Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Wargrave Local History Society

“WARGRAVE 535” was the title of George Rawlinson’s illustrated talk to the April meeting of the society.

George, who is now the operations director for the RNLI, grew up in Wargrave and shared his memories of the village at that time.

His title slide gave the name of the family home, The Homestead, which stood near the bottom of Victoria Road.

There were no postcodes in those days, so he added the old telephone number, hence the title of his talk.

The presentation was very personal and thought-
provoking as George looked back at the various influences on him — his parents, older brothers, teachers and the community — and considered the present and future.

His parents had struggled at times but, despite the ups and downs, they had worked through them with optimism.

Like many parents, they had made sacrifices for the sake of their children, something George said he had only really begun to appreciate in later life.

His mother, Sara, had been in the army during the Second World War, working as a driver, mainly for high-ranking officers.

Her family were property surveyors in London but their large house in Wimbledon had been requisitioned during the war — with devastating consequences.

George’s father, John, was the son of an electrician from Epsom, who believed that “education was everything”.

John had a background as a chemist but was intent on a career in the theatre and adopted the stage name of John Field.

The Kenton Theatre in Henley captured his imagination and the family settled at The Homestead, which cost £1,500 at the time.

It became the centre of George’s universe. The old staircase was one where you could tell who was coming up by the sounds it made but the cellar below was the “scariest place on earth”.

The house was somewhat beyond the family’s means, so George’s father had to take on a more secure job, driving for the Henley Carpet Cleaning Co and later the GPO in Reading.

The family also took in lodgers at £5 per week — there was no en suite and no central heating though in those days.

Despite this, times were tough and sometimes his mother would cry over the washing up sink. Eventually the costs of maintaining the house became too much and they sold the plot in 1974.

George said he was also grateful for the effect his teachers had had on him, passing on their wisdom and knowledge with generosity.

His schooling was very much rooted in Wargrave but his world was beginning to expand. His older brothers also taught him a lot — he always “worshipped” them, although they did not always show this back!

He joined the Sunday school at the chapel in High Street, which shaped the way he would respect the faith of others.

Many aspects of the Wargrave community also affected him. He recalled Eaton’s Garage in High Street, where he would be sent to collect paraffin for the heater at home. Eventually, he was even allowed to wind the handle for the pump to dispense the fuel!

His passions, though, were his bicycle and his dog. The former gave him the freedom to explore — at first the village centre, then Willow Lane, Loddon Drive, the Straight Mile and further afield.

He remembered seeing signs put up to announce the building of 80 new homes — what became Purfield Drive and Langhams Way.

He would also use his bike to run daily errands, such as to A J Botting’s shop for a packet of Woodbines for his mother, or to Mary Owen’s shop further up.

He also would be in awe of the local policeman, Cameron Floate, although from time to time he found he needed to avoid him!

For a while, he attended Henley Trinity School, travelling by train from Wargrave. “Health and safety” was different in those days and the children would happily put pennies on the track for the train wheels to run over.

While at school in Henley he fell from a climbing frame and, in the manner of the time, was told to “get on with it”. By the time he got home he was in a mess and his brothers insisted that he should eat a lemon curd sandwich.

George’s mother started a playgroup at the Homestead — in part to use her people skills and in part to help family finances.

It was trailblazing a bit but if his mother decided on something it would happen.

George would sometimes help at the playgroup. His mother would have the children spellbound with a story.

After drink and biscuits, the children could explore the garden, which was about a third of an acre and George thought was “the most exciting place on earth”.

Community facilities that George appreciated were the village library and the Woodclyffe Hall, where his father would put on Victorian music hall as he watched from the gallery.

The river was also an attraction. Sometimes George would call at Henley Sailing Club on his way back from Henley. He learnt to sail in National 12s and enjoyed skiffing.

At the age of seven he took part in the Wargrave and Shiplake Regatta for the first time and he has maintained contact with the event ever since.

He appreciated the support of many village boating families — the Symons, van Zwanenburgs, Hermons, Wells, Blacks and Warrens, among others.

Holidays in Dorset convinced George that he wanted to go to sea as a career and he went to a school in Dorset where he was able to participate in maritime activities.

He then joined the P&O shipping line as a deck cadet. He went on to work for smaller shipping lines, rising to chief officer and in due course he moved to the RNLI, initially in the field and then in his current role.

George said that the skills he had learnt in Wargrave were never far from his mind and he was thankful for the community that had helped him develop them.

The society’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, May 9, when Peter Trout will talk about the early history of airships.

On Sunday, June 11 the society will conduct a guided history walk of Wargrave as part of this year’s village festival.

On Thursday, June 15 it will hold an antiques event with TV presenter Thomas Plant at the Woodclyffe Hall in High Street.

Tickets for both June events will be available at the festival ticket day from 9am on Saturday, April 22 at the scout hut off Eastview Road.

Meetings start at 8pm at the Old Pavilion in the recreation ground. For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 940 3121 or visit www.wargravehistory.org.uk

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