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."