The Memorial Garden at Somerton.
In 1927, Cow & Gate Dairies Ltd opened a new factory for milk products at Etsome Terrace. It was hoped this would be the nucleus of a new industrial Somerton and that prosperity would follow. The site was placed to take advantage of a deep well with a reliable supply of pure water. It had a chimney 165 feet high to serve the boilers which drove steam turbines to produce electricity, so that the pasteurisation and drying of the milk could be done in completely clean conditions. It was the most modern type of factory and everyone was very proud of it. Its gleaming buildings, its fleet of lorries and its floral displays all showed what a good thing it was.
The factory employed about 40 people, many of them women. The lorries collected milk from the farms and most of it was pasteurised before being sent by rail or road tanker to London, Bristol, Exeter or wherever it was needed. The remaining milk was dried and the resulting powder was used in baby feeds and in the manufacture of foods – Horlicks, biscuits, cakes and tinned foods of many kinds. The firm owned other factories in the area which made cheese and butter, and some of these products were stored in the old Brewery in West Street which had been empty since Mr Elwes left the town in 1921.
On the morning of 29th September 1942, when the bombing of Bristol and other cities north of Somerset was intense, a lone German bomber flew in from the south at roof level and dropped four time-fused bombs on the factory. In the few seconds before the detonation, some people managed to scramble out, but when the explosion came it wrecked the building and killed nine of the employees. Houses all round were damaged and many people were injured or shocked or had lost a father, a mother, a brother or a sister. But it was war-time, so little was said in the press and everyone carried on as well as could be managed.
The site remained derelict until after 1960. Then the chimney was demolished, and Cow & Gate agreed to sell part of the site to the County Highways Authority as a depot, part to the County Education Committee for the new Infants School, and part for a new fire station. The company was persuaded to donate the remaining land as a children’s playground in perpetuity.
After much prevarication (it is not clear who paid for the play equipment if there was any) the memorial garden was opened, as a part of the Cemetery Committee’s responsibility, in 1969. By 1985 what equipment there was had become unusable, so a group of mothers raised money to buy new swings and climbing frames which were much enjoyed when they were new, but by 2004 they were worn out and had to be replaced.
Somerton Town Council set about finding the money from grants and capital funds and in 2007 a completely redesigned larger garden was opened to the public. It has nine trees for the nine who died, as well shrubs and herbacious planting, a pagoda, seats, swings and climbing equipment and plenty of grass for running about on. On Etsome Terrace are imposing memorial gates and just inside them is a new memorial plaque in stainless steel, mounted on a standing slab of blue lias.
It is being enjoyed by the children and as the planting matures it will become a haven of quiet for all the people of Somerton.