Keith Rippin’s memories of living in Langridge
When we purchased our cottage, completion took place the Friday before the August bank holiday. No-one had lived in the cottage for several years before our purchase with the result that the orchard was so overgrown with plum suckers that one could not see the boundary at the end of the orchard and we did not know how much land we had. The bank holiday weekend was wonderful with many of our male friends hacking through the under/overgrowth with machetes (bought from Tommy Bests for the purpose) and their other halves making tea and sandwiches - the weather also was perfect!
On our wedding day, in the morning before the service (and perhaps to settle my nerves for the forthcoming Bridegroom's speech) I fished in the brook at the bottom of the orchard and in the other brook running down through the wood and paddock and caught 24 trout - biggest about 11 inches and all returned unharmed to the water - when questioned I claimed that I had been carrying out a survey of the trout population and the general state of the brook - in those days there was a great deal more water in the brook all summer long.
On the night we returned from honeymoon (the first night in our new home) we heard a dreadful row going on in the orchard - thinking something had got our cat I charged out (I cannot recall whether I wore any clothes) with a torch and followed this awful snarling and growling through our back fence and up over Hedley Davey's field. When I caught up with the noise I discovered it was caused by a pair of boar badgers going at it hammer and tongs, throwing each other up in the air and somersaulting and then rolling down the field in a fighting ball - I left them to it!
I also recall snowy winters in one of which my sons, John, skied to work in Bath – and also driving in the snow. At the time I had a Saab, the underneath of which was fairly flat, and to negotiate the drifts one had to approach them rather quickly in the hope of "tobogganing" over them to reach the road on the far side, where there was much less snow, and the driving wheels could get some grip.
When the snow was really deep George Bowyer would come down the road in his tractor with a bucket on the back to take anyone who wished to go to Larkhall for a paper/groceries etc. On the first trip, going along Tadwick Lane the ground on the right falls away quite steeply into the valley and I could see that George's steering wheel and the front wheels of the tractor bore no relation to the direction in which we wanted to travel - I seriously considered bailing out until George explained that he was steering using the individually operated rear brakes.
When we purchased our cottage there was no running water. The previous owner had installed a galvanized water pipe from a spring in our wood from which he would fill a pail, bring it over to the cottage and pump the water up to a header tank by a rotary pump in the bathroom. Judy did not go a lot on this arrangement so (with the benefit of a grant from Rycroft Hartley) the cottage was connected to the mains in Rycroft's field several hundred yards away and the pipe was mole ploughed down the fields, under the brook, through our wood, under the road and into our kitchen garden. In the process the JCB slid down our steep bank and very nearly ended up sideways in the brook.
I also recall the work I did to the cottage including damp-proofing and laying new floors. I was not best pleased when Judy (at the time very pregnant with John) visited the loo via the plank, which I had propped up on bricks at each end leading from the hall to the pedestal, and lost her balance and fell off the plank into my new wet concrete!
There are many memories (some not repeatable) over the time we have lived in the cottage (more than 46 years) and for perhaps the first 20+ of those years our cottage was referred to as "Mr James' cottage" (Mr James being the previous owner) - I would like to think however that now we and our children (and grandchildren) can properly be regarded as "locals".
Mike Smallwood – My waterways; it all started with gas
In the late Forties my father had a wonderful idea; he wanted to have a family boat to use on the many Midlands waterways. As a young teenager, I was very excited with the new project. Every month when the list of naval craft for disposal came in the post, it was earnestly scrutinized for any suitable small craft. We all ventured once to Caernarfon, to see Expedition, a twin-engined 50 ft. coastal boat complete with a walk in engine room. I got more excited when Dad put in a sealed bid for the vessel, which was the practice with war surplus boats in those days. Fortunately, in a way, our bid was not successful; as I am sure we would have lost our lives in such a large and old boat. This procedure was repeated a number of times and various family trips were taken to see other surplus bargain boats. This surplus list described some craft as in need of some repairs or the craft filled and emptying with the tide! War surplus boats were given up and instead Dad purchased a converted ex ship’s lifeboat which was being re-fitted by Bailey's, a caravan company, venturing into a new field.
Why gas you may ask. Well, Dad had bought some shares in a new company before the war called Calor Gas which had done rather well, because Joe public was fed up with coal fires, and so he sold them at a great profit to buy the boat.
Bailey's said the boat was ready, so the family, plus all our new boat gear, were packed into the car and we drove to Worcester to start our first holiday on Mermaid, a 28ft very basic four berth gaff rigged motor sailor.
We arrived at Diglis basin to find the stern under water and a boat hardly ready for two weeks' holiday as promised by the boatyard. My Mum was not pleased and Dad was worried. After a day's delay we loaded gear on board and set out on our first boat trip, down into the River Severn. It was exciting as in those days the river was blighted with big petrol tankers plying up to Stourport from Avonmouth causing much wash to small craft, resulting in any loose plates etc. going flying. Most of us learnt our boating skills very quickly but it became obvious that the river had limitations.
Mooring on the river was difficult because of the continuous heavy wash from the tankers and the high banks. We could find calmer waters, by going into one of the canal connection basins, but not venture on the canals, as Mermaid was too wide,. Thus we were limited.
The boat was by present standards very basic, since there was no galley or proper bathroom. She had a sea toilet stuffed in the bow. It was so small that all had to be dropped before reversing in to sit down, and then close the doors around oneself and consider the two strange pumps on each side. The engine was shall we say, temperamental, it was a so called ‘marinised’ old Morris car engine.
Cooking was carried out on either a Primus or a wick paraffin stove mounted in a metal box, used in the open cockpit if it wasn't raining. Not a very convenient arrangement!
In reality, the scene was being gradually set for my mother to wish she was on dry land. My younger brother Peter, I and my Dad accepted the limitation as really it was like camping on water and quite challenging.
During our second summer on the River Severn, it was decided that a more adventurous cruise should be undertaken. Our destination was Barry harbour in South Wales where the boat originally came from. A pilot was booked to guide us from Sharpness to Portishead as the first leg of our passage. Mermaid was made ready for the planned two-week summer cruise, starting from Worcester.
We sailed and motored down the river Severn, through the various large tanker size locks. Below Tewkesbury lock we were into the semi-tidal stretch of the river to Gloucester, where you hoped the lock gates would be open to allow your entry before being swept past the lock entrance by the strong river current.
Once through the lock we were into a large complex of commercial Docks at the start of the Gloucester Sharpness Ship Canal. We cruised along avoiding the tankers and were only held up by the numerous swing bridges. We passed under the Severn Railway Bridge which was swung for higher vessels. On arriving at Sharpness, we were told to moor up and wait for our pilot to arrive. I can remember some lads had left their bicycles lying across the dock railway near our boat and seeing them crushed by a tank engine which suddenly appeared. The whole dock area was humming with activity as large coasters were loaded.
Our pilot arrived and duly took us through the sea lock at high tide when the River Severn was slack. As the pilot was used to tankers, he wanted, for a change, to sail down the estuary. This he did, but after some time he realised that our progress was not as rapid as with his usual boats. Thus it was decided to motor but, on arriving at Portishead, we were unable to stem the tide as our engine was not powerful enough. At this point, the situation changed to an emergency. The pilot beckoned a small cutter to come to our assistance from the dock.
The parents were starting to get anxious. My brother and I were stuffed down below in the cabin where we stupidly shared some sickly chocolate. Due to the motions of the boat and various bumping as our tow tried to get a line aboard, we unfortunately lost the chocolate.
By now it was getting dark and the tide was running faster with the result that the cutter lacked the power to get us both back to Portishead. The larger pilot cutter then came to assist both of us and towed all of us safely into the Portishead harbour. We moored up for the night opposite the coaling wharf for the power station. Some members of the family felt they had had enough seamanship experience for one holiday. I think my mother and Peter left for home by train the next day. This epic voyage marked the end of longer family cruises.
Sometime later Dad booked a pilot for a return to Sharpness and hence back to Worcester where Mermaid was moored. I suspect there were some parental discussions as next year the boat was moved to more friendly waters further away, but that is another story.