Grandad's Watton

Old John the Postman

In 1932 Col Barnham added a new dimension to his auction enterprise by building a furniture sale room, the building which now houses the Watton branch of the Nat West Bank and N. Abel's Auction Office. This timber and asbestos roofed building was erected mainly by John Whalebelly. one of the only two Watton men to volunteer for service in the Boer War, and father of John junior, at present leader of the town band. Old John was a postman but he was also a handyman extraordinary, a jack of all trades and master of most of them. He was also a most comical character and at times when I worked with him it was sometimes difficult to concentrate on job in hand while you were falling about laughing.

As well as being used for furniture sales the saleroom quickly became a much used venue for social activities of all kinds. Here we saw a group of travelling actresses and actors do 'Maria Marten and the Red Barn' and the forerunners of the Wayland Players perform 'The Ghost Train' and other offerings. I would think too that every local club or organisation has had a dinner, a meeting, or a 'do' within those wooden walls. All this, whist drives and dances too. for 'running a dance' was a favourite way of fund raising. Ii cannot be said that the decor of the place was too artistic, or the comfort excessive, but these things mattered little to the couples who quickstepped and waltzed the evening away avoiding collision with the roof-supporting pillars and lifting their feet just a little at times to miss the occasional knots or cracks in the not too even floor. There was no bar but there was coffee and tea refreshments, spot prices, a Paul Jones or two for young ladies who did not have a constant stream of admirers and after a clinging last waltz the adjacent egg hut and sack shed provided the setting for many a tender and passionate "Goodnight".

For the local dances there were local bands. None of your 'discos' or dancing to gramophone records as it would be called then, but small combinations of instrumentalists who worked by day and performed at the saleroom or at many a village hall or schoolroom dance at night. Part time professionals they may have been, but first class musicians every one, who exhibited skills and talents which favourably compared with some present day performers. Bands and players like 'The Black Diamonds', 'The Waylanders'. 'Frank Franklin and his Swing Band" with pianist Basil Crane, church organist and High Street shopkeeper. Drummer Lester Groom and Phillip Ward, Jack Jolly on sax, Reg Baldwin, John Whalebelly and 'Kruschen' Woods with his mandoline.

There was also another pianist whose talents and professionalism we can still sometimes enjoy, for now. 35 years on. Doris Key. dance band pianist with Frank Franklin, is musical director of the Gaiety Girls, a Watton group who support charities and good causes by giving energetic and artistic "Sing Along' concerts of songs from the Good Old Days.

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