Research note by Gerald Arthur Copyright
First published in ‘A Millennium Miscellany’ in 2000 by Stroud Local History Society
Reminiscing one day, a friend remarked that when we were boys (60 years or more ago), you were somebody if you owned a bicycle. It made me realise that I was one of the lucky ones, and that many of my boyhood adventures would not have been possible without my bike.
At the age of 9 years, I learned to ride on a second-hand bike – single-speed with rod brakes – purchased from a neighbour’s son who had outgrown it. I gained confidence and experience from riding around Moseley Crescent at Cashes Green where I lived, the centre of which was then a circle of grass surrounded by iron railings. In the group of boys I played with, two or three others owned bikes. The others begged and bargained for rides, sometimes offering sweets or cigarette cards or other treasures in exchange. We
organised races, which might either be fast or slow ones. In the latter, fixed wheels were an advantage, and rules were introduced that there must be forward movement. Fast races were somewhat hazardous, as there was often loose grit on the bends which sent us sprawling and resulted in numerous grazes on arms and knees.
The bike was our passport to adventure and travel around the area. News of local disasters spread quickly, and we rode to witness the fires at Stonehouse Methodist Church and the Bentley Plano Works at Woodchester in 1938. Informal football matches were arranged, usually through relatives, against other local village teams such as Paganhill, Ebley, Randwick, Thrupp or Nailsworth, and we cycled to all these venues.
At the age of 12 years, I became the proud owner of a brand new Raleigh with drop handlebars and cable brakes. This was a birthday gift from my parents, and a reward for having passed the Eleven Plus Scholarship examination to Marling School. It was purchased from T. G. Hall at the top of Gloucester Street in Stroud. After the first year at Marling, having passed an inspection and cycling proficiency test, I was issued with a numbered triangular brass plate, which was fitted to the front spindle, and I was then allowed to cycle to school. One morning as I was on my way to school, pedalling nonchalantly along the Cainscross Road – no-hands style – a loud, deep voice boomed out behind me: “Put your hands on the handlebars!” Shocked, I responded, and turned to see PC Winfield in the police Ford V8 Pilot, using his loudspeaker.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, we lost our football playing field in Moseley Road (Cashes Green), as this became a site for air-raid shelters. As boys will, we soon found another amusement. The shelters were dug deep but were never roofed over. The clay soil retained any rainfall, and very soon filled up with water, so that we were able to paddle around on rafts made from pieces of wood and galvanised sheeting taken from the supporting structure. Many a pirate battle took place, resulting in some severe soakings.
Handsworth Grammar School shared the Marling premises, so we only studied in the mornings, and did sport or PE on some afternoons. We often cycled to Aston Down and occasionally to South Cerney aerodromes to watch aircraft taking off and landing: initially biplanes, later Harvards and Oxfords and finally Hurricanes and Spitfires. Many aircraft crashed locally, and the word would soon spread around. We would get together and cycle off to see the wreckage and collect scraps of debris. I particularly remember the Hurricane and JU88 at Oakridge, the Harvard at Grange Fields and, later, the jet on Minchinhampton Common. We also cycled to inspect the bomb crater on Selsley Common, and the bomb damage at Haresfield, which was a decoy airfield.
Our bikes were important for train spotting activities, either to get to Cashes Green halt quickly when trains were due, or to travel to other spotting sites, which included the gap between the Sapperton tunnels, Stonehouse (where the GWR and LMS lines coincided) and Gloucester. At Cashes Green, express trains passed through regularly, with engines being shedded at Gloucester and Swindon. The Swindon engines usually headed the early down train and then later headed the up train back. The Gloucester-shedded
locomotives headed the early up trains then later headed the down trains. Sundays were rather special, as there were unusual engines to be seen, because trains to and from Wales were routed through Stroud, whilst the Severn Tunnel was closed for maintenance. In May 1940, a number of trains passed through Stroud with all the blinds of the coaches down, carrying the survivors of Dunkirk. After the raids on Gloucester and Cheltenham, we saw the damaged coaches pass through on their way to Swindon for repair. By cycling to Gloucester Central Station and purchasing platform tickets, we were able to talk to the drivers and firemen of the locomotives. If we asked for their autographs, we were often invited onto the footplate. Sometimes, the locomotive would be detailed to move, and we would then get a ride to another part of the platform.
Progressing through Marling School, at the age of fourteen, we volunteered to do war work in the community: we helped to sort the mail at Christmas in the Stroud Post Office; on two occasions we helped to issued new ration books – once in Stroud Town Hall and once in the Baptist Chapel in Union Street. In the spring, we cycled to work at King’s farm in Forest Green, planting potatoes. Because of the contour of the hill and the size of the field, we
could not see the ends of the rows, which was very daunting! In the autumn, we cycled back to pick up the potatoes after the machine had unearthed them – back-aching work! On the last day, it started to rain and, on the way home, my brakes failed coming down Star Hill. In trying to turn off the hill onto a side road, I failed to make it and careered across the green which, unfortunately, had slit trenches dug across it, and I crashed. I was concussed, and my friend helped me to a nearby cottage, where they patched me up. Leaving our bikes there, we caught the bus home from Dunkirk.
During the summer, we cycled to various farms around the district, stooking the sheaves and, later, loading them onto the wagons for threshing. One farmer advised us to keep our shirts on and our sleeves down: it was very hot and, being headstrong, young and foolish, we ignored this and stripped off. We lived to regret it, as our chests and arms soon became raw. Sometimes, we had the opportunity to drive the tractor, and there was keen competition for this. The farmer’s wife brought out food and cold tea or cider to drink. I
remember one occasion at Stevens’ farm at Bisley, when we were hoisting bales of straw into the big bam: the work was almost completed when a bale fell onto the workers below, and the whole job degenerated into a good-natured fight, with bales being thrown around, thus undoing all the work that had been achieved!
Boys will be boys! We were given a different job the next day …
In 1941, I became paper-boy for F H Smith at Cainscross. Delivery of the papers was usually completed in the morning before school. As the bombing of London increased, the papers were often very late arriving at Stroud, so they had to be delivered after school, much to the annoyance of the customers.
Whilst still only fourteen, I joined the Whiteshill Home Guard, and I used my bike to travel to parades at Randwick mid-week and Sundays at Whiteshill. In September 1942, I took part in an all-night manoeuvre which finished on the Sunday morning. In the afternoon, I cycled to Lower Swell (near Stow-on-the- Wold) to join a school harvest camp, the other members of which had travelled up by train with their bikes, on the Saturday. We slept in the village hall on straw palliasses. Towards the end of the week, a tragedy occurred
when one of the lads died after being in collision on his cycle with a motor vehicle. (Only recently, I saw his grave in the churchyard at Shortwood.) The camp was closed down, and we all went home.
In the summer of 1942, my friend and I cycled to Weston-Super-Mare. Arriving mid-afternoon, we were puzzled to find the place seemingly deserted. On reaching the centre, we were stopped by the police and informed that there was an air-raid warning on, and we were directed to a shelter. One day, on the spur of the moment, the same friend and I decided to cycle to Birmingham to visit my grandmother. There being no signposts and no map, we found the way by asking for directions, and we eventually reached her house.
After refreshments and a rest, we started on the return journey. Hours later, we approached Brockworth and wearily pushed our bikes up the long winding hill towards Cranham. Unknown to us, an air raid was expected, and along the sides of the road were barrels of burning tar giving off dense smoke. We arrived home at Cashes Green at about 3.30am, exhausted and hungry, much to the relief of our parents … In retrospect, I am amazed that we found our way there and back.
In early Spring, we would cycle down to Newent and return with bunches of daffodils tied to the bike on every available space. Along the way, we would offer the daffodils for sale, retaining some for our families at home. Sometimes we cycled down the canal to fish – our catches were mainly gudgeon. On one occasion whilst cycling along the towpath, I was too close to a gate which opened towards me: while ,backing on my bike to open it, the back wheel went over the edge and I finished up in the canal. Fortunately, the water was shallow at that point, and I was able to scramble out.
When our bikes needed repairs or new parts, we would visit Mr. Tindall in Ebley. We climbed the steps to his workshop, and received friendly advice and good service.
All these adventures came to an end at Easter 1943, when I left school and started work at Redlers as an engineering apprentice.
A research note from the SLHS digital archive added Aug 2014. Copyright