BACK TO MY
JOHN NEVILLE BARCOCK.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY CHAPTER 3
3.1 The 1950s began with the 1951
Festival of Britain
3.2 The end of rationing
3.3 Early Schooldays
3.4 My Teenage Years at school
3.5 Cycling and the Invicta
3.7 My Last
Year at NGS
3.8 My Apprenticeship at
3.1 The 1950s began
with the 1951
Festival of Britain which
turned out to be a very dramatic
experience for me. My mother and her sister, Aunt Ida, decided to have
a day out to the Festival of Britain exhibition on
funfair at Battersea Gardens in Battersea
Park . We got to the South
Bank exhibition and I remember seeing " The Dome of Discovery" but I'm
not sure what was inside. The "Skylon" mast was impressive and the
"Shot Tower" which was where there made lead shot for shotgun
cartridges by dropping molten lead from the top into water I think.
More exciting to me was to go to the funfair at Battersea Park. There
was a special river service to take visitors from the South Bank site
to Battersea Gardens. We had a look round the usual funfair stalls and
rides and then made for the Roland
train. This was a little railway made in his fantasy designs.
He helped design the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car of the film fame. We
boarded an open carriage about 2 seats from the front in the station.
There were two trains which shared the single track and a baton was
exchanged where they passed just outside the station before entering
the single line to ensure safety. As the train started out slowly I
suddenly had a premonition that it was going to crash! Whether I had
seen the other train coming in I don't know but I knew something was
wrong. I grabbed my Mum's hand and shouted "We must get off, it's going
to crash" or some similar warning and pulled her up. We got out with
Aunt Ida while it was still moving and seconds later the two trains hit
head on. It was terrible, the crash and screaming people. In the melee
that followed we lost touch with Aunt Ida. All I wanted to do was run
but Mum kept hold of me and we remade contact with Aunt Ida in the
I later learned that the engine of the train that hit us reared up and
crashed down on that first carriage we were in and killed a woman and
injured several others.
I sometimes wondered if I imagined I had a premonition, but the fact
remains that we escaped injury.
I found this reference to the crash in "Time"
in particular sweet rationing most importantly to me. I associated that
with the return of Winston Churchill as prime minister and the end of
the times of austerity after the War. The rationing of sweets was the
only aspect of it that affected me as that was what my pocket money
went on, together with comics.
I used to collect as much of the others ration coupons as a needed, but
it never caused a great problem. Rowntrees gums, pastilles and loose
sweets were usually available, then with the end of rationing there was
a short period of euphoria as more sweets appeared and money was the
only restriction on having them. The novelty of excess soon wore off.
My favourite comics from the 40s were "Radio Fun" and "Film Fun" and
"Knockout". Then as I got older "The Wizard" which had stories in. But
the most prized were the super heroes "BatMan" and "Superman" and
"Captain Marvel". I collected those comics which if I had them now
would be worth a fortune, like the dinky cars.
Early Schooldays. My Junior School was Stimpson
Avenue in Northampton. It is still there as a Primary School. I was
there from age 8 to 11.
It was there that I developed my interest in sports, academic studies
were always rather boring to me although I enjoyed maths except for
mental arithmetic which I could never respond quickly enough to. But PT
(Physical Training) and any games I enjoyed a lot and could always have
a good go at. They had a school football team which I eventually played
for in the last year. My greatest triumph was being captain of the
"Cromwell" house athletic team at the school sports and we won the Cup.
I have a picture somewhere of that.
school 1952-1957, were not the difficult times that
to have now, although I had my moments I suppose. Significantly I
managed to pass the 11+ selection exam for Northampton Grammar School.
This is now the Northampton
Boys and is celebrating its centenary this year 2011.
Initially I thought I had failed because when everyone else received
their results letters, I didn't get one. But, to my surprise, and
everyone else I think, it came the next day with the good news. My
parents never made a fuss about it and I never had any special coaching
or promises of presents if I passed, but they were clearly delighted
and I got a new sports bike! This led me to join the Northampton
Invicta (cycle) Road Club eventually.
Being at the Grammar School was like sporting heaven and that was the
what I enjoyed most there. Academic studies were again not much
interest to me except maths, particularly geometry, and Latin strangely
enough. I suppose it is a mathematical language. Art was also a
favourite, but games were what I lived for. It was my introduction to
Rugby football and Cricket which I had played a bit but only for fun.
Those two games I think are the most enjoyable to play. The school
employed sportsmen as teachers and I was lucky to be there when Frank
Brookman of Bedford Rugby club and Frank Sykes of the Northampton
Saints rugby club and England and also Taylor of Saints and England
were there as sports masters. Frank
was very well liked and a tribute to him and his wife is in
that link for their present work at Cate School,
I did make the Northants County boys team and played at Franklins
Gardens where the Saints play. My rugby playing days continued with
the NGS Old Boys Association.
Here is the Colts team, some of the names I remember. I am 2nd
from right on the front row.
Back Row L to R:
?, John Pearson, Michael (Mick) Marlowe, Ted Pendred
Centre Row L to R:
?, ?, ?, Barry (Fatty) Lewis, John Price, Trigg.
Front Row L to R:
Keith Earl, Howard (Wally) Walton, ?, David (Spike) Botterill
(Capt.), ?, John (Nobby)
Barcock, John Greener
3.5 Cycling and the
Invicta Road Club
I enjoyed all sports and cycling became a favourite with me. When I
passed the 11+ I was given a Raleigh Lenton bike as a reward. It was
like a dream come true to me, a racing bike as I thought at the time. I
loved the "Reynolds 531" alloy frame, but as I progressed in knowledge
of the sport of cycling the frame was eventually all that was left of
It all started when I joined the Invicta Road Club, a cycle racing club
based at a cycling shop in Northampton run by Ralph Reynolds. (a
curious coincidence of names with the Reynolds 531 alloy tubing). The
shop was opposite my brother-in law's butcher's shop in the
Wellingborough Road Northampton. I suppose that is how I first went in
there. It was an "Alladin's Cave" for cyclists and Ralph and his wife
Doris were such wonderful people. I must pay tribute to them here for
enriching my life in those early formative years.
I needed a genuine racing bike which would be quite expensive even in
those days but if I could get a decent frame then I could build it
myself with help from Ralph Reynolds.
I embarked on a money raising regime based on farm work picking peas
mainly in the fields around immediate countryside. It was extremely
work but during the season I managed to raise around £6 I think
to buy a second hand "F.H.Grub" racing frame and another £5 or so
for second hand "sprint wheels" and tubular tyres. The gears, pedals,
chain, cranks, saddle, handlebars etc gradually followed until I had
the complete bicycle. I was able to do some reasonable times for 10 and
25 mile time trials and I spent the next winter training to get fit. I
did 200 miles a week for 6 months or so by cycling 30 miles a day and
did indeed reach a respectable degree of fitness.
My peak came when I rode in the Coventry Godiva 25 mile time trial on a
Sunday. 3 of us were riding and we stayed overnight at a transport cafe
"greasy spoon". The breakfast, after having no sleep due to the traffic
noise, was very greasy bacon and eggs. No the greatest preparation. The
start was very early to avoid traffic on the open roads, around 7am.
Needless to say I was sick just after starting but that was normal for
me then I managed to hold my position before being caught late on by my
"minuteman". We started at minute intervals so being caught by the man
behind was a bit humiliating. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it especially
seeing Gordon Ian, the national Champion" zooming by in the opposite
direction. There was Gordon Ian and the rest of us! He had his own van
full of cycling equipment.
Rugby and cycling were my favourite sports but I was also becoming
interested in another pastime, the opposite sex!
I spent my time out of school in the company of a circle of
friends who were in the rugby team or from the school. We had a number
of favourite venues one of which was the YMCA snooker club. This was in
a building on the town main street, Abington Street, where everything
happened so was conveniently placed. We had to be members to play
snooker on the full size tables so we were part of the YMCA fellowship.
There came a time when the YWCA invited anyone interested to go to
dancing on a weekday evening at their meeting hall nearby in
I went a couple of times hoping to meet a girl I could go out with. The
same circle of girls went there as we met at parties and other venues
like the Wedgwood coffee house in Abington Street.
The Repertory Theatre "Gods" was another meeting place on Saturday
nights when we met in the bar. I had one or two dates which did not
come to anything. Anyway, Diane's cousin Anne was in the circle and she
asked her to go to the YWCA dance, evidently with the idea of meeting
me because my friends told me Anne's cousin would be going. This would
have been in 1956 when I was 16 and she was 14. The dancing at the YW
was all kinds. I was useless at ballroom but enjoyed the square
dancing. The girls there devised way of getting us boys involved and
one game was like musical chairs and the girls had to find a boy's lap
to sit on! Diane had been pointed out to me and I was hoping to get her
on my lap. Evidently I had been pointed out to her and she made a
beeline for me. From that moment one we have been together. It was I
suppose "Love at first Sight". Mick Marlowe, one of the rugby team in
the photo above also fancied Diane and at the end of the evening he
asked me if I was going to ask to walk her home. I said I had thought
of it and he said "Well, go ahead, I think she fancies you". Being very
nervous in the presence of the girls I approached her with no much hope
when the evening came to an end. To my amazement she said "Yes" and we
left together to walk home to her home in Grove Road not far away where
she lived with her parents.
That moment became the defining moment of my life. Those precious
minutes determined the rest of my life. I remember exactly what she was
wearing, which says it all because I could not repeat that feat of
memory ever after! She had a black top on and a tight natural coloured
skirt which showed off her figure and her blonde hair. Her top coat was
a mixture of oatmeal colours which I gladly helped her put on. I felt
totally at ease with her as we walked her arm in mine. As I learned
afterward she was hoping I would ask her out as she very taken with me
being dark and handsome would you believe? That made us perfectly happy
When we reached the house I had been furiously thinking what could I do
to see her again and I asked if she would like to go to the pictures. I
think she suggested the Plaza cinema which was nearby and I don't
remember if there was a particular film on. We agreed to meet outside
the cinema on the Wednesday following I think, it being Monday evening
if I remember correctly. We parted with a peck on the cheek I think,
and I walked home as if on air.
My life became centered around her after that. I never wanted to do
anything that didn't include her or consider her first.
My last year at the Grammar School was my first year with Diane.
Our first date was that one at the Plaza cinema, Wellingborough Road
I thought it perhaps unlikely that she would turn up although I did
think she liked me. She has since told me that she could not eat
anything since we met as she was so nervous of meeting again.
So we were both struck by Cupid's arrow. I got to the cinema early, as
I always do for any engagement, and she was not there so I wondered if
she would appear, but miraculously she eventually did and we went in
happily together. I can't remember what the film was or much else
except that we held hands and probably had ice creams. I just know that
I was happy to be with her as I suppose I knew she was happy to be with
me. I think we were in love from the start and just being together was
enough. We made arrangements to meet again, I can't remember where but
we had several haunts we frequented with our circle of friends. The
YWCA where we met, the "Wedgwood" Coffee house where we could make a
coffee last hours! The Northampton Repertory Theatre where we met in
the "Gods" on a Saturday night and had drinks in the bar. various bars
including one in the Town Centre the name escapes me for the moment. We
were not short of places to go to together. On reflection, I realise
these venues were ones I had established with my friends as I explained
in 3.6 above. Diane was following me wherever I went! Was I too
arrogant to realise that I naturally expected her to want to? Perhaps,
but I would have done anything she wanted anyway.
This was the year of my O-levels and I had decided that I wanted to
leave school and go to work at Clarke and Sherwells, the gravure
printers in Northampton where my uncle Jack Barcock was apprenticed. I
had an interview and met Mr. Clarke himself who remembered my Uncle
well. I was looking forward to it, but things went wrong! The Printers
Union, SLADE & PW, (Society of Litho Artists, Designers, Engravers
and Process Workers) had a dispute with the firm about the apprentice
ratio. They controlled the number of apprentices, keeping it to what
they thought was right for the trade. Quite sensible really as it
prevented the employers using apprentices as cheap labour and
maintaining the demand for skilled workers. The printing unions were
incredibly powerful in those days. The upshot for me was that they
would not allow me to start even though I passed an entrance exam and
was accepted by the firm.
My Uncle Jack came up with the solution. He would get me an interview
with Harrison & Sons of High Wycombe where he worked. True nepotism!
This led to a significant, life changing point for me which saw me
taking up an apprenticeship as an Engraver at Harrisons.
3.8 My Apprenticeship at
Harrison & Sons Ltd., were a printing firm with with a
factory at High Wycombe established just before WW2 to print the Royal
Mail postage stamps by the photogravure process.
They were an old family firm in the great tradition of friendly
beneficent employers of the time. I was very fortunate to have my
apprenticeship with them I subsequently came to realise.
I have so many memories and anecdotes of my 10 years there that I must
devote a separate
page to them.