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Dave Robbins Part 1: The Early Years

by Dave Robbins | Born and Raised in Bishopsteignton, Dave Robbins

As part of our “Born and Raised in Bishopsteignton” series of articles Dave Robbins relates his memories from growing up in Bishopsteignton in the 1960s and 70s.

Dave has recorded a spoken and slightly embellished version of this article that can be listened to in its entirety while enjoying the images and text or in shorter bite sized chunks playable at intervals throughout the page.

Bath time at 37 Fore Street. The Robbins family at home on a Sunday night.

I was born in Newton Abbot hospital on February 22nd 1958, and whisked back to ‘Bishop’ quick enough to earn the privilege of being called a Bishop boy! Mum was Sheila Robbins, (a consequence being that later in life I was press-ganged into the village pantomimes whether I like it or not!) and my Dad was Dave Robbins senior.

Early life was in 37 Fore Street, next to the garage with my parents, older sister Gaynor and my grandfather Sydney Parnell Skinner (Mum’s father). He had been a veteran of the First World War and had earned the DCM for work in the trenches; he also served in the Home Guard in Bishop in the Second World War.

My memory of early 1960s life at home was, my Dad getting up at 5am to work for Harris Bacon at Totnes and my Mum and her sister Peg having to strip wash my grandfather to care for him as he grew older.

37 Fore Street had no bathroom until I was about 12! Very undignified for all concerned!

Newspaper Cutting Dave and Gaynor Robbins

Cropped Newspaper Cutting of Dave and Gaynor Robbins part of Newspaper Cutting 33165

Dave’s mum Sheila outside 37 Fore Street c1938

Bishopsteignton Homeguard 1942

Bishopsteignton Homeguard 1942

lI was football mad and was introduced by my Dad to Exeter City Football Club where I saw my first game in 1966… Exeter 0-0 Shrewsbury. I still follow ECFC to this day. My uncle Mac from Birmingham got my Dad and I tickets to watch three world cup games in 1966 at Villa Park. I remember getting lost outside the ground at 8 years old! I saw West Germany/Spain/Argentina play and sat next to Ann Jones the British Tennis champion (although I had no idea who she was).

So, any football we played as kids was done in the road opposite No. 37 or at Pathfields and I remember kicking a ball around for hours only having to stop occasionally for a passing car. Names I recall playing football with were David Cummings (lived at 13 Clanage St), Stephen Heal (lived at Fore Street close to Post Office), John and Chris Dyer (West Street). Chris used to get fed up and would invariably climb the goalposts or set fire to something!

Other lads would be Michael Noel (Cockhaven house; one of 5 brothers: Stephen, Ian, Philip and Peter), Brian and Alan Furneaux (West Town Meadow), Mike Whybrow (Cockhaven Close), Andy McDill (West Town Meadow), Stephen Harrington (Tapley Gardens). The ‘bigger older’ lads were John Green – sadly no longer with us – Colin McDill, Andrew Godliman and Clarence (Reg) Gill who used to do the commentary!

I can recall playing football outside the post office when Steve Heal‘s dad Harold came home from work and I think he worked on the railways and would come home on his motorbike.  His wife Doris would know when he got back and would open the front door of 52 Fore Street and Harold would ride his bike up onto the pavement through the front door of the house and under the stairs in one fell swoop which for me as a child was marvellous!

I lived for football. Pathfields (where the school is now) pitch was really a field with a huge stinging nettle patch and a bog on one side. The goalposts were higher than they were wide (but Chris Dyer still managed to sit on the crossbar!), and when it rained it was like playing in The Somme!

I’d come home covered in mud, head to toe and would go into the kitchen (no bathroom remember) to get cleaned up. What a performance that was! If somebody ‘important’ visited the house and wanted to use the bathroom, Mum would tell them we had work being done on it (it never existed – poor mum)!

Playing Football

Dave Robbins

The winter of 1963 was fun for us kids. Bishop was like all of Devon under a blanket of heavy snow. I remember snow drifts as high as the hedges and all the water pipes were frozen. People were riding bikes and driving cars on rivers, lakes and canals. I remember we had no central heating but a two-bar electric fire in the front room. We went to bed with all our clothes on! But we knew no different!

Photograph of Fore Street 1963

Fore Street 1963

Pantomime c1966

Bishopsteignton Children's Theatre cast of Wizard of Oz, 1972/3

Bishopsteignton Children’s Theatre cast of Wizard of Oz, 1972/3 at the Village Hall.

Then along came the need to go to school. There was no pre-school playgroup back then – we were tough. 5 year old straight into Miss Hawkins class! I remember trying to run away on my first day and Miss Hawkins locking the door! When I go back to that room now I can remember it so clearly. Miss Hawkins seemed like she was about 140 to me but was probably mid-60s, grey hair, dressed in a coloured nylon ‘overcoat’, presumably to protect her from wet trousers, vomit, fuzzy felts and felt-tip pens! She had an excess of facial hair, bless her, but was kind and stamped our schoolwork with  a ‘Well tried’ green ink stamp. If something was wrong she’d have stamped your work ‘See me’.

The kids in 1963 in the first year of primary school, in no particular order were, that I recall:

  • Derek and Susan Hutter – lived at Lindridge
  • Howard/Malcolm Sercombe and Lindsay – from Teignmouth (but we still spoke to them)
  • Francis Down – Les and Gill’s brother
  • Peter Lewis
  • The Doxsey Family: David, Peter & Susan – from Teignmouth (later in life I taught Peter’s sons to drive articulated lorries!) I do believe the Doxseys had a connection with either Austria or Germany as the boys used to attend school dressed in lederhosen! Absolutely true! And Susan seemed to dress in the Austrian national costume!
  • Phyllis Aldridge
  • Lesley Carter
  • Rebecca Robins
  • Calpreta and Christina Groves
  • Jackie and John Springate – whose mum made lovely fudge at Christmas and bought it into school
  • John Whitechurch
  • Lamboll family: David, Richard, Robert, Ann, Elizabeth and Caroline
  • Dave Pitt
  • Dave Gilbert
  • Jackie Cross – who was one of the first girls we’d ever seen play football. She was allowed to play along with the boys which was unheard of at the time.

Dinner time at school was a walk up to the ‘canteen’ (now the scout hut). As we passed the paper shop a ‘Mr Jones’ the Welsh newsagent would often stand in his door and – rather inappropriately in a Welsh accent – announce that we are having ‘shit and sugar’ for our dinner. Is it the case that we had ‘dinner’ at lunch time? Because that’s what we called it back then!

The ladies that cooked the dinners would stand in a line, a bit like prison, and dole out the food. I remember they were Cath Honey (Mrs Honey to us!) who lived in Wallis Grove, my Auntie Olive Wallis (who gave me extra!) and Eileen Henly who live in Coombe Way. I remember an inspector that use to come called Mrs Derbyshire and when Mrs Derbyshire turned up and all the dinner ladies ,if I remember would be on their best behavior and the food as far as I remember was great! That’s why I was a porky little chap at Bishop Primary school!

Cropped Newspaper Cuttings titled: 'Kitchen tales from salt of the earth!'

School Canteen staff in the Scouts Hut Radway Hill

The next class up was to go up to Miss Wilson’s. She was a Welsh lady. I guess around 100 years old, so probably 40-ish with ‘Edna Everage’ type spectacles and a smoker’s cough to match. She drove a sky-blue Morris 1000 to school but had the kids well-being as her priority. She taught us ‘up the stairs’ and I recall taking part in ‘capacity’ lessons where we sloshed water from a pint to a quart container over a sink! If you were naughty you had to ‘stand in the corner’! At least kids now can sit down if they are sent to the ‘naughty step’! We had, I guess by regulation, 1/3rd pint bottles of milk, which we had to drink. In the winter, the milk crate was placed on the huge stove in the classroom to make it a sickly warm temperature. Seriously, many a school kid that was forced to drink it would throw up!

I can recall having a dispute with Dave Pitt because, there was one solitary 1/3 pint bottle with a Christmas lid showing a Robin on it where the others had the standard lids on them.  We went for the bottle together and ended up having a punch up.

At play time, we would go out and run wild in the tiny area (it seemed huge back then). We had climbing bars: if (when) you fell, you fell straight onto the concrete deck – no mats, no health and safety and in later years, a small swimming pool was installed. The kids toilets? Oh my word! The actual toilet pans were placed side by side with no divider, a step down from Wormwood scrubs! And to make things worse, Izal toilet paper! One step up from corrugated cardboard…it’s no wonder us Bishop kids turned out such complete and rounded individuals!

School Report

Other teachers were Mrs Tewson who had two daughters – Pat and Angela – at the school. I can hear her asking me to write on the blackboard: “today’s date”, in the so called ‘back kitchen’, a tiny room off the main classroom. It was 6/6/66 – so I was 8 years old. Maureen White also taught us history and a young female student teacher, Miss Starkey, who all us boys fell in love with, taught us for a period of time. Another lady, Mrs Coyle, a dentist’s wife attempted to teach us kids and we played her up something terrible. I do believe she had a son, Harvey.

The ‘big’ class was class one. The formidable Agnes Robinson was the headmistress. To everyone, she was known as Fanny Robinson. She, to us children, was a scary individual who ruled with a rod of iron. She was around, I guess, her late 60s (160 to me), grey hair in a bun, glasses and had an immense aura of authority. She lived with her sister in the first terraced house in Fore Street as you pass Bishop’s Avenue on your left.

She would on school days leave her bags on the opposite pavement for us kids to carry to school. If you walked past the bags and she noticed you, you would be summoned to her office for interrogation. Looking back I think she was only doing her job, probably very well and very strictly. I did get the threatened with the ‘cane’ once but escaped by the skin of my teeth. Some kids did actually get the cane administered across the back of the legs! I think when Miss Robinson retired and Mr Holmes took her place, she joined the SAS as an interrogator!

Newspaper Cutting titled: 'Funeral of sisters who died together'

Class of ’61’ with Agnes (Fannie) Robinson, Head Teacher at the Village School

Bill Holmes – I think another Welsh man – came to the school in my last year. He was much more relaxed and let us play football at Pathfields. He produced an Eistedfodd and attempted to get us kids to perform ‘The Sound of Music’. I remember the favourite kids got the best parts and I was one of the Von Trapp kids, having to sing ‘So Long, Farewell’ with Susan Doxsey who had her own leather Austrian outfit! It should have been entitled ‘The Sound of Music: The Agricultural Version’!

We kids were aware that the 11-plus exam was looming and I felt under quite a bit of pressure to pass as my older male cousins were pretty sharp individuals and my Mum desperately wanted me to go to grammar school. I  bombed it, as did all the boys in the year. Some girls passed and so our futures took different paths, secure in the knowledge that Bishopsteignton Primary School had laid a foundation for the rest of our lives.

Newspaper Cutting on Bishopsteignton Primary School

Mr Bill Holmes, Headteacher at Bishopsteignton Village School

As a nine year old the Bishopsteignton village post office was run by Mrs Cowls (around 1967). The Post Office sold ‘Matchbox by Lesney’ cars and lorries, my mum and Auntie Peg would sometimes buy me one – it was always a lorry! Wynn Cowl’s husband, Harvey had served in the merchant navy during the Second World War, mainly as chief engineer.

I can recall (and how I wish I’d listened more intently) his stories of working away in the engine room of a ship, covered in sweat and oil and I think I can remember a story of how on one occasion his ship was hit by a torpedo at sea!

I remember Mr Cowls was late 60s, very infirm and I am privileged to have his Board of Trade logbook detailing his service in the merchant navy.

But it was Mrs Cowls that had a great influence on me as a youngster. She would affectionately call me Fred and would get me to go up to the Commercial (before it was The Bishop John De Grandisson) to buy her a bottle of whisky. Mrs Cowls liked a glass of whisky or two and I never understood why I was given a newspaper to cover the bottle over on the return trip. “Tell Dot it’s for me” she would say, and Dot would lean through the Off-Licence (fag in her mouth) confirming it was for Mrs Cowls. Little did I realise, as a nine year old, Dot Perkin (the landlady) was later in my life to be part of my formative years drinking in her pub.

My reward for my undercover, underage whisky mule operations was either – or often both – a bottle of Double Diamond beer and a fry up. Yep… nine years old.

To me as a kid it was great! I’d deliberately play football outside the post office until I’d hear “Fred?”.

“Yes Mrs Cowls” I’d reply.

“Nip up to the Commercial, will you”

That was my introduction to Double Diamond beer and fry ups!


Incidentally, the basket ‘trick’ was also used when us kids had to fetch sanitary products from. Mr Stewart Bond, the chemist. “Give Mr Bond this piece of paper”. Mr Bond, dressed in his pristine white coat would dutifully place the ‘mysterious product’ in the basket, cover it with the newspaper. As I looked around the dark shop, there were hundreds of jars of Heinz baby food on the left and I stood in bewilderment of the variety of flavours! There were drawers behind the counter, some I think had Latin writing on them. The place smelt of a heady mix of Wrights Coal Tar Soap and Nivea Cream, with posters for ‘Miss Pears’, a sort of beauty competition for kids! I thought of Mr Bond as an apothecary rather than a chemist!

Read more of Dave’s and other stories in our Born and Raised series