OldCiren - Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK
I was reading recently that up the road in Bristol, Revisionists are removing references to the City’s links with Slavery. Signs, names and references can be changed, what can’t be removed are the historical facts that in the 17th Century behaviours, attitudes and views about what was morally right and what was acceptable were very different to what they are today. But it wasn’t that long ago and well within the living memory of many readers, that Slavery (and racism) were viewed in a much less pejorative way than today. In 1976 for example, Ciren celebrated the Centenary of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee with a series of “Imperial” themed floats featuring locals blacked up as ersatz slaves and lorded over White Ciren Men wearing pith helmets. Slavery was abolished quite early in Victoria’s reign (1833) but 1976 zeitgeist was such that it was felt to be amusing to select from this earlier period in history. In the 1970’s, populist views were informed mainly by TV which regularly featured Racist Sitcoms such as “Love thy Neighbour” 1972-1976; “Till Death us Do Part” 1965 to 1992 and the Black and White Minstrel show which had an audience each week of around 21 Million viewers.
When I was growing up I cant remember meeting anyone who came from much further away from Ciren than the County boundaries, (or Swindon.) It was unusual in fact to see anyone in Town that hadn’t either been born there, or was visiting a relative. Conversely, unless you had seen war service overseas, not many Ciren people (and certainly none that I knew) had ever ventured much further than Weymouth for a weeks holiday. I didn’t start travelling abroad until Clarkson’s started selling cheap foreign package holidays to Spain in the late 60’s and until then, my exposure to people from different races and Cultures was what I saw on TV and depicted on the Ciren Carnival floats.
Before this day of online amusement to a time when a face book was the latest “Commando War story “ or other comics such as the Beano or the Dandy; in my childhood, collecting things was an extremely popular pastime. We collected postage stamps; postcards; Brook Bond Tea cards and the redeemable-for gifts coupons that your Mum got in her “Kensington” cigarettes. Some cigarettes brands had collectible cards; first introduced in the UK in 1887 by W.D & HO Wills as packet stiffeners, but I don’t remember seeing many of these in the 1960’s. Whatever collectible fancy you had back then; it called for stationary to fix them to to store and display. In Ciren you bought these from one of various stationary outlets we had in town back then.
In the market place where the Coventry Building Society is now, was Baily and Woods - an Aladdin’s cave of stationary treasure, a long cavern of Coloured paper, albums, glue, paper hinges to affix stamps, hole punches; an endless list of things to spend your pocket money on. At the bottom of Castle street there was another Stationers - which sold polythene bags of mixed used stamps. According to how much money you had to spend, the bags could be bought in different sizes from about a shilling for a small bag up to a princely 5 Bob for a big bag. The actual stamps were from all corners of the world and many were still affixed to parts of envelope. In some ways it was a bit of a geography lesson to sort through them; coming across both the exotic and the mundane as you saved some and put some aside to swap with your mates. Always the hope of finding a Victorian Penny Black but never finding much more than Queen Elizabeth Threepenny Red.
I was walking down Dyer street the other day and thought of how different it was to when I was a boy. Many of the buildings are still there - but many have been altered; and many have been demolished. The building I remember the most though; now long gone, was the Congregational church that was demolished in 1972 and a Waitrose built on the site. It’s now newsagents and an Argos that blot the landscape where there was once and Italianate fronted Church.
The Congregational Church was constructed in 1887/88 to replace the old Chapel it had once occupied in Sheep street on land which had been leased from the then Earl Bathurst. The lease had expired and the Earl didn’t wish to renew it. He gave them time to move though and the Congregation found land at Watermoor road but decided instead to spend £900 to build a spacious building in Dyer Street with seating for 430 with a vestry, a kitchen, assembly rooms and an Infants School.
I never attended the Church services, but I do remember going there many times for meetings of the Life Boys of which I was a member. The Life Boys merged into the Boys Brigade in 1966.
The Congregationa Church was the meeting place for many social organisations and I think the British Boys Scouts also met there for a while under the leadership of the much respected old Cirencestrian, Percy Pooley.
As far as I remember the organisations that met at the Congregational Church were autonomous, but at the time they all seemed to me to be connected as many of the same people were in each. The Boys Brigade were the most prominant organisation at the Dyer Street Congregational Church; probably because it was founded around the same time in the 1880’s buy also because the Boys Brigade espoused many of the same Non-Conformist values held by the Congregational Church.
It’s been said that there are few certainties in life other than taxes and death, but I think haircuts need to be added; we all need one at some time or another. Back in the 1950 ‘s my first haircut was at George Hutchings, 34a Market place; an alleyway next to Barclays Bank. George Hutchings set up there about 1945 and was there until he retired in 1979. He performed thousands of haircuts during his career including Rudyard Kipling’s in the 1930’ who was a guest of Earl Bathurst.
I sat in Mr Hutchings padded leather barber chair many times; accompanied by mother to superintendent the amount cut off and kept from fidgeting by the threat of having my ear cut off (and being shown a bloodied plastic ear to prove it ). As I got older I went instead to “Dickie Sharps” in Queen Street Watermoor; where Dickie would frighten me with his menacing electrical clippers. Eventually the Barber’s became less of a place of terror and more a place of curiosity: Jars of “Hair Oil”, “Hair Tonic”, and “Pomade”, and strange but evocative smelling white slime in a pot labelled “Brylcreem”. I could only speculate that they were all things that Men needed and that to be a man; some day I would need them too.
But the real mystery were the Men who entered every now and then to interrupt the haircuts. Mr Hutchings would stop cutting hair and fetch something for them from a small cabinet in the side room. It was on one of these occasions that I first heard the phrase “Something for the Weekend Sir?” The true meaning of which didn’t become known to me until much later. I think at the time, I must have told myself that it was something to do with razor blades that could only be used on Saturdays or Sundays.
Photos - Mr Hutchings Barber shop entrance
Cirencester House - hedge trimmer 1974
Dick Sharp the Ciren barber 1976
Before central heating, deliveries of coal were a regular sight around Ciren and I can remember as a child being half frightened by the coal-blackened man who wore a strange leather hat and bent-backed carried sacks of coal from his lorry to our outhouse. There were nine coal merchants in town at one point who imported coal, first by canal and later by rail to Watermoor station. Frank Gegg was one of the first coal merchants in town and he worked from the Cirencester canal wharf from 1889 using a narrow boat named “Staunch to bring coal into town which he then delivered it to locals with "joey" his horse pulling a cart.
I might have been frightened by the coalman but I certainly wasn’t by another visitor to the Beeches; the “Pop” man who came fortnightly In his red and gold liveried Corona “Pop’ lorry. “Pop” as we called all carbonated soft drinks at the time, came in a variety of different flavours, many of which would probably contravene the Food regulations nowadays but my favourite was the orange fizzy liquid that had probably never been anywhere near the fruit of the same name.
Corona had been manufactured from the 1920’s, but didn’t really reach Ciren until the early 1960’s as part of a marketing campaign on TV by adverts starring popular comedian Dave King. Unlike other foodstuffs such as ice cream, Corona couldn't be bought directly from the lorry and it had to be ordered first. This meant that the “Pop” man became yet another of the commercial callers vying for the housewife’s shilling. It was a long queue: Coalman; Milkman, Newspaper boy, Insurance man, Football Pools collector to name but a few. There were others - the “Tallyman” for example who collected money for items bought “on tick” (as Hire Purchase was known). All men back then and I don't recall any women doing this sort of work.
Photos - Gegg and his coal cart at Ciren canal Wharf
Stop me and buy one
The Thames and Severn Canal Tunnel - Sapperton end circa 1898
When Tigers took a walk at CityBank
I’ve always loved Circuses and I have fond memories of childhood visits to Bertram Mills Circus in London and also to the touring Circuses that regularly came to Ciren. Before Giffords Circus, which continues to come to town, Chipperfields Circus was the main touring company. Chipperfields stopped touring in the late 1980s, but they last came to Ciren in 1986; a memorable visit for two reasons; the first being that during one of the performances, the banked rows of audience seating collapsed, and secondly because the Circus trainers exercised a Tiger at Citybank (and allowed it to use the slide.)
Chipperfield’s; once the largest Circus in Europe with a tent that could hold 6000 people had an enormous menagerie of animals which included 200 Horses, 16 Elephants and 200 other animals. They didn’t bring all of these to Ciren in 1986, but they did bring a camel, 5 elephants, four lions and a Tiger.
It is still lawful to keep and train wild animals for Circuses an two Circuses still do so in the UK. This will come to an end in 2020 when a new Law comes into force prohibiting it.
The collapse of the seating at the afternoon Matinee in 1986, caused a few minor injuries and some people I’ve spoken to recently, can still remember losing bags and shoes in the confusion. Luckily there were no tigers (or lions) loose at the time!
One of the photos this week, shows the ChIpperfield tiger at the Citybank having it's stomach rubbed. To the rear is the old metal slide that many readers will remember from their childhood days. What I remember from childhood has distorted over time and what once seemed to me to be an enormous pleasure tower, seems quite small now; or perhaps it really was huge and its the tiger that makes it look small in the photo.
Cirencester Carnival - Smashing !
For many years - and certainly within living memory, the Carnival was the main annual event in Ciren. First established by the Friendly societies around 1898 it came to an end in 1994. This remained so until 1947 when the name “Cirencester Hospital Carnival’ was dropped for simply “Cirencester Carnival”. The main reason for this appears to have been financial difficulties in keeping the Carnival afloat. The Committee reports from 1946 report apathy from the public who felt aggregated at paying entrance fees to the Carnival and contributing towards the Hospital when they were already paying 7/6 a week to the National Health service. It simply wasn’t enough anymore to to have attractions such as a man diving 60 feet into a wet sponge (date) or “slyest looking mongrel “ competition; what was needed were events that the public could sign up for and foster their continual interest in the Carnival. Lots of different events were started - events such as pram races; conduct-a-band competitions, tug of war across the Abbey lake and as time went on; in the 1960’s - the smash a piano competition. It’s hard to imagine and perhaps for younger readers impossible to understand, how smashing up a musical instrument could be so popular. But it was hugely popular in the 1960’s and unusually, a craze that was passed to the USA (rather than the other way around.) At one time the Guinness Book of Records had a record for the fastest time to destroy an upright piano with sledgehammers and pass the parts through a 9-inch diameter hole. If you are wondering; the fastest time was 1 minute 34 seconds in 2010. Guineas retired the record after complaints were made about “wasteful destruction of valuable property”; pianos having become valuable again. I’ve often wondered how pianos came to be regarded as worthless in the 1960s but perhaps it was because with the adoption of central heating in many homes many piano frames warped and the instrument became useless. Maybe it was the greater time spent watching TV Back then. II think it might have been a combination, but also that for teenagers whoes idols and hero’s in the 1960’s were playing guitars and drum kits; pianos were no longer “cool” or as we “hipsters” said back in the day pianos were “Square” .
What happened to pianos, the solo singer and the pub sing-song?
Before the “Wall of Sound” of amplified music and speakers on poles that threaten to bring down the ceilings of hostelries built even before there was electricity; most pubs just had a piano to supply music to its clientele. Pub entertainment was a piano, sometimes a solo singer, but always a general sing-song. Pubs without a piano were the exception and I can't think of a Ciren pub didn't have one. Piano players rarely sang, well not In Ciren they didn’t. My Father and I both played in the Ciren Pubs and while we both bashed out popular hits such as “Roll out the Barrel” and “Danny Boy:”, we left singing and playing at the same time to professionals such as Mrs Mills for example, who we listened to on the wireless playing tunes that mostly dated from the First and Second World War (with a bit of boogie-woogie).
It was a time when piano music was extremely popular and those that played well, were the celebrities of the day. We had Russ Conway from Bristol who appeared weekly on the Billy Cotton Band TV show and Joe “Mr Fingers” Henderson who also regularly on TV and the wireless too. It seems incredible in this age of electronically produced and amplified sound that Russ Conway had 20 piano instrumentals in the UK Singles Chart between 1957 and 1963, including two number one hits; his “ Roulette” even deposed Elvis Presley in the charts.
At one time in the 1960's the Crown also had a Banjo player. Every weekend the bar at the Crown would be full of people, singing their heads off to a version of Lancashire’s George Formby’s “When I’m Cleaning Windows”. A version because rather than with the usual Lancashire accent, the banjo player sang with a broad Gloucestershire accent and the song became “ When I be cleanin’ Winders”.
Cafes – Greasers and Mod haunts.
Meeting a friend in town for a Coffee the other day, I remembered a time when there were very few places you could actually go to at all for a Coffee in Ciren. I remembered, in the 1960’s there was the Castle Grill were you could be sure of tea, and also coffee, which in the 60’s was a far less popular beverage than it is now. The Castle Grill had two sides; a coffee bar mainly for the youngsters and a “posh” side where you could sit at a proper table and order a meal. The coffee bar in the 1960’s was primarily the haunt of the motorcyclist or “Greasers” as they were known at the time while Scooter riding “Mods” went elsewhere. As a part-time “Greaser” at the time, I have no idea where the Mods actually went, but I guess they went to the Copper Kettle café a little way further down Castle street. Readers will probably correct me on this, but the Castle Grill had the only jukebox in town and for a “tanner” (6 old pence) you could select a record from the latest hits – as long as the owner had filled it with them that week from Carrols Record Shop in Cricklade Street.
The “Greasers” and the “Mods” in Ciren largely dropped away as the 1960s progressed and by 1967 “Flower Power” had started to drift into Ciren in its place. Many of us teenagers were by now sporting Bell bottom trousers and floral pattern shirts with wide collars. It was time when you had to “ Be there or be Square” and the “there” place to be in the late 1960’s was no longer the Castle Grill; it was the Mad Hatter Café opposite the Grill where you could sit and drink frothy milky Coffee at twice the price you used to pay over the road.