Hanging about on The Minster Green - nothing much changes in Axminster

  Posted: 08.09.20 at 15:49 by Philip Evans

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My final tour around the streets of Axminster in the 1950s (Part 5).Please put me right, where my memory fails me!

In the 1950s the Police Station and Courthouse were located in Church Street. I remember Sergeant Bland, Sergeant Les Knight, and constables such as Dave Gove, Clifford Cousins, Michael O’Flaherty and others. These were real “community” policemen.

A family friend followed his education at Lyme Regis Grammar School, by gaining entry to the Sandhurst Academy to train as a soldier.

Following his passing out at Sandhurst, he had returned to Axminster and celebrated with his friends, by having far more beers than he should have done. He was also trying to drive home, when he was discovered by Sergeant Bertie Bland, who restrained him from driving and as a true community sergeant said that he would drive him home.

What happened next was that my friend “threw up” in the back of the police car – not to be recommended!

If Sergeant Bland had arrested and charged him – that would probably have been the end of his army career, before it had even started. But as a real community policeman, Bertie Bland ensured that our friend came around to the Police Station the following morning and thoroughly cleaned out the car – and that was the end of the story.

Regulars of the Axminster Inn – outside Stuart’s Butchers - Frank Rowe, Martin Bright, Lionel and Beryl Stuart, and Cecil Chaffey

I have another story about this same family friend who was boyfriend to my sister for some while. He was a prefect at Lyme Grammar School where prefects had tassels sewn in to the back of their caps. He was in our kitchen one evening, telling us about another prefect who had misbehaved at school with a younger female student and was being relieved of his position.

My mother was with us and didn’t know that prefects at Lyme Grammar School had caps with tassels fixed to them. Our friend told us about this prefect and came out with “and do you know, Mrs Moulding – they cut his tassels off!” After our friend left, my mother said that she just could not believe that Lyme Regis Grammar School should be quite so drastic with their prefects!

Alongside the Old Courthouse was the Western Hotel, which I remember far better as the Cavalier under Norman and Hazel Kitchen.

Coming back up Church Street and on the junction with Silver Street, we have the Axminster Inn, which in the fifties was run by Bill Stuart (senior), followed by his son Lionel. They served Palmer’s Beer – not to everyone’s taste, but for me, there is nothing better than a pint of Palmer’s IPA.

Lionel was an excellent host, with a gruff voice and dry sense of humour, ably assisted behind the bar by his wife Beryl and May Tratt, who lived in South Street, adjacent to the butcher’s shop.

he Western Hotel on the left – looking down West Street towards the railway station

Beryl Stuart was formerly Beryl Moulding, daughter of Uncle Bob, and it was quite a coincidence that she married Lionel Stuart and within a very short time, my mother became Beryl Moulding after marrying my father – so the family “lost” one Beryl Moulding and “gained” another one!

There was always plenty of nonsense going on in the Axminster Inn with the likes of Ted Davis, Martin Bright and Frank Rowe on market days. Often, there would be a wager with pub regulars placing bets on the bar for some obscure challenge.

There was a particular instance when a certain ne’er do well was drinking in the pub and was persuaded to take on Martin Bright. They would both take off all their clothes, go out the front door of the bar naked and re-enter by the back door. The regulars had all put their money on the bar – winner takes all!

At the off, Martin was having trouble with braces, etc. The challenger was naked in no time and out the front door he went. Lionel then locked the front door – AND the back door – and there was the ne’er do well, outside the Axminster Inn, naked for all to see. He was let back in after about five minutes, but mysteriously all the money had been removed from the bar!

I remember some small shops in Silver Street, opposite the Axminster Inn. One was a sweet shop run by Mrs Cutting, which eventually became a TV sales and repair shop under the ownership of Michael Croton and his wife.

The Drill Hall in Silver Street in the 1950s (formerly Axminster Carpet Factory) now the Axminster Heritage Museum

Further along Silver Street, we come to the Law Chambers on the north side – the first Axminster Carpet factory was reputably sited behind this building by Thomas Whitty. The building is now occupied by the solicitors Beviss and Beckingsale, initiated by John Beviss and Bruce Beckingsale, whose successors are still operating as lawyers in the town.

Some years later, a fire in an adjoining building destroyed the original Axminster Carpet Factory and a new factory was built on the adjacent site in Silver Street, now occupied by the Axminster Heritage Centre. Following the closure of the carpet business in the early 19th century, the building was used as the town’s first cottage hospital and in war-time by the Home Guard as their headquarters and Drill Hall.

My grandfather was the sergeant major of the Home Guard and hence my grandparents lived above the Drill Hall for a short while. In the fifties, I remember the Drill Hall being used for entertainment and events, not least during Carnival Week.

Opposite the Drill Hall in Silver Street was the Axminster Vicarage, which until recently was occupied by Abbeyfield. This was the home for the Vicar of Axminster, until a new vicarage was built in the 1960s, in part of the vicarage garden, with a frontage onto Church Street.

When I was a young teenager in the fifties, the Vicar was the Reverend Noel Cary Potter, whose daughter Juliette was in the same class as me at school. The Reverend Noel and his wife would often enjoy weekends away, leaving Juliette in charge. This was an opportunity for Juliette to hold excellent parties at the vicarage, which proved to be extremely popular.

Juliette led a full life until sadly she passed away in 2012, having made a name for herself in the world of motor racing. In 1978, she became the first female to take part in the Le Mans Sports Car Race since 1951.

Next door to the Drill Hall in Silver Street was, and still is, the Conservative Club, where I used to enjoy a game of snooker with my grandfather. The Conservative Club acquired an adjacent building in recent years which was the Old Register Office, with an attractive early gothic style frontage. Following its use as a Register Office, my friend Dave Swarbrick ran an antiques business from this building.

Next to the old Register Office was another solicitors, who were then known as William Forward, Son, Donnithorne and Milford, a name which personified the legal role they held. The firm is now known as Milford and Dormor.

I remember business dealings, with Maurice Milford, a lovely man whose office was huge, with a massive table, at least 20 feet long, always covered in legal documents and papers but I’m sure Mr Milford knew where everything was.

In more recent years, I have learnt that Maurice Milford’s enormous office was formerly the meeting room for Freemasonry in Axminster, where masonic symbols are depicted above the magnificent fireplace in that room.

Stretching around the corner from Forward’s solicitors was Lloyds Bank, then run in the traditional style. I’m not sure who was bank manager in the fifties, but my first bank manager there was Philip Duckett, who sadly took his own life by hanging himself in one of the outbuildings in the rear garden of the bank.

Philip was a kindly man, who undertook to be honorary treasurer for many organisations in the town. I don’t believe anyone will ever know why he took his own life, other than that his commitments had “got on top of him”!

My father Tim, lived in the centre of the town and had no significant garden in his home at that time. Philip Duckett had given him permission to use the garden at the rear of the bank as his allotment, which he loved. Sadly, it was in the shed where my father kept his garden tools that Philip had hung himself.

Alongside the bank was the office of R&C Snell, where Frank Rowe ruled the roost. Frank was another business man whose office was strewn with paper and boxes – but Frank knew where everything was kept. Frank ruffled a few feathers in his time, but was an extremely kind man. People never knew what Frank achieved behind the scenes.

Frank was Lord of the Manor, a title now passed down to his son Jim, and the Thursday street market, overseen by the Lord of the Manor, is still a popular feature on Thursdays.

We next stop at the New Commercial, another opportunity for a pint of Palmer’s beer. There is a fantastic cellar beneath the Commercial, which keeps cool all year round – hence the barrels of beer always produced a lovely cool, clear pint. It was originally called Moass’s New Commercial as a Mr Moass owned the premises, which accommodated commercial travellers who traded in the town.

Adjacent to the New Commercial was Gill’s café and bakery. All the bread, buns, cakes, etc were baked in the bakery in Chard Road and trundled down the road to the shop in the Square. Behind the cake shop was Gill’s café – a café during the day and a popular function room in the evening. The walls of the function room were decorated throughout by paintings of local scenes, demonstrating the artistic prowess of Mr William Gill.

There was (and still is) a sweet shop alongside, which for many years was run by Mr Jack Gill, followed by (Sergeant) Les Knight and then Angie Prior. It has always been a joy to pick a sweet jar off the shelf and watch Jack, Les or Angie pour the sweets into the bag. I am pleased that the recent proprietor operates the system in just the same way.

To complete my tour of the town, we come to Llewellyn’s chemists, run by Jim Llewellyn, followed by his son Gwyn, before the business was transferred to Ian Morton. I went to school with Jim Llewellyn’s sons, who were older than me. They were all musicians, skills which they had inherited from Jim who was a fine violinist. Behind the counter in the chemists shop, I remember Miss Vera Connett, always able to give good advice.

In the Square, I also remember Pike’s accountants and Gilbert Love’s hairdressers. Christopher Love learned his trade as a hairdresser with his father, but had a “love” for antiques and opened the “Old Curiosity Shop” in South Street, some years later.

I cannot complete my tour of Axminster without having a further glance, across the square, taking in the 1887 Jubilee Fountain and being amazed by the vista of Axminster Church. I was confirmed in St Mary’s Church in the fifties and attended Sunday School for several years.

I love the Minster Green, where people gather on Market Days and where teenagers “hang-out” in the evening. We are probably critical of these young people today, but what would I have been doing on summer evenings as a teenager in Axminster? You’ve guessed it – I would have been “hanging-out” on the Minster Green.

Nothing’s changed!


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