Interview with Betty Starkey and Mary Ibbotson

Arrival in Burton Bradstock

Betty and Len Starkey moved to Burton Bradstock on 2 June 1952 with two of their daughters, Mary (Ibbotson) and Anne. Susan, their youngest daughter, was born soon after the Coronation in June 1953. Len came as the Headteacher for St Mary's Primary School. They moved into ‘The Magnolias' [E1] which was then used as the School House, and the County Council rented it from the Pitt-Rivers Estate for the Headteacher or 'Occupying School Master' as he was called. When they arrived the house wasn't ready, so they stayed with Cissie Brown who was the Village Dressmaker because she rented out rooms (where Mary Ward lived). The next day, the family met the Rector Arthur Dittmer and Mrs. Dittmer, the Church Organist who also took Sunday School. Soon, the family met Mr. Howarth, who had been a previous Headmaster until 1944. He was very active in the area, being Chairman of the Rural District Council. He bought several properties in the 1958 Sale. Betty remembers that Mr. Howarth was always regarded as the Headmaster of the Village School regardless of who actually was.

Mains Drainage Comes to the Village

Betty well remembers that when the family came, although they had an Indoor WC, there was still a shed in the garden which had been a privy (earth closet). Many of the cottages had earth closets, a wooden seat with one (or two!) holes and a long drop. Luckily, soon after their arrival, the Council put in mains drainage. They dug up the road opposite ‘The Magnolias' down to 17 Feet and while doing it they threw up many Ammonites. The workmen had no respect for these fossils and the villagers took many of them and put them in the walls around the Village. This is why there are so many in the fabric of Burton Bradstock's walls and buildings. Recently, school children on a village walk noticed how many there are around and this is the reason. Betty and Len Starkey bought ‘The Magnolias' in the 1958 Sale.  Betty remembers it was the first sale Lot in the afternoon and they had only just been told that the County Council didn't want to buy it.

The Village School

The big room was divided into two, with the Juniors on the side by the Church and the Infants nearest the River. Mr. Starkey taught the four Junior years together in one half of the classroom and Mrs. Rodford taught the two Infant years in the other. The number of pupils in the School tended to be fluid, as farm labourers had to move their families to wherever there was work. There was a Staff Room hut there also along the Churchyard wall. It was creosoted brown but it was very warm inside. The girls' toilets were in the top corner of the Back Playground and the boys' toilets were by the river at the front in the boys' playground. A small extension was built while Mary was at the School and inside toilets were put there. Mr. Starkey took Assembly every day and taught everything. Pupils sat in groups and were taught in groups [E2]. He would teach a Maths lesson to one group while the other groups got on with work they had been given, and so Len would move round the room, teaching and setting work at different, but appropriate levels. Mary remembers that the BBC School's Radio Programmes were used a lot, 'Singing Together' and ‘Time and Tune' were two music programmes, and they listened to the History Programmes as well. There were lots of Reading books around the room and supplementary Readers with many good stories. Pupils had jotters and they could write and draw whatever they wanted in them. Mary and her friend planned Guinea Pig Hutches in their jotters and actually got a real one in the end. Every Monday morning in school started with 'Handwriting'. Mr. Starkey would write the Collect for the day on the blackboard and the children had to copy it. This was because the School was a Church school.

Betty sometimes helped out with Supply when necessary but the girls came to Betty in The Magnolias to knit dishcloths and for singing practice. Betty went back to Teaching when Susan was 5 in the late 5Os and she taught English at Sir John Colfox School for many years.  Miss Ann Besley replaced Mrs. Rodford when she retired in 1955 and Mrs. Buckler, Elizabeth Gale's mother, did some Supply and was excellent at teaching the children to read. Betty also took Sunday School and Canon Dittmer, when asking for additional Sunday School Teachers, said from the Pulpit "Poor Mrs. Starkey does her best" - damning with faint praise but remember, she had three daughters under six at the time. Len Starkey and Ruby Gale started up the Cubs and Brownies in Burton Bradstock. Ruby, who lived where the Knights lived (Felden on Shipton Lane), led the Brownies and taught Sunday School.


Mary remembers that the girls and some boys learned Maypole Dancing in the back playground and danced at the Church Fete. In the School playground the girls would play Hopscotch and Skipping, or different sorts of chasing games. 'Offground' was a favourite. To surrender, you showed crossed fingers and said ‘Funnels’ or Faynites'. The whole playground joined in ‘The Farmer's in his Den' or ‘The Great Ship sailed on the Alley-alley-o'. The older girls brought sheet music to the School to swoon over the photo of their favourite pop star; few people had record players, but you would know someone who could play the piano. There was a 'Marble Season' and conkers in the autumn. Sometimes Mary and her friends would go down to the field on Saturday mornings. The girls, like the boys, would muck about in the rivers and the hedges and come home very muddy. Mary and her friends had a 'Secret Glade' in the fields where the river was shallow and the trees overgrown. The girls could go down to the beach, but not on their own.

Life in the Village

Transport in the Village was quite different then. There were not many buses and previously a Carter would transport you or a parcel into Bridport. In the 50s, Mr. Thorner ran his car as a Taxi Service and he did the transport for everyone, taking you to or from the Station or taking parcels.  There was a butcher in the Village. Men shot rabbits and sold them door-to-door for about 2s 6d each. Chicken was for Christmas only even though there were many in the Village.

Throughout the 50s, you were supplied with lots of food at your front door so this made up for a lack of transport. The people delivering were very friendly. Stan Williams had absolutely everything from a screw to a cake. All the Village shops were crammed full of goods [E3], nothing was wrapped and you had to ask for each item. Shopping even for a few things took a long time! Mrs. Williams used to sing psalms in the shop [E4]; she had a very powerful voice which she used to 'praise the Lord'. There was one bacon machine in the Village which Miss Brewer had in her shop so if you wanted bacon you went to her. Sometimes, during the day, a shout would go up through the Village of 'mackerel' and/or 'sprats'.  These fish came in great shoals and some beached themselves. Locals would go down with buckets and pick them up off the beach and sell them round the Village if they had too many. There were no deep-freezers so everyone in the Village ate a lot of 'soused' mackerel and sprats.

The Village in the 50s was like a big family but it was very class conscious. The upper classes were patriarchal and this had some pros and cons.  The upper class ladies had a great sense of responsibility and Mrs. Ryan at The Rookery [E5], an incomer but seen as Lady of the Manor, used to go to all the cottages making sure everyone was alright. Mr. Sturdy lived at Norburton Hall, followed by the Knightsmiths. Mrs. Knightsmith used to inspect the Brownies and Sylvia was involved in the Guides. All the Knightsmith ladies did good work in the Village. Burton Bradstock has always had incomers; this is not a new phenomenon.

Two Memorable Events

Both Mary and Betty remember Coronation Day with a fancy dress parade and a band. Betty went to a lot of trouble to make Mary's 'Tudor Rose' costume, dyeing stockinette green for her leggings and sewing pink crepe paper into a skirt and a pink cap. The parade started by the School and went round the Village to the Playing Fields where they had running and egg and spoon races and Maypole Dancing [E6] etc. It rained on the Sports Events. Very few had television but Mary saw the film of the Coronation at the Palace in Bridport later. Mary remembers being given a Coronation Mug. Another event which stands out for both Mary and Betty was the flood in July 1957. It was caused by very heavy storms in the South West. Much of the Village was flooded, including Mill Street and Cheney's Yard at the old Flax Mill, and on the High Street the water came up to Mr. Mullins's shop counter. Betty and Len were woken up in the night by Stan Williams throwing stones at their bedroom window. Mr. Williams wanted to get the School opened up to take in the campers from Freshwater. Betty spent all the next day trying to dry out their clothes.

Compiled by Susan Moores - May 2012