<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Devon Life today click here

Churning out the tales

PUBLISHED: 14:26 19 June 2017 | UPDATED: 14:26 19 June 2017

Milk churns still part of the rural scene in a village in the Yorkshire Dales, 2014

Milk churns still part of the rural scene in a village in the Yorkshire Dales, 2014


John Wright turns back the clock to talk to a man whose job once took him around the lanes of Devon in all weathers to make sure the milk got through

Snow dominates the early memories of former milk churn lorry driver Jimmy Wills in the days when the Milk Marketing Board beckoned the public with adverts like Drinka Pinta Milka Day and Accrington Stanley, Who Are They? A teenager during the Big Freeze of ’63, Jimmy tells me the snowdrifts of February 1978 around Devon, where he’d spent ten years driving milk churn lorries for the Milk Marketing Board, were even worse.

He remembers one big snowfall compacting: “I walked with a mate on top of the snow, bent down and touched the top of a telegraph pole. We were out looking for a bread van. We went along with an eight-foot bean rod poking down as we went but never found it.”

Three weeks later they did when the thaw came; luckily no driver inside. Only the bread was past its ‘use by’ date.

“We also had a milk tanker stuck out in the countryside. The driver was rescued by tractor and the milk was still fresh after all that time; it froze. We collected at night in temperatures down to –17ºC and by day in –6ºC. Once I had to light a fire under the lorry to thaw out the diesel.”

Jimmy remembers one blizzard, leaving his Crediton depot in a white-out with mate Derek Saunders. “We had our nose pressed against the windscreen just to see a few foot in front.”

Eventually arriving at North Tawton, the snow was so bad they felt forced to wait it out in the Fountain Inn. “Derek stayed with me for a week before snow was cleared.” Jimmy got in so much darts practice during these ordeals that, despite once being hustled by an American tourist who “asked what he had to do” he went on to win 220 darts trophies.

The Milk Marketing Board collecting milk in the snow, all met at Tiverton Rugby Club where they used to reload in emergencies The Milk Marketing Board collecting milk in the snow, all met at Tiverton Rugby Club where they used to reload in emergencies

Floods came too. “I have gone through it so deep it would come in the cab and that was scary. I recall the hurricanes of 1987 and 1990 and taking my chainsaw with me in the cab. Many is the time I cut limbs off trees to get through.”

Jimmy recalls drivers and farmers getting on pretty well in those Milk Marketing Board days of collecting from farms and delivering to dairies. “I used to take farmers out a newspaper and had tea at a few farms. One used to cook me a Walls sausage or two.”

His foreman asked him to repair things they’d run into like milk churn stands. One day he was at Upton Pyne repairing a stone pillar fronting a big estate, and was ordered off the job. “I’d started dismantling the stones when a man walked up and said, ‘Morning’. I said ‘Morning, mate,’ and he said ‘I must ask you to call me My Lord.’ I said: ‘I’m afraid I only know one lord and that isn’t you.’”

Now for the mushy bit, so unromantic souls can look away as Jimmy remembers 1974! “Following a messy divorce, I went overnight from a lovely three-bedroom house I built in Crediton to a mobile home. The next year I met Margaret in Tawton cheese factory canteen where she worked. She offered me lodgings as the mobile home was so cold in winter and I helped her repair her cottage. We became good friends and guess we fell in love. I lived there until we married in 1982 and I could never picture a day without her.”

Milk churn collection wound up in 1978, after which Jimmy drove milk tankers, the Milk Marketing Board era ending in 2002. “The pride I felt working for them could never be matched. I also had a good working relationship with workmates and milk factory staff, nearly 33 years of wonder in all seasons.”

The memory he treasures most was one particular milk churn round in 1969, approaching Christmas. “My daughter was about to be born, and I went into a farm at Wallen Barton and asked the farmer if I could use the phone to see if she was born yet. He said of course. After I made the phone call he played a piece of music on the piano, and I remember thinking how brilliant that was.” The music still plays.

Jim and Marg as he collected his 25-year safe driving, long service award at a hotel near Winkleigh, c 1990s Jim and Marg as he collected his 25-year safe driving, long service award at a hotel near Winkleigh, c 1990s


CONS : My 30-foot (9m) milk pick-up hose once jumped off and wrapped itself around the back wheels, making it twice as long.

Once I almost reached the top of an icy hill, got out with a shovel and the lorry started sliding back, chasing me down the narrow road and hitting a tree.

Being bitten by a few dogs.

PROS: I saw a grass snake a metre long and on the Dartmoor rounds on sultry summer days you’d sometimes see an adder basking on top of hedges.

The loveliest thing I saw was a brood of eight little ducks on a stream at Washfield, near Tiverton. When I remembered I used to take them pieces of bread.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Fri, 16:16

As both a location for many classic works and as a producer of iconic authors, Devon has rich ties to the literary world. How brushed up are you on these connections?

Read more
Tue, 10:56

They get to pose the difficult questions and put interviewees on the spot every day in ITV’s regional news programme, Westcountry News, but especially for Devon Life Kate Haskell turns the tables and gets the lowdown on presenters Ian Axton and Kylie Pentelow

Read more
Thursday, December 7, 2017

Devon has produced some of the world’s best talent when it comes to film, music, sport, TV or pretty much any other field you can think of. Here are 18 celebrities that have shaped popular culture in their own unique way

Read more
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Recently we covered 13 celebrities you never knew were from Devon, because Devon is home to so many famous faces here are eight more that we missed…

Read more
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Founder member of Police Dog Hogan, James Studholme, tells Judy Spiers the story of how the country band got their most distinctive moniker

Read more
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

David J Williams looks back at an era when thousands flocked to watch football players at Plymouth’s Home Park…but it wasn’t the men they were cheering on

Read more
Friday, October 13, 2017

Puppies can bring big life changes, bigger still if it’s a Bernese Mountain Dog, as Belinda Jones discovers

Read more
Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Macmillan Cancer Support’s brand new charity fundraiser, Art 4 Macmillan, will be offering a double event in the form of a sale and special auction later this year. Kate Williams caught up with organisers Suzie Warren and Bridget Hill to find out what is in store

Read more
Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Judi Spiers talks to a North Devonian who has found himself travelling the world to instruct newcomers in a sport close to his heart

Read more
Monday, July 24, 2017

He’s one of the greatest cinematographers of all time but at home in Devon, Roger Deakins likes to take a break from the limelight. Chrissy Harris met up with him to talk movies, Hollywood and pasties...

Read more
Monday, July 17, 2017

We have covered just some of the celebrities born in Devon, however it seems that we had forgotten some. Here we have 8 more celebrities that were born in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A new exhibition of contemporary sculpture seeks to inspire, surprise and even challenge visitors to Buckland Abbey. Claire Saul talks to the creative force behind The Art of Reflection

Read more
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Farmer and wildlife conservationist Tim Green died in a horrific accident in February. He was just 42. Here, his best friend and business partner Rebecca Hosking tells Chrissy Harris how she and her team are carrying on in his memory...

Read more
Monday, June 19, 2017

Businessman Steve Littley sold his transport firm and left Surrey for the perfect, quiet life in Devon. A decade and £3.5million on, the building work at Cranberries Hideaway has finally finished. Kate Williams visits the former dairy farm and discovers how the journey evolved

Read more
Great British Holidays advert link
Pure Weddings advert link
South West Life advert link
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Latest Competitions & Offers

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Devon Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Devon's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Property Search