OldCiren - Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK
Perhaps it’s because Ciren is surrounded airfields, or as we used to call then: aerodromes, that Ciren people seem to love aircraft. Many locals have worked at RAF Kemble but until it became an Army barracks in 1971; many also worked “up the Camp” at RAF South Cerney. Some people travelled the Stroud road to work at Aston Down which was originally opened as RAF Minchinhampton during the First World War as an aerodrome for the Australian Flying Corps. It later became RAF Aston Down (1938) as a Maintenance unit and an operational training establishment which flew Hawker Hurricanes, Typhoons and Mosquitos.
The Cotswold Gliding Club took residence in 1967 and it was sold to them in 1981.
There was a time when Gliders were hugely popular and could be seen flying from various aerodromes around Ciren. I can remember how exciting it was when the World Glider Championships were held at South Cerney in 1965. For about a week or so, the skies were full of hundreds of gliders.
Back in the 1920’s aircraft had been flown from Ciren from a field up the Whiteway. In September 1927, Sir Alan Cobham was promoting the National Municipal Aerodrome Campaign around the Country and visited Cirencester. He’d been to the town before to demonstrate his “Flying Circus”; but this time around the field at the Whiteway was under crop and not available. Ciren’s Mr Aubrey Price came to the rescue and offered the use of his “Racecourse field” at Stratton, adjoining the lane leading to Baunton and adjacent to the Golf Course. Despite the conflict with the Cirencester Sheep and Ram Fair, a large crowd attended and 33 free tickets for flights over Ciren were given to School children over the age of 13. The tickets had to be applied for by completing a coupon in the Standard published on a Friday evening and delivering it by lunchtime next day.
When I growing up on the Beeches estate there were two premises of importance; the Beeches shop and the Golden Farm pub. Adjacent to the shop was one of the three red telephone boxes that served the Beeches, back before most people had telephones. “Jack Arnolds” shop as it was known, stocked most things a boy could want; sweets when I was small and “Fags” when Jack Arnold thought I was old enough to buy them. The Golden Farm had different attractions: bottles of “pop” and crisps and later Quart bottles of Cider from a small hatch at the back. I don;t remember it happening, but legend has it that some boys would take empty bottles from crates at the rear and then redeem them for 6 pence a bottle at the hatch.
The Golden Farm opened on the 10th July 1953 having been converted to a pub by the owners H and G Simmonds having acquired the Licence from the Nags Head on London Road which had recently closed down. In the 1950’s licences to sell alcohol were restricted and one establishment had to tender its licence on closing to allow another to take it’s place. The Golden Farm was a Tudor residence named after the Highwayman William Davis “The Golden Farmer” who was once thought to have lived there. I was always told that the Golden Farmer was called so because he had an farm which he worked on during the day and turned highwayman at night. But reading an account of Davis in the Standard from 1953 when the pub opened, it seems that William Davis was called the Golden Farmer because he “farmed Gold” from his unfortunate victims. Over many years he robbed coaches, mostly near Salisbury but also in London, where he was eventually apprehended in 1689; committed to Newgate, and executed on Friday the 20th of December, 1689; he was afterwards hanged in chains.
Standard readers might remember that I wrote recently about ordering Groceries in 1950’s Ciren, but I didn’t mention payment. Back then it was a time when “Plastic” hadn’t been invented and it was cash only. Cheques were in use, but I don’t think many people from the Beeches where I came from, had access to this form of payment. Working people at the time, were paid in Cash and usually paid weekly; the money handed to the employee in a brown envelope with window in it to allow the edge of the notes within to be counted before the seal was broken. Every shop took cash which was placed in a mechanical till which had a bell that rang when the cash drawer was opened. Shops usually had a single cash till: centrally placed and staffed by a person who only did this particular job. This worked well for smaller shops such as Jessie Smiths the Butchers and Wheeler’s Stores in Cricklade Street, but larger shops such as Boultons in the Market Place or Clappens used different methods: French and Sons in West Market Place had a sort of overhead system comprising a taut wire that ran from the sales desk to the cashier’s station; a cage-like booth which was somewhere out of sight in the shop. The sales assistant would put the customers’ money into a cannister attached to the wire and by tugging firmly on a spring-loaded lever, the canister would be catapulted along the wire, reaching its destination in mere seconds. The cashier could then “return fire” with the change and a receipt.
Mitchells drapers in Castle street had a vacuum system where customers’ money would be placed in a cannister: inserted into tubing; to be rapidly sucked though to a distant cashier. Sometimes the capsules would get stuck in the vacuum pipe and the Manager would have to climb amongst the tubing to extricate the capsule.
In the days when it was possible to repair and fix most things on a car or your motorbike; many people would do this outside their homes. It was nothing out of the ordinary, during the light Summer nights or weekends, to see wheels being changed or even engines being removed outside the houses of the Beeches or up the Chesterton estate. For those that couldn’t do this sort of thing or lacked the skill to do it, Ciren garages were there to do it for you, or sell you the parts to do it.
Most are long gone from Ciren – Bennet’s in Victoria Road which recently announced it was closing, being perhaps the last to go. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s it was different story and there were about 6 garages in town, including Cirencester Garage in Dyer Street (where the Woolmarket is now) and further down Dyer street in the building where Gardiners is now; “Steels”. In Castle street there was Bridges Garage which went out of business in 2008. Most Ciren garages sold petrol but Cirencester garage and Steels were also agents for new cars such as Wolseley, Austin and Rover.
In the late 1950’s there were probably more motorcycles on the Ciren roads than there were cars and back then there wasn’t much that couldn’t be fixed by yourself using a set of spanners and the benefit of an oily “Haynes workshop manual.” If you got stuck - you pushed the bike to Peter Hammond’s in Watermoor road and while you waiting for your 197cc Francis-Barnet Falcon or your 125cc BSA Bantam to be fixed, you could drool over the new Triumph Bonneville 650cc and dream about doing “the Ton” on one along the Fosse Way, when you won enough to buy one on the equivalent of today’s Lottery – ie. Littlewoods Football Pools.
When I was growing up In Ciren during the 50’s and 60’s, trains were an everyday part of life. With a station in town, one at Watermoor and halt at Chesterton; it was possible to get to most parts of the Country, easily and cheaply. Back then, as well as Kemble and Tetbury, it was also possible to reach London by changing at Swindon. As a boy I well remember the steam trains chugging along the line at the back of our garden at Patterson road, Beeches Estate on their way to and from Fosse Cross from Watermoor. On hearing the train whistle as it crossed the City bank bridge I would often run to beat the train to the bridge at Queen Elizabeth road; to then hang as far as possible over the parapet to see down the chimney as it passed beneath. I f feeling really brave, I would venture beneath to sit on the embankment and wave at the train driver through the billowing smoke and steam. It was highly illegal of course and children were terrified by tales of boys being caught and taken down line to Watermoor station for an interview with the Station Master and a Constable. It didn’t stop us kids doing what we did, but our smoky clothes often took a fair bit of explaining to our mothers when we got home later.
Nowadays most of the old track lines have disappeared, leaving little trace of what were once arterial routes connecting Ciren to the Midlands, and further afield Watermoor closed to passengers in 1961 and Goods trains stopped two years later in 1964. The town station also closed in 1964 to the great sadness of Ciren people, many of whom had seen sons off to war from the platform; gone up to London for a visit to the Circus, or just used it daily to get back and forth to work.
Modern day Ciren has about 25 GP’s from 5 Surgeries who cover the town. Back in the 50’s and 60’s you could count the number on one hand, and you knew them all by name – formal name that is. Doctors were once an important fixtures in the lives of their patients; many of which were brought into the World by the same Doctor that they then went on to see for many years in times of sickness and ill health. Judging by the responses to my recent posting of pictures on OldCiren (Facebook), of the “Old School” Doctors of Ciren: Dr Hope-Simpson, Dr Grey, Dr Winters, Dr Westwood, Dr Guest; many people not only remember these Doctors, but still hold them in great affection as being once friends-to-the-family or people that they regarded as personal confidants to whom they would share their secrets and personal worries. It was a time when unless you were fortunate to own a telephone or have one at the end of the street, you simply walked into the surgery and asked to see your personal Doctor. You might have had to wait for a while in the waiting room, or be asked to come back later, but when you did, the Doctor would greet you by name – and ask after your Father or Mother. Rather than a Locum which you might get today, your local Doctor would pay home visits if you were deemed too poorly to leave your bed or in an emergency. I remember once being in the waiting room at 45 Dollar Street and Dr Westwood putting his head round the door to apologise to the patients that he had to dash out to see a patient, but he would be back! We whiled away the hour he was away; reading old copies of National Geographic magazine, Farmer’s Weekly and the last week’s “Standard”.
As well as mainstream activities such as Football, Cricket, Rugby, there have always been other clubs and teams in Ciren to cater for minority interest as well. Boxing is a sport which goes in and out of popular interest, but in the 1960’s Boxing was a widely followed sport. These were the days of Cassius Clay, Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner and others, who’s fights we listened to excitedly on the radio and then enacted in the School playground or better still (and safer) did so up the stairs to the hall at the back of the Nelson pub in Gloucester street.
Cirencester Boxing Club met on a weekday night at the Nelson with coaching by Reg “Pop” Mathews (from Patterson Road) assisted by a number of Dads; keen to encourage their sons in the “Noble Art” but also there for a couple of pints afterwards in the Nelson public bar. At 13, I was too young to join my Dad at the bar after, but waited for him instead in the car outside; nursing a sometimes bloodied nose, with a bottle of real “pop” and a packet of crisps – which in those days came with a small blue bag of salt.
The Boxing Club frequently took part in what were called “Tournaments”; fighting with other Clubs as far away as the Synwell Boxing Club at Wotton under Edge and Nailsworth. Sometimes we went further; to the Isle of Wight one year for the Three Counties Championships.
Training continued outside of the Nelson with regular running around the City Bank and also with sparring in the front room of your house with your Dad or a someone else from the Club. I remember many an afternoon sparring with Club Member, Derick Smith in his front room at Upper Churnside; avoiding the sofa and trying not to knock over the then fashionable glass top coffee table.
Before the time when circuses were banned from using animals, wild animals such as Elephants, were a frequent feature of the Circus when it visited Cirencester. The Circus would visit Ciren usually once a year and would set up in a field off the Gloucester road. There would always be a procession through the town – the elephants leading through the Market Place and down Dyer street towards the temporary quarters in Grove Lane. There is some talk that once upon a time, one of the visiting elephants took ill and was taken by its owner to the aptly named Red Lion Pub in Dollar Street on the corner of Spitalgate Lane for a drink. The record I have says it was hot water from the Pub’s boiler, that the elelphant was given; I’d like to think it was Beer. The Red Lion, which was once owned by the Cirencester Brewery, is no longer there, having closed around 1939. But the remains of the elephant however is rumoured to be buried somewhere in a field off what is now called Abbey Way.
Trips to the Circus were a feature of School trips; not just to Chipperfields (Giffords nowadays) when it was encamped up the Gloucester road, but further afield to see it in London. I remember being taken from Lewis Lane School on a train to Kemble and then to London to see Bertram Mills Circus at Olympia.
On the 6th May 1932 a different sort of Circus came to town in the form of a “Flying Circus”. Alan Cobham, a test pilot for the de Havilland aircraft company, had started what he called the National Aviation Day displays - a combination of barnstorming and joyriding which toured the country, calling at hundreds of sites, some of them regular airfields and some just fields cleared for the occasion. Ciren didn’t have an airfield as such, so Cobham used land off Grove Lane. But more about this in a later edition..