Coleshill Country Market has a double cause for celebration

Coleshill Country Market has a double cause for celebration. It has just received a Communities Grant of £1000 from Warwickshire County Council in recognition of its role in bringing the local community together and providing a friendly welcoming atmosphere as well as high-quality home-made produce.  The money is being spent on a brand-new gazebo, smart new aprons, signage, table runners bearing the market logo and further publicity to let more people know about it and to appeal for new producers to meet growing demand.

Market 3 apron line

Market producers showing their new aprons 1

Market apron line

Market producers showing their new aprons 2

This month, it also celebrates its 50th birthday with a grand anniversary party featuring  home-baked cake and a glass of fizz or a cuppa, during the Market on Friday, April 26th at 10.30am in the Parish Room, 132, High Street, Coleshill –  everyone welcome.
“We’re very proud that we’re still going after 50 years thanks to our loyal producers and customers,” said Market Manager Janet Reilly, a gardening expert who together with Martin Cross supplies many of the plants and flowers for the Market each week. “We’re now one of the longest-running attractions in Coleshill. The market is very friendly and a great meeting place. Lots of people come in to have a chat and meet their friends while they browse and make their purchases. We recently started offering a ‘special of the day’ which has proved extremely popular – free samples of different home-baked treats. One week it might be mouth-watering chocolate roulade, another week coconut tartlets or cheese scones still warm from the oven, a speciality of one of our accomplished cooks Sue Lappin.

We have some lovely stuff – from jams, eggs, honey, cakes, cookies and savouries to plants, hand-made jewellery, greetings cards, crafts, knitting and woodwork. We’re also taking orders for seasonal treats like Easter cookies, chocolate nests, cheesecakes and mouth-watering Simnel Cake with its gooey marzipan filling and 11 marzipan eggs around the top. These represent the 11 ‘good’ Apostles – Judas doesn’t get one! We are also selling unique hand-made cards and gifts.

Market Mum Neris

Christine Jones serving loyal customer Nerissa Boardman

We love welcoming new producers and of course customers from all over the area, so we hope the celebrations will help spread the word and encourage more people to come along to browse, buy or find out more about us and, if they  enjoy cooking, gardening or crafts, to consider becoming one of our producers or helpers themselves. It’s friendly, fun and we’ll help newcomers choose what to produce and how to package it. Everyone is paid for what they sell at the end of each month after we have taken a small fee to cover the cost of running the Market. We take orders for all our produce including children’s clothes and crafts.”

Janet and fellow-producer Sue Lappin have helped boost sales and attract still more customers recently, by delivetring produce to customers in the shops and offices in the High Street where the scent of freshly baked lemon drizzle cakes, quiches and sausage rolls has proved irresistible.

Market Mum marmalade

Christine Jones with her new season’s marmalade

Coleshill Market’s only remaining founder member, Christine Jones, 91, is renowned for her marmalades and cakes and still produces trays of baked goods and preserves every week. She enjoys serving at the Market each Friday and has hardly missed a week in 50 years.

“We started in April 1969 as Coleshill WI Market,” she recalled. “At our first market we had 20 different producers and in those pre-decimal days took £29-12 shillings, a lot of money then. We’ve kept mementoes and press cuttings showing many of the Market highlights over that time, including the day we opened all those years ago – and we’ll have this on display during our celebrations, so older Coleshillians will probably recognise some familiar faces from 50 years ago.”

Christine is also taking part in the centenary of the national Country Market Movement at Staffordshire Showground on April 30th, when she and one of the country’s youngest producers will be cutting a celebration cake together for the cameras, representing the wide range of ages attracted by  marketing.

Anyone interested in visiting Coleshill Country Market, ordering produce or becoming a producer should pop in any Friday morning, or ring Christine on 01675-462012, Deanna on 01675-463239 or Sally on 07860-346878.

Coleshill WI February Meeting

The winning bowls of bulbs in this month’s competition

At our February meeting we discussed our choice of resolution to be debated at the National Federation of WIs Annual Meeting at the Bournemouth International Centre on 4th-5th June. The six items included a call against the decline in local bus services, planting trees to improve the national landscape and  ‘Don’t fear the smear’, the need to make cervical smear tests less daunting to ensure that more women will have one. We handed in our votes for these resolutions and after a nationwide ballot, one or more will be chosen for debate at Bournemouth. We also discussed the Warwickshire WI County Federation meeting which is being held Monday, March 18th at the Dallas Burston Polo Club near Southam.

Warwickshire WI members will have the chance of a coach trip and day out in Winchester on July 29th. Last year’s visit to Lincoln proved an interesting and enjoyable day.

After the business of the meeting, we enjoyed a Games Evening including typically “intellectual” pursuits such as ‘Rabbits’, sitting in a circle with one member waggling both hands like rabbit ears while her neighbours either side waggled just the hand nearer the ‘rabbit’, until she suddenly pointed to someone else to become the rabbit instead. Anyone not waggling the correct ‘ears’ at once was eliminated amid great hilarity. We then played an entertaining drawing game with one member given a long strip of paper with the subject written at the top, for example ‘Giving a Dog a Bone’ . She then had to draw a picture representing the subject before folding over the paper and passing it onto the next person who had to write a description of what they thought the picture meant. The next woman then had to draw a picture to represent that description, before her neighbour in turn wrote a description of the new picture. By the time the paper had circulated a few more times, the latter pictures bore little resemblance to the original subject, like a pictorial Chinese Whispers


We have been invited to the Spring Group Meeting on March 21st hosted by Curdworth WI at their Village Hall when the speaker Lady Ann Foley will give a talk entitled ‘A Soldier’s Wife’.

Coleshill Country Market which was founded by our WI in April 1969 will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on Friday 26th of April at the Parish Room. Everyone is invited to tea, coffee and cake during the Market from 8 am to 11.30 am at the Parish Room, 132, High Street, Coleshill..


Our President Elaine Partridge won the competition for a bowl of home-grown bulbs with her trio of tall blue and white hyacinths. Christine Jones was second with her bowl of sweet-smelling pink spikes, with Jane Mills third.

Our next meeting is on Tuesday, March 12th in the Town Hall, when our speaker Steve Allen will be taking a Musical Trip through the 1800s, The competition is for something your mother used to say. The competition for our April meeting is for a home-made Easter bunny and our speaker from Coleshill Civic Society will be telling ‘The Story of a Restoration’.

Our meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month in the Town Hall at 7.30pm. Visitors welcome as always.

Coleshill WI January 2019 Meeting


1. The silver bird which Steven Bruce brought to show us


2. Some of the curios he appraised during the Roadshow.

At our January meeting we enjoyed a version of the ever-popular ‘Antiques Roadshow’ when auctioneer Steven Bruce showed us examples of affordable items worth collecting, including  1950s Dinky Toys in their original boxes, sets of valuable Maundy coins in their leather bags, presented by the monarch and a silver bird worth £600.

He revealed that among the most collectable items are out-of-date banknotes, especially sets in consecutive order, pillboxes with their inscriptions and postcards still with the address, stamp and clear postmark. If an item is in good, unworn condition, he said, it can boost its value considerably. He also recommended checking in chests of drawers and down the backs of sofas in case old coins and notes have been mislaid there and might be worth far more than their face value. Mr Bruce stressed the importance of making a will and stipulating exactly how particular possessions should be distributed, to avoid potentially costly disputes among heirs.

After refreshments we had a Cryptic Quiz on the theme of Shakespeare Plays and heard about the WI County Federation Meeting which will be held at the Dallas Burston Polo Ground near Southam on March 18th, bringing the Warwickshire WI’s Centenary Year to a close in style. Among the speakers will be TV naturalist and conservationist Simon King, Vintage Singer Cathy Morris and the popular ‘Cake Lady’ Kath Ryan  from Hall Green – who has been baking treats for injured war heroes being treated in Birmingham for 10 years.


At our next meeting on Tuesday, February 12th we are holding a Games Evening and the competition will be for a bowl of home-grown bulbs so members are reminded to look out their planted bowls. Our meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month in the Town Hall at 7.30pm. Visitors welcome as always.

Tom Wilson Memorial Service

Coleshill Church was packed to the rafters as over 400 friends, family members and former pupils paid tribute to the much-loved former Coleshill School headmaster Tom Wilson at a moving memorial service. Tom who died last month, just two weeks short of his 98th birthday, was well-known as the RAF officer who played the violin to cover the noise of preparations for the WW2 Wooden Horse escape from the Prisoner of War Camp Stalag Luft III in 1943. He helped to organise vaulting in the prison yard as cover for the ingenious construction of an escape tunnel, dug out from beneath the wooden vaulting horse and under the fence. He also led choir practices in the barber shop, designed to conceal the sound of the tunneler dispersing the piles of sand unearthed from the tunnel, beneath the hut.

Three men eventually escaped, carrying forged documents and civilian clothes sewn by prisoners who had been professional tailors in peacetime. After hazardous journeys across Europe, all three reached Sweden which was then neutral, before completing the ‘home run’ to England, providing a massive boost to British morale. Fortunately for Tom and his comrades, the Germans did not inflict reprisals on the prisoners left behind.

Tom was born in Erdington and attended Bishop Vesey Grammar School, learning of Hitler’s persecution of the Jews first-hand as, during the 1930s, he played with the children of Jewish refugees smuggled out of Germany to safety in Birmingham. During the latter part of his life he  was closely involved with Coleshill and Maxstoke churches and the local community, as a lay reader, minister, chorister, charity volunteer and headmaster of Coleshill School between 1956 and 1982. Representatives of many of the organisations he served and supported, including the RAF, Fire Service, Coleshill Civic Society, Christian Aid, Birmingham (Lay) Readers’ Association and Mary Ann Evans Hospice, Nuneaton were among the congregation.

Former Coleshill Grammar School pupil and funeral director Sue Wallace, who became a Russian expert, thanks to Tom’s insistence on high-quality modern languages teaching to boost understanding between the nations, read a vivid passage from his memoir ‘In the Shadow of the Wooden Horse’. This recounted the searing experience of hunger and his humane decision to share scarce food resources with fellow-prisoners during their march to freedom in 1945. Two former teachers, mathematician John Hoyle and Mark Akhurst (History), recalled Tom’s inspiring personality and the lovable eccentricities that made him a uniquely memorable headmaster and preacher, including the way he welcomed Mark back into teaching after the historian suffered a severe nervous breakdown that he feared might end his career. Tom was also famous for cycling everywhere and once bicycled most of the way to Cambridge twice in one day, having found that he had left his food coupons behind.

Bob Wilson, Tom’s elder son, read the famous passage from Corinthians on how love is the greatest of the virtues of faith, hope and love, then explained that it summed up perfectly his father’s loving care and sympathy for all humankind. Coleshill School’s current head teacher Ian Smith-Childs also praised Tom for his enduring support and interest in the school he led for 26 years.

In his address, Reverend Nick Parker remarked on the congregation’s stirring rendition of several of Tom’s favourite hymns, including ‘Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer’, ‘Abide with Me’ and ‘Jerusalem’, observing how much Tom, himself the possessor of a powerful voice, would have appreciated the resonant singing. The recessional music, Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’ reflected Tom’s enjoyment of wartime jazz and recalled an endearing incident from his youth. He recorded in his memoir how at local hops during training in Aberystwyth “on principle I always chose a partner from the ‘wall flowers’, a different one each dance.  I reckoned that every girl who bought a ticket deserved a dance and did my best to supply the lack of partners – a lot of my comrades spent most of the evenings round the bar, not having learned to dance.”

The reminiscing continued during Tom’s crowded wake at the Town Hall where everyone swapped stories and memories of an unforgettable man who hugely influenced generations of schoolchildren and people throughout the local community.

Tom Wilson Obituary

Tom Wilson, the much-loved former headmaster of Coleshill Grammar School and the RAF officer who played the violin to cover the noise of preparations for the WW2 Wooden Horse escape, has died just two weeks short of his 98th birthday. His role in the escape was featured in the 1950 film ‘The Wooden Horse’, and he later gave a number of fund-raising talks on this thrilling episode. He was closely involved with Coleshill Church as a minister, chorister and charity volunteer for the latter part of his life and lived in Coventry Road, Coleshill with his wife Gabi who survives him, together with their two sons and three grandchildren.


October 1943: the classical strains of the violin drifted out into the compound where Allied prisoners-of-war were performing their final vaults after a gruelling 3-hour gymnastics session. Four lifted the vaulting horse and, staggering under the weight, manhandled it back into the barber shop of the German concentration camp Stalag Luft III, leaving one English RAF officer outside. As the officer put on his cap, the violinist inside made a sign to the vaulters who immediately prised up a section of floorboards and tipped up the horse. A naked man, exhausted and streaked with mud, clambered out from beneath it, and down into the aperture, while the vaulters handed down sackfuls of sand in knotted trouser legs to him from inside the horse. The violinist immediately struck up a medley of sea shanties, while the vaulters thundered out the words.

What the guards patrolling outside did not know was that the endless vaulting was merely a cover for the ingenious construction of an escape tunnel, dug out from beneath the horse and under the fence. The choir practices in the barber shop were designed to conceal the sound of the tunneller dispersing the piles of sand unearthed from the tunnel, beneath the hut.

Within days, three men, including the tunneller Eric Williams had wriggled along the claustrophobically narrow passage and emerged at night on the far side of the perimeter fence. They were 12 inches short of the target and right in the sentry’s path but fortunately for them, the night patrol was late and the trio, wearing black clothes and face masks, silently disappeared  among nearby trees. They carried forged documents and civilian clothes sewn by prisoners who had been professional tailors in peacetime. After hazardous journeys across Europe, Ollie Philpot posing as a Norwegian quisling, Williams and Mike Codner as workmen, all three reached Sweden which was then neutral, before completing the ‘home run’ to England, providing a massive boost to British morale.


Thomas William Spencer Wilson was born in Erdington, Birmingham, on December 12th, 2018, the eldest of five children. His mother Florence, a New Zealander, was a gifted musician and piano teacher while his father William was a famously demanding and difficult engineer and head of research at the GEC factory in nearby Witton. Wilson, a bright, highly moral child, attended Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield, where he excelled at Science and engineering and became an accomplished violinist.  By the mid-30s, Jewish friends of his parents, the Kahns, were already sheltering German-Jewish boys and as a child he learned first-hand about the growing persecution, through playing with the young refugees. As an evangelical Christian and Sunday School teacher, Wilson had initially considered pacifism but rejected it, revolted by the Germans’ appalling treatment of the Jews.

Wilson won a physics scholarship to Birmingham University and took an electrical engineering degree then began an apprenticeship at Nechells Power Station.  His father considered engineers so important to the war effort that he forbade Wilson to join up and become ‘cannon-fodder’ in the Services. When his best friend’s brother, Bob Ayres, whom he greatly admired, was reported missing from a reconnaissance flight to Brest, however, Wilson resolved to defy his father and join the RAF.

Always sympathetic to the underdog and an enthusiastic athlete and dancer, Wilson recalled in his memoirs that at local hops during training in Aberystwyth “on principle I always chose a partner from the ‘wall flowers’, a different one each dance.  I reckoned that every girl who bought a ticket deserved a dance and did my best to supply the lack of partners – a lot of my comrades spent most of the evenings round the bar, not having learned to dance.”

Wilson became a navigator on night fighters then in modified Wellington bombers with a top-secret role, to try to find out how the Germans were managing to jam British electronic navigation systems. On his 13th mission, in May 1943, his plane was shot down over the Hague, killing the pilot, while the rest of the crew parachuted down. Wilson was discovered unconscious beside a canal by a group of local farmers who were sheltering a Dutch resistance fighter. Unwilling to risk the life of the fugitive, Wilson immediately agreed to be handed over to the Germans and was taken to the officers’ compound at Stalag Luft III in Silesia, now part of Poland. As officers, the 1500 inmates were not required to do manual labour but Wilson was determined to keep up morale.

“The Entertainments Officer came to welcome us,” he remembered “and said ‘Gentlemen, my job is to keep 1500 officers here sane until the end of the war. If any of you can do anything at all in the entertainments’ field, it’s your duty to help.’ I signed up as a violinist in the prisoners’ orchestra and bought a battered violin, which I then restored, crushing almonds to make oil to clean it.”

When Eric Williams devised his escape plan based on the story of the wooden horse of Troy, Wilson volunteered as a vaulter while tunnelling operations began beneath the horse. He only began playing his violin to cover the sound of the sand disposal after a bad fall following a headspring left him limping with a torn Achilles tendon. Because the surface sand was a darker brown than the yellow sand beneath it, the same top layer had to be replaced each day above a wooden hatch and section of carpeting, to avoid alerting the suspicious guards to any tunnelling activity. When a section of the tunnel gave way, leaving a small hole in the surface of the prison yard, Wilson played his violin as loudly as possible to mask the sound of the desperate attempts to shore it up. The  missing sand was replaced before anyone spotted the tell-tale aperture.

He later recalled with pride the ingenuity and teamwork shown during preparations for the escape.

“We even made ink for the forged documents by condensing the black smoke from burning cooking fat” he wrote. “We improvised tunnel lamps from can bases filled with cooking oil and used pyjama-cord as wicks while bed-boards and stolen planks were used to shore up the tunnel’s sides and roof.”

As German defeat became inevitable, Wilson and his fellow-officers were transported to  the Moosburg camp in Bavaria, via a forced march from Nuremberg, bartering cigarettes for food as they were on starvation rations.

On April 29th 1945 Wilson realised that they had been liberated when American troops under General Patton drove a Sherman tank through the perimeter fence but there were still no rations for the 100,000 prisoners, so Wilson and a group of officers broke out of the camp and drove the former Kommandant’s herd of pigs back inside. The starving troops fell on the animals, and within minutes had torn them into pieces with their bare hands and begun wolfing down some of the meat. Wilson was furious because after a leg of pork was hung up in his hut to bleed prisoners from other compounds, too hungry to wait, broke in and began slicing it into strips. The following day, they tracked down a small deer in the forest and drove it into the camp. Wilson remembered the incident vividly, later writing

“The poor animal was absolutely petrified. Then it lowered its antlers and charged the crowd. It too was torn into chops by the famished prisoners, though no portion came our way that time.”

Once back in England, Wilson used his gift for languages to work for sustained peace. He gained a double First in German and Russian from Pembroke College, Cambridge then taught at the Royal Liberty School in Romford. He became headmaster of Coleshill Grammar School where every child studied either Russian or German rather than the Classics.  He met his future wife, Gabriele Claessens, a young German intellectual in 1948 during an international student peace seminar in Berlin and the couple married two years later.

In 2009, he went back with fellow POWs to the site of Stalag Luft III during a reunion commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Great Escape which was staged in 1944 at a nearby compound. This was considered less successful than the Wooden Horse escape as Hitler had subsequently ordered 50 prisoners to be shot as reprisals. Wilson later noted that the site of the camp was by then covered in trees, with no trace of the compound or the tunnel remaining.

After retirement, Wilson became increasingly involved in the Coleshill and Maxstoke parishes, as a lay reader and fund-raiser for Christian Aid because of his personal experience of hunger. He cycled everywhere until well into his 80s when he broke his hip in a crashing fall while delivering parish magazines, though continued preaching and taking services until a couple of years before his death. He will be much missed throughout the area.

Tom Wilson Memorial Service

Coleshill Arts Weekend needs you!

The Mayor Cllr. Tony Battle and the Town Clerk, Colin Greatorex, (at Coleshill Town Council) are working on a major event in 2019.  We hope to launch something that could become an annual event.

Friday 15 – Sunday 17 March 2019 will be a Coleshill Arts Weekend (film showing, talks, exhibitions, band concert, parlour show and support tourism events).  These will be mainly at the Coleshill Town Hall but also involving the CASPER sculpture site and other venues in the town. We are hoping that schools, uniformed organisations, arts groups and other entertainment venues (including Coleshill pubs and clubs) will want to get involved with events that weekend and in the week before, i.e. Monday 11 – Thursday 14 March, as well.

Please get in touch with the Town Clerk or the Mayor if you want to be a part of it in any way:

  • If you are involved in the arts world in some way you might want to add in some talks, exhibitions or tourism interest events?
  • If you are locally involved in other art performance and can showcase it, including schools and voluntary bodies?
  • If you run a venue, like a pub or club, that is planning some entertainment that week?
  • If you are a business owner and could be a backer in some way (covering the cost of publicity materials, postage or other costs)?
  • If you or someone you know has skills that could be volunteered (e.g. publicity, graphic design, venue preparation)?
  • If you are yourself or know of someone to act as a patron to the event? Or,
  • If you just want to be part of this weekend in some voluntary capacity?

We want to get in touch with as many interested parties as possible in the new year to plan out more detail.  If you are up for this, our office hours are 9-1 if you want to have a chat.

Coleshill WI December meeting.

At our December meeting, we enjoyed a concert by the local U3A ukulele group, several of them performing in public for the first time, boosted by our member Mal Downes, who has been playing for several years. Numbers ranged from ‘I believe in Angels’ to Guy Mitchell’s ‘Singin’ the Blues’ and well-loved carols such as ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful.’ The committee provided seasonal refreshments including wine, hot drinks, home-baked sausage rolls, mince pies and quiches.

In keeping with our high-falutin’ traditions. we then played an intellectual though rowdy game with a stuffed toy rabbit attached to string and dragged rapidly from end to end of the table between two teams, while one member of the gardener’s team attempted to bash the unfortunate animal with a frying pan. No rabbits were injured during the game, although one of our members received a glancing blow from the frying pan.

Janet Baker won the competition for the best Christmas party outfit with her spectacularly gaudy pullover covered in every festive image imaginable. Christine Jones was second with her brightly-coloured silk jacket.

The New Year kicks off with a version of the ever-popular ‘Antiques Roadshow’ at our meeting on January 8th at 7.30 when auctioneer Steven Bruce will also be appraising antiques brought in by our members and judging the best for the monthly competition. Members and any interested visitors are very welcome to attend and bring along their intriguing antique pieces to find out “What’s It Worth?”

On February 12th we are holding a Games Evening and the competition will be for a bowl of home-grown bulbs so members are reminded to plant up their bowls in good time.

In March Steve Allen will take a musical trip through the 1800s and the competition is for ‘Something Your Mother Used to Say’.

Our meetings are held at Coleshill Town Hall on the second Tuesday of each month at 7.30pm and visitors are always very welcome. For more information ring Jane Hewitt 01675-430157

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