Village characters

The Post Office in Grindleford has been run by the Morton Family for many years. The present incumbent, John, took over from his Uncle Arthur, who died suddenly in tragic circumstances. Arthur went missing one day, the back door to the house was left open, his car still in the garage and his coat still on the hook. He could not be found anywhere nearby. It was a few days later, after an extensive search, that the full details were pieced together.

Arthur was in the habit of having a bonfire on the riverbank behind the Post Office to burn the daily rubbish. At this particular time the river was very high, its waters swollen by several days of heavy rain. Whilst burning his rubbish, Arthur had suffered a heart attack and fell into the river. His body was found later downstream, at Chatsworth. A sad end for a man who’s character had been part of the village for so many years.

Arthur’s main passion was keeping Bantams. He was very successful with them, having many prize-winners at the County Agricultural Shows. He kept them in the ‘garden’ next to the shop. It was not unusual to have to wait for several minutes to be served in the shop while Arthur was out seeing to his ‘banties’.

One very wet spring the river burst its banks and flooded the bottom part of the village. The flood water reached up Main Road as high as the Old Red Lion. The butcher’s shop and all the houses on the riverside were flooded, including the post office, which was nearest the river.

Tom Mycock, the butcher, was a bit worried about Arthur as he was living on his own. So Tom waded over the flooded road to see if all was well at the post office. To his surprise the door of the post office was unlocked, although with the weight of the water behind it he did have a struggle to open it. When he did so, water poured out, carrying with it papers, letters and other items of flotsam. Tom called out to Arthur, but there was no reply. He climbed over the counter and called into the living quarters. Still there was no reply. Tom then ventured in a little further to the foot of the stairs and called up to the first floor. He heard what sounded like a muffled thud. Fearing that Arthur may have injured himself, he climbed the stairs to the bedroom. He pushed open the door of Arthur’s room and was met by a very bizarre sight. Arthur was sat in the centre of his double bed wearing his raincoat and Wellington boots. He was surrounded by his flock of prize banties and was feeding them with corn from his coat pocket. Arthur had his priorities right; he was more concerned about saving the lives of his banties than keeping a few sacks of mail dry!

Arthur did not have any assistants in the post office, he was in sole command. As a result of this, the premises were not always spotless and his stock-keeping systems were often lax. He had a visit from a senior post office official from head office at Sheffield one day. Whilst in the shop observing Arthur’s modus operandi, he spotted a very large, black cobweb in the corner of the ceiling. He pointed this out to Arthur in a rather severe manner, intimating that it should not be there at all. Arthur eventually looked up from the counter at the official with a quizzical look. He turned to admire the cobweb above his head, turned to the man and said,
“Aye, ain’t it a grand ‘un? Do you know, I watched that spider all day yesterday making that. I bet you canna’ grow ‘em like that in Sheffield!”

As well as running the post office side Arthur also sold sweets, tobacco, newspapers and sometimes, periodicals. He would never call them magazines, in his book a magazine was somewhere that you stored ammunition. Furthermore, he would only sell them if they had been ordered, and the big problem was that Arthur did not have much of a system when it came to placing such orders with the wholesalers. I once placed an order for the Motor Magazine, which was published monthly. That was around July 1950 and I am still waiting for it! Everytime that my wife or I went into the post office we would ask Arthur when the Motor would be coming in. His reply became a standing joke between us for many years.
“Oh, next week. It’ll be here next week I’m sure”.

Grindleford had the services of two doctors, one was Dr. Watson Jago, who lived at Sherwood, Nether Padley, and the other was Dr. McAuliffe, who lived at Eyam. Dr. Jago was well known for his love of the bottle – not of the medicine bottle either! He had a regular habit of entering the churchyard of St. Helen’s in unorthodox ways, usually through or over the wall in his car! This must have been due to the fact that he could never quite master the art of negotiating the sharp bend coming down from Padley.

‘Doc’ McAuliffe hailed from Ireland, and he possessed a typically Irish sense of fun and humour. I can recall when we first came to Grindleford seeing Dr. Mac. making his rounds on horseback when there was no snow blocking the Eyam New Road, as it often did during winters then. He was well loved and respected for his gentle bedside manner, always referring to my wife, and all other married women with children whatever their age, as ‘mother’.

One of the council roadmen in the district was a man from Eyam called George Cooper. He spoke the original Eyam dialect, which could be very difficult for a native of Grindleford to understand. As George was sweeping the road in Eyam one day, he had the misfortune to be bitten on the leg by a dog. He went to Dr. Mac’s surgery to have the bite seen to, but he was too late as the good doctor had gone off on his rounds. At this he let off a burst of ‘latin’ (swearing) and set off to find out where the doctor had gone. He spotted his car outside a house in Eyam square and sat down on the curb to wait for him. As soon as Dr. Mac. emerged he was buttonholed at once by George.
“Aye up Doc, ah’s bin o’er to tha spot mun tha’d gone. Sithee ‘ere wot a bloody dog’s bin’ an’ done. Bitten me bloody leg to death!”
George pulled up the leg of his breeches to expose the wound. Dr. McAuliffe glanced casually at the leg and with a worried frown asked George,
“And how is the dog feeling now, Cooper? Is he all right?”
George’s reply was a stream of blasphemous epithets that had the doctor in tears of laughter.

We had no barber’s shop in Grindleford, but two local amateurs provided a service in the Tap Room of the Comic. One could be found in attendance on Tuesday nights, the other on Thursday. The charges for a Tap Room Topping were 6d (two and a half pence).

After trying out the services at the Comic, I started to go for a trim to Lane End’s Cottage, where Mrs. Bowering’s daughter-in-law, Sheila did a spot of hairdressing. I enjoyed having my hair cut by Sheila, for as an extra bonus you had was that while she was working you would be regaled with stories by Uncle Frank. He was Mrs. Bowering’s brother, who lived there with them.

At times it could be a bit embarrassing to be in the company of a young woman, as Uncle Frank’s stories often got a bit near the bone. Sheila must have heard them over and over and would be only too familiar with the blue bits.

One of his favourites was about a village man who lay on his death bed. He had been shunned by his large family of children once they had left home, but at long last they had come to visit him knowing his end was nigh. All five of them stood at the foot of the bed, making sympathetic noises to the old fellow. He was not taken in by this show of false sentiment and knitting his brows together, as though making a supreme effort he cried,
“Well. Youm all come at long last have ye? The gathering of the bloody vultures. Well, you’ll not pick these bones clean. I’ll tell thee. I shall tell you all now, when I go I’ll not leave any of ye a single penny. I’ll tell ye summat else too, you’re nowt but what you all looks – a hungry, mangy lot o’ bastards. An’ I means that too, ‘cos me and thee mother were never wed!”

Another of his regular tales concerned a village nonagenarian who had suffered two strokes and three wives! His third spouse was a notorious shrew who had seen off her first husband and was now looking to do the same to her second. The old man had other ideas though.

As he lay in bed, supposedly on his way, dying from yet another stroke, his wife was downstairs in the kitchen boiling a piece of ham. This was in anticipation of the imminent funeral. The mouth-watering smell of the ham found its way up the stairs to the old boy’s room and stirred his ancient taste buds into action. He knocked on the floor with his stick and called out,
“What is that you are cookin’ for me tea, woman?”
The reply came whistling back up the stairs,
“It’s nowt to do wi’ thee. You just get on wi’ thee deein!”

Later she took him a bowl of ‘pobbs’ (bread and hot milk). Setting it down at the bedside, she spoke these tender words of affection to her dying husband.
“Has tha made thee mind up yet where tha’s goin’ ter be buried? Tha’s two wives in’t churchyard, both in plots that is paid fer. Does tha want to go in wi’ one or t’other o’ them or else in one on yer own?”

The poor old fellow fixed her with a baleful stare and replied,

“Neither o’ the owd bitches, nor on me own – but on top o’ thee!”