Charlie Ladbrook was a familiar figure in the streets of Campden, small in stature, in his brown smock and flat cap, walking with a rolling gait and usually flanked by a couple of Jack Russell terriers and known for his wicked sense of humour. Locals and strangers alike would be greeted with a cheery “How do!” He was born in 1896, elder son of Edwin and Fanny Ladbrook, proprietors of the butcher’s shop in Lower High Street. On leaving school, he joined the family business to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
WWI saw Charlie serving in Greece, Turkey and Mesopotamia, having joined the 7th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment in 1916. After Campden, life in a foreign land under enemy fire must have been a daunting experience for Charlie. During this period he was reported ‘missing in action’, but after several days made his way safely back to British Lines. Years later when recounting the event, he famously retorted,
Ah! If you’d been shot at as much as them Turks were shooting at me, you’d have gone missing for two days!”
In 1917 he was wounded in the ankle, but made a full recovery. When hostilities ended Charlie was serving in Russia.
Charlie’s parents closed the butcher’s shop during WWI, but on his return Charlie and his younger brother Lawrence re-opened the shop in Lower High Street, where they traded until its final closure in 1939. Then Charlie became a postman, a position he held for seventeen years. An avid hunt follower, his postal duties would be somewhat ‘delayed’ on Meet days. One of Lionel Edwards’ prints depicts the unmistakable figure of Postman Ladbrook, mounted on his pony, post-satchel across one shoulder, watching the North Cotswold Hunt in full cry.
“Your torso has been dispatched”!
Charlie’s postal round extended to outlying country estates and farms. On one particular occasion after a day of deliveries with distractions and chats along the way, he finally arrived at the house of a young lady who was soon to be married. Charlie informed the somewhat anxious bride-to-be that he had started the day with a postcard addressed to her, but had somehow mislaid it en route. He reassured her that she should not be concerned, as he already knew the contents of the said postcard, quoting: “Your torso has been despatched!” Thankfully, unlike her postcard, the bride’s trousseau arrived safely!
Occasionally Charlie’s niece, Jean, would accompany him on his rounds. She would rise at 5am, first having to catch a reluctant pony in the Coneygree. Naturally, with Jean’s help, Charlie’s rounds did not take him as long as normal. Riding passed the Post Office in High Street, not wanting the Post Master to see him finishing early, Charlie would slide, Red Indian style, down the pony’s side, hanging on to saddle and mane, hiding from the Post Master’s view. This ‘circus’ manoeuvre must have been quite a treat for onlookers!
When postal vans replaced horseback deliveries, Charlie had to learn to drive, though how he managed to attain the annual diploma for good driving was a mystery. He could not get the hang of reversing, driving miles to avoid negotiating such a manoeuvre. Negotiating the sharp bend in the road in Broad Campden near the Baker’s Arms also gave Charlie cause for concern. He resolved the problem by stopping the van just short of the bend, walking to the bend, then, on assuring himself that the road ahead was clear of oncoming traffic, would resume his journey!
Skill with animals
Charlie was keen rabbiter and ferret breeder, rabbiting providing both good sport and meat for the table. Rat catching was another of his skills, needed by the families who kept pigs or chickens and farmers whose barns held precious grain. Charlie also took care of the foxhounds, was a colt breaker and the chief docker of dogs’ tails, his preferred method being to bite off the tail between his teeth. In later life Charlie would bemoan,
Now I got somebody else’s tith it dun’t work!”
He owned various ponies over his lifetime and would often be seen in fancy dress celebrations on one of them. He took the part of Endymion Porter for the Dover’s Games over many years.
Charlie was interested in country music and with his brother Lawrence gave impromptu recitals in any public bar. Joan’s Ale was one of their favourite songs and is still performed by local folk singers.
Charlie was an incorrigible tease and prankster. For instance he persuaded fellow patrons of the Red Lion to leave their drinks and follow him to the River Cam where they would be rewarded with a sighting of a water otter. After scouring the river bank with no sign of the otter a disgruntled Timmy Brotheridge complained, “You bin ‘aving us on, all I can see is an old kettle on the far side of the stream.” A delighted Charlie cried, “That’s it! there’s your water otter, you all knows that ol’ kettle was used for ‘ottin’ water, so it stands to reason it must be a water otter!”
Gordon Greenall as a youth regularly delivered the Gloucestershire Echo to Charlie. Every time he called, Charlie was eating the same meal – pork pie and tomatoes. After months of anxiety, thinking Charlie might be unable to afford any other type of food, he plucked up courage and voiced his concerns to Charlie, who replied, “Don’t yuh worry lad, I’ve got a tree out in the back garden that grows pork pies and t’other that lays eggs. I dus have a change, cause sometimes I yuts eggs with pickled onions”
Charlie remained a batchelor, living in the Old Butcher’s House, sleeping in the same room he had occupied as a boy. In his mid eighties, ill-health necessitated a move to The Ellen Badger Hospital at Shipston-on-Stour where he stayed for five years, until his death at the age of 91.
Campden was all the richer for characters such as Charlie Ladbrook and he left a huge impression.