Bill’s recollections …
Bill Bishop served Brandon as Parish, District and County Councillor for many years before his recent retirement.
I was born in Fulham, London. The family were living in Ilford when the bombs started dropping on London in the war, so the family – me, my sister, mum and dad; came to live in Brandon with my mum’s mother. My grandmother’s surname was Armiger and she lived at number 2 on the Avenue. This would have been about 1940. I would have been six or seven years old at the time and Brandon seemed very quiet and somewhat boring because there was not much to do. Living on the avenue we would play hopscotch or marbles, but there was no place for football, so you would go and find somewhere to kick a football about. At weekends I might go for a walk with mum and dad.
My mother’s name was Daisy and my dad was called Bill. He was a baker and when we came to Brandon there was a job for a baker, working for a Mr Strutt, at the Co-Op, which he took. I used to go and help dad, mainly on Saturdays or Friday nights, by putting dough in the bread tins and then shoving them in the oven. Sometimes I would stand there with a jar of jam and drop jam into the empty cupcake tins. Back then Brandon had three bakers – the Co-Op, Hyams (on the corner of High Street and Thetford Road, opposite the Flintknappers pub) and Zipfells. My dad eventually ended up working for them all!
I went to school at the Infants school and was accepted by the other children. There were also evacuees at Elveden coming to school, they were all accepted too, and I can’t remember any trouble between the children. I know I had a ‘top class’ at school. This was because it was the only one on the first floor! One thing I do remember is the teacher came in, messed about and left the door open. He then said to me, “Bishop. Put the wood in the hole.” So I got up and started looking around for a piece of wood! He looked at me and said, “Hmm. Good job it’s you. I’ll let you off.” It is true! I remember one sad occasion, when the Head Teacher came along and told us to sit down, then went on to tell us that one of the old pupils, named Norton, had died in battle.
We had to take our gas mask every day, otherwise you would be sent home and risked the cane. I did risk the cane on one or two occasions when I sneaked out of school and ran down Stores Street to Zipfells to get a cake. There was a woman at school who was the assistant to the Head Teacher, who has sadly recently died, and she would offer the Head Teacher various sizes of cane. Whenever I saw her, up until a couple of weeks ago, I would ask her, “What size cane have you got?” Honestly, its true.
Ah, my run in with the law. Well, there was an old window sill made from lead at the old Church Institute. It was very tatty. Well of course in those days us lads loved to go fishing, so we wanted pieces of lead as weights. You can guess what we did. But can you guess what us six lads were doing when we cut the lead off ? We were all waiting to go into the Church Institute for Sunday School!! Well some bloke came along, saw what we were doing, and I think he told Mr. (Walter) Gentle. Mr Gentle then says, “Well we will either send them to prison. Or we will send them to court.” So he sent us to court, which was actually against the wishes of the clergy. It was a very scary time for us boys. Our summons took place at the Methodist Church and all our parents had to come along. I can tell you what my parents thought about that … “clonk, clonk”, I got a clip round the ear.
We ate rabbit quite a lot. You see what you ate on Sunday was served cold on the Monday and cooked up for Tuesday! Sunday was definitely for church though. I joined the choir as soon as I could. Now, because there were not enough seats for the choirboys, I was led into the back room where there was a handle to pump the organ. This became my job, pumping the organ in Sunday Service and I think I did this for about two years. Eventually I got into the choir and I quite liked it.
I can well remember playing football when I got a bit older. I played for Town Street, or ‘Tip’ as some called it, and also for Brandon. I enjoyed that, but I also remember a dispute at Brandon. We were given a pitch right at the far end, nearest to the Rectory, but huge amounts of money to play on it was demanded by the Remembrance Playing Field Committee. So what did we do? Well, we went and played at the Ram until the dispute was over.
The first thing you did when you left school was to go up to George Street to a place that used to be a shop but then became an Employment Exchange, and sign on. I left school without qualifications, like most people, but was lucky enough to find a job at Comptons, on Fengate Drove. It was doing a bit of everything-and-helping-everyone type of job really, but it was supposed to be an apprentice electrician.
I remember the building on the Country Park being a hotel for American servicemen coming into and leaving the UK. The Brandon House hotel, before it became a hotel, had land that went right down to the Ram and had a magnificent wall that ran along it. There was a posh gate, and trees behind the wall, so it was very secluded. Then that was all gone when they rebuilt the bridge and moved the road. Imagine this. I had been in the army for a few months and they were just about to knock the old bridge down. Well I went over the old bridge to get on a train to travel to the army headquarters and go off to Egypt. But when I came back I came over the new bridge. How about that? I went out on the old bridge and came back on the new bridge. At one time the old bridge had a wooden bridge next to it for tanks to drive over.
I also used to like the railway station. There was a bookstall there, run by a Mr Smith, who sold books with nude women in them. There was also a place where you could take parcels to be sent by railway, or pick up parcels from. We would often go off to Norwich.
In later years we lived in a cul-de-sac in Crown Street. I would guess there were about fourteen houses there, and perhaps eight might be occupied by Americans. We had good relationships with them and would often travel to the States to meet up with them. But today you hardly see the Americans because they live on base.