Kilns would horrify today's officials

HEALTH and safety experts would fall of their chairs (wearing the correct protective clothing of course!) at the idea of a schoolboy working as a lime burner or driving a farm lorry.

HEALTH and safety experts would fall of their chairs (wearing the correct protective clothing of course!) at the idea of a schoolboy working as a lime burner or driving a farm lorry.

These were part of everyday life for one Suffolk man who was born in Coddenham in 1931.

Fred Peck of Eddows Road, Barham, told me of his childhood, working at the lime kilns and chalk pits which were once on the Needham Road at Coddenham.

Fred's address as a boy was The Hollows, Lime Kiln, Coddenham.

He said: “My dad Charlie Peck was head lime burner at Coddenham lime kilns for around 20 years. From the age of about eight until I was 14 I used to go to the kilns after school, at weekends and at holiday times, helping out with the carting from the pits of the chalk for burning in the kilns to make lime. The part of the job I enjoyed most, was carting the chalk from the pits ready for burning. My dad used to allow me to ride on the horse's back on the return journey to the pits when the tumbrel was empty.

“It was hard work to extract chalk from the pits as it was done by hand. I used to help uncover the chalk, which meant removing the soil by pick and shovel until the chalk appeared. Then with iron bars and picks the chalk was broken free to fall down to the bottom of the pits, to be collected and taken to the kilns. All we had to transport the chalk was our faithful horse Duke and a tumbrel. Duke was not only used for carting the chalk, but was used to pull a water cart from a pump to Hill Farm, Coddenham Green as there was no water supply. I used to plead with my dad to let me go with him to the stable, very early in the mornings when it was dark, to feed Duke.

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“One winter's morning, when we only had a candle for light we found a local tramp asleep under a large heap of hay. I was scared, but my father told me not to be frightened of this well-known Suffolk character Teddy Goode, who often slept in the barn during the winter months. He earned his money on the local farms.

“I used to help my dad to prepare to fire or light the kiln. To start the fire we first needed plenty of straw and wood. We then started the process of laying one layer of coal and then one layer of chalk until the kiln was full. By the following day the chalk had been heated by the fire and was now converted to lime, which I helped to extract from the four openings at the base of the kiln.”

“The lime, after cooling off, was put into bags ready to be collected by contractors and delivered to the building industry locally. Lime was also used to spread on the fields to sweeten the soil. After a time a new grinding mill was installed and put into operation and I used to help with the grinding of the lime from its raw state, turning it into powder form then put into thick brown paper bags. This was also collected by contractors.

“A lorry was used from Hill Farm by the operator of the business Christopher Miles, I used to help transport the chalk from the pits in its raw state to many different locations across Suffolk and Norfolk delivering as far as Caister-on-Sea in Norfolk. The chalk was spread from the lorry by hand with a shovel. We didn't have any mechanical spreaders.

“Quite often during my summer holidays the lorry driver, Mr Percy Prentice of Needham Market, used to spread the chalk onto the fields and meadowland while I slowly drove the lorry, I was only about eleven years old. We had great times together and for me those were days of great excitement.”

“Around 1942 were dangerous times as the country was at war. Children who lived in the area used to congregate around the lime kilns. Enemy aircraft on low flying missions would shoot at anybody they saw. One day we children were near to the lime sheds when we heard an aircraft coming very low and my dad very quickly ushered us children under cover. How thankful we were, for the aircraft was firing bullets just where we had been standing and it was only by the grace of God that none of us were killed or injured. Bullets came through the roof. My bicycle, which was standing against a post, had one bullet go straight through the crossbar.

“Each night during war time galvanised sheets had to be used to cover over the tops of the kilns, for when the fires broke through it lit up the sky and my dad and I were reminded a number of times, by the village policeman Pc Buck, that the lights from the kilns would be an advantage to enemy aircraft, so we both had to go to the kilns in the dark and place more sheets over the flames, these were very eventful days.

“In 1942 my life was spared again. I was a pupil at Needham Market Area School and we were bombed by German aircraft. The bomb landed in the school playground close to the main street. I suffered a cut head and again my school bicycle, which the education authority provided for us in those days, had a piece of shrapnel or a bullet rip open the rim of the front wheel.”

There will be a reunion for pupils who left Westbourne School, Ipswich in 1957 at the Suffolk Punch, Ipswich on July 20.

Organiser Elizabeth Montgomery from Gosport said “We will be having a reunion for all the boys and girls that left Westbourne School in 1957. I have arranged three since 1993, but this will be the big one as it is fifty years on. Who would have thought it, on that summer day in July 1957, all of us then just fifteen-years-old would be planning to meet up again.”

The reunion will be held at the Suffolk Punch, Norwich Road, in the upstairs room at 7.30pm with a bar and food.

You can contact Elizabeth on 02392503272, or email lizziemont@hotmail.com

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