“Lincolnshire Life – the early years”
memories of a Lincolnshire lad
John Bartram Clark – retold by Lizzy Clark
I was born at ‘The Bungalow’, Mill Lane, Donington, Near Spalding in South Lincolnshire on 17 September 1933, the first child of James Bartram Clark and Gwendoline Martha Clark (nee Sandy). I had a younger sister and two brothers, all were born at the same bungalow, home births being the norm in those days. In attendance was the local district nurse/midwife and in all of our cases my maternal Grandmother, Grandma Sandy was also in attendance.
My father was a grocer, working in my Grandfather’s shop ‘Ince Clark’ at the Market Place. The Bungalow was the last on the left hand side going down the lane from the direction of the main road through the village. It was here that I spent the first seven years of my life. A spacious home with front, side and back gardens – a haven for a small boy. At the bottom of the back garden was the chicken hut and pen, and the vegetable patch, then came the trellis fence to separate the rear lawn and flower garden.
To the side of the garden was the detached garage which my father kept the shop’s Morris Van. It was in this vehicle we would travel to the coast at Chapel St Leonards and holidays in Skegness where we stayed in a boarding house on the Wainfleet Road run by a Mr and Mrs Speakman. Unfortunately the van trips came to an abrupt end when my grandfather (Ince Clark) crashed the van on a trip to visit his sister at Swayfield. Had had an accident at Swayfield crossroads and the van was a write off – the actual details of the accident were never made clear! Following this incident I recall that Grandfather Clark was confined to a bed in the front room of the house in Market Place, I remember visiting on my way home from Sunday School. It was no chore to visit my Grandparents, as my Grandmother used to make ice cream! Home made ice cream, from milk supplied daily by Mr Hall, the village milk man, fresh from the farm, and my Grandmother would churn away in the back yard to ensure the shop always had a supply of fresh ice cream. ‘Clarks’ Fresh Dairy Ice Cream was a speciality of the shop. Like the holidays in the van, this treat too came to an end – the outbreak of the Second World War and rationing put a stop to my ice cream treats.
The Bungalow was new when my parents took up residence after their marriage. Although considered ‘modern’ at the time, there was no electricity and no direct mains water supply to the house. Fresh water had to be pumped from a well reservoir into a roof space storage tank. From here it fed the hot water system and the cold water tapes in the kitchen and bathroom. There was a water closet (WC) which was something of a luxury in the early 1930’s village life.
I enjoyed by early years here as I had plenty of garden space in which to play. Friends would come to play and I would go to other houses on the lane to join in games. There were a few village boys of my age and so we were never without playmates. In the holidays my cousin Doreen would come to stay from Lincoln. Doreen was much older than I and it was she who taught me to ride my small ‘Hopper’ school bicycle. After many hours practice, she was eventually able to leave go of the seat and I was away on my own. It was an idyllic way of life down the lane pre war.
We had some harsh winters in the thirties, and on one occasion the Brick Pits were frozen over. The ice was so thick that people came from all around to skate on the ice. It was only a short distance from the bungalow and myself and my friends would go to play on the ice too. The area was lit with braziers from the local farm. Even my father came along, he had a pair of ancient skates and joined us on the ice. PC Thomas and his wife occupied the Police House on Mill Lane, Mrs Thomas was a skater of high standard and showed off her racing skills on the pits. In the summer the Brick Pits were the a popular haunt for boys and boats. Henry Shaw, a neighbours son made model boats as a hobby and I watched him sail his large model yacht. Being much older than me, Henry was conscripted into the Royal Air Force following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 – he wore his full uniform with pride on his first home leave, little did I know that would be the last time we saw him as he was killed in action soon after at the age of 18.
The war changed our way of life. Food rationing was introduced and was to last until after the duration of the war. My father went to Grantham for his military medical but was given the lowest grade due to the fact that he had had a big toe amputated when he was a schoolboy. His failure of the medical meant my father stayed at home in the village and worked in the family shop. My friends and I started to play ‘war games’ and we formed our own ‘Dads Army’ with our motley collection of bits of uniform and armaments. My Hitler would have run for his life if he had seen this band of ‘brigands’!
Some school holidays I would go and stay with my maternal Grandparents. They lived in a very isolated cottage in the middle of a field at West Rasen, North Lincolnshire. The cottage was about a mile down a green lane off the main Market Rasen/Gainsborough Road. There were no public utilities to the cottage. Oil lamps suspended from the ceiling provided the only lighting, heating was by a coal fire and the only toilet was at the bottom of the garden of the ‘long drop’ variety. Fresh water was obtained from a pump outside the cottage door. However, despite these deprivations I spent many a happy holiday there. Granda Sandy was a tailor and I would sit and watch him at his work. It was fascinating to see a suit evolve from a roll of material. His customers were mainly farmers from nearby villages and would make the journey over the fields to the cottage for fittings. The coal man would deliver the coal in sacks in bulk, all other provisions had to be fetched from Market Rasen which was the nearest market town. Market days were Tuesdays and Saturdays so it was a regular outing on the weekly market ‘bus on both of these days to shop for milk and groceries. As I grew older I would take my cycle and ride around the area, I found the countryside much more interesting than the flat landscapes of the fens of south Lincolnshire.
Aside from the war, another big change affected my family. My Grandmother Clark became ill and died on 13 November 1940. This meant my Grandfather would be alone in the big house that joined on to the shop. As a family we moved out of the Bungalow at the beginning of 1941 and moved in with him at the Market Place. This would be my home until I left the village in 1957. A new chapter in my life began.
John B Clark
retold by Lizzy Clark