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Sailor Thomas and the 14 Inch Pipe

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As a journalist, I think what draws me to Derek Evans is his nose for a good news story. I am reminded of this by the discovery of another gem from his delicious cuttings file. Who remembers this chap, Harry ‘Sailor’ Thomas, of Hinton Avenue? You can see why he may have caught Derek’s eye. When this story was reported in the Western Mail in 1969, Sailor, an ex-Royal Navy man, proudly posed with his giant pipe ‘made in natural cherry wood, with a two-inch bowl and a 14-inch stem’. What’s even more extraordinary, is that this character even grew his own tobacco – a dream story for any local news hack. Even more extraordinary, so successful was Sailor’s tobacco crop (greenhouse, allotment? We will never know), that he was able to give up tobacco farming altogether! You couldn’t make this stuff up, could you? It’s hard not to wonder about the stories he would have: was he a soldier in WWI, WWII, both?

In an age when smoking was as common as wearing a hat, Sailor’s story stood out. We’ll never know where he drank, but we do know where the ‘partakers’ of snuff would go for a pint and it was The Sun, once a neighbour of The Barrels. The son of a former landlord told me: ‘Wherever you find people who take snuff, you will also find cider drinkers. Cider and snuff, no food, that was all. The front bar was men only, no ladies at all. It stayed like that till the very end’. The pub, Bells, was another place to go to in High Town if you wanted to stock up on your snuff. ‘It would come out of a big jar and they would put an ounce on the scales and tie it up in paper. That would last my grandmother a week’.

A legendary snuff user many in Hereford might remember, was old Tommy Hyett, purveyor of pork pies from his shop behind the Odeon, Tommy’s Pork Pies. A former schoolboy, keen to earn some extra pocket money, remembers helping out there while Tommy rested at the pub: ‘He had all these old trestles, it was like a big old shed. And he used to drink cider and take snuff. He wore a brown smock and he used to tip his snuff in his top pocket, and he had a habit of dipping his finger in and snorting.’

I imagine, somewhere deep in Derek’s archive, we might yet discover stories from The Sun and Tommy Hyett. We will keep you posted.

Marsha O’Mahony
Project Researcher and Oral Historian
Catcher Media


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