Christmas was very different then and not so commercialised, we would use the front room parlour, as the room for our coal fire throughout the Christmas period. In our Christmas preparations, we would catch a chicken outside on the farm, kill it, then pluck its feathers in the bath, and then it was scorched and hung for a while, before being finally prepared for the oven. This was our Christmas dinner to feed the large family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and visitors. Gran would encourage me to help her make Christmas puddings, cooked in the deep stone kitchen copper, using sheetings of cotton to tie them up, before being cooked in large saucepans and the copper itself. The Christmas sack for presents then, which Santa delivered, would be a pillowcase. Gran would play the piano in the front room parlour, on Christmas day itself, before we listened to the royal speech on BBC radio. One year we had a new magic lantern film projector and screened pictures onto a cotton sheet draped across the bathroom door, watching Laurel and Hardy,boxing matches and Tom Mix the cowboy, was seen to be quite an event. During school holidays, I would spend time with my mother at her home above the R.S.P.C.A shop in Poole, close to the regent cinema opposite the george pub,or at the rear of the towns, Municipal Buildings in Fernside Road.
I would also occasionally visit my relatives(the Colliers), Uncle Stan, Aunt Winnie and their children, David and Margaret at Wimborne (a Market town). At their tied cottage, close to their employers home (the Priddles)at Barnsley Farm, where my uncle worked as head dairyman. Along with my cousins, we would play exploring games in the woodlands close by the farm,in the area David called the sticks. Occasionally, I would be taken on an excursion by my cousin, Joan Broom to watch the pictures shown at the Parkstone Regal cinema, which locals referred to as, "up on the hill" as the little yellow and brown bus took us through rossmore the up and down and through the alder hills. At the cinema would watch the A.B.C, children’s matinee films shown there on every Saturday morning.we would queue up with hundreds of other local children, to watch cartoons and trailers on the big screen.Along with favourites, like ‘Hopalong Cassidy’and "Tom Mix", with Pathe news bulletins. During windy autumn days at the Mannings, I would construct huge kites made from large sheets of brown paper; canes, string and a tail made from newspaper strips. On such a windy day, I would be able to fly my kite at a great height, extending the roll of string to its base and tying this to a chicken house corner nearby. However, such a high flyer caused problems with local aircraft flying through the terrain from Hurn Airport.Thus I would have to shorten the kites’ length of flight, due to a telephone call made from the airport to my Grandad, at the brickyards little office, opposite our house. The Mannings smallholding presented a panoramic view of the whole surrounding area, based as it was in a wide area basin of open expanse. The smallholding was itself situated in the base of a valley, from where I could view all around, including the water tower at Old Wareham Road and the Wool Road area of Newtown, now known as Tower Park. From here, one could also gain splendid views of the Lodge Hills of the Canford Heath estate at Canford Magna.In the opposite direction one could see the backwaters of Hamworthy, Poole, known as Waterloo and see the distant trains on their way to Londons waterloo station.. I was at night able to view the street lights in the distance at the Fleets Bridge roundabout along with the power station at Poole with its tall chimneys (which was unfortunately dynamited down in recent years).
As a small boy, I was fascinated with the power of matches, on one occasion I caught fire to furze bushes on the common, which terrified me. I was unable to put the fire out, for it was spreading so quickly. Being mid summer, the day was very hot, however eventually three fire engines arrived. I was kept in my room and scolded for this major misdemeanour. Because of this, I was determined in later years to provide safe play opportunities for children, to both control fires and to enjoy the excitement, energy and warmth of fires within supervised adventure playground environments. The many play opportunities provided to build, create and take responsibility for oneself was always a part of my childhood at The Mannings. This along with the daily care of all the many animals and pets, the picking of blackberries and the apples for freshly made pies.There was always some form of construction going on on the farm ,such as new pens, ready for the chickens; along with garden's created and fresh trees saplings to be planted. The Mannings and its surrounding terrain was in so many ways an adventure playground, in itself a community, yet of animals and pets.
Occasionally my Aunt Vera Dominey would take me out for the day with her large family of 10 children, cockling, in the backwaters of Poole, at Hamworthy. This was a muddy occupation, which involved the searching for cockles, amongst the muddy seashore, then collecting them in tin buckets and sacks.We would all wear wellington boots for this event. Such days I will never forget for their uniqueness. At The Mannings, my uncles Bill, Tony, along with Aunt Betty, taught me the basic skills involved in the building of chicken and bird pens, cow sheds and pig sties, (skills which would all come in useful in later years, when I was to build Adventure Playgrounds). Often we would walk to market, or to another smallholding, across the extensive Canford estate, often to buy a pig, such as the giant boar from Waterloo that we named, ' Waterloo George’. He was huge and ugly with big teeth. During one such visit to this huge expanse of open water, known as Waterloo, we brought home a new nanny goat with collar and long metal chain, onto a double-decker bus, along with our three dogs, Rusty, Jacko and Spider. These were two Airedales and a miniature sheep dog. This was much to the amusement of the passengers and the bus conductor, particularly so when we all ran upstairs to the top flight of the bus. An event that one could not so easily do in our present society.
At the family owned brickyard, opposite the Mannings house, I would spend hours in the evenings in the company of my grandfather, whilst he was brick maker and later night watchman there and at the iron foundry (Hamworthy Engineers)situated at the top of the Mannings Heaths stoney gravelled road. Nearby at the Broom road pond, and to the rear of the iron foundry, I would often catch newts in glass jars, in between playing on the swing, at the rear of our neighbours’ home, at the heather view cottage, (with Marion Archer of the Archer family). At Weekend’s, Gran and I would visit the local dump just across the heath, where we would explore the large amounts of timber cuts and other materials; which local companies(Knotts caravans) dumped there. Often finding some useful items to take back home. In the early evenings, during the autumn months, we would drag go-karts and sacks up high, to the lodge hill banks, to collect sacks of fallen fir cones from the base of the tall pine trees. Then drag our heavy-laden carts, down the winding sandy tracks of the heather hills to the Mannings coal shed, for winter storage as firewood. I was thus educated never to waste any natural resource. At our families fruit orchards, I would collect fallen apples and pears for storage in a large metal chest, for the winter months ahead.
One of my best memories, was to observe the fertilised chicken eggs as the new born chicks hatched out in the large wooden tray placed in front of the fireplace range, initially the oven had played the part of the mother hen. To hear the noise of the pecking inside the eggs and then to watch the new born chicks breaking through their individual shells, was really quite something. Such experiences are rare today, to the majority of children, brought up to shop for groceries with their parents, at Sainsburys or Tescos. In addition to these early family activities, I would spend the majority of my free time, when my uncles were working at the nearby clay pits or gravel pits, alone on the heath. Hence my own explorations over the wide Canford heaths would lead me to discover such areas as foxes dens, which were the large holes high up on the top of the lodge hills, situated within their banks. The large expanse of water, known as Waterloo, was itself situated across the boggy rushes of the heath towards Poole. This was a great exploring terrain.At this time there were vast numbers and variety of gypsy caravans and other gypsy camps at Alderney, along with those based on the edge of the Old Wareham road itself. These caravans of gypsies and tinkers caused much concern to the locals and to the authorities then, just as they do today,although many of thse families are now residents of Kinson and Parkstone.When I was attending junior school at Branksome Heath, I would occasionally stay on long after the bus left for home and go with a few others to look through the large spyglass for just a penny, based at Sea View. To look out to sea to watch the many boats at Poole Harbour. Or we would often explore the dump nearby,close to the Kinson pottery where often old family photographs and cinema negatives were dumped by the million. Then I would run home, along the Ringwood road to the water tower at wool road, then across the heath and down the steep encline to the bottom of our garden, arriving home for tea.Kinson was originally a much wider neighberhood at one time the parish stretched from seaview to kinson village.Popular toys at that time included train sets with circular metal tracks,tin red london buses and tin money boxes.At school us kids played marbles,flick cards and conkers.Kids now had cap guns and cap bombs which they threw high and explodes on tarmaced school playgrounds.Our games were boisterous with piggyback battles or chase usually resulting in falls and resulting in grazed knees from the tarmaced school playgrounds.Football was played with a small rubber ball and hordes would chase and kick out,there was little skill involved.The girls played skipping games and chants of brooke bond divi tea were popular.We could buy jamboree bags and penny chews from the local tuck shop,or long sticks of liquorice and candy false teeth,sweet cigarettes and black jacks.There were now loads of kids comics from film fun to the eagle or swift.We would often talk about the radio series such as journey into space or the ever popular uncle mac childrens favourite. Occasionally my Aunt Betty and Uncle John Dove (John who was a groundsman for Bournemouth council parks dept) would take me to Poole to watch the Poole Pirates speedway, with stars on view, like Poole Pirates own World Champion speedway star, Brian Crutcher. Each autumn we would visit Poole Fairground, which was situated on common land at the rear of the fire station, here we could view the boxing champion Freddie Mills. We also walked the many rows of the fairground stalls, within what was known as the largest national fairground in the UK. Other times my older cousin Joan Broome would take me to Poole swimming baths and the local fairground at nearby Branksome Park at the base of the steep alder hills. Which still returns each year to the present day.At the Mannings farm, strangers did occasionally drop in or turn up unanounced, but usually these were the usual tramps, down on their luck. One of these would sleep at the bottom of our garden grounds. Unknown to my Grandparents; I would secretly take him food and drink, before he went on his travels across the heath.
At the age of 10 I moved home to live at Wareham, a purbeck holiday town, to live with my Mother, Stepfather and Sisters, in the heart of the Purbecks Hills. Here I spent my playtimes with country farm children, exploring the most enchanting market town of Wareham, with its high undulating grassy banks of earthen grass walls, surrounding the town itself. It was here where I quickly grasped from other children, new skills, like how to catch lizards on the high grass walls, or fish for minnows from the rivers, The children I played with such as Alan Fry, Colin Woods, Stephen Comden, Robin Grant, Moochey Maychem's, etc We built strong earthen forts and wooden dens on the wasteland opposite the Church of Lady St. Mary’s here we had our own community for one long summer. Other times we would go paddling at the sandy white sandpits, close to the mill where the mad miller of Wareham town once lived. Or swimming at the Wareham Quay, where Mickey the monkey lived in his cage outside the inn and collected donations for the R.N.L.I lifeboats .Here at the quay the older more adventurous youth,like Michael Joseph and David Young dived off from the top of the rivers bridge in the summer months. This still happens today.Our other amusements included skimming flat stones across the top of the river to the opposite bank or splashing shoals of fish onto the riverbank, using large stones from the top of the Wareham Quay Bridge. During the evenings we children had a variety of pursuits to keep us occupied. These included playing chase games around the saw pits car park or playing hide and seek in and out of Lady St. Mary's church grounds in the dark winter evenings. We would play cricket in the narrow alleys, using the nearby stone bollards as wickets, or else the chalk marked walls of the church grounds themselves. Other times we would play football matches on the Worgret Road recreation grounds. Close to where one of the smaller kids, David Mellor lived. David Mellor’s father was a science master at the nearby secondary school, which I attended. I would often call on David and take him to the recreational grounds, which were just opposite his house, to play football, David would always bring along his 'frido ball’,( in later years, David was to become an MP, radio and sports presenter). Another local lad, David Best who was in my games class,head prefect and played soccer for Wareham rangers, would eventually go on to play professional football for Bournemouth and Ipswich before playing for the England under 21 international side.David turned down an offer to play for Manchester United. Sometimes the wareham kids who played soccer at the recreation grounds would nick carrots from the nearby allotments, wash them off in the tap water provided at the recreation ground and crunch them, in between games of football.
During the school holidays, many of us would walk, or ride bikes to local villages, such as Corfe, Stoborough or Creech. At Easter on hot cross bun day, we would go to Creech Barrow top where one could view three counties from the top peak,here we would have a picnic,this was a regular traditional event each year. Each Christmas the whole town would gather in the square at Wareham to watch as the Lord Mayor, Jack Spiller (as Father Christmas), arrived by helicopter, landing on the roof of the Red Lion Hotel. Jack Spiller was no doubt some guy.Later he would give out sweets to the kids after the carol service itself had ended. During the long summer months and school holidays, many kids would build wooden Go-karts, constructed from fruit boxes and pram wheels and ride them around the grass pathways, which ran throughout the surrounding grass walls of the town.
In the summer months the town of Wareham was a great tourist attraction. My mother Iris Banks and my stepfather Bill Banks worked at the local Black Bear Hotel.My mother was also an usherette part time at the little Ritz cinema in west street and a waitress at the small (Finemores) cafe in south street. Because of this I was able to obtain free admittance to the pictures on a regular basis and listen to the new pop world phenomena, which was sweeping the nation, through the 'juke box jivers’ of the town, like Tony Thomas and the Andersons, who frequented the café. The town was a Mecca, for people from the pop world, who lodged at the Black Bear Hotel. Celebrities such as the footballer Billy Wright, captain of England, along with his wife Joy, of the original "girl power" group (The Beverley Sisters) Billy and Joy were to marry in the nearby Poole registry office. The town of Wareham was full of life and interest to children with so many natural playtime attractions, such as rivers, sand pits, recreation areas, grass walls, and woodlands. Including fascinating little shops with an assortment of novelties,where one could buy anything from stamp collecting sets, to i spy books.There was a thriving cattle and produce market and many traders shouting their wares.Many of us kids would walk to the nearby Corfe Castle at weekends, where we would slide down the slope of the steep rise a sheer drop to the foot of the castle itself, sat only upon thick pieces of cardboard. The area was very safe then with little traffic and ideal for such activities. My family moved to a number of different locations in the town whilst living there.One was on the Carey housing estate which was at the rear of the Wareham railway station,where the kids played games of marbles on the small communial greens.Amongst the grassy walls of the town of Wareham, we built camps within the thorny bushes and trees.During the evenings we would visit each others homes to swop comics This activity was another popular pastime of many local children.The town itself was particularly safe for a vast variety of more adventurous activities, as there were few dangerous side roads and it was very child orientated.
During my early teenage year’s, I moved back to live at the Mannings (Newtown)Poole,attending the local secoundary modern school Peter Kemp Welch.During my out of school time I would be involved in helping my grandfather in the operating of the smallholding,but the remoteness and solitude of the heath was far to limiting for my youthful energies. Then at 18 I left my employment at the ‘Bluebird Caravan Organisation’, (which was the largest in the country)shortly after a trade dispute. I had been employed there for 3 years as a painter decorator and a chassis sprayer.During that time I found myself on local tv and met all of the great trade union leaders. I then moved home once more, to live at 'Bovington Army Camp'near Wareham,where my step father worked as army chef,Bovington was the home of the Royal Engineers, the Tank Regiment and T.E.Lawrence of Arabia.Lawrence was tragically killed at Clouds Hill just a few yards from his former cottage near Moreton(now a National Trust building) and is buried at Moreton village churchyard next to my former neighbour and friend Mrs Knight of Morris road Bovington.Lawrences marble stone efigy lies in St Martins church in Wareham and his historical video and set is shown at Bovington tank museum.Bovington is situated in an area known as Thomas Hardy’s ‘Egdon Heath’, close to the beautiful Isle of Purbeck. Initially Civilian Employment Personnel Offices employed me at the army camp, for the Ministry of Defence and I was based at the Royal Armoured Corps Officers Mess, as a Civilian Batman for the Ministry of Defence, where I was to be responsible for up to 8 officers. Which was in itself quite an experience and a learning curve.Whilst at Bovington I had developed an ability to relate well to my peers, spending my free leisure time with local youth gangs of 'mods' and ‘rockers’. I had developed an active interest in football, as a player manager of my own Sunday league team, known locally as the Bovington ‘Crusaders’. We played football matches against the army Reme teams and the junior leaders Regiment.We also played local towns in the Purbeck area, such as Bere Regis, Kingston Lacy, Winfrith, Wareham and Herston . The 'Crusaders' was named after the local Y.M.C.A, centre, which we youths frequented each evening for table tennis, table football, pop juke box music,frothy coffee and fun. During the summer months, we would take part in large gatherings of our peers at organised barbecues on the local beaches at Durdle Door (Lulworth Cove).Here we collected, the large pieces pieces of driftwood which had washed in from the sea, to make large fires on the sandy beaches close to cave entrances. With the support of the organiser Snoze Bamber who had all the contacts, and Pete Franklin the local professional folk singer who played each week at various local pub venues throughout Dorset. Here we would gather in large numbers, with other youths from all areas of the dorset county, playing guitars, singing folk songs and drinking draught cider, which we had previously rolled down the cliffs in large barrels.
At Bovington, we spent our summer holidays in the woodlands, where we built hide outs, using discarded pigs houses of galvanised sheeting, stuffed with straw begged from the local military stables where Princess Margaret rode. Here we would listen to music played by members of the local winners of the best beat group in four counties, called the ‘Cavaliers’, such as my friends Terry Andrews and accompanied by Gordon Halford. Whilst a Liverpool lad named Paddy who had bummed his way down to Bovington sang and played Bob Dylan songs. The local youths all rode an assortment of motor bikes as well as scooters and the popular mini cars. During these early sixties years there was never any youth trouble with the law and it was remarkable that no friction ever existed between the local groups of mods and the rockers. However there would on some occasions be some trouble with the local Junior Leaders Regiment members, at the army camp itself,usually over the opposite sex as the cause. However, these were good times to cherish and recall.The film of Thomas Hardys book "The Madding Crowd" was filmed locally and many of my old childhood girlfriends from Wareham were cast as extras. On my 21st birthday, I held a special barbecue event in our unique woodland hideout at the rear of the officers mess, and all of my many friends attended, along with my relatives. The local shop 'Smiths Groceries', supplied the food and drink and my mother cooked a huge chicken in her oven. This was quite an event, which went on well into the early hours with my friends Terry Andrews and Gordon Halford playing their guitars.Unknown to us, two guys had travelled down from London and were busy syphoning petrol from parked cars at the rear of the nearby British Legion club.Thus at two a.m we were raided by police,alsation dogs on chains,helicopters etc.So it was quite a night to remember in more ways than one.Shortly after I joined Community Service Volunteers at Toynbee Hall London, to become involved in community work, after reading an article in the Sunday Pictorial written by Donald Zec about community service. Ray Wills .www.poetrypoem/thedurzetbaird