Memories of a Sidmouth childhood

Diana returns to her first love - Sidmouth - and remembers the Sidford school she attended

Born in Sidmouth, and after almost a lifetime away from the Sid Valley, Diana Matthews and her husband Alan have returned to live in Sidford, moving back in 2009 from Bristol.

Reading Nostalgia, and with experience of writing more than 100 touring articles, former PA Diana this week offers her own memories of a Sidmouth childhood.

“In August 1952 I made myself a promise. I was nine years old and about to be transplanted, very reluctantly, from Sidmouth to Totnes. It might as well have been the other side of the moon. I was distraught and vowed that, when I was grown-up, I would come back to live in Sidmouth. It’s taken me 59 years, but here I am!

I was born in 1942 in the home of my maternal grandparents (the Colquhouns), where my mother was staying while my father was away in the war. The house, in Lower Wheathill, was called “Luss” after the family seat of the Colquhoun clan in Scotland. I would love to know if my grandparents built the house or simply renamed it after their arrival. It’s now called Maple Cottage.

After the war, we moved to Malden Road. It was just a short cul-de-sac then, with a gate at the bottom which led into marshy fields where we used to play. Opposite our house was an overgrown building plot (“the wilderness”) beyond which lived my other grandparents (the Cadogans) in a bungalow then called “Wayside” (now “Anchorage”). This had a big garden with a pond at the bottom and an island on which a moorhen nested.

My brother and sister (Peter and Judy) were both born in Malden Road and we all went to the lovely little kindergarten which was run by the Misses Cooke in High Street, Sidford. It was just a residential house (called “Lindrick”) but the standard of teaching there was second to none.

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One of my happiest memories is of sitting under the apple tree playing Happy Families – in French – at the age of five. Just before we left Sidmouth, the school moved to St. Martin’s and it never seemed quite the same after that.

A short walk along the main road took us to a track which led into fields (where Sidmouth College now is, I think) and then over a little footbridge to Fortescue. We were afraid of the bullocks in the fields and used to scamper through as fast as we could go!

Sometimes we would walk with my father all the way through the Byes down to the sea – I remember the rustle of autumn leaves and the excitement of finding conkers, not to mention seeing the stormy seas breaking over the promenade and then the novelty of the journey home on top of a double-decker bus. The original Toast-Rack used to run then, taking people up and down Peak Hill.

Just round the corner from Malden Road lived Dr. Dick Michelmore, a young doctor and single then. We children loved him as he played riotous games with us. We called him Dicter Doc and were fascinated by the amount of Marmite he could get through!

Next door to us lived the Mills family. Margaret Mills continued to live there until about six years ago. She now lives at Holmesley and celebrated her 101st birthday recently. I visit her quite often – we have lively conversations and I love to hear about all her memories.

One of our favourite outings as children was to the swings at Sidford, and they are still there, just a couple of hundred yards from the house where my husband Alan and I live now. A similar distance away is the Blue Ball, where we came with my family to celebrate my 50th birthday in late1992, none of us dreaming then that within 20 years I would have transplanted myself back here once more. How delighted my parents would be, if only they knew.

It may have taken me 59 years to get here, but I am absolutely thrilled to be back. If anyone remembers me or any of my family, I would love to hear from them. People whose names I remember include John Nye, Betty Pile, Gillian Puckett, Catherine St. Cin, Alan Wardrop … I wonder if any of them are lucky enough still to be living in Sidmouth.”

Diana (Dee) Matthews, n�e Cadogan

*If you remember Diana, she can be contacted by writing to 3 Ballard Grove, Sidford. EX10 9EP or calling (01395) 514438.