Growing up in the 1940s
A few years ago I spent a very happy afternoon listening to the reminiscences of Hugh (known as Sam) Abbott, who was born at Lyndhurst, Ashburton in 1935. Afterwards I wrote up all that I could remember of that meeting. Sadly, Hugh died in January 2011 - but I think he would have enjoyed sharing his memories with a wider audience. I have written it as closely as possible to his own words.

Following this are memories from: Margaret Hawkins, Lot Sutcliffe, Ernie Smerdon, Margaret Ledbury and Mary Reeves, Pat Blayney, and June Labdon.


From Hugh Abbott:

'Harold Abbot was at Lyndhurst first * He came from Bowdley Farm.

Lyndhurst was left by Harold to his daughter Margaret, but it was effectively in the hands of her three daughters, Frances, Pamela and Ann. Incidentally, Margaret married a Perryman, a farmer at Yeo Farm: he was the second in Devon to have electricity, the first being Drogo Castle. **                                                                    

Above: Lyndhurst, circa 1960s
From my own collection

Francis William Smerdon (Frankie) Abbott, my father,  lived at Lyndhurst. The building opposite the house was stabling for a horse and carriage. There was a kitchen and scullery, with a larder and a copper. I remember huge bowls being hung on the back wall. We had a piano in one room, and a grandfather clock in the hall. There was a bathroom upstairs, but the hot water had to be carried up for it in large watering cans with lids.

I heard a story that the bottom newel posts in the hall had, at one time, glass globes on them, like upside down fish bowls. One day the sun shone through the hall door and through a globe which acted like a magnifying glass. It caught the stairs alight.

Frankie owned Rew Lea Cottages, and eventually moved to Woodawray. My grandmother lived with us. There were evacuees in the house during the war - my mother used one of the bedrooms as a food store, and had food piled from floor to ceiling. Frankie was a Special Policeman at this time.

I remember someone called Roberts at Cartlands - he had Raj connections. Miss Manlove was at Moorlawn. Colonel Rendell was at Torns - the hunt met there.

A Nosworthy ran the newsagents - I think Harold's wife was a Nosworthy.*** There was some connection with the Langler family, who owned what became Webbers and Christophers' yard.

The three daughters then sold Lyndhurst to a couple from the Belgrave Hotel'.

*William Henry Abbott, first owner on the deeds. In the Devon Kelly's Directory for 1914

** Wallace John Perryman married Alice Margaret Abbott 30 Dec 1919, Ashburton. (Western Times 3 Jan 1919 p 4 col 5)

***William Henry Abbott married Alice Nosworthy Rowe 18 Apr 1892 (Silver wedding reported in Western Times 20 Apr 1917 p4 col 4)

From Margaret Hawkins:
I was born at Stormsdown in the 1930's and moved to East End Terrace when I was eighteen months old. I lived there until 1959 when I married and moved away; my parents lived at East End Terrace until their deaths. During the war my father, William Aggett, worked as a lorry driver for M Caunter, who owned the mill under the arch close to the Bull Ring when it used to be in the centre of the town. He delivered cattle feed all over Dartmoor. He then went on to work for Mr Caunter's brother at Bickington. He was in the Home Guard, and used to have to sleep on Rippon Tor each week or so.
My father used to M.C. the whist drives in the town and and after the war he was a driver for Gayton's coaches - he was quite well known.
A house in Eastern Road opposite the Cottage Hospital was owned by Mr Gayton but was lived in by his daughter Mrs Salter and family. Billy Salter, his grandson, used to be an old boyfriend of mine. There was a house in West Street owned by Brian Baker and his wife who was a granddaughter (maiden name Jean Salter) of Mr Gayton. The garage business was sold during my father's time there to a Mr White who had a house built next to the Gayton Coaches site, below Big Lenny Hill. Previously he had lived in East End Terrace.
I so enjoyed living in Ashburton and had an extremely good upbringing there. I joined in all the activities and was even the Football Queen when I was about 15 - 16 years old.
Above: Old Exeter Road, where Gayton's Coaches used to operate.
Photograph R Bligh 2020
I started at Ashburton School and then passed the scholarship to go to Totnes Grammar School. My mother used to work in the canteen of the Ashburton School. I still remember all my old teachers - I was so happy there.
I used to play in the quarry pond at Big Lenny as we called it and the marble quarry next door during the mid 1940's. During the war the American GIs used to stop down the bottom of our terrace on their way to Holne Park and give us chocolates and candy. I remember the big party they arranged for us at Holne Park, especially the gorgeous food. They were there because they were rehearsing for the D-Day Landings and unfortunately about 3000 men lost their lives at Slapton Sands when they mistook German E-Boats for British ships. It was extremely sad but of course nobody knew at the time as it was kept secret for 50 years. After the war I used to go to Slapton Sands, where the galvanised fencing was still up, with Mr and Mrs Cartwright, neighbours of mine, for picnics. Mr Cartwright was the engine driver of Bulliver, the train that used to run from Ashburton to Totnes: it used to take me to school at Totnes High School for Girls which used to be for both day and boarding pupils. The Head Mistress was a Miss Briggs.
I grew up during the era of Mr Truscott being the Portreeve and I remember dancing the Floral Dance with him. One of my friends, Cyril Bowen, was the mayor after I left Devon but while I was there we did not have such a title.
Another friend, Elizabeth Matthews, lived at Place Farm off Balland Lane, and worked in the Paper Shop until she started her nursing training at Exeter Orthopaedic Hospital.
With many thanks to Margaret
From Lot Sutcliffe:

I grew up on Forder Green Farm, 3 miles south of Ashburton, so the trip into Ashburton was a regular occurrence. The South Devon Herdbook Society held biannual bull sales, one in Totnes at the old market place, above the Rotherfold, and the other at Ashburton market.
In the thirties my father went into Ashburton in his 4 litre Bentley open touring car, pulling a single beast cattle trailer, to  buy a bull. He set off up Woodland Road, straight over the old A38, and up Whistley Hill. When he got to the steepist bit the bull, through gravity and fear, pressed his rear firmly against the tailgate. The trailer only had a single axle, so this had the effect of taking all the weight of the rear wheels off the Bentley, which ground to a halt in clouds of smoking rubber. So he reversed all the way down across the A38, to the market. Here he recruited two market followers to stand either side of the bypass, to signal when it was clear, and when they did this, he accelerated as hard as he could, and just made it.
When I drive down Whistley Hill today, and see the two lanes of traffic nose to tail at 70 mph, I think back 80 years, and wonder if this is progress.
Another memory was the Great Blizzard of 46/47. After being cut off for three days, we walked into Ashburton, starting at first light and not getting home until evening, when we were absolutely exhausted. In many of the lanes the snow was level with the tops of the hedges, so we had to dig our way through.
This was all largely because my father, Peter, was feeling especially cut off, without any post or papers! Luckily, as we lived on a farm, food was all in situ, and wasn't a problem. It was a real problem, though, getting the milk out to the creamery, as the milk lorries couldn't get through with their churns.
With many thanks to Lot; also to Judy Marshall, of Around Ashburton, who first published Lot's account.


From Ernie Smerdon:

 I lived at 69 North Street – my mother was born in the houses opposite (now demolished – these were where the strip of pavement is now). The Routley family lived in no. 92, and the Wottons in 94. Going back the other way The Gill family were in no. 90 and the Endacotts in 88.

Our house was large – we had 6 bedrooms. F J Badcock had lived in it once, and still owned it.* During the war, when we had evacuees, there were 14 in the house altogether.





                                                                                 69 North St today


We used to pick flowers and berries and sell them house to house. First of all in the year it was snowdrops, then daffodils from Lent Hill and primroses from Goosible Lane (sp?)** Later in the year we collected 'urts and chestnuts. Bluebells were no good for selling – they didn't last.

I used to save with post office savings stamps – they were 6d a time.

In those days it was considered OK to have a birds' egg collection – I made a box for mine in school.

Shiner Shelton*** married one of the Leaman girls. He was a barber at 2 North St, and then later at 40 North St. He used to ask us teenagers 'Anything for the weekend ?' We hadn't a clue what he was talking about.

Smerdon's was at no 4 North Street.

The Co-op occupied several buildings – the drapery shop was at 8 North Street, (this later became the pet shop) and the bakery was at no 30. The Co-op butchers was next to it, and the main grocery department was opposite at number 19.

Minnie and Mabel Butler had a haberdashery shop at 14 North Street – one of them used to give piano lessons upstairs.

Mr Mann had an accumulator shop at 4 West Street, and a shop across the road at 3 West Street. Accumulators were used for running radios – they were made of glass, and you could see when the acid was going down. You then took them into Mr Mann and exchanged them for a new one.

Mrs Sly was the Sunday school teacher – she lived in a big house opposite the church. Her parents had had a dairy. Dickie Jones was the choirmaster until Maureen Daymond came in 1954 or 55 – he was the husband of  Amy Jones.

Miss Hern lived in a large house just beyond the bridge at the end of Chuley Road. The house was at the bottom of a steep valley, which got filled in when the A38 dual carriageway was built. The house had oil lamps - no electricity. She had an orchard with cider apples, and a large cider press in the barn. We boys used to 'scrump' the cider apples, even though they were horrible.

In those days the quarry excavated black marble - it was quite famous. There is some at the South Dartmoor Community College.

*Frank Jackson Badcock, 'Builder, contractor, timber merchant, quarry owner and haulage contractor - Station Road'

Kelly's Directory of Devonshire 1935

** Goosepool Lane on the 1840 tithe map.

*** Bill Shelton married Rhona Leaman. Thanks to Linda Phillips for this information.

Many thanks to Ernie Smerdon


From Margaret Ledbury and Mary Reeves (nee Jones), twin daughters of the Reverend Prebendary G A B Jones and Mrs E M Jones

1945 - 1962

My sister Margaret and I arrived in Ashburton  at Easter 1945. We came straight from  boarding school to the Vicarage, our new home;  our parents had moved from North Devon while we were away. We were thrilled with the lovely Queen Anne house with its large garden, lots of room for us to play outside and a large bedroom each.  We  were 11 years old  and had spent the first years of our life in a small village, so this was an amazing  change.  Ashburton was a small market town but it seemed quite a large one to us.  Just a few thousand people lived there then, and much more traffic going through than we had known.  There were four main streets  with a Bull Ring at the crossroads,a large stone edifice with large iron rings  set into it on all sides.   It was very old, and presumably used to tether bulls during the cattle markets, for sale or for hire maybe.    There was also a Pannier Market, with many stalls or stone shelters  where people would come into the town to sell their  wares.  I remember a Medieval Fair one year when we all dressed up and processed to the Market and sold  the contents at our various stalls.  Margaret and I dressed up as nuns and helped at a Church stall, my sister sold a lot of tiles she had painted with  Saints and Canterbury Pilgrims! Many years later, long after we had left, it was removed for a large car park, much needed for a rapidly enlarging town.  West Street, where we lived, went out towards Plymouth, East Street met at the Bull Ring and continued on to the Exeter Road.  Across from these was North Street, leading up to the moor and the Ashburton  marble quarry.  Last was St Lawrence Lane leading down to the Cattle Market and the Railway Station.  In that street there was an old building which once had been a Grammar School but in our time was a Junior School and the Library.  The older children went by train to Totnes to the school there..  This Lane became flooded very quickly in torrential rain and the owners of the town houses there all had flood boards,to insert in front of their doors to prevent the water entering their house!

The town had a Portreeve  instead of a Mayor, and was appointed every few years, with an inaugural procession up to the Town Hall  and every year there was a Portreeve's Dinner.

In the summer we danced in the streets a floral dance with a band playing and we danced a folk dance to a particular tune.  We noticed that we lost some dancers as we approached a pub and there were quite a few of those on our route--but they returned later!
Above: The Wool Shop - 1940s? Also in the picture is H. Bracewell's at 2 North Street. A tobacconist and confectioner, the business also incorporated hairdressing.
From my own collection.


 There were several shops, owned by the people in them who were so friendly, we knew them well.  The Misses Butler, two lovely, smiley ladies owned the wool shop with lots of millinery items and their beloved cats were often on the counter.  They were Sacristans at our Church and also ran the Sunday School.  There were about 100 children who came every Sunday to the Church Hall and were given a little book to put a sticker in ( appropriate for the lesson they were taught.) We went of course and it was rather enjoyable.  Every year they all went in a bus for the Sunday School outing to Teignmouth with 6d to spend!  Also there was a Sunday School tea, lots of food  such as large buns with cream and jam and many different kinds of cake with squash, a great treat for us all.  Then each child was given a Sunday School prize, a book for them to take home.  I’m sure most of the food was provided by the large bakery, Barnes, all cooked on the premises.

Then there was the ironmonger’s Churches, we loved looking round it and you were able to buy just one candle or screw or nail etc.  There was a greengrocer and a grocer's shop, Parsons , who delivered your order to the door and would send up to your house with an assistant anything you had forgotten.  My mother paid her bill at the end of every month. There were three banks: Lloyds, Midland, and the National Westminister, and a Post Office. There were buses going through from Plymouth to Exeter and also to Newton Abbot - so it seemed such a busy  and friendly place to live in. 
A man arrived once a month to the Church Hall with an evening of  pictures to show us.  They were in black and white and silent but we did enjoy it all - Charlie Chaplin, Tom and Jerry, Abbott and Costello, as well as a main film.
When we first arrived in Ashburton there was a slum area. I visited the homes with my father shortly before they were pulled down and new housing built at the top of North Street.
We loved our time in Ashburton  and we still visit from time to time  - to a delightful but very different town  from what it was nearly seventy years ago.
Many thanks to Margaret Ledbury and Mary Reeves

From Pat Blayney:

We lived in a bungalow called Greenside, just above where Janet, Caroline and Robert Dawe lived. Marion and Jim Dawe were their parents, and Marion was Irish–I remember a Monsignor from Buckfastleigh visiting her. The grandparents of the children lived in a farm farther up the hill* leading to Buckland in the Moor, and I remember helping them do some haymaking and perhaps planting potatoes. I was only about ten or eleven then. There was a disused mine shaft on the farm property and my brother Terry and myself were a bit leery of that. I don't know whether it was properly closed or not. When I lived in Ashburton, Wilf Dawe worked on the farm but lived on the housing estate just across the bridge and towards Holne Cross. Wilf was Jim Dawe's brother, and Wilf and his wife had a daughter Pat, and also a son. It is very likely that upon the death of his parents, Wilf and family moved into the farm. I remember that one of the Dawes was a good artist.

The Masters family lived in the Druid area. Shirley Masters came to Toronto and was a nurse; she married a lawyer, I believe. There were two other Masters girls, Jane and Marion. Jane was beautiful and married a farmer. Marion married one of the Armstrong boys–I think his name was Tony. The Armstrongs lived on a farm on the way to Newton Abbot. There were two other Armstrong boys: one was Michael, who was articled at a solicitor's office in Newton Abbot. They were all involved in the Young Conservatives Party, as was I.

Later on we moved farther down to the Hollies and lived next door to the Teagues and the Yellands. My brother, Terry, used to be quite friendly with Gillian Tregonnaugh (sp?)

In those days, there was a burnt down mansion near Greenside, and the grounds there were a haven for us to play in.**

Upon leaving Ashburton High School/Greylands, I worked at H.B. Cook Hairdresser, where I served an apprenticeship. I worked there for just over three years and then emigrated to Canada with my mother.

During the time I lived in Ashburton there was not a lot for teenagers to do for recreation; for instance, there was no cinema and once or twice a week my mother and I used to go to Newton Abbot and sometimes Torquay to see a film or movie as we call it in Canada. There was an excellent tea shop in Newton Abbot called Madge Mellors.
I do really miss those days and didn't really appreciate the beauty of Devon and England as a whole until I left.
*Druid Farm
** Holne Cross
Many thanks to Pat Blayney

From June Labdon:
I was born June Rosemary at No 43 East Street, Ashburton in my name-month of 1933, the youngest of the three children of Florence and Arthur Horrell. My sister Hazel preceded me by nine years and my brother Edward (Eddie) by seventeen. Widely spaced, we never really knew each other as playmates in childhood, though we grew close as adults and remained so through our lives. I lived at '43' until I was married twenty years later; the house looks now as it did then, the front door set two steps above the pavement on the steeply sloping street.
I was educated first at Ashburton Primary School, at that time established in Station Road, where the head teacher was Mr Jan Bawden. He was supported by Florrie Thorne and Lucy Luxton, who I remember as severe disciplinarians of whom I was rather frightened. From the Primary School I went to Homelands Technical Secondary School in Babbacombe; I don't know why, as it was a most inconvenient and lengthy journey for a young girl; getting there and back involved three separate buses every morning and afternoon. Back home, I attended the Methodist Church and Sunday School (now the Arts Centre) at the bottom of West Street. All three of us Horrells had red hair, which helped to make me 'Carnival Crown Bearer' in 1937, and a 'Princess' a year later. The official photographer for the carnival was Mr Ruth, who had a shop in North Street; we posed in the garden behind Barnes' baker's shop in West Street along with the Portreeve, Peter Whitley, who sadly was killed in the war. I have given the original hand-coloured group photograph to the Musuem.
The minister at the Methodist Church in my day, the mid to late 1940s, was the Reverend Brian A Greet, or 'Bags' for short. Brian was good with young people; we had a flourishing youth club meeting upstairs in the schoolroom; we gathered round him like apostles around Jesus, ready for rambles, games or instruction. He came from a noted Methodist family in Bristol, his elder brother Kenneth an even more prominent minister in the church.
My father worked for the local council until he died a few days after VE day in 1945; he was 57 years old. Without siblings near my own age at home, I missed him greatly. Eddie joined the Army in 1939 and spent a largely uneventful war until 'D' Day in 1944, when the 6th Devons fought first in Normandy and thereafter in a series of engagements up through Europe until he was seriously wounded in northern Germany a few days before the fighting stopped.
Eddie's daughter, my niece Valerie, became Ashburton's Portreeve in 2019, as had her husband before her. Hazel became a WAAF during the war and subsequently trained as a teacher, working in schools in east Devon, where she lived mostly thereafter. She is still living in care, in her nineties, just outside Sidmouth. I left home when I married in 1953 and thereafter lived away from Ashburton, contenting myself as best I could with frequent visits to my remaining family.
My father's early death hit us all hard. Mum found work as a cook for St. Faith's, a private school which had been evacuated from Cambridge to the Golden Lion at the beginning of the war. She remarried later in life and lived in Woodland Road until she died.
I 'grew up' very quickly and started work at weekends in Holman and Ham's pharmacy in the Bull Ring, aged 14. I left Homelands School two years later and becane a dental nurse in Henry Dagger's practice in Newton abbot, an occupation I continued after my marriage, first in Plymouth and then wherever we lived until I retired.
My sister and I sometimes sang at concerts in the Town Hall, while Hazel and her husband, Ron, were members of a drama group called The Buckfast Players, founded by Moira Babbington, which met and performed in a small theatre Moira owned, halfway up West Street opposite the church. The three of us were all musical, though completely untaught; Eddie in particular was a gifted pianist and could improvise accurately by ear for hours.
Ashburton in the 1940s was much as it is now, except that the top of North Street has been widened, the old buildings alongside the river demolished and a lighter aspect to the town established from that direction. Back then, it was a dark, rather threatening road until it emerged higher up to turn up over the bridge at Headborough to Buckland and the moor, as it still does. Towards the top end, by crossing the road through an entrance cut in the retaining wall, you could start on the climb up and over Terrace Walk, eventually to descend through the housing estate where my Aunt Emmy lived at Higher Roborough onto the top of East Street and back down to the Bull Ring in the centre of town; Terrace Walk was good for sliding down in snowy weather, but you had to be brave, which I wasn't.
Ashburton by-pass was first opened in the year of my birth, 1933, and successively improved in the 1960s and '70s. New houses appeared around the Old Totnes Road, where my brother lived, and in other locations as the town grew, but its situation at the bottom of a valley surrounded by hills has prevented much 'sprawl', and it is still a compact market town. (without the market, alas). The other major change since my day - a loss in fact - is the railway down through Buckfastleigh and Staverton to Totnes, where one could catch the main line train to Exeter or Plymouth and beyond.A victim of Dr. Beeching, the line was closed in 1962, but after complicated negotiations it was finally reopened as a privately run recreational facility in 1991, but only from Buckfastleigh. In the 1940s the train was a one or two coach unit hauled by a tank engine universally known as 'Bulliver', which took Ashburton students (including my husband-to-be) to their grammar schools in Totnes every day in term. It was a most beautiful ride alongside the river, thought whether it is still worth counting the herons fishing on the margins, I do not know. Unlikely, I daresay.
Though I have not lived in the town since 1953, I'm an 'Ashburtonian' and always will be; my family has been an integral part of the town and still is. I love it, and always will.
With many thanks to June; also to Judy Marshall, of Around Ashburton, who first published June's account.