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Pete Martin - three years in Heavitree

In 1955 my parents decided to leave Whipton, which had been my mother’s home since 1936, for pastures new and we moved to a brand new house in Madison Avenue, off Sweetbrier Lane in Heavitree.

For a six year old, moving home and school was a traumatic event, no matter that it was less than a couple of miles. We were there no more than 3 years as my mother soon became homesick for Whipton and, in 1958, having contracted to buy a new bungalow back in Woolsery Avenue, we moved temporarily to a rented home in Exmouth as the new Whipton abode was not ready in time, following the unexpectedly swift sale of the house in Madison Avenue. Leaving Exeter was not a happy time for this little lad as I hated my school at Exmouth, having grown very fond of Heavitree Infant’s School in South Lawn Terrace and it was a good job that we were only away from Exeter for 8 months over the winter of 1958/59.

Going to school

Not notably sharing my mother’s pining for Whipton I settled quickly into life in Heavitree. Walking every morning along Sweetbrier Lane to Hamlin Lane and then along Hamlin, past Chard Road and Hanover Road, up around the bend to the right and into school, it was a return journey I was to do twice each day as I always went home at my mother’s behest to a cooked lunch.

Most days it was an uneventful journey, almost always taken alone, and I would amuse myself by trying to avoid the gaps in the paving slabs or I would pretend that Hamlin Lane was a raging river and I was walking along the grassy bank aside it. On the corner of Hanover Road was a shop where I would stop now and then to buy sweets if my Dad had been in a good enough spirit to give me threepence at lunchtime (he was a shift worker at the Post Office sorting office at St. David’s Station and was sometimes home during the day). Three pence – not much more than 1p today - yet it bought me plenty of sweets back then. If he was feeling really generous I would get a bit more and would do a short detour to the shop in Roseland Crescent where I would buy a special pack of liquorice and sherbet. Not especially for the sweets, but for the single frame of colour movie film that was a free gift in each pack. If I was really lucky I would get a token for a little plastic viewer to see my tiny snippet of film in all its glory.

School at Heavitree was good. Good and kind teachers and Miss Hoskins the Head Teacher, a lovely kindly lady who always wore a smile. She retired during my time there to a glorious send-off. My first class teacher was Mrs. Hill or Mrs. Hall, I think, though I don’t clearly recall, but my last teacher before I left is definitely remembered, Mrs. Pickersgill. Not a name to forget, even for a nine year-old! Miss Hoskins was succeeded as head by Mr. Vickery who was not there long before I left, but I recall him with good memories. He was very musical and one of his first moves was to form a school choir. I remember being auditioned and singing my piece very tentatively and being totally amazed and a little thrilled when he said I would be in his choir. Just my luck then that my only ever musical success in my whole school career resulted in my leaving the school before the Choir performed for the first time!

The new estates

The area of Sweetbrier Lane that I lived in around that time has not significantly altered even today. The roundabout was there then at the Whipton Lane junction and most of the houses, although many are modernised and extended, are largely the same. Carlyon Gardens and Carlyon Close were open fields back then and I well recall walking to school and seeing cows grazing there, right in the middle of what was, otherwise, a residential area. Our house backed on to those fields, so I could see the animals from my bedroom window too, which was at the back of our house. The brothers Potbury built the houses in Madison Avenue and I seem to recall that one of the brothers sadly died prematurely whilst we were living there.

Only half of our side of the avenue was completed when we moved in during late 1955 and by the time we left in 1958 almost all of the other side was complete. It really brings into focus how fast modern house building chains “throw up” houses nowadays. A whole estate can be up now in 3 years! The slow building process was just the ticket for me and my pals though as there was no greater joy than playing on a building site with its piles of sand and what-have-you.

Sometimes, for a change, I would walk home from school through Heavitree Park and up Nicholas Road, into Chard Road, Whipton Lane and back up Sweetbrier. I was always just a little wary of the older bigger kids who used to hang around there though as, even back then, they would sometimes see a little lad in short trousers as fair game for a bit of a laugh at his expense. Heavitree Park had a Park keeper back in those days who used to keep a wary eye on things. It just happened that he was my Uncle, Fred Franklin, so I always felt a little bit safer than perhaps I otherwise would have.

Rather oddly, I have no memories of the shopping area in Fore Street, Heavitree back then, my mother preferring always to get the bus and shop in town. For groceries this was usually in Lipton’s in the High Street (round about where Starbucks is now if I recall correctly). One errand I used to do regularly (almost a ritual for me in reality) was to get the bus on my own most Saturdays (or occasionally walk if the weather was nice) to collect the joint of meat for the traditional Sunday lunch from Lake Brothers butchers at Mount Pleasant.

My Aunt and Uncle lived in Salters Road and latterly in Rifford Road so my mother and I would now and then walk down Sweetbrier Lane, across “Heavitree Bridge” and into Rifford Road to visit them. Back then a Heavitree Bridge of sorts was still there as the stream was not fully culverted until, I think, about 1960 and Rifford Road did not join into East Wonford Hill prior to that.

During my time in Heavitree, I can remember going for a walk with some peers from Madison Avenue and walking for miles. We were gone from about 11am until 5pm and I didn’t tell my mother we were going. Today, parents would be beside themselves if their child was missing for that length of time without obvious cause yet I remember being only mildly chastised by my mother for not telling her what I was going to do and there being no perceptible tone of panic in her voice at all. It is good to have grown up in times such as those.

© 2008 Pete Martin

Pete Martin lived in Whipton and Heavitree as a child, during the 1950s.

Heavitree Bridge Heavitree Bridge before it was culverted. Hamlin Lane in the 1930s Hamlin Lane in the 1930s when it was newly completed.

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