The street where I grew up: Richard Coles, Radio 4 presenter

The street where I grew up: Richard Coles, 60, writer, former vicar and Radio 4 presenter shares memories of Ridgway Road, Northampton

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Our house Long Meadow, in a village on the edge of Kettering, was built in the 1950s by my mum and dad when they married. It had four bedrooms and one bathroom and was typical of that period and rather lovely. 

There was a rose garden out the front and a big lawn at the back with a climbing frame which I fell off a lot.

My family were shoe manufacturers and my cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents all lived in the village. Lots of others living around us were also shoe people.

My brother and I played in the street a lot. Dangerous cycling was my favourite pastime – a kind of stunt cycling. The idea was that you would knock your friends off their bikes.

In spite of this I had lots of friends. We built gates into each other’s gardens so we could pass to and fro. We played bows and arrows, built tree houses and had dens and gangs.

Richard Coles, 60, writer, former vicar and Radio 4 presenter shares memories of Ridgway Road, Northampton

We lived right on the edge of fields so we’d often go off on our bikes, cycle around country villages and have a picnic under a tree or beside a stream. I remember my childhood as being one long summer. It was idyllic.

Unfortunately, I was an annoying child and a show-off – nerdy, needy and demanding. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I think a lot of this stemmed from the fact that I was an unusually bright kid. I’d constantly ask questions because I needed stimulation and attention.

I also developed obsessions. I became fascinated by the Bach Violin Suites, medals, caterpillars and hats. I owned a deerstalker, a top hat and a bowler hat. 

On a trip to London I made my parents take me to Harrods to buy a purple fedora. As I strutted around, oblivious to the remarks of passers-by, a gust of wind blew it off my head and into the traffic. My father had to rush into the street to retrieve it.

I loved music from as early as I can remember. I started learning to play the piano and violin aged four, and became a chorister at Wellingborough School. 

I was around eight when my father took me to a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the Albert Hall conducted by Charles Mackerras. I was so affected by it that I stood on my chair to conduct, too.

I was a very good performer until puberty, and then I became a Bolshevik. I wanted to hang out with the naughty boys, smoke and get into trouble. 

Dangerous cycling was Richard’s favourite pastime – a kind of stunt cycling which would see him knocking his friends from their bikes 

I made a right hash of school, just scraping four O-Levels, and left at 16 to go to a further education college.

My parents dealt with my behaviour quite patiently, although often with worry. My mum, Elizabeth, who now has dementia, had worked in a special school as a caterer, but gave up work when she married. 

My father Nigel, who is no longer living, was lovely, kind and funny, but not cut out for business. He’d been in the Army and I think he’d have stayed there if he could. But he joined the family firm.

Sadly, the British shoemaking industry died in the 1970s and took with it our family fortune and prestige. In 1977, we moved to a smaller, newly built house in another pretty village. 

To my shame, I resented our drop in status. I felt we’d gone down a snake rather than up a ladder. I minded that, which was heartless.

  • Murder Before Evensong by the Revd Richard Coles is out now in paperback (W&N, £8.99), eBook and audio.

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