Chris Beer was born in 1944. He spent his young life living in Winsham, and now lives in Chard. Below are some of his memories. Also included are some rare photographs of Winsham and the surrounding area, taken around the turn of the last century, and which have been handed down, and which he is now generously sharing with the Winsham Web Museum.
The story of Chris Beer is an interesting one. He now lives in Chard and has done so for many years. However his story shows that although people have moved out of the village, often for housing or work reasons, they still maintain their association with the place of their birth. Chris is still in the village several days a week, tending his vegetable plot on Geoff Peacock’s land.
Chris is the son of Nora Beer, the daughter of William and Ethel Beer (Phelps). His twin sister, Coral lives in Taunton. In his early years he lived at Whatley Cross and for a while at 2, Malthouses, at the end of Court Street. The Beer family was one of the oldest in Winsham, the first record showing a Henry Beere born in 1643.There were probably others earlier than this.
Educated at Winsham School, he became an apprentice tool maker at age 15, at Brecknall Willis, but finished his apprentice ship with Duoalloys. After a break at Westland’s, he returned, working at Brecknell Willis until he retired in 2010. He is married to Margaret, and has three children, Stephen, who lives in Chard, Jayne who lives in Tatworth and Jacqueline in Bristol.
Chris was, by his own admission liked his own company, and loved to wander the woods and fields around the parish, watching and listening to the rhythm of the natural world around him. This love of the outdoor has never left him, and he still derives great pleasure from wandering the countryside, often with his camera, recording and remembering what he sees.
His memories of his early life cover many aspects of village life. His Grandparents, William and Ethel Beer lived in a cottage called ‘Clayplatt’ which is now transformed into a house called ‘Clay pots’, which was then on Harold Hammett’s land. Grandfather was Harold Hammetts’s cow man. Sadly William died at age 56. The cottage in which they lived was a ‘tied’ one, and this could have resulted in Ethel losing her home, but Harold Hammett agreed that Ethel could continue living there in return for managing the egg production on the farm and doing some cleaning in the farmhouse. Chris’s family had always held Harold Hammett in high regard, and this support at a very difficult time justified this respect .
Something that is not generally known is that Ethel was machine gunned by a passing German Junkers 88, on its way to bomb the Milk Factory at South Chard. She was posting a letter at Whatley Cross, when one of the shells just missed her, but a flying chip from a roof tile caught her finger right beside her wedding ring!
Another fond memory is when Chris and Carole ,walking home from Winsham School, found at Whatley Bottom, a package lying in the field. They thought it was a roll of binder twine, but when they got it home, they put it in the shed. Their mother found it later on. She brought it indoors, unwrapped it and found that it was a big cheese. The family lived on cheese for about two months!
From his early years, his great Gran (Alice Beer) features large in his memory. She lived with her husband Arthur in a cottage in Broadenham Lane. Although the cottage is long gone, there are still traces of their residence. Hops still appear in the hedgerow; a rose also still survives-it is known by the family as ‘Granny's Rose’. Alice and Arthur had ten children.
Granny Beer was quite a character from all accounts: she smoked a clay pipe filled with a dark ‘shag’. On Saturday evenings she would go to the ‘Old Kings Arms’ and have a glass of Stout (a dark, strong beer similar to Guinness). If there was a dance being held in the Jubilee Hall, she would go across to the hall; the Band would then play a Polka for her to dance. Satisfied, she would return home.
Chris has happy memories of his life at Whatley Cross. Always interested in country life, he remembers helping Graham Strawbridge make ‘spar gads’, the hazel pegs used for thatching. They were often used in the thatching of hay ricks, which in those days were thatched with reeds. An area of farm land, called the ‘rick yard’ was set aside for this form of storage that has now disappeared. When the rick was nearly all used, down to the last three or four feet, the base of the rick was surrounded with wire mesh, with the purpose of containing the vermin that were always present. When the rick was nearly used , terriers were put into the enclosure, which became a ‘killing field’. Large quantities of rats and mice were killed, and the dogs worked to near exhaustion.
Suzie used to come ferreting rabbits with us when we were kids. She always sat in front of a hole that we had missed and hadn't netted up. Sometimes we came home with 20 or 30 rabbits which didn’t go to waste.
During the war country people lived on rabbits, and after the war, when things were still on ration, if you lived on a farm in you never went short of food.
One of my favourite pastimes was foraging for food in the hedges, fields and woods. We soon learnt to eat what was good and what wasn’t! Blackberries, damsons, bramble tips, pignuts, the tuber from the wildflower of the meadows. Wild watercress in a cheese sandwich was heaven.
Trout and ells from the Whatley brook and a duck or a pheasant now and again if you had your catapult with you. We also got used to drinking cider; you could creep in and help yourself from the barrel when no one was about.
You always carried a pocket knife with you and a small oil stone; a knife was no good if it wasn’t kept sharp.
People didn’t turn their nose up at road kills, if it wasn’t knocked about to much. A dead deer on the side of the road was soon gone. Gran used to say "Bring thik thur pheasant on boy ell be o.k."
Swedes and turnips were always good to eat in season and you have never eaten greens until you have had turnip greens, when they start growing out in Feb and March. Strong, bitter and wonderful. Kale tops were lovely to eat as greens as well, and field mushrooms were always about in late summer. You had to get up early before at dawn to pick them before other people were about.
During the school holidays on a hot thundery day you could set fishing lines for trout. If you left them for a couple of hours and then pull them out, you would come home half a dozen nice trout, sometimes more. Sadly, banks are overgrown with Balsom and the upper reaches of the River Axe is dead, destroyed by modern farming methods. Slurry running off, into the bed of the river has bunged it up and there are no gravel beds for fish to spawn.
I am glad I grew up when I did. I have seen the countryside when it was clean and healthy. Let’s hope it will be like it again one day.
Other memories of farm life in the post war years include the gathering of the potato crop. A 'potato spinner' drawn by a horse or a tractor would 'spin ' the potatoes out of the ground, when they were gathered into large baskets by teams of workers. It was very hard work. Mr Hammett grew 'Aran Banner and 'Majestic'. The latter were stored in clamps until after Christmas-they improved greatly with storage. The clamps were dug under hedgerows, and then lined with straw and clay. The potatoes were stored in layers.
Kale, swedes, mangold and sugar beet were also grown, mainly for animal feed. There was a petrol driven cutter which sliced up the root crops. Kale leaves were cooked for domestic consumption, and the core of the stalks, if sprinkled with salt, after the hard outer casing was peeled away, provided a tasty cold snack,
Harvest time was another excitement. He loved to watch the tractor driven wooden threshing machine at work. A team of men kept a steady flow of wheat or barley feeding the voracious machine, while others filled large sacks from the side of the machine. Although the filled sacks weighed two and a quarter hundred weight (115kg), the men carried them on their backs to load them on to the horse drawn awaiting carts. School was often missed when the harvest was being gathered. The milling of the seed was usually carried at local Mills. At one time there were five mills along Whatley Brook. Chris does not have any memories of any of these working, and most were derelict. There were mills at one time or another at Purtington, Hollowells, Whatley Bottom, Guys Mill, and Ammerham. The barley crop was used in local cider production.
Chris often went wandering through the local woodlands. He remembers switching eggs from Jay’s nests and Blackbird nests, and observing that the parents still brought up the nestlings as their own. He did the same with Magpie and crows, with the same result!
Children could wander across the Cricket Estate and the surrounding farm land without hindrance. He admits to doing some scrumping with his friends, and recalls when Freddie Saunders (Mrs Pam Hammett’s father ) caught them hiding in one of his chicken houses-he just locked the door and left them there for several hours.
Mrs Hall, the owner of the Cricket St. Thomas estate, a large employer of Winsham people, was very popular. Chris remembers that she drove a large red Mercedes. Sometimes she would invite children playing around the estate into the garden of Cricket House to enjoy cakes, and lemonade (made with lemonade crystals).
At this time, the Lawley family owned Leigh House. Miss Lawley, a daughter of the house used to drive around in an ancient Rolls Royce. In addition to going to St.Stephen’s for the regular Sunday morning service, he and his sister would go to Sunday school. Miss Lawley would regularly pick them up on Sunday mornings to take them to Sunday School in her Rolls Royce. Chris remembers that the only sound he could remember on these short drives was the sound of the clock that would tick away on the dash board!
Nora was a single mum, and bringing up twins was not easy despite the support of her parents and friends. She of course had to work. For many years she worked in Chard in one of the butcher's shops. This was after she had been very ill with polio for many moths.
One of the many small kindnesses shown to Chris and his sister by Harold Hammett. Sometimes on Saturday morning Chris and Carole would catch a bus into Chard. If Harold spotted them he would dive into his pocket and give them each a half crown-a substantial gift in those days, and greatly appreciated. Harold would also take Chris with him to the local agricultural shows.
Despite his love of the countryside, Chris was also interested in mechanical things, which led him to spend a lot of time in Churchill’s in Fore Street, where Neddie Churchill encouraged this interest which indirectly led to him becoming an apprentice tool maker.
Chris also remembers the blowing up of the cottages down near the River Axe, adjacent to the old wool mill. Pat Wheadon used the debris for repairing aerodromes in the Somerset area. John Jeffery, who died in recent years, and who lived at Beere Farm, was given the task of pressing the button that detonated the explosion
From more recent years, Chris has memories of the ‘Winsham Wally’. Believed to be a fugitive from the now abandoned menagerie at Cricket St Thomas Wild life Park, the wallaby had been seen fleetingly in various parts of the parish. Chris spotted it in Verdhay, part of Geoff Peacock’s land, something that Geoff initially did not believe until he saw it for himself. Over a period a good relationship built up. Chris was allowed to get within a few feet, but no closer. Geoff and Chris considered building a winter shelter for it, but then it disappeared. It was next heard of in Lyme Regis, captured and sent to a Wallaby haven near Axminster. Reading this report in the Western gazette, he called the Haven, and went to visit .Armed with photographs, he was able to positively identify it as the Winsham Wallaby. He was asked if he wanted it back, but decided that it was better off left where it was.
Chris Beer is a keen a good photographer. You can see below pictures taken by him in and around Winsham, together with pictures of the area handed down to him by his mother and other family members: