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Exeter Stories

Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous story │ Next story >>  │

Jane Hope - A St Thomas childhood


I lived my first 6 years in Cowick Street on the corner of Cowick Street and Okehampton Street. We lived in a flat, above a shop. Ground floor was the shop. Second floor was the toilet (can't call it a bathroom - because there wasn't a bath - that was taken in a tin bath in front of the fire). Our accommodation was on the 2nd floor. Our flat kind of went round the corner into Okehampton Road so that our windows faced onto the river in Okehampton Street. Not sure but was there a cinema or something similar on Okehampton Street? The mind is getting old and sometimes memories play tricks!! On the opposite side of the river was a large cafe or restaurant - in the summer we used to walk over there to get an icecream. They'd serve you through a little window so you didn't need to go inside.

We had to move to Broadway, up Dunsford Hill, as all the houses in our area were being bulldozed. As I remember this was largely to do with the flooding in the area and the building of the new bridge - but well before the "great flood". I can remember embarrassing my mother when we were on the bus going into town. Our flat had been demolished and there was the start of the building of a roundabout and our toilet lay proudly in the middle. Of course I said something like "Look mum, there's our toilet!" My mum didn't know where to look and I had the "Shh - be quiet" that us youngster's tended to have.

My father used to go to the Royal Oak in Okehampton Street and still did when we moved to Broadway. On one occasion of flooding, he'd left his lighter there and told me to go and collect it. I caught the bus to the end of Cowick Street and walked down Okehampton Street. The pavement on the left hand side was raised so you had to walk down a few steps to be able to cross the road to the other side. I can remember three men working in the water - it wasn't that deep but deep enough and I had my wellies on. Anyway, I kind of waded across, got nearly to the pavement on the other side, when all of a sudden, there was darkness and all I could feel were hands lifting me up. I'd fallen down a drain; of course the first thing that goes in a flood are the drain covers. I was so embarrassed but really grateful to the three men who came to my rescue. I didn't bother to go any further. They carried me back across and I went to catch the bus home. As I was soaking wet when I got on the bus, I stood where the bus conductor normally stood I tried to get my 2½d (yes tuppence halfpenny) out of a Rinstead pastille tin I had the money in, but I couldn't open it. The bus conductor let me off without paying my fare. Years later I found the Rinstead pastille tin - opened it, and there was my 2½d. Unfortunately we'd gone decimal by then!!

Montgomery School
I went to Montgomery Infants and Junior School - the boys had to leave at the end of the infant stage to go to John Stocker Boys School. Mrs Willey was the lady that looked after us in the infant section of Montgomery during the breaks. She used to sit under the "bike shed" near the toilets (outside ones in those days). She'd knit - all the time - but she had the Izal toilet paper and, if you needed to go to the loo you had to ask Mrs Willey and she'd give you two sheets of paper!!

We were, on a number of occasions, sent home early because of the possibility of flooding. We used to get sent home in groups depending on where you lived. The worst time was when the water rose really rapidly and we couldn't get out the normal way. The route out was up a ladder which was against the back wall of someone's house (St. Thomas' Park end) through their back yard and through their house. We were all very grateful to get home safely.

I also represented the school when I was about 10 (it was probably Exeter Schools' Octocentenary Celebrations in May 1962 to celebrate 800 years of local government in Exeter). The Lord Mayor asked for a child from every school in the city to attend the Guildhall. It was lucky name out of the hat (but for your name to go into the hat you had to have a school uniform). Anyway, my name was drawn and I attended the Guildhall with numerous other children to see the Lord Mayor being given a bowl (it was large so probably something like a punch bowl I assume). We weren't given tea or anything like that - and in the end I remember thinking that I wished my name hadn't been drawn.

I still visit Exeter as and when I can - all too infrequently these days. The city has changed so much - especially the Haven banks area. The last time we visited we were walking around the quay and all of a sudden I said to my husband (while we were still some distance away from it) - "Oh look there's a lamp just like the ones that used to be on Exe Bridge!" People around hearing me must have thought me mad, but I was really glad that they hadn't gotten rid of everything to do with the old bridge!

© 2007 Jane Hope

Widening Cowick StreetWidening Cowick Street by Okehampton Street. Photo courtesy of Exeter's Parks Department. Exe Bridge roundabout This was the roundabout that displayed Jane's toilet to the whole of passing Exeter. Photo courtesy of Alan H Mazonowicz Flooding at Cowick Street Flooding in October 1960 on the corner of Cowick Street and Okehampton Street. The area was in the process of being rebuilt. Photo courtesy of the Environment Agency

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