Susan Coney (née Phillips) is a prolific researcher and recorder of local history, especially about Truro. Here, she shares with us part nine of her memories of growing up during the 1940s to the 1960s, recalled and recorded during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.
After the excitement of Christmas and my birthday, it was back to school. It was cold and still quite dark when Mum woke me and I had to get out of my warm nest of a bed and then catch the bus to school in Truro. The most memorable things about primary school in the winter was the open fire in each of the classrooms and the crate of frozen milk being thawed out by the side of the fire which, by the time it was handed out, was warm with thick sickly cream on the top and tasted horrible. (I think I have mentioned this before!).
Sometimes we would have snow. Most kids were delighted but I dreaded it. It was pretty to look at but then to be dragged out in the cold to make a snowman – no thanks.
Our front room was long and narrow with a small fireplace on the narrow far end so the fire did not heat the whole room. Dad put up a rail with a thick curtain halfway down to divide the room and make it warmer at the fire end which is where we sat and watched TV. I often sat on my haunches resting on the coffee table to do my homework (with the TV on) as it was too cold to sit in the kitchen or bedrooms. Mum often said, ‘If you sit like that m’dear you’ll have trouble with your knees when you get older’ – she was right as usual! We also had a thick curtain over the front door to keep out the draught.
When we had a lot of snow, Dad put snow chains on the wheels of his van to get to work. The school children would go up to the top of the hill to catch the bus but sometimes the driver decided that he could not get down Kenwyn Hill, let alone get up again. So back home we went – much to the delight of us kids.
The worst snow fall I remember was in January 1963. Shortlanesend, like many other villages, was ‘cut off’ and the school bus did not run. The only vehicles that eventually attempted Kenwyn Hill were tractors. I think Dad walked to work in Truro. The village shop soon ran out of supplies and the farmers did not have enough food for their animals. After a few days, a helicopter dropped a delivery for the shop and animal feed for the farmers. Amongst the helicopter drop was homework for me from the County School!! (It was my GCE year).
After a period of snow or very cold weather, came the thaw and sometimes a burst water pipe – especially in the ‘back house’ a single-story attachment to the main house. There was a coal house which Dad made into his tool shed when the open fires were replaced by electric ones, the ‘boys’ toilet (as Dad called it) and Mum’s washhouse. Dad had lagged all the pipes but that wasn’t enough to stop the ‘frost’ getting to them.
I remember when we had a big snowstorm after Christmas 1978 and into 1979 when we had spent Christmas with Mum and Dad. It started snowing during the evening of my birthday, 30th December. In the early evening when it hadn’t started snowing, my husband went into Truro to get a Chinese take-away as a treat but on the way back he only just made it up Kenwyn Hill – the snow came down that quickly and was very thick.
My sister’s boyfriend (now husband) had spent my birthday with us and had to stay overnight. The next morning, he decided to try to drive to his parents’ house in Carnon Downs. He attempted to drive up the hill from halfway up, where our ‘drive’ was, but that was unsuccessful. The ‘boys’ (Dad, my husband and my sister’s boyfriend) decided he should drive down to ‘the bottoms’ and take a ‘run at it’. But the car got stuck, so he had to leave it at the side of the road and he walked from Shortlanesend to Carnon Downs in the deep snow! He obviously made it as he is still around and ‘fighting fit’.
The next few days were extremely cold, so cold that after I bathed my three-year-old son the water would not drain away despite being warm.
We couldn’t get out of Cornwall for several days and on about 3rd January we started back to the southeast, following the snow ploughs up to Exeter and there the snow ‘disappeared’!
After, what seemed like an age as a child, the weather got warmer and then it was Easter. I remember making Easter Gardens at Sunday School. Mum often bought new outfits, usually from Oxendales, for everyone for Easter. I have fond memories of one outfit in particular – a lemon costume – I felt very smart!
I also remember an afternoon we spent at Maenporth on Easter Monday – it was warm and the sea was calm. Dad boiled water on the primus and brewed tea – the tea leaves, milk and sugar were brought in separate containers – Dad didn’t like thermos tea as he said it was ‘too brewed’!
Spring has always been my favourite time of year. Mum used to take my sister and I for walks, either ‘down the bottoms’ or along the back road to Idless past the old Quarry. She would teach us the names of all the spring flowers, one of which became my favourite – wood anemones. The hedge of our garden was always fill of primroses and violets which were Mum’s favourites. Sometimes, Dad would drive us out to Lamorran Woods to see all the bluebells.
For me, spring is a sign of hope and renewal.
Susan Alecia Coney (nee Phillips)
Although I was never very interested in history at school, it is now a big part of my life. I enjoy both the research and writing about it. Initially, it was about my family and their involvement in the community but this sparked a more general interest in Cornish history, of its people and places. I have been involved in a number of projects relating to Truro and have enjoyed this opportunity to record the results for future generations.