Oral History Interviews

Free Time in Dorset in 70/80s

On this oral history interview you can hear memories of growing up in Sherborne, Dorset and travelling to Dorchester, Yeovil or Crewkerne for his leisure time.

Hear about everyday activities like climbing trees and building dens. Of not making arrangements to go out to play, just calling round to the house, give a knock and off they’d go. Playing Monopoly, Scrabble, The Great Escape, or watching TV, especially John Craven’s news-round and Crackerjack.

Of growing up in Sherborne, “a well run town”. Joining the youth club, and going to pubs. Ending up as an adult and how he enjoys his leisure time.

Taylor-D portraitMe and my mate Adrian, at the age of 10 to 14 would go off into the woods of Sherborne and climb trees and build dens. We’d be gone all day, go back home for tea, and then go out again. It was great fun.

Saturday was a bit boring when we had to go shopping, usually about once a month. We’d go to Dorchester, Yeovil or Crewkerne. Dorchester was a quiet town when I was about 15/16. I remember the Antelope Hotel and the coffee houses.

I went to Europe when I was about 18 and the only place I could get my travelling kit was the Gt Western camping shop. I bought all my stuff there. I sailed from Weymouth when Sealink was there. The other day I went to Jersey on the Condor: it was a great experience and I realised that it was 31 years ago when I last went.

Interesting place Dorchester…very quiet. When I was a kid there were very few cars and everyone knew everyone, so someone always knew where you were. We had freedom.  We were safe….things did happen, but we weren’t aware of them.

There is nothing better than to see a group of kids having a good time, and laughing together. I noticed the other day some kids in the Wild Gardens building a den, and I thought ‘great”. Recently there was a group playing in the bushes in Borough Gardens, having a great time and laughing.

We used to swim in the river. We’d get a log and sail down river on it. And it was warm! Summers seemed warm. 1976 was really hot. 1977 was Jubilee Year and we drew flags at school.

We didn’t make arrangements to go out to play, we’d just call round to the house, give a knock and off we’d go.

I used to babysit my sisters and younger brother, mostly at night-time when I would be at home. I never thought of this as a chore. We used to watch TV….a little B/W set. We were restricted to one hour a night. We’d save up to watch a film, that was two nights viewing. We’d watch John Craven’s news-round and Crackerjack, and we’d time them from start to finish and add up the time. I liked Take Hart too. We all listened to the radio a lot, Radio 4. We had speakers in every room, even the bathroom. It was all plumbed in. I did a lot of study…maths and stuff. It was important to get good grades even though jobs were two a penny. I could leave a job on Friday and start another on Monday. That was 1979/1981. In 1982 there was another recession but I was already in hotels by then….went to Salisbury and then London.

I remember the 4 day week and the strikes. I was about 12/13 years old. I remember coffee being very expensive, because a plantation crop had failed. They started putting chicory in the coffee and it was horrible. A small box was about twelve and a half pence which was quite a lot .

I remember the changeover to decimalisation. We learnt imperial and metric and I can still convert easily from one to the other. I got 6d a week pocket money, which became 20 new pence. They tried to bring the speed limit into kms but that was a step too far, it never happened.

We used to play a lot of board games, I was very competitive. Played with my sister Monopoly, Scrabble, The Great Escape….brilliant games. My favourite was Great Railway Journey of Britain. That was a great game. Didn’t like football so never played Subbuteo. I liked rugby. Used to collect the Shell World Cup coins. And Trumps, cards you bought in different catagories, and then did ‘swapsies’ at school with the ones you already had. Other games in the school playground… Beating each  other up (laughter)! I did a lot of running…used to run for the school. There were boys games and girls games. The girls used to do a lot of skipping and walking about. Boys used to go and smoke out the back. But I used to go home at lunchtime because I lived near. Used to have sandwich and a drink….my friends lived near school as well. So we didn’t have much  time to play at lunchtime.

I was a cub and a scout…used to meet once a week to do badges and other activities. We’d go away camping. It was ok but a bit archaic and cold. Used to play tag and leapfrog.

About the ages of 14-18  we all went to Youth Club at Top o’ Town and that was great. Used to have disco at top of Cheap Street, where the Art Centre is now. There was a tuck shop and we’d meet people.

We’d go in pubs at 14-15. We’d wear a jacket and tie so we could get served. The Kings Head was a place we’d go. My mate was 18-19 and he looked older, so as long as we were quiet, we got away with it. I would drink bitter….it was horrible but I felt I had to. At the Half Moon you could drink at 16-17. Sherborne was a well run town. Inspector  Denney ruled the town with a rod of iron. Step out of line and he would smack you around the back of the head and march you home to tell your parents what you’d been up to. Then you’d get another b******* and be sent upstairs. I was always in trouble but it was great growing up in Sherborne.

Then I went to college in Salisbury so didn’t have much leisure time. I was doing evening waiting and cooking. Weekend evenings I did cooking. Also had evening classes at college for restaurant waiting, where we served members of the public. In the summer holidays I worked in hotels in Salisbury and Wales. I was in Pembrokeshire working in a family run hotel. A great place with a private beach, drink what you like, eat what you like. It’s still going today. I got my first job when I was 18 in Lyme Regis.

My best mate is from  those early times. I was best man at his wedding  and I’m godfather to his third son. Still see him and speak on the phone and we are good friends.

When we become adult, our work becomes our leisure. I socialised with my colleagues. In catering and retail, the busiest times are Christmas, New Year and summer holidays, so you don’t see your family so much.

There was a lot going on in the 70/80’s, but I thought it was a dark place in the 70’s.

In Sherborne, we didn’t have much money to spend on the fashion and Sherborne wasn’t the place to wear it. I used to go to London for the day and it was a shock to see all of the unusual sights and fashions .

When I was 18 our free time could be a nightclub, come back late, then get up early for the breakfast service,  still drunk.

Burton’s and Top Man  were around. Buying clothes was easy because there was easy credit. Credit cards and debit cards were a new thing. You could spend what you liked because it was ‘free money’. In fact the APR was 29%

I bought my first house when I was about 34/35, you never bought only rented. The job tied you in because you could have a room in the hotel, or you had rooms.

I was a punk and it was easy to get the look, a few rips an d safety pins and you were done. In the mod days you could get a suit from Oxfam. Platforms were in for boys and bell bottoms.

I’m not a fan of shopping. If I need something I’ll just get it and that is that. It’s changed now because my leisure shopping is for food. I go to Waitrose  and look for ingredients and plan what I’m going to cook. On a Sunday I’ll cook from 10.30 to  3 preparing a meal, listening to Radio 4. When I was young we were all involved in the kitchen. I used to make things like elderflower pop and I still do collect elder flowers and sloes to make things.

When I was 33/34 I moved back to Dorchester from Africa. I stayed with my sister on Portland, saw old friends in Dorchester, met my other half and decided to settle in Dorchester.

Just going back to the club scene when I was younger, there was always something going on, but you had to find it. There was a disco at Blades in Somerton: the Taps Hotel in Milborne Port, which was off the wall, really wild. (You had to walk there from Sherborne and walk home). These were on about once a month.

My leisure now involves a lot of political work and I do a lot of charity work. We go to restaurants: I enjoy the Comedy club and we go to the cinema (the Plaza, naturally).


  1. Mike Smith

    Never a Kings Head in Sherborne,I expect you’re thinking of the Queens Head on Coldharbour . Police inspectors name was Clive Dennet. Taps at Milborne was open most nights.I was born at The swan in Cheap St in ’46 we left in ’74 ,my grandfather first took the pub in 1929

  2. Dave Beer (Read).

    Mike, did you go to St Aldhelms, by any chance?

  3. melanie Day

    I remember going to the Taps hotel. it was owned then by mr marks, went to school with his daughter Julia marks

    • Ron

      I took Julia to see the movie love story very sad film we laughed all the way through

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