ORAL HISTORY PROJECT – BRIXHAM HERITAGE MUSEUM
TRANSCRIPTION OF RECORDING OF MRS GILDER (SG) OF BRIXHAM
GIVING HER RECOLLECTIONS
RECORDED BY MRS A MORGAN (AM) [BRIXHAM HERITAGE MUSEUM]
16TH MARCH 2005
AM If you would like to make a start.
Well my parents are both real Brixham, family tree goes back to 1600 and something, my father was born in 1879 and my mother in 1880. My grandmother, his mother, is 1853.
AM That’s amazing isn’t it. What was your Maiden name?
AM Tyrer – how do you spell it?
SG Tyrer. It’s a fairly unusual name, but there were some in Liverpool but we don’t really know much. Somebody remarked to my mother (called Tarley?) - you tar? anybody (laughter). They both grew up in Brixham. My father went to America in a sailing ship when he was six weeks old, so goodness knows how he survived that. (AM – oh yes, amazing). But he survived. There were eight of them in his family, and they seem to be dotted about. There were twins and one died and was buried in Malta. Four of them survived, two girls and my father and another brother, the twin.
AM And they were born in Brixham were they all the family?
SG Yes. And I don’t know where exactly my father was born. My mother was born in Waterloo House, that’s opposite the Coastguard station (stands back from the road) and there were seven of them, five girls, two boys, one boy died on his first voyage at sea. He had yellow fever.
AM What was your mother’s Maiden name?
SG Dugdall, I can’t find anything much about the Dugdalls.
AM It’s still a well-known family in the area isn’t it because you sometimes see it mentioned in the papers?
SG There aren’t any around.
AM There aren’t?
SG No. Stanley Churchill, that business, you know the estate agents, that was originally my grandfather’s business. He was a registrar of births, deaths and marriages, and apparently he sold houses, and he was an auctioneer on the quay as well. And I don’t know an awful lot about them, but obviously my parents remained in Brixham. (AM – no)
AM So when your father went to America how long did he go for?
SG Well he just went on a voyage. When they left this country you never knew when they were coming back. (AM – no). But this is terrible for a baby, six weeks old, on a sailing ship.
AM I suppose people were much more intrepid in those days.
SG Yes they were tough, really. If Grandma was on another voyage, she’d make her way to somewhere in Spain to wait for Grandfather, she’d get there, and I mean it’s most amazing.
AM So whereever your Grandfather was sailing to she would try and get there to meet him?
SG Yes if she didn’t go with him, she’d probably meet him. But they were quite callous with their children. My father was out at Belstone on the Moors for a long time, living and being educated. You know they were really quite callous I think, to children.
AM That’s amazing isn’t it. So did you have relatives out at Belstone?
SG No. I think this was the village school or something. It was when he was quite young. He couldn’t have minded it because we used to go back and see where he lived and the schoolmistress when I was quite a child. My mother went to some local school I think. She did. Some of her sisters went away to school.
AM What age was she when she left school?
SG I don’t know. Then she worked at the Post Office when she left school. She was a Civil Servant.
AM Yes that was quite a respectable job for a nice brought-up lady! Where was the Post Office then?
SG Where was it? When I remember it. Do you know the Methodist Church, it was next door to that, the vegetable shop, that side (AM Yes I know Stokes), then it moved to where the undertaker is, then it went back Fore St, but there were quite a few friends who all knew each other in the Post Office. My father was a grocer, he wasn’t in good health. I think it was probably due to Granny, his mother, but she got fed up with Grandfather having shipwrecks, it was only my thinking that she got him to go into business and come ashore, because once when she was with him she had a baby washed off her lap, in the wheelhouse.
AM And what happened to the baby, did it drown?
SG Yes, Grandfather and another man were washed overboard but of course they could help themselves, and hang on, but the baby was lost (it was terrible). But apparently she had been through a fortune teller who said if you take a baby away with you, you won’t bring him back. I’m surprised that she went!
AM Can you remember the names of any of the ships that your Grandfather sailed on?
SG Yes, a lot of houses, they used to call the houses when they came ashore. Roxborough up Victoria Hill (AM Yes I’ve seen that), that one, my father grew up there, there’s only a tiny bit left of the original they built all around it, I’ve got a photo of that somewhere. Our house was Rothiemay Castle. They were all Castles, Union Castle line, and you know they came ashore and called their houses after their ships.
AM It’s nice to have the link between the sea and the land, it was very interesting. I think it’s extraordinary losing a baby like that.
SG Like I said, they were callous and there were plenty more where that came from (laughter). (AM I suppose they were weren’t they.) If my parents were away abroad with friends, “oh you’re always looking for someone’s grave somewhere”! (laughter)
AM So when your father finished his education in Belstone did he come back to Brixham then?
SG Yes, mind I shouldn’t think he remained with Belstone the whole time. Somebody told me he went to Lauriston Hall, the school in Torquay.
AM Is the school still there?
SG No. I never heard him mention it. As I say, Granny (interruption) .. you know. Another time he was run down. They were in sail then Grandpa went into steam, Granny said she felt she’d lost all her dignity when they went into steam. When he was in steam, a most unusual thing, he was run down by sail. You know the rule is steam keeps out of the way of sail. There was a big lawsuit up in London and the sail was in the wrong. We had all the details but unfortunately one of my brothers lent it to somebody, he couldn’t remember who he lent it to and it has been lost. (AM What a pity.) I’ll try to get my niece to find out. I know roughly the date, there will have been something in the newspapers I suppose.
AM Roughly what date will it have been do you think, can you remember the name of the sail?
SG Well I’ve got it somewhere. She’s a journalist and she’s in a good position to go poking around but she hasn’t done anything. Well I’ve got something somewhere about it.
AM It certainly sounds the sort of thing that would have been reported in a newspaper, particularly if there was a lawsuit as well.
SG As I say, I presume Granny got the money to buy a business which was, do you know St Peter’s Hill or Sheepy Lane Hill? (AM I don’t but I’ve heard it mentioned.) That’s St Peter’s Hill. (AM Why was it called Sheepy Hill?) Well they sent the sheep down there. (AM Well it’s an obvious thing.) I’ve got a feeling I drove a car down there once. I’m almost certain I drove down there. It was very narrow. This shop was where the Co-op tourist place is. (AM Yes I know.) I’ve got .. there’s a photo of it in… one of Chips Barber’s books, he’s got quite a few things about Brixham. And then my father was sent to Slades in Torquay, who were a very good grocers, to learn his trade. Then when my Grandparents retired he took over. Then he got married about 1903 I think, and he had built three shops opposite. You know there’s rather a nice sort of gift shop (AM Yes) down the front, and then a mucky shop, you know selling holiday stuff. (AM Is the shop you mean Trudi’s, with the double-front, (SG Yes) – it has all sort of foreign carvings and that sort of thing (SG yes better than some of them in Brixham) and then you say there’s the cheaper shop next door isn’t there. SG And then there’s the Pilgrim Restaurant. Well he had the double-front as a grocer, the next one was a chemist and the next one was a bakery and a restaurant and he put managers in all these. It amazes me because he was in very poor health; in fact my mother told me that the doctor said he shouldn’t hear a baby cry. They had three young sons then. It just amazes me that there were very good people who lent him money for all this.
AM Well he must have been a very respectable gentleman, mustn’t he, for people to have a} lent him money and b) to support a chap who wasn’t terribly well.
SG Yes you know I think it’s very good of people and of course everybody knew everybody (AM Yes they did didn’t they. He must have been a very good businessman though to have had help.) SG Yes my husband used to say he must have been very good. He was very keen on Brixham, Brixham needs this you know, because he was involved at the Berry Head Hotel when he retired.
AM How do you mean involved? Did you mean he started it up. SG Yes.
SG It was just vacant, empty you know after Miss Hogg died. First of all, he had a grocery and also a coal business as well. And trains used to come into Brixham with trucks with coal and sacked up. Think of all the work they had to do.
AM He must have employed a lot of people in Brixham?
SG Yes I suppose he did.
AM He must have been a great benefactor to the community in that respect mustn’t he, of course.
SG He used to help the trawlers after the first World War, and I know he couldn’t lend them money because he didn’t have that much, you know helping them with mortgages that sort of thing. They had this coal business, and when he retired from the shop he had an office at the bottom of King St, well I suppose it was where the hairdresser is at the bottom of (Temperance) Steps. We said he kept this office (coal) so he had somewhere to write his letters. But he couldn’t keep still. He had to be getting on with that.. Do you know Breakwater Court, (AM Yes) well that was a field, and he thought what Brixham needs, this would have been in the thirties, Brixham needs a nice café/restaurant, and he got three others, a solicitor, a man from Paignton who had a bakery and a restaurant, and another man from away perhaps he put some money up..I don’t know if he had any particular put into it, and they built a café. There was a nice big room so that they could have dances and things in the evenings. A big piece in front, a garden, but it was summer. (AM How wonderful!) – it was where Breakwater Court is. And that went on for a bit.
AM Is that the place you see sometimes in local history books, that had people walking around and car park and all sorts of activities and things, like fetes?
SG Rather had dances there. (AM Yes dances they had) That sort of thing. And he was most particular that Broxholme, the house the other side of the road, that their view was not blocked. (AM That was very nice of him.)
SG The main building was sort of close to the entrance of Shoalstone. Anyhow it wasn’t a very high building. I don’t know how long that went on. When that was doing well they put that money they made to buy Berry Head House, they made that into a hotel because Brixham needed a hotel. There was the Northcliffe at that time. And I don’t know whether the café went on being a café, but the army had it during the war as a canteen you know and Berry Head was a family hotel, it was difficult to get a licence in those days, but they didn’t want a licence anyhow. It was very difficult to get drink licences during those days (AM Yes) they refurbished it.
AM So what did your mother do all this time, stayed at home and brought up the children?
SG Four brothers. She used to help in the business I think in the early days because they lived over it I suppose.
AM So where do you come in the order of children?
SG The last! (AM So you are the baby!) Yes my youngest brother was six years older than me, the eldest was 12 years older. When the family got a bit big they bought a cottage up at Furzeham, opposite the railway, I don’t know if you might recognise it. It had got a big wide door, solid door at the top of the hill. (AM At the top of Ropewalk Hill? Is it the one next to the school?) Yes, (AM Yes I do know it.)
SG We used to go up there in the summer, a nice big garden, mother used to pay us so much for catching snails. (laughter) And the horse that drew the coal thing, delivered the coal, the horse lived there, used to come in. I said we were the first to have a second homes. (AM It sounds like it doesn’t it)
AM So where the children’s football pitch and that sort of thing, was that still a local space for that sort of thing?
SG Yes it was always a green. But my brothers went to school at Furzeham you know in the early days. One of my brothers took me in once. I was very small. I don’t know just to see what happened so, but I didn’t like it so I had to come back. But we moved out to Berry Head Road and I think I was about three years old but I can remember a long way back, just odd things. Because you know Callaghans went there. (AM Yes) I think my grandfather nearly went to prison over something over there, because he reckoned they weren’t educating the children, and he wouldn’t pay his rates. Anyhow it’s still going strong I think, isn’t it? (AM Yes) They had some characters, some of the headmasters were characters, Spot Smardon, have you heard of him? (AM I have heard of him yes) Well he was more or less my father’s generation. (AM I often wondered why he was called spot) I don’t know. Whether he had a bald spot. He was quite a character. Well he’s got a grand-daughter in Brixham (AM Is that Isobel, Barker, yes I do know Issy Barker).
AM So which school did you end up going to?
SG Well I went. It was called Hillside College when I first went. You know those Saxon Heights (AM Yes) well it was there. The grounds were a bit of a mixture, then it became Parkham Wood School. I didn’t go to school until I was about seven. I don’t know. You walked in, you walked home to lunch, you walked back again. Then I went to Boarding School when I was eleven.
AM Was that a boarding school in Devon?
SG No, Bristol. Badminton, you know, it’s not a very big school, it’s a very good school but it’s not one of the big thousand ones. That was very tough. When I had sort of been the queen at Brixham, then I was nothing (laughter).
AM So were you terribly homesick?
SG We had cold baths every morning at school and ran up the drive before school. I said it was a female Gordounstown really. But it was a very good school but oh you did work hard, you never had a minute to yourself. (AM I think we call it character building) Something like that. I think there were lots of other things, that I would have liked to have been in the choir but I just felt that I haven’t got time, you had to do three quarters of an hour music practice every evening.
AM Did your brothers go to boarding schools?
SG Yes They went to Queens College, Taunton, that’s the Methodist or was a Methodist, because my father was a Methodist. My mother was actually was Church of England but latterly she only went to the Methodist. I think there was some talk of my eldest brother going to the Exeter Cathedral because he had quite a good voice. My grandfather blew up I think because he was a Methodist.
AM So as a family were you church goers?
SG Well we used to go every Sunday more or less, when we were young. You had your own pew or whatever.
AM As a family which church did you go to?
SG The Methodist in Fore Street. I was christened there, I was married there. It used to be full up in those days. It had a very good choir.
AM When you eventually left school, how old were you when you left school?
SG I was 17, just, so actually the last year I had peritonitis in the Easter holidays, and in those days there were no drugs, you had to fight it yourself, I was in hospital for 8 weeks.
AM Is that in Brixham?
SG Yes. I came down for Easter, I missed the summer term entirely. I went back in the autumn just to take the schools certificate, Matric, you know. I just did the bare five, we had to have five subjects you know, Maths, English, Latin or French. I took the bare ones and then worked in the sixth form with the people I had been with before.
AM Do you remember any of the names of the staff at the hospital, any of the doctors?
SG Miss Emsley, she was the Matron. I think there was a nurse Kappler or something. I don’t think they had a very big staff, there was Matron and another Sister, I think, and a couple of staff nurses, and a couple of students. I knew I was worried I thought what am I costing my father all this time? It was four guineas a week. That was quite a lot then. (AM Yes it was, wasn’t it.) Yes because we forget we are so used to the National Health Service we forget before it came into being that everybody had to pay for their own treatment. Well the hospital was ‘voluntary’. But if people couldn’t pay I suppose they were taken in. But I had a private ward, they also did maternity there. I had this pain and the doctor came and told me I had got appendicitis, and the surgeon came from Torquay to look at me. And I went and had the operation that evening at about 8 o’clock.
AM What about anaesthetic? Did you have anything like that?
SG Yes But I had tubes in the stomach, it was quite painful (AM I’m sure). It was funny, another brother of mine, we liked to have an operation to see what it’s like, a funny idea, and we both did and we both had pretty rotten ones because he had much the same thing. He nearly died actually, but we both survived.
AM So what did you both think of your operations after you had them. Was it worth wishing for?
SG I don’t think so. I think M&B had just started then, the drug, there was nothing for me, because I can remember when the hospital was a field as well.
AM When was the hospital built?
SG Around about 1928 perhaps. Yes, probably around about 28. I can remember going to a circus in this field when I was very young, Bronco Bill something was on. Because the old hospital was up Cavern Hill, you know that don’t you. Miss Hogg donated it. Charlie Hellyer gave the new building – he was the husband of my Great Aunt. Grandpa didn’t like him very much. He gave it, had it built, but Brixham had to do the endowment fund you see there was no health service, and they raised about £25,000 or £35,000 as an endowment (AM that’s a lot of money), they worked and they worked. A friend of mine who lived up Manor Road, she gave – they had a biggish house with a billiard room – she gave that up and they had sold clothes to order like, you know, they made and made things and then they had a two-day sale in the Town Hall, the main hall, and I don’t know, I think they must have almost raised it. I can remember, I don’t know how long they were, I can remember my mother working at this lot. Of course they’d get other people to do things.. You know I can remember having some pyjamas that were beastly (laughter).
AM Were you very fashion conscious as a young girl?
SG I don’t know about fashion, but when I was a child I wouldn’t wear things I didn’t like, because mother had made, knitted me a jumper or something, and I threw it on the fire. I know my brothers were horrified. I liked blue and mother didn’t think blue suited me. She was going to buy something for a frock, velvet, and she came home with pink and so I was furious. And something else, an ordinary frock, had a sort of cape on it, I wouldn’t wear it, I had to take the cape off. You know. So I suppose I was fashion conscious.
AM You said before we started recording that Brixham was very self-contained, as regards the shops and things. So presumably anything that anybody wanted you could get locally?
SG Yes, I think she’d go to Torquay to buy materials perhaps, but there were a couple of drapers, shoe shops, I don’t know how many grocers shops, ours, the Co-op, Lees in Bolton Street, Perkes, Chards and another one if I can remember. In all that number there was only about 10,000 population. Three or four grocers, butchers.
AM What about the shops around the harbour area? Were they all to do with the fishing industry and boats and things?
SG Well there was nothing very much. They were very small shops, you know the sweet shop. I don’t remember. A lot of it was stores round the harbour. The fishermen’s institute was more or less facing as you come round from Fore Street, right up the end the fishermen’s institute was there, then they moved away. I can’t remember an awful lot about the harbour.
AM What about the trawlers?
SG Well we all took a great interest in the trawlers. If one was lost, you know everybody, the whole town mourned. (AM Yes)
AM Did you ever go on one as a child?
SG Yes I raced, when I was grown up. The regatta was marvellous.
AM Tell me about the regatta because it must have been very different from the one they have these days.
SG I don’t call it a regatta now! Well I think the shops closed in the afternoon anyhow it was all put into two days: sailing, both starting each morning. In the afternoon of the first day was the swimming sports; depending on the tide where they held it, you see, it was in the harbour. [In the afternoon of the second day] the athletic sports up at Furzeham.
AM Was this for adults, or children or both?
SG Well youngsters. And the Navy came in for the regatta, that was marvellous. The Bay was full of naval ships, really full up, and they had such nice searchlight displays in the evening. And the sailors were all over the town and they’d come up to the athletics and lark about you know (laughter). You know it was lovely, I say I preferred the regatta to Christmas, you know, you looked forward, they had a fair, that’s still on but it’s a very poor affair now, that was solid, packed, and you saved up your money to go on things.
AM Was it in the same place, up on Furzeham Green?
SG Yes and people working away would try to get home for the regatta. You’d meet all the people you hadn’t seen for ages, you know. Well as I say it was lovely, and two or three times I raced on a trawler for THE, you know THE? (AM No) Well no. I don’t know, I think my father must have helped on Bill Harris? Because he was always in on anything that Dad was doing, so we raced on THE once or twice. They took out everything down below to lighten the boat, you know, there wasn’t very much down below anyhow.
AM How many members of crew did they have?
SG I don’t know. There’s a photo of me in one of Chips Barber’s with Tom ? and another friend, on Guess Again (AM Yes I’ve heard of Guess Again) We were down in Cornwall somewhere (St Ive’s you know.. after the war, there was a boat there and I said that’s a Brixham Trawler, you can tell by the lines, and it was Guess Again! (AM Amazing!) I know you only remember the nice things but it was such a community, you know, in Brixham. A child was quite safe, because people, everybody knew who you were, I mean if there was the likelihood of any danger.
AM What happened, if for instance, you had a very very bad winter and the boats couldn’t go out and catch fish, how did people manage, how did they survive for their income?
SG I don’t really know, but, because there wasn’t any, you know, nothing, unemployment pay. I suppose they saved up when they were [fishing] because they used to go across to Newfoundland to trawl, and also to South Wales.
AM Did you get the impression there was any great hardship?
SG Oh yes I should think there was a lot of hardship. But I was born in 1917 towards the end of the war, and I should think things were very hard. A lot of the trawls got damaged with wrecks, with used trawls. I don’t know people got on with their lives then, they had to. I think they are made very soft now, you know, (AM I quite agree) this nanny business, conkers might fall down and hurt the children .oh ..
AM Did you and your brothers play conkers and marbles and that sort of thing?
SG Played Marbles, I don’t know.. Iron hooks, you never saw.. (AM Yes I have seen) the boys were than the girls, (AM Were you a bit of a tomboy do you think?) Oh I should think so, yes, I had an aunt who was very sniffy, and she’d meet me, Where are your gloves!! But I suppose with four brothers they used to knock me about.
AM So you must have grown up quite a tough lady?
SG You know one of my brothers said if you don’t do this by so-and-so, (by?) the time I could, he would do something to me. He was the one who was most fond of me.
AM So apart from the regatta were there any other celebrations that the town used to hold as a regular event?
SG The Operatic. That’s still going on. That was excellent. They used to win the West of England competition. They had all the church choirs, they had wonderful voices, it was good I mean it wasn’t just that we were local. But that was funny because one time they used to run Thursday to Saturday, and then it got further back, it ran for so many days. And you had to queue up to book and the booking
AM What about the Cinema? Do you remember when the Cinema opened or had it been opened for quite a while?
SG Oh yes! I remember the Cinema, I remember about it being opened. But it’s roughly where Woolworths was (not Woolworths now), further on, the Community Hall, more or less about there. We used to go on Saturday afternoons for sixpence I think and we would go in the balcony and throw stink bombs down below (laughter).
AM Did you ever get chased by the Manager and booted out?
SG No! We didn’t. I also remember, I don’t know how old I was, they used to (evidently) have showings occasionally, it must have been in the Scala, and I can remember my father taking me and one or two brothers to a Charlie Chaplin film, it would have been the Scala, so that would have been before the Cinema was opened. I can remember going to that and I think there was a hut on a precipice and I think it kept tipping over! But it was only that one occasion I can remember. There was the pantomime at Torquay at Christmas, that was the highlight, on Boxing Day we would go to the pantomime. But along Berry Head Road there were all retired sea captains, and I’d go along with them sometimes, a lot of us were related.
AM What about the other side, the Furzeham side?
SG Well it was not antagonistic, but it was more-or-less separate, you know. And then there was Higher Brixham, that was more a separate part.
AM So really Brixham was three little chunks was it? It was sort of Higher Brixham, Furzeham and the town area? (SG Berry Head)
SG Berry Head was supposed to be the smartest area – it certainly isn’t now!
AM They’ve certainly got some very beautiful houses up there now though haven’t they?
SG Yes, the ones that had turrets, a local man built most of them; apparently his sister used to do the plans. She was a school teacher, and they had a tea place, at the very end of Berry Head Road where they knocked the house down, and it’s a car park now. (AM Yes). She taught at Furzeham. (AM Do you remember her name?) SG Hayman, do you know the name? (AM No) And she’d walk up to Furzeham, come home to lunch, walk back again. And all that. And lots of his houses you can tell Hayman built that because there used to be a turret. (AM That was his signature was it, the turret?) SG Yes. The one next to us I suppose.
AM Did your father have anything to do with Uphams at all?
SG No. We were related to them, Percy’s wife was Dad’s cousin, I suppose. But, they had the first cars in Brixham.
AM It must have been quite exciting to have had a car. Do you remember the first time you rode in one?
SG Well the first one I can remember was a Beardmore, in fact they had one before but I can’t remember that. Beardmore was a Scottish firm, in fact they built all the London taxis, and they started building private cars when Dad and Mr Seagrim in Paignton (he built the Breakwater), they had one of these cars each, and the firm asked Dad to take his back after a year or something, so they could have a good old look at it, and they went up to Scotland, drove up, and left the car there, you know, they lent him one for going about. When I went to London, I was eleven, I said oh Beardmores and saw the taxis!
AM So were there garages locally where you could buy cars or did you have to go somewhere else to get it?
SG No, there weren’t any, nothing. But petrol
AM So what was the first garage in Brixham, can you remember?
SG There was one, you know, Bells? Garage. There was one in Berry Head Road – Rollings – but I mean that was quite comparatively recently. I don’t really remember. Oh Rutter, that was Bells, you know, next door to the Conservative Club he was the first one I can remember. I don’t remember much about cars, I don’t like cars anyway.
AM Do you hate them even now?
SG Yes, I mean I learned to drive when I was young for a job. But, funnily, my father didn’t like driving, but he was one of the first. And he and Uncle Percy used to go up to the motor show every year and they’d go up, I remember they’d go up overnight, and stay there and come back again next day.
AM I think that’s a good enough place to stop, I think.
PS May 1st was ‘ducking day’ – the fire brigade hosed Prince William and the Town Hall.