Part 1-Memories

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Memories of Sheila Ward

“……… Some of you may have belonged to Marldon even more years than I, but most have only become acquainted with it since it became a modern developed area, and may be interested to know just what conditions were like when I came with my parents to live here nearly 55 years ago.

The reason for doing so was that my father was taken very ill just prior to the First World War in 1914, and was ordered by the doctor to get away from the fog and cold of the Midlands to a kinder climate, at least during the winter.  Each autumn he came to Torre in Torquay and stayed until the Spring. During that period he would get comparatively well, but as soon as he returned to Birmingham he had a relapse.

Once again he was advised to return to the soft, kind climate of Devon, at least during the severe Midland Winter months.  This arrangement went on during the war years.  My mother was unable to join him as she had to keep the home going for my three sisters and for when my three brothers came home on leave.   In due course the war was over, the older members of the family got married and there was nothing to keep Mother, Father and me (a school girl) in Birmingham any longer.   In fact, the Doctor told my father it would be only 6 more months for him to live if he returned to city life.

During his long spells in Torquay he used to ramble in the countryside through Shiphay round to Paignton, and it was during one of those walks he came across Marldon.    He decided that this was the ideal place to try to prolong his life, and I must add now that he had 34 more years to live!  He found tiny Singmore Cottage and then arranged for my mother and I to join him here. Neither of us had seen it or had any details, but to a schoolgirl the idea of leaving school and home town seemed a great adventure.  However when Mother went to tell the Headmistress I would have to leave school as we were going to live at Marldon, Devon, the Headmistress said “ You mean Maldon in Surrey”. We had to explain it was near Paignton in Devon, and she admitted she had heard of Paignton (which at that time was a small select holiday resort) then insisted on producing a map for us to show the exact location. Alas! No name of Marldon was to be seen, although it was a fairly detailed map. Marldon just wasn’t there!!

Eventually our house in Birmingham was sold, good-byes said and we journeyed to Paignton and came out of the station looking for transport to our new home. There was one solitary horse cab and when we told the driver our destination was Five Lanes, he said “Dusn’t take the hoss up that hill with passengers and luggage”. So thinking it wasn’t very far we started the trek up Marldon Hill with what luggage was essential for immediate needs. Little thinking that we should walk that hill many times during the next few years until buses came along. Of course there were a few privately owned cars at this period, but no buses, taxis, coaches or tradesmen’s motor vehicles. When we did at last reach the cottage, we were in for a terrible shock. We had left a large house with all mod. cons. And here there was no gas, electric, tap water, bathroom or main drainage. Our water was obtained from a pump outdoors and there was no flush toilet. How like a man not to consider how these primitive conditions would distress my mother. However my father assured us that he would arrange for all these improvements to be started without delay.

During the next few days we learnt the worst!!!  Upon general enquiry we found that this couldn’t be done as no gas, water or electricity had yet been brought to Marldon (and in fact did not come until middle 1920’s). The fact that we were no worse off than any of the farmhouses or other dwellings in the area was a slight consolation, as all these also had to use pump or well water and had no flush toilets. There were, however, three exceptions to these conditions, The Vicarage, Weekaborough and Cross Cottage (now Linden Lea), as these had been built within the previous few years. Each had their own large water storage tank which was filled by a hand pump, daily or as required, and this supplied running water indoors for all purposes, including the luxury of a bathroom which no other home possessed.  Also these new dwellings had their own drainage of septic tanks, which was quite an innovation. Even these new premises had to depend on either oil stoves or were equipped with kitchen ranges for all cooking and hot water, and candles and oil lamps for lighting.

It was quite understandable that the authorities did not feel justified in the expense of bringing amenities to Marldon as there were so few houses in the area.  Apart from Toll Cottage at Five Lanes, the whole stretch of land which now comprises Belfield, Nether Meadow & Devon Oak were merely fields, the first building one way was Mrs. Stuart’s “Whitehayes”, which was then a farmhouse, (now Millmans Farm – MLHG) and the other way was Marldon House and then came the few houses and cottages in the main village Street. From Five Lanes to Marldon Cross was yet another field and the first building to be erected there was Mrs. Holman’s house after which the various bungalows were built.  Later still came Bampton Close.

In July 1919 the village were planning a Peace Celebration Day. We had no Village Hall at that time so the party was held in the barn belonging to Whitehayes which has now been converted to “Greystones”. A piano was brought in, someone had a concertina , others mouth organs and altogether the locals went quite gay with singing and dancing. Although rationing was still in force in England this did not prove an obstacle to the self-supporting farming community and all the farmer’s wives contributed cakes, pies, ham etc. Not forgetting barrels of cider, and the  whole affair was truly memorable.

During those years the Apple Pie Fair had lapsed and the great Annual event was Marldon Flower Show & Sports Day.  This used to be held in the large field at Five Lanes adjoining Occombe.  Folk came from the outlying villages, also from Paignton, Preston and Torquay for the occasion, either by pony and trap, cart, bicycle or walking.  In fact the attendance put our present day Apple Pie Fair in the shade with the numbers of people.

Early in 1920 another Norman Invasion occurred when a French Vicomte, realising the potential of the district,  purchased Moor Tor cottages (now Mrs. Lucas’s) and had them made into one residence.  Naturally this turn of events was a source of great interest to locals, but as time went by quite a number of properties were bought and converted by newcomers to the district, and gradually various pieces of land were bought and developed into building sites on which small bungalows were erected.  This was before the Government or local Planning had any say in the indiscriminate use of farmland and Totnes Council wasn’t concerned in how or what went up, but they did become aware of the necessity to provide Gas, Electricity and Water for the growing community.  There was at last a communal water tap in the village, and one by the Smokey House and gradually water supplies could be installed in our homes.  But we still had no main drainage, and this didn’t arrive at Five Lanes until 1952, but was brought to the village with building council houses in Furzegood.

However about 1924 a once monthly refuse collection was started.  Prior to this each household had to burn, bury or otherwise dispose of all refuse, which really was a problem indeed.

Until about 1922 there was no shop at Compton or Marldon and our nearest source of supplies was Paignton or Preston, and we had to carry most of our shopping from there. Although Evans the baker & the Co-op baker delivered twice a week, and Dellers Grocers also brought up orders. A Fishman came from Brixham and a Butcher from Paignton each week and these were all horse drawn vehicles. There was no milk delivery and we had to get it from nearest farm each day and before the days of fridges it was quite a problem keeping food in good condition with such infrequent supplies and deliveries.

About 1923 we heard the joyful news that a privately owned  one man bus was to operate between Compton and Paignton. There was great rejoicing and even if the bus did have hard wooden seats it proved more acceptable than a Rolls Royce would be in these days, and the service was more convenient and regular than that of today and cheaper !!!

Previous to this bus service there was a great problem in people getting employment from the village. If they did work in shops in town, it meant an early start and late home, walking in all weathers, though there were a few intrepid cyclists who did more pushing bikes than riding up and down Marldon Hill. Consequently most of the young girls went into domestic service to “live in”, whilst the lads usually worked on the farms.  With the coming of a bus there was wider scope for jobs and schooling.

Mention should be made of our postman who for 40 years had trudged daily up and down from Paighton P.O.. He was often laden like a packhorse especially at Christmas times with parcels strapped to his back. He would call at all outlying farms when there was mail to be delivered as he would not entrust letters to be handed from one person to another even if it did entail another couple of miles walk.

Of all the changes through the years, the oldest building to remain unaltered outside must be “Churscombe”, as this farmhouse was built in 1640 and is structurally the same now.  However the barn and cider press ( which was still used up to 1928 ) has now been converted by Mr. Brockhurst and you all know it as Brocks Barn.

Another farmhouse built about the same period was Occombe, and until it was bought by the Singer family in 1925, remained a farm.  Singers had another wing added and what was the cobbled farmyard was incorporated with the house and made into the entrance hall.  No expense was spared in the conversion, a Minstrels Gallery, stone fireplace and floor tiles were imported from Italy to make it a millionaire’s country home.

That wide road between Occombe House and Eastdown was built as Singer’s private road with gates each end and the narrow lane to the left of this was the public one.  However after a few years when Singer’s sold the place and returned to America, Totnes council acquired that stretch of road and it was made public.

In two respects we were better off then than now – we had our resident policeman who lived  in house near Tor Field.  Maybe in those days more discipline was needed.  I wonder!!

I think back on Marldon as it used to be, narrow lanes, high banks with primroses, honeysuckle, dog roses and the sweet scent of newly cut hay.  Lanes that were quiet and safe to walk along with no cars or petrol fumes to pollute the air.

Marldon so primitive and inconvenient, but so beautiful and serene, which at least helped my father to have 34 years more to live. If there are “Many ticky tacky boxes just the same” they did bring all the amenities to make things easier for we old Marldon residents…… “

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