I was born on April 22nd 1933 at Coombe Mill, St. Giles on the Heath, Broadwoodwidger to William Archabold Skinner and Maud Mabel Skinner. I was their fourth child, the eldest was my Sister Winnie, who was seventeen, then there was Kathleen who was fifteen and my Brother Ken who was nine. My Father had to ask our neighbour, Mr Fry, to fetch the nurse from Ashwater as we had no car. This was nurse May and I was the first baby she had delivered.
When Winnie was old enough, she went out to service working for some people at Tresmeer, near Launceston, and Kathleen used to work for a few days a week for our Grandmother. Ken stayed on at school an extra term, which meant that he could give me a lift on the crossbar of his bike. When he left school he used to help Father on the farm.
At Coombe Mill where we lived, there was no running water, electricity or a bathroom and the toilet was at the bottom of the garden. As we had no running water, my Mother or Father would fetch the water in buckets from a well at the bottom of one of our fields.
The lamps had to be filled with oil in the mornings, so we could have light in the evenings, we went to bed by candlelight. Because there was no heating in the bedrooms, we would take a stone hot water bottle to warm the bed, on the bed would be a feather tick, it was like a mattress filled with feathers.
My Mother used to cook in a clome oven (which is an oven built into the side of the chimney breast with an iron door) and boil water in kettles over the open fire. The kettles were hung over the fire with chimney crooks, which hooked on a bar over the chimney. She also used to boil her washing in a boiler over the fire, all her washing was done by hand. After doing the clothes washing, she would then wash the blue slate floor and scrub the tables and forms which we sat on to eat.
Father used to get up at 6.00 a.m. to milk the cows and take the milk to the end of the lane by 7.30 a.m. to catch the milk lorry.
We owned some land at Bears Farm half a mile from our house, and when they were cutting the corn by binder, Mother and I had to take their tea up there. When we had the thresher to separate the corn from the straw, there would be eleven men helping, and we had to walk up with their dinner and tea. My Mother would make eleven beef pasties and apple pasties, yeast buns, and biscuits which she had baked in the clome oven.
If Mother wanted any shopping, she had to walk to Tower Hill station at St. Giles to catch the train, and my Father also had to catch the train to go to Launceston Market (which was at the top of Race Hill, but is now a car park). He also used to walk to Chapmanswell market to sell any bullocks and the animals had to walk as well. The market was along from the site of the Arscott Arms pub, and now has a bungalow built on it.
We used to have a mobile baker, grocer and butcher once a week visit the farm. During the war, we used to keep and kill our own pigs. Because there was no such thing as a freezer in those days, my Mother would salt the meat in a big earthenware tub, she would do this by making a salt brine and covering the meat.
My Mother would always cook us a fried breakfast on the fire in an iron frying pan on a brandish, which was a three legged iron frame which stood over the fire. She would also cook stews, vegetables and boiled puddings. To do the ironing, she had two flat irons, which she had to heat on the fire.
We always had fresh vegetables, which my Brother Ken would grow in the garden. We also had fruit such as raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants. We had three orchards with plenty of apples and my Father would take surplus apples up to Mr. Bridgeman to be made into cider.
We also had a mill and water wheel, and would grind corn to feed the animals
During the war, we had to black out our windows by night. Ken was in the Home Guard and Father was in the A.R.P.
It was a two mile walk to school every day and I had to carry a gas mask and also my dinner. When I was ten I had to have an operation for appendicitis. Because the war was still on, my Father would not let me go to a Plymouth hospital, he paid for Dr. Valagate to do the operation at Launceston hospital, where I stayed for three weeks.
Also during the war we had an evacuee called Sylvia Wood who stayed with us for two years.
Before we had someone collecting our eggs, Mother would pick me up on the way home from school with the horse and trap, and we would take the eggs and butter up to Thorn Moor to my Grandmothers, to meet with her Uncle who would take them down to Plymouth to sell.
On Sunday mornings my Father and I would go to chapel and Sunday school at Downicary, and in the evenings my Mother and I would go, come rain or shine. My Sister Kathleen was a Sunday school teacher. Every year we would go on an outing by coach to the sea. At Christmas we had a party at Chapel, where we played many games.
Winnie was married in 1935 to Stan Walters at Downicary chapel. They had one child, Margaret.
Kathleen was married during the war in 1945 to William Harris, also at Downicary and I was their bridesmaid. They had no children.
Ken was married in 1949 to Margaret Davey, and I was bridesmaid again. They had three boys, John, Roger and Graham.
I took my eleven plus and thirteen plus examinations at Ashwater School and failed both, so I stayed at St. Giles on the Heath School until I was fifteen.
I joined the girl guides and Mrs. Walbard, who lived at Highfield House, would give me a lift to Lifton, where the Guides would meet in a Barn at the bottom of Darkey Lane.
My Mother and I joined the Women’s Institute at Broadwood in 1949, and I also went to the Youth Club at St. Giles Church Room.
On Saturdays I would ride my bike to Tower Hill station to catch the train. I would meet my Cousin Rosemary there and we would go to Launceston for our music lessons with Mr. Royland Jordan, what a waste of money that was!
My Mother would give me ten shillings (fifty pence), that was enough for the train fare and any shopping she wanted. I used to go to Grove a few days a week to help Auntie Lily, and she paid me seven shillings (thirty five pence).
Going to the Youth club at St. Giles I met Ernie Orchard from Lower Northcott. He used to come and wait outside Downicary chapel until I came out and then would walk me home. He would also bike down to see me Tuesdays and Thursdays. One Sunday, I persuaded him to come in and meet my Parents, who took to him instantly.
Ern, with his three Brothers, used to go to different chapels and halls giving concerts singing in harmony. I would go to recite. I used to go up to Lower Northcott which was Ern’s home to many lovely parties. Ern’s Father loved playing cards.
When my Mother was 57 she had a stroke. I had to bike to Tower Hill Station to ring the Doctor, she lost her speech and movement. I nursed her at home, and in time her speech and movement came back.
In August 1953 my Father died in Greenbank Hospital in Plymouth (which has since been pulled down) and he is buried at Broadwood church.
My Mother and I went to stay at Bears Farm, in the bungalow my Father had built, with my Brother Ken and his Wife.
I was then the one who had to be up at 6.00 a.m. and bike down to Coombe Mill to milk the cows by hand and take the milk by milk float to the end of the lane by 7.30 a.m. to catch the milk lorry, just as my Father had. When this was done I had to let the cows out into the fields, clean out the shippens, feed the calves and pigs, pick up the eggs and wash them and feed the hens. This had to be repeated again in the evening. Luckily though Ern would bike down to help me.
It was then we decided to get married in October, as in those days people did not live together before marriage. We planned to get married on October 15th but Ern fell off his motorbike, and was left with scars on his face, so we got married on October 24th, 1953 at Downicary chapel. My Brother Ken gave me away, Les was Ern’s Best Man. My bridesmaids were Margaret Walters and Dorothy Barber. We had our reception at Bears Farm and our honeymoon was spent in Yeovil which we travelled to by train from Tower Hill station.
Ken did the work at Coombe Mill while we were away. We then went to live at Coombe Mill, renting it from my Mother. It was still as my Father and Mother had it, no running water, no electricity, no bathroom and toilet still at the bottom of the garden. I still had to fetch the water from the well at the bottom of a field, and use oil lamps for light. I did however have a gas oven and calor gas boiler.
This time Ern had to get up at 6.00 a.m. to milk the cows by hand and take the milk by milk float to the end of the lane to catch the milk lorry. He came back for his breakfast and left me to do the rest of the work as he went to work on his Father’s farm.
My Mother used to spend a month with each of us.
On June 9th 1957 David our Son was born at Old Tree Maternity Home at Trebursey, Launceston, he weighed 6lb 7oz. In those days you were in Old Tree for two weeks after having a baby. I don’t know how I managed to dry his nappies (terry toweling in those days) or air them without an airing cupboard. When David was two Ern decided, with Dennis Evans’ help, to bring the water in from a well in the field above the house and turn the dairy into a bathroom. We also had the telephone connected and the electricity was also installed. Then Ern was able to buy a milking machine, no more hand milking!! In September 1959 my Mother died suddenly while staying with my Sister Kathleen. Kathleen rang me at 9.00 p.m. to say that she had died. We went out there, it was quite a shock to see her still sitting in a chair. She is buried at Broadwood church as was my Father. My Mother left me Coombe Mill, Ken was left Bears Farm, but he had to pay Winnie and Kathleen some money, as Bears Farm was worth more than Coombe Mill.
In 1963 Ern’s Mother had a heart attack and died as she was walking up the steps in “The Walk” at Launceston. She was going to a funeral at St. Mary’s church. In 1964 Ern’s Father gave up the farm at Lower Northcott.
By this time I was expecting Diane, she was born on February 21st 1965, also at Old Tree Maternity Home. When I went home after two weeks, I was not well and had post-natal depression, so I had to go into hospital. Olive and Jimmy Yeats looked after Diane for a month. Again in June I had another breakdown and had to go to hospital again. That time Kathleen looked after Diane for a month until I came home.
Because Ern could no longer go to Lower Northcott to work, he helped Uncle Horace on his farm. He also had to cut the grass to make hay on our farm, and Les used to come and bale the hay. After they left Northcott Charlie Rockey baled the hay. Ken would come and help load the bales onto trailers to take into the ricks. Ern also did a lot of building at Coombe Mill, doing up the shippens and turning the barn into a shippen. Finding he liked building, he went to work for Mr. Pooley and Dennis Evans. Later he went self-employed. Finding there was no money in farming in a small way, we decided to sell Coombe Mill and the animals. We bought Little Sitcott in May 1973 with six acres, so we also bought two jersey cows. I used to separate the milk and turn it into cream, which I sold at the door.
I started playing skittles for the St. Giles ladies team. I took visitors in the summers of 1975 and 1976. I then went on to work on the nursing bank at Longlands, St Mary’s hospital Launceston and Okehampton hospital. Then I got a part time job at Holsworthy hospital. When they built the new Holsworthy hospital, I took a full time nursing post and worked there for fifteen years.
Ern and I enjoyed many caravan holidays, and loved going to dances at weekends.
David played football for the St. Giles team. He went to St Giles School and then onto Holsworthy School. When he left school, he went to work for a contractor at Ashwater, and he also worked for the forestry commission, planting trees at Coombe Park, which is now Roadford Lake. He married Kim and they had two children, Michael and Emma, although their marriage did not last. He went to work for Tesco driving a lorry, until he developed diabetes. He then went to Wales to live with Julie, and they have two boys, Lewis and Ivan.
Diane also went to St Giles School, then on to St. Joseph’s Convent in Launceston, on to Launceston College and finally Camborne technical college. She married Steven Langdon at Eagle House, Launceston on August 20th 1999, and went to live at Duke Street, St Stephens, Launceston, then on to Steers Farm, Polyphant where Elliot was born on December 30th. Saskia was born on July 27th. For a short time they lived in a barn conversion at Treniffle. They now live at Conifers, Lifton which Ern and I bought when we sold Little Sitcott in December 1986. Steven built me an extension onto the bungalow.
Ern and I had a very happy life together until he died from cancer on April 30th 2006. He is buried at St. Giles chapel.
As written by Jean Orchard of Conifers Lifton – August 2016