A Working Life – Tom Matchett
Tom Matchett retired as Food Division Deputy Controller of the Plymouth Co-operative Society in June 1989
It was a key role; reporting to the Controller on the operation of over 60 Grocery; Butchery and Greengrocery retail outlets; a Food Distribution Centre; Butchery Warehouse; Small Goods Factory and Dairy Department:
I was responsible for somewhere in the region of 2,000 staff overall. The Society covered Plymouth; Torbay; South Devon to Tavistock; Moreton Hampstead and into South East Cornwall – I guess a ratio of 40 miles from Plymouth and 1,600 square miles.
The retirement of such a Company lynch-pin was honoured by a flurry of presentations attended by colleagues, including Bert Mills who interviewed me and gave me my very first job with the Co-op back in 1954.
The Co-op furthered Tom’s educational aspirations through the Co-operative College. His membership of the Co-op Sea Angling Club led to hosting the European Championships for the Federation of Sea Anglers; Chairmanship of the British Conger Club and victory at a 1981 tournament in Florida:
Catching my first ever Sailfish of 48lbs and a Black Fin Tuna of 42lbs
But recently, whilst waiting for the milkman, Tom remembered when I worked for Coates’ Butchers in Borrowash when I was about 15/17 years old.
Every Monday, before I started my half day, I would have to collect the rents from that row of cottages at Shacklecross called Stones Row, subsequently owned by Don Coates. I think there were about nine little cottages and I had to take my meat delivery basket as if I was delivering meat and I had
my leather cash bag and folding note case.
I met my wife Audrey in Plymouth. She worked for the Co-op; that’s how I got my introduction to the company.
I was successful at interview and my career went from strength to strength.
But I only decided to stay when I discovered that the quality of the meat at the Plymouth Co-op met the standards of Coates’ Butchers in Borrowash ….
In Plymouth, Tom excelled at the career of a lifetime – but his benchmark for life was Borrowash.
Tom’s grandparents, Anna and Thomas Matchett lived at 12, Derby Road, Borrowash with the Primary School on one side and Cotton’s Farm on the other.
Tom recalls a large double fronted house with over an acre of land well stocked with bountiful fruit trees:
Gran used to sell apples, pears and plums for a few pence at the front gate. Granddad kept chickens and pigs and grew all the popular vegetables and greenhouse produce so the whole experience of living was being self sufficient from an early age.
The 1911 Census categorises Thomas as: Labourer at the Colour Works, Megalaughton Lane, Spondon, but he suffered from a badly ulcerated leg following a cycling accident and his grandson and namesake, Tom, associates him primarily with home and garden.
He was a big man; moustache and big belly, with a huge leather belt that he stuck his thumbs in. It did nothing to keep his trousers up! He used to tend the garden, feed the poultry and breed the pigs which he’d occasionally take to Derby Market. He had a right of access through the perimeter wall at the top of the playground of Borrowash School so he could take his pigs through to the main road in a wheeled pig container, specially made for the job.
Selling a pig at Market merited celebrations.
When he sold a pig, he would come back to the village; imbibe quite a few pints at The Noah’s Ark with Farmer Clayton, then come home, have his lunch, put his legs up on the horsehair sofa, get out the hymn book and just sing for the rest of the afternoon!
It was a traditional marriage, marred by tragedy:
He was six feet something and Gran was five feet nothing but she was the boss. Gran held the purse strings and kept her purse in a pocket of one of the many petticoats she wore beneath a couple of aprons to boot! Whatever they had they shared and worked hard for – and they sacrificed three of their sons for their country…
After his grandfather died, Tom lived with his grandmother for a few years; digging the huge garden with a spade and learning how to grow vegetables, prune fruit trees, feed and rear poultry and rabbits.
It was a good grounding for someone who would later make a career working with quality food products.
Two World Wars cast a shadow over the Matchett family.
Four of Thomas and Anna’s sons served in the First World War.
Wilfred and Thomas were killed and Thomas’s body was never found. Wilfred is buried in Belgiumand the names of the brothers are inscribed upon the Permanent Memorial at the Fricourt WarCemetery.
Albert and Harold returned to Borrowash and their parents must have been tremendously proud when Albert was presented with the Military Medal in the Borrowash Methodist Chapel.
But warfare had unfinished business with the Matchett family. Walter, the youngest child was a casualty of World War Two.
Tom’s sister Sheila laying a wreath at the Parish War Memorial
My Uncle Harold gave my sister away in marriage as our Dad, Walter Matchett died in World Ward Two. So Grandma and Granddad survived three of their sons.
The brothers’ names are engraved upon the War Memorial at Ockbrook and also the Roll of Honour in Ockbrook ParishChurch. Tom retains printed Scrolls of Honour for his father and Uncle Wilf, and bronze wall plaques commemorating Uncles Thomas and Wilfred. He has a letter giving thanks for his father, from King George 6th and Queen Elizabeth.
Honours were paid – but the horror of losing three sons in wartime can scarcely be imagined…
Tom’s father, Walter, was born at Borrowash on 1stSeptember, 1908.
He was originally employed as a cotton spinner and later as a driver at the British Celanese factory in Spondon.
In 1911, he married Lucy West from Long Eaton.
The outbreak of the Second World War found 31 year old Walter serving in the Territorial Army.
He was one of the first to be called up for the duration and all the family watched as he walked up Kimberley Road, stopping and turning to wave as he got to the top. The following day, war was declared. We as kids didn’t realise the significance, though the mums had to be the breadwinners and mine was working for the war effort and maintaining the family by making aeroplane fuel tanks at Grundy’s Garage.
Meanwhile, Walter was shipped to France and served in the Royal Army Service Corps as batman/driver to a Brigadier. He experienced the evacuation of Dunkirk and was hospitalised in Kent before driving his boss home toYorkshire and returning to Borrowash for a long weekend.
Back at home, his young family experienced warfare at several removes:
There were a few gun sites in and around Borrowash; on Dale Road at Spondon, Simms’ Farm at Borrowash and a bigger AA battery at Elvaston. A bomb disposal unit was in the corner of Cole Lane and seeing guys in uniform, hearing the odd air raid siren ( as Derby was an occasional target ), stray bombs that always seemed to fall on local fields and the large unexploded bomb that fell in the grounds of the local Manor House, reminded us what it was all about.
After his brief leave, Walter was shipped out to the Middle East almost immediately; got heatstroke and died in August 1942. He was buried in Basra and the chaos of wartime did not allow for the usual time sequence accompanying death:
Mother had a letter from him at the end of July saying he was fine and not to worry; a letter from Army Records at Hastings saying he was dangerously ill followed by a telegram saying he had died and a letter from the nurse in charge of the hospital.
It was a brutal end to childhood.
With that telegram, I realised that I had suddenly become the man of the house at 12 years of age and that suddenly, I hated Hitler.
Lucy’s job at Grundy’s and a war widow’s pension, sustained a family of four.
She was subsequently employed as a cutter at the Baines-Everett bedding factory and won a share of £200 with her workmates in The Derby Telegraph’s ‘Cross the Ball’ competition.
Four years after Walter’s death, she married Edgar Thornton from Ockbrook and the couple had two more children.
Tom’s new stepfather was a market gardener; another member of the family who made his living from food.
Early education for the Matchett children took place at Borrowash Primary School under the aegis of the Miss Johns sisters – an experience that Tom appears to have enjoyed.
But Spondon House Secondary School was a different matter:
This was an introduction to male teachers for the first time – school dinners daily; school bus travel; annual sports days; bullying and beatings under the guise of discipline in education – but in today’s terminology it would be deemed as cruelty and physical abuse. No such things as a ‘Hands Off’ experience for some poor unfortunates who seemed to court disaster!
It was certainly a world away from the small and relatively sheltered Primary School and jumping over the school wall for lunch at home with Grandma!
Tom travelled to school by bus and his classmates came from villages and communities beyond Borrowash. New subjects enlivened the curriculum, including science and a foreign language but some aspects are akin to the abuse described in the 19th century novels of Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte:
The daily Assembly in the school yard was my first experience of listening to the ranting of the Deputy Head calling for silence from everyone. It was very difficult to achieve from several hundred youngsters, but after pacing up and down with his hands behind his back; glaring looks and then the horrible sound of a face being slapped with an open hand – there was a kind of terrified silence.
This was his chosen method of bringing proceedings to order and unfortunately, it was a fairly regular event when he was on duty, for most of my time at this school. Fortunately, I was never on the receiving end, but I do remember the lad from Chaddesden who often seemed to attract the bile of this master.
The death of school friend, Patsy Blackshaw was the saddest experience I ever faced at Spondon House.
Patsy lived across the road from Tom in Borrowash and her death was the result of a freaky and tragic accident, a falling tree in the school drive.
We’d had school lunch and then a couple of mates and myself went down to the local bakery for a penny sugar bun and whilst we were out it happened. We were confronted with the scene on coming back to school. The whole community was devastated, but for those of us who had grown up with Patsy it was even worse…
There were times of fun and comradeship outside school hours: swimming in the canal at Ullicker’s Bridge; ice-skating on the same canal in winter and tobogganing on the fields at Red Hills Farm:
Farmer, Rennie Naylor used to open up a couple of gates so that the sledge run was twice as far. It was a long way to walk back each time and you got wet if you were not able to avoid going in the brook at the bottom – but what great nights of fun – even with your clothes ending up frozen solid!
The Ockbrook and Borrowash Carnival was an annual highlight of village life with marching bands including the Breaston Highlanders, the Romany Rovers and the Derby Midshipmen.
Festivities culminated in a Saturday night dance in the Church Hut opposite the Ockbrook War Memorial. This was always a popular and over-subscribed event, but gatecrashers had short shrift, courtesy of a police officer who performed his duties in a unique fashion:
Bobby Starkey had a good right hand of a pacifier and many would -be gatecrashers from Spondon, Alvaston and surrounding areas found themselves recovering some time next morning in nearby ditches!
He was also the guy you went to if you wanted any sugar, petrol and tyres – all rationed – but available on the black market!
It was all stowed away in the air raid shelter at the front of Bloso House and he was the key holder! If there was ever any need to take shelter in the event of an air raid you wouldn’t be able to get in there as he’d crammed it full with goodies!
Another village event was the Christmas Pantomime, staged by the Ockash Players under the direction of Parish Council Clerk, Frank Smith.
The object was to raise money for charity:
It was almost professional and it toured all the surrounding areas for most of the winter months, raising thousands of pounds for charity. Frank was always the Dame in the panto; Edna Webster and Joan Garrett were Principal Boy and Girl. One year, I was a Babe and sang ‘little boy kneels at the foot of the bed’.
Frank Smith was also a Youth Club Leader and used his powers of persuasion to good effect:
The Youth Club ran a camping holiday at Willoughby on the Wolds in nearby Leicestershire for a few years on Atkinson’s Farm. Frank Smith arranged for the East Midlands Electricity Board to loop a connection from the nearby line to our marquee! Home comforts in the middle of a field!
But one trip was not distinguished by happy memories:
At the time of the myxematosis outbreak, we cycled from Borrowash to Willoughby on the Wolds counting the humps in the road as far as the eye could see. It was heart-breaking!
Tom and his friends were keen sportsmen, enjoying cricket:
As our skills improved, we managed to get a knock at the Ockbrook and Borrowash Cricket Club on the Queen’s Head ground and there were some very good local cricket players around at that time. If you were lucky enough to get into the team, there were travelling treats like Swarkestone, Breedon on the Hill and Darley Dale
We were blessed with some brilliant footballers; up to professional club trial standards and 1946/7 was our best year in my time.
Some of the amateur footballers are part of Borrowash sporting legend, like Brian Moore (a stolid full back), Keith Lees (who could head a ball further than most people could kick one), Macy Walchester (a brilliant and mercurial inside forward) and above all, Arthur Anderton.
He was a great defensive player who had a trial for Coventry City but sadly, this meant the end of his career, because ‘Nip’ took an injury from an opposition player…
And the Harrington Hunt at Elvaston Castle was a colourful part of local life:
It wasn’t as famous as the Quorn Hunt, but it was such an exciting time when they met in the village with all the hounds.
During this period, Tom developed an interest in fishing; first nurtured by Walter:
I used to go with my Dad – in fact I was using his tackle, left in the shed when he was called up to the army
In later years, a hobby became a passion and Tom represented England in major championships all across Europe and Scandinavia, but his delight in a spectacular catch in the River Derwent ranks alongside mature triumphs as Chairman of the British Conger Club.
I recall catching a very rare 2lb roach from the River Derwent, whilst fishing in the company of Billy Timmins (a steward at The Ex Serviceman’s Club) and Billy Walker from Victoria Avenue.
My spot was very close to the bridge on the Borrowash bank. I used maggot for bait and after many mediocre sessions, I hooked the big one and called for Bill Timmins to net it for me.
He was fishing just on the other side of the bridge so he quickly arrived and talked me through playing it patiently in the current and then when the fish had tired, he slipped the landing net under it and pulled it to the bank. Those two were so excited because a 2lb roach had been their objective for years. I just loved fishing!
Tom’s schooldays ended at 15 and he started work with Coates’; a Borrowash Butcher.
The duties had the advantage of being familiar, because he had worked for Coates’ as a Saturday boy, delivering weekend meat orders on a bicycle with a basket bigger than me on the front. The first time I tried to ride away from the shop, the weight was heavier than me and I ended up going over the handlebars!
It wasn’t the happiest introduction to the trade! Initially, Tom determined to become an electrician, only to be dissuaded by Mr Coates who must have seen some promise in the young school leaver!
It turned out to be probably the best career move I could have taken. My working life took me in several directions, but always being involved with meat, cooking and food retailing in particular.
The new job involved delivering meat to Ockbrook, Borrowash, Elvaston, Shardlow and Ambaston. When weather conditions permitted, these journeys were made by bicycle.
When they did not, the young employee used his initiative – or his good, firm sledge.
Little did I know that I would be pulling behind me weekend joints and mid week stews to these villages through snow 12 inches deep!
It took me the whole of one day to deliver the Wednesday morning round to ElvastonCastle gamekeeper, Mr Eaton and that was through the castle courtyards, out the back and across two fields!
Then on to Thulston down to the main A5 and on to Shardlow where I found Mrs Lowe with her head in the pillow, nursing the biggest nosebleed I’d ever seen! She told me not to worry – it happened like a relief tap from time to time caused by some kind of blood pressure after exertion. She had been clearing snow! I waited about 15 minutes for it to stop and Mrs Lowe said she would be all right.
‘Not to worry’ she said ‘My kitchen is worse than Coates’ slaughterhouse!
This was the beginning of Tom’s incredible journey:
On down Ambaston Lane where I had to find a gate the other side of a ditch and go to Spibey’s Farm. But I found the ditch first and disappeared up to my shoulders!
I managed to leave my hand basket and cash bag on the edge and looked up to see Farmer Spibey holding out a strong hand to hoist me out.
Then on to Ambaston village to my last call and a welcome cuppa before a 3 mile hike back to base at Coates’ shop.
‘Where have you been till now?!’ was the greeting, instead of ‘Are you all right, how did you manage?’
The winter of ’47 was merciless and eventually, the army was called out to hack and remove the packed ice from the main road; load it manually onto the backs of lorries which were then driven down Station Road and tipped into the River Derwent. It was a real arctic scene: ice floes drifting through the snow-covered fields.
Fortunately, Tom’s employers were kind-hearted because the sledge walk was superseded by car travel with a very prestigious chauffeur: the bosses’ wife, Ruth, every Friday afternoon.
Accompanying Tom on his rounds was eventful, and if Mrs Coates was hoping for a quiet country drive, she was in for a shock.
I helped the midwife deliver Betty Pearce’s baby – she was the Gamekeeper’s granddaughter – and then I delivered Mrs Cope’s pregnant daughter from Thulston to her anxiously waiting mother at Ambaston. And then a deer jumped over a hedge at Elvaston corner onto the bonnet of the car…
In 1948, after his 18th birthday, Tom was conscripted into the armed services. Conscription was statutory but some choice was allowed between the services. Tom opted for the Royal Navybecause it offered me the position of Ship’s Cook which included the nearest opportunity of at least some butchering.
On May 1st 1948, Thomas Walter Matchett became Assistant Cook, DMX875982 Of his Majesty’s Royal Navy.
The Royal Navy’s new recruit was extremely nervous as he stood on the station platform in Bathon May 16th 1948.
Tom had never spent more than a weekend away from home and was relieved to meet an equally apprehensive Terry Jones from Edinburgh:
We were to spend the next two years in the same mess-deck, both in barracks and on board ship and we became lifelong friends. Terry was a Celtic supporter to the core; dangerously so at times as I found out when I went with him when on leave to an ‘old firms game’. It really was a case of dodging the bottles and other missiles!
As we mustered at HMS Royal Arthur for the first time, there were chants from the new ratings, lining the roadway:
‘Wait till Phoebe gets you!’
Phoebe turned out to be the hairdresser and if you made fun of your classmates’ haircuts, you received an ‘up and over’ scalping, so it was prudent to be silent and be rewarded with a short back and sides!
Six weeks’ later, Tom transferred to HMS Drake for Cookery School training and then, after a further six weeks, it was on to the Gallery where it was a real induction in cooking for a couple of thousand men every day, using oil-fired ovens, pressurised steam lockers and boilers which was a real experience for a butcher from a little village.
At the end of 1949, Tom joined Aircraft Carrier Indefatigable in the Home Fleet, journeying to the Mediterranean between various Flag Showing trips around UK resorts. One of these wasPlymouth, an emergency stop with an appendicitis case from my mess deck, Scouse McCabe.
Tom and Terry popped into the NAAFI for a pint and then took a stroll on Plymouth Hoe, where a chance encounter was to have lifelong consequences:
She was a cashier in a Co-op Butchers’, of all coincidences and for the remainder of my time in Plymouth, all my days off were spent with Audrey and her family.
Just before I left the Navy, we became engaged. I took the time-honoured ritual of asking her Dad for permission to marry his daughter, but I must have been reasonably confident because I’d purchased a ring earlier on a trip ashore in Weymouth!
Tom was described by his Divisional Officer as:
A sound rating, who is an exceptionally good cook and who would be an asset to the royal Navy if he could be persuaded to accept a long term engagement.
But marriage – and Borrowash beckoned.
Tom returned to his old job with Coates’ with additional responsibilities:
Food rationing restriction was lifted, allowing more 10 pennyworths of fresh meat and 2 pennyworths of corned meat per customer. We still used frozen New Zealand Lamb but stopped stocking bags of frozen Argentinean beef. Those butchers who had registered slaughtering facilities prior to wartime restriction were able to re-open these facilities and start buying and slaughtering their own choice of animal breeds. I had additional training as a slaughter man; obtained a firearms certificate to enable me to use a Humane Captive Bolt Pistol; we re-opened the shop in Ockbrook and Denis Webster became manager.
And Mr Coates invested in a van, so bicycle and sledge deliveries were history.
Tom and Audrey got married on September 1952 at St Mark’s Church, Ford. Albert Anderton was best man and Parish Clerk Frank Smith made the journey from Borrowash.
A first home for the newlyweds came courtesy of Tom’s job.
Mr Coates had purchased a little cottage at 65, Victoria Avenue and we had a service tenancy agreement. We were so lucky to start married life under our own roof!
There was a two hundred square yard rear garden overlooking the fields, owned by Frank Cotton the farm
er and a greenhouse with coke heating. I soon established a chicken house and run and rabbits which I used to raise when I lived at Gran’s. We were fairly self-sufficient – and even more so when I acquired a similar sized allotment just across the Avenue behind the Ex Servicemen’s Club.
Life became an exercise in home-making with leisure spent in the garden; the greenhouse and the allotment. The men enjoyed a chinwag between allotment grafting and their wiveswalked to join us, bringing flasks of coffee.
One of the old boys who spent a lot of time yapping but never seemed to have a patch of his own was Arthur (‘Mushy’) Middleton.
Tom caught him red-handed sitting on my bench, engaged in removing my broad beans from their shells and throwing the shells on my compost heap!
Mushy was a First World War veteran and his wife, Annie, who specialised in collecting horse manure with a dustpan and brush, claimed that her Arthur came direct on leave from Pachendale and got into bed with the mud from the trenches still on his boots!
In 1953, some of Tom’s vegetables were placed first and second in the annual gardening competition, but the triumph was soured because his shallots came nowhere, when I felt that they were better than any on display.
He felt sufficiently confident in the shallots to query the judgement, but was told that I had only displayed a plate of eight when it should have been nine. Audrey confessed that she had dropped them prior to plating and one had rolled under the piano. She didn’t think it would matter, bless her!
Work at Coates’ was busier than ever, after the deregulation of the meat trade.
There was an extraordinary increase in work because not only did we have an excellent reputation for fresh meat, but the poultry quality had also been excellent so, in addition to the usual meat, there was additional fresh poultry to contend with. We not only had to source it, we had to slaughter it. We de-feathered or plucked each single turkey, chicken, fowl, duck, goose and partridge by hand until our fingers were raw.
Sometimes the work was conducted off premises:
I recall having to drive up to Jack Steven’s farm on The Ridings at Ockbrook at 10 o’clock at night, a week before Christmas to collect some chickens Mr Coates had bought earlier. When Roy Higginbottom and I arrived, Jack Stevens looked out of his bedroom window and shouted ‘they’re all ready for you in that barn there lads!’
What he didn’t say was that they were loose and perching so we had to catch them first and I think we got home after midnight! Mrs Coates used to eviscerate and dress every single bird with sprigs of parsley and sage and when they were put on display on the marble slab in the shop window, they looked mouth wateringly perfect – they were, I recall, photographed for the press! I was worn out and it had been a lot of extra work but it was very satisfying!
Tom and Audrey’s’ son was born in 1953 at The Women’s Hospital in Friargate Derby and was named Tommy in keeping with the family tradition for a firstborn son.
But the retirement of Don Coates and his replacement by Richard Coates from Loughborough meant that it was time for Tom to reassess his career prospects.
Audrey was delighted to return to Plymouthand her old job at the Co-op. This led to Tom’s interview with Bert Mills and when I discovered that that the Deputy Manager of the Butchery Department had a policy of using only the best available quality meat, I recognised that it would be a pleasure to stand behind it and supply customers with meat that would give satisfaction. I s
tarted to build a career with the Society.
Looking back, Tom acknowledges that it turned out to be a tremendous career for a young lad who stared work as a butcher’s boy for Don Coates more than a lifetime ago.
Audrey and Tom had a full and happy marriage with children, grandchildren and many career and sporting successes. Sadly in 2002, Audrey was admitted permanently into a nursing home, having had a leg amputated due to diabetes and suffering from the inexorable progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
For the first time in 50 years of marriage, we had become separated. Our Golden Wedding was celebrated in Derriford hospital; our son David had remarried and a group photograph was taken within the hospital. Audrey knew very little of either event.
Despite the inevitable heartache of Audrey’s; illness, Tom speaks highly of the attention she received at Bickleigh Down CareHospital, on the edge of Dartmoor:
I visited every day bar about half a dozen in those years and friends and family used to say to me: ‘Tom, take a break once in a while. Audrey doesn’t realise you are there or who you are,’ but my reply was always ‘That may be so, but I know who she is’. She passed away, very peacefully in my arms on August 10th 2009, exactly one week after her 81st birthday and after 57 years of a very happy marriage.
Three years’ later, Tom still lives in the Plymouth bungalow he shared with Audrey after retirement.
I had a front and back garden and was able to get stuck into gardening for the first time since leaving Borrowash – although this time, its flowers only; no vegetable or livestock allowed under the terms of the deeds.
He keeps in touch with an old childhood friend, Lily Pidgeon from Borrowash and thinks very often of other Borrowash friends; all those wonderful years of friendship and the memories we created, through school days and neighbour days and growing up days.
It has been a full life and although without Audrey, sometimes I feel like one of the fish I caught must have felt – out of water; I still live in the same place, still sit on my little walls and tend the garden.
He retains his zest and anticipates a future with a few twists and turns yet to come.
Life is still sweet…