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Memories of Norman
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Various members of the family have contributed to this section with their memories across the generations. Further material is needed as Norman was such a popular member of the family. PLEASE SEND IN YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS AND/OR CORRECTIONS as there are gaps in the story, especially in the 1950's
Norman on the Youth Peace March in Dalston
Norman visiting Grantham 1940's
Norman never really had a permanent job or career, he drifted from one hairbrain scheme to another. He was forever running around helping various members of the family. He fought in the 2nd World War in Africa and apparently had the best diet of anybody in his unit. He had vegetarian food especially flown in and 'dropped' wherever he was stationed. He came out of the war unscathed physically, Harry Bird had purchased Maidencombe House for the three 'boys' who commenced turning the property into a high class hotel. Stories were that Norman never really pulled his weight and the other two brothers bought him out. He worked in a factory on the outskirts of Newton Abbot for a while..and Always went to the motor Show in London every autumn.
At one point he went to London in a clapped out old car and worked as a book keeper, living in a seedy bedsit in Acton. One cousin can remember meeting up with him and he had all that he owned in one suitcase in the boot of the car. John Watson went to visit him once and was appalled at the state of the property which had a stinking shared lavatory on each floor. He didn't stay in the capital long and soon returned to Devon, coming to London again only to accompany Gertrude on the train when she went to visit (possibly members of her large family who lived in Westminster)
Norman went on Peace Marches through Dalston before the second world war, (see above) he was intellectual and practical and was never sexist or authoritarian.
At his plot Glebelands on the banks of the Teign he initially grew and sold organic vegetables. hoping to become a market gardener. A woman helped him who was a drummer in a local band. This enterprise never really got off the ground. and the plot became a wild plant paradise with two or three shacks. One summer the Childs grandchildren camped on the land. He loved wild flowers and was very excited when he found a rare plant growing in the stream at Little Meadow. It was a yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus)
He did cream teas at Little Meadow as well as B & B - the Chillds children stayed there alone as teenagers without parents and felt very grown up. They had to push the Wolseley up Widecombe Hill to get there. The house stood a mile south of the village beyond Rugglestone Inn. Water from a spring was plumbed into the kitchen bathroom and toilet and had a peaty colour. It was really soft and the soap used to foam all over the place, it was difficult to get used to when staying for the holidays after the hard chalky water of the South East. It made our hair all soft and lank when we washed it there. The pianola from our grandparent's time still took pride position in the lounge and was often played by nieces and nephews when they stayed at the house as children. He bought a premises in the centre of Widecombe and applied for planning permission to turn it into a souvenir and gift shop with a flat over, he completely ran out of money and the plans never materialised. This was when he met Gladys Helen.
The Childs children were surprised at Norman complaining that his shares in coal mines had gone down as he was always seen as on the left, an idealistic non money grabbing person, not very good at business, Maurice was surprised when he died and he found he had some investments.
Harry Bird's Lanchester car was left to Norman and then handed down to Thalia and Ian who had to leave it in Somerset as the frame was riddlled with woodworm.
When Norman died Maurice and Dudley Childs 'couldn't wait' to get into his bungalow and everything went to auction.
Norman really did seem to be the outcast in much of this, even down to Harry's Will when he was described as a nephew in his own father's estate. How hurtful that must have been. I recall many happy days at Little Meadow. I recall staying in the caravan when it was in the end of the garden. I also recall Norman's many money making ideas and schemes including the wind turbine, growing mushrooms under the house, a loft full of egg spoons, made from twisted wire, that I do not think ever sold. The models of Uncle Tom Coblee and All. These were not made from papier mâché but from clay models. Norman carved the moulds from heavy rubber, and poured in the clay slip and baked them in a furnace in the green house at the back of the garages. These were then individually hand painted, mounted and displayed on a wooden base. They had a main fault that the legs where very thin, and they snapped off so very easily. Betty has all the moulds and on top of her cabinet to our knowledge the only surviving and standing set of UnleTom Coblee and All. In later life Norman used to go to to have Sunday lunch with Ross and Betty for many years. It is interesting to see the many pictures that show Norman and many members of the family riding on his favorite little tractor on the site . Well that still remains in the family and is now owned by Vicky (Bird) and her husband. They went to Glebelands and purchased it from Norman when he gave up the land. They also have the trailer and implements, and it is still used today on a regular basis.
Norman seems to have been everyones favourite. Certainly we all loved him. He used to visit us often and was a great favourite with our daughter who was only tiny at the time but she can just remember him.
Norman in Africa
The White Cliffs of Africa - 10/10/2005
I went and stood on the White Cliffs
at Beer and, staring out to the horizon
I saw - nothing. So I walked over
the headland to the cliffs of Branscombe.
There it was clear, I could see the coast
all the way to where,
we had looked out from the red cliffs
at the end of that day, he tall and me
quite small. Far away we saw
white cliffs that seemed to be
at the end of the world in
the summer haze, barely light
than the grey of the sea and
the blue of the sky.
"Where is that"? I said, thinking they must be
"They are the white cliffs of Beer", he said
I'll not be able to tell him, for now he's far away,
far beyond the white cliffs of Africa...
Dorothy gave Little Meadow to Norman when she moved to the Bakery after Harry Bird's death, many of the grandchildren remember visiting him there....
He ran it as a Bed and Breakfast but it never made any money.
Two female cousins recall having to visit Little Meadow on 'change over day' whilst they were teenages to change the bedding and clean through the house. Norman paid them a 'very small' wage.
As teenagers we were allowed to stay at Little Meadow on our own, this was a great adventure, shopping cooking and looking after ourselves. He had a pianola, a large garden with a stream in it. He had a windmill to make electricity, he made model characters from the Uncle Tom Cobbley song on a white horse with very Devon names to sell in the gift shop. Spencer wrote a poem about the windmill. Thalia
Also another describing the house when Norman was in residence which we on the Bird side all loved as children....and others with memories of Widecombe. Janice
From selected beech-wood by hand
He pared and honed the six-foot sail
To a profile and a shallow angle
Nearly flat - to- the- wind.
He finely whittled it for balance too, because
He didn't want it to, "shake loose and embed
Itself into the roof or worse". Though fastened
And riveted, I gave it a wide berth on windy days.
He fitted it to the generator and made
An elegant tail, setting it at a rakish angle
As a unit it was fixed to the top of an
Old telegraph pole on a rotating mount
So it could turn itself into the wind and make
Its loud swishing sound.
It had then to be connected through the batteries
In the old greenhouse and on to the specially
Prepared house wiring. In each room concealed wires
Took the power to small bulbs at the centre
Of the ceilings. It reminded me of the lights in
A doll's house and the small, round and bulbous
Switches near each door reinforced this impression.
Elegant oil lamps with tall, fine, glass chimneys
Were at hand for when the battery charge was
Exhausted each evening.
"It was completely lit by Car Headlamps fitted flush to the ceilings and was powered by a
Bank of old car batteries living in an outbuilding, powered by a home made
wind generator atop a pole. It was made from a car's rear axle with the blade attached and
then to a 12volt car Dynamo then a voltage regulater to charge the batteries!! "
- Memories from a childhood friend who visited with Spencer
Widecombe - in - the - moor Church
Birds and Childs Cousins at Little Meadow
After the war until the mid 1950's I would spend all my summer holidays with my grandparents, aunts and cousins in Devon. Norman would come up to Paddington by train, often with Gertie (who was on 'business') and take me back down to Widecombe and Mansands. I often asked who Gertie was but was told only that she was a member of the family, someone's wife and mother, her true status was always a mystery to me for 60 yrs until I began researching the family tree!
I have vivid memories of the train rushing along the coast and the wonderful red cliffs at Dawlish, sometimes in rough weather the waves came right over the carriage! To return home my aunt would put me on the train at Newton Abbot like Paddington Bear and my parents would collect me in Paddington.
Often my mother would send my suitcase and various packages for the family in advance. One year it never arrived and I had only the clothes I stood up in, I was about ten at the time so my aunt had to cut down some of her clothing for me so that I had something to wear. I remember Norman being a very kindly man and I would sit on his knee on the train as it was usually very crowded and sometimes we had no seats at all and had to sit on our cases in the corridor.
Once Gertie had made egg sandwiches for the trip and afterwards gave me an orange, I was violently sick during the journey and since that day have never been able to eat eggs with oranges!! Janice
Newton Abbot Station
Photo Spencer 2003
If we went to Torquay Station the platforms would be packed!
When Norman Bird died we drove to Devon with our children for his
Funeral. We went to his house but Dudley and Maurice stopped any family
members from going in. No one was allowed in or to have a keep sake.
At the Funeral I remember talking to Iris, Joy, Thora and Mother about
how outraged and upset they felt about being cut off from their brother's
home and belongings and how those authoritarian brothers took over
Norman's life after he died. This was a great sadness for them all for
Mother managed to get hold of Norman and Helen's Photos. His belongings
which were not destroyed went to auction and some valuable paintings and
clocks were returned by Dudley to Helen's Family.
His Funeral was a religious one all about God forgiving this wicked
sinner with blood thirsty hymns.
A reversion to their upbring nothing relevant to Norman. thought it was
such an insult to Norman and the kind of person he was, I could hardly
bear to sit there.
I've been to other inappropriate funerals where the Religious
officiant did not know the person. Ian's Cousin Collister Clague had a
similar funeral, against his express wishes.
These experiences pushed me in the direction of eventually joining the
Humanists where I was Chair/Secretary of the Local Mid wales Branch. We
held Monthly meetings with National, International and local Speakers
and held forums on different subjects in The University Town of Aberystwyth.
I am on the Court of The University of Wales.
BT Directory 1972
Bovril drink was invented in 1886 by Scotsman John Lawson Johnston and was originally formulated to feed Napoleons troops on the Russian front. By 1888 over 3000 bars and public houses were serving Bovril in Britain and beef tea became a popular drink amongst football fans during the early 20th century. By 1994 enough Bovril beef tea was being sold to make over 90million mugs. To this day, Bovril drink remains popular with the family, with over 3million jars being sold or 900 tons of the beef tea per year! "
In the late 1970's we used to visit Norman in his bungalow when we had the house in Devon. He had been diagnosed with heart problems and the doctor had told him to eat meat and prescribed him prescription drugs. He refused to take these and was forever taking homeopathic tablets and remedies. He drank loads of Bovril diluted in hot water throughout the day, supposedly because he could not face chewing meat. Our father always told him it was doing him no good as it was full of salt, but he persisted and sadly in 1982 died of Ischaemic Heart Disease in Newton Abbot Hospital. Mother was surprised and delighted that he had remembered her in his Will., I think Dad was the Executor, as he had been for Harry Bird, Norman was living alone after his wife had died, he always talked the whole time about cars even though he only had an old banger and in his home he couldn't move an inch. Alastair
Newton Abbot Hospital
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