Rob Taylor’s memories of Shipton 60 years ago, as told to Alan Vickers
Rob Taylor has lived in Shipton since 1958. His father came originally from Blockley and his mother from Longborough. Before Rob was born, his father, Charlie, had been working in Upper Milton for the Reynolds’. But by the time of Rob’s birth, in Moreton in Marsh hospital, his father was working for Bobby Bull in Bold, which was “three houses and a letterbox”. Rob’s first school was at Idbury and had just 15 pupils.
When Rob was 11, the family came to Shipton where his father was employed by Percy Holloway at Grove Farm. Rob’s two brothers got jobs with Dick Hartley, one as a pigman and the other as a shepherd. Eventually Rob’s father got a job as a length man for the Rural Council. This involved keeping the footpaths clear and maintaining ditches. His partner was a Mr Cox. They each had a spade and a bicycle. One of them would go off in the direction of Kingham and Churchill while the other would go as far as Fifield. Rob’s father was a keen follower of the local hunt and would always choose his working area according to whether the hunt was meeting. One of his jobs in the winter was to manually spread gritting from the back of a lorry and to roll out snow fencing to prevent drifting. This happened along the Chippy Road and along the Stowe Road. Rob remembers seeing snow almost the height of the telegraph poles at times. After the risk of snow drifts had gone, the wooden snow fencing would be rolled up again.
Rob’s father had always had a tied cottage while working on farms but was never in favour of this. When he got the job as length man, he had the opportunity to buy two cottages up on Fiddlers Hill – opposite where the telephone box is today. He was £50 short of the purchase price but Ken Early, one of his friends, lent him the money. The houses were separate dwellings – you had to come out of one to go into the other. There was no running water and no sewage although there was electricity. He remembered Gordon Duester living up there and using the shared outside tap.
Rob went for a short while to Shipton School, which he hated. Once he was put on coke shovelling duty by the Head Master, Tom John, for smoking in the classroom. He was found out when the smoke drifted up from the inkwell in the desk!
He was one of three pupils to pass the 11 plus and go to Burford School, which he also hated. The other pupils were David Hicks, son of the village policeman Stan Hicks and Monica Duester. New pupils were based at that time in the lower school where the boarding house is now located. This meant walking up Tanners Lane sometimes twice in the day to attend lessons.
He could read but found spelling difficult. He got little encouragement from his teachers and behaved badly. Not surprisingly he was “top of the league for being caned”. He remembers only two teachers with any fondness, Mr Atkins, the art teacher and Jimmy Weir a history teacher who had been in the Welsh Guards. Rob was good at art and Mr Atkins encouraged him. Jimmy Weir was strict and once hung him out of the window by his feet for looking at the girls playing tennis instead of paying attention to the lesson. On another occasion he was caned for putting carbolic soap in the woodwork master’s tea kettle! One of the worst lessons at Burford was cross country. This took two periods and often would finish after the bus for Shipton had gone. He and David Hicks worked out that the way to avoid having to walk home was to hide in one of sheds and take a short cut to finish early.
He missed quite a few days of school by deliberately not catching the bus in the morning. This usually happened on Thursdays when Hartley’s farm in Upper Milton, where his brothers worked, had hundreds of chickens hatching from the incubators. Rob would be employed in packing them. He eventually left school at 15 without any formal qualifications.
Rob’s father did not want him to work on the land. He advised his son not to work for a farmer or take a tied cottage saying, “You never see a farmer on a bike!” He arranged for Rob to have an apprenticeship in carpentry at Groves but this only lasted two weeks.
He then got an interview with Phyllis Smith who owned one of the Shipton tillyards (Wychwoods Manufacturing Co). Phyllis interviewed him at her home, coincidentally in the same room that I spoke to Rob in. She offered him a job at 1/6 an hour but advised him “not to tell the rest!” When Rob joined, the workforce consisted of:
|Fred Smith Dir.||Reggie Weston|
|Phyllis Smith Dir.||Ernie Hedges|
|Laurie Pittaway Dir||Rob Valentin|
|J. B. Broom Dir.||Fred Russell|
|Rob Champness||Raymond Puddle|
|Rob Taylor||Jack Beany|
His first role was to install two springs with two screws in the rear of the tills. If the till was to go overseas then it got a brass bell. If it was sold in the UK then the bell was made from steel. Later he applied filler to smooth the wood grain before polishing. The person who had finished each till had to put his initials in the back so any imperfections or faults could be traced. The company bought ordinary broom handles to make the spools for the paper rolls, They had a groove put in to hold the paper end and were then cut to size. One of Rob’s tasks was to bury the contents of the toilet bucket once a week. For this, he received an additional 2/6. It was a heavy job and he told Phyllis it was really a job for two men. She agreed and said two could do it. Rob thought they would be paid 2/6 each but the job rate remained 2/6 for both.
He found Phyllis a very shrewd business woman, “fair but strict”. She would make tea every morning around ten o’clock and bring the post in for the directors to discuss. “This gave us a rare ten minutes to mess about in!”
There was some animosity between Phyllis and her second husband Fred and the other directors. Fred has some underlying health problems with his heart and the others felt that he did not always pull his weight. For his part, Fred would often moan about his mother in law, Mrs Sifford who lived with them.
Rob left to work as a labourer for Groves’ for around four years and then returned to the tillyard for the last four years of its existence ie about 1970-1974. By that time Phyllis was living in the bungalow now occupied by Dave Johnson. Rob had helped with the footings by working at weekends for Ken Early. Her former neighbour, Jean Hawcutt was working in the tillyard packing the finished tills. At the end there was only Phyllis, Rob and two Mitchell brothers, Ron and Brian. The tillyard was bought by a Mr Cohen but Rob thinks it was used by a saddlers from Charlbury for around eighteen months.
Rob was approached by Bill Dore’s sons, Ray and Trig because their father was looking for a woodworking machinist. Although he had not been a machinist, the boys told Rob to answer yes to all the questions Bill might ask him. He got the job and fused the workshop on the first day because he was not aware that
much of the equipment worked on three phase current. Vic Avery was called out to put everything right.
Rob points out that, “If you were a lad in the village, you did not need to leave to get a job. You went to Groves’, the tillyards, Bill Dore or Bill Davis. Bill Dore always paid more than Groves’. Rob worked for twenty years for Bill at the workshop beyond the stream in Meadow Lane where there were around 50 employees. “I was sacked a few times but I never left”. He describes Bill as a larger than life character who would reverse his huge Van den Plas car up Meadow Lane while smoking a cigar. He had a full size dog track on the same site. When he got the job, Bill asked him what he had been earning. The sons told Rob to add a bit and he answered £20. Bill replied, “We can do better than that. Start on Monday and I will pay you £26!” There was no attention to health and safety. If an inspection was made then machines were simply disconnected and turned upside down.
Once he asked Rob to prepare 100 fence posts, five feet high. Rob got them done but Bill was upset because Rob “had not allowed for the two feet in the ground!”
Rob worked part time for Lady Sarah Moon, who lived at Cromwell House opposite the Red Horse and was married to Sir Peter Moon. Sir Peter had an affair and Lady Sarah got her revenge by giving away his valuable stock of vintage port and cutting up his clothes. She also poured paint on his BMW and went on to found the Old Bags Club for women who had been wronged.
Rob himself had a smart purple Triumph Herald but no driving licence. He took the driving test six times in Banbury and failed, always driving himself there alone with learner plates. If the village policeman ever stopped him, he would be told to remove himself from the village because the constable did not relish the necessary paperwork.
Now, in retirement, Rob maintains his allotment and pursues his lifelong hobby of keeping canaries. He has around one hundred birds and travels the length of Britain as a recognized judge.
That is Rob Taylor – a Wychwoods character for six decades and no longer a naughty boy after all.