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Feather's Miscellany: The Madcap Pedwars

...Just then the Pedwar brothers and their friends decided to have one of their ‘dares’. It was George’s turn to carry out a ‘dare’ He was dared to drop onto the bare back of the great Shire horse dozing under the tree they were in. They’d seen the cowboy Roy Rogers do just that, dropping onto his horse, Trigger, in a movie the previous week...

In this delicious tale John Waddington-Feather tells of the exploits of the madcap Pedwar brothers.

Jack and George Pedwar were known as the Terrible Twins down Garlic Lane. They weren’t twins really; in fact, there was eighteen months between them and George was the younger - and the bigger. He was a huge baby, almost Jack’s weight when he was born, and he grew proportionately as they grew up. By the time George was eighteen he was six feet four inches tall and weighed almost seventeen stones, but at ten and twelve they were much of a size and there was no mistaking they were brothers.

They got into all sorts of scrapes as they grew up; quite innocently; the sort all schoolboys get into and there was nothing delinquent about them. They were simply victims of boyhood circumstance. For example, there was the time when Jack Hutchins’s Shire horse ploughed its way across a newly mowed pitch at the Keighworth Cricket Club.

Known as Black Jack in Keighworth because he never washed and had a bit of gypsy in him, Jack Hutchins was a well known character in the town. He’d a mop of black, tangled hair and a powerful frame, and he earned his living breaking in Shire horses and selling them. He also had a horse and cart which he hired to Keighworth Council, working mainly on the roads doing heavy manual work.

Black Jack had come to Keighworth from the wilds of Cumberland many years before and settled in one of the streets off Garlic Lane. He was a hard worker and very popular in the town. His horses were in great demand during and just after the war when petrol was scarce, and Jack kept them in a field just below the cricket field on the edge of town.

In the middle of summer, one hot, Friday evening one of Black Jack’s horses sought the shade of a large oak tree growing just over the wall from the cricket field. The day had been unusually hot and members of the cricket club had toiled all evening in their shirt sleeves getting the pitch ready for the morrow’s game. The field was immaculate. They’d worked like slaves all evening mowing the outfield and trimming and rolling the pitch till it was like a billiard table top – and all by hand for petrol was still rationed.

Adjacent to the cricket field was the rugby league field with its stand and bar; and it was to the bar the weary, sweaty, cricket club members retired to buy their well earned pints of beer, returning with them to the pavilion to chat in the evening sunshine and regard their labour.

Just then the Pedwar brothers and their friends decided to have one of their ‘dares’. It was George’s turn to carry out a ‘dare’ He was dared to drop onto the bare back of the great Shire horse dozing under the tree they were in. They’d seen the cowboy Roy Rogers do just that, dropping onto his horse, Trigger, in a movie the previous week.

So, picture the scene: a docile, sleepy cart-horse flicking away the flies round his ears and lazily swishing his tail, dreaming of lush meadows and long, lingering summer days, when suddenly out of the blue sky above, a young, well-made lad drops onto his back.

If ever a horse adopted a human expression, it was that horse at that moment. For a whole minute he looked utterly amazed; then he was transformed – from a cart-horse into a war-horse. With a shrill neigh and a snort he took off and galloped straight for the wall, which he took with the ease of a steeple-chaser.

At which point George fell off, but the horse continued galloping madly across the cricket field sending up huge clods of earth and tearing the carefully prepared sward to shreds. You should have seen the faces of those stalwarts sipping ale. They couldn’t believe their eyes, watching their entire evening’s labour being wrecked before their eyes.

It didn’t stop there. The horse continued galloping madly across the field, out through the gates and up Garlic Lane, where it finished up running into a shop window when someone tried to stop it. Mercifully it wasn’t injured but the window was wrecked.

As it turned out, nobody had seen the horse leap the wall so the gang of lads up the oak-tree together with the fallen George sneaked away unseen. It was all in the local paper the next day, but the lads kept mum, and the secret remains theirs to this day. Jack Hutchins never did fathom why his Shire horse took it into its head to leap the wall that evening. All he could think of was that a horse-fly had bit it.

Then there was that incident with the air pistol, when, unknown to their parents, the Pedwar brothers acquired an old air pistol which they swapped for a pile of comics at school. The pistol looked good and they used it unloaded for their cowboy games around the streets and in Albert Park. However, they were given some pellets one day, and they tried out their weapon secretly down by the river, potting at bits of wood floating by. George became quite expert despite the range of the pistol being very limited. It ran out of steam at twenty yards and any lacked real power.

They’d just finished tea one day when a large, black crow alighted on the chimney pot of the house opposite. The Cowlings lived there and old man Cowling was very cantankerous. When John saw the crow he nudged George and the two brothers shot upstairs to the attic which was their bedroom. There was a single window in the attic which lay flush with the roof and was opened by a metal rod. George climbed onto John’s shoulders, opened the window and let fly at the crow perched on the chimney pot across the street. He hit the bird flush, but didn’t harm it. It simply fell down the chimney.

Now the chimney hadn’t been swept in years, but it certainly was then – all the way down by the startled crow. In the living room below the Cowlings were eating their meal, when suddenly a cloud of soot swept into the room, followed by a very black crow flapping madly around. As the two boys looked on horrified, the door opposite opened, old Cowling appeared sooty-faced and the crow flew out into the street in a mist of soot. The Pedwar brothers closed the window quickly and returned downstairs.

Later they heard all about what had happened from Mrs Cowling herself, who told their mother. She in turn relayed it to them, but she knew nothing about the air pistol which was dumped in the river. Luck was on their side again, for the Cowlings had no idea how the crow had got down their chimney.

The brothers got away with that, but they couldn’t escape the consequences of blowing up a rugby post and cracking the top of their neighbour’s lavatory. Both incidents happened when George was in his early teens. He excelled at science at Keighworth Grammar School, especially chemistry which he put to good use to amuse his pals. There were no fireworks manufactured during and just after the war, so George decided he’d make his own fireworks so that Bonfire Night could be celebrated in style.

You were still able in those days to buy the ingredients for fireworks across the counter of a chemist’s shop, which George duly did. He was an innovative lad and rolled up a couple of magazines, bound them tightly with tape, then rammed gunpowder down them. His firework turned out to be more powerful than he intended when placed it on top of the outside loo.

For today’s generation, perhaps I ought to explain what an outside lavatory was. The terrace houses in Keighworth had backyards and outside toilets, the roofs of which spanned neighbours’ loos with a wall dividing them. The wall wasn’t very sound-proof, but the loos were cosy places, where you could read a comic in comfort, draught-proofed in winter with an oil lamp placed inside to stop the loo freezing up…but to my tale.

One evening, George placed his homemade firework on the loo roof and lit the fuse, jumping off the roof before the thing exploded. It was supposed to throw out a fountain of multi-coloured lights, which it did, but when they’d burned out to a chorus of ‘Ohs!’ and Ahs!’ from the onlookers, there was an almighty bang – and the loo roof was split in twain. Lucky, indeed, it was there was no one in the loo next door.

The roof was soon mended, but George never tried out his fireworks in the street again. He adjourned to the rugby field at the bottom of Garlic Lane and it was there he launched his rocket. The body of it was twice as thick as the firework he’d placed on the top of the loo: three tightly rolled magazines bound firmly together and packed full of chemicals.

Escorted by his brother and their pals, George proudly carried his rocket into the field where he intended using one of the goal-posts as a stabiliser for the rocket to shoot up. He tied it securely to the post and lit the rocket which was supposed to shoot into the air up the post; but again there was an almighty bang and the goal-post snapped, hanging at a crazy angle attached to its cross-bar, and the long-suffering Pedwar parents had to cough up for a new goal-post from the timber yard up the lane.

The brothers both did well at Keighworth Boys’ Grammar school as did their elder brother and their sister at the girls’ school. Their mother Belle – a saint if ever there was – worked till she was sixty to send all four to university and college. She was intensely proud of them in later life, not only because they graduated, but mainly, I suspect, because they’d done well enough to live in detached houses which had their loos indoors.

John Waddington-Feather ©


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