Fred Price is a familiar face in the village of Havenstreet. As he leans on the gate of his cottage, and although his eyesight is failing, he still enjoys the conversations with locals and the toots from friendly drivers. He’s lived in the village since 1939 when youngsters could play in the road because there were so few cars. Now it’s the rat run for commuters.
Sometimes Fred is told he should never look back, only ahead. He has a ready answer.
“I look back on golden memories. When I look ahead all I see is robberies every day, murders, nations fighting one another and everybody trying to do one another down,” said a bemused Fred Price.
He was actually born in Haylands and times were hard for Fred’s family and all the others in the area. There were few luxuries in life. He did feel like a millionaire when he had a weekly job cutting a lady’s lawn with old sheep shearing clippers to earn a halfpenny. Today it takes 200 of them to make £1.
For a while Fred and a pal spent a few hours in a Ryde slaughterhouse to earn pocket money. Their job was to keep the water hot in the copper boiler and they were completely unfazed by what they saw.
One of their favourite pleasures was to temporarily kidnap any stray dogs in Haylands and take them on the downs to go and catch rabbits. If they were lucky there were a few coppers to be had from local butchers.
There were no trendy kindergartens in those days and Fred had started his local school at the age of three. There were even facilities for the youngsters to lie down and take a nap if they became tired. The rest areas were communal and it was not until Fred took his trousers off and got into a hammock for a lie down that he ran into trouble with the teacher. He couldn’t understand why he was called a naughty boy. He always took his trousers off at home before he went to bed.
The children walked to and from school twice a day and there were no 4x4s clogging up the streets to pick them up. There might have been the odd horse and cart on rare occasions.
Fred Price is a country boy at heart and since moving to Havenstreet in 1939 his life has been idyllic. He had a few problems with girls at school, particularly when they copied his work, and he did very little chasing. That changed when he met farmer’s daughter Vera Hamer and they were married in 1947. He does let her out to play bingo but most of the time they are still inseparable. Vera also is now the chief gardener and they spend many happy hours amongst the flowers and vegetables. In past years Fred did well at local shows with his prize vegetables.
“When Vera and I worked together at Guildford Farm our joint wages were £5.50 a week, with no holidays or overtime,” reflected Fred.
Fred joined the war committee and worked on farms all over the Island. Mostly it meant getting to places like Binstead, Niton and Whitwell by bike. Later motorbikes were supplied. Farming has taken up much of Fred’s life and his prowess as a sheep shearer, which he only took up whilst recovering from a motorbike accident, meant he often performed the art for parties of schoolchildren. His delightful local accent and ability to entertain made him quite a favourite.
In more recent years Fred has become a local celebrity through appearances on radio, television and even commercials. A cassette to raise money for the Earl Mountbatten Hospice topped the Island album charts and sold 500 copies. Later a video also proved a huge seller.
Fred has also enjoyed considerable success with his ploughing which had begun behind a horse at a Fishbourne farm. Later he developed a love for tractors and has also won awards in this field.
“Although I loved working with horses I was really glad when they went. The poor animals worked so hard.”
He still vividly remembers the date he first went to work at Puck House Farm, having left school at 14. It was January 4, 1937 and he had saved up his pennies and could afford the luxury of a pair of size four boots for work. They were just 4/6 (around 22p today) from Oliver’s in Ryde.
Life in the 21st century is difficult to grasp for many of our senior citizens. When Fred and Vera first got married their cottage was worth £200. Today it’s not far off £200,000.
As yet, he has never seen a credit card or any form of plastic money. His generation did not grow up on credit. They had just what they could afford and made the most of it.
He once turned down the chance of buying a small Havenstreet farm for £2,000. He had a young family and it would not earn him a living without a full time job as well.
Give Fred a wave or toot if you see him over the garden gate.