Saturday, 4 January 2014

Brixham and the Perfect 1950's Childhood

Brixham is a traditional fishing village in Torbay. South Devon and 40 years ago was fairly unspoilt and the perfect place to spend one's schools holiday.

The first time I saw Brixham was in at Easter in 1954. My two maiden aunts Flo and Jo Thorpe had bought a small  gift shop which they named Variety Fayre in Middle Street, Brixham. It was love at first sight.  Originally the shop had been a typical Fisherman's cottage hewn out of the rock with a brick frontage, which was actually falling down and inside was a rickety staircase which led to three floors.

It was the place itself that I fell in love with. It was so different from the semi detached streets of Stanmore. It was wild and romantic.

Across the road was the William of Orange Pub which date back to the 17th Century and in which King William of Orange spent his first night on  English shore in 1688. A statue of the King, with the usual seagull on his head, graced the harbour. Middle Street had just enough room for one car and and one could almost touch the butcher's. When it rained the water ran down the street. This historic building was unceremoniously pulled down in favour of a road to ease the traffic flow. It took a season and cost a fortune and on the first day of the road opening cars parked on it this narrowing the road again. It was the most expensive car park ever and took years to receive a no parking zone. What a cultural crime.

Brixham in those days was a working harbour with the daily fish market and the smell of fish a few yards away. It was fun to watch the fish being hauled ashore and hear the auctioneer's prattle.  The harbour was full of trawlers and sea gulls. Brixham seagulls are garrulous and noisy.

The little town was built layer upon layer into the cliff. The church had the only clarion of bells that played a tune. "Abide with Me' was struck out at 6 pm every night to honour the fact that this most famous of hymns was written by the local vicar who decided to commit suicide and jump off the local cliff at Berry Head on to see the sunset and sit down and write Abide with Me instead. This hymn was a favourite of George V1 who had it played at the Cup Final at Wembley where my grandfather wa chief accountant so I suppose it would be a suitable choice for my funeral it I have one. My family do not do funerals.

It was heaven and in this heaven I spent every Easter and summer holiday until well into my teens usually with my cousins Gillian and occasionally John and my mother. We all adored it. It was like a living Swallows and Amazons, as children had more freedom in those days and we spent days messing about in boats, swimming and for me riding. Primrosing was another delight, long walks across the cliffs with poles to tie bunches of primroses on. We even found a few wild violets.

What I adored was the fact the grass went right down to the beach not the miles of concrete esplanade that I was used to see.

I have not been back in 40 years and in truth Brixham does not look so different today in the postcards but I suspect it has been prettified. This started very soon after my aunts arrived. I can see from the maps that vast areas of rustic farmland have been covered in concrete and the primrose and violet paths have gone but I still love it. Ah the dreams of youth!

PS:  Recently I watched Restoration Man, a TV programme that featured  the restoration of a church in Brixham which I found fascinating. There seemed to be parts of Brixham that I did not recognise, in fact a lot of Brixham that I did not recognise. A quick tour on Google Earth soon filled me in. In my day 1954 to 1970 Birixham did not look like an apology for an Italian fishing village with all those pink and blue houses. In my day Brixham was grey and working class and I loved it like that. Now it is a bit precious.

Also a coastal path has been added which I think looks rather nice. The restored church look wonderful but I am not sure the old fishermen would have approved.

Fishcombe Cove - a favourite swimming spot.

1 comment:

  1. Yes it was a wonderful place & time to grow up. I was there too!