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Sunday 30 October 2011

Memories of Burton Green in the 1950s by Stuart Barratt

My parents bought a plot of land in Cromwell Lane, Burton Green in 1947 for £165 with the intention of building their own bungalow. Just after the Second World War houses and the materials to build new houses were in short supply. Many people lived in temporary accommodation such as caravans and wooden shacks.

I was born in 1948 and until I was seven years old the family lived temporarily in a large wooden shed. The shed had two windows, a brick fireplace and chimney. This was our living room and bedroom. We also had an ex war department caravan for cooking and eating, and a small sink for washing. Baths were taken in front of the fire in the wooden shed. We had an earth closet at the top of the garden. The water pipe frequently froze in the winter and my Mum had to defrost it before the day could start. The first photograph of 1947 shows the temporary accommodation we lived in while my parents built their bungalow.

In the next photograph, a view across the land, you can see a number of other temporary buildings across the road. Also in the photographs are my great grandma, born in Scotland in 1878, she died in the 1960's, my grandma also born in Scotland in 1899, she died in 1979 and my mother born in Scotland in 1923, is still living at Burton Green. The extended family had all moved to Coventry in 1935 in search of work.

Building the Bungalow

The building of the bungalow was hard work. Every evening Mum would have a load of mortar mixed ready for my Dad to start bricklaying as soon as he came home from a day’s work at Wickmans in Banner Lane. It took him 3 years of evenings and weekends to build the bungalow to the point where we could move in. He did everything himself apart from the plastering. Even I helped as a small child by stacking bricks in piles of 100 around the build, using a small wooden wheelbarrow carrying four bricks at a time.

My Mum particularly remembers the building of the cesspit, as it was a very wet time and she had to keep bailing out the water that accumulated each day by carrying a bucketful at a time up a ladder, so that my Dad could continue building the brick lining.

A few years later Burton Green was connected to the main sewer so all that hard work was redundant. I took this photograph of the sewer trench in our back garden with a Kodak Brownie camera. All hand dug by Irish navvies. I don’t remember the date but it must have been in the early 1960’s.

We grew all our own vegetables on a large plot; we also had chickens and two beehives.

374 Cromwell Lane, being built, 1953
Next to the plot on one side were a number of older bungalows, one of which was occupied by Mr Ebbrell who was the builder of these bungalows and the water tower. There was a field on the other side owned by Mr. Alan Webb. He kept a few pigs in the field, and on November 5th one year we had a big bonfire.

For the Coronation in 1953 we bought a Pye 12inch black and white television. I remember lots of people crowding into the shed to watch, but I was more interested in playing outside. At this time my Dad hoisted a Union Jack flag from the roof timbers of the unfinished bungalow.

Amateur dramatics were staged regularly at the old wooden Burton Green village hall. My Dad helped by providing trees for scenery and dimmed the lights by plunging a copper rod into a bucket of water (no health and safety then).

Deliveries and Mobile Shops

Burton Green used to seem quite a remote country district, although there was the convenience of several shops; Mrs Whiteheads (later Dockers), Mrs. Seatons, Honey’s Post Office and also Red Lane Stores. Fewer people had cars, and so mobile shops and deliveries were a lifeline to many.

Chattaway’s Hardware from Balsall Common was a tall van with all sorts of hardware hanging on the outside; mops, buckets, tin baths, etc. You could hear the rattling hardware in the distance as it came down the lane.

There was also an old converted coach that used to sell vegetables, potatoes etc and always seemed to smell of paraffin. It always looked very heavily laden and had large army style tyres. I think it was painted pale green.

Harry Chick the newsagent from Tile Hill. He was in the habit of not putting on the handbrake when he left his van to deliver papers, and on one occasion it rolled down the road, mounted the pavement and crossed several gardens before coming to rest.

Mr Honey from the Post Office Shop on Honey’s Hill in Red Lane used to deliver groceries once a week in a grey Austin A30 van, collecting the order in a little red book for delivery the next week.

The Baker from Balsall Common delivered in a black and cream van. He carried bread in a big open wicker basket up each drive, holding it in the doorway for you to choose the loaf you wanted. In wet weather he put a black cover over the basket, lifting one side at a time to show the bread.

A firm of butchers called Trepass called twice a week. Ted the butcher carried the meat to the door in a round uncovered aluminium bowl.

A Corona lorry used to deliver pop in open wooden crates.

De DiMaggio Ice Cream van with the distinctive DeDi tune, was a real treat when few homes had refrigerators. We even treated our dog occasionally sticking the ice cream cone into the spout of a watering can, for him to eat!

The milkman delivered milk daily (except Sunday) and left it just inside the gate. A tile was put over the bottles to stop the blue tits pecking the foil tops and drinking some of the cream. The farm that supplied the milk was next to the village hall.

The Bettaware man used to come to the door with his suitcase of brushes and polishes for sale. Once or twice a year we had coal and coke delivered.

The coal lorry would stop in the road and the coalmen would carry on their backs 20 or 30 one hundredweight bags of coal and coke up the drive to the bunker. I used to count the bags to ensure we had the correct number.

Once a year a French onion seller used to come to Burton Green, pushing his bicycle laden with strings of onions.

In the 1950’s Cromwell Lane had no street lighting or pavements and there were a lot of potholes at the side of the road. The road was quite busy at rush hour as many people used it as a short cut even then. The Lane was well used for the delivery of parts (e.g. unpainted car bodies) to the Fisher and Ludlow factory at Tile Hill. At this time Standard Triumph transported the new cars to a storage area in woodland off Hob Lane. The entrance to the car storage was next to Burton Green School.

The field at the back my parent’s garden was used as a market garden to grow vegetables by a Coventry greengrocer. His 13-year-old son used to drive the Ferguson tractor ploughing the field. All their family used to help pick the vegetables for the shop. The family eventually built a house in the corner of the field on Hodgetts Lane.

Mrs Coombes, another resident of Burton Green had a thriving business growing and selling cacti. She won many cups at shows and supplied many shops in the Coventry and Birmingham area. My Mum used to work for Mrs Coombes, potting up small cacti which had been imported from Holland. She also helped with deliveries and on the sales stand at shows. Children of Mr and Mrs. Coombes were Martin, Rosemary and Richard. Richard, John Webb and I spent many hours constructing and flying model aircraft in the early 1960’s.

Black Waste Wood used to be the playground for many of the children in Burton Green. Many happy hours were spent amongst the bracken and trees until the sewer pumping station was constructed and clay spread over a large area. It was an intrusion into a natural area that never seemed the same again.

The East Midlands Electricity Sports Ground was another unofficial playground when not in use. It was an ideal place for football and other activities including flying model aircraft.

I remember the railway line in operation and the sound of the night train struggling up the incline sometimes having several attempts. The dry embankments used to be frequently set on fire by sparks from the engine. On one occasion we could see the smoke of the embankment fire from the Westwood Heath school playground. The embankments in the spring were covered in wild primroses and later in the year wild strawberries.

Westwood Heath Church of England School

I attended Westwood Heath C of E School, and travelled by bus. In the morning about 10 past 8 whilst waiting for the number 12 bus at the corner of Hodgetts Lane, the smoke from the early morning passenger train used to cover the bridge and road. It used to cost 1 penny to travel to Westwood Heath School. The bus conductor would dial the amount on his ticket machine then print a ticket by turning a handle on the side. The money was put in a leather pouch.

I have many memories of Westwood Heath Church of England School and the children and teachers. Mr Hancock headmaster, (his son Peter went to the school.) Teachers: Juniors: Mrs Lancaster, Miss West. Infants: Mrs Mathews, then when she retired Mrs Bull.

This photo was taken at the Westwood Heath School Speech Day in 1960.

Click on the photo to enlarge it. There is a key to the names just below. The key may also be enlarged.

My friends were: Rodney and Jonathan Adams, and Alan Hatton. Alan lived in temporary accommodation in ‘Le Van’ before moving to a house in Red Lane next door to the shop. He used to run up Red Lane to catch the bus to Westwood School from the route terminus at the junction with Cromwell Lane. John Webb was another good friend. John went to Burton Green School.

Others I remember are Catherine and Philip Hargreaves who lived in the white cottage next to the road just past Thomson’s Farm. Clive Horler lived in Cromwell Lane opposite the Hodgetts Lane junction and Richard Preece lived next door to him, Richard went to Burton Green School I think. The Lucas family lived in Hodgetts Lane in the first of the white houses on the left. David Vine and his family lived in the first house in the row of farm workers cottages (now demolished) opposite the village hall. Susan Gutteridge, Elizabeth and David Morris lived in Cromwell Lane near Westwood Heath Road. I am sure there are others from Burton Green that I can’t recall at present.

More children who attended Westwood lived in Westwood Heath Road (Robert Hardy, Jeanette McCoy, Robert and Jonathan Atkins, Jill Chapman, Sheila Miers, Rosemary King), Bockendon Road (Valerie Hall), Gibbet Hill (Helen Bostock at Gibbet Hill Farm), and both ends of Charter Avenue (Michael Musson, Gaynor Mutton at the Cromwell Lane end and Ian Hill, Ian Sayers, Raymond Growcock at the Canley end).

Westwood Heath School (the gates are missing in the photo) had about 70 pupils (infant and junior) when I first went there in 1953.

The school was a traditional Victorian Building with high set windows and large thick wooden external doors each with a big cast iron round handle and latch. The children were taught in two classrooms separated by a tall cream painted wooden and glass partition which could be folded back for special occasions. There was a connecting door between the two classrooms and in the junior classroom an open fireplace with a tall guard. Later the headmasters study was converted into a classroom for the last year’s class.

When I started, the infants were still using Victorian writing slates with chalk. In the juniors we had Victorian desks, joined in rows, later these were changed for a more modern style. We wrote with pen and ink. A new nib was pushed into a holder and had to be licked before it was used. It could then be dipped into the inkwell in the desk to write. The ink was made up from a powder mixed with water. The inkwells were then filled from a jug with a long thin spout. We were taught the Marion Richardson style of writing.

Our classroom used to have a roaring open fire in the winter where the crates of one-third pint milk bottles, if frozen, were thawed out before the children could drink the milk through a straw. Defrosted milk has a sweet taste, which nobody really liked. I was a milk monitor for a time. Together with another boy we had to fetch the crates from near the gate and carry them to the classrooms, making sure there were the right number of bottles. The outside toilets were at the back of the school, regularly getting frozen up in the winter. The school had a pet white rabbit called Milky kept in a hutch. In summer she would be let out into a run on the grass at the side of the playground near the Working Men’s club.

Later I was responsible for getting all the games equipment out and assembling it in the playground before the games morning or afternoon. The games equipment consisted of a wooden vaulting horse, mats, climbing bars, wooden hoops and beanbags, rubber rings etc. housed in a set of boxes in the four team colours, red, green, yellow and blue. When it was put away afterwards or if it rained, put away in a hurry, the art was to get it all back into the shed, as it would only fit in a certain order. We all had to wash our hands before lunch in a bowl of water, so by the time I was ready to wash my hands after putting the games equipment away the rest of the pupils had all washed in the bowl so the water was very murky!

We didn’t have a playing field, but I do remember once we had a sports afternoon in the farmer’s field opposite the school. Each of the teams had a section of garden to look after (the garden was the border behind the front hedge).

Lunch was either a school dinner delivered by a Coventry Education van in large aluminium boxes hot at about 10 o’clock in the morning, or a packed lunch from home. The dinners were served in the infant’s classroom. I tried school dinners for one week. I had packed lunches for the rest of my school life. The packed lunches were eaten in the junior classroom off plastic plates. Pupils had to take turns washing all of the plastic plates in a bowl. When I was older (10 years) I used to cycle home for lunch.

Just up the road from the school was a Post Office housed in a concrete Batley Garage just inside the garden of a house. Mr and Mrs Dash ran the Post Office, their daughter Pam went to the school and Mrs Dash was one of the kitchen dinner ladies. Mrs Davenport was another. They were far more scary than any of the teachers. Mrs Goddard used to serve the lunches and do playground duty at lunchtime. We all liked her, as she seemed far friendlier. More importantly the Post Office sold sweets. At breaks and lunchtime children would run up to the green wooden gate in the tall privet hedge, which was the entrance. Gob stoppers, sherbet dips, lemon sweets and many other kinds of sweets for halfpennies or pennies were sold. At one time a very popular sweet was a Liquorice Imp, which was bought not for the sweets but for the small 1” diameter tin they came in. With a suitable modification they made excellent ‘mini-frisbees’ when propelled by a rubber band that was until they were banned.

Once a week we all used to go to swimming lessons at the Coventry Teachers Training College at the end of Westwood Heath Road (now part of Warwick University) Miss Pepper was the instructor and she would teach us to swim at the same time as training teachers to teach swimming. The smell of chlorine was very strong and made your eyes sting if you opened them underwater. Swimming certificates were obtained by a trip to the Livingstone Road swimming baths in Coventry.

I remember two school trips. The first was to London on a steam train from Coventry Station. I think we went to the Natural History Museum and a few other places. My main memory is of the rain dripping off the peak of my cap as we walked along. The other trip was to Whipsnade Zoo. We must have gone by coach. I bought a wax penguin as a souvenir.

One activity I remember was basketry, soaking the canes in the school kitchen sink before weaving them in and out of the uprights. I still have the tray I made. We all used to do sewing of sorts, daily spelling and times tables’ chanting etc. cutting and sticking. We also went pond dipping over the fields at the back of the school, which is now a business park.

Photo added 23rd June 2022
We used to have a summer fete held at the vicarage which was on the left just inside Torrington Avenue. I think this is where the new C of E school was built to replace the Victorian building, the subject of many fund raising events such as rummage sales held over the whole of my school time. The highlight of the fete was the country dancing and a maypole performance by the pupils. This involved much practise. The maypole practise was I guess, a teachers nightmare, as the under and over plaiting pattern dancing into the pole had to be reversed and inevitably this went wrong and the ribbons used to get in a tangle.

Photo added 23rd June 2022

At Christmas we used to put on a play. The vicar used to dress up as Father Christmas to distribute presents from a sack at the party. We used to have a Carol Service at the Church, those who couldn’t sing were called groaners and had to dress up as Mary and Joseph, Kings and Shepherds for the procession down the aisle.
The teacher at the piano was Mrs Lancaster, the names of the pupils are as follows: Rodney Powers and Catherine Hargreaves are the main characters, and on my left Monica Dickson and Wendy Hart. Peter Hancock is the king, to his right Alan Hatton, Marilyn Spracklen, Ian Hill, ?, Richard Coombes. Photo added 23 June 2022

Jill Chapman and Hilary Goddard.
Photo added 23 June 2022

Every so often we used to take a trip on the way home from school to Harry Stevenson’s the barbers in Tile Hill. Sometimes a number of us would pile into the back of Mrs Powers’ Landrover. The Powers used to farm at Nailcote Farm, their children Janet, Rodney and Michael all used to go to Westwood School. I vividly remember travelling home one winter’s afternoon, when the bus did not arrive, in the canvas covered back of the Landrover sitting on a straw bale looking out at the snowy Westwood Heath Road down the long hill we had just driven up.

Sometimes we used to walk home from school in winter if the bus couldn’t get through; schools were never closed in adverse weather conditions in those days.

Stuart Barratt - October 2011

See Also

Post-War Development of Burton Green (YouTube video)
Memories of Hob Lane (YouTube video)
Cromwell Lane - 1841 Tithe Map
Reminiscences of Burton Green by Anthony Richards
Reminiscences of Burton Green by Rick Jowett
Burton Green Local History


  1. Thank you for this, I moved into Tile Hill Village around 1960 and spent many happy times with friends who lived in Burton Green. I also remember Mr Chick and his wife who ran the newsagents, they were so disorganised. When you went into the shop it was piled high with old magazines and papers. I remember on one occasion being in the shop when a man came in to pay his paper bill most embarrassed as he had not paid for over twelve months. The Chick's did not appear to have any system in place to track who owed them money so I believe there were many who never paid at all. When I was in my mid teens I remember the Burton Green youth club and the Peeping Tom pub, my best friend was Michael the owners son who sadly I have lost touched with

  2. I loved this!
    My parents moved to Cromwell Lane in 1949..I was born in 1953..I recall the Peeping Tom when it was just a hut.. and an orchard opposite our house which was bought by Pat Jenkinson ( a builder..who built a bungalow there..he also built The Pines..flats by Tile Hill Station..with his partner John Ahearne)
    I went to Burton Green School..the head mistress was Miss Gibbs..other teachers were Mrs Millar..Mrs Bythway..and Mrs Wincote..who was I believe the aunt of the Perkins brothers..who seemed to be plagued by tragedy..one brother accidently shot another brother dead and yet another brother was killed riding pillion on a motor bike..Our lovely dinner lady was Mrs Sturman.
    My friends were Anne Hatton..sister of Alan..Susan Wills and her cousin John Saltmarsh ..(their mothers where identical twins)..Catherine Herbert..Jennifer Brain..Christine Nichols..Heather Woodcock..Sue Gutteridge..Mick Unett..David Morris..Carol and Julie Stanley who prior to moving into the house next door to us lived on Parkers farm in a caravan..as did other families..among them the Rileys who had a son Mike..Then there was Richard Morse..the Troughton brothers Martin and Philip..Joy Robinson..Susan and Jane Ingram..Lynda Thompson..Lynne Green..Rosemary and Trudy Montgomery..Rosemary Hayward..Dennis Hooper etc etc..Mrs Seaton and her son Chris had caravans on their field too.
    David Lee lived just past my old school..he had a whole room devoted to train sets and also a real train and track in his garden.
    My Mum also used to have meat delivered from Bates Butchers in Tile Hill Village..the lad delivered the meat on a trusty old heavy black bike with a basket on the front..in all weathers!
    Mum used to buy wool from Mrs Kay Darlington also in the village.
    We often had to dig our way out of the drive after heavy snow during winter.
    We used to catch the number 12 bus into Coventry..there was always a hunchbacked elderly man that lived I think at the rear of Westwood Heath School..he seemed to always be on the same bus as us!
    Poretta's delivered our coal and I recall being scared stiff of the men with black sooty faces..I hid out in the shed!
    Almost everyone kept chickens..tho the Spriggs family also kept pigs..
    We used to pick mushrooms every morning over the East Midlands Sports Ground..it was a bit of a competition who and could get there earliest and grab the most..we got hundreds over the yrs..
    We went blackberrying..picked elder berries..scrumped apples and climbed trees..looked for birds nests and butterflies..we took Corona pop and jam sandwiches for picnics in local fields..wonderful days!
    THANK YOU for sharing.

    1. We came down from Scotland in 1960 and moved into a caravan on Mrs Seaton's field. To be honest it was a dump. I remember she had pigs and a shop. The shop was closed and the pigs taken away by the police. My mother worked in the Peeping Tom with the Humphries and I was very friendly with Tony Humphries.

  3. I think the people who had the Peeping Tom with a son called Michael had the surname Humphries.

  4. I was asked some questions about Westwood School. Here is my reply.

    The Leigh family from Stoneleigh Abbey owned the school (which was sold in 1964, is now a Greek Orthodox Church) It was opened by Mary Cordelia Leigh (1866-1956) in the late 19th century. I remember a carved stone in the front wall commemorating the opening or laying of the foundation stone, but I can't remember the exact date. There was also a carved stone plaque high up on the front wall giving the date of the school. I have vague memories of a visit to the school by Miss Leigh during the time I was at the school.

    My memory of Mrs Mathews is of an elderly, white haired, short woman, with glasses.

    I remember after entering the main door at the side of the school, the corridor was dark. On the right hand side of the corridor was the headmasters study, entered by a heavy wooden door. Inside the room, which was quite spacious, was an open fire. Later this room was used as a classroom for the final year pupils.

    Further along the corridor were the pegs (all numbered) for the children's coats, satchels and pump bags. I remember the walls were painted green and cream, and on the floor below the pegs was a low wooden bar (the sort used for PE). This was used for stepping up to the pegs or sitting on to change footwear.

    On the left hand side of the corridor was the door to the kitchen, then two sinks for hand washing before the large wooden door to the infants classroom. Just inside the classroom on the left hand side was a stove fuelled by coke and surrounded by a guard. When coats were wet they were sometimes dried around the stove. I remember in this room there was a blackboard on an easel.

    A cream painted wood and glass folding partition with a door separated this classroom from the older children. The windows in all the rooms were high up so you couldn't see outside.

    I don't remember much about the lessons in the infants, but I can remember the vicar coming to talk to us. He was quite a stout man and when he dressed up as Father Christmas he was very much the part. I think his name was the Rev. Williams. Later the Rev. Milner took over.

    The school Christmas parties were held at school, the screen between the two classrooms was folded back to make one big room. I don't remember any activity at the William and Mary Club associated with the school. Two houses with gated access occupy the site now.

    I think you might be correct about a class called the intermediates, but I don't specifically remember the teachers name. It could have been Mrs Bull initially, but my main memory is of her teaching the infants after Mrs Mathews retired (I assume she retired when she left) but I think she did teach for a while in the former Headmasters study room. There was a young teacher called Miss West. Christopher Seaton to my knowledge never attended Westwood School, he went to Burton Green School as far as I know.

    I don't remember Mrs. Lenton, but the cottage is still there, on the edge of the University of Warwick.

  5. Hello to Stuart Barratt,

    This is a very accurate description. I remember everything Stuart recalls too. I didn't get a mention in his account, but I am Clive Rodgers, and I had at that age I had very blond hair.
    I don't seem to be in his picture. I was probably at the back out of sight! I am a year younger than Stuart, but am webmaster for the village where I live today in Buckinghamshire. Not dissimilar to yours. Please take a look:- www.swanbournehistory.co.uk
    All best wishes,

  6. Further to my reply on 7th February 2013 above, I recently came across this information about the origins of Westwood Heath C of E School.
    The City of Coventry: Public education
    Westwood C of E School
    At Westwood and Binley Church of England schools were established by private efforts; that at Westwood was opened in 1838 in a converted house owned by Lord Leigh, and at Binley was built in 1839 by the Earl of Craven. It was intended to build a new school at Westwood in 1853, but instead the old school was roofed and repaired in 1854, and new windows in 1856.
    In 1871 a new building was erected for Westwood School in Westwood Heath Road, with the assistance of the National Society. In 1953 Westwood became a controlled school.
    From an earlier reply “..there was always a hunchbacked elderly man that lived I think at the rear of Westwood Heath School..he seemed to always be on the same bus as us!” This if I remember correctly was Mr Wright, who I believe was a former headmaster of Westwood School and lived in the sandstone house at the back of the school playground, known as the “headmaster’s house.” It is still there now.
    I do remember Clive Rodgers.
    Best wishes
    Stuart Barratt