Grandad Ally (Legge): Part Six
July 3rd 1926 was a tragic day for grandad Ally, Gran Mary and all the Legge family. Grandad told me the story saying that he was digging on his farm over the Decoy on this day when a little Robin came and perched on the handle of his Shovel (spade). He immediately dropped the shovel and walked briskly back to Southery as he felt that something tragic had happened at home. As he neared home he was met by a neighbour who told him that his five year old daughter Joyce had wandered into the side of a nearby pond, slipped face first into the shallow water, had suffocated, and was drowned.
Her funeral took place at Southery, St Mary the Virigin, Church on July 7th at 3.45pm. She was buried in the cemetery at the back of the church and many years after I remember my Gran Mary taking me to the spot where little Joyce had been interred. Little Joyce’s middle name was Kathleen, one of grandad Ally’s sisters was also named Kathleen, and I wonder if Little Joyce was behind his love of the song, ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen’. My mum kept in her private box the memorial card used at little Joyce’s funeral plus another card which had printed on it, ‘This lovely bud so young, so fair, Call’d home by early doom, Came but to show how sweet a flower In Paradise could bloom.
The ‘true Fenman’
It has been said that the ‘true Fenman’ originated from Spanish gypsies who came over to East Anglia to farm the land. They were described as having jet black hair with a long hooked nose. These were grandad’s exact features. He also had what was called eagle eyes – he could spot a rabbit, pheasant, partridge or a pigeon a mile away. Grandad was not particularly tall, probably about five feet nine inches in height, and he was lean, no doubt through hard work, and also very agile. He regularly enjoyed a pint of mild at the Old White Bell pub, one of eight or nine pubs in the village at that time. He also enjoyed a game of dominoes with the locals, they played either ‘honest john’ or fives and threes. When Dad and Mum became landlord and landlady of the Crown & Anchor pub in the village in 1954 grandad spent many an hour in the bar over a pint of mild telling customers a tale or two which was so very much part of his character, he was a great story teller and would have people in stitches laughing.
After grandad retired he suggested that we make a Fen Punt similar to the ones used for duck shooting on the washes and in the rivers years gone by. And so one day we decided to have a go so off we went to Ryston Hall in my little grey minivan to find Harold Holman the estate gamekeeper who he knew well. A priority of grandad’s when making the boat was to have the front of the boat fitted with a large piece of shaped oak selected because the wood was hard and strong.
We came away from the estate’s wood yard with the required piece of oak which had been cut to the shape grandad wanted with the circular saw at the wood yard. Long wooden boards about an inch thick and six or seven inches wide were then bought from the local carpenters shop, run by Bill Flack and Jack Stubbing, (which was on the ‘Stocks Corner’ at the top of Common Lane and next to the Blacksmith’s workshop) together with various other sizes of pieces of wood. We constructed the Punt boat to grandad’s specifications in a galvanised building owned by a neighbour Mr Tom Brown who lived the other side of the road to grandad’s bungalow.
Spending hours together
We spent hours together with grandad standing alongside telling me how to construct the boat. Eventually it was completed and the final essential task was to line the bottom of the boat and all the joints with ‘pitch’ which was a thick ‘tar’. We fitted some rowlocks to the boat and our next door neighbour at the Crown and Anchor, Mr Thornton the village garage owner, gave us a pair of oars. The Punt was taken by tractor and trailer down to the Ferry Boat Inn where it was put in the Great Ouse River and there it spent the rest of its days moored to the river bank. It was occasionally used for fishing or getting across to the opposite side bank near the Ferry Boat Inn.
Many years ago I wrote a little verse about our Great Ouse River, it went, ‘Great Ouse, a fisherman’s paradise, its waters are treasured like gold, who knows but a true Fenman the secrets that its waters hold’.
My Dad loved his fishing, he was a good course fisherman and fished the Great Ouse, Little Ouse and his favourite fishing venue the Sedge Fen Drain. I spent many hours watching my Dad fish particularly in the local Club competitions. I think it was near the time that my Dad had been fishing in his Club’s Christmas competition, the ‘Fur and Feather’, that I thought about writing a little verse to go with some photographs I had taken of the Southery Club’s fishing members during this club match. I’m sure grandad Ally was also somewhere in the back of my mind when I wrote it.
Grandad was taken very ill on the 4th April 1967 and an ambulance was called to take him to Ely hospital. He died in the ambulance along the way. It was said that his last breath was near the Ferry Boat Inn which is alongside the Great Ouse River, the river which provided him and his family with some of their weekly food. If this is true then it was a fitting place for grandad Ally to join his Maker.
A poem dedicated to my Dad, Granddad Ally and all the Southery Fishing Club Members and friends:
Great Ouse, an Anglers Paradise
Whose waters are treasured like Gold
Who knows but a true Fen Man
The Secrets that its Waters hold