Yvonne Widger


NO DATE OF BIRTH RECORDED (possibly about 12 in 1939)



JC  So first of all, thank you for seeing me Yvonne and basically I want to talk to you about your life in Beaminster.  Have you always lived here?  

YW  I was born here.

JC  So you’ve never been away for any period of time?

YW  No, other than for holidays.  I’ve never left.

JC  So whereabouts in Beaminster were you born?

YW  The cottage next to what was Newman’s offices on Tunnel Road corner.  My mother and father were given – my grandparents kept the Royal Oak and they gave that to mum and dad when they married and my two brothers and I were born there.  And then my grandmother died in January ’40 and we moved to the Royal Oak and we were there for 14 years.  During that time the war came and life was not too difficult, actually.

We took evacuees.  We…………… first of all before we moved to the Royal Oak, we took a mother and child but they, after a month, decided they couldn’t settle and they went back to London.  After we moved to the Royal Oak for a while we couldn’t take anybody because we were having expensive alterations done and there was no middle – we had two ends and nothing in the middle.  But once that was completed then we took evacuees.  First we had a brother and sister, Pat and Doris McCarthy from London.  They stayed with us several years.  Following them we had Doreen and Agnes Reeves from Southampton and I think they stayed with us until the end of the war more or less.  We all became great friends and kept in touch after the war.  Unfortunately we’re not any longer but, maybe, they’re not around any more.  But no, it was great and we did all sorts of things together.  

My two brothers, well one was called up and the other one volunteered, so they were away during that period and mum took in guests at the Royal Oak which, I say guests, it was mainly people that were working here and looking for accommodation.  Of course, in that time, we had servicemen stationed here and they used to come into the bar and we got to know them all quite well until the era of the Americans came and then the pace livened up a bit.  (Laughter)

They were a lovely bunch of chaps, they used to come in the bar – unfortunately we were rationed in those days on beer, etc. and it was such that the brewery would deliver to us on a Monday morning and by the Monday evening we were completely sold out.  And we had to wait another week then before we could get any more.  But I think today they would be able to close if they had nothing to sell but we weren’t allowed to.  The Licence meant you had to open in your opening hours even if anybody only came in and wanted a glass of water.

JC  Really?

YW  Yes.

JC  I hadn’t realised that, because you read about pubs running out of beer during the war, I hadn’t realised they actually had to stay open.

YW  We had to stay open .

JC  How on earth did that affect you?  It must have affected the income enormously.

YW  Of course it did.  Of course it did.  I mean yes, we certainly had the money that we would have had if it had lasted all week although it went in a day.  I must say cider was easier to get hold of but, of course, the Americans weren’t used to cider.  But when they couldn’t get beer or anything they went on the cider.

JC  What about being able to obtain spirits and so on?

YW  Well, we didn’t have a Spirit Licence unfortunately then.  We were one of the two Beerhouses in Beaminster.  

JC  So where, exactly, was the Royal Oak in Beaminster?

YW  It’s the one in Hogshill Street now which was opposite what was the Girls & Infants School.  Now how can I explain it to you?  The Royal Oak is just……………. you know where Peter Brooke is?  Go along there going your way up towards Tunnel Road and there was what we called the Welfare Centre and then there was a house which now has a sort of shop window to it, then a little cottage, and the Royal Oak was next to that.  It’s quite a long building they’ve now turned into three homes and the Girls & Infants School was right opposite.

JC  Right, yes, I can visualise where you mean now.  So you didn’t have a Spirit Licence – so what happened for the rest of the week?  Did you just have to sit there?

YW  You did basically.  Obviously they didn’t come in very much because they had nothing to buy and I understand then they used to go off to Mosterton, Broadwindsor, Netherbury – Netherbury then had two pubs – and they’d drink them dry as well.

JC  How did the locals feel about this beer disappearing so quickly?

YW  Well, actually, most of the locals in those days were cider drinkers so it didn’t affect them too badly.  They used to come in and have their cider – there were the old regulars that came every night and they had their chairs round the fireplace in the bar and if they came in, and one of the Americans were sitting in the chair, they got ‘the look’.  (Laughter)

JC  And who do you remember of the old regulars?  Were there any characters?


YW  Yes, there was old Levi Bugler and Tom Lombard.  Now, he drove a steamroller and he did all the tarmacing on the roads and what have you and he was quite a character.  And he used to have every………… he had some wonderful stories to tell.  He used to tell the Americans that they’d never been to Great Britain until they’d come through this side of the tunnel.   No, it was, you know, they were nice old chaps and the Americans, I will say, treated them very well.  They respected them and I think actually although they tried to make over that they didn’t like being disrupted in their casual way of life I think they were quite happy with the way they were treated.   Had chewing gum given to them and sweets and what have you so it all worked out very well.

JC  Then how did you find the general rationing because clearly there was food rationing?

YW  Yes, there was very much food rationing but, as I said, mum took people in and so we had what was called a Catering Licence although, again, it wasn’t abundant, it was more than the…………… well you had to send in returns regularly with how many people you had and so it was sort of based on that.  But we didn’t suffer quite as much as a normal household did I don’t think and, of course, in those days you grew your own vegetables, you kept your own chicken, you did all those sorts of things and, with having the bar, people who went out shooting rabbits and what not would bring them in and, you know, sell them over the counter.  No, we didn’t do too badly.

JC  What’s your earliest remembrance of Beaminster.  What’s the earliest thing you can remember?

YW  I was 4 years old and I decided I wanted to go to school and I went out the front door with my little doll’s pram and I went down to the school.  And I stood at the gate and, of course, eventually I caused panic because mum missed me and she didn’t know where I was, and she came out in terror and found me standing at the school gates.The teacher by then had come out and was speaking to me and she said to mum ‘Well why don’t you let her come to school because this is what she wants to do?’  Mum said ‘But she’s only 4 years old.’  But anyway, I went to school.  I mean now you can’t go until you’re a certain age but I went at 4 years old.

JC  So what was the school like?  How many pupils and teachers…………………

YW  The Headmistress Miss Jeans and then we had Miss Allen, Miss Rogers.  I think that was probably all we had.  The Infants went up until 7 and then the Girls stayed there because that was the Girls School as well, and the boys went to the Boys School in East Street.  From 7 years old.  Then, of course, if you passed your 11-plus or whatever, you went to the Grammar School at 11.  Otherwise you stayed there.

JC  And did the evacuees go to the school?

YW  Yes they did.  They were all integrated into it actually.  We did take one or two rooms that – I mean we used to go down to what is the Museum now, next door to that I think, for cookery, yes, we always did that, had cookery down there.  We used to do P.E. in the Red Lion in the room upstairs there.  We marched about quite a bit and our trenches were up where The Beeches is now now.  Those first houses were where we used to have to go for our trenches.  I used to think all these children snaking up there from the school ……..

JC  Presumably with your gasmasks?

YW  Oh yes, we couldn’t go anywhere without gasmasks.  No, nowhere at all.

JC  And did you have any situations in Beaminster during the war with either air-aids or anything like that?

YW  Oh we had some bombs dropped up on The Downs and, of course, we had the plane that went into the farmhouse up at Dibberford.  Yes, I mean I remember once, I was only about 8 or 9 I think, and I was walking down to town to get something for mum and of course the siren went and the White Hart – there were troops stationed there – and we were just grabbed into the shelter from that.  You know, you stayed there until the ‘All Clear’ went.  But we didn’t have any bad things happen here, we were very, very lucky actually.

JC  What was travelling like for you.  Either during the war or even afterwards.  How accessible were places from Beaminster?

YW  Well of course there was petrol rationing and you were only allowed to drive so many miles – I can’t remember too much about that because, of course, cars – not being old enough to drive or anything – didn’t really affect me in those days.  But I do know that with the mileage allowance it would only take you to the top of Henford Hill if you wanted to go to Yeovil.  You couldn’t go any further than that and the trains weren’t too bad but again, of course, you had to get to Crewkerne or, in those days, Bridport had a station and I mean Bridport was reasonably accessible by bus whereas the Crewkerne area never was until much later before we had a service going that way.

JC  What sort of things, what sort of entertainments did you have during the war years?

YW  Oh we used to have wonderful entertainments.  I mean we, the Americans particularly, used to put on all sorts for us in the hall.  I mean they’d do parties for the children at Christmas time and what have you.  They did a lot of dances of course using their own band as a dance band and, again, I wasn’t quite old enough to be allowed to go to those but I think they had quite a good entertainment there.  We did used to have a chap that did pictures for us once a week. He used to come here and do pictures in the Town Hall.

JC  What sort of pictures were they?

YW  Well, the old sort of black & white…………………. I can’t remember now really.  We all used to go because it was quite a novelty but I can’t remember that much about them except the hall used to be quite full.  Yes, it was………………

JC  And what about things for the war effort.  Were your parents involved in any kind of war work of any sort?

YW  Well, unfortunately, my dad lost a leg in 1928 so, of course, he wasn’t able to take any part in anything.  They had both served obviously in the Great War – dad was in the Army and mum was in the WRENS.  Yes, but they didn’t participate in this one other than doing their bit, so to speak, as they could.   I mean we also, at one time, had a Land Girl living with us who worked in Beaminster.  Well Doris Brittain she was.

JC  I had a letter from Doris this morning and spoke to her on the phone this week.

YW  Oh wonderful.  Well she lived with us for a little while at the Royal Oak   But she used to work for Raymonds up at Hewstock Farm and she stayed with us…………… she wasn’t with us that long but she stayed with us perhaps about 3 months.

JC  And were you involved in anything like the….. were there any War Weapons Weeks or Spitfire Funds or Salute the Soldier whatever………… the savings?[00:17:05] 

(Phone rings.  Sound of conversation so a gap for a few minutes)  (Much laughter)  

JC  Repeats question.

YW  Do you know I think we did actually.  I think we did.  That is not clear in my mind but I’m pretty sure that we did have things like that, yes.

JC  And did….. can you remember when the young people were involved in anything like salvage and collecting newspapers, hedgerow harvests and goodness knows what.  I mean, were there Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in Beaminster.

YW  Oh yes, definitely.  And we had………………… yes, the Scouts and the Guides were here, the Brownies and the Cubs.  I suppose it was postwar that we had the Air Training Corps and the Girls Training Corps.  That came then.  But yes, we had plenty of that sort of thing going on.  I remember I was in the Brownies during the war and so that sort of kept going and they had quite a strong movement of it.

JC  Oh right.  Because often you wonder whether all these things stopped during wartime or whether they carried on.  And in terms of the shops in the town?  Obviously there have been enormous changes.  During that war period can you remember which ones were there?  I know there was a Food Office for example.

YW  The Food Office was where Country Seats are now.  What is now Two Fruit & One Veg, or Two Veg and Fruit, or something, whatever it’s called, that was Brookes who,the main part of it was a sweet shop and the little shop next door was the…………… the brother ran that as a tailor’s shop.  He was a tailor.  And then Frampton’s the butcher of course was still there and the tuck shop, which is now a lettings agency, what have you.  What is At Home was Reynolds store and then part of the Coop was John (? unclear) chemist and then the other part was the Carters food store.  The Post Office was where – I forget who’s taken it now – it was where (I’m awful for names) – no I can’t think.  No it’s just gone.

JC  Oh, Ron Emmett’s?

YW  Ron Emmett’s.  Thank you. Next door to him was the Greenwood Tree cafe and then what is now Pickwick’s was a gift shop, Beaminster Gift Shop.  Yes.  Where Larcombe is was Chard Shoe Shop, the butcher’s is still where it was before.  What is the little bakery now, the Evershot Bakery, was Ives (? unclear) the clockmaker and where the coffee shop is was, well, Ken Hurford were there but I don’t think……………. no, he wasn’t there then he went there after the war.  It was dairy, Storridge Dairy were there.  Then up in what is the Post Office now was a bicycle shop and what else did they do?  I remember it was bicycles………………..  I can’t remember what else it was, and the paper shop of course where the charity shop is now, that was a paper shop then.  I can’t remember exactly what was in where Country Stores is now.  It was a fish shop but I don’t think that was until after the war.  I can’t really remember what it was originally.  And then the shop across the sort of alleyway from that was a general sort of sweet and bakers and what have you, with the bakery up the alleyway.  They did their own baking for it and where Peter Brooke is now was a showroom for cars from Francis Bugler’s.

JC  Oh really?

YW  Yes they used to…………….. I think it was Ford Cars they sold and they always had that as their showrooms for the cars.


JC  Did you have other members of your family in the town?  

YW  Yes.  The war sort of  broke it up because, as I say, my two brothers went……….. John went in the Army and Eric went in the Navy and…………. but therwise I mean my grandparents were at the Royal Oak and when my grandmother died my grandfather went to live with his daughter who was down at Southgate and my Uncle George had a…. well, he built carts and what have you.  He had a great big workshops down there and ……….

JC  Down the Bridport Road?

YW  That’s right yes.  Opposite the Police Station now, the house right on the end.  That was a terrific amount of space there and he was a cartright and did some wonderful work down there.  

JC  Of course that’s all something that’s just gone these days.

YW  Absolutely. Yes.

JC  Goodness.  And do you remember the end of the war period?  I mean sort of things like VE Day and VJ Day?

YW  Yes, yes.  Definitely.

JC  What happened?

YW  As I remember we had ……. now I don’t know if I’m getting muddled up.  No, that’s not so clear in my mind you know.  i was going to say we had a street party but I’m not so sure that we did.  I think I’m probably thinking of some other time there.  (A few silences)

JC  I do wonder if something went on.  I remember Margaret Hymer (? unclear) said to me that she and her brother had Chickenpox and remember looking out of the window seeing what was going on but……………

YW  I think we probably did have a celebration and more likely than not it would have been in The Square area.   But I can’t honestly…………

JC  Was The Square used quite a lot as a sort of focal point for the town?

YW  Oh yes.  I mean we had – well obviously not in the war – but it was always used as the ….. the Funfair came there twice a year because it was a Charter Fair and they used to come in May and September.  And they came, well they moved in on a Thursday and they opened Friday and they moved out again on Sunday.

JC  So what sort of things did they have?

YW  Oh roundabouts, swinging boats, all the side shows.   Coconut Shies, Roll-a-Ball, that sort of thing.

JC  I expect that was greatly looked forward to.

YW  Absolutely, yes.  Everybody looked forward to that actually and it was an old family of Townsend they were called and they came regularly.  I mean everybody knew them and they knew everybody.

JC  Do you know where they came from?   Or were they just …. (? unclear)

YW  I think they came from the Weymouth area because the son-in-law Bernard who married, Jill Townsend, he – well I say he still does – up to about three years ago he was doing the children’s roundabouts on the sand at Weymouth.  So they were sort of still in that area.

JC  And in terms of facilities in the town.  I mean clearly it was quite a thriving shopping area through that time.  What about things like doctors and dentists and all that sort of thing.  Did you have those in the town?

YW  Yes we did.  Yes, we had Doctor Lake (we always had two doctors), Doctor Lake and Doctor Hope Simpson it was during the war and we had the Welfare Centre which was next to Peter Brookes now going up the road.

JC  Yes, you mentioned that.  What happened in that?  What was that about?

YW  Well it was sort of baby clinics and all went on there.  I mean the District Nurse lived in the flat above so it was all sort of connected with her and then, during the war of course, we used to go there and get the orange juice rations and cod liver oil for the babies.  (Laughter)

JC  Horrible!

YW  Absolutely.  (Laughter)

JC  So all in all, over time, Beaminster has always been self contained.  You didn’t have to ……………..

YW  Oh completely self sufficient.  We were more self sufficient then than we are now.  I mean we had something of everything shopwise I think.  You didn’t really have to go out of the place unless you wanted to.

JC  So if  you wanted shoes?

YW  Reynolds was a big clothing store and the shoe shop was Chard Shoe Shop and that had everything.  


JC  So with things like the shortages, when it came to things like Christmas and so on, how did the children fare in terms of having presents and that sort of thing because, presumably, there wasn’t quite so much around.

YW  It was difficult.  It was difficult because yes, as you say, there wasn’t the stuff around.  I think a lot of it, quite honestly, was home made.  I think this was how people got over it.  I mean my dad was a sort of Master Carpenter at any rate, and he made wooden toys for us like, well my brothers I remember had – you know – he made them most beautiful garages and things like that.  Yes.  So yes this was obviously what happened and we had knitted toys although wool wasn’t easy then. But of course in those days you used to unrip old cardigans and jumpers that had got holes in the elbows and re-knit it up into something else.

JC  It was very ‘Make Do and Mend’.

YW  Absolutely.  Yes.  Oh yes, you never threw anything away.  This is what I tell my family, because they say ‘Mum, you hoard!’  I was brought up, we had to.  Something we wanted to discard, we had to think ‘Well that might be useful, I can do this with it, do that with it and something else with it’ and I said I spent my growing up years having to look at things like that.


JC  And how long did your parents stay at the Royal Oak for?

YW  We were there 14 years.  It was in the family all told for 60 years because my grandparents went there when dad was 18 months old and then dad took it over when his mother died and his dad obviously couldn’t cope there on his own.

JC  And so what did your family do after the Royal Oak?

YW  Well when they came out of the Royal Oak I suppose by that time I was married and my eldest daughter was, I think she was 10 months old when they came out of the Royal Oak.  So actually they spent an awful lot of time with her and they – well I suppose I’m right to say they retired really.  I mean mum used to do bits and pieces for people, help out and that because that’s how mum was.  I mean she’d, you know, always ready to help somebody.

JC  And did other Licencees come into the Royal Oak?

YW  Yes,the Wattons took it from us and when he died that was when Palmer shut it as a pub.  So in actual fact in about 80 years that only had three landlords which was quite a thing.

JC  Quite a thing  because I’ve looked at a lot of the Kelly’s Directories and every time you come to a new one there’s a new Licencee named at various pubs.

YW  That’s right.

JC  So that’s quite amazing.  Did you meet your husband locally?  Was he a local chap?

YW  Yes.  Well, my first husband he died 13 years ago now, but he …………….. well  he wasn’t a local lad.  I mean I think they came here when he was about 8.  He was born in Devon, in Kilmington and his father was a farm….. well worked on a farm and he came to Storridge when Doug was 8 and they were there right up until they died.  I mean they both died in Beaminster.

JC  And your first husband he was involved in farming then himself?

YW  No, he worked for Francis Bugler’s actually.  He was with them for 51 years.  He went there when he left school at 14 and he retired at 65.  He retired in the August and he was dead the following January.  We didn’t have a retirement together which we’d planned but that’s how it goes.

JC  And have you still got children in this area or have they all moved away?

YW  My eldest daughter lives in Weymouth, my younger daughter lives in Bournemouth and my son lives in Drimpton.

JC  So they’re still all in the area.

YW  Yes they’re within easy distance.

JC  And grandchildren presumably?

YW  Yes.  I’ve got 7 grandchildren and 3 step-grandchildren – 5 step-grandchildren, sorry, no, 3 step-grandchildren.  Yes.  

JC  That’s absolutely smashing Yvonne.  Thank you ever so much for talking to us.  Thoroughly enjoyed it.