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Remember When: Notes on the past
Mare in set
Toad running and jumping in pool
Baby thrush, blue tits, coal tits
Cycling over downs
Finding wild bull aces
NT meadow fritillaries
Holding dead swift
Watching damselfly emerge
Vole in the garden
Lark on the ground.
THESE words are not some gorgeous piece of verse, but a list of memories from a notebook written for posterity by a 90-year-old woman.
Kathleen Bull was 97 when she died on December 28 last year, having spent the latter part of her life in Keswick, Cumbria, where she went to be with a sister, Madeline, who died in 2002.
Kathleen spent the first seven years of her life in Bradford on Avon, one of four daughters born to Stanley and Margaret. In 1921 the family moved to Swindon and opened a shop in what is now a private house next to a lane in Winifred Street, Old Town. They remained there until 1949.
When Kathleen was 90, nephew Norman Brassington persuaded her to write down some of her memories, and these have now been published privately as a short book intended mainly for family and friends. Most of the book consists of Kathleen’s memories but there is also the text of a talk about Swindon given by the only surviving sister, Valerie Woodcock, now in her 80s, to a historical society in Cumbria in January of 1997.
Mr Brassington writes in his introduction: “Kath let it be known that no one was to see these notebooks until she had passed on, hence the delay in bringing this to print. Only her sister, Valerie, knew of this work by Kath.”
The book is filled with vivid descriptions of life in and around Bradford on Avon and Old Town. Of her early childhood before the move to Swindon, she wrote: “We lived in one of two farm cottages called Jericho, across the field from Grampy’s farmhouse. It was probably the home farm of Lord Fitzmaurice – but has been changed to the saint of the local Saxon church (St Laurence).
“I can remember a garden party on the Fitzmaurice estate with many other children, and being joined in the ring to sing round the ‘Mulberry Bush’, but noticing it was not a bush but a tree.”
The Swindon the family moved to at the beginning of the 1920s was radically different from the one we know today.
Kathleen wrote: “Our three streets, St Margaret’s, Winifred and Evelyn Streets, were an enclave between the main roads to Marlborough and Devizes and so close to open country. There was a right of way through a field linking the main roads so we still saw field flowers and haymaking.”
Another passage describes the heart of Old Town: “The market town was dying. The Goddard mansion, reached through closed gates on the high street, was abandoned, and only remembered as the Goddard Arms, a fashionable place for wedding receptions. The High Street had a book/newspaper shop, a tailor, hairdresser, gunsmith, hardware and butcher (whose cellar was reputed to have a smugglers’ tunnel), a solicitor and a high class store for ladies’ clothes.
“The owner of this, Mr Horder, strutted about his shop in the knowledge that he was the brother of Sir Thomas Horder – physician to George V.”
Later in the narrative is a description of The Planks, then an unmade road near the mansions which had a sloping wall on one side, rising from two feet to seven.
“Every toddler in town,” Kathleen wrote, “was placed on the wall, holding mummy’s hand at first, and then encouraged to be brave. Every youngster then leant to walk and then run.”
Stanley and Margaret retired from running the shop in 1949. Stanley lived until 1969 and Margaret until 1973. Kathleen went to teacher training college after leaving school, later serving as a teacher and headteacher in Swindon.
Mr Brassington would love to hear from anybody with memories of the family and its shop, and has a few spare copies of the book. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org