On the opposite side of the road to Friends Garage was a triangular shaped meadow known as Bantoft’s Meadow. It was to this meadow that Bert Stocks funfair came each year on the occasion of Orford Regatta. The arrival of the fair was reason for great excitement, a crowd of children would gather near the gate to the meadow hours before the fair arrived and frequently lay down, putting their ears to the ground to detect a rumbling sound caused by the great steam traction engines which pulled the trucks containing the roundabouts, swinging boats and stalls. Also the caravans in which the fair people lived, the highly polished copper and brass water containers hanging from hooks and gleaming in the sunlight. the older boys could earn a few free rides by taking the water cans to the village pump and then struggling back to the fairground with them full of water.
They would watch in wonderment as the trucks were unloaded, the roundabouts being erected around the biggest steam engine, for not only did this engine turn the roundabouts, it also supplied electric power for the rest of the fair from the big dynamo mounted on its top. Here also was the fairground organ with its automatons clashing cymbals and hitting drums, the music sweeping out over the village and inviting the occupants to come and enjoy all the fun of the fair.
The fair would open a few days before Regatta day and people would come from the surrounding villages for a ride on the swinging boats, the roundabout and in later years the dodgems.
Regatta Day started with races for the sailing dinghies of the Dabchick Sailing Club, these were about twelve or fourteen feet long, competition was keen. Plain Jane, Mist, Dawn and Lady Sarah are some of the names which come to mind. Then would come the rowing races, four oared, pairs and singles. There was always a scramble for two particular boats named Ada and Adelaide which were the fastest. There were swimming races for adults and children, the competitors being taken out onto the river by motor boat and diving overboard at the starters pistol, the finish being opposite the quay where the judges stood. As the tide left the mud flats uncovered the river men, George, Tom and Victor Brinkley, Fred Chambers, Wally Green and many others took part in a mud race, flat pieces of wood were tied to their feet and they would race about a hundred yards and then finish by throwing mud at each other, much to the amusement of the onlookers. Then on to the Town meadow opposite the Jolly Sailor for a tug-of-war where contests for adults and boys were held, next stop was the fish and chip shop for a quick two and one and on to the fairground where at twilight the hundreds of coloured electric lamps around the fairground would light up transforming the whole place into a fairyland of light, colour, screams of delight, music and the strident hoot of the steam whistle announcing the end of another ride. Then when the public houses closed and the men and women, some being a little bit tipsy came to the fairground, it was time for the youngsters to go home, tired out but happy at the end of a long day.
Another yearly event was the flower show, the first ones I remember were held in the pleasure grounds of Sudbourne Hall. A large marquee erected on the lawn contained the exhibits with another marquee for serving teas. Running races, obstacle races etc were run and although it was a pleasurable occasion it did not generate the excitement attached to Regatta Day. The grounds of Sudbourne Hall were also used for a yearly bowls tournament, these events took place with the permission of the owner of Sudbourne Hall who at that time was Mr Lyons who had two sons who were county cricketers, B H Lyons and M D Lyons. They were the last family to live in the Hall. Mr Lyons was a very big man and one Christmas gave the children of Orford a big party in the Town Hall, it was a great occasion, there were not many parties at this time the only other one given by the British Legion when the children had meat paste sandwiches, cakes and scolding hot tea poured from large enamel jugs into the mug which each child had taken with them, at the end of the party the children were given an orange, some sweets and a bag of nuts.
The party given by Mr Lyons was very different, there was a large Christmas tree in the corner of the Town Hall laden with more presents than the children had seen in their lives, the sandwiches had real ham in them and cakes like they had never seen before. At the end of the party each child was given a present off the Christmas tree.
Once a week a cinema show was held in the Town Hall by Mr Sullings who visited a different village each night of the week. He conveyed his projector and equipment in a large covered van which also contained a generator for powering the projector. The sound of the generator running outside nearly drowned the soundtrack of the film. Having only one projector meant that when the roll of film finished End of Part One would appear on the screen accompanied by large groans from the audience, then Part Two would appear to a great cheer. Many of the great film stars of the time were seen, cowboy actors Tom Mix and Roy Rogers and others including James Cagney, Edward G Robinson, Merle Oberon, Mae West and many others.
Although not old enough to play for the village football team, we were very keen on football and on Saturdays we would finish any Saturday jobs as early as possible and make our way to the recreation ground for a kick about before the village team started a home match. We wore short trousers and socks which reached to just below the knees leaving the knees bare which meant that when wet and muddy our knees would chap and be very painful when we had our bath in a tin bath in front of the fire on a Saturday evening.
The village had a very good team in the late 1930s, and frequently had crowds of about two hundred, the Ross-Taylor Cup was always keenly contested being donated by Mr W Ross-Taylor who lived at Castle House and was for many years the local Member of Parliament. It was contested by teams in the Woodbridge and District League on a knock out basis. When Orford reached the final which was played on a football ground at Barrack Road Woodbridge three or four coaches were hired to take supporters, others made their own way, the team colours of blue and white were worn in the form of rosettes, wooden clappers,
rattles, bells and anything else which would make a noise were used to support the team.
When the team won the cup the supporters returned to the village and gathered outside the police station on the outskirts to await the return of the victorious team. When they arrived in Sharman’s bus a rope was attached and pulled by many willing hands the team was towed round the village showing off the cup. That night the cup was taken round the three pubs and was filled and emptied many times by the team and the supporters, and if they had hangovers the next day, so what, they had won the Ross-Taylor Cup. The last football cup to be won by Orford had been the Suffolk Senior Cup in 1909-10 when my father was in the team. Referees came in for criticism, much as they do today, one whose name was Broome gave some bad decisions against Orford in one match and after the match when he was getting changed, the Orford supporters got some potatoes from a clamp near the ground and stuffed them into the exhaust pipe of his motorbike with which he had travelled to the ground. This could be classed as hooliganism I suppose but not the mindless violence carried out by the so called football fans of today.
There were other pass times which might be thought silly today, not for us the ready made enjoyment of television and computer games which seem to mesmerise the modern child. Sometimes we would go to the marshes to see who could jump the widest ditch we always found one we could not jump and finish in the ditch which meant that we went to the river wall and sat in the sun until we dried off. When harvest started our days were spent on the harvest field armed with a stick. As the binder went round and round and the piece of standing corn got smaller the rabbits would start running to their holes in the surrounding banks we would run after them and kill them with our sticks, putting a notch on the stick for each one killed. If this sounds cruel by today’s standards it must be realised that at that time the rabbit was a pest and in such large numbers that they would eat acres of corn when it was in the green state. I have known as many as two hundred to be caught on one harvest field. In addition rabbit baked in the oven with a piece of belly pork was a cheap and tasty meal. As indeed was a rabbit pie with a thick crust and always eaten cold when the pieces of
rabbit would be set in a thick jelly.
In the spring and autumn mushrooms would grow profusely on the marshes, for at that time they were not ploughed but were used for grazing or kept for the grass to be cut and made into hay and stacked for use as winter fodder. My friend Bert Worne, and my self, would set off on Saturday mornings each with a sack and walk to the Gedgrave marshes nearest Inset Point, where we found the best mushrooms to be. These were not the little button things which are sold in the shops today, these were big mushrooms with pink undersides, or the even bigger ones, some a foot across which were black underneath. Filling our sacks we would then struggle home with them, some would be set aside for the next days breakfast and the rest boiled and the juice used to make mushroom ketchup. Over the years I have gathered hundredweight’s of mushrooms but I still don’t like the taste of them.
Another pass-time which would be frowned upon today was to go round the ditches looking for water hens eggs, the correct name is moorhen. We would take a dessert spoon tied to a bamboo or a broom stick and use it to reach the eggs in the nests which were out of reach, the first one taken from each nest was broken and if found to be "set on" (had a young bird in) the rest would be left. Otherwise the rest would be taken and carefully placed in a bag. We would collect, maybe, two or three dozen to be enjoyed for breakfast over the next few days. If we were lucky enough to locate a mallards nest, it was considered a bonus as their nests were hard to find and the eggs much bigger and tastier than the water hens.
There were a few cattle sheds on the marshes and on Sundays one of these was used by some men to gamble. They always kept one man as lookout so the local policeman could not get anywhere near without being seen. The game they played was three card brag. When we left school we started our own card game on the recreation ground playing a game called Banker. One Sunday afternoon I had lost my money and was leaving the "Rec" when I spotted the local policeman creeping along the track hoping to catch the rest of the lads red-handed. I returned and shouted a warning and they were able to grab the cards and money and run before the policeman (Wally Green) could get to them. The next time Wally saw me I received a telling off.
In the weeks leading up to November 5th fireworks were on sale and we would have great fun throwing them at each other or other people not realising the damage which could be caused. After letting off some fireworks in the Market Square one evening we were gathered outside Chapman’s shop. Someone must have phoned the local policeman, P.C. Ellis, he suddenly appeared round the corner from Mundys Lane and being the nearest, I received a terrific whack on the ear from his leather gloves which he held in one hand, before I ran off with others. Instant justice, if only it was allowed in today’s society there would be much less vandalism and more respect for the law.
After a heavy fall of snow, the snow plough which was kept at Raydon Hall, farmed by Mr Robert Grimsey, would be sent round the village. The pair of horses driven by the horseman, Mr Harry Smy and his son Harry jnr having had frost nailed fitted to avoid slipping pulled the V shaped wooden structure. The snow plough could be adjusted to varying widths and while not clearing the snow completely a reasonable amount of snow was pushed to the side of the road.
There were very few motor cars and none were parked in the Market Square, which was used extensively as a playground. When there was a snowfall a slide would be started opposite the top of Bakers Lane and following the slight incline would get longer and longer until it reached nearly to the top of the middle (Mallets) lane. After a few days it would be destroyed by Frank Berrett putting salt on it.
The Castle Green hills would have an invasion of children, some with sledges, some with trays or anything which would slide on snow, hurtle from top to bottom and then struggle back up the hill to hurtle down once more, sometimes being thrown off into the snow and rolling to the bottom. After a time returning home to a blazing fire, dry clothes and a hot meal giving us a warm glow after being out in the cold air.
In addition to the film shows in the Town Hall, touring concert parties would visit, performing for two or three nights. Mostly variety shows, there were sometimes plays performed, "Maria Marten and the Red Barn" was one of them. The Womens Institute also put on plays and an elaborate production was the story of the Willow Pattern Plate, produced and directed by Mrs Giles of Old Brewery House.
In Quay Street, on the right hand side past the coastguard cottages is a long hut clad with corrugated iron. This was the Y.M.C.A. known locally as "The Club." After leaving school we were able to join the club and therefore felt we were at last grown-up. We learnt to play snooker and billiards on a half sized table before being allowed to use the two full sized tables, one used for billiards and the other for snooker. Darts was also played and we were able to improve our skill at table tennis on a proper table-tennis table. A caretaker lived on the premises and looked after the tables, took bookings and sold tea and refreshments from behind a counter which separated the club from his living quarters. During the winter months the club was heated by two large Tortoise stoves fired by coke and when it was very cold outside they would be stoked up until the tops would glow red and chestnuts could be roasted.
The club also housed the County Library, shelves of books behind wire mesh doors, opened only on library evenings when the librarian, Mrs Redmond, was present. It was from here that I would borrow books and read mainly fiction, detective, western, mystery etc and sometimes the odd history book, depending on the mood I was in.
Then came the greatest advance in entertainment at that time, the wireless, my father acquired a crystal set with earphones and I well remember the excitement when we were first allowed to listen with the earphones and were amazed that we could hear someone talking in London. Shortly after the Telson three valve was purchased and, later a more up-to-date Marconi.
Whilst television gives many people enjoyment today, that enjoyment is nothing to the joy derived from the "wireless" of the 1930s. Instead of gramaphone records for music we could now listen to the big bands on the wireless. Henry Halls Guest Night, Billy Cotton, Roy Fox, Bert Ambrose, Harry Roy and Victor Sylvester.
There was children’s hour with "Uncle Mac" to whom children could write giving him the date of their birthday and he would then read out their name and wish them a happy birthday. Once a week Commander Stephen Kinghall explained in words that children could understand all about current affairs, what was going on in Parliament, in our own country and abroad. Thus did the wireless help to broaden young minds and make us realise there was a great big world out there.
When the Castle was bought by the Town Trust in the 1930s the building firm of W.C.Reade of Aldeburgh was engaged to carry out some repairs. Delivery of materials needed were made by a boarded walk way erected from the gate nearest the recreation ground to the Castle. The walk way being levelled by scaffolding erected in the hollows of the ground. Scaffolding was then erected at the Castle. Not for them the luxury of tubular steel and clips, this scaffolding was made of wooden poles about four inches in diameter lashed together by rope, the uprights overlapping by about a foot and the horizontal ones lashed to these. The lashings were a work of art in themselves.
The concrete blocks for the repairs were made in moulds on site with the facing side of the blocks being coloured to match the existing stone of the Castle. When the builders were not working we spent many happy hours climbing the scaffolding and gaining access to the Castle before being chased away by the local policeman or the Castle custodian, Lindsey Dennington who lived in the bungalow on the Castle Green. A later custodian was Mr Wheatley who lived at Newton bungalow.