The place where I grew up (1)

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England. Cue The Orange Arrow:

The village had around 4,000 inhabitants who worked for the most part in the local industry, which was digging up the local clay and using it to make water pipes, sewage pipes and the like.

Originally, the village was called Wooden Box, because five roads met in the centre, and the man who collected the tolls from the travellers on those five roads lived in a large wooden box the size of a small house. The place where he stopped the traffic therefore became known as the Tollgate. Nowadays, it is a roundabout.

Here is the High Street shortly after the end of World War Two:

It was quite grim when the snows of 1947 began to get a little grimy:

Over a series of blog posts, I would like to show you what Woodville was like when I was a little boy in the late fifties and early sixties, and what all those places are like now.

In the 1950s, the shops of Woodville were vastly different from what they are nowadays. At the top of Hartshorne Road, where I lived, was the Co-op butcher’s, with its decorated ceramic tiles, where meat was displayed on a big white slab behind a huge plate glass window. Here are some of the ceramic tiles:

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Inside was the counter with a wooden chopping block at the side. The butcher wore a striped blue and white apron, soiled with smears of old blood. He was, like all butchers, a Smart Alec, who fancied his chances with the women and was always over familiar with them.

Here’s the butcher’s shop today. It’s derelict:

Higher up, on the corner of the roundabout was a large shop called the Co-op. In the picture below, it’s on the right:

Margaret who worked in the Co-op was my mother’s particular friend. Here’s the shop today. It’s derelict too:

On the opposite side of the road was what had been the old Police Station. Here it is, in the centre of  a very old postcard:

The County Library was to move into the derelict police station around 1960. The story was told locally that four special garages were constructed to house the mobile library vehicles, but that the people in charge forgot to measure the huge vans’ lengths, so that they eventually stuck out of their garage by some  three or four feet and it was impossible to close the doors of the new buildings.

Around this time, the same location also housed the local Civil Defence, who had a large and enormously loud siren next to the building’s chimney. It was a frightening machine which could be sounded should “Our Friends the Soviets” ever launch a nuclear attack on Woodville. In the early 1960s, I well remember the threatening and haunting sound of this siren curling around the walls of the houses on, thank goodness, just one occasion per month, possibly the first Sunday, when testing was allowed to occur if my memory serves me well. Here’s the police station pretending to be a library:

Over the road from the Police Station was a ramshackle, black, wooden garage where cars were repaired and petrol was sold, BP, if I remember correctly. Further along this road towards Burton on Trent, on the left hand side stood a garage which sold Cleveland Driscoll petrol, and which was unstinting in the way in which it gave away primarily purple coloured advertising lapel badges to small boys.

Here’s the garage today. It’s derelict, with weeds growing in front of it:

The roundabout was called the Toll Gate, and it had a third garage, which sold, again if I am not mistaken, Regent petrol. It was called the Clock Garage and here it is today, repainted and restored:

Next time we’ll look at my old school and the house where my Dad was born.





Filed under History, My House, Personal, Politics

29 responses to “The place where I grew up (1)

  1. I remember the small shops and the man behind the counter and the lady who gave us a penny’worth of broken biscuits. Now all you get is a place to park your car and then walk half a mile to Woolworths.

    • The world would be a damn sight better place with all of the small shops and businesses back. Everybody used to enjoy those chats over the counter and the feeling that you knew people rather than just met them once and never saw them again.

  2. A fascinating piece of social history. Well done John.
    Kim tells me a story of where she lived there was crossroads which as a child she thought was called ‘Four Laying Hens’, it was (and still is) in fact ‘Four Lanes End’.

    • There’s more to come, and sadly, a lot of chances to use that phrase “It’s derelict”. The tale about the man who collected the tolls has one or two details which change, especially his accommodation which usually is a wooden box but others have said was a huge barrel used to store a lifetime’s supply of port or sherry.
      My Grandad was born in 1888 and he always used to talk of “goin’ up Box” as his ancient version of “going up Woodville”. I’d love to hear him now. He was a walking dictionary of old language that has now disappeared for ever.

  3. This series is already fascinating, John.

  4. Chris Waller

    This brings back memories. Cleveland Driscoll and Regent petrol – names I had forgotten. I think, as you say, that we have, in many ways, lost more than we’ve gained; all those small independent shops that have disappeared. I had also forgotten the Civil Defence siren and its unearthly howling. Quite why anyone would drop an atom bomb on Woodville is beyond me; mining subsidence and clay working had caused more damage than any nuclear device might wreak.

    • Do you remember those subsidence ridden houses in Church Gresley that were propped up by massive wooden beams because otherwise they would have fallen over? My Dad, in his Austin A40 Devon, used to come back from Swadlincote via Church Gresley just so we could see what progress had been made to their ultimate collapse. Nobody in Woodville had heard of schadenfreude at the time.

      • Chris Waller

        I do indeed. My aunt’s mother lived on Wilmot Road near the Salvation Army Church and had to be moved out of her house in the middle of the night. The subsidence in Swadlincote and Gresley was so bad it was discussed in the House of Lords:-
        The gable end of our house was 4 1/2″ out of the vertical (top to bottom) because of subsidence but that was as nothing compare to Church Gresley.

      • The discussion in the House Of Lords makes for horrendous reading. It’s also made me feel very grateful that the decision to start fracking in Sherwood Forest has now been reversed. Most fracking in the USA takes place in Oklahoma and, sure enough, it has now become the earthquake capital of the USA.

  5. It would be nice if people restored those old stores. Those buildings lasted so long, only to be left to rot. A shame.

    • I fully agree with you. And then we could perhaps staff them with some of the unemployed, both middle aged and young.
      People really need to feel some kind of involvement in their own community, and the more places we can find for them to occupy themselves and help society at the same time, the better.

      • I can just picture it – old stores with retro merchandise and people dressed as in that era – they would make a good living with tourists as well!

  6. Jan

    John, you know what happens to butchers when the husband finds out about their antics.

    • Funnily enough, Jack Bodell, “The Horizontal Heavyweight” to his friends, came from Swadlincote only a mile or so from Woodville. Apparently he was a lovely man who was not really fierce or nasty enough to be a boxer. At one point, he was in a decider to decide who would fight Muhammad Ali. Thank God he lost.
      When he retired he bought the “house set in its own grounds with a lake” that had belonged to my old Year 6 teacher, Mrs Simpkins. Operating a motor mower for the first time ever, Jack promptly cut all the toes of one of his feet. He was not the brightest of men either.

      • Jan

        I think you are being a tad unfair to Swadlincote’s boxing-butcher. The British heavyweight division may not have been too glorious in the 1960s and 70s but Jack did defeat the marvellous physical specimen that was Joe Bugner – a fighter who subsequently took Frazier and Ali the full distance.

  7. Neighborhoods change, but not always for the best.

    • Absolutely. And that is what causes nice people to feel alienated and then to start voting for politicians who promise them ridiculous remedies. Those same politicians will also be only too ready to offer categories of people to blame, the Jews, of course, being the prime example.
      Ironically, of course, we need people to all pull together in the same direction to get the car out of the ditch.

  8. Such wonderful times John. I remember my old village, the butchers, the sweet shop and the carpet store all with little old men and women sitting behind counters. They had the time to talk to you not like today where profit is the priority. Woodville sadly, sounds like too many village centres these days, derelict buildings and old boarded up shops where distant memories, along with the heart of the village, are quickly disappearing.

    • Your lovely phrase “Heart of the Village” captures it completely. Thanks to the motor car, Woodville has, in actual fact, nowadays become a vastly expanded place with thousands of commuters in their tiny, yet expensive, modern houses, but all they see of the village is through the windscreens of their cars as they queue for the main road to Derby, Leicester or even Birmingham. They seldom, if ever, visit the centre of the village and they have no knowledge of village characters such as the Co-op butcher or any one of the people we shall encounter in some of the future episodes.

      • And that I think John, is the reason why so many villages have become what they are. People commute greater distances and don’t spend time locally. Out of town retail parks, shopping ‘on the way home’ and supermarkets have killed off the ‘village’ atmosphere. A shame and a reflection of the life we lead today. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the posts and reliving my own memories through them.

  9. Changes happen all the time. Since 1982 so much has changed in our place. So much is lost. Thank you for sharing.

    • My pleasure. I suppose wherever we live, we need to think whether the changes are for good or for bad. There are more posts to read in this series and I’m sure you’ll realise that this little village, which was admittedly, no paradise, has not changed for the better by having so many of its little shops closed and derelict.

  10. I might have missed it, but I take it you don’t live there now? Would you consider yourself middle class? What’s the town like today? Is it depressed like my small town in Illinois? Or is it having an upswing of new life?

    • No, I don’t live there now. Woodville was a village of about 4,000 people which I left in 1975 to go and work as a teacher in the big city, Nottingham, about thirty miles away. I got married, started a family and bought a house in Nottingham. I am definitely middle class but I invariably side with the little guy.
      Woodville is definitely depressed today, because the old village life has left for ever. The population is bigger, but they are all commuters who would only get out of their cars in Woodville to buy petrol or a newspaper. Woodville is like so many small towns and villages all across the north of England and the Midlands. There is little industry to speak of and coal and steel have both gone. As I walk round the village you will see that all the places I used to go to as a twelve year old are now just derelict,

  11. Steve Boyes

    My father in law Cecil Finch lived on Station Road Woodville and his daughter went to St Stephens school in about 1957. He always talked about going “up box” or “down box” depending on where he was at the time. He talked about two steam engines called Jack and Jill that worked in the potteries and the engine drivers used to let him ride in the cab when he was a child. Later he came to live in Leeds and we found Jack in the Armley Industrial museum all beautifully restored. We haven’t visited Woodville since Cecil left as we don’t like to see what has happened to the place. Thanks for your blog which is very interesting – I’m glad that there are people who record these things for the future.

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