Ron Ransford is a very well-known figure in Leamington. For many years, his family ran a building/demolition/recycling business in the town, and Ron has personally “seen off” a number of old Leamington landmarks during his working life.If you want to know where some significant artefact or piece of equipment from a long-vanished Leamington building, Ron is the man to ask.
The Ransford family came originally from Kendal in the Lake District, but Ron and his dad were both born in West Bromwich, where grandfather Ransford ran a bakery business. Ron’s father, named Christopher John Thomas Ransford, but called Jack by everyone, trained as a joiner and worked in the building trade in Birmingham. He had his own business by the age of 21, and in 1938, he brought his family to Leamington, in search of work.
Jack did all kinds of jobs, and one that Ron remembers, just after WW2, was putting in a bid for a contract to strip the fittings out of Wood Street Chapel, ready to be exported to Germany. One local bidder said that it could only be done by chopping up the fittings, but Jack Ransford had the idea of melting the glue holding the fixing pegs, taking out the wooden pegs, and dismantling the pews and the rest of the fittings without damage. He won the contract.
Shortly afterwards, Jack was also responsible for demolishing Stamford House on Rugby Road. He began to realise that many of the materials his firm were handling on demolition jobs were very good quality, certainly good enough to be re-used, and that’s how his business really got started. The rest, as they say, is history.
As for Ron, he started school in Birmingham, and he liked it. All the teachers in his school were Welsh and had what he describes as “lovely sing-song voices“. But once he came to Leamington, he suffered an enormous culture shock and as a result, didn’t go to school much. He was, in his words, “booked in” (registered) at Clapham Terrace, where his daughter is now a teacher, and he remembers collecting his gas mask from Bath Place School, but other than that, he has no good memories of school at all, and always struggled with school work. His teachers either couldn’t or wouldn’t cope with his being left-handed, and he managed to catch every infectious childhood disease, – he had measles, mumps, mastoids and so on, so he missed a lot of school for quite genuine reasons.
Ron’s memories of starting school in Leamington ar nonetheless vivid: his first teacher here was a nun, and very strict. Because he didn’t know how to write like the other children in the class, instead of showing him how to do it, she gave Ron some plasticine and left him to get on with it. So he rolled it out like a worm, and then seeing an inkwell with a neat little hole in it, he pushed the worm in …….. In no time at all, he was packed off with 2 other boys as an escort to the Headmaster to be punished, and as they were going up the stairs, they told him with some relish what a caning he was going to get. Ron insists that he was not a violent child, but he was easily upset, – so he quickly hit both boys as hard as he could and ran off home.
Obviously, Ron did go back to school, but he never thrived. Whichever school he went to, it was always the same story, because he was left-handed: often, teachers would tell him to sit on his left hand and use his right, but in his words, “My right hand was somebody else’s”. At Milverton School, a male teacher would make him use his right hand, look at the result and then say things like, “I’ve got a 5-year old kid at home who can paint better than this”. Ron was often punished for his perceived lack of effort, smacked with a ruler or given the cane, – and put off formal learning for life.
Ron was not the only boy who struggled at that particular school: there were three of them in the same class, and they were always sent to sit at the back of the class, out of the way. In spite of this, – or maybe because of it, all three were successful eventually, – Ron in the demolition business, another at the Electricity Board, and the third became Head Gardener at Jephson Gardens.
Ron may not have been very good at conventional schoolwork, but like many people with reading and writing problems, he was what is nowadays described as a kinaesthetic learner. He was always good at practical things. When he was 10 or 12, he took an alarm clock apart and put it back together again. He made it tick, and even though it didn’t tell the right time, he had got it going again, and later on, in the army during National Service, this ability stood him in good stead.
By the time Ron was 14, he was working for his living. Hi father’s firm had 2 lorries (left) and one driver. The lorries were loaded with hundredweight bags of materials, and the driver would drive up the lorry and Ron aged 14-15 had to unload first one side, then the other. Normally the driver would then turn the lorry round so that Ron could unload the other side. But on one particular day, having given Ron a rather sketchy driving lesson after he’d unloaded one side of the lorry, the designated driver disappeared. The lesson amounted to a few basic instructions: “Sit in the driving seat. That’s the gear lever. That’s forward. That’s reverse. That’s neutral. That’s the clutch pedal on the left. Put it down to put it in gear. The pedal on the right’s the accelerator. Press it down to go forward”. When Ron asked about the middle pedal (the brake!) the answer was “Oh, forget about it. There’s the handbrake”. – Some driving lesson!
However, left to his own devices and with half the load still on the lorry, Ron got in the cab, crept slowly forward, backed the lorry up, turned it round, unloaded it and took it to the gate. When the driver got back, he was astonished. He wanted to know how the lorry had got there. Ron said with pride that he’d driven it. The driver uttered a few unprintable comments, got back in the lorry and drove off, leaving Ron on his own once again. From then on, he was the second driver.
On entry to National Service, Ron discovered that one of the army’s preliminary tests of skill and initiative was to put a new recruit alone in a room with a table covered in all kinds of bits and pieces of dismantled gadgets, with a set time limit for sorting them out. Lots of his colleagues were completely put off by this exercise, but not Ron. The first things he spotted were parts of a bicycle pump, so for him, putting the pump back together was an easy task. The next things Ron found were the components of a lock. The spring, the key and the tumblers were all there, so again in no time at all, Ron fitted them all together, – as he says, “they were simple things to me”.
Once National Service was over, Ron went back to work for the family firm. He worked on the demolition of Windsor Street, Christ Church at the top of the Parade, the Brewery in Lillington Avenue, Dale Street Church, and the gas holders at the old gasworks by the canal.
Ron vividly remembers a job in Warwick, behind the old Woolworths store. With heavy-duty picks and shovels, the workmen were digging along where there had once been Petrol Pumps when they came upon solid rock, with a trench cut into it. It was obviously something important, so the powers-that-be summoned the archaeologists from the Museum, to dig with what Ron describes as “spoons and brushes”. Eventually, they decided that it was the site of the Town Moat. Ron was quite happy to leave the experts to dig that out, because he knew that the moat was where people always dumped their sewage and other rubbish. According to him, it would have made good growing soil!
By the traffic lights behind Woolworths, the workmen also found a building with a cellar underneath another cellar. They wondered if it might have been a dungeon, and if the archaeologists should investigate this too, but the clerk of works who wanted the job over and done with, said, “I don’t see it, – fill it in”, so they did.
Other interesting finds nearby included three wells, each the size of a small sitting room. They were all dry, and two of them had been capped off, – most likely, they would once have drained into the moat. One of the wells was very interesting. It was quite different from the other two, better made and with a number of stonemason’s marks on the walls. Could it have been an ice house? We’ll never know!
Ron & Mavis Ransford, 2009