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Lytham St.Annes, Lancashire, England
 

 

 "Owd Bonk"

  Newspaper cutting from 1984 relating the life of Thomas Richardson, alias "Bonk" of Commonside, Ansdell, Lytham, and Folds Farm, Marton, Blackpool.

Newspaper cutting from 1984 relating the life of Thomas Richardson, alias  I DIDN'T need to meet him to know him through and through. He was a Fylde native of the old school, 1840s vintage, born a "sandgrown 'un," a "mossog" by adoption. The grandest folk on earth, they were, shrewd, honest, hard-working, full of fun.

Even among his peers "Bonk" was something outstanding for, well on into his 80s, in the summer months, he would be toiling arduously in the potato patch, the fields, the stack-yard or along the hedgerows. And when his own work was done, he would toddle off to Midgeland Farm and help his special crony "Owd Swarr" Swarbrick to make a neat job of thatching the stacks.

"Bonk" Wade, christened Thomas, was born on December 7, 1849, in the cottage of an old fishing community in Commonside, Ansdell. There were five girls in the family and the boy was of tender years when his mother died leaving his father to cope single-handed.

Tragically,' when young Thomas was 10 years old, his father and a pal, Oliver Richardson, were drowned fishing off Lytham, and after a hasty family conference, the six orphans were parcelled out among the relations. Young Thomas, whose grandmother was sister to a Marton Moss farmer, was sent to Folds Farm, Commonedge, to grow up among the "mossogs" in the family of George Cartmell.

Ten or 11 in any case, was considered about right for any young mannikin to be taking up his first employment and undoubtedly "Bonk" would be expected to earn his keep. At 12, along with many other skills, he had "lamed to ploo" in the Folds Farm fields west of Commonedge, near the present cricket club site.

And there, more than 50 years ago and undoubtedly to his huge delight, the late R. G. Shepherd — the "Evening Gazette" country writer for so many years — encountered the rustic patriarch, spare - framed in his fustians tied under the knees, and wearing still that buckled belt with which, in a frenzy of despair, he once administered summary justice.

A hen had thrutched its way through into the flower bed that was the joy of his heart. After viewing the devastation,  he upbraided it roundly in a dialect that was rich and pure, and full of music. "Cawnta si wad tha's done, tha beggar! Tha's scrat up mi seeds!" he wailed, lashing out till the feathers flew, to the amusement of the Folds Row neighbours.

"Bonk," then in his 83rd year remembered arriving, a tearful shrimp of a lad, at Folds Farm when times were very different. Nowadays, in the area where he lived and laboured, busy traffic lights regulate traffic heading constantly up School Road for the M55. The old farmhouse, tucked away and greatly decayed, is still there. But the old whitewashed cobble outbuildings bordering the "caussey" edge disappeared last year, long after the old Shovels Inn, Mecca of many a moss tippler, along with the adjoining a Row of humble cottages that were originally thatched, were bulldozed for the postwar modern pub and car park.

There were no modern properties then. Only ancient cottages to be seen across acres of open space and flat turfland. Tenants burned nothing but peat, buying in "twenty - ten a penny" from Pilling hawkers though, more likely, cutting, stacking and drying their own. "A turrble job" it was, too, -when Jack o'o' Pod's turf stack got a - fire!" A summer's work wasted. A whole winter's fuel gone up in smoke!

Years passed. Gradually, between "Bonk" and his Great Uncle George's grand - daughter Lizzie, a bond of affection developed. Maybe that "dudn't suit," in some quarters. Maybe it was because "th'owd chap" decided to retire about that time.

"Bonk," for whatever reason, forsook Folds Farm, took a job instead at Stoney Hill, Squires Gate: but half a year was enough and back he went to bonny Lizzie and to the farm where he had grown up, to work for his future father - in - law, William Cartmell, Owd George's son and successor.

Coincidentally, just across the yard from Folds Farm, a Folds Row cottage, £3 - a year rent fell vacant "Bonk" (21) married and moved in with his 19-year-old sweetheart, complementing his slender wage packet by rising extra early and knocking up the Folds Row neighbours at five in the morning. Presently, he would be seen wobbling about the Moss on a bike knocked up by Robert Eaves, the local blacksmith. It was a formidable contraption with a will of its own and wooden wheels which not infrequently connected with the mossland ruts and catapulted the rider into the nearest dyke.

Though their first two died, the union was so fruitful that in later years "Bonk" could never rightly recall just how many they had produced, supposing altogether "as good as a dozen" including Maggie, Will, Tom, Jack, Ellen, Belle, George, Jane and Bob. To help Lizzie with her increasing family, her father gave her £60, enough to set up in business in a small way in the front parlour. It enabled her to stock a little of everything and once they had got the hang of it "Bonk" was never averse to taking the horse and cart to Kirkham to stock up.

Afterwards, he enjoyed a drinking spree round the taverns, relying on the horse to see him safely back home. It made a nice change from the everlasting supping sessions at "The Shovels," next door, which were well enough, especially in the company of "Owd Swarr" who, after a skinful, would be escorted safely back home to Midgeland Farm by Laddie, the mongrel from Folds Row.

The Shippon (barn) of Leach Lodge Farm, St.Annes.Laddie belonged to Will Wade, "Bonk's" son and neighbour in the Folds Row, and the most famous fiddler in the district. His services were in constant demand at the local barn hops at " Jemsons'," of Leach Lodge Farm, St Annes, and "Bretherts'," of Folds Farm, Commonedge. That was early this century after William Cartmell had departed to Arnott Farm and after a dozen years his daughter Annie, married to "Ned Brethert," Edward Braithwaite, born at the Shovels, returned to her birthplace. Annie was one of 11 and had 11 of her own and the couple's cheerful hospitality drew folk like a magnet.

In the "lung shippon," 60 or more young people would clump their way through an evening of dancing, paying 2d. a time towards the music. Annie earned many an extra shilling frying up fish and chips to sell to the neighbours and departing barndancers. Regularly queueing up with his old string bag would be "Owd Fishwick" whose favourite query was: "Hesti getten t'stee - am up 'Annie?"

Unlike his brother Tom, Will Wade never went to the First World War. "He hed bad feet, tha knaws,"they would say, shaking their heads wisely; recalling the time, during that severe winter, when he slipped and broke his leg while skating on a frozen pit. Being excused military service was a godsend to the social
life of the Mossfolk during the war and for many a long year after, for Will's musicianship was universally well thought of.

"When he played that fiddle, his arm moved as graceful as a swan!" an old sandgrown once recalled in tones of reverent awe (and accompanying the words with the appropriate actions. Mind you, the army lost all its glamour for Will when his brother Tom came home on leave from the trenches with his shirt full of lice. Will spent patient hours tracking along the seams of the garment with a candle. And a young nephew, Arthur, watched in fascination as the lice went crack - crack - crack!

Recently. I spent an enchanted morning with that young nephew, Mr Arthur Radcliffe, of Lindale Gardens, and his wife Frances Margaret who was the granddaughter of "Bonk's" bosom pal, "Own Swarr." They have been married 47 years. Mr Radcliffe's mother was "Bonk's" daughter Belle and the combined memories of the couple focus clearly on the Commonedge area where young Arthur spent much of his youth, never far from Folds Farm and his pal, "George Brethert." Between them, they cleaned many "a seck o' praters" for Geroge's mother, Annie, to fry up into chips.

He remembered Grandfather "Bonk" always keeping a couple of calves and feeding them daily with a gallon of milk out of a large toffee tin. He grew market garden produce for sale to the South Shore shops and delivered out by horse and cart by Uncle Will and young Arthur. On one occasion, he recalled, "Uncle Will and me had harnessed the horse and fetched it to the Folds Row to attach to the cart. It got a bit restless and Uncle Will happened to smack it. It kicked me over, reared up in the air and bolted oft 'By gow, Ah dudn't expect THAT!' said Uncle Will. Anyway, it finished up at Little Marton with its harness all broken and we had to get it repaired by 'Owd Stemp' who had a cobbler's shop in the Folds Row, so we never did get to market, that day! I remember, Uncle Will wanted me to learn the fiddle," he chuckled, "but it didn't come off."


He didn't remember Grandma Lizzie because "Bonk's" wife, "that bonny lass" from the Folds, died way back in 1918. "Bonk" came to know lonely times as, one by one, his contemporaries dropped off the sod. "Ah've sin aw th'owd 'uns goo; thur's nobody Ah knaw, now," he would reflect sadly. "Once, Ah wur familiar wi' everybody around here. Now, thur aw strangers" . . . the sad experience of those who live long.

Yet, his faculties were spared, and good health, up to his final year. He no longer rose at the former outlandishly early hours, but was content to be out of doors by seven, tending the hens, milking the cows, washing the cans out and "syving" or sieving the milk, prior to 12 hours "rooting about" on the land. "Except whem mi back teks ho'd when Ah'm delving," he would knock off about seven in the evening, this countryman in his battered hat and shapeless cardigan, with his billy goat beard and steel - rimmed spectacles askew, whose natural wisdom and accumulated skills blessed him with an almost Biblical dignity. "No - one." recalled his grandson with great affection. "could cut a straighter furrow, even with the help of a tightened string, than Grandfather "Bonk" with his single - reest" (one - horse plough).

Apart from that spell at Stoney Hill, he had only slept one night away after arriving at Common edge, Marton Moss. That was when he and Lizzie went to the new - fangled "pictures" and stayed overnight with relatives in Blackpool. He enjoyed many a convivial glass at The Shovels. but gave tobacco a wide berth, having once, as a lad, tried a few drags on a clay pipe. "It beat me," he chuckled in recollection. Ah dud feel BAD! Ah clod pipe an 'bacca into a meadow and never smooked after!"

He remembered the first greenhouses getting going in the mosslands, under John Hall whose lads tried to get a brass band started. A South Shore shoemaker who played the cornet struggled for long enough to knock them into shape but for all that. "they med very little out."
Thomas "Bonk" Wade "worn't sa weel" during his last 12 months and having weathered another winter, passed peacefully from this life, beloved by all, on March 2, 1936, in his 87th year ... a "sandgrown 'un" turned mossman, who knew and loved the Fylde countryside better than most.