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'Lads of the Village'

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.





Comments

  1. The 'lads' arriving for a pint is 1935. Tom Coombes had passed on by the time of the skittle match which was 1936. A link to the film can be seen on my Facebook site 'Pub Games' and I believe it is the oldest footage of skittles in extant. The dates I quote are correct, after extensive research. We love our local pub the R&C, and play league skittles there regularly.

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