Bream characters of Yesteryear
Hylton Miles with his sisters Megan Miles and Phylis Miles at the time described in this article.
Before she was of school age, Megan had the habit of following her brother and sister to school. The teacher became tired of returning the young Megan home. Eventually the Headmistress, Miss Young, allowed Megan to stay for lessons.
Megan eventually passed for Lydney Grammar School 2 weeks before her 10th birthday.
She was Head Girl at Lydney Grammar from 1936 to 1937. After Teachers Training in London, Megan returned to teach at Bream School.
The following article was originally published in the "Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review" in 1984 and is reproduced below with the kind permission of the author Mr Hylton Miles.
BREAM AND SOME OF ITS CHARACTERS OF YESTERYEAR
The village of Bream in my early childhood was much the same as other
village in the "Dean". Miners making their way to the Flower
Mill, Park Gutter and Norchard Collieries. Most miners in those days
toiled at the collieries near to their village or town, there were some
who had to cycle a few miles to their place of work and some even walked
to the Park Gutter from as far away as St. Briavels Common and also Clearwell.
On a number of occasions when short time was worked 2 and 3 days a week
the hooter at the pit would let out its doleful note to let the locals
know that it was no work tomorrow, many a family living out of. Bream
failed to get the message and turned up for work only to be sent home.
There was no such agreement as the "Guaranteed Week" in those
days and if you so much as dared to confront management with your grievance
you were a marked man. My father along with the late Mr. Albert Brookes
and Mr. Sonner Hoare opposed the underground manager at that time, regarding
the cooked lunches for the children during the 1926 coal strike, at the
end of strike they walked down to the Park Gutter to know when they had
to resume work and were promptly told "There is no work here, for
you three Buggers". I can recall another lad and myself sitting
on the trunk of a tree and watching the men bring the horses up out of
the mine at the "Flower Mill" at the commencement of the 1926
strike. The squeals of the horses on seeing sunlight for the first time
was a sight I shall never forget. As a small boy I used to go with my
great grandmother picking the tips for coal, when it was time to go home
I used to watch my Granny roll up her coarse apron wrap it around her
head and place a bucket of coal on her head with one in each hand, the
same practice was carried out with a bucket of water, and for those who
know the Bream District it was from Oakwood Mill to her cottage at Mill
Hill. I have stood with her whilst she would have a yarn for10 minutes
without removing the bucket on a chance meeting with one of her neighbours.
In those days it was chapel twice on a Sunday, the highlight of the year
would be the "Sunday School Treat". We would make our way from
the Chapel to Whitecroft station and on to the pleasure gardens at Sharpness
with a bunch of "Sweet Peas" in my lapel and tuppence in my
pocket. "Great Days" for the kids of my generation.
I wonder how many can remember the "Hard Up Tree" in the centre of the village and the characters that used to squat around the trunk, a couple that readily sprung to mind was Juddy Harry and Coodler. On the sporting scene Bream always had good cricket, rugger, and soccer teams. We used to sit on the Sun Tump and watch some of the big hitters of the late twenties and early thirties lift a ball on to the New Road. I have heard it told in the village of one afternoon the late Charlie Morse hit a ball on to the New Road and said to his other batting colleague "If I could have caught'n proper I'd have hit'n down to the Church". To see the fixture lists of Bream R.F.C. in those days and large posters all over the village with fixtures like Blaenavon, Tredegar, Usk and Crumlin to name just a few and of course there was Lydney and Cinderford. The soccer team also played some of the best teams in the County at that time, teams that included Cheltenham Town and Gloucester City. Some of the local boys that brought honour to our village were - Billy Stone who moved to Hull F.C. and played for Great Britain in the Rugby Tests at that time in Australia, Stodger Meek who went North to Salford and Ron Moore who also moved North to Wakef'ield Trinity. Another great cricketer who played for the village team was the late Harry Shingles, his bowling and batting was a joy for us boys to watch in those days, this being our only form of entertainment.
Other days to look forward to would be on a Whit Sunday, after tea Mum, Dad my two sisters and brother we would walk to St Briavels to watch the annual throwing out of Bread and Cheese on the wall outside the village church, a custom still carried out to this day.
Another day to look forward to was the walk to Lydney and back on Lydney Fair day (June 25th) down through Brockhollands and the Tufts, and a ride on "Studs Horses". I well remember my two Grandfathers who always dug a meal of new potatoes by Coleford Fair Day (June 18th).
With the arrival of the Supermarkets in the three Forest towns the village of Bream has now lost so many of the shops that the local inhabitants depended upon. Williams & Cotton that supplied families in the outlying districts as far field as Berry Hill, I have enjoyed a Saturday on the horse and wagon with the late Jimmy Price when we have delivered in the Gorsty Knowle, Coalway, Broadwell and on to the Mesne around Berry Hill District.
The Co-Op in Bream also delivered around the district to their customers, the Hirst family with their grocery shop, delivering to their customers in the village and district. Then we had two bakehouses in the village, the one, I am glad to say has survived, which is Downhams, the other belonged to the late Mr. Davies
We had seven pubs in the village in those days and it was quite common before turning out time at the Oakwood Inn for some disagreement between local sheep badgers and would be settled out in the yard with shirts off and how us boys would sit on the bank rubbing our hands with glee at the thought of one or both getting a bloody nose.
One other highlight of the year every summer was the Mill Feast when a huge Marquee would be erected and they would all sit down and enjoy "The Feast" but nine times out of ten fisticuffs would be the grand finale Then there was another part of my young life that I can recall when the mounted police arrived in the Forest and into Bream to take care of those miners who mined coal for the small employer, a few choice words was hurled at these men for daring to go to work during the strike but never the intimidation that we have read about in this day and age.
"In those days we had something like six butchers in the village. I remember to this day going with my father to the late Bert Stockwells butcher shop at the back of the little "Round House" and Dad had a 2/- piece (10p) and the conversation went something like this, (it was 9.30 p.m. on a Saturday night and no refrigeration) "Bert I got 2 bob I want a joint for dinner tomorrow and some meat for dinner next wik" we finished up with a piece of Topside and biggest part of a shin of beef, oh yes this was the best time to shop in those days.
My great Grandmother would take in washing to help subsidise her weekly pension which she referred to as my "Lloyd George" 10 shillings per week (50 pence) she would wash and iron a families wash for a shilling (5p). There was great excitement in the village on a Saturday in April 1927 when the Miners Welfare Hall was opened for a dance and as a 12 yr old I went with my parents who were on the Ladies & Gents committee, I sat in the balcony and watched the dancers enjoying themselves, you could have walked on the peoples heads and I think everyone enjoyed it for, the cost of one shilling (5p). The trips I enjoyed as a child with my Grandparents would be to Ross and Chepstow with Grandad's little grey mare and governess cart, you could go for miles and never see a motor bike or car, if one did appear you could hear it miles away and Grandad would have to get down and hold the horses head until the danger had passed, his swear words were rather choice and not for my young ears. Our hours of leisure after school in the light evenings was running with a hoop and the handle of a galvanized bucket up through Clements End Green and Sling and back down Bream Avenue and in the summer it was a dip in the "Tank" at the "Flower Mill" we were forbidden to bathe in there because of the numerous pipes, but we still defied authority.
The late Mr. Billo Nash was very good to us, he always turned a "Blind Eye". The late Mr. Edmunds from Parkend who worked on the saw on the top of the Flower Mill cut us out numerous bats for our game of cricket. During the winter months it was sliding on the Mill Ponds and a sledge with 3 or 4 of us aboard, would go hurtling down the Mill Hill. As a young boy I can just remember the Bream Doctor at that time Dr. Pugh, I can see him now riding around the village on his bike with his "Gladstone Bag" navy blue suit, drain pipe trousers complete with hard hat, he called all the little girls "Topsie" and the boys Peter. Then of' course Dr. J.P. 0 'Driscoll arrived in the village, a man I always liked, and at about the same time, the arrival of the late Willie Watson as our "Head Master" he was a wonderful character, so many pupils who attended Bream School during his time. I am sure feel the same as I do, that we are extremely grateful for his tolerance which at times was sufficient to try the patience of a saint, then of course there was the late Mr. H. J. Davies (Sargeant) he never seemed to command the respect of' the boys the same as some of the other teachers of that time, I can recall on one occasion H..M. Inspector paid one of his visits, and on that occasion he actually smiled and I never really knew from that day to the present day if he had been congratulated or whether he had had a sudden attack of the wind.
On several occasions I would stand and watch the late Mr. Holder the village blacksmith making and fitting the shoes for the horses, as so many families in those days owned their own horse, hauling their own allowance coal from the mine and fetching a load of blocks from Parkend Saw Mills. The late Mr. Evan Jones who did so much for the village band before the war and after the band in the early thirties enjoying several successes at contests around the country. I remember my old friend the late Mr. Frank Cook who was a member of the band in the thirties, they were due at a contest in Somerset, apparently they had held practices during the week and Mr. Jones was still not satisfied and on the morning of the contest they changed trains at Temple Mead station, and as there was an hour to wait the order was to get the instruments out and play the "Test Piece" there and then. After they had finished Evan was delighted and said "Why the Bloody Hell didn't you' play it like last night ?". They went on to take first prize in their section. The formation of the Bream Male Voice Choir by Mrs. Davies and the hours of sterling work she put in, purely for the love of music, I am sure that the music loving public of Bream and District are extremely grateful for the hours of pleasure that she and her choir gave and are still giving. A couple of characters of bygone days no longer here in our midst, were Burns & Farmer, to walk in one of the village pubs and listen to these two having their usual go at one another was something I would not have missed for anything. Another well known gentleman who provided such a marvelous service to the majority of inhabitants in my childhood and youth was the late Mr. Herbie Treherne and his family, however foul the weather you could always rely on your newspaper being delivered. I like other boys had a Sunday newspaper round and with the assistance of my young brother, we took papers to Clements End Green, Sling, Milkwall, Coalway, Palmers Flat, Gorsty Knoll and Ellwood. The dearest paper was 2 pence old money and I would return with my money which would average £4 16 shillings. I can recall one Sunday in the early thirties when the snow was eight or nine inches deep we had to carry the papers as you could not wheel the bicycle through it, we left Bream at 8.00 a.m. and by the time we got back home it was 4.15 p.m. The money that I received was four shillings and sixpence (22.5p) and I was glad of it, as no one twisted my arm to do it. The early days of Radio I remember so well, when it was "Cat's Whiskers and Head Phones", I can recall an evening many years ago, in all probability in the mid twenties going to the Methodist Chapel known in those days as "The Bible Busters" with my great Grandmother to hear a broadcast. The scene was set, outside was a pole stretching towards the sky and a huge speaker mounted on the pulpit, we all sat eyes glued to the "Horn" when someone rose to his feet and said "We are now going to listen to thick Mon from London" but alas nothing was heard from London that night, so it was light the "comp" in the lantern and make our way home.
The Miners outing was another day that families looked forward to with a day at the sea-side, on one of these outings I can recall going to Blackpool for the day by train for 4/6d return (22.5p) I have no doubt others went cheaper than that, as on Friday. afternoon tickets would be going "Dirt. Cheap". My day started by walking with my sister leaving Bream and walking to Whitecroft Railway Station at 2.15 a.m. and leaving the station at 3.10 a.m. and arriving . in Blackpool at 9.30 a.m. and leaving Blackpool at 11.10 p.m. and arriving at Whitecroft at approx 6.30 a.m. on the Sunday morning and then having to face the long trek up "Whitecroft Hill" was the last straw.
In conclusion I would like to pay tribute to the efforts of the late Mr. Albert Brookes in being largely responsible for the conversion of the Bream Miners Welfare Hall to that of a cinema. The pleasure it brought to the majority of the Bream public during those "Dark Days" of the second world war was evident with the number of packed houses, especially on a Saturday. Children would spend a couple of hours waiting for the Booking Office to open for their parents ticket.
Hylton O A Miles
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