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A Yorkley childhood in the 1930's and 1940's by Robert Watkins.

Brookville, Lower Yorkley

Brookville, Lower Yorkley.
Standing under Brookville is Robert Watkins. In the photo in front of the fence is Robert Watkins and his late wife Peggy.


Childhood in the 1930's -1940's by ROBERT WATKINS.

I was born on Feb 8 1926 in Lower Yorkley at a house named Brookville. This house was built between 1924 and 1925.

About the property. Brookville is the last house situated in Yorkley, bordering Pillowell at the bottom of a steep hill. It stands on a rather large piece of land and was rather difficult to work since the roadside went down to a small valley in which there was a small stream in to which father had to lay pipes. The remainder rose up to the oak wood. Father divided the plot in half - nearest the house was the vegetables - the other half divided again with soft fruit in the dampest area and the upper part made into a paddock for the sheep that he and brother kept.

None of the land was wasted we were self sufficient in vegetables, soft fruit and apples.

Veg. were grown such as potatoes, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, onions, broad beans, runner beans and sometimes celery. Soft fruit grown were strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants. Apples and pears (father's hobby) would have more than one variety as he would graft stems, sometimes from neighbour's trees no doubt, in the spring.

Working the soil was hard using a spade, a fork, and rake and plenty of manure, together with backache, I had a brother Allan 5 1/2 years younger than me so when we old enough we had dive in.

Livestock Father kept sheep and fowls. In Pillowell people claimed COMMON RIGHTS which allowed them to graze animals on the common land. The Forestry (Commission) also kept so many acres of woodland open somewhere in the forest and we were fortunate to be living in the right area in the 1930's.

Start of Sheep Shearing. Grand Father Watkins back in the early 1900's (I should think) started rearing sheep at the old homestead Rose Cottage where they also had a large paddock with apple trees, a very large shed where hay and other food stuffs were stored, a hand chaff-cutting machine (hard work) and manger for feeding, also providing shelter for the animals. My impression is that Father and Uncle William took over the flock when they were old enough. Grand Father Watkins died in the late 1920's not all that old by todays standards but I do'nt remember him. I was probably only about 2 or 3 years old. Uncle Fred came along 13 years after my father was born, so although he had a couple of sheep he specalised in gardening, and not sheep. Looking after sheep took a long time.

Sheep Husbandry. I'll start at the autumn. In the forest at this season common grazing was very sparse, so the flock were "tacked" out at Yorkley Court Farm farmed by Mr Ernest Liddington, who more or less took charge of everything where the ewes were put to the RAM for breeding. Rams today have to be of good stock "THE CONTROL OF RAMS ACT" registered by the MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE. This in turn was to enable good stocky lambs to produced. In father's case naw lambs were not welcome in the early Spring because of the inclement weather. I was told that lambs survive in cold and dry, rather than cold and wet conditions. On the other hand lambs being born too late do not put on enough flesh to be fat enough for meat so they were called "Cuckcoo Lambs". It was a busy time when lambing started. Ewes that were ready to give birth were usually brought back down from Yorkley Farm to gran's paddock where father would look in on them before going to work at the New Fancy Colliery, while gran would keep an eye on them during the day. Not all things went well. Sometimes a lamb would die, whilst at other times a ewe would die, (great loss) These created a problem. They had one live ewe without a lamb, and a lamb without a mother. Easy you might say, but nature in this case does'nt work. Ewes only like their own offspring to suckle from them. What happens today in 2013 AD I do'nt know but in those days in the 1930's this is what happened. Some shepherds would skin the dead lamb and attach it to the orphan lamb so the ewe then would get the scent and become its mother. The method father used was to tether the ewe on a long chain in our paddock put the lamb in her presence, then someone would regulary go walk up the chain to catch the ewe and hold her to allow the lamb to feed. This system went on until the ewe sensed that the lamb was hers. Looking after sheep was a full time job. No vets were around, they probably could'nt afford one any way, so they were vets in their own way. Wet weather would case Foot Rot. It was treated with fat from the sunday roast mixed with salt. Their hoofs aslo had to be manicured. Another problem was blowfly eggs which as we all know turn into maggots and they would eat the flesh raw. All one could do was to treat it, so paraffin removed the maggots and the fat and salt were applied. Another grub was in the spring with lush new grass which the sheep liked. It gave them diarrhoea - that and wool did not mix, so the hand shears was used to clean them up. No doubt that was one of the reasons why their tails were docked. Another major task was dipping, This had to be carried out by law, the police had to be informed and attend. There was a disinfectant in a very long concrete trough, in this case at Yorkley Court Farm. Each animal had to be completely immersed whiled the constable looked on. At the commencement of the summer came the shearing time. In our case this was done by hand but prior to this, in order to get a few more pence for the wool, the flock were driven (as we would have said) over the "Rudge" down the path or "rack" (forest slang) to the white wicket gate on the way to Parkend, where there was a railway line which ran to the New Fancy Colliery, and Lightmoor. It was a branch line from Lydney via Whitecroft.

To digress a couple of tales, my wife's uncle, Uncle Bob was a fireman/driver on the coal trains plying between Lydney Docks and the mines. Well an extra trip was scheduled up the line. Now in those days there were no telephones, so the lady in charge of the gates usually knew when the train was due or would hear it would open the gates (to be precise this was at a level crossing at Pillowell) Evidently on this particular night she never heard the train and it sped through the gates knocking them down. Uncle was "ragged" about this and he would say "t'was'nt my fault t'was dark and as I was the fireman had a dirty fire. I had to look after the steam, so either the driver did'nt know where he was or did'nt blow the whistle, so they ran into the gates.

Games -

Marbles; The marbles were purchased from the local sweet shop, (Mrs Price's) You could buy pretty coloured glass ones (more expensive than the small coloured clay types). We mostly played with the small ones cheaper to lose, and I did too with the Kear boy. The glass marble was mostly used as the shooter. The game was as follows. A circle was drawn in the "mud". Each player would place their marbles in the ring, (shots as they were called) and to start you knucked down and aimed your glass marble at the shots in the ring and what you managed to knock out was yours. The consequences were a sore thumb nail, muddy knee, and sometimes the winner but mostly the loser. (It was not to Olympic standards).

Also played was Pecky, running with metal hoops, flying kites, riding old bicycle frames. On the kites - we made our own, from two strips of wood, and one large sheet of newspaper (in my case The Daily Herald). You'd make some adhesive, in my case it was flour paste, then make a cross with the strips 2/3 rds up the main strip, attach with string, than stabablise them by binding an endless piece of string around the 4 edges of the strips, now lay the cross on the paper, cut and fold edges over the string and leave to dry. To stabilise the flying, a balancing tail was then made from a long length of string on which pieces of paper (like a bow tie) was tied and that was the problem - how many?. It was trial and error and adjust on site. Finally buy a ball of string to fix it to the cross and it was ready for action.

Another pastime in the August holidays was to make a tent, but first I needed some material (there were 4 or 5 of us boys) so off to the Pillowell Co-op and ask Mr Rene Phipps if there were any Bacon Wrappers available (sacking) and if you were lucky you got some. A couple was about enough, but they did tend to smell a bit. Two strong sticks for the uprights, some rope to kept the structure stable, short pieces of wood to make holding down pegs and then one was in business. What did we do? Get out of the sun perhaps, play cards, eat our dinner, that meant pestering mother to cut some sandwiches wrapped in newspaper still tasted nice. By the way the butcher would wrap up meat in newspaper, so was fish and chips, no health and safety in those days.

Children in home-made tents in Yorkley"From the left: Norman and Donald Kear; Bobby James [ went to Australia I think] and Roy Haines; Alan and yours truly, Robert Watkins [ Alan was my brother]". "... the sun must have been shining , no doubt in August, it must have been taken by NORMAN'S elder sister, my father didn't have a camera, she did have a box camera, it would be nice to think that someone in their family will see it". The photo was taken above "Brookville" Lower Yorkley.

Since Pillowell Recreation Ground was a good way off we had to make our own swings on a suitable tree at the edge of the forest. The idea was to find a tree with low branch so that we could throw a substantial piece of rope up over it. That was usually achieved by tieing a fairly large stone to the end of the rope to give it some momentum over the branch. Having achieved that, a large knot was tied to both ends, a piece of rag to sit on and a way to go, until sometimes the rope would wear and break then look out for some scratches and bruises. The trees were very useful to climb if you were into that sort of thing, but once it came to light that, to aid the climb large nails were inserted - which when some years later a forester came along to fell the tree it could not be done, as saws do not like rusty iron. So the tree remained standing, it's probably still there in 2013. I should mention that the trees in those days were chiefly oak, with a few chestnuts. I was told that the forest was planted back in Nelson's time to make wooden warships, but as we all know someone discovered that steel could be made to float, so the trees remained for our pleasure. So I suppose that most of my playmates are now passed away and if no one else has written about these goings on in Pillowell, it would be a pity if it all got lost. We made our own fun as we only had radio, wireless as it called then, but no television, computers or mobile phones. When I look back over the last 80 years, the changes in eletronics has been remarkable, I can just about remember the crystal set and its massive aerials, today we don't need one at all. We were allowed a treat now and again ,to go to Lydney cinema. Mostly it would be special, like Hopalong Cassidy or Shirley Temple (who was obout 5 or 6 years old then) We'd walk to Lydney, go to the matine and ride on the bus home, only if the weather was good, that cost us 4 pence in old money.

By kind permission of Robert Watkins.

Rachel Caldwell added: "... Well done Uncle Robert, what a great write up on your old homestead. I remember many happy times spent with my sister playing at Brookville when we visited Nan & Granch. Catching the stripey caterpillars of which there were many on the cabbage plants, searching for woodlice in the huge wood and coal shed and playing shops in the big old pantry were but a few good games. However the favourite was going round the outside of the house to find the many cleverly and perfectly carved designs that Uncle Robert and my Dad had etched into the brickwork of the house when they were younger. I often wonder if they are all still there?".

Paul Sims asked: "... I can't remember a level crossing in Pillowell, where was it? I lived and played there in the 1960s" - The crossing gates- close to the former Swan Inn - can be seen in "The Severn & Wye Railway Volume 4" pg 725.

Robert added: "... Ref Pillowell railway gates. The gates I refer to are in what used to be called Phipps Bottom ... If any one would like to get in touch - Dean 841 653".

Rita Arnold added: "... Very interesting to read Cousin Robert's history of Rose Cottage and Pillowell. I do remember sheep being kept in bottom shed but I must have been very young ... Rita and Janet - Uncle Fred's daughters".

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