Wednesday 14 November 2018

The Story of Oliver James Stannett in his own word - Part Four

Dad got a job on the Thames Conservancy repairing Boveney Lock gates. They had finished the gates and had to repair the path with bags of cement and fill in behind them to make up the path. All the materials were brought in by barge.

One day they were waiting for the barge to arrive so decided to have their lunch. P. C. Pheasant came along to see what we were doing. There were planks going out on to the barge with a couple of wheelbarrows. P. C. Pheasant walked out to the end of the plank and looked into the river. Dad put his foot against the end of the plank and pushed and P. C. Pheasant fell into the river. Then a couple of men pulled him out. Without a word he got onto his bike and went home. I think Dad was a bit too artful for our P.C. Anyway P. C. Pheasant left Eton Wick as he was made inspector for a small place in the Midlands.

But there is one thing I must tell you which might have had some bearing on his attitude towards us. Just across the stream at the bottom of our garden was a small fever hospital for Eton College boys. There was a high hedge with poplar trees all round it so it was a hard job to get in. We had to be content with the apples that were overhanging.

We were there one day when we saw P. C. Pheasant coming across the common. We all bolted to the sewage farm and of course P. C. Pheasant had to follow. There was a big bank with sluice gates so that the whole field could be covered. Every fifty yards was a sluice gate. Several of the covers had rotted. We ran along the top of the bank. I looked round but P. C. Pheasant had disappeared. We stopped and then saw him coming out of the gate. He had gone in up to his waist. We disappeared. My Mum and Dad had a good laugh about it. Of course, he had his leg pulled unmercifully by the villagers but none knew how it happened. I think he was rather glad to get away from there.

One day when I was twelve years old Mum gave me tuppence (2d.) and asked me to go to W. Hearne, the shoe repairer's shop and get Dad two pairs of boot laces. The shop was situated next to The Grapes public house. I ran to the shop and went inside but there wasn't anybody there.

I shouted a couple of times but nobody came. As the laces were hanging up in bunches so that one could pull them out I decided to go round the counter and get two pairs. I thought of leaving the tuppence on the counter but decided against it in case someone came in and picked it up.

So I pulled out the till to put the tuppence in and got the shock of my life! A bell started ringing in the back room. Mr. Hearne came dashing in, "Ha! Caught you," he said. I stood there and started to explain but he would not listen. He said, " Stop there, I will fetch the village constable." So I waited about ten minutes. I could have run away but didn't. So I was taken to the Windsor police station. I was put in a cell. Dad came to see me and I was taken home.

The case came up a fortnight later and I was found guilty and ordered to have six strokes of the birch. I have never forgotten it. You see when I walked in there were blood stains all over the walls and floor. I had to lay on a table and the punishment was administered by a very large policeman. I didn't want any more like that.

I cannot understand why my mother never gave evidence for me. Anyway three weeks after Hearne sold his shop and bought a taxi. He must have found that I had not taken any money when he counted the money in the till so he packed up the repair business.

This is the only conclusion I can come to after thinking about it over the years. 

This is an extract from the autobiography written by Oliver James Stannett (1903 - 1988) and republished here with the kind permission of his relatives who still live in Eton Wick.

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