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James Bell – things I remember, 1930s and 1940s

The cattle market in Bonhay Road and the pig market opposite, and the overflow market for sheep in Exe Island.

Cattle and sheep driven up Fore Street Hill, High Street, Queen Street, or towards London Inn Square.

Flocks of sheep in New North Road going towards Cowley.

The position of horse and cattle troughs in Exeter

Leaving home, on my own at three and half and sitting in the horse trough at the clock tower, on a hot summers day followed by a ride home in a police car.

The flutterbuy's in Northenhay during the War.

The German plane on display in Northenhay .

The Exeter Regatta.

The Exe Bridge to Double Locks Annual swimming race.

The three landing stages between Exe Bridge, and the ferry where rowing boats could be hired.

The winters the Exe Froze and there was skating on the river below Exe Bridge in 1940 & 1947.

The Haven Bank Fairs.

The Fairs on cleared bomb sites in Sidwell Street and later the Festival of Britain in 1951 followed by an Ideal Home Exhibition.

The High Street Swimming Baths before the blitz.

The position of the air raid shelters, pill boxes, and emergency water tanks.

The barbed wire chicanes in position all round the city and the approach roads, in expectation of an invasion in 1940.

Armed guards on all bridges, tunnels, railway, police stations and chicanes.

Numbered signs on approach roads and through towns, 10, 20, 30, 40, some with a coloured and shaped backgrounds, marshalling convoys of troops and supplies to temporary camps in preparation for D-Day. All road signs had been removed. Many of these numbered signs were still in place years later.

The military parades during the war, and the crew of H.M.S. Exeter marching through Exeter when they were given the freedom of the city in 1940.

King Edward VIII opened the bypass bridge over the Honiton Road in 1936. (I was there with my father)

The visit of the King & Queen in 1942.

The 1949 the royal visit of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

Taking your gas mask to school and keeping it ready under your desk.

As a result of a shortage of milk bottles, free school milk was delivered to schools in churns and baled out into children's individual mugs.

The constant ringing at midnight of the St. Katherine's (St Kerrians - editor) clock bell in North Street, during the invasion scare. Bells were only to be wrung to warn of the invasion.

The St Sidwell Church bell which was still intact in the ruins after it was bombed, but disappeared for ever after a few days.

The Roman Pavement in the basement of Waterbeer Police Station – it was a right of passage for children to go and see it and then write compositions about it.

In my early teens, I twice left my bike outside the police station, and out of shear devilment went in and threw an army thunder flash over the counter. I was half way down Pancras Lane before I heard the bang!

Horse deliveries

Before the trams came, there were horse buses, and horse drinking troughs were provided through out the city they were still in place in the 1950s. Trades men still used Horses extensively in the 1940s. The following used horses when visiting households.

The baker – Daily
Milkman – Daily
Coalman – Weekly
Wet fish – Weekly
Rag and bone man
The butcher had a van and called three days a week.

The baker boy, had a horse called Charlie. The baker would fill a large basket with the usual orders and take the orders to about five houses without moving the horse. He saved the last delivery for the pretty lady and stayed awhile. Charlie would stamp his foot, and always used the occasion to defecate. I was ready for him and he did it right in my bucket. Horse manure two pence a bucket! Charlie would sometimes move further up the road out of protest. Friday wasthe tradesmens collection day so they were slower on their rounds. The drivers had a wedge on a chain to put under the wheel to stop the cart from moving. When Charlie's wedge was put in place, we knew the baker boy would be away for some time!

The G.W.R. and the Southern Railway kept shire horses that pulled a covered waggon to deliver and collect parcels. Shops, offices, and commercial premises, put a sign out side – either G.W.R. or S.R. or both. The driver would stop collect the parcel give a receipt and go.

Householders placed a jug outside, with a muslin cover weighted down with beads, this was to stop birds from drinking the milk. The milkman had two dipper measures half pint, and a pint. He had to collect the jug and fill it with the order, from a churn, record it, return the jug and cover it with the muslin.

New North Road facing Exeter Prison was only half surfaced, making it one way from where the terraced houses ended until you got to the bridge? There was only one footpath. There were the remains of a wire fence made of railway sleepers, in the middle of the road, dividing the road surface from mud and puddles. The curb on the unmade foot path was in place, and as a little boy I would walk all the way on the curb, if I stepped off it was into a muddy puddle. This bit of road was not completed until early 1940.


My friend Ginger Garnsey and I used to chat up the American boys, and tell them that our sisters just "Loved Americans."

"OK kiddo takes us to them."

"Oh but we have to go to the fair. Right boys, lets do that and then the girls."

Hows that for a deal, After we had been on everything they said "OK boys take us to the girls."

We lost them in the crowd! A few days later we came face to face with them, my but didn't we have to run!

The Gospel Hall

In the summer of 1945 the chapel I attended had special services on Saturday evenings for service men & ex-prisoners. This consisted of a short gospel message with hymns and choruses, followed by some light refreshments. The Italians had been free to walk around Exeter for some months. The Germans had been working on farms and were brought in. It was well attended with British, American, Canadian, Italian and German Solders – all young men. The Americans were brash, the Italians were out of there depth, looking for a cross and some holy water, the Germans were overwhelmed and in tears.

Afterwards when we were all milling around together, trying to understand each other, as we drank weak tea and ate indifferent cake and margarine sandwiches with home made jam. It was so surreal only a few months before these young men were trying to kill each other, but now brought together in peace.

Memories of shops

Nortons Cycle Shop on Fore Street Hill, which sold carbide for your cycle lamps. It came in tins and had to be kept dry, it was like gravel. A few chips in the lamp add water, it then give off a gas which you lit. If the lamp went out you repeated the process – no water – simple, you peed in the lamp and away you go.

Walton's Fairy Land, with Disneyland themes, and a small menagerie with exotic birds, monkeys, and lions. A long queue stretching up Goldsmith Street, ending with a some times tearful meeting with Father Christmas – "Have you been a good boy/girl?"

"Oh yes I've been ever so good, can I have fort/dolly". Then with a small present, you moved into the toy department!


All the shops had shop blinds with the name of the shop written on the blind. Each shop had an indispensable junior, or a school leaver who was at the bottom of the pecking order and was at every ones beck and call. There duties included, arriving early and removing the gates placed in front of the entrance to the shop, sweeping, dusting and polishing the floor, washing down the marble entrance with a mop and cleaning the window sills and frame. The windows were cleaned daily by contractors.

Dealing with soil emergencies such as vomit, dogs, and once a cow came into the shop and left his calling card! Guess who had to clean it up! Receiving delivery's, unpacking, checking invoices, packing and labelling goods for postage, weighing parcels to assess postage cost, write cost on parcel filling consignment notes, and the post book. Put aside special orders enter in book and general stock record, brush all stock before putting it away, fold and tie up packing cases, label and return to head office.

Place, Please call sign, outside for GWR or SR to collect. Collect filled rolls from local cafe for the staff and make tea. Deliver urgent orders if in the city. Go to the Bank for coinage. Tea break 15 minutes, (if you were lucky) lunch 45 minutes. Hours 9 am to 6pm, six days a week with half day Wednesday, all for the princely sum of 30 shillings a week.

This in the years 1949-1951 – it was known as hands on training, it must have been good, as I was the manager at 21. About 4pm each day you took to the post office your days parcels with a filled in postage book which was then stamped for each item. All the shop juniors were there, mostly girls – it was the social highlight of the day where dates were made and liaisons arranged. Caw, have you seen the new girl in Swears & Wells, she's really something, I'd like to put some weight in her step!

Back to the shop, the manager is cashing up. It is 10 minutes to 6. "Bell," gates, blinds. You would get the blind pole and push the blind back as all the others were doing, and lift the gate on to its brackets. The manager, having cashed up, filled in the days return for head office ready to post. The days takings were put into a leather numbered wallet with a brass lock along with the Banks paying in book. You were the last to leave with the manager, you then walked with him to the bank night safe. Very few shops kept money on the premises. The night safe was set in the bank wall, with a small bronze door. The manager would open the door, inside was a open top cylinder, in which he placed the leather wallet, when the door was closed the cylinder would revolve and the wallet would slide down a shoot to the vault. The next day I would go to the bank to collect the empty wallet and the stamped paying in book plus coinage for the days requirements. There was always a small petty cash and rarely was there a discrepancy. Some shops did not allow the bank to open the wallet, it was opened in front of a staff member, and checked by the teller. When takings were high in the city, and senior staff were making for the night safes, and you could feel the tension in the air, and notice the police presence.

Shops were very proud of there window displays, and did every thing to make them appeal. Blinds were pulled out over the pavement to stop the displayed goods from fading. Some shops had basements, which were used as stock rooms. When it rained the young men would pull the blinds out to allow ladies and girls to wait and perhaps look at the window displays – sex was in the air!

© 2011 James Bell

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These memories were written by James Bell in 2011 as a follow up to his memories of his time at school and the blitz years.

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