Growing up in Axminster - the early years

  Posted: 29.06.20 at 12:20 by Philip Evans

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My mother and father met when they were both serving in Gibraltar during the Second World War. Tim was a flight-sergeant in the RAF and Beryl was a petty officer in the Wrens.

Tim was an aircraft fitter, repairing damaged aircraft, which had returned from action. However, he had learned to play the piano and piano-accordion as a boy and played with the air-force band.

There were very few Wrens serving in Gibraltar, so the women on the island were probably out-numbered by the men, by a ratio of about fifty to one! As the pianist in the band, Tim was in a prime position to “eye-up” those few ladies attending the weekly dance evening.

He soon spotted Beryl and went into action, by finding one of his colleagues to play the piano, whilst he asked this new Wren for a dance. As they say – the rest is history!

They were married in Gibraltar Cathedral in August 1946, right at the end of the war – and on returning to the UK, it was not long before Beryl was expecting her first child.

Tim was still a serving RAF officer and returned to RAF Locking, just outside Weston-super-Mare. Beryl was pregnant and the best way of looking after future mum and future child was for Beryl to live with her in-laws, George and Hilda. They lived in the top floor of the Drill Hall building (now the Axminster Heritage Centre) as George was the Sergeant Major of the Axminster Home Guard, who were drilled at the Drill Hall in Silver Street.

Andrew with his sister Gillian, aged 4 and 2

Tim came home at weekends, on his trusty Norton motor bike and was overjoyed when Beryl had a son Andrew, who was born at the local maternity home, which at that time was a home in Cridlake.

Tim was an only son, but the Moulding family were far and wide, as Tim’s father George, was one of a family of ten boys and one girl, all brought up in a small house in Hillhead Terrace! The head of the household was my great grand-father Robert Moulding, founder of the building firm and approaching his nineties when I was born.

Great-grandfather Bob, still enjoyed a cider or two, (or three)! – and when news arrived that I had been born, it was a good reason for Bob to get hold of Tim and say –“Come on boy, we’re going to take the lad down to the Axminster Inn and wet the baby’s head”.

So they took me down to the pub – had a few jars of cider and then carried me back to the drill hall. As we lived in the top floor, there were two flights of stairs to climb and apparently, just before they reached the top, a drunken father, drunken great-grandfather and baby fell down the stairs! It appeared that no damage had been done to Andrew (some will not agree!), although, as you can imagine, father Tim and great-grandfather Bob had a good old telling-off from the women in the family!

The accommodation arrangements worked well for Tim, Beryl and baby Andrew for a while, but soon it was evident that it would be better for the family if they were all together, near RAF Locking. They rented a house in Banwell, not far from Locking, and it was not long before Beryl was expecting another baby Gillian, who was born in Weston-super-Mare hospital in 1948.

Tim and Beryl Moulding on their wedding day

The family lived at Banwell for a couple of years until Tim left the RAF and they returned to live in Axminster, where Tim trained to be a painter and decorator for the family firm.

The home the family alighted on was No 1 Trinity Terrace in Castle Street, Axminster, which was right opposite the lovely old Phoenix pub, which suited Tim down to the ground! In fact, I believe at that time the road was not called Castle Street – but Phoenix Lane.

My first memories were living in No 1 Trinity Terrace and I remember my neighbours well – the Bellamy family, the Reynolds family and “Toots” Arnold, with her son Stephen. I am still aware of members of the Bellamy family around today – Nora and Ernie (there may be more?).

Stan Reynolds daughter was Aileen, a couple of years older than me, who is now Aileen Fragel, living in Cawley Avenue with her husband Tony and son Jimmy, who I played cricket with, for a number of years. I believe “Toots” Arnold worked in Dawkins and her son Stephen was a brilliant artist, who was a year younger than me, but I was amazed by his fantastic drawings of cowboys and Indians!
It was not a surprise to me that Stephen ultimately trained in the office of Anthony Hollow, architect.

My sister and I spent most of our time with Elizabeth Martin, who lived on the opposite side of the road with her aunt and uncle, Phyl (who also worked for Dawkins) and Len Cornish (who I believe worked with Stan Wakeley at Blue Star Garage – now, the long stay part of West Street car Park)

Tim and Beryl on Tim's trusted Norton outside the Drill Hall

Above our house in Phoenix Lane and on the junction with Trinity Square was W J Harris & Son, Grocers and Bakers (now Lou La Belle). I can remember my mother sending me up to the shop on the corner with her ration book to collect sugar, biscuits, etc. A particular memory was that we lived adjacent to Harris’s bakery. Our house was plagued with cockroaches! My father used to reckon that the cockroaches ate in the bakery and slept in our house.

Everything was nice and handy at Trinity Terrace (apart from cockroaches) Not only was my mother keen to send me up to Harris’s with the ration book, but she also used to send me up there to pick up her cigarettes! Just imagine nowadays – a seven year-old going into the shop for 10 fags!

I didn’t mind - as she smoked Turf cigarettes, which had cigarette cards to collect: so I could go into the shop and ask Mavis Welch if she could find a packet of Turf for me, with one of the cards I needed for my collection.

Also within striking distance was the Axe Vale Creamery (now occupied by Fox & Sons) and Mr Len Duke’s shop on Castle Hill where we could buy ice-creams.

No 1 Trinity Terrace was a three-story house with a nice attic for guest’s accommodation. However, when we lived there in the early 1950’s, the only toilet was outside – across the cobbled yard and the bath (room) comprised of a tin bath in the kitchen, with water heated in a “copper”.

At 5 years old, it was time for me to enter schooling at Axminster County Primary School, which in the early 1950s was on part of the site which is now the Axe Valley Academy. The Primary School shared the site at the time with the Axminster County Secondary Modern School, who occupied the northern part, whilst the primary school children were accommodated on the southern edge of the site. I believe some of the brick-built buildings, which are still there, are used for the art department.

The headmaster of the primary school was Mr Howard Blackburn, a strict disciplinarian. In the first form we had Miss (or Mrs) Hatchley, who was perfect for the first year of entry. However, my first day was remembered for the wrong reason. I attempted to sit down on one of those extremely small chairs for five-year old children, when someone (and I don’t know who) pulled the chair from under me. I went backwords with a frightful fall – and finished up at hospital having my head bandaged!

Schooling was not a problem for me, nor my sister – we both loved school and enjoyed learning. I finished up having two years in the top form of primary education at Axminster with Mr Bill Pirie, who was not afraid (in those days) to wield the cane if necessary – something thankfully that I avoided. However, Mr Pirie was a first class teacher – very strong on mathematics, which suited me, as it was always a subject I loved.

I had good friends at primary school – Tony Kent, Jacky Love and the late Ron Thresher and Barry Newbery. Also in my class at school and born two days after me was John Jeffery (JJ). John and I had different interests at school – I was into sport and John was the practical one. So, although we went in different ways, we always remained firm friends.

I also went to Sunday School at the Congregational Church in Chard Street – not that I was particularly enthusiastic about it, but that the Sunday School leader was my Uncle Fred – so it was really a sense of duty!

During those primary school years, I had my first visit to Axminster Hospital – about eight years-old, to have my tonsils out. The care and attention then was as good as it gets – and such a shame that our hospital isn’t currently able to provide the range of medical services that we would all wish for.

Family life was good for the Mouldings at Trinity Terrace. Tim worked hard painting and decorating during the day and often out, playing the piano in the evening with the popular swing band, “The Metronomes”, which had a big following in East Devon, West Dorset and South Somerset. In his leisure time, Tim enjoyed football, cricket, fishing – and his pipe!

Tim was rarely seen without his pipe and gold block tobacco. He tried to encourage me to try fishing as a very young lad of about nine years-old. Tim, together with Bert Hussey (baker at Mayo’s) and Colin McLennan (engineer at Shands) travelled weekly to Somerset – the Bridgwater Canal or the King Sedgemoor Drain.

My first fishing expedition was to the King Sedgemoor Drain on the “Glorious Sixteenth June” – start of the coarse fishing season. We travelled up there in Tim’s Bradford-Jowett shooting brake, with Tim, Bert and Colin – all smoking their pipes!! By the time we got to our destination, with all the pipe fumes, I was sick as a dog! I had a “fishless” day, and another smoke filled car on the way home. So that was it – I never went fishing again and stuck to football and cricket!

Beryl also kept busy, looking after the family and following in her mother-in-law’s footsteps with the Women’s Institute, where she eventually became president … and it was here that she developed a talent for writing plays in later years.

Holidays for the Mouldings in those early years always seemed to concentrate on the Chistchurch area in Dorset – not least that it was handy for the brilliant fishing that Tim could find on the Dorset Stour or the Royalty Fishery on the Hampshire Avon. The accommodation was nearly always at the beach chalets on Mudeford Sandbanks. I imagine that these chalets were fairly cheap to rent at the time – and are the same chalets which in recent years have been sold for a small fortune!

As I reach the end of my time at Primary School things are beginning to change. A new primary school is being built in Stoney Lane. I am going to my new school at Colyton. The family is moving to a new house in Foxhill and Tim is now undertaking a new role with the family building firm. He is moving away from painting and decorating and is taking over from Uncle Edgar, looking after the books.

It’s interesting that decorating is one of those trades which perpetuates. I had a phone call a couple of months ago from someone living in Marlpit Lane, Seaton – asking if I was related to Tim Moulding. I told the person that Tim was my late father, to which he replied that he had just stripped some wallpaper in the house that he had bought – and underneath the paper he stripped, the wall had been written on “papered by Tim Moulding 1955”. It has always been a tradition when wallpapering that you write a message behind the last piece you hang!

Residents in Axminster can now take an advantage of a service offered by the Co-op – and get their prescriptions delivered direct to their door ...