Archive for April, 2013

Tile Cutting

April 30, 2013

I do not endorse products. Actually, I quite dislike adverts and, in particular, what gets called advertorial matter. You know – those articles which look like genuine content but turn out to be exhorting you to buy items you never knew you needed. So I shall mention no product names, even though I am going to say that one particular purchased item proved to be a total god-send.

A while ago we bought some tiles. My wife is pretty good at tiling and we never imagined any particular difficulty. But we encountered one. All went well enough until we needed to cut the first tile to fit round an electricity socket. Out came the little hand tile saw. Yes, it cut it, but oh so slowly. Something over an hour later an inch had been cut. Next, the cut at right angles had to be done – and that was two inches long. The time taken was absurd and absolutely soul destroying.

As a trial, we cut an old tile we had spare from a previous job. It was no problem. Our new tiles caused the difficulty.

We needed something a bit beefier.

A local DIY shop offered diamond tipped edge cutters for hire at £35 per day. Then we found one we could buy for £45. The trouble was that the nearest store with the device as that price was just over 20 miles away.

We decided to make a morning of it. We went via a country route and enjoyed the scenery and purchased our own cutter.

On our return, we deviated to a garden centre. We wanted a new plum tree and were able to purchase a golden plum – a bit like a greengage.

And then it was home to assemble the tile cutter and try it out.

Wow! It works.

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And here it is. Yes, it sprays its cooling water about but it does, so far, a lovely job.

Whether we’ll ever need it again, I don’t know but a stalled job has become possible again.

And how’s that for a good right angle cut?

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On the Wagon

April 29, 2013

Should that be wagon or waggon? Both spellings seem to be acceptable but that, of course, is not what this post is about.

Neither is it about going dry after a bout of high alcohol usage. I’m not a teetotaller but I am a low consumer of alcohol. Many would say exceedingly low, but there is no principle involved. I find I can be silly without alcohol and to be honest I don’t much like the slightly out of control feel I get from booze. But I’m happy to enjoy a good beer or red wine or a glass of decent cider. It’s just that I drink them very rarely.

So, not that at all. Rather this is about being on an old farm wagon. The year was 1954.

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This was a ‘camp’ activity.

Youngsters today might find the life style hard to credit. We were stuck on the bare South Downs for three weeks. Books and games we had, but in limited supply. In fair weather or foul, we had to make our own entertainment. Our props were what we had around us and our imaginations. This wonderful old Sussex wagon, abandoned by the side of a track, was one prop and there we have me on the left, my sister and my brother temporarily stopping our game and posing for my dad’s camera.

Actually, there were probably three different games going on in three different imaginations. My sister imagined the wagon to be a ship, sailing the seven seas and going to exotic places that were only in her, older head. I don’t know what my brother imagined – he died more than thirty years ago, so I’ll try and put myself in his mind. I suspect his version would have been nearer the truth of what we were on. It would have been a Wild West wagon, racing across the prairies. We didn’t have (at home) a TV and cowboy programs were a bit alien to us, except that through the thin walls which separated our house from our neighbour’s we could hear the clatter of hooves and the roll of the wheels, the sharp report of gunfire and the conversations between members of the cast from their TV. My brother was always a bit of a dare devil – so that’s how I think he’d have seen this old wagon.

It’ll come as no surprise that for me it was a train and I was the driver. Now how dull is that – except of course that it wasn’t dull as my imagined train raced on at 75 mph, up hill, through tunnels, down dale and across spectacular viaducts.

But back to that picture. A couple of days ago I posted my long ago written piece about camp and in it I mentioned a tarpaulin over the bikes, which was always called ‘The Garage’. Well there it is tied on to the wagon and with the bikes under it.

Those oh so simple days, devoid of much contact with the outside world, with an absence of news, were also oh so happy. Present day youngsters will find it hard to imagine how we coped with no computer, tablet, smart phone, let alone TV but these items, I judge, have not actually made youngsters happier. Yes, I’d find it hard to cope without my computer these days, but I’m glad that we learned how to entertain ourselves.

Granny’s Auntie Ellen

April 28, 2013

If Ellen was my gran’s aunt then she must be my great great aunt. Needless to say, I never knew her but I did know she was a favourite of my gran.

Ellen’s birth goes back a long time. She was born on 7th September 1840, in Blythburgh in Suffolk. This was a couple of months before her parents married. Her parents were James Crosby and Mary Ann Smith. This begs the question of whether Ellen was a Crosby or a Smith – but it goes deeper than that. Her Mother, Mary Ann was a Smith – also born before her mother married a Cullingford, so young Mary Ann became known as Mary Ann Cullingford. So just possibly Ellen was a Cullingford. What with these possibilities and the fact that Helen and Ellen were interchangeable names, it’s no wonder I haven’t yet found Ellen in the official birth records. However, she was baptised at Blythburgh Church on 25th October 1840.

For the 1841 census Elenor Crosby lived with her parents in Blythburgh. By 1851 they had moved to Butley, further south in Suffolk. They had arrived there in about 1848 after a stay in Tunstall also in Suffolk.

In 1861 Ellen was a servant in Marylebone London.

Before 1871 Ellen married. The 1871 census shows Ellen as Ellen Snowden and her husbands as William Snowden from Capel St Andrew which is very close to Butley. But the couple had moved to Sussex – to Isfield in fact and William who had been a shepherd in Suffolk was now a game keeper in Sussex.

Once again, records rather have me beaten. I cannot trace a marriage although a William Snowling married an Ellen Smith in the Uckfield district in 1862. Isfield is in the Uckfield district.

William died in 1881 – before the census was taken – so that year we find Ellen as a widow. She was working as housekeeper to George Huntley – a young widower. This situation continued in 1891. But in December of that year Ellen became Mrs George Huntley.

And that’s where we find Ellen in 1901 and again in 1911.

In about 1912 Ellen probably accompanied her niece and great nephew to Lewes where they had Sticky Back photos taken. Ellen was now in her 70s.

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Ellen died in 1921. George joined her in 1924. They are buried at Isfield and have a stone.

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Camp

April 27, 2013

A child’s holiday – written by me in February 1997

I find it hard to believe that I’ve never written specifically about camp. For nearly 15 years, camp was a major factor in my life. Perhaps, it was the major factor, which has helped to mould my present way of life.

Camp was at Furlongs Farm, roughly equidistant between the villages of Firle, Glynde and the hamlet of Beddingham. It was actually in the parish of Beddingham, with the main pasture rising up and over the top of Beddingham Hill. It was about four miles from Lewes and seven from Newhaven. For three weeks each summer, a little ridge, perched up on the downs was our family home. It was ten minutes walk to the farm itself although the Freeman family who ran the farm lived in Glynde. Dick had one room at the farm. The rest of the isolated house was let to people who we called artists but more of them anon.

Perhaps the story should start in 1952 near Lancing cement works. We went camping with the scouts there. I don’t remember any scouts. Indeed, my main memories concern falling into a ditch and the yellow diesel shunter that was used at the cement works. This was the first family camp and presumably, soon after, my father acquired a motley collection of tents and camping gear. I am told he then went cycling to find a suitable pitch for us. Water was the main concern and this was found, along with friendly farmers at Furlongs. An added advantage was that Great Aunt Nellie lived at Firle, barely more than a mile away, and she could get milk for us and provide an emergency base. The site, of course, was in no way official. It was just a ledge on a hill. 200 yards away, down the hill, there was a tap on some kind of reservoir. I learned to know those 200 yards well. Carrying water was a major occupation. There were no lavatory facilities and even at the farmhouse there was no electricity.

I remember a visit to the area in 1953. It was coronation time and there was a beacon being built on Mount Caburn above Glynde. I was still young (about 4) and was unimpressed by Mount Caburn. It was too big for me to take in. The prehistoric hill fort on top of the hill had left all sorts of mounds and one of these became my hill. I proudly climbed to the top of it. It was on this visit that we visited Nellie at her old house where she had once run a sweet shop. It was the only time I remembered going there. The other rather strange thing I remember from the visit was the walk from Glynde to Firle. It was the pay gate that impressed me. I had no concept of paying to use roads. This was the first time I released that things had once been very different.

Camping must have started at Furlongs in 1954. Ownership of a car was a distant prospect. We hired a lorry and driver to take the collection of tents, chairs, beds and, vitally, bikes to the camp site. The journey was a part of the holiday. There we were, in the back of a lorry for what seemed an endless journey. Other people went to Torquay, but our journey of just over 20 miles had a real romance to it.

On arrival at the site there were two options. The lorry could park on the tarmacced track above our ledge, or it could get as close as possible in the field. In either case, it was a heavy haul to get all of the gear into place. The driver had the idea of rolling tents down from the track. They, of course, went all the way to the bottom and had to be man hauled back up. One way or another, though, the incredibly heavy, elderly collection of tents were got into place, and erected. This had to happen no matter what the weather. On one early camp the wind, it was estimated, was a steady hurricane. It was nearly impossible to move against it and perfectly easy to face away from the wind and just lean back onto it. But in these conditions, 100 square feet of roof had to be lifted onto the walls and anchored down.

The main tent was ten feet square and operated a bit like a modern frame tent. Indeed, it was a frame tent, with an enormous wooden structure that concertinered out to give the tent shape. The enormous roof was hoisted onto this and then the heavy walls were hooked onto it. It had the virtue of all being useably high with no poles within it. In this tent we had our food – already prepared in the tent on the single Primus stove and the pressure cooker. This tent, too, was the grown ups bedroom. Each morning, they carefully tied their beds up to the frame to make sufficient space inside for a family. In later years this tent grew an extension – a kind of lean-to which could be attached to the back. It was a useful store, and could even be used as a lavatory (complete with Elsan chemical toilet).

The other main tent was a square bell tent. This had a larger floor area, but the walls were only about 3 feet high and, of course, it had a centre pole. This was the sleeping area for children. Beds could be left up all of the time. It was a dark and dismal place. Not much light could penetrate the thick, heavy canvas.

Tent number three was the toilet tent. In early days this was a white ridge tent – about 6 ft long and high. At first, the toilet was a seat over a hole in the ground with a shovel so that soil could be put in the hole after use. Later, the Elsan arrived. The contents of this, when full, were tipped down a convenient rabbit hole. It must have been an unpleasant shock for the poor little bunnies. This tent, always a rather thin and flimsy affair, suffered badly at the horns of a cow. I was in it at the time when a horn appeared, ripping large holes in the canvas. It was replaced by the wigwam. This had been a polar tent. It had no guys, being held in place by its poles and mounds of snow. My father must have carried out some conversions to make it suitable for the temperate chalk downland.

The bell tent also suffered a cow attack – at least we assume it did. We came home to find the top of the tent nearly torn right off, and a bad state of collapse. I remember being distressed by this but my father got out his repair kit and sewed it up again. The next year we had our own electric fence which surrounded our encampment. We suffered no more attacks by cows.camp2

The fourth tent had no real function. It was a little US Navy Biv tent – date stamped 1942. It could store sacks and things.

Within the tents, we all had beds – heavy wooden folding types and on these we had sheets and blankets fastened with blanket pins. I never remember any real discomfort. We also had a table and a collection of chairs plus various boxes in which food and essentials were stored. I am sure most people would have felt it was primitive, but we never seemed to want for anything. Lighting was provided by a tilley lamp, candles and torches. I had a torch like a front bicycle lamp. it had a hood which could be placed over the beam – a blackout measure. It was summer, of course, so we didn’t need all that much light and no heat.

The essential bicycles were stored about 100 yards away, on the way to the water. They were covered with a tarpaulin. This tarpaulin was always called ‘The Garage’. If it still exists it will still carry the same name!

One other ‘item’ accompanied us in later years. Our cat, Blackie, became a camper, spending his days in the badger spinney by the bicycles. Soon after, we got a car and that spelt something of a change in camp. Travelling was now easy and we got further afield.

So the classic set up for me (reading from North to South) consisted of the sombre brown bell tent, facing South. About 20 feet away the main tent (was it a dismal green colour) faced North, with its lean-to on the back. Behind that, at a suitable distance, was the wigwam, loo tent. The biv tent was probably quite near to the wigwam. the whole lot was surrounded by a single strand electric fence, with a ticker unit of my father’s construction and rubber covered skewers acting as ‘gate’ hitches so that we could get through.

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I never knew how he made the fence unit, but it seems the main coil came from a Model T Ford car. Between the two large tents we would sit out on director style folding chairs and just behind us we’d have a telescope mounted on a flimsy tripod. Possibly, a long wire would thread its way up the hill from my crystal radio set. All of this was set on a narrow, flat ledge about 50 feet above the valley floor. The photo, taken in 1958 shows the set up with the view across the Glynde Reach valley to Mount Caburn beyond

The bank down from the ledge was quite steep and provided us with much entertainment. If you sat at the top and pushed with your hands you soon gathered speed and arrived, exhilarated, at the bottom. You were then faced with the scramble back up. For a shorter slide, you could travel down to ‘Manchester’.

Manchester? The bank up to our ledge had four little ‘chalk pits’ about 8 feet long and a couple of feet deep. These, amazingly, are still there. What caused them I don’t know but they provided a little flat haven, about a couple of feet wide on the steep slope. These were claimed by us children as bases and given names. Robin, ever greedy and bullying, claimed two which he called London and Brighton. Paula, older than us and with a better knowledge of geography called hers Manchester. I was left with a rather scrubby affair, smaller than the others and well away from the centre. I called it Southend because, for some reason I’d been there. London and Brighton were too near the top for sliding into. Southend was too far away, so Manchester it was.

Soil creep on the bank provided narrow paths between the bases. We played trains a lot. Manchester was a bit out of the way for this game, but Paula probably felt far too old for it anyway. Robin and I ran a regular service on the rather unlikely London, Brighton and Southend route. In fact, looking back, I wonder how much Paula would have enjoyed camp. My memories are of Robin and I doing things together.

We were regular players of stage coaches. Just by where we kept the bikes, by the badger spinney there was an old, wooden, farm wagon. This provided hours of entertainment as we cajoled our imaginary horses to greater feats of speed. But better, just beyond the farm on the old Roman underhill road, there was the rotting remains of a real stage coach. It was possible to sit up there on the drivers seat, or be a guard with a wild gun firing at highwaymen. I don’t think we were too bothered about being passengers. I can regret now that we didn’t treat this piece of history well. Perhaps it should and could have been conserved.

The farm itself was always an attraction. Chickens scurried about and it was always a pleasure to feed these greedy creatures. We could also ride the very stationary old tractors and binders that were littering the yard areas. And if any harvesting happened we would be there, helping. For these were still labour intensive days. Dick would start by opening up the field (cutting a width wide enough for tractor and binder) with a rip hook. He tied these into sheaves, using straw. Then the binder could get in and the followers were always hard pressed to gather the sheaves into stocks, stooks, shocks or shooks. Stocking up was a regular activity, as was loading sheaves onto trailers and helping to build stacks.

In fact, Dick must have been the last of his type for I never saw another person who harvested anything with a sickle. He was the only person who I ever saw hand broadcasting seed. Robin and I were far more interested at the time with the goings on at neighbouring Blackcap Farm. They were modern and we just loved the combine harvester. This, tractor hauled item was the piece of machinery that we ran to see. This was what was special to us. Even Dick used one from time to time, hired from a contractor and I really admired Dick’s skill as the sacker. For these combines did not have tanks. The grain was delivered to sacks and Dick had to fill them, use string to fasten them and then tip them onto the ground to be collected.

Sheep were also an attraction. Dick ran a flock of what I would now guess were a bit Hampshire Down. These were out in the pasture all day but were folded on turnips every night. This was labour intensive again since each day the sheep had to be fetched and then driven out again the next morning. In Wiltshire, sheep are referred to as ‘The Golden Hoof’. Dick also, obviously felt that sheep transferred fertility from the pasture to the arable lands.

Much of life at Beddingham was about survival. Trips to Glynde or Firle, where there were village shops, were fairly frequent. Lewes was within range and Robin and I sometimes went there by bus to use the swimming pool. I learned to swim there. The town we visited most often was Newhaven. We went there for the seaside. It was a seven mile cycle ride, mostly fairly level, but with awful hills as we skirted the downs in the Ouse Valley. Newhaven seemed to provide all our needs. there was the beach and with a short walk there were rock pools. Being remote, there were nudists near the rock pools. There was a harbour and a huge harbour wall. there was a Woolworth’s shop which sold 7 Up. Cross channel ferries sailed to Dieppe and they had romantic sounding names like Lisieux. We learned to love swimming in the sea as the bow waves from the ferries crashed onto the shore. In fact, no kind of rough sea ever seemed to stop us swimming.

Ferries and the docks were a major attraction. It was always a pleasure to be in Newhaven to see Lisieux, Londres or Brighton arrive or depart. Arrivals were better since it was no easy matter to bring these boats in to the dock side. Much use was made of ropes to haul them into place and fasten them. From time to time there would be a cargo boat and these sometimes went up stream of the bridge. Road traffic was stopped to allow these boats through so that the cranes could unload the cargo. A regular boat was the bucket dredger. This had the task of transferring mud from the bottom of the river and taking it out to sea and dumping it. Even as a child I felt sure that this silt would be carried back in on the next tide.

Newhaven seemed to offer all that one could wish for. The main beach was shingle but the harbour was sandy and perfectly safe for swimming. There was always a fair on the West harbour wall. It can hardly have done a roaring trade for tourists were pretty thin on the ground. Occasionally, we had a go on the swing boats. These were great fun, and by picking a quiet time we could always get a really long ride for our money. I don’t remember that we were ever told to stop by the show man. It was a message from our arm muscles that persuaded us to give up.

Near the swing bridge – a nightmare to cycle over because of the tram lines, there was always a flock of swans. These, like the Furlongs hens, were a joy to feed. This was near the railway – always of interest to me. North of the bridge, on the east side, there were sidings where interesting locomotives did strange manoeuvres with trucks. This area was by the docks so cargoes could be taken straight from ship to train. Just by the bridge on the south side was Newhaven Town station. This, normally had a service of the green southern electric trains, but there was always a chance of seeing a boat train hauled by one of the splendid electric locos.

Towards Seaford, near Bishopstone there was a favourite beach of mine at the Tide Mills. I was fascinated to think that the tides could be used to turn useful machinery. It seemed such a good idea to get that free energy. We often referred to that area as Bongville because someone had written that name on a sign board at the old, closed, Bishopstone Station.

It became the proud boast of Robin and I that we swam the equivalent of once a day. This meant we had the cycle ride to Newhaven or the bus journey to Lewes to contend with.

Walking was another favourite occupation. I’m told, that on our first morning at camp, Robin and I set off for the top of Beddingham Hill. It was there and it had to be climbed. My mother was evidently fraught with panic as her two little boys – specks in the distance – trudged straight up to the top via the motor bike route. This was another learning experience. It was the short route, but it was not quick or easy, being very steep. We learned to cross the valley floor and go up the gentle coach road from the chalk pit. We once lost all of our wellies – stolen from where we hid them in a corn field – when we were out on a walk. These were the only items we ever lost whilst camping. On that same day I found a small scale map of the area. The loss must have been retribution for my pleasure at finding this map. I’ve still got the map!

Our pasture field was enormous. We were fairly near one corner of it, where there was access for vehicles. Close to the gate was the badger spinney – a steeply sloping rather sinister wood and just inside the gate was the water trough. there was also a rather strange circular crater which we attributed to a bomb. Across the valley floor there was another line of scrubby trees forming a little spinney. These, too, were on quite a steep slope and above them was arable land. However, the pasture went right up to the top of the hill where there were views of Newhaven. We were regularly at the top, hopefully to see a ferry arrive. We looked for the puff of smoke to indicate it had blown its warning hooter whilst still out at sea. We then waited and waited for the sound of the hooter to reach us. I wonder if it still would through the noise of all of the traffic on the roads. At the top of the hill there was (and is) a dewpond. It never held much water in my memory. Just above the scrubby spinney, a track came up from the farm. This had once been a coach road, presumably heading for the coast. It took an easy route up, past a chalk pit. The function of this conical hole is not clear to me. But it was of manageable size to a small boy and Robin and I spent a lot of time in it. We found fossils, but we also did more adventurous things in it. Hillary and Tensing may have conquered Everest. We conquered the East cliff of the chalk pit with every bit as much pleasure. West from the chalk pit the pasture went down into another valley – hidden entirely from our camp and farm. Then there was another ridge before a final valley and another dewpond. This was indeed a hidden spot, as remote as you could get from any trace of civilisation. In this third valley there was only nature (albeit in the form of Dick’s sheep to commune with. It is nearly 30 years since I was there, but I love that spot as, indeed I love the entire pasture which has altered very little over the years.

Robin and I became regular shepherds for Dick during our camps. With his old time methods, he had to find the sheep in this huge field each day and drive them down to their fold. This was always a pleasurable job since they didn’t need a lot of driving. The greedy beasts looked forward to their feed of turnips and often needed no actual fetching. In the morning, we could set them loose again whilst Dick set up a new pen – made of wattle hurdles – for the next night.

Sometimes we helped move the bullocks as well. The Freeman dairy farm was by the station in Glynde, just over a mile away. Bullocks spent summer months in our field and occasionally they were moved. This involved the fairly easy journey along the near deserted road from Furlongs to Glynde Cross. Here, the main A27 road had to be crossed before the cows could continue on the very minor road into Glynde. I feel sure that such a trip would be nigh impossible now, with ceaseless traffic speeding on the A road.

There were other helpers too. Barry was a Glynde lad who often helped on the farm. Paula used to fancy him. Jamie was the son of an artist who was sometimes at the farm. Angus, another artist son (Mrs Richards) did not help much. I rather feared him because he was an epileptic. I never saw him have a turn, and once, all three of us went out rowing with him on the River Ouse. This was the first time I remember my Dad driving. He drove Mrs Richard’s brown, upright Ford van to get us all there.

On the eastern side of our field, the metalled track made its way to the wireless station at the top of the hill. These masts displayed a slight purple glow at the top of the hill. This track was the edge of Furlongs farm, so the steep, shell shaped chalk pit above it was really out of our territory. None the less, we played in it from time to time. It was a much more daunting climb than THE chalk pit.

In fact, the games which Robin and I could play seemed almost limitless. By modern standards it was all low key but perhaps it developed a closeness with nature. We knew our chalkland flora and fauna, both natural and agricultural. We knew our fossils and our local geography in considerable detail. Weather predicting, based on sunsets, became my forte but no skill was needed to predict wind. There must have been a breeze most of the time so we flew kites. On one occasion, Robin’s white box kite got away. It shot up the hill towards Firle. Somewhere on the way the string tangled in a fence and we recovered it, none the worse for its adventure. I still have a fascination for kites.

But, despite the fun, I also remember days when the rain beat down and a physical gloom filled our valley. On these occasions we played cards or other games in the dark interior of the bell tent. If the rain got worse, one of us would announce that it was the ‘clearing up shower’. On these days of rain, the normal processes of living must have been moderately miserable. The wet walk to the loo tent would have seemed a long way. Rain may have poured down but we still needed water. That 100 yards, down from our ledge to the valley floor and then back up with the full cans would have been slippery and miserable. Our tents, with no groundsheets, kept the rain out but things got damp inside on such days. It was probably something of a nightmare keeping matches in a fit state to use and these were essential for lighting the Primus stove and the tilley lamp.

Such days existed and it was Paula who ended one such day, when we were all in bed, by inviting us to say the funniest thing we could. My response was ‘Mrs Selway’ (a neighbour where our house was) Robin and Paula evidently agreed with my assessment because uncontrollable, hysterical laughter broke out and went on and on. Our parents came over from the main tent to see what it was all about, but we weren’t much use to them. If one of us controlled ourself enough to start saying ‘Mrs Se’ it was enough to bring the hysterics back on. Eventually peace resumed. We were able to explain to baffled parents what the joke was and we went to sleep. I have awful feelings of guilt over this episode for the lady in question was a sweet, good natured soul and she surely didn’t deserve such rude treatment.

We didn’t use them much but the trains were important to us. We could see a long sweep of railway from the edge of Lewes to nearly Glynde. We knew the times of trains and could regulate our lives by them. My favourites were the London to Hastings expresses. These were green electric trains, but the second or third coach from the London end was a Pullman car in cream and brown livery. This service ran hourly and the trains in opposite directions were due to pass at Beddingham Crossing, where the railway crossed the A27 road. This meant that we could see the two trains at once as they dashed along the level ground with Mount Caburn as the backdrop. A wonderful sight. There were steam trains too. Any freight, and there were several trains each day, was steam hauled by elderly wheezing, clanking locos. Each day there was a very special train which my father called ‘The Birkenhead Express’. This little train was steam hauled, but I knew that it joined up with similar trains from Kent, when it reached Redhill, to become a large and truly important train (in my mind). Birkenhead, as a distant destination, was another place which I thought must be a wonderfully romantic and major town.

As a teenage lad, I would go to Lewes to train spot. The line through Uckfield to Tunbridge Wells was still open and provided a regular steam service. The Bluebell line trains had gone by then but I remember a chance occasion in 1955 when my father pointed over the bridge in Lewes to the last train to run on that line. He was right at the time, but politics and then preservation proved him wrong.

Journeys by bike were frequent. Without a car, they had to be. Often these were to the shops at Glynde or Firle. Often, too, they were to Newhaven. Sometimes, we went to other places. We always visited churches – strange for a family who had little Christian background – and we always signed visitors books. Two of my favourite churches were on opposite sides of the Ouse. Tarring Neville was memorable for having a barrel organ. Piddinghoe had the most absurd name, a delightful site right on the river and a round tower. After a trip to Newhaven, we sometimes bought fish and chips. We all still say that Newhaven Fisheries sell the best F & C in the world. By tradition, we ate these at Southease Bridge. It seems shameful to admit it now, but the greasy newspapers were disposed of in a game of Pooh sticks from the bridge. The river was tidal here, so the direction of play depended on the state of the tide.

Another ride we made from time to time was to Isfield. My father announced he had a cousin called Nellie here (not to be confused with Aunt Nellie at Firle). She was married to Reuben who was an avid gardener. Isfield is renowned in family folk law for its cheese. Probably like Newhaven fish its succulence was based on our tiredness after the ride. This ride was also notable for the strange sheep near Isfield. I now know that these were Jacobs.

It might be seen as strange, but visitors always played a part at camp. Aunt Nellie came for a meal occasionally, perhaps with her son, Frank or one of her grandchildren. The youngest of these, Dougie, must have come over quite often since I felt I knew him quite well. Friends from Crawley stayed for some or all of the time. I remember Paula’s friend, Di Lamble staying and Robin’s friend Colin Wadley. He spilt some sugary lemonade by the main tent entrance. The wasps loved it. The rest of us hated it. I gather my father used some kind of bleach to discourage the wasps.

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We had day visitors too. It was possible for my grandparents to get a train from Bexhill straight to Glynde. It must have been quite a long walk for my granddad, with his gammy leg, but a visit by them was part of camp. I have a feeling that my other grandparents, from Tonbridge might have visited us at least once. Certainly there was a train service from Tonbridge to Lewes. Dick Wood, my parents’ friend from Leigh, next to Tonbridge certainly visited. He was the person who suffered a bottom injury whilst sliding down the bank. He carried on doing it, but used a piece of tin to protect him after that. There were colleagues of my father as well, although I have little memory of these.

People from Crawley – WEA contacts with cars came down. The Davises, with their Walnut lined Riley car must have been well out of place, but they seemed to recognise the happiness of the gentle life style. The Pitts were much more intellectual – a match for my father in the pun stakes. They came, with or without children and we enjoyed their company.

Perhaps the most bizarre of these visitors was Oscar Thompsett, known as Fred. He was not a driver so he came by train. On one occasion – it must have been when we had a car – he came down and joined an evening trip to Newhaven. We walked him out on the harbour wall, despite the pounding from the sea. The heavy spray from the waves was unavoidable. It was a soaking experience. Then we inducted him into the delights of Newhaven Fisheries, the dash to Southease Bridge, the grease spilling food and the game of Pooh Sticks. We then dropped him in Lewes for a train home. He enjoyed the rest of his journey but he was not sure his companions did. The train was a Glyndebourne Special and the toffs, in opera gowns etc. had to share a compartment with Fred – wet and salt stained, grease spattered, dirty and smelly. We certainly heard about the journey when we next saw him. On another occasion, Fred was with us when a young cow gave birth to a calf in our field. It was the first time I’d seen a birth. My father recognised the symptoms and had arranged our chairs so that we could all watch from a safe distance. I think Fred was utterly embarrassed by this earthy display of life in the real, even bovine life. He covered his unease by keeping up a running commentary on the situation. Of course, I can’t remember what he said now, but it was very funny. I can report that mother and calf did very well. There was an ulterior motive in getting Fred to visit, apart from the fact that I enjoyed the company and wit of this rather unconventional man. Fred was an artist – a painter of views – and he was commissioned to paint the scene from our camp and across the Glynde Reach valley to Mount Caburn. The picture is not perfect but it gives me pleasure when I visit My father. It brings back very happy memories.

We had surprise visitors too. Sticks and Norbert turned up one day on their teeny little motorbikes.

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They were Austrian, and having docked at Newhaven, they searched for a campsite. What they saw was our tents and they stayed. They got the bargain of a family holiday, company, my mother’s cooking (as ever on the single stove) and a lot of fun. Paula got another boy to drool over (Norbert). Robin found Sticks a much more adventurous friend than me. In fact, these two teenage lads were very adventurous. We took them down to Newhaven one evening for a swim. It was wild and rough. The waves were smashing into the main harbour wall and spraying over the top. These two lads set off to swim around the half mile long wall into the harbour. Nothing we could say or do could dissuade them from this venture. None of our family thought it was anything but folly. We felt sure that these lads from landlocked Austria had no concept of the dangers of the sea. Suffice to say they did it and remain the only people I know who have swum the mile right round the wall in any weather.

They stayed on our site for a while and then went off on their little motorbikes to explore more of England. But we saw them again when they stayed, for a few days at our home before returning to Austria. They must have been surprised at the hospitality that they received from at least one English family.

I suppose our cat, Blackett, should really be regarded as one of the family but I’ll include him here as a visitor. He didn’t come to early camps, but must have joined us in about 1958. Everyone thought we were mad to be taking our cat on holiday but my parents obviously decided that this was the best option. So Blackie was shut into an old wicker picnic hamper and loaded onto the lorry. He didn’t enjoy the journey, hissing and yowling the entire time. He, like me, must have thought the journey was very long. He coped at camp, spending most of his time in the badger spinney but visiting the tents each night for food and a little affection. If he wanted a bolt hole at camp, he used a box beyond my father’s bed. Getting into this involved jumping over Dad’s head. This caused an upset when, one night, Blackie went to his box whilst carrying a very dead, and bloody rabbit which he had caught. Father was not amused.

Blackie was always a bit of a problem for return journeys. Inevitably when we needed to leave he was somewhere in the impenetrable badger spinney. Usually he would come to calls of ‘Puss, Puss, Puss’, but on one occasion, the lorry driver had his dog. Blackett obviously did not approve and went to ground. Father braved the spinney and eventually coaxed him out. He was shut in his picnic hamper for the journey, hissing and yowling, home.

My father always seemed to be blessed with the gift of the gab. On one bike journey to Newhaven, we were making our weary way past the cement works. The next thing we knew was that we were inside. Our family was having its very own conducted tour of the works. I remember this as a very thorough tour and utterly enthralling. The huge furnace burned day and night – only let out for the annual shutdown – was the star of the show. But it sticks in my memory that virtually no-one worked in that factory.

On another occasion, well into the car era, we came across Cross in Hand mill. It was working and we were in. The miller seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would be interested in his old windmill. I can only be glad that my father was able to talk us in to it. Windmills do still work, for tourists, in this country. I have been involved with them but they do not have the drive of a mill working for profit. This must have been a very last chance to witness such a process.

The coming of the car changed camp. Obviously, the lorry journey went. Not that all of our gear and all of us could be fitted into our original Austin 10 or the smaller Flying Standard 8. With small distances gear could be taken down by two people on one day, and then the car could return to pick up the people. Robin and I sometimes rode our bikes, at any rate for part of the journey.

With a car, it became possible to travel further and more easily. We could also take people – Aunt Nellie for example – out as well. Thus it was, that Nellie came to Seaford – about 6 miles from where she lived. Apart from one foray to Switzerland in 1903 as a maid on the estate and an annual trip to see her son in Broadmoor mental hospital during the 1950s, she had virtually not left the Firle area. Our car gave her a chance to travel a bit.

But the car spelt the beginning of the end. By 1961 we had a new car – a Bedford Dormobile – and we took other holidays. We travelled west for a week in Devon. We reached Scotland (just) and in 1962 we did Europe. We still went to camp each year. It would have been unthinkable not to, but the length of stay shortened and the size of the enclave reduced. By 1967 Robin and Paula were married and my mother had died. But camp at Beddingham lingered on for a while. My dad had a new girlfriend (now his wife). I, too had a girlfriend (now my wife). We took them to camp for my final time in 1968. My father and Jenny probably went a few more times. As the older generation of Freemans died, the end came in the early 70s but more recent day visits to the area fill me with yearning for the chalkland life and for the tranquillity of our uncomplicated lifestyle.

Sir Nigel pays a visit.

April 26, 2013

Yes, it is time for another steam train here. This is one of the steam specials which come through on my most local railway line every now and again. In fact this one was back on 3rd July 2008.

Sir Nigel Gresley was a very famous locomotive engineer. Before 1923 he designed engines for the Great Northern Railway but when the government decided that the dozens of companies should be merged into four, Nigel got the job designing the stock for the whole London and North Eastern Railway which served all of Eastern England and up into Scotland as well.

Amongst Sir Nigel’s very famous engines there is Flying Scotsman. This name was also used for a train running between London and Edinburgh but that loco still exists and has done main line tours locally.

Another one of Sir Nigel’s engines is Mallard. I always think of this as a strange name. Mallards are lovely waddly ducks. Mallard is the fastest steam engine ever. Ducks and engine seem poles apart. Mallard was one of a class of engines known as A4 pacifics. We train spotters often called them streaks. The streaks were Gresley’s streamlined engines for pulling prestige expresses. At some point one of them was named after him and it is this one that visited my local area.

Actually, I must have sneaked out of work for a short while, for this was taken at Pewsey.

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There are things that pretty well give away that this is a heritage train rather than an old picture. The track is continuous welded rail laid on concrete sleepers for one thing and the engine sports a headlamp for another. But there we have a Mallard look-alike heading west.

Later in the day Sir Nigel returned and this time I was able to snap the loco on my most local embankment.

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The engine was just coasting at the time but the fact that the photo was taken into the bright evening sky would have masked any steam.

Now a confession. These well-known locos are not by any means favourites of mine!

Crawley – Old Town / New Town

April 25, 2013

As a child I lived in Ifield. It was about a mile and a half to go into town and that meant Crawley. As I grew up our village of Ifield became a part of the New Town experiment. Crawley had been selected as a site for a big town to be built as an adjunct to the old.  Other local communities were to become a part of the town and that included Ifield.

Of course, it was all planned properly. It wasn’t just to be a new town of dwellings. New shops, factories, pubs, churches and community buildings were all in the plan. Crawley gained a new town centre just away from the historic High Street of old.

By and large the planning was quite good. It’s not the original planners’; fault that Crawley is now vastly bigger than envisaged and the facilities don’t really match need. I’m not sure that planners some 60 or more years ago can be blamed for not realising how the car was to become a must have item, first for families and then for individuals. Many areas are thus chronically underprovided with off street parking.

But it is the Crawley Town Centre we are going to look at. These are more photos taken by Herman Gerard, our German friend, and given to my family in that wonderful Disney album.

Let’s start with the old town

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This is Crawley’s old High Street and the building is known as The Ancient Priors. It’s still there, still looks much the same and is still some kind of Café. The two ladies walking by are Herman’s wife Geppa, on the left and my mum on the right. The car we see part of is an Austin A40 – a popular model of the early 60s.

I think Herman did little more than turn round to take this other High Street photo.

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This looks past Mum, Dad and Geppa and beyond an Austin A20 to The George. This was very much Crawley’s heritage – a coaching inn on the main road from London to Brighton. More than fifty years on, it, too, remains unchanged.

And now to the new town centre.

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The same trio of people pose for Herman’s photo which shows a part of Crawley called Queen’s Square. The Queen had ‘opened’ it a few years before. My dad met her on that occasion. Queen’s Square was something new and special for the new Elizabethan age. Shops we see include Tesco’s Food fair and the original Sainsbury Store in Crawley. This was so hugely popular that on Saturday mornings the doors had to be shut to stop people getting in.

But it is the sheer quantity of old bikes that look amazing now. Actually, the nearest one looks remarkably like mine – the one which languishes, unused in my garage. It certainly has the same shape. The same kind of Sturmey Archer gear change and the same front hub dynamo. But I doubt it had been ridden to town, although it was once the way the journey was made. I still recall riding on a child seat on my mum’s bike.

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There’s the same trio of people sitting in Queen’s Square. The multi storey building housing Queensway Stores was a slightly later addition. There’s a Victorian bandstand which came from elsewhere in Crawley (I think). My wife, as a schoolgirl, played her oboe in a band there. Just out of shot on the left there was a Woolworth shop, said to be the biggest self-service shop in Europe at the time it opened. It certainly wouldn’t be now.

Aspects of Queen’s Square have been revamped but the buildings still look much the same. Cars were stopped from using this square years ago. It might look less cluttered these days.

I remember both ‘halves’ of Crawley but I have to say I’m glad I live where I do now.

Granny and Grandad in cheap photos

April 24, 2013

I have recently taken a fresh look at the suitcase of family photos my stepmother passed to me. It is more than ten years since I digitised the photos and time moves on. I can now get much better images. Take this glorious photo of my Granny, for example. The original is tiny as you might expect for a cheap photo. It’s three by three and a half centimetres.

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There is one of Grandad as well.

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I can now introduce you to a fantastically helpful website. These photos have an address on them and that enabled me to find http://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/. Well of course, it’s of most interest if the photo you have has a Sussex connection. My photos have, for Granny and Grandad were Sussex people. The web site tells me that these studios were in Brighton. I’m rather hoping the numbers might help us to get an accurate date. For now I’ll guess at before the start of World War 1. The photos were taken at the Sticky Back studio in Brighton and the photos came with lick and stick glue on the reverse.

Granny and Grandad married in 1916.

The site has a lot of photos and might help anyone date their own old images.

A 1960s photo album

April 23, 2013

I have commented before on this blog about the friendship my family had with German families – Germans who had been British prisoners of war during World War II.

One such family – totally German albeit with a French sounding surname were called Gerard. Herman, the father had been a prisoner but had, eventually, been allowed home. He married Geppa and they had quite a large family. They lived in Bremen.  Herman had a job with the United States Line – a shipping company operating transatlantic liners. I suspect he could get cheap travel. Certainly he and Geppa could get over to England and stay with us, presumably leaving the children with the grandmother who, I think, lived with the family.

This album was sent to my parents by Herman and Geppa Gerard after one holiday – I think in 1961 or 62. It is a glorious bit of 60s styling – and my parents would absolutely never have bought a thing like it. Here are the front and back covers.

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No doubt this would be deemed collectable these days. I have no particular affection for Walt Disney cartoons, but I do see a great deal of charm in this little album.

Let’s look at just one photo, taken by Herman.

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I daresay Herman wanted a photo of an iconic red London bus. Sadly his exposure time was a tad long and a moving bus is a bit blurred

Now I’m a nerd, of course, so when I looked at it I said, ‘wow! It’s an RTW!’

Before the Routemaster came in, the Regent Three (or RT) was the standard London bus. They were seven feet six inches wide. The RTW was a widened version of the bus and was eight feet wide. They paved the way for the similar sized Routemaster, proving that London could cope with the wider bus.

In the foreground, looking at the scene, we have my dad and Geppa. I think the visible car is a Fiat 500 and I can just make out a Ford Thames Trader lorry above my Dad’s head.

Now I’m not a London expert, but it looks to me as though the bus is hiding The Cenotaph on Whitehall. I also think the tower in the background is The Victoria Tower – part of the Palace of Westminster.

But hey! London and a slightly ‘rare’ bus have to play second fiddle to that album cover in this case.

Update – April 28th 2013

A friend sent a now picture from the same location. Thanks Pete.

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My life in Tickets – Student Days

April 22, 2013

For three years of my life I was a student in London. This wasn’t the glamorous centre of our capital city, but rather the south eastern suburbs. My college was in New Cross and my home was in neighbouring Brockley.

Being a student, and having no cash to spare, meant life was often lived at a fairly simple level. Normally, journeys were on foot and evenings, when not working, were spent playing cards with friends.

However, from time to time we did use a train between college and home and I seem to have a ticket as a reminder of those journeys.

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It cost 4d – less than 2p in current money and that was on 11th June 1968. Back then fares were calculated strictly by distance and the second class fare was at 4d per mile. Gosh! How lazy not to walk it for it can only have been a mile. By 1970 when I left college, the first mile cost 6d so there was rampant 50% inflation on the cost of that ticket.

And what did we travel on? Well it would have been a Southern electric suburban train of the kind that crammed 6 people across the width of the train although most carriages had a narrow central gangway and just got five people across. They were very much of the ‘slam door’ variety and would have been approaching 20 years old in 1968.

I have no photo of such a train but be assured, they were the very ordinary trains of the day.

Meet the ancestor – Great Granny Paul

April 21, 2013

This venerable lady lived to be just over the 100. She was born in 1857 and lived long enough to be known by my wife. I’m going to let her son, Howard, tell the outline story – an item he had published in his work company magazine.

My Mother – Centenarian

ON THURSDAY, January 3rd, Mother was indeed a proud woman for it was her l00th birthday. Two telegrams thrilled her immensely: firstly, one from Her Majesty The Queen, and, secondly, one which read, “Congratulations and best wishes from the Board and Staff of I. & R. Morley Limited on your hundredth birthday- Lord Hollenden.” You see; Mother has memories of Samuel Morley, who represented Bristol in Parliament in her earlier days; you see, also, I was employed by Morleys for some 47 years-16 years in the Warehouse and 31 years on the road as traveller.

Mrs. Sara Ann Paul, to give her full name, lives with my sister, Mrs. Beatrice Piper, at No.9 Poltair Avenue, St. Austell. Despite an illness two years ago and having been poorly ever since, Mother is still active. She is deaf, but her eyesight is good, though she is no longer interested in reading. She prefers to live in the past, as it were, and will readily recite quite lengthy poems she learned as a schoolgirl. When a Cornish Guardian reporter called to see her she was admiring the wintry sunshine streaming through the window. At his request she recited “The Cottage by the Sea” and gladly explained that the sea was actually the River Severn.

It was near the Severn, at Thornbury, near Bristol, that Mother was born on January 3rd, 1857. She was one of six children and lived in Thornbury until her father died. As a young girl she went to live with, and work for, a family who carried on a dairy produce business in Bristol. There she met and married in 1878 Walter Henry Paul, master tailor. When they were both aged 26 they moved to Cornwall and Father was appointed head cutter with Mr. Humphrey T. Williams, outfitter and draper, Redruth. For 37 years he worked for Mr. Williams, and my parents were prominent workers for the Wesleyan Church. Father became known as the cutter who fitted every rib.

Father died at the age of 75 at the home of my younger sister, Miss Edith Paul, a Plymouth schoolmistress. Mother lived in Plymouth until the blitz when, together with sister Edith, she went to St. Austell to reside with my other sister, Mrs. Piper. Edith, who was very ill at the time, died shortly afterwards, and Mother remained with Beatrice-the widow of Mr. W. W. Piper, who was a partner of the late Mr. Julian Pascoe in a tailor’s and outfitter’s business in the town.

Mother had seven children and has outlived all but three of us-Mrs. Piper, Percy T. Paul (a tailor’s cutter in Inverness) and myself. She had five grandchildren, one of whom was killed whilst serving in the R.A.F., and six great-grandchildren are living.

We are lucky enough to have photos of Great Granny, starting with one taken as a young woman in Bristol.

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This is a CDV – carte de visite and we think it dates from the second half of the 1870s.

We wonder if our next photo was taken to celebrate the wedding for we have a matching colour tinted photo of Walter Paul who she married in 1879.

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We’ll have a bit of a gap now and find Walter and Sarah together, possibly in the 1920s.

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I had to include a photo with my wife in it. She’s the little girl at the front, sitting on the knee of her Great Aunt Dolly. The man is my wife’s dad and at the left we have Great Granny. We don’t know the other lady.

Of course, the 100th birthday was marked with photos.

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Back in 2010 we found Great Granny’s grave. It is in the Weston Mill cemetery in Plymouth – huge but well organised. The experts were able to direct us to the grave.

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Their daughter Edith is also commemorated here.