Interview with Mr. Geoffrey Cummins (by Pam Haseltine), 29 Atherton Crescent, Hungerford. 18th Aug 1992.
Geoff Cummins was born at Buttermere in June 1918. His family moved to Combe when he was seven then came back to Sanham Green when he was twelve. He has been in the area ever since, having worked at Standen Manor. He left school when he was fourteen years old and worked with John Brown's horses at Sanham Green for three years. He didn't much care for it and the money wasn't much - 5/- a week (25 pence). This was during the depression of the 1930s. He worked from 7-00 a.m. till 5.00 p.m. for six and a half days a week and never had any paid holidays and if you were off ill there was no money at all. Geoff became fed up with these conditions and gave in his notice. His father didn't approve because work was scarce in those days and you had to keep your mouth shut. However, his father, who worked with the horses at Standen Manor, got him a job there with the cows. A Mr. Anderson lived at Standen Manor then and his widow still lives there. Geoff was there eighteen years and became head herdsman. The money was better as he rose to 18/- a week (90 pence) but that was seven days a week and no holidays, only half a day once a fortnight. Being head herdsman he was responsible seven days a week. Eventually he got fed up with that so he left and got another job within a week at James's Mill in Church St.
James's Mill started in Chilton Foliat as James and Chamberlain. It then moved to Everland Road, got burnt down, moved to Church Street, got burnt down there then built a new place down Smitham Bridge Road. Geoff was in this job for another eighteen years but had to leave through ill health. The dust at the Mill affected his chest. He immediately got a job with Ottermill Chilton in Church Way. They had a factory near where Chilton Way is and made electrical components. He was there thirteen and a .half years until he retired.
Geoff had a job before he left school as a baker's boy with Batt, the baker, where Bradford and Bingley Building Society now is in the High Street but he only did it for about eighteen months as all the flour dust didn't agree with him. In fact, Geoff worked from the age of 14 until he was 65 in five different jobs. He was never out of work for a single day and never had the sack.
When Geoff gave up at James's Mill because of his chest troubles, his wife was ill with TB at the time so they were both in hospital together at Swindon. His wife had it pretty badly and shortly afterwards died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 51. They had one daughter who is now 44 and have two grandchildren - the girl is 21 and the boy 7 because his daughter divorced and married again. After his wife's death Geoff had 13½ years on his own and lived with his daughter in Newbury. He then came back to Hungerford because his father, mother and brother were ill and he helped to look after them. This was about 10 or 12 years ago when there was a radioactive plutonium scare at Aldermaston. His brother died of cancer at the age of 49 caused by the radio active leak and Geoff was interviewed on television on BBC2 on Newsnight. His brother died in the August and his father the following November. His mother died a year later. After that George was on his own. Then another brother who was widowed came to live with him and they were together for about a couple of years. Geoff then met a young divorcee from Newbury and married her. She was 37 so a lot younger than Geoff. His brother then left to remarry but 2 years later he also died of cancer. Geoff's wife also died of breast cancer just before Christmas 1991. He also lost his eldest brother a fortnight before that. Geoff is the only boy of the family left but there are still two sisters, one in Newbury and one around Hungerford.
Geoff's mother was born at Marsh Gate and went to the old Wesleyan school in Church Street first, then to the National school in the High Street. His grandfather worked at Hopgrass Farm for Dickie Richens and later for John Adnams the corn merchant. His great grandfather worked at the Hungerford Brewery at the back of what is now Gateways. He drove: the brewery's dray over to Wallingford and one night he was coming back - drunk - (the horses used to bring them home!) Suddenly the horses stopped short at the top of Folly Hill and he couldn't understand why. The next morning he found out it was because the two policemen where shot there on that very night. Geoff's great grandmother used to keep pigs down at Marsh Gate and she used to clean the chitterlings in the River Dun, while great grandfather used to cool his beer in the river. When he was dying he still imagined he was driving the dray horses, so his family fixed two pieces of string to the end of the bed and put the string ends in his hands so that he could think he was driving the horses.
Later his mother moved away from Hungerford and went into service at Buttermere Rectory where Lord (David) Owen now lives. There she met his father and they were married at Ramsbury Registry Office. They went over there in a horse and trap. Atherton Crescent wasn't built until about 1917-
Geoff remembers the old Hocktide Ceremonies - scrambling for pennies and en the Friday after Hocktide there was Three Cheering Night when the lads would walk down the High Street giving three cheers for various people. They don't do it any more.
Hungerford has changed a lot and all the shops are different now. The shops used to be open on a Saturday night till 8 o'clock and it was quite busy. The paper boys would shout out 'paper'. Now its all strangers. Where Swift's, the cleaners, is used to be a pub - The Crown - and next to it was the fire bell (at the Corn Exchange). On the opposite side where Roger King's antique shop is was a pub called 'The Craven' . His father used to come into Hungerford from North Standen, put the nosebags on the horses and tie them up and then go into the Craven for a drink.
They lived at Buttermere they had to walk into Hungerford. Geoff walked from Buttermere to Hungerford and back when he was five years old. He would often walk from Buttermere to Ham. There was a little old bloke there with a white pony and a carriage. His name was Tom Bowley. He was a carrier and charged 6d. for taking people into Hungerford, but you didn't have 6d. did you, not in them days? Once when Geoff had walked into Hungerford with his cousin and brother they passed Harris's cake shop (where the Launderette is now). Geoff said "I'll have my 6d now to buy a cake". "You can't" said the others, "We've bought an air gun with it. You can have a shoot with it when we get back home." The following Sunday several of them went for a walk with his small brother in a pram. The baby started crying, so his sister got hold of the gun and said "bang bang" to stop him crying and pulled the trigger. The gun was loaded and the pellet went right through the corner of his eye. It was lucky the baby wasn't blinded!
When Geoff was at Buttermere he went to the local school when he was three. There were 25 children at the school and they were all Cummins bar two. They used to have school concerts at Buttermere and the same thing at Combe when they moved there. One concert they repeated at Combe, Linkenholt and Inkpen and with the money they made they had a day's outing at the seaside. The first outing that Geoff went on from Buttermere to Bournemouth was in an open coach with solid tyres, going at about 20 m.p.h. When he eventually came to Hungerford and went to the primary school here it was all very different. Coming from a school where there were about 20 pupils to one with about 600, it was frightening. Mr. Gill was headmaster. Geoff's job was to ring the school bell for playtime, dinner time etc. He used to play school football and a bit of cricket. He recalled Sonner North who was one of the original pupils at the primary school. Geoff's mother and Sonner's mother were cousins. All the North family were well-known local footballers. "we're all getting older and times change" said Geoff. I think we had better days. , we enjoyed ourselves more because you made your own amusement. Today the kids have got everything. If you had an old tin with a lid and a piece of string and a pebble in it you could have fun. Then we had the hoops with the iron guide stick and the spinning tops which we used to whip down the High Street. We played hopscotch on the pavements and we used to get in a corner and swap cigarette cards."
Geoff remembers the cinema in Hungerford and before that when they had films in the Corn Exchange. The first film at the new Regent Cinema was "The Lives of the Bengal Lancers". The films at the Corn Exchange were on Friday and Saturday nights. Then up near the railway station there was a theatre called "The Gaff". It was like a big marquee which held about 60 people with live acting by amateurs, both local and from other places. They put on shows like "Ten Nights in the Bar Room", "Babes in the Wood", "Sonny Boy". This was in the early 1930s. Then the circus used to come to a field near the end of Priory Road. Then there was Lord John danger's circus which used to take place on the common. There was also the Free Foresters sports on Whitmonday -athletics, motor bike racing, cycle racing, horse jumping, everything. That was good though it often rained then.
Geoff remembers Hungerford before the post war development when it was all allotments and market gardens where Fairview Road and Priory Road are now, greenhouses and all. It was also fields behind Atherton Crescent and the top of Church Way. After the war it all changed. During the war Hungerford was full of troops - American and Canadian. Standen Manor was an army base. Geoff himself was exempt from military service because he was a herdsman on North Standen Farm. He registered for the militia in June 1939 but they wouldn't take him on as he was in a reserved occupation but after Dunkirk he joined the LDV when it was formed and stayed in it till the end. It was hard work after working on the farm all day. He used to go down to the Corn Exchange on Tuesday nights for drill and lectures. Sunday mornings there were exercises on the common and then there was a guard to do every week. They had to guard the water works in case anyone poisoned the water. They had a big parade in Victoria Park in Newbury. They marched there from Northcroft led by the band of the Wiltshire Regiment . Whilst another contingent came from the opposite direction led by a band of the Royal Marines. It was July and very hot. A lot of the men fainted. If you were a young man you got a lot of sarcasm thrown at you for not being in the army.
Geoff got married in 1940 when he was 21, in Chilton Foliat church. His wife's family were all gardeners at Littlecote. It was a beautiful day. His first wife is buried at Chilton Foliat and his second one was cremated. He is not going to get married again. Before they were married his first wife used to work at Beards, the coal merchant as a general maid. There was plenty of work in the villages because the girls went into service and the boys went to work with their fathers on the farms.
James' Mill got burnt down in Church Street so the mill moved temporarily to some hangars at Membury airfield. A new mill was then built at Smitham Bridge. It was all automation. James then sold out to Cerebos. They then amalgamated and bought another place at Calne and one near Reading in the name of .Rollins, James and Phillips. Then along came Ranks who bought them out. Ranks kept on the workers but eventually sold out to Dalgety. Dalgety made the men redundant and closed the mill and that was the finish of James's Mill. Dalgety sold out for development. The same thing happened to Chilton Electrics, which became Ottermill Chilton. They sold out to the american firm Westinghouse. Westinghouse eventually transferred their work from Hungerford to Ottery St. Mary and sold the Hungerford land for development
[N.B. I referred the last paragraph on James' Mill to Robert lames for verification. He dismissed it as rubbish but refused to give me the correct version or discuss it in any way. This account is therefore an unsubstantiated transcription of what Mr. Cummins said.]