Precious memories helping to create a record of city life
TONY Lethbridge had only turned up to give a talk on speedway to the St Thomas Local History Group – and now he's chairman.
It only goes to underline what a friendly, welcoming bunch of individuals go to make up the group which meets regularly at the St Andrew's church hall, off Alphington Road.
It also helped that Tony, who actually lives across the river in far away Pennsylvania, has strong family links with St Thomas, a community that has always seen itself as slightly different to the rest of the city – a feeling that is reinforced for everyone passing under the railway bridge into Cowick Street.
Tony's family ran the well-known poulterers near the Exe Bridge at 138 Cowick Street.
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Said Tony: "I have always had a real interest in local history but in fact I had only come along after I was invited to give a talk of the history of speedway, which of course is very close to the hearts of those in St Thomas because of the old County Ground.
"I enjoyed it so much, it was such a nice group of people and such good fun that I joined up. That was about two years ago now. It is a very informal group with Christine Trigger, the local historian, very much a driving force.
"We do all sorts of things. We have popular walks around St Thomas and recently went around looking at the areas that were hit during the bombing blitz of Exeter in 1942. Parts of St Thomas, especially Okehampton Street, were quite badly affected.
"There is also my own family connections with J Lethbridge and Son, which was started by Joseph Lethbridge in 1912, in Lion's Terrace which was opposite the Crawford Hotel in Alphington Road.
"They then moved to Cowick Street and when the new bridge was being built they operated from a temporary shop set up in the railway arches across the road.
"Nearly all the people who come along to the group have memories of being brought up in St Thomas, going to school here, remember all the old shops, businesses and so on.
"We are all able to bring something to these memories. We are dealing with nostalgia I suppose but it is real memories that are able to add to the sum total of recent history."
The group started in May 2009 with founder member Christine Trigger, who has lived in St Thomas all her life, a regular ever since.
"We started at various venues, notably the Cowick Barton but we eventually came to St Andrews and it is the ideal place," she said.
"It is a very friendly group and everyone has connection or has lived here. We all have slightly different memories of different things so that we can all add to the total with bits and pieces.
"I am an Exonian and have lived in St Thomas all my life. I was born at Haldon View – apparently the chimney there caught fire as I was being born, although I am not sure what that means!"
Raymond Clarke was born in Whipton but after living in St Thomas for over half a century he feels he is beginning to belong!
He and his wife Joyce who live in Dorset Avenue and daughter Tracy Frankum – who was born in St Thomas, married at Emmanuel Church and now lives in Cowick Street – are regulars at the group.
Raymond said: "We were at St Thomas Methodist Church where we met Jack Lemon, a founder of the group, and he suggested we come along. It is a very friendly group and it is great to hear about the different memories of St Thomas. We can add a few ourselves."
Diana Beasley, 79, lived in the family home at Ferndale Road before moving to Blenheim Road, which is just on the border of St Thomas and Alphington .
She said: "I have lived here all my life and went to the old Broadway School in Cowick Lane for a short while before it closed in 1938. I can remember all the old shops in St Thomas, going along to Coopers for the groceries. It was and still is a wonderfully interesting area.
"I also belong to the Exeter Local History Group, the Alphington group and the Civic Society.
"Exeter's history is so fascinating and it is wonderful to hear that history come alive through people's memories.
"It really is living history."