Memories of Whixall

Hands up and let’s be honest about this, how many Wemian readers have found themselves lost in Whixall? The number of lanes in and around Whixall can be a maze and when I read that a postal bus was soon to operate in Whixall my first thoughts were for the driver.

Well if any one knows the area like the back of his hand it’s a gentleman called Mr. John Christopher Allman, known to all as Chris. Chris lived for over sixty years in Whixall and generations of his family lived their before him. Luckily for me I didn’t have to negotiate the lanes of Whixall, Chris now lives in Tilley with his dear wife Vera, and I was invited to hear their memories. I spent a cool November afternoon in front of their homely fire with two of their childhood friends, Mr.and Mrs. Sam and Aileen Edge. Over a cup of tea they took me back to before the war. They spoke of life on the Mosses and the canal, they gave me an insight into a busy rural life, which supplied Wem with turf, coal and goods brought from the Midlands by canal.

Chris, born in 1918, lived in the Northwood end of Whixall on a smallholding of 26 acres, with his father John, mother Sarah, a younger brother Walford and sister Ivy. Later Granny Keay, his mother's mother, came to live with them. She had been born in 1841 and lived to be nearly a hundred. Chris’s first memories are of helping to milk and taking the milk with his father in churns on the horse and cart to Platt and Swains in Wem, where it was turned into cheese. “ I remember Mr Swain used to hold a dinner in Wem Town Hall every year for his workers and local milk suppliers. My dad would entertain after dinner with a song. Dad told us that Mr Swain was a very shrewd man and knew which farmers might add water to their milk, it was only 4d. a gallon and some farmers tried to thin it down. Nearly every one we knew kept a few cows and produced their own cheeses. The Whixall lanes had lots of small cottages, these are either long gone or converted into bigger houses now. A lot had families of between five and ten children living in them, watching some families walking along the lanes reminded me of a mother hen and her brood.” Says Chris.

Chris told me the men would either work on farms or earn seasonal wages working at the Moss Sheds cutting and bailing turf. Up until the war the Mosses employed hundreds of men and carriers to take away the turf. Other men waited at the canal wharf at Dobsons Bridge to unload the barges that brought coal. Chris and Vera told me that Whixall supported two schools, four chapels and a church, five pubs, one store and at least five smaller shops.

Chris started at the New School in Whixall in the 1920s “ When I was at school there were over a hundred and thirty pupils on roll. We stayed there until we left at fourteen. There were three teachers and the Headmaster was Mr Frank Morris. We walked two miles to school every day, you’d meet friends along the way and by the time we arrived at school there were about a dozen of us. You knew most folk around, families stayed for years in the same place. We looked forward to seeing people like Jack Phillips from Wem delivering the bread, Mr Law who ran the post office and there his four postmen doing deliveries. Wilfred Horton's delivery van came from Whitchurch to stock Tom Lovell's store and the smaller front room shops around Whixall. The lanes were often noisy and busy with horse and carts making deliveries. A lot of people got around on bicycles and would cycle to the station at Prees for trains to Wem, or Fenns Bank for a train to Oswestry. You could also travel on the canal and we all loved the Sunday school outings to Colemere on the barge. We looked forward every year to the Whixall Sports Day. The whole family would go. It was always held on the last Saturday of August and there were races for every one. I think a lot of people will remember the Whixall Silver Band,” says Chris. “ It was a very good brass band and entertained at all the seasonal functions.”

Then came the war with all the changes, Chris’s brother Walford joined up, and that left Chris to help at home. “We took evacuees from Liverpool, my dad organised the evacuees with families and although we should have only had two we ended up with four girls living with us through out the war. I remember one whole family of ten children living in a small cottage down the road with their mother. They were so poor and every one helped where they could. When the war ended and they had to go back to Liverpool they cried all the way to the station. Some of the girls came back and married local lads and some still live around here.” says Chris.

After the war Chris and Vera were married. They went to live at Vera's home and Chris went into business with his father and brother Walford. “We ran a successful pig breeding business and supplied butchers around the area. I remember the many butchers in Wem and delivering to their backyard abattoirs. I joined the Whixall Parish Council and like my father before me became a local preacher.”

Chris Allman was interviewed for 'The Wemian' magazine in 1997 by Linda Etherington

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