Dennis Tompkins' Story

I went to the village school from 3½ years old. We had to have a sleep in the afternoons on the rush mats in the classroom.

Miss Keverin was a lovely teacher. She used to ride along from Stony Stratford on one of those sit up and beg bikes. It must have been hard teaching children all those different ages. During the war we had a partition down the classrooms because we had three classes then and extra children who were evacuees. Our mum had a boy to stay and the two Miss Hillyers had a boy as well.

Mrs Thacker was the teacher for the older children. She was quite strict but she helped people – she did Saturday morning classes for children who wanted to try for the Grammar school at Towcester – Sponne. I didn’t pass but when Buddy Hill and I were 13 we were picked to go to the Tech school at Wolverton.

All clutching souvenir mugs, the children were elebrating King George V's Silver
Jubilee at The Priory, Cosgrove, 6 May 1935.

Front row, left to right: June Gallop, Beryl Tompkins, May Stewart, Betty Hillyer,
Nancy Martin, Mabel Castle, Dennis Tompkins, Bob Gallop, Doug Hillyer,
George Hill.

There were houses in the village that aren’t there now. Marion and Gerald Beasley had a house behind where the Old School is now. There were Airey Houses along the Yardley Road – the Pollards and the Gayton boys lived there.

I was growing up in the war. The Home Guard used to mount watches on the tower of the Church.

I used to love helping with the animals on the farms. The Crowders were at Gables Farm (next to the new school) and they had cows and two great big Shire Horses. I could drive them in the cart from when I was 10 years old. But in 1945 we had the Foot and Mouth. I had to have all my clothes fumigated and I couldn’t go to the farm.

Mrs Atkinson asked for me to go and help at the Priory and I went because they had horses. She paid me 6d an hour and 1/- on Sundays. It was the time of Land Girls – they had three, one after the other, and I remember June from Sheffield who was lovely. She and I painted the cowsheds in the holidays. I used to milk the cows on the weekends.

Mrs Atkinson did the chickens herself and I used to help her. They had two ganders and they used to go for me – I took a big spoon one time and I whacked one of them – it fell down in the moat that went round the back of the mill. I thought “My God I hope I haven’t killed it!”
I used to look after the cows and brush and clean them up. One day Mr Atkinson said “Dennis – they look like racehorses!”

Children's New Year's Party given by the Rector, the Revd H.N.C. Hewson at Cosgrove Rectory, 4 January 1940.
The rector was a little man, only about 5ft tall, and was known in the village as 'Little Jackie'. He stood on a fish box in the pulpit!

Back row, left to right: Audrey Ruff, Beryl Tompkins, Eric Meakins, George Hill, Joan Lord, Daphne Kingston, Ray Meakins, David Brown.

Second row: Margaret Hitchcock, Mrs Hewson with her dog Snap, Christopher Whitaker, Cynthia Tompkins, John Loughrey, Gladys Loughrey, Peggy Ruff, Peter Brown, Betty Hillyer, Joan Peach, Edith Waite.

Front row: Winnie Waite, Reggie Waite, Bob Gallop, Geoff Williams, Donald Kightley, Jean Loughrey, Dennis Tompkins.

From (Around Stony Stratford by Audrey Lambert)

They had a waterfall going down into the bathing pond at the Priory. Miss Gune and Miss Mary came over for a swim. I can remember them riding – Miss Gune was a daring high spirited person and she rode astride. Miss Mary rode side saddle like a proper lady.

I remember two horses while I was at the Priory. One was called Liza. They only raced at Towcester at Easter and Whitsuntide then. Liza was trained to race over at Castlethorpe but she fell at Towcester and was injured. They were going to put her down but she was kept to breed from. Her foal was called Liza Wake – he went on to win lots of races and even did showjumping at Hickstead.
I used to like it when they called me to have something to eat in the servants’ hall. Miss Marlow was a good cook and if she made macaroni cheese they asked me in. Of course they had their own dairy so everything was made of good milk. They used to give me a bottle of milk to take home and mum would separate the cream off.

In the dairy they hand skimmed the milk to make cheese and butter. We used to feed the calves with the skimmed milk and I would dip my two fingers in it to let them suck the milk off to give them the idea of drinking it. I could take a bucket of the skimmed milk back home – we had pigs at the back in Bridge Road and it was great for them. When a cow had calved we used to have bisnings pudding with the first milk from the cow.

Dennis on Ken Lord's motorbike

I carried on helping at the Priory while I was at the Tech. In 1949 I became a Privileged Apprentice and went to work in the Wolverton Works as a Bodymaker. We used to bike up the towpath and back for dinner at home and then off to work again. Eventually I changed to be a Coach Trimmer.

In 1952 I did my National Service in the Army. I was in the Remy Regiment as a Coach Trimmer. I did my basic training at Blandford, then trade training at Malvern. I was sent to Bovington in Dorset attached to the Tank Corps. I used to make seats and canopies for all sorts of things – I had my own workshop and sewing machine.

Then I went to Tripoli for twelve months. I really liked it. I had my 21st birthday there. I got 45 cards from Cosgrove and the others said “Dennis – you must have a lot of friends!” We went out to a couple of clubs and I had champagne. I thought nothing of it till I got out in the air and then it hit me. We got back late and I fell over a pipe. The Warrant Officer came to see what was up but my friend told him it was my 21st and he picked me up and carried me to my bed!

We used to go swimming – except in January the sea was warmer than summertime in Britain. I made friends with some of the Arab people – they would bring us mint tea. I learned bits of Arabic and once I was asked to go and visit at home. I played the piano for them and they gave me a great tea with different Arabic food.

Dennis on guard in Tripoli

After in the Army in July 1954 I went back to the Railway Works at Wolverton. Then in April 1962 I went up to Coventry for a job at Standard Triumph at Canley. I used to pick up lads from Cosgrove and Potterspury and drive up the A5. I did that for 3½ years. I taught my mate to drive so he could share the driving. 1962 was the worst with the fogs and the deep snow, but we did it. From October 1966 I lodged up in Coventry from Monday to Friday each week.

In 1968 when I left Coventry I went to an Electrical Stores company in Old Wolverton and then one day I saw all the lads coming out of the Works and I thought “I’ll try for a job there again”. I passed the medical – we all had to have a medical in those days to work there. They offered me a couple of jobs and I chose a job in the sawmill. We cut timber on a massive saw – the wood was fed in on a caterpillar track. It was really noisy – I learned the adjusting and setting. We used to be able to take offcut bits for the fire at home.

Dennis learning to speak Arabic
with his mates.

Then the Machinist retired and I got his job – I did that for twenty years. We worked on all different sizes and allowance – mostly to ⅛ inch. I used to try to fit everything in carefully and when I left the boss said “Dennis – you must have saved the company thousands in timber over the years!”

In 1987 I took my redundancy from the Railway Works and for the last ten years of my working life I was at Cattles’ Precision Woodwork at Wymbush, in Milton Keynes.

I had a lot of good times in Cosgrove. From when I was 14 I used to go to the Barley Mow and play the piano on Saturday nights. Molly and Albert Kightley and the Tacks used to be there, as well as my family and many village people. We used to have good nights at New Year and Christmas time at the Loughreys’, us Tomkins’s and the Castle’s on Bridge Road. We’d get beer and gin for the ladies. My mum used to make a brawn and we’d have bits to eat. I used to have rum and blackcurrant. They were great evenings, but once the TV came they stopped.

Wolverton Works 1960s

I ran the Youth Club around 1955 and 1956 in the Victory Hall. Olive Johnson was the caretaker and she didn’t think much of it. The lads broke a mirror once and she didn’t half tell me off. We had table tennis, darts and lots of other games – but at 10 o’clock the lads would all vanish and leave me to clear up.

The Youth Club Committee organised Saturday night dances in the Village Hall. We used to have 4 piece bands – like Jack Durden’s and Eric Batterson’s. When my sister Cynthia had her 21st they made up a band from all the good players round about – Mum’s brother Alf, his son Bob, and son-in-law George. They played “Put Another Nickel in the Nickelodeon” over and over and we sang.

The Winterbottoms at Cosgrove Hall used to book the Rhythm Aces for dances. Mrs Winterbottom had a white sports car – I remember she drove it into a ditch. She liked opera and one Chapel evening she sang “If I only had the Key to your Heart” and Mr Winterbottom shouted “Bravo!”

I used to go to the Baptist Chapel on the Green which was run by George Williams and his wife. Mr and Mrs Hooton used to go and Rosie played the organ. Sunday School was at 2pm for people 5 to 14 years and there was a service at 6pm. Mrs Ray used to take tiny little black nuggets in a special tin (Altoids) for her voice. They had a great Christmas party for the Sunday School.

Dennis danciing with Phyllis Holman

Memories of the 40s

Life in the village was always quite hard and so the Second World War had perhaps less impact than it did in the cities, where the usual patterns of life had become easier.

Dennis Tompkins remembers the village shop in the Bakehouse, but never really buying anything special – orders were repeated week on week for most families, supplementing what they grew themselves.

A cottage near the Bakehouse was Jack Johnson’s house and he worked in the bakery, which the Normans owned. Jack would bring the bread van round Cosgrove on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the rest of the week going further afield. Each time he came to their house the family would have two or three big long loaves, which they put into a big terracotta crock with a lid in the pantry. At the end of the week they would pay for eight or nine loaves, which always came to 6/6d.

Dennis’s dad, Albert Tompkins, favoured the Barge Inn. There were skittles which were played a lot, and beer was not pulled at a bar but brought straight from the barrels in the tap room by waiters. The men sat and exchanged local news – which travelled fast in Cosgrove. There were no garden fences in those days down Bridge Road and families would sit outside talking while the children ran about – during the war there were two extra daylight hours and sometimes it was 11 o’clock before the light faded.

At 23 Bridge Road lived two ladies, Miss Marlow and Miss Mary. Miss Marlow worked at the Priory as a cook, where Miss Mary would often come in to help when there was a big dinner to be made. Miss Mary herself worked very hard. She was a laundress at the Priory and would collect all the washing, bring it back to Bridge Road, fetch water from the well at the back of Dennis’s house and launder and iron everything at her own home. She was also a kind of caretaker at the School, where she and Miss Marlow did the cleaning – the school had a coke fire so this was very difficult.

Dennis was thrilled when he began to earn wages from the farms and the Priory. He got 1/3d daily for helping with the cows, and more on a Saturday. For a Saturday and six evenings after school it was usually 6/9d. He was very proud to be able to pay some of his own expenses instead of his mother having to give him money. He took 1/- to school each week for National Savings. When you had saved 15/- you could take your card to Mr Brassett, who would give you a special certificate.

Mrs Andrews gave music lessons in the village, and Dennis liked to spend 1/- a week learning to play the piano – this was clearly a good investment as he still played for village events and for elderly people in 2014.

The bus to Stony Stratford cost 2d. It went right through the village, turning in the entrance to the Park and the Lodge and picking people up at several places. Dennis liked to do to the Scala picture huse in Stony Stratford, which was near the Plough, and would buy fish and chips for 1/- from an old couple who made the best chips, but who were only open a couple of days a week.

People liked to cycle down the towpath to save time, but a licence for bikes cost 2/6d a year in those days, or 6d as a daily rate. Mrs Ashby lived at the Lock and was a terror to the locals – she always seemed to know if you were coming and shout out for the toll money. One day Dennis and a friend, who didn’t have a licence, came back from Wolverton and whizzed past the Lock cottages in the hope that she wouldn’t spot them – the next day Mrs Ashby caught Dennis and reminded him that his friend still owed her 6d.