I was born in 1931 and like my father and grandfather I have lived all of my life here in Winsley. My Grandfather, Abel, was a farmer at Parsonage Farm on the road to Conkwell, but his business was a victim of the farming recession in the mid 1800’s. He then lived in Conkwell, working as a farm hand and raising his family of eight children. My father, Herbert, started work in 1890, aged eleven, on a farm at Claverton on the A36. His walk to work took him through Warleigh and across the river on a ferry at Ferry Lane. The journey was considered so long that he was allowed home every other week end!
His business career started in 1900 when he became the Landlord of the Seven Stars here in the village. In those days the village was a busy mining community and his trade was dependant on the thirsty miners and the many small farms from the surrounding hamlets of Conkwell, Ashley, Haugh and Turleigh. The busy mine at Murhill was the main employer, and when you visit the mine entrance you can easily imagine the hive of industry, and still see the route of the rail track that took the stone down onto the canal. Apparently, the track was a loop, whereby the weight of the full trucks going down pulled the empty ones back up and the only energy required was to operate the breaking system. Once on the canal the stone went all over the country, and just off Oxford Circus in London, you can find Winsley Street which I understand is named after the village from which the stone to build the area was sourced.
As a child, I was told many stories of those days. My father brewed his own beer at the pub and sold his Best Ale for a halfpenny per pint, and the ordinary for a farthing. Apparently the village policemen would do his rounds at 10;30pm each evening and a pint of best always left on the stone mounting block on the road side, to ensure there were no misunderstandings about closing times!
The local farmers would milk their cows in the morning, load the milk onto their horse carts and rendezvous at a milk collection point in the village. From there it was taken to the milk factory at Staverton. For most farmers, the only source of fresh water was at Turleigh Trows, so they would then continue on there to refill their milk churns with water, before returning to the farm for a day’s work. However, for some characters a brief stop in the ‘Stars’ was too tempting! There they would discuss the issues of the day and the arguments would become more passionate as each pint went down. The journey home was navigated by the horse and I was told it was not uncommon to find the farmer asleep under a hedge or stone wall around the lanes, while the horse grazed the grass verges.
Just after the First World War, my father realised his ambition and left the pub to start farming at Church Farm. My early childhood memories were of life on the farm during the Second World War. I remember the anti- aircraft guns and searchlights in the fields on the road to Conkwell, the air raid warning sirens from the Winsley Hospital (now Avon Park) and the prisoners of war working on the farm. There was a great community spirit despite the difficult times and I remember the whole village school being sent onto the farm at harvest time to help comb the fields for an ear of wheat or potato that was missed by the farmhands. The scarcity of food was on eveyone’s minds, and I remember when a pig was ready for slaughter, the whole village seemed to know about it and it became a community event on the farm. Everyone helped with the process in return for their rare pork supper. The village centre was the Church, Pub and School (now the Social Club) and many trades were based at the Manor, from where the local Blacksmith and Farrier worked. The Hospital site was also a large local employer as the nation struggled with the ravages of Tuberculosis. The fields between the road and the hospital were markets gardens and always full of gardeners producing food for the patents and many local people worked on the site as gardeners and maintenance staff.
The village started to grow rapidly in late 1940,s when the area from King Alfred’s Way through to Dane Rise was built. Its now hard to imagine that the small road which leads to the Church Yard was then the main road to Conkwell and the access for lorries delivering to the farms. The building of the Tyning Road area in the early 70’s and then the bypass completion in the 80’s means the Village is now much bigger than the one I grew up in. In those days a strange face was a talking point and a car passing through was the event of the day. However, as my grandson Tom now builds his business in the community I can’t help thinking that ideas like ‘localism’ and ‘carbon friendly’ are only new words to describe the old ideas. Perhaps we are just going round in circles?