Sunday, 30 October 2011

Memories of Burton Green in the 1950s by Stuart Barratt

My parents bought a plot of land in Cromwell Lane, Burton Green in 1947 for £165 with the intention of building their own bungalow. Just after the Second World War houses and the materials to build new houses were in short supply. Many people lived in temporary accommodation such as caravans and wooden shacks.

I was born in 1948 and until I was seven years old the family lived temporarily in a large wooden shed. The shed had two windows, a brick fireplace and chimney. This was our living room and bedroom. We also had an ex war department caravan for cooking and eating, and a small sink for washing. Baths were taken in front of the fire in the wooden shed. We had an earth closet at the top of the garden. The water pipe frequently froze in the winter and my Mum had to defrost it before the day could start. The first photograph of 1947 shows the temporary accommodation we lived in while my parents built their bungalow.

In the next photograph, a view across the land, you can see a number of other temporary buildings across the road. Also in the photographs are my great grandma, born in Scotland in 1878, she died in the 1960's, my grandma also born in Scotland in 1899, she died in 1979 and my mother born in Scotland in 1923, is still living at Burton Green. The extended family had all moved to Coventry in 1935 in search of work.


Building the Bungalow

The building of the bungalow was hard work. Every evening Mum would have a load of mortar mixed ready for my Dad to start bricklaying as soon as he came home from a day’s work at Wickmans in Banner Lane. It took him 3 years of evenings and weekends to build the bungalow to the point where we could move in. He did everything himself apart from the plastering. Even I helped as a small child by stacking bricks in piles of 100 around the build, using a small wooden wheelbarrow carrying four bricks at a time.

My Mum particularly remembers the building of the cesspit, as it was a very wet time and she had to keep bailing out the water that accumulated each day by carrying a bucketful at a time up a ladder, so that my Dad could continue building the brick lining.

A few years later Burton Green was connected to the main sewer so all that hard work was redundant. I took this photograph of the sewer trench in our back garden with a Kodak Brownie camera. All hand dug by Irish navvies. I don’t remember the date but it must have been in the early 1960’s.

We grew all our own vegetables on a large plot; we also had chickens and two beehives.

374 Cromwell Lane, being built, 1953
Next to the plot on one side were a number of older bungalows, one of which was occupied by Mr Ebbrell who was the builder of these bungalows and the water tower. There was a field on the other side owned by Mr. Alan Webb. He kept a few pigs in the field, and on November 5th one year we had a big bonfire.

For the Coronation in 1953 we bought a Pye 12inch black and white television. I remember lots of people crowding into the shed to watch, but I was more interested in playing outside. At this time my Dad hoisted a Union Jack flag from the roof timbers of the unfinished bungalow.

Amateur dramatics were staged regularly at the old wooden Burton Green village hall. My Dad helped by providing trees for scenery and dimmed the lights by plunging a copper rod into a bucket of water (no health and safety then).


Deliveries and Mobile Shops

Burton Green used to seem quite a remote country district, although there was the convenience of several shops; Mrs Whiteheads (later Dockers), Mrs. Seatons, Honey’s Post Office and also Red Lane Stores. Fewer people had cars, and so mobile shops and deliveries were a lifeline to many.

Chattaway’s Hardware from Balsall Common was a tall van with all sorts of hardware hanging on the outside; mops, buckets, tin baths, etc. You could hear the rattling hardware in the distance as it came down the lane.

There was also an old converted coach that used to sell vegetables, potatoes etc and always seemed to smell of paraffin. It always looked very heavily laden and had large army style tyres. I think it was painted pale green.

Harry Chick the newsagent from Tile Hill. He was in the habit of not putting on the handbrake when he left his van to deliver papers, and on one occasion it rolled down the road, mounted the pavement and crossed several gardens before coming to rest.

Mr Honey from the Post Office Shop on Honey’s Hill in Red Lane used to deliver groceries once a week in a grey Austin A30 van, collecting the order in a little red book for delivery the next week.

The Baker from Balsall Common delivered in a black and cream van. He carried bread in a big open wicker basket up each drive, holding it in the doorway for you to choose the loaf you wanted. In wet weather he put a black cover over the basket, lifting one side at a time to show the bread.

A firm of butchers called Trepass called twice a week. Ted the butcher carried the meat to the door in a round uncovered aluminium bowl.

Eggs could be purchased at Mrs Webb’s egg farm. I remember a fox getting into one chicken house and killing a large number of hens. I also remember John and I were always a little intimidated by the cockerels. Day old chicks used to start their life at Burton Green under an infrared lamp in the conservatory by the side door of the house.

A Corona lorry used to deliver pop in open wooden crates.

De DiMaggio Ice Cream van with the distinctive DeDi tune, was a real treat when few homes had refrigerators. We even treated our dog occasionally sticking the ice cream cone into the spout of a watering can, for him to eat!

The milkman delivered milk daily (except Sunday) and left it just inside the gate. A tile was put over the bottles to stop the blue tits pecking the foil tops and drinking some of the cream. The farm that supplied the milk was next to the village hall.

The Bettaware man used to come to the door with his suitcase of brushes and polishes for sale. Once or twice a year we had coal and coke delivered.

The coal lorry would stop in the road and the coalmen would carry on their backs 20 or 30 one hundredweight bags of coal and coke up the drive to the bunker. I used to count the bags to ensure we had the correct number.

Once a year a French onion seller used to come to Burton Green, pushing his bicycle laden with strings of onions.

In the 1950’s Cromwell Lane had no street lighting or pavements and there were a lot of potholes at the side of the road. The road was quite busy at rush hour as many people used it as a short cut even then. The Lane was well used for the delivery of parts (e.g. unpainted car bodies) to the Fisher and Ludlow factory at Tile Hill. At this time Standard Triumph transported the new cars to a storage area in woodland off Hob Lane. The entrance to the car storage was next to Burton Green School.

The field at the back my parent’s garden was used as a market garden to grow vegetables by a Coventry greengrocer. His 13-year-old son used to drive the Ferguson tractor ploughing the field. All their family used to help pick the vegetables for the shop. The family eventually built a house in the corner of the field on Hodgetts Lane.

Mrs Coombes, another resident of Burton Green had a thriving business growing and selling cacti. She won many cups at shows and supplied many shops in the Coventry and Birmingham area. My Mum used to work for Mrs Coombes, potting up small cacti which had been imported from Holland. She also helped with deliveries and on the sales stand at shows. Children of Mr and Mrs. Coombes were Martin, Rosemary and Richard. Richard, John Webb and I spent many hours constructing and flying model aircraft in the early 1960’s.

Black Waste Wood used to be the playground for many of the children in Burton Green. Many happy hours were spent amongst the bracken and trees until the sewer pumping station was constructed and clay spread over a large area. It was an intrusion into a natural area that never seemed the same again.

The East Midlands Electricity Sports Ground was another unofficial playground when not in use. It was an ideal place for football and other activities including flying model aircraft.

I remember the railway line in operation and the sound of the night train struggling up the incline sometimes having several attempts. The dry embankments used to be frequently set on fire by sparks from the engine. On one occasion we could see the smoke of the embankment fire from the Westwood Heath school playground. The embankments in the spring were covered in wild primroses and later in the year wild strawberries.



Westwood Heath Church of England School

I attended Westwood Heath C of E School, and travelled by bus. In the morning about 10 past 8 whilst waiting for the number 12 bus at the corner of Hodgetts Lane, the smoke from the early morning passenger train used to cover the bridge and road. It used to cost 1 penny to travel to Westwood Heath School. The bus conductor would dial the amount on his ticket machine then print a ticket by turning a handle on the side. The money was put in a leather pouch.

I have many memories of Westwood Heath Church of England School and the children and teachers. Mr Hancock headmaster, (his son Peter went to the school.) Teachers: Juniors: Mrs Lancaster, Miss West. Infants: Mrs Mathews, then when she retired Mrs Bull.




This photo was taken at the Westwood Heath School Speech Day in 1959.

Click on the photo to enlarge it. There is a key to the names just below. The key may also be enlarged.







My friends were: Rodney and Jonathan Adams, and Alan Hatton. Alan lived in temporary accommodation in ‘Le Van’ before moving to a house in Red Lane next door to the shop. He used to run up Red Lane to catch the bus to Westwood School from the route terminus at the junction with Cromwell Lane. John Webb was another good friend. John went to Burton Green School.

Others I remember are Catherine and Philip Hargreaves who lived in the white cottage next to the road just past Thomson’s Farm. Clive Horler lived in Cromwell Lane opposite the Hodgetts Lane junction and Richard Preece lived next door to him, Richard went to Burton Green School I think. The Lucas family lived in Hodgetts Lane in the first of the white houses on the left. David Vine and his family lived in the first house in the row of farm workers cottages (now demolished) opposite the village hall. Susan Gutteridge, Elizabeth and David Morris lived in Cromwell Lane near Westwood Heath Road. I am sure there are others from Burton Green that I can’t recall at present.

More children who attended Westwood lived in Westwood Heath Road (Robert Hardy, Jeanette McCoy, Robert and Jonathan Atkins, Jill Chapman, Sheila Miers, Rosemary King), Bockendon Road (Valerie Hall, Helen Bostock) and both ends of Charter Avenue (Michael Musson, Gaynor Mutton at the Cromwell Lane end and Ian Hill, Ian Sayers, Raymond Growcock at the Canley end).

Westwood Heath School (the gates are missing in the photo) had about 70 pupils (infant and junior) when I first went there in 1953.

The school was a traditional Victorian Building with high set windows and large thick wooden external doors each with a big cast iron round handle and latch. The children were taught in two classrooms separated by a tall cream painted wooden and glass partition which could be folded back for special occasions. There was a connecting door between the two classrooms and in the junior classroom an open fireplace with a tall guard. Later the headmasters study was converted into a classroom for the last year’s class.


When I started, the infants were still using Victorian writing slates with chalk. In the juniors we had Victorian desks, joined in rows, later these were changed for a more modern style. We wrote with pen and ink. A new nib was pushed into a holder and had to be licked before it was used. It could then be dipped into the inkwell in the desk to write. The ink was made up from a powder mixed with water. The inkwells were then filled from a jug with a long thin spout. We were taught the Marion Richardson style of writing.

Our classroom used to have a roaring open fire in the winter where the crates of one-third pint milk bottles, if frozen, were thawed out before the children could drink the milk through a straw. Defrosted milk has a sweet taste, which nobody really liked. I was a milk monitor for a time. Together with another boy we had to fetch the crates from near the gate and carry them to the classrooms, making sure there were the right number of bottles. The outside toilets were at the back of the school, regularly getting frozen up in the winter. The school had a pet white rabbit called Milky kept in a hutch. In summer she would be let out into a run on the grass at the side of the playground near the Working Men’s club.

Later I was responsible for getting all the games equipment out and assembling it in the playground before the games morning or afternoon. The games equipment consisted of a wooden vaulting horse, mats, climbing bars, wooden hoops and beanbags, rubber rings etc. housed in a set of boxes in the four team colours, red, green, yellow and blue. When it was put away afterwards or if it rained, put away in a hurry, the art was to get it all back into the shed, as it would only fit in a certain order. We all had to wash our hands before lunch in a bowl of water, so by the time I was ready to wash my hands after putting the games equipment away the rest of the pupils had all washed in the bowl so the water was very murky!

We didn’t have a playing field, but I do remember once we had a sports afternoon in the farmer’s field opposite the school. Each of the teams had a section of garden to look after (the garden was the border behind the front hedge).

Lunch was either a school dinner delivered by a Coventry Education van in large aluminium boxes hot at about 10 o’clock in the morning, or a packed lunch from home. The dinners were served in the infant’s classroom. I tried school dinners for one week. I had packed lunches for the rest of my school life. The packed lunches were eaten in the junior classroom off plastic plates. Pupils had to take turns washing all of the plastic plates in a bowl. When I was older (10 years) I used to cycle home for lunch.

Just up the road from the school was a Post Office housed in a concrete Batley Garage just inside the garden of a house. Mr and Mrs Dash ran the Post Office, their daughter Pam went to the school and Mrs Dash was one of the kitchen dinner ladies. Mrs Davenport was another. They were far more scary than any of the teachers. Mrs Goddard used to serve the lunches and do playground duty at lunchtime. We all liked her, as she seemed far friendlier. More importantly the Post Office sold sweets. At breaks and lunchtime children would run up to the green wooden gate in the tall privet hedge, which was the entrance. Gob stoppers, sherbet dips, lemon sweets and many other kinds of sweets for halfpennies or pennies were sold. At one time a very popular sweet was a Liquorice Imp, which was bought not for the sweets but for the small 1” diameter tin they came in. With a suitable modification they made excellent ‘mini-frisbees’ when propelled by a rubber band that was until they were banned.

Once a week we all used to go to swimming lessons at the Coventry Teachers Training College at the end of Westwood Heath Road (now part of Warwick University) Miss Pepper was the instructor and she would teach us to swim at the same time as training teachers to teach swimming. The smell of chlorine was very strong and made your eyes sting if you opened them underwater. Swimming certificates were obtained by a trip to the Livingstone Road swimming baths in Coventry.

I remember two school trips. The first was to London on a steam train from Coventry Station. I think we went to the Natural History Museum and a few other places. My main memory is of the rain dripping off the peak of my cap as we walked along. The other trip was to Whipsnade Zoo. We must have gone by coach. I bought a wax penguin as a souvenir.

One activity I remember was basketry, soaking the canes in the school kitchen sink before weaving them in and out of the uprights. I still have the tray I made. We all used to do sewing of sorts, daily spelling and times tables’ chanting etc. cutting and sticking. We also went pond dipping over the fields at the back of the school, which is now a business park.

We used to have a summer fete held at the vicarage which was on the left just inside Torrington Avenue. I think this is where the new C of E school was built to replace the Victorian building, the subject of many fund raising events such as rummage sales held over the whole of my school time. The highlight of the fete was the country dancing and a maypole performance by the pupils. This involved much practise. The maypole practise was I guess, a teachers nightmare, as the under and over plaiting pattern dancing into the pole had to be reversed and inevitably this went wrong and the ribbons used to get in a tangle.

At Christmas we used to put on a play. The vicar used to dress up as Father Christmas to distribute presents from a sack at the party. We used to have a Carol Service at the Church, those who couldn’t sing were called groaners and had to dress up as Mary and Joseph, Kings and Shepherds for the procession down the aisle.

Every so often we used to take a trip on the way home from school to Harry Stevenson’s the barbers in Tile Hill. Sometimes a number of us would pile into the back of Mrs Powers’ Landrover. The Powers used to farm at Nailcote Farm, their children Janet, Rodney and Michael all used to go to Westwood School. I vividly remember travelling home one winter’s afternoon, when the bus did not arrive, in the canvas covered back of the Landrover sitting on a straw bale looking out at the snowy Westwood Heath Road down the long hill we had just driven up.

Sometimes we used to walk home from school in winter if the bus couldn’t get through; schools were never closed in adverse weather conditions in those days.

Stuart Barratt - October 2011


See Also

Post-War Development of Burton Green (YouTube video)
Memories of Hob Lane (YouTube video)
Cromwell Lane - 1841 Tithe Map
Reminiscences of Burton Green by Anthony Richards
Reminiscences of Burton Green by Rick Jowett
Burton Green Local History