On Thursday last week I visited Devizes in Wiltshire, the town where I was born and grew up. I had not been back for at least four years but whenever I do I still feel the connection. Devizes is a market town, which serves a large farming community. Within minutes of leaving the town in any direction there are rolling hills and fields as far as the eye can see. Even today, urbanisation has not really intruded much into the landscape. When I was a child, Thursday was market day and in the centre of town there would be a farmers market – not the sort you get today with meat and dairy products being sold, but one with pens containing sheep and calves for sale. These days it is the site of the Thursday market, where you can buy anything from car cleaner to the Sunday joint – it’s a large event which brings a huge amount of shoppers in looking for bargains.
The picture above is of Ivy House, although I’m not sure what is is called now. It used to be a private nursing home back in the late forties/early fifties and it’s where I was born. It looks a little sad now and am not sure what happens within its walls but before we had the benefit of hospital maternity wards, it’s the sort of place where most babies (including both me and my brother) popped into the world, unless they were home births of course. How far we have come since then!
Devizes has always been a bustling town with lots of small, independent shops. On Thursday, however, it was clear to see how the recession had taken its toll. In one of the main streets there was a wonderful kitchen shop which sold absolutely anything and everything and also a good quality interiors and soft furnishing store – both sadly are now empty. It’s scary when you realise after so many years managing to keep going that suddenly these shops aren’t there any more. Bath, where I live, is a commercial bubble which had not taken the same kind of hit other cities and towns have. Having two universities and a thriving tourist trade has meant while there have been casualties there too, there always seems to be someone new who will take over the lease and reopen so there are very few empty stores. So when you visit outside Bath and find long established shops are no more, it really brings home to you exactly what effect the recession is having on this country.
Opposite Ivy House is The Green, a large open grassy area which hosts visiting fairs and circuses. To its left is The Crammer. this is a very large pond and supposedly the site of The Moonraker legend. This refers to a folk story set in the time when smuggling was a significant industry in rural England, with Wiltshire lying on the smugglers’ secret routes between the south coast and customers in the centre of the country. The story goes that some local people had hidden barrels of French brandy from customs officers in a village pond. While trying to retrieve it at night, they were caught by the revenue men, but explained themselves by pointing to the moon’s reflection and saying they were trying to rake in a round cheese. The excise men, thinking they were simple yokels, laughed at them and went on their way. The village pond in the legend was always believed to have been The Crammer.
You can find more about Devizes and the surrounding area on http://devizesheritage.org.uk
So there you have it, my town, my birthplace and a little bit of nostalgia.
Next week I will be back with Tea and Talk at Sally Lunn’s when fellow author Pauline Barclay will be my guest.