Childhood Memories of John Cockle

To read a tribute to John Cockle, click here.

Wendover in the 1950s

written by John Cockle

I’d leave my home at the King & Queen pub on South Street and straight away I’d bump into Mr Burch and Mr Smith coming out of the H. Wood builders yard. In the joinery shop I’d see Tom Smith and “Dicky’’ Burch, two highly skilled carpenters who would be heading off with their tool bags hanging on their bicycles.

Further on down South Street, Mr George the collector for ‘Pearl’ Insurance would also be leaving his home (now the children’s nursery) which was Bacombe Lodge, a guest house. Fascinatingly all the local children thought this house to be haunted, with the cellars below ground and the gratings on the footpath were where we thought a hand might reach out and pull you in! The next property belonged to Mr & Mrs Wheeler who also ran a grocer’s shop in the High Street.

As I skipped along, the next sight would be Mrs Dean’s sweet shop. Dean’s shop was a child’s delight, and we’d so enjoy purchasing a coloured drink in here for a penny. On some days we queued up outside this shop with our ration books to purchase sweets, which in those days were all on display in enormous glass jars. We would ask for two ounces, the sweets were weighed and then put into a bag. Another treat at Dean’s shop was the fresh bread, or Banbury Buns, and sometimes Smith’s crisps which came with a little blue bag to hold the salt. Everyone knew Mrs Dean and later it was her son Jack who took over the shop with his wife Jean.

I would then turn the corner at the top of the High Street and see Mr Frank Langford (the estimator and one of the bosses of H Wood builders). He was also known as Lord Boddington, and always wore very smart country gentleman type clothes, often plus fours. He was a major Wendover character and for many years Church Warden and a Wendover School Governor. He would be seen around Wendover with his yardstick under his arm and his pipe, measuring up for repair work on such places as the Red Lion, the Lord of the Manor’s cottages or Doctor Orme’s house.

Further on my way to school, I would pass the gates of Floyd’s Yard – at one time a blacksmith’s owned by the Floyd Family, sons of whom still lived in the cottage by the entrance to the yard. There I’d also see ‘Fred’ or ‘Wooder’, another of the bosses of H. Wood Builder – but one who preferred to work with the tools rather than in the office. This man was a real painter, decorator and sign writer. His overalls were usually covered in paint, he always wore a black beret and rode a fold up commando bike. He’d been a prisoner of war in World War I and had suffered a bayonet wound. He could tell naughty jokes for days on end without repeating himself, and had painted most of the pictorial pub signs in the Wendover area including at the time the White Swan, Red Lion, King & Queen, and the now-closed Fox at Dunsmore.

I would then move on down the High Street and pass the Crown Post Office: at the rear through the large archway was the sorting office where the postmen would sort their post. The postmen I particularly remember were characters like Mr Watts, Mr Pearce and Frank Kirkland. The red Royal Mail vans and bicycles could be seen all day going in and out of this building.

Next to where the opticians now is was Edwards and Dobson, a gentleman’s outfitters and haberdasher shop. Then came (before the Kings Head Parade of shops was even built) the King’s Head pub and yard. This was run by Mrs Knight.

Further down was Mr Tom Smith’s Butchers shop (now Cross Cuts). This was a typical butchers of the time, with sawdust on the quarry tiled floor. I’d then pass by the Red Lion, very similar then as to today, except the bar was where the restaurant now is.

Heading on past Ivatt’s shoe shop, I came to Daniels’ newspaper shop, a place where so many boys and girls in those days in the village would do a paper round. We’d also buy our fireworks from here in November. Outside here I would often see the local Vicar, the Reverend Francis Pratt, in his raincoat and battered trilby hat. He would be reading The Times before going into Wendover C of E school to take prayers at morning assembly which he’d cover a couple of times a week.

On passing the vicar I would then see Mr Channor who managed Hampshire’s (now No1). This was a wonderful ironmongers, which smelt of creosote and paraffin and where you could purchase glass cut to size, a fistful of putty, nails and screws from 1 to a dozen or a tin of paint. This shop also employed local boys for deliveries on trader’s bikes. I recall seeing one of the Washington boys coming out of here on the old type trade delivery bikes with a massive can of paraffin on the front. By now the bell would be ringing and I entered the school through the gates near the Clock Tower.