Pictured above: post war baby boom in Lapford ca.1960. Eileen Parish (seated and with glasses) is pictured with daughter Janet.
12-year old Eileen Dickinson came to Lapford as a war time evacuee. She was one of 100,000 children transported out of London by train over a six-day period in June 1940. Her new war-time home was at Beaumont Cottage1 with Lionel and Ethel Parish and their 9-year old son, Leon.
Aged 14, Eileen left Lapford school and started working at the Ambrosia factory. Four years later she became engaged to Lionel’s nephew, Allan Parish. She returned to London in 1946 to support her parents who had been bombed out of their home during the war. After marrying Allan in 1949, the couple set up home at 5 Moorland View, newly built on the site of Lapford’s wartime military base. It remained Eileen’s home for nearly 70 years but she never forgot her London roots, describing herself as a “Devon Cockney”.
Eileen died in 2019 and is buried with Allan in Lapford churchyard.
In this interview with Noel Parry, recorded at her home in 1999, she describes her early memories of Lapford.
1. Beaumont Cottage – former name of the property adjoining the Forge
2. Francis Allan W Parish (1921 to 1980).
Evacuation to Lapford
When did you actually come to the village as an evacuee, then?
June 1940. We must have travelled from Waterloo down to Exeter and I think we came out by coach to Crediton. Possibly – it must have been – Heywoods School where they gave us a drink, something to eat, and then we boarded buses which brought us. Whether we came straight here, I wouldn’t know. The only thing I can remember in my mind was the fact that I was quite sure the bus was touching the hedge both sides. I suppose to us the roads were so narrow!
And the first thing I think I remember of the village is the water wheel1, that used to be at the Barris, and the houses. The first house up the hill then was black and white where the Danoglou’s lived2 . That’s always stuck in my mind and the council houses.
Then they dropped us off at the Victory Hall and we went in and were greeted by Mr Hutchins, and he was the Chairman of the Parish Council at that time. And he gave a little speech and then they fed us, the ladies of the village. And when I look back now — I mean my aunt3 was one of them, she must have been 36 at that time. I suppose even at twelve, 36 seemed quite old. And then Mr Coppleston was the Relieving Officer and he lived in the Thatched Bungalow down on the main road which now has been dog kennels .
1. The Barris “water wheel” probably refers to a wind driven irrigation pump that stood about 50m downhill from the Barris cob barn near, what is now, the driveway to Gelligaer. It operated from the 1920s to the early 1940s. The structure can just be seen in this enlarged photograph from the early 1930s before Mill Hill began to be developed.
2. The property that caught Eileen’s eye as she first arrived into Lapford was Foxlease, now a modernised property without its original characteristic timber framing and now hidden to passers by. It had recently become the home of a young Turkish food scientist, Constantine Danoglou who, as a child, had witnessed the Gallipoli conflict from his home town on the Dardanelles. Constantine Danoglou was responsible for inventing the recipe for Ambrosia Creamed Rice at the Lapford Ambrosia factory. It was a novel product — cooked within the can — and its worldwide success helped secure employment for many villagers more than three decades.
3. Ethel Parish b.1904. Ethel and Lionel Parish were Eileen’s war-time foster parents in Lapford. They were the uncle and aunt of Eileen’s husband, Allan.
Can you remember much about the village at the time, the sort of shape of the village, the roads, the houses?
Well, yes, really. When I look back at photos now, you sort of don’t quite realise – well I don’t suppose it’s a lot narrower in places but it didn’t seem quite so made up. And then of course there was the pond down below the post office that is now, and that.
The Post Office itself was still down at the mill?
Oh yes. I remember the Stonemans. They were real Lapford characters. I mean Frank’s mother, Mrs Violet Stoneman1, was a dear. I used to take the post every night when I came home , because I obviously went up through the village, so I took the post and we got very good friends and that. Oh, she was ever so such a sweet [gall?]
So you remember the mill as a working mill, do you?
Farmers would bring their corn in?
Well I don’t remember actually seeing that, but it was a working mill in those days. Oh yes, I can say was very fond of the Stonemans. And in those days I used to go over across and get the stamps. She used to say “oh you know what you want” – I mean probably she’d check them!
1. Violet Stoneman (1884-1956) was the wife of miller Albert Stoneman (1884-1969). Their son, Frank (1920-1993), was the third in a line of Stonemans to mill at Lapford before he moved to nearby Bugford Mill.
Did you used to go to any of the village dances? The Army, the ATS dances?
I’ve seen photograpghs of the different bands, so presumably the army or the ATS would put on a dance?
That’s right. I was trying to think of his name the other day. Johnny1 , somebody or other ran the band there. I mean we used to go as youngsters but of course we were always chaperoned, auntie was always there to see we behaved ourselves.
I suppose the ATS girls would be there, and the soldiers would be there?
Yes, and then eventually— ‘cus they came to Winkleigh airdrome —there was Norwegian airmen.
They came over as well?
Oh yes. They used to come over. And the girls— I mean I never went because I wasn’t old enough—but the girls down the factory used to go in one of the lorries out to the Winkleigh dances.
They had dances out there as well?
1 Johnny Glennon
Wartime socialising in Exeter
I suppose the social life in the village was very, very good in that respect?
Well yes, it was because you didn’t go very far. I mean, I can remember Miss Hern2 taking us to the pantomime the first Christmas we were here.
In Exeter, and that was the only time I went in the big Dellars1. It was beautiful
Oh, I’ve heard so much about that. I would have loved to have gone there
Oh yes I can remember it. And ‘course there was a tea dance on at the time and there was a little somebody playing a grand piano and all these beautiful carvings, ooh it was a lovely place. But that was the only time, well the only time I can remember going to Exeter, until I went to work.
Did to go in there after the Blitz. Did you go into Exeter after all the damage was done.
Well yes. I must have done, like I say, when I started work we used to go in there of a Saturday on Turners Bus, ‘cus Turners Bus used to go on a Saturday afternoon, and then in those days it didn’t used to come back until I think it was half-past eight. And you went in after dinner and we used to do perhaps a little bit of shopping, go and have a bit of tea, go to the Pictures, and then if you went to the Odeon which is where t is now at the top of Sidwell Street, and Turners used to be in The Crown and Septre they used to park, which is down near the iron bridge, so you used to just about hopefuly see the end of the big film, and then tare down to catch the bus back home.
1. Dellars was a magnificent baroque-style café and ballroom with a grand entrance on Bedford Street. It opened in 1916 and for 25 years was the city’s premier social venue and attracted tourists from miles around. Many a romance blossomed there. Patrons could enjoy light lunch or tea on the ornate balconies listening to the in house orchestra playing in the main atria below. At the time Eileen visited during the war, Dellers had become a regular meeting place for service men and women, evacuees and other displaced persons.
Dellars avoided a hit during the May Blitz of 1942 but was badly damaged by a fire that spread from a neighbouring building. Many, including the owners, believed that the building could be repaired but orders were given for its demolition and in a matter of weeks the place, that many considered to be the social heart of the city, was a pile of rubble.
2. ‘Miss Hern’ was Kathleen Edith Lillian Hearn (1916-1980), known to her friends as “Kit”. She was a teacher at Eileen’s London school in Raynes Park and taught the evacuees throughout their time in Lapford. After the war, she became headmistress of the village school in Dunsfold, Surrey. She left in 1952 for a new teaching post in Tenby, Wales.
It is not surprising that Miss Hearn wanted to take Lapford children to Exeter Pantomime—her life-long passion was producing amateur dramatic plays. In Dunsfold, she reformed the village dramatic society (still going strong today), and she later produced many plays for the Tenby Players. She never married and was always ‘Miss Hearn” to the hundreds of pupils that she taught throughout her life. She died in Tenby in 1980.
So when did you leave the village to go back up to London, then?
August 46. Because my parents had been bombed out by the doodlebugs and they were in rented accommodation. They weren’t sure if they were going to rebuild our house or not. So, I went home for a holiday in July, when they were in a rented house. But soon after that they were able to move back, to where we came from.
So did they have a house provided for them?
Well, I suppose. I never went to the flat they were in. They were in a flat near Cambridge Road, where mum and dad used to play bowls a lot but for some reason—I can’t remember now—they had to move from there and they were in part of a big house in Cambridge Road. I don’t think the people it belonged to were there. They certainly weren’t there when I went up on holiday. And they stayed there until they were able to move back, where my mother was until the time she died.
So were you engaged to Alan when you went back home?
Yes, I was engaged in the August just before I went back to London
And were you married up in London or down here?
Yes I was married up [in London]– I would have loved to have been married down here because I was confirmed at this church and went to this church, but it wouldn’t have been fair to mum and dad because my dad unfortunately suffered in this nerves badly and money was fairly tight. I mean I couldn’t have expected them – but I would have loved to have been married down here
Return to Lapford
So when did you come back to live in Lapford?Well, by then, we were very fortunate. I think if we hadn’t met Mr Snell, we mightn’t have. We were granted this house as Alan had been in the war- he did 6 years in the war.
Where we are now?
So you’ve lived here …
52 years in March
It couldn’t have been built many years before.
Oh, it was new when we moved in. I think the first ones, aunty and uncle moved in to number 12 just before Christmas 1948. I think the first ones were where Bill Manning lives. I think the first ones were 48 and we were the last four to move in. We moved in in March 49.
Previous to that when the army were here were they living in Nissan huts?
They were Nissan Huts, not tents?
No, Nissan huts and the ATS were up in Park Close in those days.
And then you’ve been here ever since.
Well thank you Eileen. Thank you very much.