“The people are so friendly and helpful to an old man”
I was born in 1928 in Barking, the second son of my parents. We moved to Upminster when I was about five and I lived there for twenty five years, until I was married. It was one and half miles away from Hornchurch RAF aerodrome which was bombed three times in the war, and Upminster had two bombs.
I left school at sixteen and went to work for a firm in Islington as a trainee draughtsman. I went on the District Line to get there. That was interrupted about a month after my 18th birthday when I was conscripted into the army in 1946. After we trained, our platoon were sent to Italy and at first we were manning a checkpoint between Italy and Yugoslavia. They moved us to a former Italian barracks at Mestre, we stayed there until November 1947 and came back to Southampton via troop ship.
I went back to the job in Islington, but in 1947 I developed a bad cough and chest pains and I was sent for an X ray. I was diagnosed with TB. They told me to go straight home to bed. I was at home for just under a year. Then I was sent to a Sanatorium in Chelmsford. They had all sorts of treatments. In the end they tried a new drug and that cleared it. When I was ready to go back to work, I got a job in Barking as a draughtsman. That’s where I met my wife Doreen. We lived with my parents and then we found a bungalow in Billericay. We were there in that very cold winter of 1963. The firm I was working in went bust, so I didn’t have a job. I was lucky because I had a friend who was working at Cowley in Oxfordshire, so that is when I came up here. I lodged in Oxford and went back for weekends.
During the lunch hour I looked at the map and saw this place Watlington which was quite close to the hills. I have always had a longing for the hills. I came out to Watlington and discovered this estate being built and I managed to secure this house. We moved here in 1963. My son Adrian was born soon after we arrived, and my daughter Alison two years later. I have three grandsons now.
Watlington was different in those days. It had its own police station, magistrates court and a lot more shops. There was an old fashioned grocer’s shop opposite where the Co-op is, with a bacon slicer. Mr. Simmons had a dairy in Brook Street with a few cows out the back. But later he had the milk sent up in churns. That was one thing we liked about it, that the shopkeepers were so friendly and helpful. My wife worked in the bakery for a time.
In the early 70s when the children were growing up, they wanted separate rooms but we had my wife’s mother living with us, so we needed to build another room on the back. I submitted plans and got several quotes from builders but they were all too expensive so I built it myself in the end. It took me two years. My brother came and helped me with the foundations and one of the men from Cowley helped with putting the lintel in, but I did the rest myself. I did all the electrical stuff.
My job at Cowley involved surveying and checking the buildings we were going to connect to, and I had to travel to site meetings all over the country. In 1983 I noticed an advertisement for a draughtsman in Watlington. The owner was Mr. Mott. We were supplying the cladding for putting on buildings. They ran into some financial problems, so I took voluntary redundancy as I was only a year off retiring.
I took up watercolour painting when I retired. My daughter paints too, it’s in the family. I am still painting now.
My wife took a job at Stonor Park, starting in the tea room and then she took charge of the gift shop. One day she came home and said they needed more guides. She persuaded me to go in. So, I did and I was a guide there for 20 years. One time the Queen Mother came and I shook her hand. I had to give it up because Doreen’s health was deteriorating. When I left, Lord Camoys invited me to a tea party and presented me with a book on the Chilterns and a pen. I am proud of that.
I cared for Doreen for five years. She had arthritis and diabetes and was in and out of hospital. She died in 2015.
We always loved it here. We fell in love with it when we first came. Even now the people are so friendly and helpful to an old man! I like living here. I wouldn’t want to leave.
Watlington Folk is a documentary project by photographer Nicola Schafer. Watlington is blessed with pretty buildings and beautiful countryside, however it is the people who live here that truly make the place. This project aims to capture that through a series of portraits of the people who live here together with their “Watlington Story”. For more information, please contact Nicola through her website http://www.nicolaschafer.co.uk