LEN JARVIS – PARISH SKETCHES

(From an interview by Michael Parvitt for the Gamlingay Gazette. July 2001)

Len has one of the strongest ‘Gamgy’ accents that I have heard around here so I was not surprised to learn that he is Gamlingay born and bred.
Len was born in a house in Pear Tree Row in Church Street. He went to the school in Green End from the age of 4 ½ to 15. In fact it was at school that Len first became interested in building and brick laying.

‘It was Mr. Robinson, the headmaster,’ said Len. ‘He was a keen gardener and had a practical ‘hands on’ approach to things. He managed to acquire some of the land behind the old Conservative Club adjoining the school grounds. He got us pupils to build a paddling pool, a sandpit and a pagoda which we thatched. In those days a ditch ran from the pit at the bottom of Cinques Road through the school garden and down to the bottom of Green End. We built a bridge over the ditch where it ran through the garden. I really enjoyed the work and I found that I had a natural touch for brick laying.’ The school woodwork master, Mr. Freeman, taught Len the basics of brick laying and Len developed the skills himself.

  In fact, Len was so keen that he started doing work for Mr. Peters the builder in Mill Street on Saturday mornings and during the school holidays. After leaving school Len stayed with Mr. Peters for 3 years at £3 per week. ‘There was one job I had during that time that I was really proud of,’ said Len. ‘I dug two wells to provide water for irrigation. One was in a field off Long Lane and one was up by East Lane. I was still in my teens and these wells were 22 feet and 27 feet deep and 5 feet in diameter.’ Len then described to me how these were dug and brick lined as he went down. The bricks were laid on a well former that slid down as you dug beneath it then you laid more bricks at the top each time.

  Mr. Peters became ill with cancer so he asked the Harris brothers in Mill Street to take Len on until he was better. Sadly Mr. Peters did not recover so Len stayed with the Harris brothers. Almost all his work was carried out at Hatley Hall and involved some restoration and the building of new stables and piggeries and in all kept him employed for 7 years. Eventually Len decided to become self employed and take subcontract work.

‘Then we got hit by the terrible winter of 1962-63. (The country froze up on Boxing Day and the snow and ice finally thawed on 14th March). Building work stopped and my mate George Brown and I traveled to Shelford every day to do the bagging and weighing of coal for delivery from 7.30 in the morning until 5.00 in the evening and to 12 noon on Saturdays for £12 a week. Through all that weather we never missed a day.’

Then Arnold Harris asked Len and George if they would do some work for the Harris brothers on a subcontract basis. ‘He told us what jobs he had outstanding and there was about 4 years work. The big job was restoration work on the ‘Old Fox’ at Great Gransden, which took about 3 years.’ This was when Len got seriously into the restoration work which was to be his specialty  He stripped the ‘Old Fox’ down to its basic wooden structure and rebuilt it. Massive oak beams had to be found and then shaped to suit and fitted all by hand. Part of the restoration involved rebuilding the chimneys, which had completely collapsed. Len remembers that they did not know what they should look like. ‘Then one morning Mr. Porter, the owner, came out for our daily briefing carrying an old book and a magnifying glass. The book was a history of Great Gransden which had a photograph of the house as it used to be. ‘There you are Len,’ he said, ‘that’s how the chimneys have to look.’ Needless to say, we could not find the right shaped bricks so we had to find the correct type of old brick and cut them to shape.’ That’s the kind of attention to detail that marks Len’s work still.

Len stayed with A.E. & A.J. Harris for about 10 years and then left to start up in his own business. After 12 months George Brown, who had stayed with the Harrises, came to join Len and worked for him for 17 years until retirement. Len’s work was mostly restoration although when some land became available in Hartford he built four bungalows for sale on the open market.

Over the years the company grew and then Len’s son Simon, who had worked his apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner with Robin Harris, joined the business. Robin had always made the joinery for Len and when he decided to retire he asked Simon if he would like to take over. In 1999 the business was made a limited company and now L.F. Jarvis & Son Ltd. includes the joinery business with Simon as the chief joiner.

Len has also made a contribution to the village community. In 1976 he joined the Special Constabulary and was with them for 11 years rising from special constable to sergeant.

In the early 80’s BMX bikes were all the rage and some of the bike owner’s dads decided to form a club to get the lads off the streets. The nearest BMX track was at Peterborough and the dads were involved in the transportation of boys plus bikes every Sunday. The Parish Council were approached for some land and the construction of a track was started next to the playing field. A digger was needed for this job and Len and his wife loaned the club money to get the track finished. The track was very successful with up to 100 boys from miles around using it on a Sunday. With a nominal charge for racing on the track the loan money was soon repaid.

Later Simon joined the local football club. In 1985 the club ran out of money and Len bought the team a set of kit and took the opportunity to have them printed with L. F. Jarvis! When Simon joined the Biggleswade Rugby Club Len bought a van to transport the team to away matches.

In about 1992 Tony Morris wanted to start a local branch of Neighbourhood Watch. Len was involved from the beginning, going with Tony and Sandy Round to London to meet the N W national co-ordinator. He was then elected to organize the structure network and chair the street meetings.

He joined the Parish Council in 1991 and has sat on various committees within the P C; the traffic committee, planning and has been vice chairman of the P C.

Len’s had his share of injuries too. A last minute operation on his spine, which saved him from being wheelchair, bound, an operation to replace half his knee with plastic and a heart attack. He is still working full time so they obviously build ‘em tough in Gamlingay!