.

So where does that leave us? Well I see many of those that voted with the feet as youngsters many years ago now complaining as parents, that there is nothing to do locally. That they are plagued with vandalism and theft, and of course that nobody is listening to their issues.

Of course, some of what is being said is correct, especially the bit about “nobody is listening”. As a society we have lost the art of listening and understanding, from Governments to Local Communities and especially Parents.

As I write this from one of the last bastions of local facilities on Bedminster Down the Memory Club are having lunch. The “Writers Club” will start in an hour and yesterday it was the Music Group. Along the road the Blenheim Scouts still operate and The Grove is still doing its best to survive continued financial hardship to provide a safe place for young people on a few evenings a week.

What will our communities look like in the future? Well perhaps the answer to that has to surely ley within the Communities themselves!

The Retired Utlity Worker at Zion Community Space.

 

 

 

More Ramblings of a Retired Utility Worker

And so, some ten months after retirement I have completed fully the first DRAFT of my memoir. Why did I start out on this journey – well, I needed to ensure that when I retired I had a number of things I could focus on. And as good as it is to wander aimlessly along the cliff paths of the East Devon-Dorset coastline from our retreat on the outskirts of Lyme Regis, one also needs something to do when its “pissing down with rain”! So I write:

I have found writing, sort of “therapeutic” and have also got myself embroidered in a Local History Project. The history project focuses on the area of Bedminster Down in Bristol, and those who come from that area are often referred to as “bemmydowners”. And yes I am a true “bemmydowner” – born and bred in captivity you might say.

Currently I am focussing on the specific history of Cheddar Grove School – and the thing that links this all nicely together is the Zion Community Space, where I tend to do all my writing.

Bristol Water Head Office sits in Bridgewater Road, on Bedminster Down. A road often ridden by Highwayman in the 17-18th Century – “Stand and Deliver” and all that – or was that Adam Ant? Cheddar Grove Primary School is located in – yes, well thought out – Cheddar Grove, which is in Bedminster Down. It opened in a temporary building on October 10th 1927, with 80 registered pupils and a Miss DE Salter as its Head. It has been serving the area of Bedminster Down, and surrounding areas ever since. And finally Zion Community space used to be Zion Chapel, opened in 1863 to serve the local miners and their families. Now a Community Space that provides a host of other services to the community.

Of course the debate about what “Bemmy” Down consists of continues to capture the attention of many when being debated under the influence of alcohol. When WJ Kew built the houses that exist at the back of Bristol Water he called it  “Uplands”, and by doing so put a clear dividing line between his private housing development and its nearby Council House tenanted neighbours. Uplands parents would be aghast if it was thought their children lived on “the Down” – there had to be a distinction between the two areas. The children – well they didn’t give a toss. It made no difference to us – because it was unimportant. Maps are drawn that include Uplands in the area of Bedminster Down but the name “Uplands” survives – by way of Estate Agents, using every mechanism possible to enhance the environment the property stands in. But it is not the property that defines the area it is located in – it’s the people that do that – the community.

And the community of Bedminster Down has once again shown its true colours with its recent tribute to John & Shirley Quantick, who died within four days of one another just a couple of weeks ago. They lived and raised their family on Bedminster Down. Like many other lifetime “bemmeydowners” they were popular, loved and respected.

As communities change it is worth us all remembering the values that made those communities what they are. And perhaps, somehow, in spite of all the challenges – we can keep that spirit going.

Why Your Opinion Matters.

A number of chance conversations over the last week or so have led me to pen this latest blog – and it’s about a couple of things that are really important to me – empowerment and communication.

I’d like to start off by recalling an incident that happened many years ago at a Bedminster Down Boys’ Club Parliament. For those who are unaware of this club it was a South Bristol Youth Organisation where the members, aged between 11- 19 yrs of age, were empowered with the all the decision making, from the gym rota to the cost of subs, even the cleaners wages. Nearly a twelve month prior to his particular meeting the Club had appointed an Assistant Youth Worker; unfortunately he was “released” prior to his probation period being completed. At this Parliament the Leader announced this decision and the reasons why. The members were outraged, and made their feelings very well known. Not because they any sense of loyalty to the individual – I think they all thought he was a good bloke but a bit out of his depth, but because discussions had taken place and decisions made without any reference to the membership. At no time did any of the Clubs Leadership discuss any concerns/issues they had, even worse – the membership had not been involved in the original appointment. As a management team we learned a lot that evening – not only about the lack of visibility there had been over the whole process but our failure to communicate to the very people who been impacted by the decisions that had been made.

I now fast forward many years to the present day – with the continued failure of those in positions of authority, whether at a Political or Business level, not only to communicate, but to maintain any relationship with those who they are there to represent, as in Government. Or those who are burden with the results of often poor or crass decision making, as in Business.

All Businesses are different, but many of them rely on one particular thing to ultimately survive – and that’s teamwork, whether it is at a Board Room or an operational level. They also survive by having solid communication processes in place at all levels, and I am not just talking about formal communication processes here, I am talking about the basic communications skills that allow one person to talk to another, regardless of their differing perceived level of status within that organisation.

During my time in management I endeavoured to practice what I preached. And that was that “people are important”, and having an “effective relationship as Senior Manager with all staff in your area of concern was essential to deliver business requirements.” I might also add that I didn’t always get in right.

When Governments lose sight of what the issues are for the electorate then they cannot govern in the best interests of that electorate. Whilst I try to avoid “political discussions” of any kind I was party to a three way discussion at Zion recently, with two other people – one of which was Labour Party Activist. What was interesting was that we shared many of the same values, such as the care of the most vulnerable in our Society, and a wage that working people can survive on. I firmly believe that open and honest conversations can often overcome political, religious or cultural differences. Being open to the concept of accepting that “somebody’s opinion maybe different to yours” is an important value in any civilised society. Attaining a level of “management” in any organisation is not a prerequisite to being “right”. In fact the most successful managers are those that are open to others opinions, they don’t take criticism as a personal attack and are open to the concept of being challenged around the decisions they have made.

As we limp towards BREXIT it is worth us all remembering that, regardless of which side of the fence you sit, or even if you’re precariously stood on top of that fence, the only opinion that really matters is your own. In a free civilised society where everyone has been given the same right to choose, nobody has the right to condemn another because his opinions are different to their own.

Regrettably, at a time when we all need to work together Politicians are becoming more and more detached from the people they are there to represent, and in Business the gap between Board Rooms, Senior Managers and the workforce is getting bigger. If you’re in a position of authority in Business and you don’t think your direct reports are being open and honest with you then you should take a dam good look at yourself – because you’re the one with the problem, and it is probably one of your own making. If somebody is telling you that you are too close to your staff then in most cases that person has probably never managed people and knows little about how to get the best from the workforce.

It is my opinion that BREXIT occurred because Politicians didn’t really understand the issues that people had – and the subsequent chaos is a direct result of that. But in Business, it is often not until you have a crisis when you need the support of your staff that the realism of your failings will materialise – and of course that could be at any time, and it will be too late to do anything about it – just like BREXIT>

Bedminster Downs’ Very Dodgy History!

img259Those avid users of social networks living in South Bristol couldn’t have missed the regular updates of the recent night time antics going on in Bedminster Down. The previous few months have seen a constant flow of thefts or attempted thefts that seem to be plaguing those living in this popular area. Of course Bedminster Down is not unique in its sufferance, but social media has the ability to give instant information to those who wouldn’t in previous years, pre social-media, have been any the wiser.

Growing up on this estate in 1960’s I would say that life was a little more “gentile” then, in fact we didn’t even lock the front doors, such was the trust amongst neighbours. And of course the transportation system wasn’t as it is now – so people pretty much stayed in their own communities. They went to school there, they shopped there and they even went to Church there. Not so many cars,  – very few in fact. The red telephone box on the corner of the green was our means to contact those living outside the area, or of course you could “write a letter”. So when the Council Rent Man was robbed in Ilchester Crescent one day the locals were aghast. (for those much younger than myself the Council sent the rent man around weekly to collect the rent from all those living in Council Houses).

As a member of the Zion History Group we have been delving into the past to find out what we can about Bedminster Down and its history. With the advances that have been made in technology it’s much easier now to  do your “research on-line”, and make use of what others have done before you. However, not everything that has been written is available on the “internet” – and there still a lot of reliance on individuals personal memories,  collections of photographs or other documents that we can all benefit from. To make this point whilst we were accessing the records of Bedminster Down Boys’ Club we came across copies of a number of articles written by one of their members for a monthly newspaper produced by the Churches of the area called “Contact”. The articles, under the header “History of Bedminster Down”, was written by RJ Lewington, or Bob as everyone at the Club then new him. Bob was an older member when the Club opened in its new building in Winford Grove and quickly became involved in producing the Clubs own magazine called “The Key”, as well as penning the articles for Contact. Bob was quite deaf, and was in the habit of pronouncing his words very slowly with profound mouth movements, which made him a prime target for the good natured micky-taking that used to go on. Bob’s faith was very important to him, but this didn’t stop him taking part in the Clubs Annual Christmas Show (called Show Down) for all the local pensioners, dressing up, and making a fool of himself for the enjoyment of others.

Bob did a lot of research for the articles he wrote, and they reveal a very “dark side” to the area. Below are some paragraphs extracted from the articles Bob wrote for Bedminster Down’s Contact Magazine between 1965-66.

 

 

“In time immemorial, the area of Bedminster Down was a barren, rough marshy land, almost uninhabitable. Not until the development of the mines at South Liberty Lane and District, did any person settle down in humble dwellings. At night no-one would venture to travel outside, due to the popular belief that the stretch of road known as Bridgewater Road, was a notorious district where vagabonds roamed the countryside. In consequence the Merchants and rich people also feared this last part of their journey to Bristol where they were frequently robbed and left penniless. It is with no-doubt that the “Cross Hands”, a once coaching inn was filled to the capacity until the morning light”.

“Toward the end of Bridgewater Road on the now common-land, are three large tree plantations, jutting out on the hillside. Old people yet affirm that these were the plague pits where countless numbers of people who had died during the Black Death of 1348-49 lie. A plague known as Bubonic Plague caused by fleas on rats, swept the country like wild fire”.

“Near to the site now known as the Corporation Estate the Public gallows were erected. On September 14th, 1740, a soldier named Millard, accused of highway robbery with violence, was hanged. . According to Latimer, Millard with his companion murdered a servant of Mr Thomas Knight of Southmead, named Westbury. He was found nearly dead on the Downs, with twenty cuts on his skull, and his pockets rifled. His horse was later found at the foot of the Downs Hanging Post. Within two weeks the two murderers were charged with the crime by a comrade called York, who confessed that he had been a companion in the perpetration of the two atrocious robberies at Brislington and Bedminster. One was a burglary in Wine Street, the other that of stealing twenty-one sheep at various times in the southern suburbs. York was thereupon arrested and the three men were sentenced to death, and afterwards hanged, together with a fourth culprit convicted of a robbery in Brislington. Miller and York spent the night prior to their execution in “Bedminster Bridewell”, a prison maintained by the County of Somerset. The former was hung in chains on Bedminster Down, and the latter on Brislington Common, in the presence of thousands of spectators”.

“A few days later Millard’s father-in-law, a cobbler in Thomas Street, strongly concerned about being connected with the above crimes, was executed in Bristol for a shop robbery”.

“No information has been given as to where the hangings were exhibited, but as far as accounts go, a handful of people have been hanged, including two men Thomas Perryman and John Roach, on April 19th 1750, who was hanged for aiding and assisting in pulling down Mr Durbin’s house during the recent Toll House riots throughout the city. Another-Thomas Cox was also tried for the same offence but was acquitted for being a lunatic!”

“Also on Bedminster Down, on Saturday morning 6th September in the year 1783, a seventeen year old youth, by the name of George Gane, was hanged for stealing a quantity of linen from the Bleachng Yard of John Gomer at Ashton. Richard Blake, an accomplice, who was charged with him for the same offence was reprieved.”

“Most of the events which happened on Bedminster Down and in that locality up to the year 1800 were robberies and villainous attacks. As already has been explained this was amongst the commonest crimes found on barren, marshy lands where vagabonds and other notorious characters lay in wait to pounce on their victims with a shout of “Stand and Deliver”, to the astonished traveller who might well be a rich merchant or a person who did not fully appreciate the consequences of travelling alone at night instead of waiting until the crack of dawn before setting out on their journey.”

RJ Lewington

 

The mining industry on the 19th Century provided vital work to the area, and saw the development of groups of miners cottages, some still exist. Towards the latter part of that century we saw the building of the first Primitive Methodist Church (as it was then called) on Bedminster Down.

Zion will be opening its Bedminster Down Museum on Sunday December 2nd at 2pm, whilst still in its infancy it is hoped that we will be to continually add to it over the coming months

However, if you want to learn more, or know more about the history of Bedminster Down, then seek out the History Group at Zion Bristol. (They also do a dam good sausage sandwich)

 

Further information on the Zion History Group is available through:

Zion:                     info@zionbristol.co.uk

Emma:                 EM07Moore@outlook.com