You are in [Themes] [Reminiscences] [Oral History - Transcripts] ["Sonner" North, Oct 1991]

Interview with Mr. Alfred William "Sonner" North, 4 Atherton Crescent, Hungerford. 4th October 1991.

Sonner North was born in Eddington in 1898, so was 93 years old at the time of this interview. He was born at Myrtle Cottage on the Wantage Road, opposite The Hermitage. He was one of eleven children but the eldest son was killed in World War I (see Trooper 2074 Fredrick John North
Berkshire Yeomanry
). Sonner's father was a blacksmith who worked for Bill Wiggins and prior to that for Mr. Friend. The blacksmiths were kept very busy and his father used to walk all the way from Hungerford to Buttermere to shoe horses. There was no transport in those days.

Sonner went to the Wesleyan school in Church Street to begin with then went on to the new primary school in Fairview Road for two or three years. It was here that he was given the nickname 'Sonner' by Miss Winkworth. The first headmaster there was Mr. Camborne. On leaving school he became a paper boy, cycling as far as Oxenwood and Fosbury with papers. After that he worked for T.W. Alexanders the grocers as an errand boy and that was where he met his wife who was Mary Pike. She was a nursery maid at Mr. Pinckney's at Newtown and was there when Betty McCubbin and Anne Gresham Cooke were born. If May had still been alive she would have been 99, so would have been 16 when Betty McCubbin was born.

Sonner stayed with Alexanders until he joined the army in 1916. He saw service in France on the Somme. After the war he was demobbed but couldn't find a job so he joined the regular army. He went to Chatham then embarked from Gravesend on the steamship 'Khyber' for the Far East. They were destined for Karachi but were diverted to Persia - now Iran. The late Shah's father, Reza Shah, had to abdicate and Sonner's regiment was in a rearguard action to get him out of the country. He was awarded the Persian Campaign Medal for this. After that the regiment; was transferred to Mesopotamia - now Iraq - to keep the peace. There weren't the troubles that there are now (Saddam Hussein) but there were various skirmishes. He was in Baghdad and Basra; and around the Tigris and the Euphrates. When he was in Persia he went right up to Baku in Russia on the Caspian Sea. After Mesopotamia he went to India and up to the North East Frontier and that was where he finished his service in 1922 after 4 years. Sonner was in an infantry regiment and was sergeant to an officer, so got posted with him.

Sonner referred to The Hermitage at Eddington where Mr. Cotterell used to live until 1912. It was then bought by a Mr. Robert Haines, an old cow dealer. He lived there several years then Miss Little's father bought it.

People who write anecdotes in the papers about the old days in Hungerford often get it all wrong. Ron Tarry (ex Mayor) said people ought to and talk to Sonner North first because he knows all about the old days.

When Sonner came out of the army in 1922 he went to live with his mother at 4 Atherton Crescent. The crescent houses were built in 1917 and his mother was the first occupant of the house. Sonner married at Christmas 1922 and he and his wife went to live in a small thatched cottage nearby. By the time he had three sons he wanted a bigger house, so he put in for a council house, but both his father and his mother died in quick succession. Sonner had always promised his mother that he would look after her invalid brother, Uncle Bob, but he had a sudden heart attack and died as well. Thus they didn't take up the council house but went to live at his mother's house in Atherton Crescent where he has been ever since.

After leaving the army Sonner got a job as a bricklayer and has been a bricklayer all his life. His sons, George, Harold, Bob and John were all bricklayers. Harold works for Gibbs and John has his own business, Adams and Sons. George works for Miss Mills, whose father used to have a radio shop. Bob died.

Until the houses were built, Atherton Crescent was farmland where Mr. Macklin used to grow his barley. The main Salisbury road was sealed but the Crescent was very rough for many years. After they had had sheep on the fields, the women used to go in and collect the stones and flints for 1d. a bushel and leave them by the edge of the field. The Council then came and collated them and steam-rolled them into the road surfaces before the days of tarmac. There weren't many cars when Sonner was a lad. If they saw a car they used to run behind it and keep up with it.

Down the west side of the High Street, March Hair used to be Cannings, the baker. Further down was Batt, the baker then where the Launderama is now was Harris, another baker. There was a forge next to the vet (Vic Caswell's father?). Beyond the vet was Wilton House, the Congregational church, Parsons the Photographer, then Adnams Yard. They were corn merchants and had a corn mill there. He also had a small shop for selling bird seed ete. Next to Adnams was T.W. Alexander the grocer, then Gingells, another grocer, then where Supernews is now was Nicol's Hardware Store. Sonner's brother Tom worked for Nicol's for many years. Where the Hungerford Wine shop is now was a saddlers. Just before the Corn Exchange was the 'Crown' public house. Beyond the Corn Exchange was Freddie Barnard, the fishmonger and the Misses Barnard who sold papers. On the corner of Church St. was Bartholomew, the undertaker and on the other corner was Dr. Barker's house. His surgery was in Church St. where Hungerford Bookshop now stands. What is now a bookmakers was the London Central Meat Company. Harry Talmage was the manager of it. Next to it Killicks, grocers. Where the Co-op is now was Alrights, drapers, who sold clothes, boots and shoes and earthenware. Then came the original Post Office before the new one was built on the East side. Next was Hutchins, a butcher, later taken over by Coker, then Hawkins, confectioner with a tea shop above. Where Benbows, the greengrocer is now, was Mills a butcher, then Bass a grocer then Cash and Co, a shoe shop. Martins, the paper shop was originally W.H. Smith. Next was a drapers, Tyler, later Tyler and Banyard. The lady in the shop now (Althea's) is a relation of Sunner's. His sister, Molly, married a Dods and their son married this lady. They are now divorced. After that was Mr. Bushnell the Registrar, where the Tutti Pole is, then a saddlers then Frank Curly, the dentist. In the last house by the canal was an old man named Gardner who was a shoe mender.

Over the Canal Bridge was Wooldridge's yard, where Sonner worked for 21 years. One day he had a row with the foreman and left. The following week John Wooldridge died and left in his will £1 for every year of service to all his employees. As Sonner had left the firm the week before, he didn't get his £21. It was a lot of money in those days. when Sunner started work as a bricklayer the pay was 3½d an hour. Below Wooldridge's was Mr. Borlase, another tailor, with a yard at the back called Borlase's yard. Next was Freddie Batchelor then Batt the barber, now owned by Mr. Clifford. Beyond the barber was the Methodist Chapel then the Town Mill. Rumballs the butcher were on the corner then Freeman, tobacco, fishing tackle and guns, then Browns cycle Shop; Mr. Taylor, chemist, then George New, printing works. Next was a Vegetable shop owned by a Mr. Smeaton.

Starting at the top and coming down the East side of the High Street was the 'Salisbury Arms' then some little old cottages called 'Louse Hill' because they were lousy! After that was the 'Borough Arms' (now the 'Tuttiman') and further down near School Alley was Miss Gosling's sweet shop. Below that was another drapers, then Cliffords shoe shop, then the 'Craven Arms'. Bodmans, the drapers was next then the 'Plume'. On the other side of Park Street was another pub, run by Sonner's aunt, called the 'Bell'. This became a butchers shop, then came the Swan Tap then the 'Three Swans' . Below that were the banks then Alexanders, coal merchants. They used to own a farm up Salisbury Road. They Were no relation to Alexanders the grocers.

Below the railway bridge was the Manor House where Dr. Starkie Smith lived and he and Dr. James had their surgery. Up Everland Road Harry Champ had a mineral water factory and Platt had a brewery depot. Hungerford laundry was also up there and there was stabling for horses.

Beyond the Manor House was a fish and chip shop, Higgs the grocers and Miss Waddington, haberdashery. Next was Bingham's the chemist, though before that possibly Miss Waddington's people had it. The Post Office was previously the engineering works of Earle's Stores, which extended down to where Carpenter's is now and was a hardware store. Sunner thinks they went bankrupt. Next, Frank Kerly had a dentist's shop, then Tommy Fruen, the undertaker, followed by Mumfords the Printers and Mrs. Froome's school. Next to that was Bridge House where the Astleys lived. Sonner went to school with the Astley children (?).

Beyond the canal was Blake Bros, saddlers. Further on was the Barley Mow, the John of Gaunt and the Forge with Vic Caswell. Up the Forge near Boarden Carriage was a Fish and Chip shop run by Tom Barnes. Beyond the Forge in Bridge Street was the International Stores. Sonner remembers the girl who worked at the Stores, Ada Clements, who married his best friend, Frank Scarlett, and when he died she married a Froome. She is still alive and lives in Lancaster Square. She must be about 92.

On the corner of Charnham Street was a tannery where they had a huge chimney. When Sonner was a boy at school they were all taken down to the tannery one day because Mr. Lew Clifford was going to fell the chimney. He stuffed some material into the base, poured a lot of paraffin on to it and set fire to it. The children watched the spectacle. After the tannery ceased, Dr. James lived in the house

Along Charnham Street was the Fire Station and on the corner a little tea shop. Next was Faulknor Square which used to get flooded by the Kennet. Here was The 'Lamb', the methodist manse and Gibbons iron foundry. Where Stirlands petrol station is were two houses. These houses were called "Barracks". They dated back to the days when soldiers had to march all day along the Bath Road. They would stop there for a rest. On towards Froxfield, near Johnny Morris's home (Hopgrass) there was another building called the "Barracks", used for the same purpose. In those days there was no mechanical transport

Along Charnham Street opposite The Bear was Stradlings Cycle shop. Further along was Jessett, a baker and bookmaker. Next was a man called Memstead who used to go round on a tricycle soldering pots and grinding tools and scissors. .Beyond him was Charlie Batchelor who had a junk shop. What is now Mary Bellis Antiques was lived in by Col. Willes from Hungerford Park. Sunner and his wife were great friends of Mary Bellis. Mrs. North used to repair all her tapestries etc. and Sonner, after he retired, used to do all the odd jobs and repairs in the house. She was a lovely woman. She used to visit the Norths in their house after they retired and give them a £10 note every time. She had a national reputation for old oak furniture. Next to Mary Bellis was Howe's sweet shop and next to him Miss Hancock had a paper shop, Mr. Bull the chimney sweep, then a man who hired out pony traps, then the 'Sun' pub.

Opposite on the south side of Charnham Street was Bennetts Yard. A lot of land used to be the gardens of the Bear Hotel.

Eddington Mill, where Mr. Peters lives now used to be Hoflands Mill, then Mr. Robinson took over after that. The Hofland's name was really Hogsflesh. They didn't like the name so they had it changed to Hofland. Their family tomb is still standing by the old Wesleyan Chapel in Church Street with the name Hogsflesh on it. There is another graveyard round the back of the Congregational Church.

Sonner was keen on football and was captain of Hungerford Town Football Club for seven years and acquired just on 40 medals, which he gave to his son. He has two grandsons who are both in the Police force. Another team called the 'Hungerford Swifts' used to play along the Bath Road where the Garden Centre is now. It was run by the Rev. Gotto. He was curate in Hungerford during the time of the Rev. Wardley King. Rev. Gotto married a girl called Rosa and became vicar of Lambourn. When he retired he took a small holding near Headley. He was very keen on farming.

Sonner didn't take much part in the water sports on the canal but he was keen on the gymnasium behind the Corn Exchange. Unfortunately he broke his leg in 1927 so had to give up football. He was also keen on cricket and hockey, but never belonged to the bowling club.. He also joined the British Legion in 1922. There was a chap in the Legion called Radbourne who queried Mrs. North's membership, as he asserted that she was never in the army. This upset Sonner so he quit the Legion.

There was no unemployment problem in Hungerford in the 1920s, but if you had an outside job and it was raining, you were sent home with no money. There no guaranteed week. Sometimes Sonner would have to cycle to Tidworth Garrison and to Honey Street near Pewsey where Wooldridge had a building contract. There were no cars in those days. If you tell people that they wouldn't believe you. Sometimes people at Coombe or Fosbury would want tiles replaced on the roof. They would telephone Wooldridge's and ask for the job to be done quickly so Sonner and another labourer would load a hand cart tiles and ladders etc. and push it all the way there. People say to you "give me the good old days". Sunner says he wouldn't like to see them again.

After Wooldridge's Sonner worked at Harwell in the 1940s. They used to get there by bus. If he worked all week - Saturdays at time and a half - Sundays double time, the most he could bring home was £13. Now they earn that in two hours. Sunner doesn't believe in the 'Good old days'. "The hobnailed boots we wore to school were our Sunday boots as well. We never had two pairs of shoes". Sonner's father who worked for Wiggins the blacksmith at Eddington earned only 18 shillings a week and he had eleven children to support and they were all well looked after. Father mended the shoes and Mother mended the clothes. They grew their own vegetables. Sonner still looks after his own flower garden in the front and his kitchen garden behind his house at the age of 93.

Sonner has no intention of leaving his house. He has lived in it since it was built and he says his feet have now grown into the floor. He can't move. He won't go into an old people's home. He has got a beautiful view and knows everyone in the Crescent. If you go into a home you are shut away.

He does all his own shopping. Mr. Whatley takes him down to the shops and brings him back once a week. His son visits him once a week and his neighbour is very helpful. He is quite happy where he is.

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- Oral History / Audio Archives