Memoirs of Hadleigh heritage champion John Bloomfield will support St Mary’s Church
The Second World War was raging and German bombers were a familiar sight in the skies over Hadleigh.
“Look mum, it’s a Heinkel 111,” yelled an eight-year-old John Bloomfield, determined to show off his aeronautical knowledge. “Lie down, lie down!” his mother screamed.
The Heinkel dropped its bombs close to Toppesfield Mill, killing the miller’s wife, who was standing in her garden.
That vivid wartime memory is just one of those that John, who became a tireless champion of Hadleigh’s heritage, called to mind decades later.
Now his recollections have been put into print to help safeguard the future of one of the town’s most iconic buildings.
John was born in Hadleigh and his home town always held a special place in his heart.
He started his schooling in the town, where his family ran a bakery, and stayed until 1951, when he joined the Royal Air Force.
Later, he returned and lived there with his wife, Tricia – who he met while they were both serving in the RAF – for the rest of his life.
Now, his evocative tales of growing up before, during and after the Second World War are set to raise money for St Mary’s Church appeal.
John died, aged 81, in 2014. Since then, Tricia has been collating and editing the memories he wrote down over several years into a book she has called John’s Jottings.
It also includes reminiscences from his mother, Alice, who arrived in Hadleigh from Norfolk, aged 22, to be a parlour maid – later promoted to lady’s maid – at Holbecks, home of the Rowley family.
Within days, she met John’s father, Chevalier (Val) Bloomfield, at a dance and, three years later, they married.
John was passionate about heritage and old buildings. After leaving the Air Force, he became a recognised expert in historic houses and their preservation, running numerous courses.
He was a leading light in the Hadleigh Society, which he helped to found, and was, for a time, a Suffolk county councillor.
The cover of John’s Jottings is a cartoon, drawn to mark his 70th birthday by Hadleigh artist Brian Haylock, that reflects his keen interest and hands-on approach to life.
One of the buildings he loved most was St Mary’s Church, parts of which date back around 1,000 years.
Members of the church are now raising money to turn the building into the largest community space in Hadleigh, which would help to ensure its survival through the 21st century.
“John loved Hadleigh. It meant a huge amount to him,” said Tricia.
“The church was his number one fundraising priority for some time. He loved the building and was in the fabric appeal right from the beginning.
“I’ve had 300 books printed, and financed it myself so all the money from sales will go to the church.
“Some of it was on a computer disc and some was typed up. His mother’s were in lots of school notebooks, handwritten.
“Reading these things was quite emotional in a way, although I already knew quite a lot of it because he had talked about it.
“I also added a little bit, with things he had said to me, and I’ve done quite a lot of work putting it into publishable form.”
Alice’s memories of Hadleigh began when she arrived at Holbecks to be a parlour maid for Sir Joshua Rowley, his son, and daughter-in-law in 1923.
“There were nine maids and a boy to clean the maids’ shoes and get in the coals and wood,” she wrote. “Being a senior maid, I was waited on as if I was a lady.
“I laid and waited on table, brushed and put out the son’s clothes when he came down from London. He was in the Grenadier Guards.
“Another of my jobs was flower arranging. There must have been about six greenhouses, which were heated in winter so we were never short of beautiful blooms.
“I would be asked by Sir Joshua if I was busy, or if I had time to help him with a crossword puzzle.”
She had time off between serving tea at 5pm and dinner at 8pm, when she would meet Val, go for a walk, or visit his mother. “I had Wednesday afternoons off and we would cycle for miles ... or, in the winter, go to the Hippodrome in Ipswich,” she recalled.
A treat for Alice was going with the family to London for the “season”, when they would take a house or flat in Cheyne Walk.
When the family went out to dine and dance, the staff could go to the theatre, cinema or sightseeing. “As long as I was there to help my lady off with her clothes and brush her hair, that’s all I had to do,” she wrote.
John, who had an older brother Frank, was born in 1933. As a boy, he joined the church choir and bellringers. Practice and services ate up his free time from Thursday to Sunday, leaving little time for his favourite hobby of making model aircraft.
He also remembered the exquisite beauty of the voice of one of the women choristers who sang descants. “Even as a young lad, I could feel the emotion welling up in me,” he wrote.
The Dean was “to a little boy, a giant at least seven feet tall, of robust stature, straight flowing white hair over a slightly rubicund face. He had a penchant for wearing breeches, black socks and silver buckled black shoes and a frock coat, and occasionally a top hat.
“Dean Downes was pure Barchester, whilst Mrs Downes was pure Queen Mary in style. If I ever went to heaven, I imagined that somewhere, just behind St Peter, would be the Dean, saying ‘not that one’.”
John went to Bridge Street School where an early memory was getting caned for asking why it was called WABS ... the headmaster was Mr W A B Jones.
He also remembered a barrage balloon breaking loose and trailing its wire all over the town, knocking off chimney pots as it went.
“They tried to shoot it down ... when they succeeded, the balloon was useless so they put it on the dump. In less than no time, the word got around and suddenly everyone had little silver macs on.”
Bloomfield’s bakery ran small delivery vans throughout the war, plus handcarts and bicycles around the town.
“During the war, the flour became greyer, so anyone who could manage to produce a whiter looking loaf had an advantage,” John wrote.
When the Americans arrived to build Raydon airfield, they had no bakeries and used Bloomfield’s to produce their bread.
Their flour was whiter, but the British version tasted better, so the two were blended. “This cosy arrangement meant Bloomfield’s bread was whiter than anyone else’s, which the family maintained was due to my grandfather’s skill as a baker,” he recalled.
Occasionally, bakery vans were used to help local farmers conceal pigs from officials. “Dad would go to the farm in his van loaded with bread and hide some pigs in the back. Of course, the pigs ate some of the bread.
“Once, dad went on to one home where the lady always had a small loaf. ‘Sorry’, he said, ‘we haven’t got any small loaves but would half a loaf do?’ He cut off half a loaf the pigs had been eating and gave her the rest.”
Entertainment in Hadleigh came in the form of the Palace Cinema. Escaping at the end of the film before the National Anthem meant rushing out while the credits rolled.
But John recalled that those hoping for a fast exit could find their way blocked by Pc Pullinger, or an ex-American serviceman, who had married the owner’s daughter and was, if anything, even more sensitive about this disregard of national pride.
They held down the crush bar, keeping the door locked, until it was deemed appropriate to leave.
The cinema was owned by Owen Cooper. “He and his wife were friends with my mother and she used to help out in the ticket office and I used to get into the projection rooms,” he wrote.
“Owen Cooper acquired some seafront buildings at Clacton and Walton-on-the-Naze. However, he was confronted with the problem of stopping them being requisitioned by the authorities.
“Accordingly, Mrs Bloomfield and her family were personally taken in Owen Cooper’s large American car to spend a few days here and there to suggest occupancy.”
John summed up saying his intention was not to reach nostalgically into a past where all assumed the rosy glow of sunset.
“Some things were bad, some were good, all were evolving. However, to me, Hadleigh is special,” he wrote.
- John’s Jottings is on sale for £8 from The Idler and Avis Newsagent in Hadleigh High Street, and the church office, from 10am to 12pm, Tuesday to Friday.