Memories by Chris Caton

We moved to Westward Ho! when I was only 3 or 4, into No 17 Swanswood Gardens.
Next door on one side was Mr Clark who worked in Braddicks TV shop in Bideford. Other side was Mr Stevenson, who worked for Pump Maintenance repairing petrol pumps at garages (I still have a big box of spanners and odd home-made tools of his).

Our house had a big patio outside the back door, about 3 feet high above the grass. Lost count of the times I managed to fall off my bike riding over the edge! Looking at the satellite view on Multimap, it’s still there, although the garden has changed quite a lot.

One time my Dad bought an old boat, about 15 feet long. It never saw the water though, just sat on the patio for years, and ended up becoming part of a bar in the Kingsley Leisure Centre. Dad had a friend who lived in a strange house with a tower in Tadworthy Road who played in one of the bands at the Kingsley Club, we used to get free entry to the swimming pool (where I first learned to swim). The pool had just been built and the changing rooms always smelled of wet cement – even now, I can’t smell wet cement without being transported back there.

I was one of the first pupils at the then new St Georges School in Northam which was built in 1975. I remember a huge mudpool left by the builders at the side of the playground. Others in my class were (in no particular order) Adrian Roach, Charles Holland, Nicholas Elston, Andrew Curtis, Steven Turner. I have no idea if any of these guys still live locally.

I used to go with my dad to the clubhouse at Torville Holiday Camp to watch him play snooker; the full size table seemed as big as a field then!- the year would have been 1976 then, as The Wurzels’ No. 1 hit “Combine Harvester” was on the juke box, and I would have been aged 8. This was the year of the Long Hot Summer, I remember the Standpipes – we didn’t have one outside our house, but the Redmans just up the road did, which meant their water was still on! Torville was where Coral Avenue is now.

I went to St Margarets school. I remember there was a weather station just outside the back entrance, and a climbing frame that I fell off more than once! The headmaster was Mr Harrison, Mrs Mounce played the piano for assembly, Mr Dark was one of the teachers (who taught me all about photography and developing films). Another teacher I remember was Mr Saltern (did he ever become an MP?) who had a moustache like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit.

Once I had a bicycle the world (well, the bits of it I could get back in time for tea from) was my oyster. The coast path and the Tors in particular were a favourite haunt.

Summer holidays were livened up by CSSM, who were something to do with the church, and came to the village and entertained the kids with activities and games. I especially remember the “Tide Fights”, sort of a massive sandcastle building competition on the beach – last one standing was the winner. One year the CSSM used the mostly empty Kipling Terrace, which I later found out was where Rudyard Kipling went to school, and it was a fascinating building to explore.

Round the back of Kipling terrace was a path running up to Highview Terrace. This path emerged by a gap in a hedge, if you looked over the edge of this gap there were some rusty iron poles on either side of a large circular depression in the ground; I believe this was the remains of Captain George Molesworth’s Gasometer (mentioned in Kipling’s ‘Stalky & Co.’). This had been used as a rubbish dump for years – I used to play down there a lot. There’s even an old car down there! – now I’m 40 I still wonder how it got there, and if it’s still there under 30 years of vegetation.

Just up the road (Fosketh Hill?) from the Church was what seemed to be an old quarry – there was an enormous rope swing in there.

There was a path behind the old livery stables (Bracken House now) that joined up with a path that led up to the derelict Top Camp, another great play spot. Sometimes, I feel I only used to play where I shouldn’t – building sites, derelict sites and landfill sites!

I used to get sent on my bike to get stuff from the village shops – batteries from Twoses Garage, Bones for the dog from the Butchers (Heard’s?). I would go down Swanswood Gardens, across Avon Lane, and up a small road (Park Avenue) that had an alley at the end which led into a very long car park (part of the old railway route, if I remember right, and I’m sure one of the houses along the route had an old signal box in the garden). On a wall in this car park was the only piece of graffiti that has stuck in my mind for such a long time – written in big letters using green paint, it said “I’m just an angry passionate soul crying out in this tortuous mediocrity”. Deep thoughts from a small minded vandal!

I also remember on Bath Hotel Road there was a pub called The Nelson. Just down from this was the boating pool, which had pedal powered boats on. Later these were replaced by petrol engined “bumper boats” – like big red or yellow inner tubes with plastic seats and an outboard motor in the middle. I dread to thing what modern Health & Safety regulations would make of these now! When the Bumper boats went, the pool was drained, and the owner hired unicycles out to ride around in the now dry pool. He also had a small video game arcade. Me and his son used to ride around the village on the unicycles! I’m not sure if the same fellow later rented out the four-wheeled pedal powered “cars” that went around the village.

At the bottom of the road was Wylie’s amusements, where I wasted quite a lot of time and pocket money too. There’s no sound like the sound of an amusement arcade in the days of Space Invaders and Pac Man! Along the prom from here, going towards the Patio Pool, was a bridge where the railway used to pass over a lane – I believe it’s gone now, just the embankment and bridge abutments remaining. Further along still, on the rocks, was the pool which was filled by the tide – one time the tide went out and left a shoal of mackerel stranded in the pool! From the side of this pool one could walk along the top of the concrete which covered the sewage outfall pipe, there were some enormous deep rockpools along the side of this pipe, we used to catch fish and crabs in these. At one point there was a funny little concrete igloo with a trapdoor in its side; this was where the sewage was let out at high tide.

The Slipway was another great spot, especially at Spring Tides, when the waves came crashing against the sea wall and sent huge plumes of water up to 50 foot in the air. We’d run along the top of the sea wall in between waves, trying to avoid a soaking. The waves would come right up the slipway, up as far as Golf Links Road sometimes.

The Burrows was a great place as a child, too. Memories of collecting tadpoles from the river under Pimpley Bridge, there were quite a few other bridges across the burrows, too, without any roads going over them. Possibly remains from the war? I remember there were other concrete structures, one near the bottom of Sandymere Road and another near Burrows Lane, that were like bunkers – very dark inside. The Sandymere Road one had a go-kart track built around it. There were the remains of an old radio antenna mast installation nearby, too. And about halfway between the two bunkers, there were a couple of brick structures – rectangular, without roofs. There was definitely a lot of wartime activity along this bit of coast, what with the big pile of old concrete tank traps piled up by the slipway, and occasionally someone would find an uneploded mine buried on the beach – the army would come along and blow it up, which was really exciting to watch as a kid.

The pebble ridge was always a feature. I could see it from my bedroom window (the view from this window ranged from Hartland Point to Baggy Point and Croyde, with Lundy on the horizon in the middle). When we walked on the ridge, we’d find circular depressions made by tourists trying to shelter their picnics from the wind. We called these “Grockle Nests”! There were remains of Groynes – wooden fences put in try and prevent the sea from moving the pebbles. Another attempt to do this had been made (1974 ish?) by making big cages out of wire fencing and filling them with pebbles. They didn’t last as long as the groynes had! just proving that the sea is bigger and stronger than us – whatever we throw at it, we get back with interest!

We used to go to St Margarets Church in Northam, with its splendid high tower. My dad was one of the bellringers there. When we started going there the Vicar was Rev George Lucas, his successor was Rev David Chance, who had the biggest train set in the world (or so it seemed at the time) upstairs in the vicarage.