With a combined age of 444 years, five unlikely Dorset lads became
international celebrities back in the nineteen thirties. They became famous
after appearing in two popular short Movietone films, titled the ‘Lads of the Village.’ They were featured gossiping over beers in
their local pub, the Rose & Crown in Bradford Abbas near the Dorset-Somerset border. This was a time when
the average male life expectancy was just 58 and 62 for a woman.
Also taking part in the film were Mrs Parsons (91) and her 65 year old daughter both filmed
collecting their pensions at the village post office. This sprightly nonagenarian
had brought up ten children on her husband’s weekly ten shillings (50p) wage.
Their meagre income was supplemented by Mrs Parsons making gloves for which she
was paid just one & a half old pennies (0.5p) per pair. For good health, she
recommended a daily glass of stout but for strictly medicinal purposes only.
Tom Coombes (91) never went to school and began
work at 6 years old when his mother put him in a field to keep the birds away.
He was paid one shilling & six pence (7.5p) for three weeks work. He could
vividly remember news arriving of Sebastopol being taken in 1855 during the
Crimean War. Sam Ring (92) regretted
he was not as active as he used to be but still got up early to chop the day’s
firewood. He reckoned key to his longevity was a glass of beer together with
his mother’s barley cake. Also fed to the pigs, he reckoned no-one had suffered
any ill-effects from his mother’s offerings. Sam’s favourite pet was his 15
year old goldfish. Six feet tall, James
Higgins (89) was once as strong as an ox but was now crippled by arthritis.
He walked around the village with two sticks he had made 30 years earlier. He had
always reckoned they would prove useful someday. James called his drinking pals
his ‘playmates’. George Chainey (89) was a familiar figure around the village as he
was often seen walking his sheep dog. He reckoned the secret of a long life was
‘work hard, play hard and drink plenty of
beer.’ Making up the quintet was retired railwayman Sid Parsons (83)
When their film appeared nearby at the Gaumont Palace, all
seven were chauffeur driven in five cars to the Yeovil cinema. There, ‘they received a wondrous ovation and
thoroughly enjoyed it all.’ None had been in a cinema before. All cinema seats were sold as they were cheered onto the stage and the film was held over for a further three days.
Their second film featured a skittle match in the Rose &
Crown when Sam Ring & James Higgins played the slightly younger George
Chainey & Sid Parsons. During breaks in the match for refreshments, the
lads regaled onlookers by singing recruiting songs from the Crimean War. There
was some doubt about the result although someone reckoned the two seniors had
won the day.
While there is no doubt that Dorchester brewers Eldridge Pope
gained much publicity from the ‘Lads of the
Village’ films there can be little doubt that the seven unlikely Bradford
Abbas seniors enjoyed many a free glass of beer as a consequence. Their fame spread
and they were featured in newspapers even as far away as Tasmania & New South Wales in
Australia. Indeed, it is understood that their picture hangs proudly on a wall in the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, Sydney - appropriately Australia's oldest pub brewery.
The lads did make a come-back in the 1970s when, in an Eldridge Pope publicity campaign, they were featured on both beer mats and on the sides of local buses!(Source: Western Gazette 18th October 1935, British Newspaper Archive & Trove Australia.)
Image: five unlikely Dorset lads & Mrs Parsons (91) with her daughter.