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Abbotsley family’s bomb shelter suffers direct hit

During WW2 Germany’s Luftwaffe bombed numerous cities in the UK, most notably London & Coventry but thousands of other cities, towns & villages across the UK also suffered. Several bombs were dropped locally & many villages appointed air-raid wardens to enforce blackouts.

In Abbotsley one family decided to build an air-raid shelter in their back garden. They dug a large hole, filled numerous hessian sacks with the soil, pushed them down the sides of the hole and placed some curved sheets of corrugated metal on top. They then covered the rest with soil.

One morning, a couple of months later at about 5am a German bomber made a direct hit on the shelter. Luckily the family were sleeping in the house at the time. The explosion was so powerful that it lifted the roof of the house & shifted it about an inch to one side. When they came out to look, one of the lads, standing on the edge of the crater, (which they estimated to be about 14 feet deep) slipped & fell into it. Luckily he wasn’t injured.

The family kept a Greyhound Lurcher that usually slept in of the pigsties in the garden but after the blast he was nowhere to be seen & they assumed he’d been killed. However, three days later they heard from the local air warden that after the explosion he’d seen the dog running past him at top speed. The dog eventually returned home. They also kept a ferret in a cage that stood on the edge of the shelter but although its cage was blown to bits, the ferret survived.

Every day when the young lad & his sister came home for dinner the dog used to come to meet them. During this period extra runways were being built at Gransden Airfield which required lots of ballast. This was excavated at Little Paxton & brought to Gransden by lorry via Abbotsley. Sadly, one day the dog was struck & killed by one of the lorries.

Sight restored after 7 years!

Mr William Norman (centre) lived at Green End Gamlingay. He became a minor celebrity in 1934 when his story was published in various newspapers. Here is a report from the Nottingham Evening Post on 25th August 1934.
‘After seven years’ blindness. William Norman, 77, of Gamlingay, near Biggleswade, can now see. Specialists had told him that his case was hopeless, but – without any operation – the film covering his eyes has gone. When anyone asks what he has done he replies: “Nothing; only praying every night that I might see.
One of his greatest joys is that he has been able for the first time to see his six year old granddaughter.
Hitherto, where the window is, he has seen only a glimmer of light, but now he sees across the road. The restored sight is in the right eye. Vision is not clear, and is confined to objects in a direct line and in good light. He found his sight returning a fortnight ago, when the lights of a bus flashed through the window on his eyes. Next he saw a grandson passed by the bedroom window. A little later he saw the sashes. Seeing children playing in the next garden he called them to him, and looked into their faces. As he did so, one said he could not see. They did not know.
The old man kept his secret until the next day, when he told his daughter, Mrs Cope, that he could see what was on the table.’

Notable visitors

Gamlingay has attracted a number of notable visitors over the years.
In his youth, Charles Darwin occasionally visited The Great Heath to study wildlife.
W. G. Grace was a regular visitor to the Downing Estate where he indulged his love of shooting partridge.
John Bunyan often preached at the Baptist Church. W. H. Auden stayed for a while as a guest of Margaret Gardiner.
Miss Gardiner (shown here at top right) spent a year teaching at Gamlingay. She had a rather privileged background; the daughter of Sir Alan Gardiner, a leading Egyptologist of the time, she went on to become a leading patron of the Arts and friend and supporter of many of the leading writers & artists of the 20th century, notably Barbara Hepworth.
In her book ‘A Scatter of Memories’ she writes ‘…Gamlingay, with its undistinguished red & yellow brick houses was not, in spite of its romantic name, beautiful.’

A view of Mill St. Gamlingay looking north. c1910

The four houses on the right were known as Widows’ Row where four WWI widows lived. In a talk to Gamlingay History Society Ken Worboys, referring to the houses, said:
“In 1928 a little lad bought a 1/2d sparkler in Careless’s and brought about their downfall. He went down the street whirling it and throwing it up in the air and the wind caught it and blew it on to the thatch. In a very short time the houses were blazing, end to end. The ground lay derelict for six or seven years and I was able to buy it and built the first half of the garage”.
This became the familiar Worboys Garage that in 2011 celebrated 75 years in business.

Green End. Gamlingay 1924

A certain Dr. Hunter, Medical Officer to the Privy Council, in an 1865 report, specifically mentioned the poor quality living conditions in Gamlingay.
He wrote that the village “…contains some of the most miserable cots met with anywhere. …they are in advanced stages of dilapidation. …a deadly lassitude, a hopeless surrendering to filth, reigns in Gamlingay and the neglect of the centre becomes mortification at its extremities, north and south, where the houses are rotting to pieces.”

Although this photo was taken some 60 years after the report was written, some housing doesn’t seem to have improved a great deal.

The Spittle Pit. Waresley Rd. Gamlingay

The Pit at the junction of Waresley Rd & Cinques Rd, formally known as the Spittle Pit was a small pond fed by a nearby spring. When it was full it served as an emergency water supply for the Fire Brigade, it was used to clean the wheels of carts and wagons and in winter, when frozen, it became a children’s skating rink. Unfortunately it often flooded the roads to either side as well and was eventually filled in in the late 1950s. This photo was taken in the 1920s when there were no houses at all on the eastern side of Waresley Rd.

Gamlingay Village College students in period dress at Merton Manor Farm, Station Rd. 1989.

Back row left to right: Samantha Wright – Sarah Hutchinson – Nicole Dobson – Amanda Sadler – Sarah McIntyre – Ben Harris – Keir Ridler – Stuart Hale – Paul Hutchinson – Suzanne Albon – Gavin Carpenter – Samantha Ford – Georgie Barham – Abigail Bradbury.
Front row left to right: Matthew Watson – Robert Starksfield – Robert Chambers – Ben Clifford – Ben Simpson – Daniel Sladen – Jenny Hughes.

(Many thanks to members of Gamlingay’s Facebook pages for their help in identifying the students)

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