Colin Pettit's memories

Hilary Roadley from chatting with Colin April-Nov 2019

17 Church Street 2015
Ernie Collins paint & hardware shop 1950s
Dormer Cottage, 5 church Street before modernised
1930s wedding of Ernie Pettit & Eliza Flack
(C Pettit)
Ernie Collins during WW2
(C Pettit)
Ernie Collins, centre, in the band poss 1930s
(C Pettit)

Family background

Colin was the youngest of six children, born (1956) and bred in Church Street, Harston. His siblings are older sister Linda (B:1948 D:2005), brother Eric, sister Christina (Tina), Ruth (B:1953 D:2016) and Gillian. Mum Doreen nee Collins was married to Eric Pettit.

Although there were 8 of them living at 17 Church St and there were only 3 bedrooms, one was very large and the 4 girls slept in that one. The two boys had the little bedroom and their parents the other one. There was no flush toilets or even a bathroom. Down stairs there was a wash-house with a copper, so it was the warmest place to be. To bath they took the tin bath in by the fire. There was also a front room, back room and small kitchen. In 1970 the council converted the toilet and old coal store in to a bathroom, separated from the kitchen by a small corridor- the washroom had gone.

They had a large garden with two big apple trees and they always grew vegetables as well as keep chickens. They had loads of white chickens until an outbreak of ‘foulpest’ occurred and a man came round and killed them all. After a while they had chickens again. The Rogers next door at No 19 also had lots of chickens but the neighbours at No 15 had pigeons.

As Colin was the youngest, and usually first back from school, once he opened the door to his home he would light the coal fire. When he was little, though, he went across from Harston School to his Grandad Ernie’s paint shop until his mum came home from work. His mum Doreen worked first in Boots in Cambridge as a general assistant, then in the kitchens at St Faiths. She travelled to Cambridge on the old Eastern counties bus which were much more regular then, every 5 minutes to the hour going in ad hourly coming out. Colin’s dad Eric (born in Yorkshire) worked on the railways like his father Sidney then he later became a painter & decorator. During WW2 Sidney got moved south to Letchworth working on aviation fuel trains delivering fuel all around. He then moved later to Cambridge Station. Sidney had altered his birth certificate to enable him to join up in WW1 but although he got to France, they found out his age and sent him back. He never corrected his birth certificate and when he retired it was earlier than it should have been!

Colin’s mum Doreen was born at No 5 Church St, Dormer Cottage which was split into two for two families. She lived there with her family until the cottage was condemned in the 1930s. It used to get flooded as it is below road level. It is still there today so must have been done up. They moved to a new council house in the High St.

Doreen’s father/Colin’s grandfather was (Alfred Ernest) Ernie Collins who ran the AE Collin’s paint & hardware shop next to Jack Ware’s shop at 29 High St – it had paint, wallpaper, pots & pans. His grandfather was also the local painter, decorator and sign writer. He used to initially cycle around to jobs with his paint box and ladders attached then around 1966 he bought a van. In 1968 he was killed in a road crash near Penn farm on Haslingfield road on the way to pick up his wife from Haslingfield. The paint shop closed as a result of his death. For a year or so the Fosters (who had a pub in Little Shelford and were related via Colin’s sister Tina’s first husband Derek Foster) ran it as a novelty/toy shop. It only lasted about a year then presumably it was knocked down. Colin remembers the big window at the front of the paint shop and the door at the side. His sister Tina went with their grandmother Eliza to Barretts in Cambridge to buy pots, pans, whisks, etc for the shop. It was then delivered to the shop. They sold all sorts of things including paraffin- the shop used to smell of this. They had big wallpaper books so people could order what they wanted. Colin and the kids would use the paper in the books to draw on when they were not used any more.

Ernie married Eliza Flack in 1930. Their wedding photo, Colin thinks, shows Ernie & Eliza with the Flacks, and Badcocks to right, from Haslingfield. Jack Flack & wife Ruby used to live in The Lane (the name they gave then for the road, not the public footpath, behind The Footpath. Although Ernie and Eliza had their own two daughters they took in an evacuee little girl during the war.

One photo of Ernie shows that he was probably in the Territorials between the wars – his uniform had the 1st Cambridge written on it. Ernie used to play the bugle at Armistice Day and also collect money for the poppies (Colin had to do that for him the year after Ernie died). Ernie fought in WW2 in the Royal Artillery (Colin has his service record book) and went back to painting & decorating after the War. He also played in a band in the Village Hall when the stage was at the other end- probably early 1950s. There was a children’s party in the Village Hall every year and Ernie would pay for the cake from Jack Ware’s shop which would be served with jelly. Ernie used to run fishing trips using Long’s coaches to Littleport river to fish. Ernie was also an amateur boxer – possibly for one of the universities.

Colin lived in the village at 17 Church Street until his marriage to Lynn Frances Searle in the church at Hauxton, where Lynn lived. They had their wedding reception in Harston Village Hall. They stayed about 18 months with his mother in Church St while they saved up a house deposit, then around 1981 went to live in Comberton and have lived there ever since. Her Uncle & Searle family used to live in Whitegates, near the end of Button End, but had a butcher’s shop in Sawston and their son still runs it there. The previous occupants (Smiths, daughter Pat) of Whitegates had reared pigs and although the pigsties remained the Searles didn’t keep pigs.

Colin’s brother Eric moved to York St in Cambridge but later moved back to Queen’s Close, Harston with his wife and children. He then swapped houses with his mum so went to live at 17 Church St and lived there many years. Eric used to fish with Ernie and go with him on fishing trips on Long’s Coaches to Littleport.

Colin’s early life

When Colin went to Harston School (1961-7), Mr Shoote was the Head and he lived in Newton and took the top class. Mrs Wainwright took the next class down, then Mrs Barnes the next class- she came from Haslingfield. The tiny tots were taken by Miss Jackson- related to the Miss Jackson hairdresser.  They had built the new bit of the school (infant block) by then but the old bit still had the toilets in the playground. The old part had coke fires with a big iron railing around it where they dried their clothing if they had got wet. They used to walk to The Park from school as there were no school playing fields then.

The dinner lady was Mrs Rodgers (Jan River’s mum) who lived at 19 Church St next door to the Pettits. The other dinner lady, Mrs Pearce, lived in The Footpath. While Colin was there they had school meals which arrived in big tins and the oldest child on the table would dish out the food to the others. Two huge round bins outside had the waste food thrown in them and someone took it away for the pig farms.

Colin’s mum Doreen was at school at the same time as Tony Gatward and they would probably have left when they were 14 and had all their education at Harston School. Colin was only there till he was 11 then he went to Melbourn Village College. Long’s coaches would take students to Melbourn Village College from Church St, Button End and Haslingfield & Barrington while Kenzies took them from High St, London Rd & Queen’s close.

Colin remembers queuing up outside the High St doctor’s surgery for their polio vaccination- the pupils had all probably come out of school to receive it.

With many in the family Colin, while at school, would look for work to do at weekends. In the late 1960s/70s, on Saturday mornings he worked on Tony Gatward’s pig farm in Button End near where Tony lived – in the end bungalow. Tony used to have lots of bales off Crow’s farm and Colin used to help cart them.

Colin in his younger days also did a lot of work for the Armstrongs around Harston House in 1960s. The wall in Church St between Stockers and Harston House that had fallen down was rebuilt by Colin and Graham Flack with a mixture of bricks and clunch. David Barilko also helped Colin and Graham doing jobs around Harston House (with David given more as the Armstrongs knew his mum was ill creating problems at home- don’t include). As Iris gave ballet lessons they were not allowed to cut the lawn on Saturdays to ensure they weren’t disturbed by the noise. The children who worked there and lived in Church Street were allowed to roam freely by the Armstrongs and play in the woods of Harston House. The Armstrongs also used to have a big November bonfire in the field (now Stockers) at the back.

The old stables to the left of the entrance gate to Harston House had a bottom floor where they had once kept pony and traps; later on motor cars. It had chickens in the top, up the stairs and they roamed all over the garden. The floor upstairs had a deep layer of chicken manure on it. Sometimes the stables were used by an old tramp. He may have lit a cigarette there as there was a fire which burnt a hole in the floor and it was eventually knocked down.

Leisure time

The whole family usually went to Heacham in Norfolk for their holidays. Ernie and Eliza would go by train with all the luggage but Colins’ dad Eric had a motorbike and sidecar. Three kids would fit in the sidecar with dad Eric and mum behind on the motorbike. To get there by train from Harston, you had to change at Ely. There was a proper station at Heacham. The place they usually stayed in looked a bit like a cricket pavilion with fancy woodwork, and had room for a family each side.

Around 1982 Colin and his brother Eric took over the running of the Harston kids’ football team in the village. Photos show the pavilion was set at an angle in The Park (Hurrell’s) with the cricket pitch near the main road and near the Police house, with the football pitch set further back parallel to the Drift. They used to have to clear all the horse muck off before they played but the cricket wicket was fenced off to protect it. The cricket pitch disappeared while Colin was quite young- then they just played football there. The football club took part in a Harston Funday in 1985 to raise money for the Club. A 1983 photo shows a young football team with Mr Starkey to the right side. Colin’s sister Tina’s first husband was Derek Foster who is on photo in front of the pavilion. The football club regularly produced a Harston youth football newsletter.

Village life

A 1986/7 photo shows that the Police House was not fenced off from the Park then. It had a cell to the right side. Colin and his mates used to enjoy carrying out pranks with the local policeman and once let his bike tires down by the village hall but he appeared with a pump at the ready and threatened to tell their parents which got them worried for a while.

Roger Beadle’s dad ran the Old English Gentleman pub which had its own off licence, as did the Queen’s Head where you also could buy crisps. Colin went in the Queens Head when the Ashby’s then the Salters ran it. They ran it for a long time and it was a good pub then. The Christines used to run the Coach and Horses. It was always very busy until Eddie & Ron took over. They didn’t last long as they had few customers. After Roy and Una took over they turned it around again and made it quite nice. As you entered the Coach & Horses the youngsters would go into the room to the right and other customers to the left. Patrick Roofe ran the Three Horseshoes and his son played in the youth football team.

No 1 Church St was predominantly a bakers although it sold other things. Colin would collect the warm bread and keep it up his jumper to keep himself warm. Eric Webb’s watch shop replaced a TV shop on corner of Church St and The Green and Colin used to work for him after secondary School. He would get off the school bus, collect Eric’s post and take it to the Post Office on the way to the garage to collect the newspapers he delivered. Colin would deliver papers from Mills garage southwards down the High Street to Button End and Station Rd, before the Paddock & Lawrance Lea were built. There weren’t too many house then. The other paper boy did to the north- Queen’s Close, London Road, etc.

Colin also remembers the boutique opposite the War Memorial and Stocker’s car sales on the corner. Trigg farm, a fruit and veg farm, opposite the Pemberton Arms they called ‘the house that Jack built’ as it was crooked.

On the High Street the Lawrance blacksmiths were by the school in the High St and the Three Horseshoes was over the road, with the Dovecote tearooms one side, which stood there for a long time, and the cycle repair shop the other. Miss Jackson’s hair shop was to the left of Jack Ware’s general grocer’s shop (No 29 High St) with Ernie’s paint shop the other side. Burl’s shop across the road was also another general shop. It had a corner door.

Further along the High Street was the diary at what used to be the Green Man pub. Next to that was the Post Office with the Coach & Horses pub on the other side of the road. Further along was old Mrs Collen’s Riding School behind the house (Lime Tree) which was set back from the High Street (to left of the now The Limes entrance). There used to be chickens in the house so not very clean. Colin used to work there on Saturday mornings cleaning out the stables.

Next on the west side of the High Street was Premier Travel buses, then beyond at the beginning of Chapel Lane was a little news agents on stilts run by the Northrops. Then there was nothing until Sheepshead Lane just before Ron Bass’s garage, the petrol station owned by Mills and Harvey’s Nursery. There used to be a big pig farm down Sheephead Lane. On the opposite side of the High street was Harston Motors and Long’s Coaches. Where the petrol pumps were was a little hut where Mrs Bewer worked. She was also the lollipop lady at the school crossing.

Wren’s chip van would come right through the village on a Friday night and stopped at Button End. Colin and his mates enjoyed a prank or two and when Wren’s chip van came round they would buy some chips, then throw them into the van through its open sliding roof!

All the kids who lived in the Church Street- Button End part of the village would play freely in the meadows by The Footpath to Button End.

Colin delivered newspapers along Button End so knew it well. Beech Farm Cottages housed the workers for Beech Farm. There was a caravan on the left before Beech farm Cottages where a teacher lived. At one time David Deacon lived in a caravan there, opposite the telephone box. The Harvey family (Colin knew the son Richard, mum Joan) also lived in caravans before you got to Jill Thorne’s bus which was sited on the edge of Segrave land, past Willow Farm, along the north west edge of the gravel diggings. Jill lived in the bus for a while then went away for quite a period and the bus got wrecked as it stood empty for years and children played in it. Then Jill came back to live in it again. Colin saw it towed away eventually and was told it was going to a museum.

In the 1960s Colin & his mates would make a game of creeping up to the window of Lou’s sweet shop at 6 Button End and peering inside before they were chased away. Although alone she always appeared to have the table set for two.

Button End was the main area to play and Colin and his friends used to play in the gravel pits and when older in the 1970s used to ride their motorbikes there and on the tracks to Haslingfield. To save them pushing their bikes along Button End from Church Street (not yet old enough to ride on the road) he and Graham Flack would leave their bikes at Violet Cottage where their friend Kelvin Newton lived. His stepfather Peter Owen was a photographer. Chas Simpkins carried out motorbike and lawnmower repairs in the shed next to Linden Lea. Kids would also ride on the river in the old tin baths that people got rid of once their houses were modernised. The river was only knee deep near the Mill but was a bit deeper as you went nearer to Haslingfield.


Colin’s mum Doreen and her friend used to go up to the top of the hill on Newton Rd and watch the glow of London burning. They used to watch the Americans fly out in the early mornings from Bassingbourn or Nuthampstead and coming back in the evenings. The RAF would go out at night. The planes would fly out from different airfields locally then rendezvous over Great Yarmouth where they met the lead plane.

Doreeen said there was a searchlight camp at Queen’s Close and where Harston Motors were. The soldiers were billeted in the village Hall and in the Drift by The Park.

This page was added on 12/12/2019.

Comments about this page

  • Such a great read Uncle Colin, 17 Church Street holds so many memories for generations, the Christmas parties the huge garden where we all played for hours, fishing trips with uncle Eric and I also remember going fishing with Grandad Pettit.
    Harston youth football club with the gaffer Uncle Eric and the mayday fetes at the school, great that you wrote on here and maybe I will find time in the future to write my memories of growing up in harston in the mid 70’s

    By Dean Konopka (03/02/2020)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.