Funny how life is. I was born in Tavistock while my parents were living on a farm, near Brentor on Dartmoor, before moving on to do other thing in other places around South Devon, places such as Broadclyst and Budleigh Salterton. During this time I went to a Roman Catholic convent boarding school in Dorset before, at the age of 11 moving up to London and Secondary School. In all that time it never occured to me that I would go back to Tavistock in 1974 to finish my schooling and why should it? Tavistock was nothing to me, I was happily enjoying llfe in London and God knows where and how I would have finished up had my mother decided to go back down to Devon to take up the position as manager in a fishing club on the River Tamar but more on that later.
I spent my last two school years, my 6th form years, at Tavistock Comprehensive school where I wasn't exactly what you would call the brighest "light bulb" in the class, which probably explained the headmaster of the time, Mr. Sleep's lack of enthusiam at welcoming me to the school. No, I was just your common or garden "Could Do Better" student, but that didn't stop Tavistock (or Tavvie to the initiated) having a influence on me.
And why was it such an ifluence on me? Probably because I was 17/18 years at the time and life seemed like one long endless summer holiday! Even if I did have to walk a couple of miles, in all kinds of weather, to go from my home of the time, Endsleigh House, to the nearest bus stop some 2 miles away at Milton Abbot to catch the bus to go to school in Tavistock.
Up hill, down dale! Endsleigh house is down near the river Tamar. Ah!! that lovely winding and climbing road up to Milton Abbot... no, not even that seemed to put a damper on things, not when you did it with the mates... or occasionally in the company of a certain "Liz" from the farm down the road.
As mentioned above, I came to Tavistock because my mother, having decided she had to get away from London, had taken the position of hotel manager Endsleigh House Fishing Club, the old estate of the Dukes of Bedford. As I was still of schooling age, or still needed educating, I can't decide, my Mother enrolled me in Tavistock school to pass what were then to be two very interesting and eventful years, but not necessarily from an academic point of view.
At this point, I need to explain that both my elder brothers had gone to Tavistock school before me. However, years later when speaking with them both it was my eldest brother with who I would reminisce with about life at Tavvie when you're seventeen, exchanging memories about what went on in the meadows or at "Goose fair" at that age. My middle brother having been a bit younger when he was at Tavistock must have felt left out although many were the times he had to come from Endsleigh to pick me up when my Yamaha 80cc* broke down, ran out of petrol or kept mysteriously running into hedges!
* I had never forgotten that motorbike. It really opened up horizons and imagine. No more peddling up that damned road from Endsleigh to Milton Abbot!!! On the other hand, I also remember riding back after celebrating passing my exams... but that's another story.
Although Tavistock is only some twenty odd miles from Plymouth, by the A386, we were relatively isolated, so to speak, from the outside world. As only a few of us had wheels at the time, trips to Plymouth were almost an expedition so Tavistock was the centre of gravity to us.
Centre of Gravity
For readers who may not know Tavistock I need to explain why it was the centre of gravity to us, as it has been for multiple generations before. To put it into its geographical and historical context, Tavistock, as many know, was/is an isolated Cattle Market and old Stannery (Tin mining) town, situated on the edge of the moors (see map above). The train line had been abandoned years before and the bus service was, and I'm talking about the 1970's, regular but limited, with no buses after something like 8PM. This left us with little choice but to generate our own social and nightlife and while we did go visiting the surrounding region, for a change of scenery, going to Plymouth, much less Exeter, did not figure on the list of "Must" things to do. For my part I preferred to go up to London, when I could, to see old friends but those visits were rare and eventually petered out until later on when I was at Plymouth Catering college.
Evenings, parties and types of gatherings were deliberately spontaneous, yes I know a real oxymoron. How can something be deliberately spontaneous? So when I wasn't working at Endsleigh I came into Tavistock and met up with the friends. The starting point of the evening was invariably the Bedford, or rather the adjacent bar (now closed, transformed but definitely still haunted by the spirits of Saturday evenings past). From there we either went to another pub, someone's house or, depending on what was happening, the local dance hall, near the bus station. But what really was our favourite destination, weather allowing, were the meadows beside the River Tavy or, transport allowing, further out of Tavistock. Occasionally we would also pile into cars and drive up to Postbridge or some other forsaken place in the middle of nowhere for a party. This wasn't always the case and we could occasionally be seen roaming around West Street and King Street dressed up in some disguise or other on the way to someone's place for a party.
Revisited and Reunion
I went back to Tavistock in 1998 and sat down one Saturday evening in the square in front of the Town Hall, across from the church. It seemed like there was more traffic than before but otherwise everything appeared to be the same, but then I took a second look. Firstly, the traffic seemed to be driving through Tavistock. Secondly, our favourite watering hole,the Bedford bar, was now a conference room and the Bedford, itself, still had that sedate provincial, quiet looked about it. And then it occurred to me that the preferred watering hole of Tavistock Comprehensive's 6th form had certainly been transferred elsewhere, after all, Tavistock didn't lack pubs. But the fact was I wasn't back in Tavistock to go in search of bygone times but simply to recall, the space of a holiday, that period 1974/1976 before moving on.
In retrospect, the increase in traffic I'd noticed was life telling me that things had moved on, that times had changed and that Tavistock Comprehensive's 6th form's favourite watering hole had simply moved somewhere else, for example, twenty miles down the road, in Plymouth.
In 2002, I accessed the now defunct website, "Friends Reunited" and joined the Tavistock school page. I was surprised by the number of old school contemporaries registered, something like 60 from my year, as well as from the old Upper 6th and as many from the 5th year, I used to know. What I did notice, however, was that my "friends" from that time, the Phil Jane's, the Simon Faulkner-Hall's or the Theresa Cooks weren't registered or not directly in the list but could be contacted through someone registered. This didn't surprise me. I recall there being a sort of schism, nerds and so on to one side and the Bedford crew to the other. I occasionally checked the website, now closed, in the hope that some of my old friends are there, in vain. I hope they are living their lives and that life has been sparing, if not good to them!
*NB. I have exchanged messages with one or two of them who remembered me and learned that there are/were periodically old school class reunions that seem to come off quite well but as I'm living abroad I'm out of touch or simply happy with my life and don't see the need to reminisce, yet, about times gone by.
©N.Richards 02/2003, revised 12/2016