You are in [Themes] [Reminiscences] [Oral History - Transcripts] [Jack Williams, Jul 1991]

Interview with Jack Williams, (by Pam Haseltine), Tantabrin, Parsonage Lane, Hungerford. 26th July 1991.

Jack came to live in Hungerford in 1938, but had lived in Chilton Foliat before, so knew Hungerford much earlier. As a child it was a great event for him to come into the metropolis of Hungerford. The war changed the face of Hungerford dramatically but it was not only the war. The speed of development over the last 10 years has changed Hungerford more than anything. The pace of life is now so much faster.

Hungerford before the war and for 30 years after the war was basically self-supporting because people could live in the town and find employment in the town but that changed dramatically when industry began to disappear and people found they had to travel to work. That is the biggest change of all. The decline of industry meant that the industrial sites went for housing development so there was a big increase in population. That, in Jack's opinion, was a great tragedy. Before the war there was employment for nearly everyone in the area. There were several builders who were great moppers-up of labour, also the farms. The first signs of industrial development began to emerge immediately before the war, during the war and after the war because Vickers Armstrong had a factory at Eddington where Fertiliquid site was later. This is now being developed for housing.

Most of the shops were individually owned though it is doubtful whether they employed more people. They did of course have errand boys and one of Jack's first jobs was delivering fish. There were various crafts: and trades carried on pre-war. There were several undertakers and thatchers on the farms who were responsible for rick thatching and who thatched some of the estate houses as well. James Williams, a thatcher from Shefford, was a famous character around Hungerford pre-war.

Traffic was minimal and even up to the early 1970s Jack has photographs that show the High Street with plenty of parking space. The parking problem has escalated only in the last 15 years. When Jack moved into his house in Parsonage Lane in 1960 the children could happily play cricket in the lane and never had to move the oil drums which served as wickets. You couldn't possibly do that now.

When Jack moved to Hungerford in 1938 there was already mains drainage and mains water, whereas he had been used to the privy up the garden and the water tap in the yard in Chilton Foliat.

The Canal: Jack remembers the canal particularly for the winter sports. They were a great occasion for the young lads of Hungerford. Jack lived at No. 1 Canal Side for the first four years of his married life from 1951. This was a time of great depression for the canal because you had bank to bank weed.

You could almost have walked across the canal, it was so weed infested. Nothing moved on it. When Jack first went on to the Town Council in 1955 it was intended to close the canal altogether. That was almost coincidental with the whole project being brought up again as a national requirement. The whole waterway almost disappeared completely in the 1950s. The water sports were during the 1930s and they certainly didn't continue after the war.

The Common: Jack's uncle was old Bill Clifford who lived in the High St. and kept the shoe shop. He was Jack's mother's sister's husband and a great character. A pretty irascible sort of bloke. Jack used to go shooting rabbits with him across the common early in the morning, right over by the Kintbury Gate. Sometimes he would be known to shoot other game which were out of season. He had a phenomenal garden - the longest garden in the High Street going right up to Fairview Head at its widest point, with sheds, tables, summer houses etc. Also Jack can remember John Pike rounding up Macklin's cows from the common and bringing them down Cow Lane as it was once named (now Park Street). It was well named.

Jack was also on the common when Eisenhower addressed the troops before D-Day. It was an amazing occasion. Jack's great friend was Michael Axford who. was the son of the local police sergeant. He smuggled the boys into the bushes adjacent to the cricket ground and they could hear Eisenhower addressing some thousands of American troops because the morale had got very low.

To Jack the common and cricket are intermingled. He well remembers the cricket ground being dedicated and the problems they had with one or two commoners who were insistent on continuing to cut the fence to make sure the cattle could graze on the cricket ground because pre-war that was their way. When the war memorial ground was created in 1948 and came really into being in 1949 then there were major problems until it was properly fenced. Jack has been a member of the cricket club continuously since 1948.

The whole area round Hungerford was swamped with troops during the war. The Corn Exchange was a 'Doughnut.Dugout'. There were Americans everywhere. The High St. was full of tank traps, gun emplacements and everything else. Then there were the pill boxes along the canal as a line of defence. They might have been useful in those days. This was very firmly recognised by everyone. Everybody was involved in the war in some way. Jack was a Police Messenger and had to turn, out every time the siren went. His father was in the Fire Brigade. There was a good ARP system which worked well . A chap called Percy was the 'guru' who instituted the electronic call-out system for the wardens. The whole of the pedestrian area under the railway bridge was covered with very large concrete tank traps and there were large holes in the roadway which were covered with removeable lids which could be removed so that railway rails could be inserted to provide some kind of impediment to tanks. There was a huge gun emplacement outside Pratt's, the butchers with a gun that was occasionally mounted to fire up or down the High Street.

The population during the war was about 3,000. Now it is pushing 6,600. The population didn't alter much before the war or for sometime after the war, but it had really rocketed in the last 10 years. Trencherwood may be partly responsible for that with all his housing development, but Jack wonders if the multinationals haven't got a lot to answer for. In pre-war days there were lots of old family firms which were Hungerford's lifeline - the Jameses and the Ward family at Chilton were tremendous employers of people and then they were taken over again and again and the multinationals sold them off because they weren't interested in people and suddenly the whole place was opened up for housing development. There was virtually no unemployment until the 70s. Until Jack started the Trade and Industry Committee back in the early 1980s to try and stop what seemed to be an appalling situation of unemployment there hadn't been a problem of any consequence - neither have we now. Probably West Berks is now beginning to see more unemployment than it has had at any time

Wages were pretty low before the war. Jack remembers his father talking about wages of building workers being 1/1½ to 1/3½ an hour. This meant that a bloke on a 40-hour week was getting less than 50/- a week. People managed on this because their standards were different. They didn't expect to have foreign holidays or motor cars. You cut your cloth to suit and you were pretty happy. Jack doesn't ever remember being unhappy.

When Jack first got married in 1951 he could not get an allotment because there were none available. He had to go on a waiting list. An allotment was pretty essential to the economy. The major allotments were at Strongrove, Eddington, at the Catholic church, along the footpath to the school and right across to what was Dodds Nursery which then abutted Bulpit Lane going up to the old cricket ground. That area was totally given over to horticulture because part was Dodds Nursery and the rest was allotments.

There was an ammunition lorry caught fire during the war, which was most spectacular. It was just outside the Mission Hall. The Church Army Mission was still going when Jack was Mayor 1978-81, so its demise is fairly recent. The Church Army fell on hard times. The last Church Army officer married one of the Childs, whose father ran Bodnams, the drapers - the ultimate in Hungerford shopping, of course. Hughie Dopson took it over after the war.

The band existed before the war. After the war Jack got to know the band trombone player, Bill Barnes. They used to rehearse in Neate's saleroom then. A man called Hall was the bandmaster. Bill Withers was also in the band. He did the undertaking for Dick Bartholomew, whose business was then on the corner of Church Street,. After the war the band fell on hard times and it was only when it was resurrected as a Youth Band in the 1970s that it began to flourish.. It had to be rescued again when Mike Haven fell ill so it has had a chequered history. Now it is not doing at all badly. It has plenty of engagements and went over to Ligueil when Jack initiated the twinning arrangement and played in the church on the Sunday morning. It was marvellous. Jack has never heard the band play better. It was totally moving. He saw people in tears there - an incredible experience.

Town and village bands are traditional in Prance and there are many more there than we now have. At one time there were bands in Ramsbury and Chilton Foliat and two in Inkpen. To see the bands marching in France is very amusing because every man has a different pair of shoes on, ranging from Wellingtons to plimsolls. We have had a great musical association with our French twin.

Youth Organisations. The one which everyone will remember in the 1930s and 1940s is Christian Endeavour. It was the premier youth organisation. They used to cram into the meeting room on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Thursdays there was a religious service first but people still went to it, in spite of the black out during the war. It was a great organisation and kept many of us youngsters sane. The John of Gaunt School now runs a very successful youth centre and there are other youth organisations such as scouts and guides. Scouts and guides were very active during the war. Jack went on to become as Air Scout and learnt aircraft recognition. He became expert at spotting British, American and German aircraft of the period. They used to keep logs of the aircraft that flew over Hungerford. They were flying off Membury immediately before D-Day, continuously doing circuits and bumps - practising -taking gliders off and dropping them off - dropping parachutists off - it was continuous. You simply could not imagine the number of aircraft that flew over Hungerford. There were hundreds of them. We were surrounded by airfields - Ramsbury, Membury, Welford, Greenham Common. They were all active aerodromes and, apart from Greenham, they were all within 5 miles of Hungerford. There were also a great number of enemy aircraft flying over the area. Jack was at Newbury Grammar School when the Germans machine-gunned Newbury on their Sports Day.. Another day the Hungerford contingent had just left to catch the train home when a lone German raider dropped bombs right across Newbury. Jack's aunt knew the teacher at the primary school at Chilton Foliat who had gone home to Newbury that afternoon because she felt unwell. She was killed by the bomb. This was a ghastly coincidence because normally she lived in Chilton Foliat during the week and only went home at weekends. The closest the bombs got to Hungerford were at Home Farm towards Kintbury and at Froxfield. The crater at Home Farm is still there.

Sport The Rugby Club used to play down on Marsh Lane. They now play up on the common. The old football ground and cricket ground were just off Bulpit Lane. The cricket pavilion was the old waiting room from Savernake station. After the war, when the cricket club was resuscitated the pavilion had to be cleaned out. There was an incredible amount of debris there because the American troops had been using it for their amorous activities for years. After that the pavilion was a couple of glider boxes. Sliders were delivered in huge boxes during the war which were put to many similar uses. The glider boxes served as a cricket pavilion until it burnt down in the 1960s. Those were the days of 'Make do and mend' and make use of everything.

Down at the Croft there was a bowls club, tennis courts and a putting green, which cost 2d. a round. There was a golf course on the common but that fell into disuse in the 1930s. The only person that Jack can remember playing on it was Inspector Rogers - the police inspector. Fishing in the Kennet has, of course, always provided sport for a lot of people.

The 1953 celebration of the coronation was a great event and involved lots of people. It was then that the carnivals were re-introduced as the pre-war events had ceased with the outbreak of war. In those days the person who sold most tickets for the carnival was elected carnival queen..

Edwards Fair was part of the pre-war carnivals. Edwards was born in a caravan in the High St. His fair was based mainly on Swindon. The High St. fairs were tremendous events. In the 1950s Hungerford Council took over the running of the fair and carnival because they were being diddled by the fair operators. The aim of the post war carnivals was to fund the building of a swimming pool. The swimming pool was a major albatross round the neck of the council because the maintenance costs were so high. Eventually when Hungerford was taken over by Newbury District Council in 1974, Newbury were persuaded to be responsible for the maintenance costs.

The town council in consisted of Stephen Neate, Major Harvey, Berry Bushnell, Bertie King, Jack's Father, Gerry Watson - all great characters. There were also great characters in the Fire Brigade. Jack was by far the youngest member of the Brigade and in competitions he was always expected to run the fourth length of the hose which was the most difficult. The Brigade was originally a volunteer force. It became the Auxiliary Fire Service in 1938 then the National Fire Service from 1941 until the late 1940s when it became the Berkshire and Reading Fire Brigade. Jack joined that in 1951-

Jack was Chairman of the Parish Council in 1965 until 1969 and then in 1974 it became a Town Council. Jack was Mayor from 1978 - 1981. It was then that he instituted the twining with Ligeuil which was an enormously uplifting experience. The changes in the High Street are the ones that Jack remembers most - the pace of life - the change in traffic density - the change in shop fronts - the delivery boys. One knew everyone in the town but now there are a lot of new people. However, Jack still .finds .that he .knows a number of inhabitants. The average age of the Hungerford population had probably increased because there are several retirement complexes in the town. The development of Bearwater Jack discussed at length with the developer, Guy Mossop, when he was Mayor and he thought the conception good. At the time there was a strong movement for landscaping the whole area. Jack considers that Bearwater has been as asset to the town because, for the most part, the residents are interesting people who have got themselves involved in town affairs and have learnt a lot about the past history of the town.

Hungerford has always been stuffed full of characters and is a pleasant place. Many of the Methodist ministers who served in Hungerford have chosen to retire here. Hungerford doesn't let you go. The Methodist church on the Bath Road was a great landmark until it was demolished about 1971/2. It could seat as many as the parish church and had a lovely old pipe organ which required hand pumping.

Jack remembers the laundry in Everlands Road. During the war the boilers had to be cleaned at Christmas. When his parents and family lived at 8 Broad View, the tall houses close to the British Legion, their next door neighbour was Fred Mead, the Laundry engineer. In ?1944 Fred asked Jack to help him clean and descale the inside of the boiler! Gosh... what a job?! Fred shut sdown the boiler on Christmas Eve,left the safety lid opon, and on the mornign of Boxing Day, Jack went with Fred to the laundry. He changed into bathing costume and was lowered into the boiler interior with a wandering electric lead light. The whole atmosphere was "jungle like" and although the fire had long been extinguished, it was still very hot! (it must have been a Cornish Boiler. Ed.) Armed with a large scraper and many buckets, he used to scrape all day, passing the buckets of scale out to "Chips" Bill Hayes for dumping. He used to get about £3 for spending his Boxing Day in this way. Before that Jack's uncle worked in the Brewery there, when it was Palethorpe's. He told the story of taking the beer over to Wantage in the dray and having to go down Wantage Hill with all the brakes full on. The dray men always got drunk so the horses brought them home! They used to feed the pigs on swill in those days. They did very well on it. Willy Champ used to bottle lemonade up in Laundry Yard in bottles with marbles in the top.

Jack's uncle was one of the signalmen on the railway pre-war and he used to go up into the signal box which was a great treat in the days of the old steam trains. The signal box then stood next to the level crossing. He remembers the fires in the waiting rooms at the station. He also remembers the great frosts of 1940, when the canal froze. Peter Norman, whose father kept Normans garage on the Bath Road and Jack went on the canal and fell through the ice, so they went up to the station and dried out by the waiting room fire.

The founding of the John of Gaunt School in 1963 had a great effect on the railway because the school children no longer had to travel to Newbury grammar schools. Jack has been chairman of the governors of JOG school since 1980 so has become dramatically involved. The establishment of the school gave enormous support to the town and to the improvement of education in Hungerford. Before that there was only the primary school and before that the national school. The national school became an ARP centre during the war, then the public library was there and the school dentist used to operate from there. The library was also at the back of what is now Carpenters but was Dobson's wool shop when the library was there. It was also in Bridge Street school room for a time and finally in Church Street.

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- Oral History / Audio Archives