An Ashbourne Childhood

A Memory of Ashbourne

My family moved to Ashbourne in 1942 when I was 6. I went to school at what must have been the last of the old "Dame" schools run by an elderly lady called Ethel Hunter. The school was at the top of a big house in Church Street, owned by a dentist: Mr. Bligh. It was a small school, not more than a dozen children and we were all in the one classroom. We used to have Wednesday afternoons off school, Wednesday was half day closing day. This left us free to explore Ashbourne and the surrounding countryside. We walked everywhere and collected wild flowers which we pressed in books. I used to go home for lunch, running up Smith's yard and down again after lunch. One of the charms of Ashbourne - still there, I've been back - are the yards which connected the town with the upper roads - they are quite steep. At the top of Smith's yard fronting on to Belle Vue Road where we lived was Mrs. Cundy's cottage. Mrs. Cundy was the hen lady. We kept hens and when one of them was to be eaten it was my job to take him (always him) in a sacking bag and drop him off at Mrs. Cundy's on my way to school. I would collect him duly plucked and cleaned on my way home. I can vividly recall how the rooster's claws would poke out of the sacking bag and scratch my bare legs. It was, of course, rather traumatic for the rooster, and for me too as I had always known them as fluffy little chicks and given them all names. But we did eat well despite the war. Mrs. Cundy used to be frantically busy just before Christmas as you may imagine. I remember the hard winter of 1946 when there was snow for six weeks. My father made me a toboggan and, with the girls next door, I spent every available moment of free time sliding down the steep field beyond our house. There was a narrow dirt lane running beside the house, at the end was a stile and then the field. It belonged to a farmer but he made no objection to its being used as a toboggan run for those 6 weeks. Sweets were rationed as was everything else in my years in Ashbourne and no ice-cream until well after the war ended. I remember one day there was ice-cream and I bought two wafers and ran all the way home, up Smith's Yard and along the road to take one to my mother - it was pretty drippy by the time she got it. Of course I remember the Shrove Tuesday football match - though I never saw the ball, not once - just a heaving mass of young men that seemed to be stationary. I longed to go to Ashbourne Grammar School - it was the uniform. The girls wore red gingham dresses and panama hats and navy blue blazers with a cockerel badge on the pocket in red and white. With my poultry background the cockerel badge was the big attraction. I passed 11+ but we moved before I could take my place at the Grammar school

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