By Shirley Dunaetz (nee Evans)
Where do I start with my memories of growing up in Godmanchester? Well, I was born October 1941 and lived in a terrace house on St. Ann's Lane until I married in 1963
This house, along with many others when I was young, was without electricity or indoor plumbing. The four terrace houses used an outside central water tap in the back of the middle house and the shed at the end of each garden contained the toilet and coal storage.
The toilets were emptied twice a week by what we referred to as the "Bucket Men". My grandfather got the biggest joy out of inviting these "Bucket Men" into the front room on a Christmas or Boxing Day for a holiday drink. They made their appointed rounds regardless of what the day fell on. You can just imagine the women folk of the house faces when he did this, I think that was part of the fun for him, but I have to admit they really didn't smell that sweet! This particular activity was still going on in the town when I was old enough to be walked home by a young man not familiar with small town ways and to say I was embarrassed to explain what was going on, was putting it mildly!
Three of the terrace houses had the same occupants the whole time I was growing up. To the right of us, was a family with one daughter the same age as my brother Danny and to the left, a family with three daughters, two older than myself and one also the same age as my brother. Therefore, we never were at a loss for friends or someone to play with. St. Ann's Lane was relatively free from traffic in those days, so most of our games were played right out there in front of the houses. Tag, Statues, hide and seek, hop scotch and various ball games would be the thing you could find us doing at any given time. We made our own fun and a lot of that fun was just getting together outdoors and doing whatever came to mind and the group agreed on. Television didn't come to the first house in our part of the Lane until 1953 and the radio serials I liked to listen to wouldn't be on until around tea time, and when the telly did arrive in most of the homes, it really had nothing on it in those early years until five o'clock time.
I am lucky enough to remember the horse drawn milk truck making its rounds and how the townsfolk were glad to pick up what Dobbin would leave in his wake, it made for great stuff for the garden! I also think back to when the "Rag and Bone" man came to town, singing out that he was looking for, rags and the like. He took our little offerings and in exchange we received a goldfish, how we loved those goldfish.
However, one of the first to things to come to my mind is the fact that it was such a safe environment. From quite an early age children were allowed to roam the little town without any fears. If everyone didn't know you personally, they knew your father, mother, aunt, uncle, grandfather or neighbours, one or the entire list. So when my friend Gwen and I, from say the age of 9 or l0 knocked on a door and asked the lady of the house would she like us to take her young infant for a walk in their pram, she would without qualms bundle up the baby and off we'd go for a least an hour or two. Gwen loved taking the little ones out, while I would find someone who needed their dog walked and off we'd go her with the pram and me with a dog or maybe two on a leash. One of our favourite places and probably is to the young and old still, was the Recreation Ground or "Rec" as we called it. The hours we spent on the swings and see-saw can not be counted. The wooden Jubilee Hut was the place we sprinted to whenever it showered or we just wanted to have a structure around us to talk and take in what was going on in our little part of the world. There inside this "hut" was a plaque saying it was constructed for Queen Victoria's Jubilee under the direction of my great uncle, Mayor William (Bill) James. He is also the one on horseback leading the parade into town for the Coronation of George V1 in 1936 that is shown on the heading of the Porch Museum web site. My grandmother was Florence James who married my grandfather Thomas Saunders.
I have great memories of the times we children spent on Port Holme. Fishing around its edges, before you needed to belong to an association to do so, playing hide and seek in the tall grass before it was cut and then building forts and cottages with the bales when it was. This activity was probably not to the great appreciation of the farmer who had cut and bailed it all!!
I'll always remember the worn down paths that led away from the Black Lock, one went all around the outside, one cut through the middle and then angled either towards the Gas Works on the edge of Huntingdon or you could take the left angle and work your way to Sandy Banks or the other path that would take you to Brampton and maybe that day you would take another look at Hinchingbrooke House, it's massive brick wall, then spend a few moments on Nun's Bridge, remembering the story you had heard that ghostly nuns would cross that bridge at midnight. Sandy Banks was a great place to spend a day or afternoon meeting up with friends on a warm day. The Banks did have a small amount of sand, but the best part was it was shallow enough for those who didn't swim to get out in the river and just have fun. You also got to enjoy the occasional train that rumbled across the trestle bridge, maybe thinking along the lines of where it and its passengers were going. This was a time when folks just didn't travel that far away from home and it was exciting to think of the places they might see and maybe, just maybe, one day you might just do the same. Yes, the Rec and Port Holme played a large part of mine and many other lives.
One day crossing the Chinese Bridge, we were amazed to see all kinds of heavy equipment gathered at the bridge/lock you would cross to get to the play area (swings/see-saw etc). It seems that this bridge or lock needed work, What finally happened was that a dam was built at the junction of Island Hall and the old Bath House, the water totally drained and now we could look deep down into the bed of this part of the river. We kids had a ball that summer climbing in and out and walking about this river bed. We never realized until then, just how deep that part of the river was and what an interesting place an empty "hole" could be.
Another great thing about living in Godmanchester is the church clock. You can just about see a clock face on this wonderful old church from any given point in the town. It was great in one way, because we always knew the time, but on the other hand we didn't have an excuse to be late home. One of the first things I did when I got out of bed each morning was to get the correct time from my upstairs bedroom window. Couldn't get more convenient than that.
Across from the river on the Causeway when we were young was a sweet shop. It sold sweets, pop and the like. One afternoon there was quite a flurry there. Two or three flamingos had escaped from a local zoo or animal sanctuary and taken up roost right there on the water at the Causeway opposite the sweet shop. The sweet shop did a roaring trade that day, not only in refreshments, but film for cameras. They were so beautiful, I'm sure there must be lots of photographs around from that day.
Sundays were always special to me. It was when I attended Mr. and Miss Bester's Sunday School Class. For most of the time I attended it was right there on Boy's School Hill in the old brick school building, still used today as the Museum. My brother and I would put on our Sunday best and walk the length of St. Ann's Lane, cross onto the Causeway and right into school room through the porch. It seems it was a morning class, but there my memory lets me down. I remember having a few pennies for the collection and also usually a sixpence to be noted down by Mr. Bester for our annual summer outing. Miss Bester taught the younger children and Mr. Bester the older ones. As the two sisters (they were older than me) who they had taken into their home grew older, they also took on classes. The sisters had been moved from their London home when children were evacuated and placed in the Bester's household. After the war, no one came forward or could be found to claim them, so they remained in Godmanchester at the Besters' until grown. Besides the weekly classes, the Besters arranged the annual summer outing, usually to the seaside by coach, which is when we used the savings account we had accumulated. For most, this was the only long distance outing they ever went on. Students were also invited to an afternoon tea held in their spacious garden and garden house where we enjoyed delicious sandwiches and assorted cakes.
I mustn't forget to mention the annual Christmas Show (sometimes put on in the New Year) for students, family and friends. All the students participated in one way or another, some sang, others recited poems or psalms. At the end of the evening there would be an award ceremony. There was an award for each child in the way of an age appropriate book. Looking through my bookcase, I see I have managed to hold onto six of the books given to me from those years. 1953 – "The Advent of Anne" by Janet Grey, 1954 – "Leader of the Lower School" by Angela Brazil, 1954 – (two books – one for most attendance –
"Holy Bible" and "A Girl and Her Ways" by Amy Le Feuvre, 1956 – "Stanton's Comes of Age" by Sylvia little and lastly 1957 – Stowaways in the Abbey" by E.J. Oxenham. It is amazing that I still have these books considering I have lived in many different towns, States and even countries. I credit the gift of these books to my life long love affair with reading and only wish the Besters were alive for me to thank them once more. They were incredible generous people, not only with money, but with their time. I did stop into the Bester's St. Ann's Lane home in 1989. It was a warm morning and the back door was wide open. I stepped into the kitchen, I knew so well and called Miss Bester's name. She was in a downstairs bedroom and even though she wasn't sure who was there, she called for help. My husband, Sam and I went to her and managed to get her seated on a living room chair. She couldn't believe it was me and kept saying "not my Shirley" and was so pleased to see us. She was amazing and we had a lovely visit.
I wonder does anyone else remember the yearly August Bank Holiday Monday Fete that was held in a large house's back garden in West Street? This was a wonderful day for young and old alike. For the children, there was all kinds of races, such as sack race, three legged race, egg and spoon race to name a few. I competed in everyone that I could. If a partner was needed, say for the three legged race, I teamed up with Kathleen, also from West Street. We were both long legged and often came in the top three, what fun it was. The adults showed their home grown vegetables and fruits. Granddad had an allotment near the park grounds and showed his endeavours on some lovely, now old, platters. I am lucky enough to have three of these dishes in my kitchen in use today. There would also be a baby show, my brother was a beautiful baby, blond curly hair and all and if memory serves me, he was a winner or runner up one year. I'm sure there was more going on, because it was an all day event, if you left you got your hand stamped, so that you could return and not pay the few pence entrance fee again. Most of the town eventually turned up to have a little fun. My brother was born in May of 1945, so that will give you some kind of date frame.
Until the middle sixties my Uncle Perce (my mother's brother), Aunt Laura and four cousins (Saunders) lived on Boy's School Hill. They lived above and behind the shop facing the corner (roundabouts) on the Causeway. I think the name of the shop was "Gardners". There was little or nearly no back garden, but what did they miss, when once they stepped through the back gate they were right at the foot of the Chinese Bridge and all the wonders that lay across it. It was also a handy place for me to stop in and visit as I came and went.
All the children until the age of eleven went to St. Ann's Lane school with its blacktopped playground. It was hard on the knees and elbows when one fell, but when we needed to practice for inter-school events, we all trooped over to the Park to practice on the grass, not too far from the cricket pavilion and where the new school is now.
If we were lucky to have a few pennies in our pockets after school, a favourite thing to do was to leave the school grounds via the "Stiles", a little way down at the corner of New Street and Pinfold lane was a bread bakery "Oxburrows". You could smell the bread baking for some way and the twists of bread we could buy direct from their back door was a real treat. I don't know when they closed their doors, but the children they sold their little bits of heaven will not have forgotten them.
Another memory stands out in my mind. A mobile van type vehicle was brought in once a year to check our teeth. If you needed to have some work done, you then would get an appointment to see the dentist in his office in Huntingdon by the bus station. I went with a friend for her appointment, just the two of us and remember we would have been eleven at the oldest. When Gwen was called in to see the dentist, they said I could go with her for support. Much to my dismay, when he had finished her filling, he had me pop into the chair and next thing I knew, I was getting a tooth filled too! Doubt very much that that would happen today, especially when you think there wasn't a parent in sight.
Another long buried memory is of the horse races. These horse races were held at the end of Cow Lane. It must have been an Easter or summer event, probably on a Bank Holiday Monday. I do remember walking the whole length of Cow Lane to get to them. Cow Lane didn't have much on it then, maybe doesn't today either. You just kept walking down this old country lane and at the bottom is where the action came into play. Where the horses and riders came from, I was too young to ask any questions, but there they were. As I grew older, friends and I used to walk the same route, but kept going until we crossed all the commons to arrive at Houghton and then through the thicket to St. Ives. After we had rested by the river awhile, back we would walk. We did this just for something to do on a fine day with very little cash in our pockets, maybe just enough to buy a drink for the return trip.
My Aunt Doss (Dorothy) worked for many years at the Hosiery Mill by the Godmanchester Huntingdon Bridge. I had friends that lived opposite there and when the work whistle went for lunch I would watch for her and walk with her home for lunch. Did she ever walk fast, my young legs had trouble keeping up with her speed. She did this with a purpose. She had to get home, eat lunch and get back to the mill before the return to work whistle blew. If you didn't you would be locked out and have to wait for the doors to be unlocked and therefore get docked wages for the time you were locked out. This would also be the case in the mornings. I often think she must have been the fore-runner for speed walking. Mother used to take my brother and me into Huntingdon shopping most afternoons. On the way back over the bridge, we would look at a specific window about three quarters of the way up and in the middle. Aunt Doss must have kept an eye on the folks walking across the bridge, because without fail, she would appear and wave us on our way. Any time I cross this wonderful old bridge, I have to look at that window. People don't walk over this bridge anymore, a separate one has been built for that purpose and rightly so. Look at the old bridge and see where there are spots where the bridge has little alcove areas, many the times we had to pop into one of these alcoves to allow the traffic to go by us. If there was traffic on both sides, it was, to say the least very narrow.
This story was handed down from my mother, Aunts and Uncles.
My grandfather (Thomas Saunders of Godmanchester) had a fine walking cane, silver topped and bottom. He carried it in WW1, a swagger stick type cane. My grandmother unfortunately died in childbirth when my mother was about 12, she was the second to eldest, and there were six of them altogether. Grandfather ruled his household without a mother with an iron hand. His enforcer was this walking cane! There came a time when the children rebelled. They tried breaking this cane in two, they tried burning it. The cane wouldn't break, does show a slight bend to it, where they tried, it wouldn't burn, shows signs of this also.
I only remember my grandfather as a very lovable man and now that his children have grown and all but one gone, that one Aunt left tells me, they would really have run wild, if it hadn't been for the threat of that walking cane, it for the most part, kept them on the straight and narrow.
Where is that cane now? Well, in 1982 my 18 year old daughter and I went back to England for a holiday. My mother gave us the cane to bring to the U.S.A. My daughter wore a bowler hat and carried the cane under her arm, something, I'm sure, with security as it is today, could not now happen. The walking cane, along with a picture of my grandfather in full uniform, carrying it, is one of my proudest possessions.
These are some of the memories I have growing up in the 40's, 50's and early 60's in Godmanchester. I am very happy that I was asked to do this as it was a lovely stroll down memory lane and perhaps it will also bring this time back to life for others.
Do you have any memories of growing up in Godmanchester that you would like to share with us. We would love to add more of your stories to this website.