Jean Morgan notes "The words that follow were written by Joan Richards in 1984. She is 90 years old now and when I visit her l am always entertained by her vivid recounts of happenings in the past' The title of her article is 'Godmanchester Past and Present. She Writes: "In July 1934 I came to the Royal Borough of Godmanchester for three months, and stayed for 50 years. How well I remember my first walk through the town. The lime trees in The Avenue were in full bloom, and I shall never forget the glorious scent of them. On the common, two local milkmen, Mr Stanley Sword and Mr Bill Goulty were milking their cows under the shade of the trees, straight into the milk cans which had a piece of butter muslin over the top. Then they delivered the milk to their customers, the cans swinging from the handlebars of their bikes. The next thing I saw as I walked along Post Street was a waterfall of blue wisteria hanging all over the house next to the Holme. This house later became the District Nurse's cottage. Across the street the same beautiful blossoms hung in swathes around the windows of another house. This was all cut away when the house was converted into two flats, but the vine is still alive at the side of the house and now, sadly, climbs only up the telegraph pole.
The Godmanchester Tennis Club had their courts on the site of the present Community School playing field - the school was not built until much later. Still further along, next to the vicarage, was another house with a cascade of Wisteria all over the front, naturally called Wisteria Cottage, but this too has been cut down. Across the street was the boys' school where the bell used to ring every morning and the boys would line up on School Hill, which was their playground, to march into school. (There were not enough cars then to require a car park.) The deputy head under Mr Pratt Anderson would take his boys over to the "Rec" for sports or swimming lessons in the Bathing Place. This was situated on the corner of the "Rec" opposite the island, which was an Island then as the new sluice gates had not been erected. Alderman Figg, had recently opened the bathing place and many children learned to swim there. The water was so clear that you could see the gravel on the bottom.
Harry Hardy, a respected teacher at the Community School when it was built, taught gardening, and when walking along Cambridge Street one could see the boys busy on their garden plots, enjoying a lesson in the open air. The school canteen was built on these gardens when school dinners were introduced, but some of the raspberry canes still survive near the fence, and children pick handfuls and eat them as they pass by. Harry Hardy was a dedicated teacher, and boys and girls from all over the World remember him with affection. How proud he must have felt at the Civic Service, looking across the aisle in church at the mayor and Councillors, several of whom he had taught in school. He taught them honesty, courage, truthfulness and sportsmanship and, by his own example, the joy of service to the community. I know that one of his favourite sayings is, "God gave us memories that we might have roses on December." What a huge bunch of roses he must enjoy!
In July the grass on Portholme was cut and carted off by horses and Wagons, past the gasworks, along St Mary's Street, down the High Street and over the bridge. There was no footbridge then. We waited till the horses pulled up one side slowly, and balanced the weight as they came down the other side. Then, more often than not, they had to wait at the railway crossing in The Avenue for a train to pass. No doubt the horses were glad of a rest. When the gates were opened the horses would start off at their own pace - two, perhaps three wagons, one after the other. At that time The Avenue was lit by gas lamps. The standards are still in use along the path on the "Rec", where fairy lights are strung along when we have a fete or other entertainment. This year they are very colourful with hanging baskets.
I remember Mr Hope-Gill, who lived in The Red House, giving the willow trees on condition that he could name the paths. He called the path from the Chinese Bridge to the Old Mill "The Backs" and from the Chinese bridge to the overfalls "Queen's Walk." Signposts were put up but they did not last long and I think most people have forgotten the names.
Godmanchester had an old custom which died out during the war and was never revived. It was called the May Garlands. Early on May 1st, before school, the children would borrow their mother's linen basket or similar article, and put in it a doll on a pillow. They would decorate it with spring flowers then cover it with a cloth. They went from door to door saying, "Would you like to see the May Garland?" and on the payment of a copper or two they whipped off the cloth and everyone had a look at their handiwork.
We had our Town Crier too. Mr Nutty Cross was a novel sight riding his three wheeled bike. He would start at the War Memorial, then School Hill, Fairy's Corner, London Road Corner and then the White Hart. He would ring his bell and start calling. He called not only historical events like the crowning of a new monarch, but also local items of news. The first thing heard him call was, "O yea, O yea, Mr Pettitt has tomato plants for sale, lettuce, strawberries and fine bedding plants at four pence a dozen!" He also used to carry the mace for the mayor.
Godmanchester was a quiet, serene place as regards traffic. I think the fastest thing remember was Mr Percy Mason's piebald pony, pulling his milk float as it went high-stepping up to the hospital and no yellow lines to bother about. Mr Bill Goulty used to drive his herd of cows from Berry Lane, across West Street, up Old Court Hall, along London Street and London Road to his farmhouse where they were milked and then driven back again. This was done morning and afternoon.
I remember the happy times in the church hall, the church socials and beetle drives and summer days spent at Sandy Banks on Portholme where children could paddle quite safely. There was no pollution then in the river. Godmanchester has changed and grown, in many ways for the better. We now have ducks on the Causeway, thanks to Peter Wause who started us off with two pairs. These ducks not only bring pleasure to us residents but are a joy to visitors, who love to photograph them.
We have the Senior Citizens' Club, The Salvation Army Friendship Club, The Darby and Joan Club and at the other end of the scale we have the Buttermel Youth Club, the Salvation Army Youth Club and the Baptist Youth Club. There is a wonderful Meals on Wheels and Home Help service and a community spirit which is outstanding. Nobody, old or young need be lonely. Yes, Godmanchester is a happy place. One only has to see how many people who were born and bred here come back to spend their retirement here also, to relive their memories and renew friendships with their childhood companions. Godmanchester could easily be called God's Acre.
"All things Bright and Beautiful' could have Godmanchester as its theme. I go to bed with a nightingale singing and am awakened by the cuckoo calling. I hope that the new people in the 550 houses on the London Road will enjoy fifty years of happiness as I have done." Thus wrote Joan in 1984
There are one or two more things that Joan told me that she didn't mention in her article. There used to be three bakers here and you could get bread straight from the oven, all hot and crusty. Miss Nancy Juggins used a small cart with a sort of bicycle attached. This she would pedal all the year round delivering bread to the big houses. In summer she wore a big sunhat and in cold wet weather she wore a sou' wester, mac and Wellington boots.
The flats in Old Court Hall used to be the Red Lion Lodging House, and a lot of travellers used to stay there. An Italian man with a hurdy gurdy and two daughters were regular visitors. Needless to say the daughters turned a few heads. One day a man with a dancing bear came down West Street. He asked if he could stay at the Red Lion and it was agreed he could, but what could be done with the bear? They couldn't put him in the stables for fear of upsetting the horses so the landlord decided that they should put him in the privy outside. They put some hay and water down and locked the bear in. His owner went off to supper and was soon having a social drink or two. Another man needing to use the privy, obtained the key and opened the door. Imagine his shock on being enveloped in a bear hug of a very real kind. His shrieks could be heard all over town. Sometimes the wives of the travellers used to drink too much and fights developed. The landlord would then call the constable and the Women were strapped onto a cart and taken to Huntingdon police station for the night. They then had to walk back on Sunday morning.
During the war there was a call for extra fire engines in London during the blitz. There was a small engine kept at Gill's garage which used to be on the corner of Cambridge Street where the estate agent's office now is. The council decided that the fire engine should go so Mr Gill took a friend who drove the fire engine and he drove the car for getting back. They drove up to London and had a very hard job to find a fire station in which to leave it. Eventually a home was found for it and it was received with open arms. The men returned home and life continued until at last the War ended. It was then time to fetch the engine.
Off went Mr Gill and his friend again. When they arrived in London, the damage was such that the landscape had been completely changed. It was a real challenge to find the engine but at last they arrived at the fire station where they had left it. Unfortunately the place had been bombed. There stood the fire engine, exactly where they had left it, and it was covered in dust and rubble. After some considerable effort they managed to extricate the vehicle from its war time shroud and push it into the road. No surprise then that it would not start. Upon investigation it became clear that there was no quick fix answer. The men in charge went off to find a chain and fixed the engine up to be towed behind the car. They set off slowly, Mr Gill driving the car and his friend steering the fire engine. They came home uneventfully until they came to Offord Hill which was apparently much steeper in those days with a more dangerous bend at the end. They chugged up to the top of the hill and started down the other side. Suddenly Mr Gill realised that the fire engine was over-taking him. Having a sure vision of being turned around and dragged backwards into goodness knows what trouble, he put his foot down hard. Neck and neck they flew down the hill, screamed round the bend narrowly missing the trees and continued the race down West Street and along the Causeway only coming to rest at last in a tangle of chain and tyres at the corner by the garage. It must have been a sight to behold not to mention a frightening experience. Of Course there were not many cars on the road in those days, which was just as well.
Godmanchester continues to be a happy place to live and retains a good Community spirit. We have seen many changes here since then. Shops continually close and re-open as something else and there have been lots of comings and goings on the estate in London Road. We now have Swans as well as ducks on The Causeway and we are all watching the Swan's nest in the reeds near the footpath and hoping that all her eggs will hatch successfully.
Long may Godmanchester continue to be the friendly, happy place it still is.