Reminiscences of George Orchard
George Orchard wrote in the September 3rd, 1932 edition of the ‘Cornish and Devon Post’ about his life growing up in Launceston during the 1870s. George was born in 1869 to Richard and Elizabeth Orchard at St. Stephens. His father worked as a bricklayer. He was educated at Horwell Endowed School. He married Elizabeth Thomas in 1896 and they set up home at 15, Diamond View, Plymouth with George working as a British Work Assurance Superintendent & Wesleyan Local Preacher.
The article makes for interesting reading giving a narrative to life in Launceston prior to the arrival of the railway and when the borough’s police force was just the one officer.
‘It has been suggested to me that possibly some reminiscences of my native town some 50-60 years since might prove interesting to many of your readers. It is 50 years since I left. I resided at Newport and St. Stephens Hill. I have never forgotten the old town, and I have always been proud of the fact that I am an old Launcestonian. One of my earliest recollections is the coach and four horses that came into Launceston every day from Wadebridge and Camelford. There was no South Western Railway in those days (I well remember that line being made). It was always a great event as the coach came down St. Thomas Road with the bugle playing, and returning the same day, and the lads thought there wasn’t a superior turn out to be found anywhere in the Kingdom in those far-off days. Mr Sampson, who lived at Newport, was the stationmaster.
Policeman’s Stick and Dog.
We were all very proud of the coach and four horses. We must also have been a very law-abiding people, as our permanent Borough police force consisted of one policeman, Mr Barrett. I well remember Barrett’s stick and dog. He rarely put on a uniform, but he always had his stick and dog. We as lads were more afraid of the dog than we were of Barrett, but on Saturdays and special days the police force was augmented by two ‘specials,’ and they would always be on duty on Saturday nights. They were Robert Weevil, the saddler, and Mr Larkworthy. I can see them now as they walked up and down the streets on Saturday night with a badge on their arms. At Newport, residing in the house now occupied by Mr Bate, resided Sergeant Sherston, in charge, I believe, of the County Police, as far as my memory serves me. Newport and St. Stephens were policed by one policeman, called Ackers–-which reminds me; at Newport, there were no pillar boxes; and ‘Spettigue, the postman,’ would deliver the letters in the morning, go on his country round, and return later in the day towards the evening, and coming down St. Stephens Hill and Newport would blow his whistle and if there were any letters to post, they would be handed to him to take back to the Post Office.
Parson Daunt and Mr Robbins.
Some of your readers would still remember Rev. E. S. T. Daunt. I believe he was an Irishman and a striking personality. He lived at Newport, and right opposite was his garden where every Sunday morning he hoisted a flag. He was very fond of dogs and used to go to church up the old Zulu Road (Royden Road), leave them during service at the Public-house opposite (The Northumberland Arms), fetch them after and return home. He smoked a long churchwarden pipe, and in his black skull cap was a most picturesque and striking figure. He was of a very combative disposition. On one occasion he handed me a bag. “George,” said he, “you go up St. Stephens Hill and pick up the largest stones you can find and bring them to me.” (I might add that the road was being relaid). I did as I was told, and took a big bag full back, as much as I could carry. “Now,” said Mr Daunt, “you will take these up to Launceston at once and take them to Mr Richard Robbins shop (Mr Robbins was on the Council at that time) and tell Mr Robbins this is a sample of the stones being laid, and this is the way St. Stephens is being treated.” You can imagine myself, a lad of about 11 or 12 years of age, trudging up St. Thomas Hill with this heavy bag of stones, and when I got to Mr Robbins perspiring very freely and put them on the floor: judge of Mr Robbins astonishment, and if I remember rightly he expressed himself in no uncertain language and told me to take them back again. I replied. “No, I was told to leave them with you, and I am going to.” I cleared out of the shop quickly before Mr Robbins could throw the bag after me. I duly returned to Mr Daunt who rewarded me with a 1d. and if ever a lad deserved that penny I did. Mr Daunt also had strong prejudices against any of his parishioners going to St. Thomas, or Launceston Parish Churches. And as for Non-conformists Mr Daunt could express himself in no uncertain language.
A Mayor’s Narrow Escape.
The great day of the week when I was a lad was Saturday. The stalls were all in the centre of the town where the monument now stands, and I can remember to this day the delicious sweets, toffee, etc., homemade. I did not have much money – just ½d. per week – and I was a millionaire if I had a penny. I used to spend it religiously at Mrs Hicks stall, and sometimes Mrs Parsons, and as I was a well-satisfied customer I never changed my establishment unless I was lucky enough to get a ½d. or 1d. when the old ostler, Fishley, at the White Horse, Newport, allowed me to drive a regrator’s horse to meet the train from Tavistock on Fridays, and I sometimes got a half-penny. In that event, Mr Fisher’s establishment at Newport, near Mr George Burt’s old saddler’s shop, was the recipient of my custom.
Launceston nearly mourned the loss of a Mayor during my boyhood days. I took a horse out to a field at Ridgegrove, and rode up and down the lane — no saddle, no bridle, but a halter only, and the horse ran away; came by Mr Reed’s school (Horwell’s) like lightning, round of Mr George Burt’s shop, and Mr Pethybridge, the Mayor at that time, was coming round the corner. Had he not jumped quickly into the gutter there would have been a serious calamity. There was trouble over this matter, and I believe poor old Fishley dismissed me summarily from the position of taking horses out to the fields.
Salvation Army Roughly Treated.
Another event that stands out in my memory is when the Salvation Army first came to Launceston and used to have meetings in the old Western Rooms (the present offices of “The Post and Weekly News.”) It is not to the credit of some Launceston men in those days when I say a skeleton army was created, and they treated the Pioneers of the Salvation Army very roughly. But they could not drive the Salvation Army from the town, and as you are aware they are still represented at Launceston. They did some splendid work, and there were some remarkable cases of conversion. Another old character in my boyhood days was Mr Cudlipp, the town crier, a very genial old gentleman, who used to ring his big bell. We lads would listen most attentively as he rang his bell and read out some announcement or gave some special news. A quaint old character was Mr Clifford and he was much respected and esteemed. I might also mention here that in addition to the coach and horses from Wadebridge, Cobbledick’s ‘Bus was also an institution. It used to run to Bude and Stratton, and Caddy’s ‘Bus also ran to Camelford.
The electioneering days of long ago were just as exciting as today, and when Sir Hardinge Gifford (afterwards Lord Halsbury) was elected there was great excitement. The Lads used to go about shouting:
“Cheer boys, cheer for Sir Hardinge Giffard.
“The upright man, true, brave, etc., etc.”
And what a hectic, exciting, glorious time Mr Joseph Geake, the draper, and Mr James Treleaven, the father of your esteemed townsman of that name, and others had in those days! What enthusiasts there were for the cause they had at heart. There have always been strong adherents to Liberalism at Launceston, as well as those we termed Tories in those days. Who, for instance, can ever forget Mr Richard Robbins, Dr Thompson, Dr Andrews, who used to ride horse-back to visit his patients, Dr Derry Pearce, the genial Mr McCracken, men of the highest stamp and integrity, and who did so much for their town. Just outside Mr Stephens, the draper, on Saturday there used to be a man selling crockery. I can see him now with a crowd around him. “How much do you offer, 1s.? You shan’t have it! It is a shame to sell it. I’ll scat up the clomb first,” and sure enough he would. Bang! Would go the crockery and the crowd standing round would be considerably startled by the noise of the breaking up of the crockery.
The Old Volunteers.
I always remember the Volunteers drilling in the Castle Green. I believe Captain Langdon was the officer, and I remember as lads how greatly we admired the military appearance and the dress of those old Volunteers. There are still some old boys living at Launceston who remember “Dicky Reed,” our old schoolmaster at Horwell’s Endowed School (Mr Ralph was at Dunheved). Both schools are now amalgamated. He was one of Nature’s gentlemen, and if ever there was a schoolmaster who did his utmost to train his boys for the future and to endeavour to give them a real sound education, it was Richard Reed. I owe a great deal to him for my early training, as do hundreds of others (“Daddy Isaac” was the schoolmaster at the National School in St. Thomas Road).
A Review of Worthies.
In writing one’s reminiscences it would be altogether incomplete without mentioning the names of Mr Dingley, Mr Pethybridge, Mr Broad, Mr Hender, Mr Symons, etc. It is, of course, impossible to mention at this time of my life all the leading people. Rev. Bamford was the Congregational Minister, Mr James Treleaven stands out prominently in the history of Launceston. It is only recently I have had the privilege of paying a visit and preaching at my old chapel at St. Thomas Road. It was a great joy to meet some of the children of those I knew so long ago. I said then what I repeat now, I owe everything to the influence and teaching I received in those far-off days, and the names of Albert Prust, Tom Nicholls, Miss Polly Nicholls, Mr Baker, William Bate, Daniel Barriball, Philip Raddall, M. Downing, Timothy Congdon, John Jury, and others in connection with St. Thomas Road will ever remain to me a precious memory. As long as memory hath her seat, so long shall I remember that little chapel in New Road. May I say here how deeply grieved I was when one passed away from your midst for whom I had the deepest respect and esteem, dear old Willie Barriball. His passing is so fresh in the minds of your readers that no words of mine are necessary to emphasise the great loss sustained. He lived for others and wore himself out. He loved Launceston and gave of his very best. He will linger long in our memories.
May I mention here some of the towns-men whom I remember in the days of long ago. I remember Mr Brimmell (of “The Launceston Weekly News.”) As a boy, of course, I did not come into contact with Mr Peter, the solicitor, but no reminiscences would be complete without mentioning the name of one of the most illustrious townsmen that ever lived in Launceston, and also that of Mr Cowlard, the solicitor. Also Mr Graham-White and Mr Grylls, I only knew the gentlemen by repute, but they were known to every man, woman, and child in the town. Then there was the genial Mr Hayman (Mr McCracken, Mr J. Treleaven, Mr Joseph Geake I have already mentioned), Mr Prockter, Mr Albert Prust (how he delighted in correspondence in the Plymouth paper; there was no tradesman more respected), Messrs. Fraser, Gardner, Oliver, Wise, Tom Nicolls, John Nicolls, Stephens, Chapman, Ellicot Ham (the barber), Barriball, Joe Clark, Uglow, Cook, Powell (the crockery shop), and Mr James Treleaven, who was one of the most outstanding personalities and did great work for Launceston, as does his son today (a worthy son of a worthy father); Messrs. Rundle (butcher), O’Brien, Cory, Philip Raddall, R. Wivell, Downing, and I must not forget Messrs. Trood and Hender, Launceston’s leading townsmen, who rendered great public service. I cannot attempt to give a complete list, but these names come readily to my mind. There are many who did splendid work, but for the moment I cannot recall their names.
The High Bicycle.
Conditions were altogether different from today. There were no motor cars, and I never saw a tram until I went to Plymouth on a visit. My earliest recollection of a bicycle is that of Mr Henry Short of St. Stephens, riding one of those very high bicycles with a small wheel behind, and if you happened to put on the brakes suddenly you went head over heels.
I do not remember the name of the Vicar of Launceston, but the Vicar of St. Thomas in my day was named Johns. We used to have, I think, in those days more severe weather in the winter than we do now. I well remember the Old Hill being frozen like a sheet of ice, and many a time I have sat on a big stone at the top of the hill (near where Mr Worden’s shop used to be) and come sliding down. I saw recently when at Launceston a motorcycle going down the hill but it did not go down nearly so quickly as I did in the old days. It was great fun, especially if Barrett, the policeman, saw you (you were monarch then of all you surveyed). He would perhaps be just a minute late and come towards you, but neither he nor his dog could ever catch you on Old Hill if it was frozen, and that is where as boys we got the laugh on Barrett. But the next time we saw him we would discreetly keep a respectable distance.
I am reminded of Jock and Jean, Scotch people who had been courting for 19 years, and Jock used to take Jean for a walk of 9 miles each week by way of a treat. One day after completing the outward journey of 4 ½ miles Jock said, “Jean will you marry me?” With great alacrity, Jean replied, “Of course I will, Jock.” “Well, that is all right,” replied Jock, and the 4 ½ miles return journey was completed in silence. When they got to Jean’s house she said, “Jock, you are very quiet, you have not said a word all the way back.” “No,” replied Jock, “I’ve said too much already!”
Possibly you may think I’m too lengthy, but if any of these reminiscences of days long ago are of interest, and you have derived any pleasure in the reading of them, I am amply repaid. I will simply say in conclusion I am proud of the fact that I am a Launceston boy, born in humble circumstances. Wherever I have been, the old town has always been in my memory, and I have endeavoured to the best of my ability not to bring dishonour but have endeavoured, I hope with some success, to bear credit to my native town