Interview with John Allen, (by Pam Haseltine), 17 Church Way, Hungerford. 9th Jul 1991.
John was born in Windsor where his Father was working for the Great Western Railway at Windsor Station. After two years his Father was promoted to be clerk-in-charge at Hungerford. That was in 1926. Hungerford was a very big and busy station then. John's Father became station master in 1935.
When John was a small boy he used to go to the station on Sundays to help his Father fill up the many chocolate and cigarette machines and take out the money. There was also a very old fashioned lorry which used to go round to the farms collecting milk churns which were taken to the station, put on the trains and sent to London. As a special treat John was sometimes allowed to go out on the lorry milk collecting. The lorry was very old fashioned and uncomfortable, with solid tyres.
The trout farm in Hungerford was a very busy place in those days and tanks of trout were also taken up to London on the trains to be distributed to hotels in the capital. There was never a station master's house in Hungerford, so the Allens lived at 17 Atherton Crescent.
The town has changed a good deal. In the 1930s and 1940s there was a very good selection of shops. There were at least 5 butchers, including the London Central Meat Company and Edward Pratt who had his double fronted butchers shop opposite the post office, He was one of the biggest butchers in the town. There were 2 or 3 shoe shops, various greengrocers, bakers etc. People hadn't got cars to get around, so a larger choice was necessary in the town. Inhabitants would go to Newbury by train, usually on Thursday, market day.
The station buildings were demolished in 1964. Prior to that on the down side there was the gents toilet, the parcel office which was always very busy, station master's office and a very active booking office with 2 service windows, followed by a general waiting room and a ladies room and toilet. On the up platform there was a waiting room and ladies and gents toilets so the buildings were quite extensive
The goods business was very extensive as there were several coal merchants in Hungerford - Alexander, Beard, Lewington etc. - and all the coal came by train. Also there was coke delivered for the Hungerford gas works. There were also facilities for livestock and wagons of horses, pigs etc. came in. There were pens for receiving them in the goods yard. There were also cranes and special facilities for unloading agricultural machinery. In the late 1930s farming was becoming mechanised and farmers were buying these machines. Oakes Brothers and Bennetts down on the Bath Road were the chief firms dealing in this. Prior to 1939 the staff consisted of:- Station master; 2 booking clerks; 2 staff in the goods office; 3 or 4 porters; 3 or 4 staff at the goods depot; the lorry driver for collecting the milk churns. There were also 2 signal boxes each staffed by 3 people and 2 sets of permanent way staff, one working to the east and one to the west of the station. There would be 6 in each gang, so the total number of railway employees in Hungerford would amount to nearly 40. The GWR was quite an extensive employer in Hungerford.
When the second World War started the station was even busier. There were a great many troops stationed in the area and the adjutant would ring up and say he wanted to move say 300 men. The station master would then have to arrange for the necessary carriages to be available for the outward and return journeys, together with the necessary drivers and guards. John started his railway career in December 1939 as a junior clerk, and his job on these occasions was to write out 390 return tickets - BY HAND - as there was no computer to do it in those days. ne can remember on some of these occasions having to work over 2 shifts from 7a.m. until 11p.m. Railway work during the war was very hectic.
After the war John was moved to Thatcham and the railways became less busy in the 1950s because there were more cars and more goods were going by road transport. Coming up to the 1960s, goods traffic started to become more centralised, first on Newbury, then on Reading, so the goods side of the station at Hungerford gradually closed up. Passenger traffic also started to fall off in the 1960s so the authorities decided they couldn't afford so many staff. The system of paying fares on the trains - the bus stop system - was devised. This led to the demolition of the station buildings and the only part of the original buildings still extant is the bridge, albeit without its canopy. About 5 years ago they realised that the issuing of tickets on the trains was not feasible, especially during the rush hours, so they built a box for issuing tickets during these times. They also built bigger shelters and the station is beginning to get busy again , especially with commuters.
John's Father, Archie, was always very interested in the Ambulance Service, both at Windsor and when he came to Hungerford. He set up a railway ambulance division, made up of members of the staff. He was horrified that there was no ambulance in Hungerford when he first came here. Hungerford had to rely on Newbury and he used to say that a vehicle would be used one day to take a diphtheria patient to hospital and would be used the next day for a pregnant woman!. He therefore got together with about half a dozen business men in the town and they decided to raise money to buy an ambulance. The first project, in 1932, was a carnival in the town. A carnival was held each year between 1932 and 1935 to raise money for St. John's Ambulance and eventually an ambulance was purchased in 1935 and delivered to Norman's garage on the Bath Road. It cost £460. John went down with his father to collect the ambulance so, as a small boy, he was the first person to ride in it on its way to the Town Hall. Archie Allen's interest in ambulance work continued and he became Superintendent of the ambulance division.
He had 3 first aid boxes placed in the town - one by the Mission Hall at the corner of Priory Road - one outside the town hall - and one further down the town. These were always kept stocked and access could be obtained with a key kept in a glass fronted case beside it. Unfortunately today such a useful piece of equipment would very quickly be vandalised. Tragically Archie Allen died of meningitis in April 1939, at the age of 47, at the height of his career. John was still at the grammar school in Newbury but through this connection with the GWR he was offered the job of junior clerk at Hungerford station in November 1939. With a widowed mother he felt he ought to take up the job rather than stay on at School for another 2 years, so this is how his railway career started and he stayed with the railways for the rest of his working life, being also stationed in Newbury, Thatcham and Reading. John continues to be very interested in railways, especially steam railways and it is still his main hobby. There have been 3 different bridges across the High St. The first was built in 1862 when it was a single track. This was replaced for the double track in 1898 and the present bridge was built in 1966.
The names of teachers at the Primary School in Fairview Rd. in the early 1930s were Miss Colley (Head), Miss Waddington and Miss Noyce in the infants section. In the senior section there were Mr. Jeal, Headmaster, a strict disciplinarian,, Mr. Thorn, second master, and Jim Chislett, both very interested in sport, Miss White and various others. They all lived locally and were part of the community. John said he was a pretty average pupil but had a flair for mathematics. The John of Gaunt School was not opened till 1963
There were between 250 and 300 children in the primary school. The old National School in the High St. was an ARP control centre during the war. There were two telephone lines there with direct link to the police station who advised if an air raid was imminent. Each ARP warden had a buzzer in his house which plugged into the main telephone system. This was fantastically technically advanced for 1939 and was devised by a Mr. Percy who lived at Friars Pardon in the High St. - now Wilton House. For alerting the wardens a buzzer would be pressed at the control centre, which caused all the individual signals to sound. For the 'All Clear' another buzzer would send a different signal. The ARB control centre was, of course, manned 24 hours a day and John did his stint there. There weren't many actual air raids in the Hungerford area but there were a lot of alerts when enemy bombers flew overhead en route to the industrial midlands such as Coventry and Birmingham. There was a bomb dropped near the railway line at Home Farm, on the back road to Kintbury.
The Church There was a vicar and a curate. For some time part of Church House (Croft Hall) was converted into a flat for the curate. There was also a Church Army Captain who looked after St. John's Mission. He did a lot of good work. He was a little short dapper man with a very red face which amused the youngsters of the day, but we respected him. There were also Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist chapels but there wasn't a Catholic church in Hungerford, until one was built about 1939- Before that Catholics had to go to Newbury.
Medical Services in the 1930s. There were 2 doctors - Dr. James who lived at Riverside and Dr. Starkey-Smith who lived at the Manor House (Gateways). In 1939 the population was about 2,000. Today it must be near 7,000. The surgery was at the side of the Manor House and was a dark, dingy little room.
Hungerford had its own gas works in Charnham Street and its own electricity works - the Wessex Electricity - which was down Smitham Bridge Road, before it was taken over by the National Grid. Hungerford has always had its own waterworks at Salisbury Road. Harry Chapman was the manager of the waterworks for many years. Main drainage came in the 1920s.
There was a cinema in Church Way and silent films were shown in the Corn Exchange. The projector room was where the cloakroom is now on the right hand side- The Regent Cinema was built in 1934 and while the electricians were installing the equipment John, as a small boy, found a box with lots of wires etc. which he thought had been thrown out, so he took some for use on his electric railway. Soon, however, he was found out and warned off.
There were three public telephone boxes - one outside the post office, one by St. John's Mission Hall and one on the Bear corner.
Transport There were more buses and several carriers. Newbury District Bus Company had a good service. Giles was a carrier as well as a coal merchant and gave a very good service. The Bristol Tram Company also ran a carrier and bus service between Hungerford and Ramsbury and Swindon. There was also Barnes, the local carrier who came to the station to pick up parcels for delivery to the Aldbourne area. The firm now runs a big coach service. John can remember old Tommy Barnes well. Altogether with trains, buses and carriers there were good connections with the surrounding area.
Youth Organisations There was a company of the Church Lads' Brigade. There were also cubs, scouts, guides too.
There was a produce market in Church St. every Wednesday run by A. W. Neate, the auctioneers.