HUDSON AT LARGE: Town's colourful history laid bare
WHAT do airbase doors salvaged as firewood have in common with tales of a long-gone glove factory?
What do both of these have in common with an older brother’s First World War call-up, an eccentric vicar who refused to dig his garden for fear of disturbing the worms, and hundreds of other stories of life in and around Cricklade?
The answer is that each is a memory which will never be lost to time, even when the person who carried that memory is no more.
All feature in a multi-volume people’s chronicle put together by a retired art teacher who wasn’t even fond of history at school.
Cricklade Revealed by Marion Parsons has just reached its ninth instalment, which is filled with stories of daily life for ordinary people in the early 1950s. There will be a single further volume, taking the community’s stories as far as the late 1960s, as well as an ongoing series of supplements called Cricklade Revealed Extra.
Profits from the books go to local causes.
Mrs Parsons has interviewed countless people over the years – something she discovered a love for while at art school.
“They gave us a project and they said that all of the students could study the Birmingham canals from the historical point of view, the geographical point of view or the social point of view. I did the social point of view and that’s the first time I realised it interested me.
“That meant walking up the canals, where there were lots of houseboats, and talking to people “That was a real revelation to me. When you’re young you don’t really know what you’re about, but that was interesting to me.”
Mrs Parsons, who is married to David and has two children, grew up in the Forest of Dean. Her first job was as a commercial artist, working first as a designer of letterheads and paper bags and later, following a move to Birmingham, for Cadbury’s.
Her projects there included packaging for Milk Tray and a butterfly theme for a successful line of Easter Eggs.
Then came teaching. The move to Cricklade came in 1965 after David took a job with Square D in Swindon.
Mrs Parsons spent 21 years at the local Prior Park Preparatory School, the final four of which were spent with her husband as house parents there. She retired in 1998 and the genesis of Cricklade Revealed came a little later when she was asked to produce a history of the school. Having always wanted to write, Mrs Parsons jumped at the chance.
“It was published privately by the school for the millennium. They did it to raise money for a new sports hall and equipment.
“That’s how I started interviewing people. It was a really therapeutic thing in a way. I liked that school so much that it had become a sort of way of life rather than a job. I was always interested in the historical society in Cricklade, but working down at that school it was so intense that, in a way, you were cut off from what was going on socially.
“But when I retired I suppose I was looking around for something to do apart from this book.
“The society issues a publication every year called The Bulletin. “In that somebody had asked whether there was somebody who might interview the older residents and make tape recordings of their stories before all was lost.
“I thought, ‘Well, I could do that.’ So I got myself a very cheap cassette recorder from Argos.
“I knew people very well despite the four years when I’d sort of been cut off from Cricklade.
“I knew who to go to and they told me of other people to go to.
“Their stories were so fascinating. I thought, ‘How ridiculous – they’re asking me to make tapes and then they’re going to be put in the museum, put in a box and forgotten about and then nobody will ever access them, so why don’t I write a book?’ “That was the first one.”
Although Mrs Parsons has made her mark as a local historian, she had no fondness for the subject during her schooldays.
“It was taught by rote and I remember having a dreadful teacher who just spout it out and you wrote almost verbatim what you were saying.”
All volumes of Cricklade revealed remain in print and are available at the town’s museum at £3.60 each or £28 for the full set. The current issue is always available at the town council offices and the Deja Vu hair salon.
Copies can also be obtained from Mrs Parsons herself by calling 01793 750542.