An interwar childhood in Market Lavington

May Cooper was born about 100 years ago and, in 2011, aged ninety, made an oral history recording for Market Lavington Museum. We are very fortunate to have this evidence of what a young girl’s life was like in the 1920s and 1930s. Her very early years were spent in the family home on Church Street in a long white building, now subdivided into cottages, but remembered by some village residents as the one time doctors’ surgery.

In earlier years, her father, George Cooper had been a haulier, taking furniture to London by horse and cart. He’d been in the Wiltshire Yeomanry and lost his sense of smell in a gas attack during World War I. May also told us that her father’s parents had farmed at New Farm on Salisbury Plain, a mile over the top of Lavington Hill. When the army took over the plain for military training, the farm was demolished and May’s grandfather moved to farm at Easton Royal.

Of course, this family history predated May’s memories, which really began after her father took over his grandfather’s coal merchant business and May’s family moved to Parsonage Lane, to the house behind James’s bakery, now the post office. (See Number 2 Parsonage Lane.) George Cooper had four lorries, of which three were requisitioned by the army in World War II.

May had two brothers and two sisters. She remembered playing half way up Lavington Hill and also at Broadwell, where the children played amongst the trees. (See Broadwell 1929)

Our museum founder, Peggy, also talked of playing there, remembering the spiked fence surrounding the area and saying no-one actually came to real harm on it. May had a different memory, saying that her brother’s friend was killed falling onto the spikes and that May’s family were not allowed to play there after that. (The spiked fence was removed for iron recycling at the outbreak of World War II.)

Anyway, May claimed that she preferred being with older people rather than playing with the children. She used to read bible stories to blind Mrs Forde, who lived in one of the cottages near the bier house. (See May Cox’s map and The Church and Grove Farm in the 1890s.) She also helped wash glasses for Mr Trotter at the Volunteer Arms public house.

May’s schooldays were spent in the village school on Church Street. Her infant teacher was Mrs Elisha and that class was in the room nearest the road. Her next teacher was Mrs Dury, in the middle classroom. Mrs Baker (mother of Sybil Perry) taught May next and her final teacher was Mrs Laycock, who took over as headteacher after her husband died. Schooldays ended at fourteen and we will consider May’s memories of working life on another occasion.

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