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Submitted by Steve Crook

Another Canterbury Tale
Taking John back to the locations
By: Steve Crook
10th October 2001

Well on Thursday of last week I went back to Canterbury. I was due to meet John Sweet, his wife Barbara, Paul Tritton and a few others at the old Town Hall in Fordwich. We went there one one of Paul's tours in August 1999. See /Trips/Canterbury/19990829

I set off, driving through the driving rain, listening to how a river had burst its banks in East Sussex (the county just next to Kent) and that there were flood warnings all over the South East of England.

All went well though & I got to Maidstone without any problem. In fact I was well ahead of schedule so stopped for a quick cuppa & a stretch of the legs.

I went off the motorway just past Maidstone, heading "cross country" towards Canterbury & Fordwich via Charing & Chilham. But that's when the problems started. There was a LOT of surface water on both sides of the road so everyone was driving on the crown of the road & only getting back into lane when there was oncoming traffic (which luckily wasn't that often).

Quite a few places had surface water all the way across the road and in some of the dips in the road it was quite deep. Then there was a bit of a hold up on the Canterbury ring road - I was wondering if I'd get there in time.

But I finally pulled into Fordwich at a minute or two past 11 am (when we'd agreed to meet).

It was still raining quite heavily and I saw there were a few cars around & that the Town Hall was open - so I dashed inside & there they all were.

Pic12.gif John & Barbara, Paul, Len Smith (Leslie), John Slater (the boy on the bricks at the blacksmiths) and his wife, Rodney Meadows (former secretary of Westminster Abbey Bellringers - "The Music Man" - see ACT book), Michael Beck of the Fordwich Trust and various others who came & went throughout the day.
John and Len Smith

But NO sign of the video camera & final year student to operate it that Nick Burton of CCCUC had promised us - Grrr :)

John had never been inside the Town Hall (or if he had he didn't remember) although he had been to Fordwich. His "Town Hall" scenes were all filmed in the studio. So we were pointing out the very few differences between the real Town Hall & that seen in the film.

Pic11.gif John posed for a few shots standing at the bar and sitting in the chair, like he had done in the film. We all signed the visitors book & had a good look around. Pic13.gif
John signs in - 57 years late Called to the bar

The reporter & photographer from the East Kent Gazette whom we'd met at the unveiling turned up for a few more pictures & words. Later on in the day someone pointed out that some editions (only the Canterbury edition I think) had a very short piece about the gathering at the ABC & a picture of John & Sheila.

As we left the Town Hall we noticed that the river level had gone up noticeably & that it was still raining. A quick look around Fordwich itself & then to the George & Dragon for a spot of lunch.

They were expecting us and they were all quite interested in the film (they'd all seen it). Well Micky stayed there while they were on location & the pub itself had been the "Hand of Glory" in some shots. The present owners had only been there a year or two but I was glad they took such an interest.

The local boys, Len & John pointed out things like the pub car park where the boys play with their new football as the credits roll and the view to Canterbury across the fields.

A lovely pint or two of Theakston's and a great lunch of sausage bubble & squeak for me set us up for the rest of the day. So bidding a fond farewell to our hosts we set off once more.

After my warnings about the condition of the roads John Clark led us in convoy via the drier (but still quite wet) route to Shottenden and the blacksmiths & woodyard.

Pic18.gif There we met Myrtle Paton, widow of Bill Paton (Micky's right hand man ever since they met filming EotW. Myrtle is also the daughter of Neville Horton, the real blacksmith. I've met Myrtle before at various other ACT events and Paul, Len Smith & John Clark all knew her quite well.
Myrtle Paton outside her cottage

She kindly invited us in for tea & a chat. There were eight of us by this time & she's only got a small cottage - but we all found seats.

It's a lovely cottage in Shottenden. Shottenden isn't so much a classic English village all neatly arranged around a green but a collection of farms, cottages & other buildings (such as the old blacksmiths & wheelwright's) in a scattered area.

While Myrtle wanted to meet John & have a few words with him I managed to get in a few questions about Bill & Micky :)

While we were talking about EotW I mentioned to the others that Micky had seen the article about the evacuation of St Kilda "some years" before he made the film. Myrtle thought it was only the year before. It turns out that St Kilda was evacuated in 1930 - which means that Powell didn't see the article "when he was young" as he said, he was 25.

She had lots of pictures of Bill around the room of course. It seems he was a great one for keeping his back to the camera :)

Just before we left Myrtle got her copies of the ACT book & asked John Sweet, Len & John Clark for autographs. So I asked Myrtle for hers ! I said it would be in memory of Bill & her father - so she signed it :)

We then walked down the lane to the old blacksmith's & wheelwright's yard. We had been warned it was a sorry sight - and it was :(

Pic19.gif Myrtle had said how, for the first time in four generations, there wasn't a Horton who could run a business from there. The young lad we see in the film in the leather jacket is Eric, son of Ben Horton the wheelwright and Myrtle's cousin. Eric's son Graham then took it over from Eric and ran it as a general builders. But he had a stroke a few years ago and since then it's fallen into disrepair.
John and Rodney Meadows

The buildings were still there and a bit of prowling around revealed a very well organised woodworking shop (Ben's wheelwright shop) with a few benches & racks for tools still there. But that's about it.

When the rain eased off a bit we got John to pose for a few pictures at the doorway to the old woodworking shop - where he talked to "Jim Horton" about wood - "Plank it out at Christmas".

But I think the state of the place plus the sudden downpour left us all a bit deflated.

So we retired to Chilham.

A nice chat with the ladies in the Tudor Lodge Gift Shop and a look at the article about Tuesday in the East Kent Gazette and we were all about ready to call it a day. We had planned a trip to Chilham Mill as well but John was getting tired so we let him off :)

Driving back to London I noticed that the floodwaters seemed to be receding a little - but I was premature. The next day I heard on the radio that the river Medway burst its banks in Maidstone and that there's quite a lot of flooding in that area now as well.

Well that was an exciting, if tiring, week. Great fun though. A lot of new friends & fun times with lots of old friends as well - what more could I ask for? :)


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