Friday, 28 December 2007

Christmas Hampers


This Christmas ‘hamper’ was a present from Bryony and Mark – note how the rather lovely bag even matches the carpet! It contained lots of exotic relishes, preserves, biscuits and sweets; all individually wrapped. I love the sensation of unwrapping each item and the surprise of seeing what it is. They seem almost too nice to open.

The last time we were sent a Christmas hamper was about five years ago - it was a gift from my late nephew Andrew and came from Fortnum and Mason in a super wicker basket.

When GB and I were children a hamper would arrive each year from our Dad’s brother, Frank, in Canada. (He was known as Big Frank to distinguish him from Dad’s sister’s son, Young Frank, who was only 6’ 2” tall!!!) Big Frank was in the Guards as a youngster

After leaving the Guards he joined the Liverpool police force and was PC66 or ‘clickety click’ to those on his beat.

Frank had emigrated to Canada in the 1930s after his first wife died and he became the Chief of Police, Stouffville, Ontario. So far as I know the only ’Mountie’ in the family though not the only policeman since Dad’s dad was also a Liverpool bobby.

The hamper from Frank and his second wife, Gladys, was especially welcome in the 1950s when food rationing here was only just ending and both luxury foods and the money with which to buy them were equally scarce in the Edwards household. The hamper not only contained all sorts of food goodies but also little gifts for Dad and Mum. I cannot recall if GB and I had gifts or not and the only specific one which comes to mind is a pair of cufflinks Dad got which I now have. I like cufflinks but nowadays not only do I rarely wear a shirt but, annoyingly, most modern shirts rarely have holes for cufflinks.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Ann Gomm Coombes’s Birthday Book


‘Grandma Coombes’ as she was known in the family was my mother’s mother’s father’s mother; that is, my great, great grandmother. She was born in 1819 and was still alive in the early 1910s when my mother remembered her as a bed-ridden old soul at the Crown Inn, Shipton-under-Wychwood.

Like Nana, Grandma Coombes had a birthday book but hers was not started until 1892 according to the note in the front of its wooden binding. Grandma Coombes was born Ann Gomm Young in 1819 and first married James Spencer, my great great grandfather. Later in life she married into the Coombes family who were already cousins by a previous family marriage.... Our family was bit like that!

The Spencer line can be traced back to the 16th century and a few years ago Jo and I had the enormous pleasure of visiting the house which one of the Spencer ancestors had built at Northleach in Gloucestershire in the early seventeenth century.

Some pages from the birthday book demonstrate that Grandma Coombes also used it as an autograph album as many of the entries are in different writings.

Her home from 1846 was the Crown Inn which she and James ran until his death at which stage her daughter, Sarah Sophia Young Franklin, took over. In her birthday book she comments on 20th January1906 that it was ‘My Home for 60 years’ .

In the second entry about Nana’s birthday book I shall mention some events from the outside world which she felt merited entry but only one crept into Grandma Coombes’s – 24th May – ‘Our Queen – God Bless Her’.

Only one entry merits an address and that, in the light of GB currently being in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, is quite remarkable:-

A young Flora

Grandma Coombes

Mum, Flora Edwards (née Body), met Grandma Coombes at the Shaven Crown Inn in Shipton-under-Wychwood in the 1910s. Flora lived into the twenty first century and saw men on the moon, television, aeroplanes, genetic science, the internet, the European Community...

Picture then the England into which Grandma Coombes was born. The population was only eleven million souls. There were more than three-quarters of a million slaves in the British Empire, though slave trading had ceased some ten years before. Wilberforce was then a man of sixty. Leeds was a little town of 80,000 inhabitants. Travelling was by stage-coach. There were no trains or trams or cabs. There were only two steamers in the British Empire and together their tonnage was only 456. Gas was practically unknown. A Member of Parliament got up in the House and said "You might as well talk of ventilating London with windmills as talk of lighting the streets with gas." Duelling was common. Intemperance was an everyday fault.

Laws were severe. Poachers could be transported for seven years. Men could be hung for stealing a sheep. The prisons were in a dreadful state. Elizabeth Fry had recently paid her first visit to Newgate and launched her career of mercy. Women could be flogged in public places. One person in every eleven was a pauper.
Only one child in four was receiving any education whatsoever. Shelley wrote - "In countries that are free such starvation cannot be as in England now we see." Children were sent to work at the age of seven, and were often made to work 16 hours out of the 24.

Pets around 1960


When I was a child we had the odd pet around the house but I have never thought of it as being full of pets and yet a look through some old photos suggests otherwise.

The year 1960 seems to have been the climax of pet ownership. No longer did we have any mice stinking the shed out (at least not tame ones but a few escapees might still have been around) but GB had a pet white rat called Cornelius. An exceptionally intelligent creature it could open its own cage door but had the sense not to wander off because it knew staying put meant free food.

My contribution to petworld was a pair of rabbits (bought as two females!) – Nibbles (a black and white Dutch which would have passed the Trades Descriptions Act) and Snow – a sort of long-eared albino the description of whose sex pushed the boundaries of truth. I found out the truth of their gender when the first brood of little rabbits appeared – the first of many.

The household pet at the start of that year was a vicious black object of vaguely feline parentage which had walked into our house through the kitchen window some years earlier and clawed to near-death anyone who tried to evict it.

By the time it died, that year, it had just about calmed down enough to be picked up once a month or so. Otherwise it just occupied the best seat in the living room and hissed if anyone threatened to dislodge it. If it ever had a name other than “That **** Cat” I have forgotten it.

After the demise of the black cat Mum had another cat which also began life as a stray.

That was followed by a sort of half Persian. This was the last of the pets to live at No. 68.

Monday, 24 December 2007

My Grandmother’s Birthday Book – Part 1


It is Christmas Eve and I thought I would glance at Nana’s Birthday Book and see whose birthdays / marriages / deaths fell around this time. I shall write more about this birthday book in future blogs but what struck me today, in the absence of any written entry (apart from a crossed out mistaken entry for Aunty May Body’s birthday) was the little printed section on the opposite page. Every day has its little rhyme in this 1886 Little Folk’s Birthday Book which Nana maintained from her childhood to her nineties. Here is the one for December 24 –

Be a good child,
    Do what you are bid,
Shut the door after you,
     And you’ll never be chid.
Hold up your head,
     Turn out your toes,
Speak when you’re spoken to,
     Mend your own clothes.
          Merrie Heart

Good deportment disappeared a long time ago – as a child Nana had to walk about with books on her head and her back was still ramrod straight when she sat in her chair reading in her ninety fourth year! Pigeon toes seem no longer to be the problem they once were – perhaps decent footwear helps – even if a pair of Nikes does cost a lot more than my father’s first year’s salary.

The idea of children speaking only when spoken to died out with my Grandfather in the 1950s – sadly too late for us to exercise that freedom with any comfort outside of our own home.

The concept of mending clothes in this disposable society is almost unheard of and I was amused to see a sock darning egg picked up many times on our recent flea market stalls by people who hadn’t a clue what it was.

Central heating in most houses reduces the need for closing doors but I still go berserk when Richard lets all the heat disappear through the back door because he cannot be bothered to close it. Pity he doesn’t read my blog – I’ll just have to continue to chide him verbally! In the meantime I decided to try to compose a rhyme on conduct for ten year olds in the 21st century –

Be a good child,
     Do what you are bid,
Do all your homework,
     And you’ll never be chid.
Don’t hold up post offices,
     From smoking abstain,
Pocket all your litter,
     And don’t deal in cocaine.
         Grumpy Old Man

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Antlers and parachutes...

What do Red Deer antlers, little men with parachutes, locks and keys, a tray of crockery, a cellar with a canoe, a piece of coral under a dome and three flying ducks have in common?

The answer is my Grandparent’s house – 46 Queens Drive, Liverpool. Nowadays the site has a petrol station and the foundations of a flyover at the end of the M62 motorway, deep in the heart of Liverpool’s suburbia. But when my Grandparents moved there the fields opposite contained Corncrakes and the Runcorn – Widnes Railway Bridge could be seen across the farmlands.

To a young child the three storey Victorian house was enormous and full of fun things. The decor seemed dark and gloomy as befitted the gas lighting but that made the deer antlers in the hall all the more alluring. I never quite took to the three ducks that flew above the mantelpiece but I would sell my soul for the sideboard (or at least for the space to accommodate it!). The pieces of internationalia (if there is such a word) that were scattered about the house were there largely as a result of the travels of my Great Uncle THS (Thomas Henry Spencer) who had died before I was born. One of these things was a glass dome with bits of coral, shells and various other things in it. I loved that dome.

Up in the attic rooms there were the remains of my Grandfather’s dressing case business, including a load of lock and keys. Why these should provide so much fun for so long I cannot imagine but they did. Nevertheless, taking one’s own toys was quite acceptable and none was more appropriate to Nana and Grandpa’s house than my little man with a parachute. He could be dropped from the top of the house and, subject to the threads not getting entangled and the launching having been accurate, it would flat down to the hall. Ah to be young again...

One of the doors from the hall led down a set of dark and slippery steps into the cellar which was divided into a coal cellar, wine cellar and a couple of other divisions which may have been a root cellar and some other weird Victorian idea. All they accommodated in my day were a wide variety of cobwebs and Uncle Eric’s ancient canoe.

And, talking of Uncle Eric, Mum’s brother, brings me to the infamous tray of crockery. The kitchen and back kitchen were down a long corridor (as was the bathroom upstairs). At either end of this corridor was a step. According to much repeated legend there was an occasion when Uncle Eric was carrying a tray of crockery from the dining room and he failed to adequately negotiate one of the steps. He survived; so did the tray. Little else did! Mum and Uncle Eric died just a few years ago – both in their nineties but right up until the end Mum would not let Uncle forget his disaster of eighty years earlier.

(The picture above is a rather splendid charcoal and pencil of 46 Queens Drive by Dad.)

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Shops don’t smell any more!

With the exception of the overpowering scent of perfume counters of the larger department stores I cannot think of a shop that smells of its produce. Is it my sense of smell or are smells no longer an acceptable part of selling? In the past there seemed to be all sorts of odours when you wandered into the shops. I can recall, for example, the local Irwins (the grocers) where you could tell whether you were at the cheese counter or the meat counter without even opening your eyes. But the best smell of all was to be found in the Coopers Building in Church Street in “town” (Liverpool). It is the tall, crenulated, black (with soot) building in the middle of this early 1950s picture. Note the tramlines and the trams - these were on their last legs and disappeared from the city in 1957.

Coopers was a grocers but the overpowering smell as you walked through the door was of coffee being ground. It must rank as one of my top ten smells and any time we were in town I used to ask Mum or Dad to take me into Coopers irrespective of whether we actually needed anything from there. Pity we can’t put smells on the Internet or I could let you share my memory!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Mack's Car

The only Summer holiday I can recall from my pre-school / Ryebank days was a week in the Glyn Valley (Glyn Ceiriog) around 1954 of which there do not appear to any obvious photos though this may be one. (Barry and Roger are wearing Ryebank uniform so it must be before September 1955). I think that was the only holiday we had other than days out and brief visits to The Imps (about which more later). One has to bear in mind Dad only got two weeks holiday a year and worked Saturdays (until in the mid '50s it changed to Saturday mornings) and many Sundays. Holiday time was therefore for getting decorating done!

The car is Mack's Standard Vanguard. Mack was the husband of Dad's late sister, Agnes, and lived with his other sister Anuty Denny, in Hilary Avenue, Roby. On occasions we would borrow his car for important journeys. day trips or, in this case, the holiday. It was in this car that GB was to learn to drive in later years.

The cars which went up and down our road in the early fifties were mostly black and usually of the sit-up-and-beg type. The 'sit-up-and-beg' Ford Popular was built in England between 1953 and 1959 as a budget alternative to the Ford Anglia and Ford Prefect. Based on the pre-war Anglia it was very basic with a vacuum powered wiper (at the top of the windscreen), no heater, vinyl trim and very little chrome. Over 150,000 Populars were made. This car proved successful because there were no clean late-model used cars available in postwar Britain due to the six-year halt in production caused by the War. This problem was compounded by stringent export quotas that made obtaining a new car in the late 1940s and early 50s difficult. In addition covenants forbade new-car buyers from selling for up to three years after delivery. Unless the purchaser could pay the extra £100 or so for an Anglia 100E, Austin A30 or Morris Minor the choice was the Popular or a pre-war car.

In 1953 the Ford Prefect underwent a radical change in design and from then on the classic 'sit-up-and-beg' shape was gradually phased out as various models followed the design of the new Fords and became more modern and streamlined. Here are some more cars from the 50s.

Morris Cowley Bullnose

Austin A35

Riley Pathfinder

Standard Vanguard

Sunbeam Rapier

Wolseley 1500

Triumph Mayflower

Sunday, 16 December 2007

My Grandpa

On 28th November 1956 my Grandpa - Henry Charles Body - died. I recall little of him. By the time I knew him he had long since ceased to make portmanteaux and dressing cases (the job he did his whole life) and was merely a shadowy figure in the dining room at 46 Queens Drive where children should be seen and not heard (or ideally not even seen). I do recall that he once gave me a sixpence out of the blue.

This photo shows Grandpa's workshop in Seel Street in Liverpool just after the First world War. He is second from the left and the others are his employees including one of his brothers. Note the enormous crocodile hide! One of the residues of his work was a large collection of locks and keys and fittings that could be found in one of the two attic rooms at 46 Queens Drive and which were a source of great enjoyment to an adventurous young child. Sadly, any financial residue from his work was swallowed by the Depression of the Thirties and the increase in mass-produced goods (allegedly not helped by the amount of alcohol he imbibed).

Among Grandpa's interests were cooking (especially meat dishes); billiards; bowls and visiting the local hostelries. He won so many prizes at billiards at the Childwall Abbey he became quite unpopular! It was the source of most of the canteens of cutlery in the Body household. These were subsequently monogrammed with HFB for Henry (Harry) and Florence (Flo) Body.

Grandpa's death certificate showed his age - 79. He was born on 11th May 1877 in Jubilee Street, Mile End Old Town, in the heart of London's East End. Such was the pollution from the factories to the East of Mile End Old Town that when Henry Charles was just two the area lay for seventeen weeks (from November 1879 to March 1880) under a bank of yellowish grey fog with a combined smell of 'chemical works, varnish manufactories, match mills, candle factories, manure works, cocoa-nut fibre and leather-cloth factories, and distilleries..." The death certificate was signed by Dr. Dorothy Gough who was our family doctor and a much respected acquaintance of Mum's.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Mr Illingworth

Most of the children at my prep school stayed for lunch but I walked home and back again every day. So did Rex Goldstone. That didn't stop us from being caned along with everyone else in the class for some general misdemeanour that had taken place during lunch! I didn't mind the caning - that was quite usual - but I did object to the injustice. I recall that caning was carried out by Mrs Flynn - the headmaster’s wife - normally it was Miss Twomey who inflicted the punishment - she had a stronger right arm and used it to good effect. She also used a thick cane which bruised your hand and made it throb.
Mr Illingworth, on the rare occasions he caned anyone, used a thin whippy cane that momentarily stung but the pain of which was gone in a few minutes. Nice man! I recall there was an England cricketer by the name of Illingworth and we speculated as to whether they might be related - one did not ask teachers personal questions in those days so the issue remained unresolved. I photographed Mr Illingworth when I took a camera (Mum's Kodak Box Brownie?) into school in 1960 when I was leaving. I didn’t photograph any other teacher - even at that age I realised some people were better forgotten!
Corporal punishment was phased out in most primary schools in the early 1970s. The cane was abolished in state secondary schools in 1987. It was finally abolished in private schools in 1999.

Sunday, 2 December 2007


The family photographed at ‘The Imps’, Pantymwyn, in 1956 with Uncle JPD and Aunty Muriel. Don’t you just love those old photos where the photographer set the timer but didn’t quite manage to get back into the frame before the shutter went?

JPD was a colleague of Mum’s in the Insurance Committee (forerunner of the Family Practitioner’s Committee) before her marriage and ‘The Imps’ was their holiday cottage in North Wales. which we had a couple of holidays in and at which we also spent some weekends. Two of my outstanding memories of Pantymwyn are of bloody heads. GB got one when someone threw a stone that hit him and I got one when I launched an enormous boulder (or so it seemed to my seven year old mind) down a mineshaft to hear it go bumping down. Unfortunately I launched it vertically but without any horizontal trajectory. Ouch.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Ryebank Preparatory School

This was my class Ryebank Preparatory School in 1957. (Apologies if I have misspelled any names or got any wrong!)


This sandstone outcrop is known as Thor's Rock and is at Thurstaston on the Wirral. A favourite walk when I was little was over the common at Thurstaston and always took in the rock which was an ideal place for us youngsters to scramble over.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

June 1951

This photo is of Barry and I in the back garden in June 1951 when I was twenty months old. I do not remember the swing; sadly it had gone by the time I was old enough to recall things. I love swings and when I was nine and ten I used to go around the corner to my friend and school fellow, Susan Paddock, in Rockville Road,. who had a swing in her garden.

Just to the right of the swing is an Anderson shelter which served as Dad's shed until 1972 when he got a wooden shed as his retirement present. The Anderson shelter was designed in 1938 and was named after Sir John Anderson, the Lord Privy Seal with special responsibility for preparing air-raid precautions immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II. Anderson shelters were designed to accommodate up to six people. The main principle of protection was based on curved and straight galvanised corrugated steel panels. The shelters were 6 ft (1.8 m) high, 4 ft 6 in (1.4 m) wide, and 6 ft 6 in (2 m) long. They were buried 4 ft (1.2 m) deep in the soil and then covered with a minimum of 15 in (0.4 m) of soil above the roof. Anderson shelters were issued free to all householders who earned less than £250 a year, and those with a higher income were charged £7. 150,000 shelters of this type were distributed from February 1939 to the outbreak of war. During the war a further 2.1 million were erected. Once the War was over many were reclaimed for their metal whilst others were dug up to become allotment or garden sheds like ours.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Standard

This was Dad's first car - a Standard 8 with a Standard 10 engine in it. Dad not only changed the engine in it but also re-painted it (so that later it was dark blue). It was the car on which I learned to drive. Among my early long drives as a learner were one to Aberystwyth and back and a few around the Trough of Bowland.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Moel Famau

I climbed my first “mountain”, Moel Ffamau in North Wales, on 21st August 1956 at the age of six with Dad and GB. Moel Famau is the highest peak in the Clwydian Range at 1818 feet (554 m) . The summit offers wonderful views extending as far as the Isle of Man, Snowdonia, Cumberland and the Midlands with Blackpool Tower and Liverpool’s cathedrals quite prominent (though there was only one cathedral in those days). Conifers now cover much of the slopes, forming part of the Clwydian Forest. The mountain became a Country Park in 1974.

On its summit are the remains of Jubilee Tower, built at a cost of £6,000 to celebrate the 50th year of the reign of George III in 1810. Even in ruins it is a prominent landmark – ‘the pimple on the top’ as we used to call it when viewing it from afar. The tower was 150' high and 60' in diameter and constructed in an Egyptian style. The building was never quite completed, and collapsed in a storm in 1862. There were unsuccessful rebuilding attempts in 1863 and 1887 and some restoration work on the remains in 1970.
Normally, getting to Moel Famau involved getting the bus to the Pier Head, the ferry across the Mersey, the Mold bus from Woodside (Birkenhead) and then the Loggerheads bus from Mold.

This is how Mold looked in 1955. From Loggerheads we would walk along the Old Bwlch and after walking to the top and back the journey then had to be done in reverse with Sunday bus times to be borne in mind.

However, this first trip was on a Tuesday which suggests that we were staying at The Imps, a holiday cottage in Pantymwyn, owned by Uncle JPD and Aunty Muriel; about which more on a later posting.