Tuesday 14 December 1993

Bill Collins In Remember Warminster


Remember Warminster? Six senior citizens who can, dug back into their own memories to give us a flavour of days of yore - and (thanks to the tape-recorder of Danny Howell) their thoughts have been published in a new book.

Remember Warminster is Danny Howell's twelfth book since he started to chronicle the town's past, in 1985. He has tape-recorded over fifty elderly people, asking them about their younger days, and the new book prints the words of just six of these well-known Warminsterites. They are Bill Collins, Mary Ryall, the late Len Ingram, Marjorie Yeates, the late Roy Hampton and the late May Ede.

Collectively they recall the time when Warminster's population was just 5,000, everyone knew everybody else and where they lived, and a stranger in town was noticed straight away. As Roy Hampton recalls: "It used to be 'Hello Roy' and 'Hello George', it was 'How bist?' and 'Where's t'other today?' "

The first conversationalist in the book is Bill Collins. Here, by way of a taster, are brief extracts from Bill's story:

Bill Collins was born at the Furlong in 1912, the son of a carter who worked for Neville Marriage at Boreham Mill. Bill spent most of his working life at East Street. From being the Saturday boy at Archie Crease's butcher's shop, he went on to run his own butcher's shop on the north side of East Street. A worthy example of a local lad who made good.

Of his first employer Bill says: "Archie Crease was a good man. He was a little bit of an entertainer, with regard comic songs and all that. He entertained with a partner from Sutton Veny, a fellow by the name of Tommy Hicks. They'd perform at the Athenaeum or maybe the Conservative Club when it was down at Church Street. Mr Crease was very happy-go-lucky in the shop. He used to crack some very good jokes. He knew his customers; he knew who he could crack a joke with and he knew which ones to hold his tongue with."

Bill retired in 1968, due to leg ulcers, and now resides, a widower, at Regal Court, a stone's throw away from what is now the Lake Pleasure Grounds - which, before 1924, was the town's rubbish dump!

When the fair came to Warminster at the end of the First World War, it was held, strangely enough, at the rubbish dump, where a rather young Bill was knocked off a chair-plane ride while it was still moving. His eye was cut on some rubbish, and he's got a permanent scar to prove it.

Looking back at being his own boss, Bill recalls: "My business never failed. It did very well. We changed it into a family butcher's as well as a pork butcher's. A lot of the old customers from Mr Crease's came to me. In business trade depends on how you approach your customers. There was quite a bit of competition in the town, but I had a good trade at East Street. The Black Watch was one of the first battalions to come to the School of Infantry in the 1960s. I was fortunate to be able to serve the Colonel's wife. She and her husband were nice people, and through them I got to serve the captains and their wives. I was always very jovial to them and other recommendations followed. The Colonel and his wife told people: 'If you want quality meat and a laugh and a joke, you've got to go to Mr Collins.' "