A Good Reade!

A Good Reade! Memoirs of a Wiltshire Life
by F E Pete Reade

Pete Reade was born in 1923 in Henley-on-Thames. At the age of five Pete and his family moved to Avebury. In 2003, in celebration of Pete's 80th birthday, he published a little book called A Good Reade! Memoirs of a Wiltshire Life. The book contains some interesting and evocative descriptions of Avebury as it was in the first part of the twentieth century, and of Pete's life there (he went to school in Avebury, played on and around Silbury Hill, and worked for a while with Alexander Keiller during the latter’s restoration of the Avebury World Heritage Site). Sadly Pete died in April of this year and, as it would be a pity to see Pete's recollections of his life in Avebury go more-or-less unnoticed, the following is the first of a few short extracts from Pete's book - reproduced here by kind permission of his family.

A Good Reade! Extract I

"I was born on January 30th 1923 at Langham Villa (now Langham House Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire... I left Henley in 1928 when I was five years old, so do not remember too much about my life there, but have always had an affection for it and for several years went back there during regatta week... We moved from Henley to Avebury in Wiltshire. My father had obtained a position as Chauffer/Mechanic to Mr H Blagrave, millionaire racehorse owner and trainer at the Grange at Beckhampton which was the next village to Avebury... We had some good neighbours at Avebury and I enjoyed going into the village school along with my many playmates. We had to go about a mile to school across the fields and passing over the River Kennet, which at that time had plenty of water in it. I can remember the traction engines stopping at the bridge on the main road and filling their boilers up with water. During the summer holidays we used to help in the harvest fields and at the end of the day we would argue over who was going to ride on the horses back to the stables. I have spent many happy ours playing in and around the barns at Avebury, and to think that now one has to pay money to go in the great barn there, where I once spent so much time along with my pals."

Extract II

"My Mother took in lodgers occasionally to augment my father's earnings, very often stable lads who were working for Fred Darling the race horse trainer also at Beckhampton... Fred Darling used to give a gigantic firework display on November 5th. He would hold it on a high mound on the site of "Folly Hill", the hill between Avebury and Beckhampton. A great bonfire would be built on top of the mound, around a barrel of tar - but first a great firework display would take place and then the fire would be lit and there would be roast potatoes and chestnuts to be had in plenty. It was always one of the highlights of the year and I should think everyone in all the local villages were there...

"The house we lived in at Avebury was one of a group of eight situated on the main road midway between Avebury and Beckhampton,* what we called "Little Avebury". It is now called "Avebury-Trusloe", probably after Trusloe Manor. The houses stood on a high bank and had a wonderful view of Silbury Hill, another of our favourite play areas, about a mile walk alongside the river Kennet.** We would take our bicycles to the top of Silbury Hill and ride them down the footpath which wound its way down the south side of the hill. On the north side the grass would grow quite long and we would gather up several strands of grass in each hand, tie them together to form loops from top to bottom, then slide down the hill on our backsides, going through each loop in turn...

"My father would sometimes bring home an old tyre from off the horse-box, and we would curled up inside it and roll down the hill outside our houses. It's a wonder we weren't seriously injured, but then there wasn't much traffic on the roads in those days, and we didn't see much danger anyway."

* This would be one of the houses in the row where Mrs and Mrs Dixon now run their B&B.
** Pete refers to this river as the Kennet but which is now (and then?) known as the Winterbourne.

Extract III

"My mother started working in the local pub, which was the Red Lion Hotel, whilst my sister, who was ten years older than me, looked after me in the evenings until my mother came home from work... We had no running water in the houses at Avebury, there was a standpipe situated central to all the houses, and we had to fill buckets and other receptacles from it. The toilet was a bucket closet at the back of the house, and every so often the bucket would have to be emptied into a hole dug in the garden... The Red Lion Hotel where my mother worked had a large room at the rear with a small stage, and it was often used for dances, at which mother often sang, and so became quite a local celebrity...

"The school at Avebury was very small by to-days standards. I recall it consisted of one large room divided into sections by the use of large screens. Sections could be made larger or smaller, depending on the number of pupils in each class... Opposite the school was the lych-gate leading to St James Church, these are roofed gateways originally used for biers (carrying coffins) to rest before the burial in the graveyard. Further on past the Church was the Elizabethan Manor House. It is now owned by the national Trust, but in my day, owned and lived in by Colonel Jenner who had children around our age and many of us were allowed in there at times to play with them. On St George's day a fete would be held in the grounds with dancing around the May-pole. A pageant would be staged depicting St George slaying the Dragon.

"Starting from the school again, (it is now a social centre serving three villages - a new school having been built on what was the old playground) and going down the street in a westerly direction, there was Caswells the bakers, opposite was a small grocery shop. On down the street, we passed several large houses, one of which was the old vicarage. As the road turned sharply right, the building on the left hand corner was the village smithy. I recall many fascinating moments watching Doug Paradise the Smith shoeing horses, and also putting iron tyres on cartwheels."

The Avebury Museum (that never was)

Avebury does have a museum (actually it has two) the Alexander Keiller Museum and the 17th century threshing barn – both located behind the National Trust restaurant and shop. The Alexander Keiller Museum is a one-room ‘gallery’ housed in a former stable block and displaying, in old-fashioned cases lining its four rather cramped walls, a collection of finds from the Avebury area. The National Trust website describes this as the ‘stables galleries’. I must have missed the ‘other’ galleries because I came away with the distinct impression of a cramped, poorly-lit single room hardly big enough to accommodate ten schoolchildren let alone twenty adults at any one time. Mind, given the admission fee and a glance of the exhibits inside that you’d be getting for your money, twenty people in there at any one time is probably wishful thinking. By contrast, the threshing barn is an agricultural ‘cathedral’ of impressive dimensions; pity then that there’s practically nothing in it and you’re likely to freeze to death in the winter while attempting to engage in some of the rather dated ’interactive activities’ provided there.

So what’s gone wrong at Avebury? Avebury, that great megalithic masterpiece set, perhaps, in what was once the centre of the Neolithic heartland of the country, has little to show for itself (museum-wise) in presenting to the public all that that heartland meant and produced other than a one-room ‘gallery’ and an oversized, containing-nothing-very-much, threshing barn. Of course there is the Wiltshire Heritage Museum at Devizes, some eight or nine miles from Avebury itself. The Wiltshire Heritage Museum is an excellent museum with an excellent library, and a small but dedicated staff; all, however, in the wrong place. Wrong place why? Because out of the thousands of people, from all over the world, who visit Avebury each year you have to ask yourself how many of them have the time, or are likely to take the trouble, to go to Devizes and avail themselves of the facilities offered at the museum there. The Wiltshire Heritage Museum has much to offer but it is blatantly in the wrong place. It should be in Avebury, not in the stable block (too small) and not in the threshing barn (too big and too drafty). So where then?

The Avebury Museum (that never was)
Rawlin’s (Bonds) Garage and Roadhouse circa 1945

A couple of years ago the answer would have been simple. The old Bonds Garage (formerly Rawlin’s Garage) just outside the north-east sector of the Avebury Henge would have made for the perfect Avebury Museum. Commissioned by Alexander Keiller, the Bonds Garage was actually a 1930s Art Deco building. The building had a certain charm about it, and on closer inspection one could see the ‘Egyptian’ Art Deco elements incorporated into its fa├žade. This Art Deco building even looked like a museum, and with a little creative thinking it could also have functioned as a reference library and an information centre, and would have provided views of both the Avebury Henge and Windmill Hill from its upper stories. A path leading to the north-east quadrant of the circle might also have been laid, facilitating access to that part of this World Heritage Site. With plenty of parking space, and only a very short walk to the Henge itself, it would have been ideal for a roomy, well-situated Avebury Museum. Not any more though. After much opposition from the likes of the late Lord Kennet, Heritage Action and others, the building was demolished two years ago to make room for a new housing development (yes, a new housing development, just metres away from the north-east bank of the Avebury Henge!). As far as I know, neither English Heritage nor the National Trust ever opposed the demolition of Bonds Garage; their objections, for what they were worth, centred on the redevelopment of the site for five new houses.

How sad, how short-sighted, how selfish. Bonds Garage was not only an Art Deco building with a unique history (tied to Alexander Keiller who did so much for Avebury) but also sad for the loss of a great opportunity. While English Heritage, The National Trust and others stood by and said little or nothing this building was reduced to rubble when it could have been a shining example of forward thinking, civic pride and a place of national and international learning.

See following for a detailed discussion of what went wrong with the planning application at the Bonds Garage Site - http://northstoke.blogspot.com/2009/01/bond-garage-and-repercussions.html

Excess Baggage

First broadcast in August of this year, “Sandi Toksvig takes listener Sonia Mabberley's advice and travels on the 49 Bus route from Swindon to Devizes on market day calling at Avebury on the way.” Before leaving Swindon, however, Sonia draws Sandi’s attention to one of Ken White’s murals on the side of a terrace house.*

“Ken White is one of Britain's [and certainly one of Wiltshire’s] most successful artists. Perhaps best known for his murals that are sited all over the world in all sorts of different locations, exterior and interior works, to date he has painted over 100 murals. He was also for many years the personal artist for Virgin Boss Richard Branson and has completed works for him in many Virgin establishments throughout the world, including record shops, hotels and airport lounges. With the launch of Virgin Atlantic in June 1984, Ken produced what is probably his most well-known work - the 'Scarlet Lady' emblem which features on all the airline's aircraft.

“A man of undeniable talent and vision, he has also composed several collections of paintings that are widely varied in their inspiration. These include the railway yards where he worked as a child and Ancient Egypt, with his Akhenaten series.”

The Long Way Home by Ken White

Ken’s current exhibition is at the Panter & Hall Galleries in Mayfair; on show are paintings with instantly recognizable Wiltshire backgrounds. The exhibition runs through to 12 November 2010. See -


Ken’s website is at - http://www.kenwhitemurals.co.uk/home.html

* http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00vr5bb/Excess_Baggage_06_11_2010/