Shipton Gorge Parish Council

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Shipton in the 1940s

As a little girl, born and brought up in London, the move to Shipton Gorge was quite a culture shock. It was May 1938 and the trees and hedges were full of blossom and green grass - I had never seen anything like it! My father, in business in London, had decided to follow a dream and move to the country, which he and my mother had always loved, though he knew nothing about farming. They found Bonscombe Farm, near Shipton Gorge, a Victorian farmhouse and stable and 25 acres, and my parents, brother and I moved in after some refurbishment had been done. Trixie, a one-eyed pony, came with the property and with the onset of war my father bought cows, pigs and chickens to meet the Government's demands for more food production. He was thus able to earn enough money to support the family.

As I was almost six I was sent to the village school, my brother joining me a year later. My mother dressed me in a short blue and white flowery frock with matching knickers, which was the London fashion. The Shipton mothers were shocked - showing your knickers was indecent! Arriving at school we hung our coats in the large porch and sat in one big room at old-fashioned, shared desks. Mrs Osborne, the teacher, was a kind but firm lady - my mother always said she was a good teacher, because she looked after the needs of the individual children. I remember her big desk at the front of the class, next to the tall coke boiler, and the piano to one side.

We had all the usual lessons, including reciting spelling from the blackboard. Drawing was done on toilet paper, drawing paper being in short supply. On fine spring days we would be taken for a nature walk, which was a treat. Sometimes the vicar, the Rev Dittmer, used to come and talk to us. When there was a funeral at the church we were all told to sit quietly in the classroom while the funeral procession passed.

At lunchtime Mrs Osborne used to let the boys make a terrible noise playing the piano and pretending to be Spitfires having a dog-fight. At other times she would send us all home because, she said, she had a headache. One event in the year was the visit of the school dentist. He would examine everyone's teeth and then, on a different day, would come and do extractions. He used cocaine as an anaesthetic! The mothers would make jellies for us all to eat afterwards to cheer us up but, of course, eating is the last thing you want to do after an extraction!

Outside was the playground, covered in sand and to one side the Elsan (chemical) toilets with shared wooden seats, and cut up newspaper instead of toilet paper. One of our favourite games in the playground was 'Block'. This consisted of one child standing by one of the big pillars by the gate and trying to prevent the others from touching it. If you were caught you were out and the last one left was the winner. We also played on the grass slope up to the church.

When it came to going home time one of my parents collected us in the car, a black Ford 8. As the car crept down the little hill from the school the boys used to love to push it from behind and often followed it for several yards up the road - all great fun.

After the war had started and cities were being bombed, evacuees began to arrive. I remember, in particular, the Atyeo family filing up the hill to the school one morning, all the boys dressed in smart, bright blue shorts, in contrast to the grey ones the other boys wore. As a result of the influx of evacuees a second room in the school was set up as a classroom for the little ones, and an extra teacher was employed. I think the city children were rather bemused by the country. They also brought impetigo, which displeased the village mothers who, of course, had no running water. When the 1944 Education Act came in, all children aged 11 went on to secondary schools, which depleted the numbers at Shipton school and eventually it had to close, the children going to Burton Bradstock school.

When we first arrived I remember seeing a tall black cart arriving in the village, delivering goods. My brother and I used to spend our Saturday pennies on our ration of sweets in the village shop, by the Mason's Arms. I remember it being a poky little shop. There was also the post office, with the village well outside, where the people in the neighbouring cottages would draw their water. At the top of Peas Hill was the New Inn - my father used to leave my brother and I in the car outside, sucking an ice lolly, while he went in for a quick drink. Nearby lived Henry Bartlett and his wife, who ran a taxi service. When I was in my teens he used to take a group of us girls to dances in Bridport. We also had 'socials' in the village hall, and I remember going to sewing classes there, too. One of the evacuees to the area was a Miss Fairbairn, a rather flamboyant dancing teacher from London, and she ran ballet and other dance classes for us children in the village hall, which was fun.

For several years missionaries used to come to the Chapel. I used to go to the services and I found it quite moving sitting in the sunny chapel listening to them. At school at Christmas time we had a nativity play. I used to be Angel Gabriel, dressed in a white sheet, and my brother and the other boys were shepherds with coloured towels on their heads.

Physically, we were not really affected much by the war. We would hear the sirens going and could see dog-fights going on over the sea. At night we would hear the drone of the bombers going over, heading for the cities further north. Occasionally a bomb would be dropped on the countryside by aircraft off-loading the bombs they hadn't used. We couldn't go to the sea, of course, because the beaches were covered in barbed wire and concrete blocks. Towards the end of the war there were soldiers around doing manoeuvres, and I was warned not to talk to them. When I first started at the Grammar School in 1943 I had to marymaddickscycle there and sometimes, on the way home, we were delayed by a convoy of American soldiers in trucks and armoured vehicles. We used to enjoy standing and watching them, especially as they often threw bars of chocolate out to us - a treat then, but it was actually pretty horrible stuff - probably cooking chocolate.

Life on the farm was pretty busy, and my brother and I helped with the harvesting and looking after the animals. In winter we generally had a bit of snow, but I remember the winter of 1947, when the snow was so deep my father couldn't take the milk churns to the end of the lane in the car. My brother and I pulled them there on our sledge!

When I left the village school to go to Bridport Grammar I knew the names of everyone in the village. Shipton seems rather different now with more houses built, but I am glad there is still a strong community spirit.

Mary Maddicks (nee Thorburn)