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Sunday, 22 August 2010

Reminiscences of Burton Green by Anthony Richards

Former Burton Green resident Anthony Richards sent a letter with his reminisences of Burton Green, from 50 years ago:

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Burton Green, under the shadow of the water tower – just five houses away from it.

The Railway Line

I used to lie awake at night listening to the sound of a steam locomotive struggling to haul a Berkswell-bound freight train, though the gradient was not very steep. There seemed to be only four trains per day on the line: a Birmingham-bound commuter passenger train each weekday morning and evening, and a freight train in each direction at night. It was very different at the end of 1940. Blitz damage to Coventry station meant that a rapid succession of trains was diverted through Burton Green. We used to get a rich harvest of wild strawberries from the railway bank. (We never saw any wild orchids).

The Peeping Tom 

The landlord of the old building was Bert Cowley. The whole village mourned his passing. He introduced the no smoking rule long before it became law. If you wanted to smoke you went into the smoke room where you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Elsewhere, customers’ lungs were smoke-free. The pub was a Mitchell and Butler house - loyal to the Midlands brew. It laid on parties for children to celebrate VE Day and the present Queen's coronation. You had a clear view of who was in the old pub, before it was demolished and rebuilt in the 70s, if you were on the top deck of a bus standing at the stop opposite! This may have produced damning evidence in a few cases!

Mrs Whitehead’s Shop 

This was directly opposite the Peeping Tom. It is still a shop, though dealing in different commodities. Mrs Whitehead dealt in household provisions. She was an extremely pleasant lady, and it was always a pleasure to visit her shop.

Burton Green School 

Here I began my education. There were two classes, upper and lower. Miss Gibbs was in overall charge and took the upper, I was in the class of Miss Banks, the lower. Miss Gibbs was at the school for many years. Years later my sister, Susan, having qualified as a teacher, taught at the school, Miss Gibbs still being the head. Years later still the younger of my two sisters, Sally, became the temporary head there during an inter-regnum. (By this time Miss Gibbs had, of course, retired!). My most vivid memories of the school are the school bell which hung from a tree (it could not have been rung for years), the primitive toilet pans with no seats, the fact that slates were used in the school as well as on it, and the salvage collections. These I remember particularly because of a forehead wound (I bore the scar for many years) suffered when a school friend (with no malice, I’m sure!) threw a kettle which he had picked up from a pile of scrap metal objects donated by families to help the war effort. The intention was that the metal should be used against the enemy, not against your friends! It is good to read of the school’s academic successes in recent years. I feel that any record of my attendance at the school is likely to be found in the punishment book! A man who purchased a farm building (Ellis’s Farm, I think) in Hobb Lane at the rear of the school objected strongly to plans to use neighbouring land for storage of cars. (I know not what was the outcome of the public inquiry). He said that, until the car company arrived on the scene, he used to hear a nightingale outside his window.

The Buses 

The Coventry Transport No. 18 (later 12) used to run from Pool Meadow and terminate at the top end of Red Lane. The same bus ran back and forth all day, leaving its Burton Green terminus at a quarter past each hour. I never understood how it kept to schedule in the days when its route took in Shultern Lane and Ivy Farm Lane! The Midland Red operated route 537 from Hodgett’s Lane via Red Lane to Kenilworth. One popular feature on the Coventry buses in the late 40s and early 50s was our family wire haired fox terrier, Raff. He would board the bus solely for the ride into town and back, going upstairs and knowing exactly where to get off when it returned. The regular conductresses on the 18 route were Mrs Randall and Betty. Both treated him as a joke, as, apparently, did the inspectors. He sometimes fare-dodged on the 537 to Kenilworth and walked back. He seemed to know the departure times. One less welcome passenger was a lady from the Burton Green caravan site who needed some lessons in personal hygiene. The Coventry buses were Coventry-built and registered, the Midland Reds built and registered in Smethwick. Nearly all the other vehicles which you saw were British, most of them Coventry-built. The car factories, unlike today, provided the livelihoods of most of our neighbours.

The Caravan Site, Seaton’s field

This was the most unpopular feature of the village. It grew up in the immediate post-war years, accommodating homeless and displaced persons from various parts of Europe as well as from Britain. It started before there was statutory regulation of caravan sites, and included a motley collection of not only caravans but buses and all sorts of ramshackle structures, and was certainly no model of hygiene and orderliness. My parents and maternal grandparents owned the adjoining field (now accommodating houses) and we became friendly with some of the site dwellers, though certainly not with others. Latvian Joe and his family (from the Baltic states) were very likeable, as were the McBain family from some part of Scotland. Some others were not infrequent customers of the magistrates’ courts. Villagers sent a deputation to ask my parents whether they had any plans to allow their field to be used as a caravan site. My parents assured them that they had no such intention. They, and the rest of the village, had had more than enough trouble from the existing site without wanting to open another one.

Baughan’s Field 

A field of a much more acceptable kind than Seaton’s. The site for regular cricket games, though the wicket needed (according to one of our regular visitors, Sid Tomlinson - a pharmacist from Allesley Old road, Coventry) a flattening with a steam roller. One near-disaster occurred when a cricket ball which was heading for the nearby greenhouse of Mr Perrott struck a sash bar between two panes of glass and bounced back harmlessly! Another occurred when I was riding my sister’s horse, Bill, across the field. Bill did not like me, and he chose to head, with the bit between his teeth, for a tree with a low branch, leaving me the choice of being impaled on the branch or falling off Bill. I chose the latter. On another occasion, when I was walking him up Cromwell Lane, he came to a stop alongside the only lamp post in that road and squashed my left leg against it. On yet another occasion the saddle turned turtle while we were walking along Hathaway Road, Tile Hill. With my feet still in the stirrups I was left clinging upside down to the girth while an amused Bill walked on. My father occasionally used Bill to haul a dray around the fruit and veg round which he at that time was operating. Bill knew when it was home time and he was no respecter of red traffic lights. Fortunately there were no accidents.

The Water Tower 

This arrived in Burton Green six years before I did. No one was ever allowed in it. I wish I had known about the “open day” shortly before its sale, so that I could have seen inside it, as this is something I had marvelled at for years. The nearest we ever got was the roadway serving it. Our family was entitled to use this roadway to provide access to its adjoining plot of land. Of particular interest were the hundreds of swallows which nested in its eaves every summer. The tower was a useful landmark for directing visitors coming by bus. You would simply tell them: “Get off at the water tower.”

The Village Hall 

This provided a venue for parties, wedding receptions and drama. The last time I set foot in the old building was in 1954 for a three-night performance of the play See How They Run, in which I was cast rather inappropriately as a vicar! It is good to see that the hall has been rebuilt. Nextdoor to the hall was a large field used by Mr Arthur Pinks for his goats, and other purposes. Mr Pinks was our neighbour in Cromwell Lane, and he could always tell you interesting stories about Nanny and her milking experiences. In one of the cottages opposite the hall lived the Hayes family, including their daughter Josie, who sat with me at Burton Green school. A lovely family. I’d love to meet some of them again.

Black Waste Wood

We spent many childhood hours here. The only other visitor seemed to be “Mr Lambert” (I cannot be sure that that was his correct name, but it’s the name we children always called him, and he answered to it). He would drive in with his pony and dray, but we never did get to know just what he did there. The wood used to be a delight. We used to drink out of the stream there. Heaven forbid that we should do so now! On one Sunday there was a disastrous fire, which destroyed much of the wood and wildlife. It all grew back, and years later (as poaching expeditions showed!) plenty of wildlife had returned.

The Villagers

I would love to meet any of our former neighbours from Cromwell Lane who are still alive. The houses until the 60s were known only by names - there was no numbering, hence the need for a regular postman. Ours was "Gates Garth." Istill have that nameplate on our house in Barking, Essex, though I don't know why my parents chose it. They moved away to Breconshote, Wals, when my father retired in 1973. They each died in 1996. Next to the water tower, was Mr Griffin, a retired railwayman. Nextdoor Miss Harris, a schools inspector. Then came Mr and Mrs Nicholls and their daughter, Rosemary (“Malvern View”). Next, Mr and Mrs Gilbertson and their son, Brian, then Mr Arthuir Pinks and wife Maidy (“St Alma”) with daughter Margaret and son Christopher. Margaret in the 60s married Brian Flowers, who lived opposite. Arthur always had in his front garden a display of various items which he had bought at auctions. He would bid for items which were apparent “bargains” without sufficient thought about what use he might make of them, and transport them home in his Bedford lorry HRW 152. Our neighbours on the other side were Percy and Jenny Bates (“Ferndale”), then came Eric and Freda Woodcock and daughter Heather (“Kewstoke”), . Tom and Mrs Grogan and their daughters, Mrs Drane and daughters Audrey and Cynthia, and Mrs Harris. My father in the post-war years operated an ex-RAF crew transport van, FRW 92 (later to become a DeeDi ice cream van!).

Opposite us lived Joe and Mrs Flowers, daughter Janet and son Brian, (“Pevensey”) with an Austin Big Six KV 2890. Then came Jim and Mrs Edkins with two daughters (he had an MG whose number I cannot remember), then Mr Perrott and Miss Wills, Cecil and Mrs Wills, and school master Mr Caffell with son, Beverley. Then came a family (“Salem”) with an interesting Morgan three-wheeler. Further down were Gwen Walker and son, Brian, the Parkin Family (“Valerie”) with sons Len, Reg, John, Colin and Bill and daughter Ann; John and Kath Webb and son John (is this John now a member of the Residents’ Association? – their front lawn used to be a popular venue for tennis) and Alan and Peggy Webb (“Sunnyside”) with daughters Judy and Jill and Vauxhall Velox ODU 440.

Further down on the same side (“Ardenhoe”) lived Mr and Mrs Phil Smith, sons Alan and Ronald and daughter Yvette. Alan and Ronald were fellow students of mine at Warwick School. On the other side of the railway, in a former railway cottage, lived Fred and Amy Stockley - an elderly couple who were held in affection by everyone. My childhoof friend, Dennis Pinks, lived with his parents, Harry and Lil and brothers Bernard and John in the aptly-named "Farm View", a cottage facing directly Thompson's Farm, which in those days was a working farm with several head of cattle. (It seems that now it produces horticultural plants). Mrs Thompson used to pay us sixpence an hour for picking peas on their field opposite (now used for houses), and the cattle farming was run by son Dick and his wife, June. Close by, in a brick-built cottage now beautifully restored lived Mark and Maria King - a couple who were elderly even in those days.

Beyond the Peeping Tom was the bungalow home of another of my school colleagues. Colin Fox and his parents. I frequently saw Mrs Fox ridinf her bicycle with her two pet dogs sitting snugly in the wicker basket.

My parents’ first home after marrying in 1933 was a bungalow (“Hill Top”) close to Westwood Heath corner.

Down an earthen driveway was a smart cottage occupied by a well dressed, well spoken couple whom we as children dubbed the “Mayor and Mayoress of Burton Green.”

Further downhill on the right was the nurse’s home (I believe it is still used for nursing). The resident nurse and midwife, Nurse Reeves, seems to have delivered half the population of Burton Green during her years of service! I remember the death of her husband, Horace, but would like to hear more about her.

These are just a few recollections. If there is any further information which anyone would like and my memory can supply it, I'll only be too pleased.

With very best wishes,
Anthony Richards
E-mail: barkwitt@yahoo.com

See Also

Post-War Development of Burton Green (YouTube video)
Memories of Hob Lane (YouTube video)Burton Green Vilage History
Memories of Burton Green in the 1950’s by Stuart Barratt
Reminiscences by Rick Jowett
Reminiscences by Joan Pulham and Angela Loughran

More Memories

Please note that the comments added to this post include more memories, added by Rick Jowett and Terry Whiteside.


  1. My name is Rick Jowett and I lived at Dawlish Cromwell Lane till 1955. I remember many of the same things.
    Sargent Wright just inside the coventry boundry.
    Fred Morse the coalman who lived in the farm cottage. Mr & Mrs Bayliss. Fred Smith. The Adams family Bill Phylis,Olive, The Druces, The Petets, The Gutteridges? The Old Machine gun emplacement. The Cottons Mary Brown. Miss pickin
    Miss Jackson next door to us. and The Browns on the other side. Louise and Audrey Sprig. I was lucky to gain a 11+ scholarship to Leamington college so I caught no.18 then No.537, then no 517. Quite a trip for 11 years Old. Jhnny Dams from Tile Hill railway station.
    Mrs Lancaster and her son Gareth. Mrs Lancaster taught at West woodheath C 0f E school which I attended. Peter Maddison the head master and his daughter Stella. Peter Wadsworth, and his younger sister who lived opposite the Lancasters. Lee Beesleys field. on the corner of Cromwell and westwood heath road. The Gas lamp on the corner.

    I now live near Sandton South Africa. Rickjowett@live.com

  2. I lived at Burton Green 1952/1966 ish,My Father R H Whiteside built alot of the houses on Cromwell Lane. we lived at Brambles when the houses only had names, it later became 245 I think when they numbered them.The youth club at the village hall on a tuesday night was the highspot of the weekfor most youngsters in the early 60s. I remember the trains struggling , and also them frequently setting the railway embankments on fire.I remember the fire engines spending alot of time at Seatons field as well, when some of the dodgy dwellings there caught fire.Alot of us youngsters knew Mrs Seaton well as she wasnt to particular who she sold ciggies and fireworks to, a proper character she was.I also , I regret to say, remember the massive fire in the woods. I was 7 /8 years old and my parents had left some matches at the site of a bonfire my dad had had the day before, I found them , and decided to have one of my own , with disastrous results. I dont think I could sit down for a monthafter the hiding I got!I remember so many of the names already mentioned, when I was at BG school . Miss Gibbs iv never forgotton, she used to cycle to school I remember. And the bell in the tree in the playground, we used to throw stones at it to make it ring! much to miss Gibbs dissaproval, some of us werent very good shots!I live in Manchester now, I pop back occasionally as my sister lives at Tilehill, I would love to meet or hear off anyone who remembers me

  3. In reference to above, if anyone would like a chat and reminisce E mail Terrywhiteside @ hotmail .co.uk, or im on facebook
    Terry whiteside.