The following story was written down by my Great Grandfather, Henry (Harry) Civil. He was born on 31st May 1867 and he went to live with his mother's brother Jack Wiltshire and his wife when he was about six. In 1881, when he was 14, he started work at the Bristol Wagon works where his uncle had worked. He worked there for about four years before he left and went to work for Fullers Carriage works. He married Alice Brookes on 20th December 1890 and their first child, Edgar, was born on 28th February 1892 - seven more children were to follow. His wife Alice died in 1927 when she was 57 (The 'Letter to Alice' in this series of stories was written to one of his daughters, my Grandmother who was born in 1903. Some years later he married again. He was a great model builder, collector and taught himself to write - his spelling and handwriting were excellent. He wrote this story when he was 72 in 1939. During the 1930's and early 40's he recorded a number of his stories and memories some of which appear to have been adapted from tales he had heard - he loved including them in letters to relatives. Sometimes, you can see his spoken words coming through his writing - e.g. "that done me more good than all the hidings I ever had from my uncle" . He died in 1943.
The story of my first long ride and walk.
I am an old man now and I often think as I sit in my chair of an evening, of some of the foolish things I have done in the days gone by. I can remember when I was quite young. My father and mother, they could never keep me indoors, we were living in Pennywell road then. My father and mother were out all day at work and there was no one except an old couple in the house, and, I dare say, they found me a hand full. My uncle and aunt lived in the next street; my uncle was head stableman at Bristol Wagon works, his name was Jack Wiltshire. He kept pigs and also a pony, they had no children of their own and of course I was always round there; in fact, they could not keep me away. My father and mother got so fed up with me, no doubt I was a worry. They decided to let my uncle and aunt have me as their own. Was I happy? Not half, I was in heaven. Put me amongst the pigs and horses and I was as happy as a sand boy.
When my uncle got up in the morning to go to work I was up too, for I slept in a little tubby box downstairs, I must have been about six or seven years old then and when he went in the country to get timber which he did sometimes I went too. I remember my first long ride in the country, I don't think I was any more than eight years old. He had to go to Bath with some ironwork and of course he took me with him. In them days you had to pay a toll. We went the lower road to Bath and came back the upper road and I can remember it was a nice day and I thought it was a wonderful ride. My uncle, in them days, did not have a trap of his own but when he took my aunt for a drive he was able to borrow one from someone he knew. We were always going for rides on a Sunday some place or other and I can remember we very often went to New Passage on a Sunday afternoon and always put up at the public there called the New Passage Hotel. It was a lively place in them days for they were building the Severn Tunnel and there were plenty of Navvys about. The G.W.R. trains went as far as the New Passage and there was a pier there for the G.W.R. vessels to take the passengers across the Severn to Portskewett and on to Wales. I got to know this road very well and it was a very healthy ride too, you had the sea air nearly all the way coming towards you from the Bristol Channel; and so we continue our weekly rides until the time come when my uncle had saved up a bit of money and decided to get rid of his pigs and pony and take a little grocery business.
So we moved from Pennywell road to Barton Hill where the shop was. By this time, I was growing up and came in useful to run errands. The Blooming Beggars knew what they were about when they adopted me for they made a little slave of me, there was no schooling. I really had no parents, I was with my aunt and uncle but I was restless and always wanted to be on the go, the country was in me.
Now I must go back a bit. When I lived in Pennywell road I had a little friend Tommy Bendon, we played together, as we were brought up together in the same street and we were always chummy. When my uncle moved to Barton Hill, I missed him very much and the first chance I got I was off to see him and how pleased we were to be together. Well, one day Tommy and me made up our minds to go for a nice long ramble. The poor kid had not got about like I had and when he heard the wonderful stories I told him of the sea and New Passage and men working in the tunnel under the sea, he said, "let us run away and go there". It was then we arrange to meet one morning, I had to come from Barton Hill and meet him on Pennywell road. Now it was a tidy way to our Downs and from there to New Passage is Ten miles, so one morning in September I think it was, for the Blackberries were about, we walked to the Downs, then on to Westbury; still rambling on, we reached Henbury. It was afternoon then and we felt hungry, so we got gathering Blackberries and had our feed of them until we were satisfied. We poor little kids, we were only about ten years old then can you believe it, two little youngsters like them could rambled so far away from home, well we did and on we walked with not a care in the World and not a halfpenny between us. It was getting on towards night when we were nearing New Passage, we were so hungry we saw a woman outside a cottage and asked her to give us some bread. She wanted to know why we were that way, we told her we were going to our aunts at New Passage; she had her doubts, but she gave us a piece of bread and butter each and on we went eating as we went along. We were not thirsty as we were able to get our drinks from the Brooks.
Well we got to New Passage, it was now night and close to the Hotel on the beach was a lot of timber, the tide was out a long way and I think that was the first time Tommy had seen the sea. We were very tired and we found a place under some of the timber to sleep and we both slept like a rock. I don't know what time it was, but it was dark in the middle of the night, we both woke up frightened, it was the noise of the waves dashing the rocks near by and we found we were surrounded by the sea. We thought how lucky we were to wake up in time before the water reached us; we had not the sense then to know the timber was out of the reach of the tide still we were frightened. We said to one another, "let us go home". So we came away from there and went back the way we came; it was in the middle of the night and did not know what time it was and near New Passage was a police station and we had to pass that, that frightened us but we saw no one and when we passed the Police station we heard a clock strike two o' clock.
On we went not a soul about and we were hungry, so the first orchard we came to on the roadside Tommy went in and filled his pockets with apples and we were able to have a good feed as we walked along. And we kept walking all night; how we done it, at this time of life, for I am seventy-two years old now; I can't remember but I am writing my story as true as possible; we never met anyone all through the night until we came to Stoke Bishop, a village before you come to the Downs. Then we saw a man, He was on his way to work. I can remember it now how he stopped and asked what we were doing at that time in the morning I will bet he had a shock seeing two little boys at half past four in the morning miles away from anywhere; for he told us the time and we told him what we had done. He advised us to get home and never do a thing like that again, after sending us kindly on our way. I can see him now looking back at us as we walked on.
At last we reached the Downs, still no one about and we got under a bush and both of us fell asleep until seven o' clock; then we made our way for Pennywell road; when we got to the bottom of Tommy's street we met his sister just going to work, "Oh Tommy", she said "you are going to cop it when you get in; wherever have you been to". I left Tommy and made my way to Barton Hill; when I reached home my aunt wanted to know where I came from. "Off with them boots", says she and she helped me pull them off. Then my stockings and then my feet were naked she picked up one of my boots and whacked the bottoms of my naked feet with the rough bottom of my boot. Meanwhile poor Tommy when he got in the house his mother took him right away to the Police station in New road at the top of their street. It appears when Tommy was missing from home some one had seen him with another boy and they guessed who that boy was, but when he did not come home they went to the Police station and Infirmary but no luck; so to the Police station again. They told Tommy's mother if he should come back, instead of beating him to bring him, to the station and they would keep him for an hour or so and they thought that would do some good. So the mother carried that programme out. And at the same time, I suppose my uncle was telling my aunt what to do with me. My uncle was a cruel man and no doubt thought of the way of hurting me. I dare say he said to my aunt that will stop the young B__ from rambling. But it never stop me, and as I got older I walked all the more. There was no stopping me from my Country walks. Tommy was stopped from ever having anything to do with me again and the years went by He joined the Navy but I never forgot him. I always liked him and we were two little Chums always. I had many a walk and adventures after that ramble and some day I may tell the story of some other walks I have done under better conditions.
Just a few by words
I suppose you can hardly believe that two boys of that tender age after going through such privation of walking so many miles would be treated in such a way. One being taken to the Police station and the other to have his naked feet beaten with the bottom of the boots he wore;
I remember when about 14 years of age going with another boy to his Grandmothers place at Brockley Coombe when we got there she gave us a good feed then one of the best talking to I ever had in my life; that done me more good than all the hidings I ever had from my uncle, and I had a few.
Whip, sticks, strap and when I was a young man, I had his fist one night, it was only one blow; but I did not come to my senses until the next morning; but I am still alive.
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