We spent the first sixteen years of our married life moving around with the Army and now found ourselves in Blandford. We thought this would be my husband’s last posting, he having competed twenty-one years of service, and we needed to find a home of our own, somewhere where he could find civilian employment.
We decided to look in a seventeen mile radius of Blandford as this would be part way between my husband’s parents in Devon and mine in Yorkshire, and where there seemed to be good employment opportunities.
And so we arrived in Stalbridge.
On 7th January, 1971 we viewed a house in Stalbridge on what was then called locally ‘the new estate’ but officially called West Acres. It was an eighteen month old semi-detached house with three bedrooms, a lounge and diner, bathroom and toilet and kitchen. There was an open plan front garden and a 100 ft back garden, all of which fitted our bill. We placed an offer which was accepted, so on 23rd March we moved in.
This was OUR FIRST EVER HOME OF OUR OWN!
We set about exploring our surroundings. Opposite our house was a piece of land covered with building rubble on which, we were told, houses would be built shortly; just down the road was a sawmill which had a hooter calling the time for work and going home four times daily; a gasometer, and the remains of Stalbridge railway station which had been closed by Dr Beeching in the Sixties. But beyond that, the land petered out to become farmland, a view of Shaftesbury and Duncliff Woods. Further up Station Road towards the High Street was a library, a florist/nursery, a chapel, the doctors and two garages.
The station car park had become derelict and gypsies would park their beautiful caravans there for a month from about March each year: I’ll tell you about the gypsies in a later letter!
We could walk along the disused rail line with our dogs, though the station itself was still there, but there were – and still are – many footpaths and rights of way for us all to enjoy.
We turned our attention to exploring the village where we found an optician, two greengrocers, two grocers, two butchers one of which had an attached slaughter house, a chemist, three pubs, a tailors’ haberdashery with a bridal shop above it and a men’s outfitters to the side. There was also a shoe shop with a chiropodist at the side, a newsagents, a very large iron mongers with fancy goods and jewellery which also had a second shop which was mostly used as a wardrobe for the Stalbridge Players but did sell and fit carpets. There was a second, smaller, iron mongers which also sold a few antiques, a post office, two banks, two hairdressers, a barber, an off-license, a small café/tea room and a travelling fish monger. In addition, there was a petrol station and another garage which carried out car sales and repairs, a cobbler, a cycle and TV shop, a forge and blacksmith and a very good fish-and-chip shop – in fact you could get anything you wanted except big furniture and dental treatment!
Of course, there was also the infants/junior school and the Church, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and a community hall which put on plays and pantomimes.
By May, my husband was working away, having been granted extended service with the Army (when he retired he had spent forty years, man and boy, in the Royal Signals), only coming home once a month, and both our children were at boarding school so I was becoming bored. I approached Meader’s, the iron mongers’ shop, and asked if they needed help. They did – and I was hired – and I found it to be very interesting work. The two Meader brothers were descendants from the original owners, both had been in WW2 and Cyril, the elder of the two, had been a prisoner of war after baling out of his plane and damaging his back badly. Dick was very much into the history of Stalbridge and had lots of postcards and artefacts which he showed me, and told me about many interesting things.
We discovered the village was almost split in two: OLD Stalbridge in the westward direction and NEW Stalbridge more or less to the east. The trouble was that the older residents were quite sceptical about the newcomers. However, the incomers, as they were called and which included me and my family, used to come to Meader’s to buy curtain rods, light fittings, wall paper and paint which meant I got to know them as well as all sides of the community.
One of my very first memories of those days is of the Wednesday when we had a cloudburst and although there were at least seven ways in which to leave Stalbridge, all were flooded so that you couldn’t get in or out, and the underground wells at the top of Station Road were overflowing.
At which point I will leave you, having given you a rough idea of my first few years in Stalbridge. In my next letter I will give more details about where the shops were, and who owned them.
Apart from the photograph of the Westacres houses all images featured are artists impressions created to illustrate the story.