Wednesday, February 6, 2013
The life and times of one of Honiton’s great characters.
With his flat cap, crumpled face, lips occasionally pressed to a harmonica, and grubby coat, always tied around the middle with string, bachelor Arnold Chick was for decades one of Honiton’s great characters.
Rarely seen without his bone shaker bicycle, Arnold was almost a permanent fixture on a bench near the sharp bend above Copper Castle.
This was his resting place as he commuted between his home, a cottage in Colwell Woods, Offwell, and Honiton, where he worked at George Blay and was a regular patron of the town’s public houses.
Allan Hayes, who lived near Arnold in Offwell, says: “The best memory I have of him is sitting on the bench at Springfield corner, either watching the cars go by or sleeping off a hangover.
“He always said hello - even if you had trouble understanding if that’s what he said. We would often see him sat in the ditch, his bike next to him!”
Another stopping off point was a large shed on land owned by the Small family in Offwell.
The late Johnny Small Senior allowed Arnold to park his bike in the shed, which housed a generator, so he did not have to push it through the woods.
According to legend, confirmed by the Small family, Arnold often arrived at the shed in the small hours and, realising it would soon be ‘opening time’ again, would remain there, in the warm, until he pedalled back into town.
A mild mannered man, he grew up in a large family in the woods, then owned by George Blay, with three brothers and two sisters.
He attended Offwell School, where play time was not always fun.
Whenever a ball bounced into the neighbouring garden, owned by pony and trap driver Mrs Hartnell, Arnold would be sent to retrieve it.
Arnold’s school friends recall Mrs Hartnell repeatedly chasing him around the garden with a horse whip - until the day Arnold got wise.
“When he was about nine, he went into her porch and pinched the whip,” said one.
When Arnold’s partially sighted father died, he and his brothers, Bill, Albert and Lionel, helped the village undertaker, Mr Farmer, carry the coffin through the woods to Offwell parish church. Villagers recall the effort being a real feat.
Arnold served in the Home Guard at Offwell and the Midweek Herald has uncovered a photograph of a young Arnold smartly dressed in uniform.
He was regarded as a skilled log packer for George Blay and regularly stopped traffic in High Street to enable large wagons to negotiate New Street, en-route to the sawmills in Marlpits Lane.
One of Arnold’s favourite sayings was “I don’t think so”. Legend has it that he was driving a crawler in Colwell Woods when the then boss of George Blay, Charlie, said: “Right, Chick, just go down over there and hook up to that old tree.”
Arnold, having noticed a boggy area in front of the tree, replied: “I don’t think so. My name is Chick, not duck!”
He also worked for Hansfords and, during the construction of Whitebridges, is said to have been caught by the boss clocking off during the 15 minute ‘clean-up’ period and reaching for a bottle of cider hidden in a sand heap. When told to get back to work, he allegedly said: “I don’t think so. If I haven’t earned my money from you today, I’m not going to in the next quarter of an hour.”
It is said the boss told him to get on his bike and go home.
Arnold’s lust for cider often brought him to the attention of the police. Officers were mainly concerned for his welfare as he tried to pedal while leaning on his bike.
One evening, according to legend, Sergeant Crook and PC Whitlock were on mobile patrol in Honiton when they chanced upon Arnold who was worse for wear.
They decided to give him and his bike a lift home.
They were thanked by a babbling Arnold, who repeatedly said: “Good old Arnold. Arnold’s a good boy.”
Although ordered to appear in court on numerous occasions to face charges of being drunk in a public place, Arnold is not known to have attended a single hearing.
However, it is known that he once sent one pound to the court with a note saying: “Here’s ten bob for this one and 10 bob for the next one.”
In his later years Arnold was banned from many pubs in Honiton, including the Star Inn. One landlord, having seen Arnold under the influence of cider once too often, withdrew the tipple from sale.
In 1979 Arnold Chick was immortalised as one of Honiton’s great characters by a young Chris Canniford who decided to go to a fancy dress party as Arnold Chick.
So convincing was his effort that he was asked to leave the Red Cow and he was teased by teenagers as he made his way to the New Dolphin.
Two policemen came to the rescue and warned the youths off - but even they thought he was Arnold, at first.
Arnold, who played the accordion as well as the harmonica, died in the early 1980s and his body was cremated at Exeter.
If Arnold Chick was alive today and could see himself being described as ‘a legend’, he would have to disagree and say: “I don’t think so!”