Treasured memories stimulated by former mayor's idyllic childhood in Axminster

  Posted: 31.07.20 at 13:42 by Philip Evans

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There’s an old joke about “nostalgia not being what it is used to be.” Well, it’s certainly alive in kicking in Axminster where Nub News’ 'Moulding’s Memories' column is going down a storm.

Last year I attended Axminster Rotary Club’s annual Christmas lunch, as I have done for many years, where former mayor Andrew Moulding was the guest speaker.

Born and bred in Axminster, Andrew chose to tell a few tales about his home town and some of the characters he had come across in a lifetime of service to the community he loves so much.It was hugely entertaining and amusing and I remember thinking that if I had a newspaper in Axminster I would get Andrew to write a regular column.

When – out of the blue – I met up with Nub News founder Karl Hancock and agreed to provide editorial for his Axminster and Seaton sites, I immediately thought of Andrew and approached him about recording some of his wonderful memories.

For his first three columns Andrew has concentrated on a walk around the streets of Axminster recalling what the town was like during his growing up years in the 1950s. They make fascinating reading especially for those who have lived their whole life in Axminster and seen the many changes and challenges the town has had to deal with in the last 50 years.

Andrew is a natural story teller and I have already suggested to him that we should turn it into a book when his memory is finally exhausted.

Trinity Square in Axminster Market where the weekly cattle market was held in the early 1900s.

His latest column in which he mentions the days of Axminster Cattle Market and it’s ebullient owner, Frank Rowe, was of particular interest to me and brought many memories flooding back when I was a wet-behind-the-ears cub reporter.

Axminster was part of my patch when I started my long career in journalism as a district reporter for the Exeter-based Express & Echo covering the Axminster and Honiton areas in the mid-sixties.

After completing my indentures (as they were known in those days), I joined the Somerset County Gazette series and helped to launch the Axminster News, now long gone, and then I succeeded the great Wally Fellender, one of my journalistic heroes who covered Axminster and Lyme through the war years before retiring in the early 1970s for Pulman's Weekly News.

In those days Pulman's was the bible and t was quite an act to follow, I can tell you, as for Wally it was a seven-day a week job. He was a reporter of the old school and was so well respected that at meetings of Axminster Rural District Council the chairman, the much lauded Donald Baker from Colyton, would often lean over to the press bench and say: “And what do you think Mr Fellender”? And Wally wasn’t slow in coming forward in giving his own personal view on whatever the council was discussing.

I can’t think that any local council today would ever think of asking a reporter for an opinion. Most of them try to stifle debate rather than encourage it.

But back to Andrew’s latest stroll through town. He wrote about the Thursday cattle market and about market owner Frank Rowe getting up to all sorts of nonsense including on many occasions trying to sell a cow or a calf to an unsuspecting holidaymaking getting a taste of country life.

When I started out reporting I was a bit in awe of Frank Rowe. He was really “Mr Axminster” in all respects with a finger in many pies, none more so than Axminster Carnival. He always insisted that when referring to Axminster Carnival I always had to add the words “Best In The West” which clearly it wasn’t.

But the longer I knew Frank the more I came to admire his sheer energy and got used to his leg- pulling and sense of fun.

One of my favourite reporting jobs was covering the annual Christmas Fatstock Show. For me, it heralded the start of Christmas and for Axminster and district’s farming community it was a day to come into town and really get in the festive spirit.

Living in Lyme Regis, I never really considered myself as a “country boy” so I was more than wary when I had to clamber into the main show ring to interview the farmer who had exhibited the Champion Beast. I could see Frank stood on the outskirts of the ring, ruddy face as usual, giggling away.

For every question I put to the award-winning farmer he would only answer “yes” or “no”, as instructed by Frank I reckon. And when the animal started piddling down my leg, the farmer pretended not to notice by which time Frank was in fits.

I was left to scramble back to the market office (now Cinnamons Indian restaurant) to nurse my embarrassment and dry my trousers on the paraffin heater whilst typing out the fatstock show results in my underpants.

On market days the gentlemen farmers would retire to the George Hotel for a posh silver service lunch whilst the farm hands would spend the rest of the day in the Axminster Inn before making their way back to their farms oblivious to any other vehicles on the road. This was before the drink-driving laws came into being.

How good it is to see The George back to somewhere near its glorious self, albeit in a less formal age.

These memories were stirred by reading Andrew’s latest epistle and I for one can’t wait for the next one when his stroll finally makes it into Trinity Square, the focal point of so much Axminster history.

THIS SPORTING LIFE …

Those long sunny days incarcerated in our gardens as our globe was subjected to the most deadly pandemic one could imagine, thinking of better times when the cricket season would be upon us. How far off they seem now.

Cricket, lovely cricket, is back, a little late this year but nonetheless, the sound of leather on willow can be heard once again on the playing fields of our towns and villages in and around the Axe Valley.

And what happens, after all that waiting, the heavens open up after a few overs and the first games of the new Devon mini-leagues fall foul to the great British summer.

Some of my happiest days in sport were spent on the cricket wickets of Devon and Dorset. I was not a great player but I made friendships which have lasted the test of time.

I was fortunate to witness a fabulous batting performance at my old club, Uplyme, on Saturday afternoon where cousins Tyler Wellman and Steve Batey put on a third-wicket stand of 177, Tyler hitting his 100th run off the last ball of the match. It was real Boys Own stuff.

Tomorrow I shall be popping over to Cloakham Lawn to see Uplyme and old foes Axminster battle it out.

I once shared in a 100-plus stand – 116 to be precise -on the old North Street wicket at Axminster where a very young George Barlow scored his first century. I scratched around for those extra 16 runs but I like to think I kept my end up so George could experience something I never did – scoring a century!

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