Neighbours

Next door to us at Moorhurst lived the White family. They ran the local taxi and charabanc services and were known under the name of the head of the family as “Teddy White’s”. The friendship between us and their family has continued for many years, even after they left next door and moved their home and business to Calver.

1940 – Elsie and neighbours the White’s survey the wintery scene from Moorhurst. The figure in the foreground is a german POW from the prison camp at Calver who had been put to work clearing the snow. Elsie rewarded him with 2 cigarettes.

When Elsie and I moved into the shop, Teddy was only too well aware that we were newly weds. The routine of shop life meant that we had to be up and about very early in the mornings when the shop was open for trade. The only respite from this for us was on a Sunday, when the shop was closed. It was the one day of the week when we could look forward to a lie in. Teddy very soon realized this and, as he was always an early riser, would make the most horrendous noise that he could manage every Sunday at the crack of dawn. My wife and I were often not very pleased by Teddy’s idea of a joke, and wondered what sort of neighbours we had fallen for. As time went on we realized how lucky we were to have such an honest, friendly family living next door.

At the ‘top shop’, that is next door but one to us, lived Robin Smith and his wife, Bess. I had a great deal of affection for Rob and Bess, for they were amiable, intelligent and humorous. They came to Grindleford from Bamford where Rob had run a small light engineering firm. It was said of ‘Smithy’ that he had made and lost several fortunes in his life. He was certainly a kind and generous soul, almost to a fault.

During the War he had kept the Millstone Inn at Hathersage. One winter, when there had been a lot of snow, a group of army officers called late one night. They wanted to commandeer the Inn to billet some soldiers who were on maneuvers but had been stranded by the snow. They asked Smithy how many rooms he had, what size the Public Bar and Tap Room and how many men did he think could be slept in the ballroom? Smithy was rather nonplussed by all this and replied that he was full up everywhere, even the ballroom was taken.

The Officers did not believe him. Surely in a wartime winter there could not be very many guests. They demanded to inspect all the premises at once. So Smithy invited them to see for themselves. There had been a fierce blizzard for the past twenty four hours and the Inn had been commandeered by other forces before the army. The guest rooms were full with shepherds and farmers who had been rounding up stricken sheep off the moors. The ballroom and Tap Room were full with the sheep that had been taken in for safety! Smithy was so kind hearted that he had invited the men in from the atrocious weather for the night and had also extended the invitation to their beasts.

Smithy was a great favourite with our sons, who would always take the Beano and Dandy in for him to read to them. I think that he must have enjoyed the stories just as much himself. He did tend to spoil the boys with sweets and presents as he was so very generous with all that he had.

The Smiths moved from Grindleford to Scarborough where Smithy had purchased a prime site on the promenade. There he had a café-cum-gift shop. We always called to see them when we were on holiday at Filey or Whitby. One day we called and after spending a few happy hours with their usual splendid hospitality we said that we must leave.
“Hold on a bit,” said Smithy, “I’ve got some grand fresh fish out the back. You must have some to take back with you”.
Off he went into the backyard and I expected him to return with a couple of dabs or dogfish. He reappeared dragging an old zinc bath which was nearly full to the brim with a variety of sea-fish: cod, haddock, plaice, whiting sole and many others. How on earth he expected me to get all that lot into the old Jowett, along with my wife and three children and all our holiday tackle, I don’t know. But that was typical of Smithy.

The next time that we visited Scarborough, Smithy’s café-cum-gift shop had been closed. He had turned his hand to bookmaking, surely a most unsuitable profession for one as generous as he was. A great deal of fuss was made over us, especially the boys. Smithy showed us all round the premises, much to Elsie’s disapproval, as she did not approve of gambling. We were all ushered into the betting shop. One of the boys, on seeing the blackboards used for chalking up the names of the runners on, said that it looked like school. Smithy replied that it was a sort of school, but one where you could not really learn much that was of any value to you. He then kept the boys amused by drawing cartoons from the Beano on the blackboard. As I looked up at the clock I realized that he should have been open for business over an hour ago, but he was so taken up with looking after us that work was far from his thoughts.

The village schoolmaster, Wilfred Grace, came to live at Moorhurst when the White’s moved out. Wilf was a man who was very involved in village affairs and there was not much going on that he didn’t know about. He was a good teacher, a strict disciplinarian and was well respected in the community. He taught all of our three boys at the village school. At times they found that living next door to their headmaster could be a handicap, but they all grew up to realize that he was a fine teacher who set a good example to the children.

One day Wilf came rushing into the shop and asked Elsie in urgent tones if I was in. It was very unusual to see him in a state of panic, he was always very calm and collected. He had got a spot of trouble on this occasion, and my help was urgently requested. The problem was his wife, Madge. She was stuck on the toilet; not stuck in the toilet, but on it. It sounds funny now, but at the time it must have been desperately embarrassing for them both. Madge also taught at the village school, being in charge of the infants. She was quite a well built woman, a solid sort you may have called her.

The Grace’s toilet seat was a black bakelite one, and Madge had got herself trapped on it. She had sat down on it rather heavily and the sudden load upon it had caused it to crack. Bakelite was brittle, especially so when it was a bit old. When Madge tried to get up off the throne, the crack in the seat closed to and nipped her ample bottom. She got into a bit of a panic and called for Wilf to help her. When he found that he could not extricate her from predicament he had to come to me for help. I lifted Madge up under the arms while he held the broken toilet seat apart. She was quite a weight, especially as she was in a bit of a faint, and I had quite a struggle to lift her. When we did get her free I beat a hasty retreat to cover all our embarrassment.

A couple of days later I was in the garden when Wilf called to me over the wall. Did I sell toilet seats, he asked rather sheepishly. Not bakelite ones, Madge insisted on having a good, solid wooden one this time!

Wilf and Madge will be remembered with much affection in Grindleford by the scores of children who they taught. It was a very sad day when they decided to leave the village to go to live in a retirement bungalow in Leicestershire. Wilf came back on many occasions, notably for the Horticultural Show and for Longshaw Sheep Dog Trials, but he was never the same man after leaving a lifetime’s job of teaching the village children.