Posts Tagged ‘Fens’

The Authorised Guide to Grunty Fen (Gateway to the East) by Christopher South. A review.

The Authorised Guide to Grunty Fen by Christopher South

I was at Niche Comics Bookshop in Huntingdon a few weeks ago delivering copies of my books, when my gaze fell on The Authorised Guide to Grunty Fen by Christopher South.

Dennis of Grunty Fen was a celebrated resident of this unusual place and appeared weekly in conversation with Christopher South on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. When I managed to listen to them I was usually reduced to uncontrollable laughter, accounts of Hereward the Wake and his racing punt, the undiscovered vaults beneath Ely Cathedral are just two of the incidents discussed by Dennis and Christopher. There is many, many, many, more each one a gem.

This book gives an account of the area its architecture and inhabitants, it is a long time since I laughed so much that the tears rolled down my face. The Grunty Fen in this book has only mild exaggerations of some of the buildings in the fens. Rusting corrugated iron, railway sleepers together with leaning buildings of all shapes and sizes are not uncommon. The book contains many excellent drawings by John Holder enhancing visually the pictures so eloquently painted in words by the author.

Day to day life in this remote area of the fens is described in detail. For example, the importance of rhubarb both as a staple part of the diet and a means of communication is carefully described as are local competitive sports, Drain Rodding as a sport is unique to the area.

Sadly Dennis, Pete Sayers, is no longer with us but his spirit lives on I am grateful for the pleasure he and Mr South gave me. Even now there are pilgrims asking directions to Grunty Fen from the surrounding villages in search if not of Dennis but Potts Garage, Mrs Edwards at the Post Office, The Wolseley Hen Coop Car and of course Dennis’s home the LNER carriage. Visitors are advised to be wary of Feral Nuns on Vespas.

This book is a wonderful reminder of Sunday mornings on Radio Cambridgeshire, the world is a poorer place without Dennis and the community of Grunty Fen.

There is actually a place called Grunty Fen
This was Grunty Fen in 1648 before much of the fens was drained

To learn more about Grunty Fen and its most celebrated resident, Dennis visit: https://www.dennisofgruntyfen.co.uk/

To find out more about the wonderful bookshop that is Niche Comics Bookshop, visit: https://huntsbooks.co.uk/

Delivering the News

A version of this article was published in Best of British Magazine in their Past Remembered section. A first for me, being paid for something written by myself.

 

I was about or just under thirteen years old when starting my first newspaper round in Huntingdon – a morning round, using a Pashley small front-wheel large-basket trades bike. A Sunday round was added next, in a different part of town. At that time there was competition for paper rounds, even waiting lists. My evening round was the most interesting. The morning and Sunday rounds I delivered for a newsagent but the evening round was my first taste of self-employment.

An older lad leaving school gave me the round. The papers were bought direct from a wholesaler and sold to the public. In 1964 the gross profit per paper was one penny – the old penny: large and 240 to the pound.

The wholesaler used an office at a garage and taxi company’s in Ferrar’s Road. It was situated in the back corner of a rectangular cobbled yard, the house at the front was the garage owners’. There were workshops down one side of the yard, a high wall along the opposite side. The back of the yard, away from the house, had more buildings and an arch with a driveway underneath leading to lock up single garages rented to the public.

The office contained a desk, a typewriter and chair, two largish tables, two more chairs, a telephone, tea-making facilities, also a large machine for printing Stop Press onto the papers. The evening papers sold by my wholesaler were London papers – The Evening News and The Standard. He was also the local wholesaler for a few magazines, one of which was Private Eye, a good read even then.

After finishing school, dropping my things at home, and collecting the trades bike, it was off to the wholesalers. There I collected about a dozen papers before cycling to the railway station. In the station I sold papers to waiting passengers – at first on the platform nearest the ticket office then, crossing the footbridge to the northbound platform, to commuters waiting there. When the express train from London arrived – I can’t remember whether, at that point, they were still steam or early diesels – the papers were collected from the guard’s carriage. The two bundles were carried back over the bridge – Evening News on my right shoulder, Evening Standards in my left hand – heaved into the basket of my bike, and I would be off.

There was a steepish hill out of the station to George Street but after that it was downhill leaving George Street, to use a short cut down cobbled Royal Oak Passage to the High Street. The passage had a central gutter then with an iron drain about halfway along. One day the bike’s front wheel caught in the drain, catapulting me over the handlebars. The bike stood on its end, the heavy papers pinning the basket to the ground.

Royal Oak Passage Huntingdon

Royal Oak Passage as it is now the central gutter and drain have both gone

Once through the passageway, my journey would continue up the High Street to the wholesaler’s delivering the papers to the office.

Premises in Ferrars Road Huntingdon.

P Cumberland DN The wholesalers were in the far right-hand corner of the outbuildings painted white. The house at the front belonged to the owner of the garage.

The Stop Press news would be received by telephone and transcribed in shorthand by the wholesaler’s secretary, the garage owner’s wife. The news was typed up onto a Roneo stencil, a narrow strip that looked like carbon paper perforated at one end. The stencil was loaded onto a drum at one end of the Stop Press machine, the papers placed onto a shelf at the other end then fed onto a conveyer by hand. The conveyer  passed papers under the rotating drum, which printed the news updates onto each paper in turn.

As soon as a dozen papers were printed. I would take them to a nearby factory – The Silent Channel – this company made rubber mouldings and also the guide channels for vehicle windows, cycling around the factory to sell as many as papers as possible before returning to the wholesalers to collect the rest of my papers. The other distributor at the wholesalers had driven off by then in his Austin A30, delivering papers to local newsagents.

Pashley trades bike

Pashley Trade’s Bike

The basket would be reloaded then I would head for the home of my assistant Stephen. His was the original round acquired from my predecessor. When he had his papers it was off again, next stop French’s offices and hostel. French’s were building London overspill estates, enlarging Huntingdon. After selling papers around their premises I delivered my own round, looking out for new prospective customers at the same time. A small John Bull printing set enabled me to produce advertising cards for evening paper delivery services, posted through the letter boxes of new arrivals, followed up with a call, which often gained new customers. The business was given to Stephen when I left school aged fifteen keeping a Sunday round on for a few years afterwards. I have a Sunday paper round now, have had for fifteen years or so, but in a different town. I am probably now the oldest paper boy in the Fens

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