John Winchurch's Pages

The Tenby Years

I first set foot in Pembrokeshire aged about seven or eight in 1950 or 1951, I cannot remember exactly which year it was, but I went with my Grandfather, Percy Winchurch.

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Percy with a rather scared looking John at Sutton Amusement Park about 1948

Percy, who with his brother Roland, had built up a very successful motor business,Winchurch Brothers Limited, in the West Midlands, was planning partial retirement to Saundersfoot.

He had bought a small caravan ( a Berkeley Messenger ) which he proposed to site on a field belonging to Mrs Howells at Dun Cow Hill at Wisemans Bridge, grandmother of TTT member Sue Griffiths who is still a good friend – many decades later !

 

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An Austin 16 and Berkeley Messenger Caravan similar to Percy’s

I travelled with him that summer to stay as Bed and Breakfast guests of Mr and Mrs Watts next to one of the entrances to Hean Castle Estate between Wisemans Bridge and Saundersfoot..

I remember little of the detail of that first visit, but I formed a childhood bond with South Pembrokeshire that has never gone away

The emerging business plan was that Percy would sell his share of Winchurch Brothers and buy out or go into partnership with Vic Morris, proprietor of St Brides Garage in Saundersfoot. As a child, I knew little or nothing of the detail, but viewed the beaches, the rock pools and the sea with growing delight.

Subsequent visits to Wisemans bridge introduced me to the tunnels connecting it via the coast to Saundersfoot and the excitement of the summer fair, at that time sited on the harbour car park (there weren’t many cars to park in the early nineteen fifties!)

My father, Vic Winchurch was to be involved in a new venture building small boats to meet the demands of a growing leisure activity and carry the family forward into the second half of the twentieth century.

With characteristic drive and commitment, Percy sited his small caravan to act as a base in Pembrokeshire whilst preparations for a permanent move were under way.

The Coronation of 1953 seemed to be an omen of new beginnings, but three months later everything changed

My Grandfather suffered a massive stroke on 12 September 1953 and died within few hours, ironically, (in the year of the Queen’s Coronation) in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Selly Oak.

I will never forget the shock and sorrow on my father’s face when he came to my bedroom that night, with tears in his eyes, to tell me the news.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, my parents faced major decisions with long term implications for us all.

I passed my eleven plus examination the following year, 1954, and spent a few weeks at King Edward VI Grammar School in Stourbridge before transferring to Greenhill Grammar School in Tenby in November 1954. David moved from Hagley primary school to the Council school in Tenby, then, in turn passed his eleven plus to join me at Greenhill three years later. I felt very conspicuous in my dark green Stourbridge blazer and cap and was very relieved when it was replaced a few weeks later by the blue Greenhill uniform.

Vic had made the decision to go ahead with the move to Pembrokeshire, but the motor trade was dropped in favour of the boat building venture. The new company was to be known as ‘Saundersfoot Marine Company Ltd’.

We moved to Greengate, St John’s Hill, Tenby on the 9th of November 1954. Vic and Margaret (my mother) bought the house from the Dale family, who had recently opened a music shop in the High Street.

Two days after we arrived, Tenby was hit by a tremendous storm, which caused massive damage along the whole of the west side of Britain. A few months later, a large section of the North Cliff collapsed, crushing a shelter on the North Walk below and killing two young people. Our neighbour, Crofton John, who was a foreman with the town council, dug out the bodies of Beth Daniels and her friend. Beth had also lived in St John’s Hill and was only twenty one.

The form master of Class 1 Alpha in 1954-55 was Ken Lee, who also taught Maths,Geography and English in later years. I still remember the warm greeting I received from both Ken and my thirty or so new classmates, many of whom became friends. It was for me a huge relief to be in a relaxed co educational atmosphere after the stricter and more formal regime at the boys only school that I had left, (although, to be fair, I was only at Stourbridge for a few weeks).

Graham Gibson was the headmaster in 1954 and Margaret Bowen the headmistress. Maggie (as she was almost universally known) became one of my favourite teachers. I never found her particularly stern, although she was certainly strict, but she had a lively sense of humour and a warmth to which I responded.

I think in that first year though I was taught French by Stefano Court before he moved across Greenhill Road to the Council School to succeed Ossie Morgan as headmaster there.

Other teachers from that first year were the characterful H.J. Williams (John Willie) who taught science and the rather more serious Yorkshireman, Wilfred Harrison, who I think we had for ‘Social Science’ – a mix of local history and geography.

Interestingly, in view of later trends, we were given a choice of modern languages between French and Welsh. The majority of my year had chosen French and it was much later in my life that I learned the smattering of the Welsh language that I carried into adult life. We could however mostly sing ‘Mae hen wlad fy nhadau’ as enthusiastically as the rest!

Latin, from the first form to my successful pass at GCE was in the safe and enthusiastic hands of Ella Ellis (“now then – what is it children ? – for empha ……..SIS !)

Sport was not a favourite of mine in those early years, in fact I think that along with many other boys (I’m not sure if the girls did better, but I suspect they did) things only improved dramatically with the arrival of Denzil Thomas in 1958 (more about Denzil later)

As I progressed through the school in the mid 1950s I was taught by two more exceptional teachers, Arthur Richards for Physics and William (Bill) Davies for maths. Both had a knack of holding one’s interest and encouraging thought and I retain an enormous respect for both of them . Bill Davies had been a Major in the British Army ( possibly the Royal Engineers ) in the fight against the Japanese in Burma. He had occasional periods of absence due to sickness, recurrent bouts of Malaria a legacy of those appalling conditions. I was delighted to find that he was still alive and present at a Greenhill Grammar School reunion organised by John Griffiths in the late 1990s. It was a privilege and pleasure to shake Bill by the hand and thank him for the years of dedicated teaching he undertook.

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October 1955 Back row L – R Wilfred Harrison, Bill Davies, Arthur Richards, L.J. Williams, Alan Nicholas, J.A.Jones . T.K. Edmonds, Ken Lee.  Middle row : Heinz (Hugh) Holland, Colin Boilieau, Philip Nunn, John Winchurch, Geoffrey Titterton, ?, Brian Rees  Front row: Michael Edwards, Kenneth James ? ? Geoffrey Torkington.

 

Vic’s involvement with Saundersfoot Marine was, sadly, not a great success. However, it did provide both David and myself a grounding in boat craft and general woodworking skills that we carried forward into later life. We were encouraged to both build and sail boats. We joined Tenby Sea Cadets and had the harbour and town as our playground. Despite the hardships, we were the lucky children of the nineteen fifties.

With my father’s help and enthusiasm, David and I constructed our first boat in the garage at the top of the steep garden in St John’s Hill. Tools and materials were expensive and hard to get. I remember a long frustrating wait to get lengths of mahogany from a merchant somewhere in the south of England , Cousland and Brown, which had to come by rail. It was all a good lesson in both patience and improvisation though. Old cupboards were recycled to become seats and floorboards and we learned a lot about softening timber with steam and the properties of a various types of wood adhesive (and I don’t mean ‘glue sniffing’ !)

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John in the Yachting World pram dinghy which we built in Tenby in 1956

 

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Building the Torch sailing dinghy in the garage of Greengate, St John’s Hill in 1960. Photo taken by David Winchurch

In 1956 Vic made his exit from Saundersfoot Marine and in the absence of a suitable job in Pembrokeshire, made a move to get work in the Midlands.

Margaret, David and I stayed in Tenby, with Vic adding the long drive to and from the Midlands to Tenby to his weekly total – often several thousand miles. My Dad accepted his new situation without bitterness or rancour and I never heard him complain. He even managed to teach me to drive and pass my driving test in Haverfordwest in 1960.

At the age of twelve I joined Tenby Sea Cadets, an organisation with links to the Royal Navy which encouraged an interest in everything to do with the sea and ships. The commanding officer was Freddie Bennet Roberts with George Philpin Stubbs as his deputy. Under their guidance we learned everything from knots to drill and rifle shooting, although the latter had to be done courtesy of the Territorial Army in the Norton. I went on several extended periods on Royal Navy warships too, notably two weeks on HMS Hogue based at Devonport. I was just thiteen then and spent most of the time being homesick or seasick – often both ! Tenby Sea Cadets  met on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the Sea Cadet building, at that time single story, alongside the sluice, with a break for hot Oxo drinks followed by lessons on knots, navigation, in fact everything to do with naval life, in a house on the slope leading down to the quay. It was often bitterly cold in the middle of winter and I remember sliding on ice covering the surface of Crackwell Street one January night.

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John Winchurch – middle row, second from right David Winchurch – bottom row, third from right

After GCE O levels in 1959, I entered form six science at Greenhill to study Pure and Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A level. In addition to Bill Davies for maths and Arthur Richards for physics, I was taught by Bill Howells for applied maths and Mr Coates for Chemistry, although he left suddenly in my final year and the remainder of the time until the exam I was taught by the headmaster, Graham Gibson.

There were only two of us from Greenhill who took the A level Chemistry exam in 1961 and Rosamund Smith and I had to travel to Bush Grammar School at Pembroke to take the practical exam.

A notable addition to the teaching staff at Greenhill was Denzil Thomas, former Welsh Rugby cap who joined the school as sports and games master in 1958. Denzil could be a hard task master, but he was also kind and encouraging and even managed to light a spark on enthusiasm in me for Rugby. I was saddened to hear of his death in 2014 after a life which hit the heights, but also had episodes of deep tragedy.

Graham Gibson shook me by the hand and wished me well as I left the ‘Old Greenhill’ in July 1961. It was the end of an era, since the next school year opened at the much larger comprehensive school in Heywood Lane.

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The last official photo at the old Greenhill – 1959 with John, third row down, eighth from right. David, top row, sixth from right Many familiar faces for tagging – feel free !

 

In a sense, I was the last pupil there, being the final alphabetical surname on the register of those who had travelled the journey from first year to upper sixth form.

Sadly, Graham Gibson had only a few years at the new school, before his sudden death in 1964.

I obtained sufficiently high grades at A level in 1961 to gain entry to University College Cardiff, from where I graduated with a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering in 1964.

My years in Tenby were some of the happiest of my life and distant links with the town have continued right up to the present time.

The creation of the Facebook page ‘Tenby through time’ has been an invaluable addition for those of us with fond memories and links to ‘Our school by the Silvery Sea’ and my grateful thanks go to Niki Favorido, Katrina Lidster and the many others who have made this possible.

 

John Winchurch

Cornwall

July 2017

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03/07/2017 - Posted by | Family History, Tenby

1 Comment »

  1. Lovely to read. Thanks. In 1980 I bought a marlinespike in a chandlery in Saundersfoot. You also mentioned Selly Oak. That is where my paternal grandparents and two aunts and an uncle are buried. My paternal grandma was born in Tenby in 1871. First went to Tenby in July 1945 (camped by the kilns) and I felt as if I had come home. My father’s Uncle, William Davies JP, built the seminary for the Cistercian monks on Caldey. I became a navigator and sailed from Kingston Ontario Canada to the Exumas in a 42′ ketch. I learnt seamanship mechanics and weather.

    Comment by Barbara Ann Buiel | 06/07/2017


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