Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

Great Aunt Sue – clowning around

May 16, 2016

Great Aunt Sue – clowning around

My dad was very fond of his Aunt Sue. He believed she had lost a boyfriend in World War One and as a result of not being married had landed the job of caring for her parents. It sounds as though she doted on dad – something he would have lapped up. She did marry, but not until she was 50 so for Dad as a young lad, Sue was the archetypal maiden aunt.

And she was willing to join in with family fun. Much of the fun seemed to take place at her sister’s house in Firle. There was clearly a clown costume.


Sue, dressed up and with huge gauntlets on, attempts to play a little squeeze box. I can almost hear the awful noise it must have made through some 90 years of time, for this was in the mid 1920s.

image004On the same day Sue attempts to ride a rather severe bicycle. It hasn’t got much of what you might need, like tyres, pedals and minor luxuries like brakes. People knew how to have fun 90 years ago!

I never knew this great aunt. She died four years before I was born. What a shame.



More Sleeves

December 18, 2015

I like my old records and I can also be fond of the sleeves they are in. That’s odd, in a way, for I tend to dislike advertising these days for its ability to persuade people they must have things they don’t need, can’t afford and may not have space for. But old adverts – well, that was a bit different. They tended to be more factual in style, although they would, of course, have been hoping to persuade people to part with hard earned cash.

Here is one of them.


Well they tell us it is a record that appeals to everybody. That, I rather doubt. I do not know if I own the record, but I have grave doubts as to whether it would be a favourite of mine. I think the recording might date to 1927 so presumably the sleeve is much the same age.

The other side has more advertisers’ language to be wary of.


Now I’m happy to accept the greatest artists and the finest recording of that time. But perfect reproduction? On 78rpm records? I don’t really think you could get away with such economy with the truth these days.

I have another sleeve to show as well today.


This one, to my way of thinking, only gives facts. It is an Imperial record which you could purchase for 1/3 (about 6p in present money). Jack Payne and his Band were the performers and the recordings are new and exclusive to Imperial. We have a large Jack overseeing his band.

On the other side there is a manufacturer’s name.


Imperial Records were made by the Crystalate Gramophone Company who had headquarters in London, but a manufacturing factory in Tonbridge in Kent. I have plenty of relatives who worked at ‘The Crystalate as they called it. I don’t imagine the sleeves were produced there but I know they made the records. So I always imagine an Imperial record may have been through the hands of a member of my family.

Where Dad was born

May 12, 2015

It is September 1919. Grandad has been home from World War One for nine months. Granny is giving birth to their first born son – my father.

Their home was a flat on Alexandra Road in Bexhill. If you look for it, it is now called London Road.

It was a very unassuming little development. I could not believe my eyes when I found a postcard of Dad’s birthplace (and the other flats, of course) for sale on Ebay. I bought it!


Had dad still been alive me might have been able to name people in that picture

For information, the road on the left is Cambridge Road

I have dad’s written memories and here is what he had to say about neighbours he knew. Please note it is part of a much longer document and was written in the 1990s when Dad was in his 70s Do, please forgive him for any errors of fact or any outlandish opinions.


I knew all the people in Alexandra Road to some extent and nearly everybody in Cambridge Road. The exceptions were two spinster sisters in number 17 who kept aloof. I have mentioned Jim Hall, the contractor’s foreman who lived above us in number 4. The Halls had 3 boys and 3 girls all a good deal older than me. The oldest girl, Daisy, must have married when I was very young because I have no knowledge of her wedding whereas I remember the wedding of the second daughter, Dolly, which was my first contact with a wedding. Daisy’s husband was a tram driver which impressed me as a highly desirable job -not quite as impressive as engine-driving but in the same league. The oldest son ‘young Jim’ must have signed on to stay in the army at the end of the war because when I was four, word came that he was leaving the army and coming home. They said he would be bringing his kit bag which meant nothing to me and I was playfully reminded for years afterwards that when he arrived I demanded to see the kittens which I supposed the bag contained. The second son, George, was an ebullient character who told me stories that he made up as he went along about events supposedly occurring in the area. One location that regularly cropped up was ‘Sidley Treacle Mines’; many episodes took place nearby including the capture of an alarming runaway cow that got its horns stuck in a bank just beyond the Treacle Mines. All the Hall family present at the time confirmed these stories and I at least half believed in Sidley Treacle Mines for several years. George ought to have been a novelist. His stories were adapted to the understanding of his audience, took account of my known interests and anxieties (the runaway cow was just such an anxiety) and were on the edge of credibility; he never introduced magical or similar events which I should have rejected at once. In fact he was the tall and mighty smiter for Bexhill Cricket club. I met him 30 years later when Bexhill came to play Ifield; he was still the mighty smiter. Visiting Bexhill in the early 90s I ran into two of the Hall clan -Laura, the youngest daughter, older than me, and Betty the oldest granddaughter (Daisy’s child) a few years younger.

Below us in number 6 lived the Gurrs and Mrs Gurr was our bogey. She must have hailed from a rough area in London where a hostile front to the world is normal. She would start a row at the slightest provocation and liked nothing better than a good slanging match. Even when she spoke on some everyday matter with no row in prospect there was always a sense of ‘Don’t let it happen again! ‘. It was my mother’s constant concern to give her no excuse for a row. Dora and I lived in an atmosphere of ‘don’ts’ if we looked like doing anything that might annoy Mrs Gurr who was ready to rap the ceiling with a broom handle if we made a noise. I think now that it was just a manner rather than real malevolence but she was a constant unwelcome constraint on our childhood. Strangely an event over which she might reasonably have exploded passed off with little fuss. A workman on the balcony of the top flat dropped a pot of mauve distemper on her and after a brief but natural outburst she accepted this as one of life’s unintended accidents and washed the stuff off with no hard feelings. Her husband, Tom Gurr, while not exactly friendly and forthcoming, was not markedly hostile. He was a well-digger by trade. He kept ferrets in hutches in the back yard and there must have been rabbiting forays but we knew nothing of them and no rabbits ever came our way. Rabbit skins were sometimes hung out to dry for eventual sale to the rag-and-bone man but the rabbits the family ate would not have accounted for all the ferrets; presumably there was an understanding with a dealer. The youngest son, Harold, kept 2 goats in small huts in the back yard and tethered them by day on the ‘green’ on the corner between Alexandra and Cambridge Roads. There was a married older son and a middle son, Charlie, died during my childhood. As a member of the Territorial Army, his funeral was a military affair with the coffin borne away on a gun carriage. Younger than the sons were two ‘daughters’ whom we knew were not daughters. Mary Gurr, as she was always known, was about 6 years older than me; Polly Gurr was about my age. I suppose they were fostered for money. Mary was said to come from a well-to-do background and was sometimes better dressed than Mrs. Gurr’s normal taste. Polly was a different case. Her mother, Deborah, sometimes turned up for a few weeks. They said she lived at other times in the workhouse. I wonder now whether it may have been prison but I was too naive to think such things or to see that Mary and Polly would probably carry on into the ‘cycle of deprivation’.

One remark by Mrs. Gurr presented us with a puzzle which took 40 years to solve. With the sky dark and a storm impending she said, ‘It’s as black as noogers nocker’ .We all heard it and agreed that it was pronounced like that. Dora and I sometimes used it facetiously but we could not interpret it. Towards 1970 I learnt that Londoners used to say ‘As black as Newgate Knocker’ .The notorious Newgate Prison in the City of London was not demolished until 1901 so a young Mrs Gurr might have seen it and its knocker but it is more likely that she simply used a phrase she had heard with no more understanding than we had.

Our immediate neighbours to the north were Mr and Mrs Stevens in number 8. Mrs Stevens had been a lady’s companion or similar and spoke with a refined accent. Mr Stevens was a chair-caner; some customers brought work to him but he also worked for furniture shops in Bexhill and kept a light hand cart for taking chairs to and fro.

Below them, when I was young, was the Bacon-Phillips household. Rev J Bacon Phillips, formerly Rector of Crowhurst was elderly and something of a recluse but he held a world record and, for all I know, may still hold it. He had had more ‘letters to the editor’ published than anybody else. He had three rivals playing in the same league in Britain; I do not know about overseas. His total was around a hundred thousand but I do not know the exact figure. He did not promote any cause or pursue any consistent line. Most of his letters were short -less than two column-inches -and said very little being more of minor essays or commentaries than informative discourse. I occasionally glimpsed shelves of press-cutting books through the open door of his room which I never entered.

Mrs Phillips was barely older than my parents. She was the war widow of a Bexhill man named Dennett and had, I suppose, accepted a marriage of convenience to provide for her daughter Joan at the cost of caring for an elderly and difficult husband. Financially it paid off, for Joan went to a private school which none of her Dennett relations could have afforded. She was about three years older than me and came to my fifth birthday party. I remember becoming aware of her long hair which my sister did not have, learning that managing it took time and being surprised that anybody could be bothered.

When the Bacon-Phillips household moved to Burgess Hill in the late 20s the record-breaking Rector passed out of my life but my mother maintained contact with Mrs Phillips and we saw more of Joan when, after leaving school, she worked for a bank in Bexhill. Mrs

Phillips moved back to Bexhill when her husband died and contact was maintained into her and my parents’ old age.

The Alexandra Road flat they vacated was taken by the Mepham family. Mrs Mepham’s husband had had Buckholt Farm and I suppose they had to vacate the farmhouse when he died. The older members of the family retained rural interests, in particular they regularly had a captive magpie, jay or jackdaw in a large cage and sometimes song-birds in smaller cages. Nobody took exception to this at that time. We had more to do with two daughters who were close to my age and a bit more polished than Polly Gurr.

The Hook family lived at number 12. Mr Hook was an unfrocked engine-driver. Nearing Crowhurst with a light engine they had struck a pheasant and, being in no hurry, reversed back to get it, unfortunately forgetting that the slope down from Crowhurst was protected by catch-points which derailed the engine. He had a job at Bexhill West station raising steam in engines for early trains but he never drove again. Their son, Henry, about ten years older than me was a disturbing sight. He had been one of the football- playing lads until in his teens he was struck down with what was called ‘sleeping sickness’ .In my memory he was taken out in a wheel chair and looked pathetic.

A retired tea-taster, Mr Shepherd, lived at number 15, a widower in his 60s looked after by a daughter probably in her 40s. She had a job and I never had much to do with her but I enjoyed visiting Mr Shepherd who was somewhat an overgrown schoolboy. He challenged me to target practice with his air-rifle; by firing diagonally across three rooms there was sufficient distance. He had the best cuckoo clock I have ever known. A guard marched to and fro across the front taking one minute for each traverse. Quarter boys came out and struck bells on the quarters and the cuckoo called the hours. Mr Shepherd was organist at the Primitive Methodist Chapel and had a sizeable American Organ at home. He played with equal ease from standard music notation or tonic-sol-fah notation and had hymn books in both. I never met anybody else who could play from tonic-sol-fah and it has practically died out.

His wireless apparatus was a marvel, filling three tiers of a tea trolley whereas Dad’s equipment could hardly have filled a tea-tray. I understand its significance better now. At that time there was something to be said (not much in fact) for having most components – resistors, capacitors and inductors -adjustable because the best combination of values was unpredictable largely because the properties of some components, especially valves (tubes) , were unpredictable. Articles in wireless magazines sometimes suggested that one should buy two or three valves for each position and see which worked best. Shepherd could afford adjustable components and was always busy twisting some knob or other in his complex apparatus to improve reception. This was not particularly necessary for receiving the nearby transmitters of the British Broadcasting Company but it was a point of honour to log distant foreign stations. The contribution in the 30s when valves were more consistent of engineers (among whom I later worked) was to use small fixed -value components plus about a dozen adjustable sub-circuits which were optimised once-for-all in the works and sealed.

Mrs Adams came into my life in 1928 or thereabouts when Mum went to work for her. The Adams were a childless couple from a middle-class background. Smith Adams (Smith was his first name) was a public school product working as a commercial traveller for the wine and condiment firm, of Beaufoy and Grimble. He covered a good part of SE England using only public transport. His customers were mainly those superior grocers that can still be found in country towns. Some were in villages not easily reached from Bexhill by public transport but probably more easily then than now if one knew the system.

Their house, the last at the east end of Woodsgate Avenue bar the usual vacant corner plot (now filled), was too large for them and Mrs Adams received what can probably be called ‘paying guests’ except that they were all professional women in administration, known to Mrs Adams. I suspect that she had worked among them before her marriage. At any rate she engaged Mum as home help and, as usual with Mum, they soon became family friends. I recall that we were invited to join them for a visit to HMS Frobisher paying a public relations visit to Hastings, the particular interest being that Mr Adams’ nephew was on board as what would now be called the FE Instructor and he took us on a tour of the ship. My best memory is of the mixer used in the ship’s bakery for making dough; I was impressed that it would not start unless the lid was closed and locked. (Years later I used just such a mixer for experiments on reinforced plastics.) I was too young or too little instructed in engineering to appreciate other technical marvels I must have seen.

Mum, Dora and I always received birthday and Christmas presents from Mrs Adams. I still have a stud box bearing the legend, ‘A stud in hand is worth two under the bed’. Often she gave me books which were welcome because books were scarce. One was ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ -possibly the first new book I ever had other than a very early book of nursery rhymes and school prizes. I must have read it countless times and it stood re-reading in my uncritical state because there were plenty of incidents simple enough for a boy to understand. I was half aware that my teachers did not think highly of it but I did not then appreciate that the island on which the family were shipwrecked had an impossible range of habitats, flora and fauna; semi-desert, tropical rain-forest and prairie existed within a day’s march carrying lions, kangaroos, ostriches and penguins. Wyss, the Swiss author, noting the appeal of Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and with access to Buffon’s vast ‘Natural History’ had placed a fair proportion of Buffon on a fertile ‘desert’ island from which the surprisingly absent species was Man making the island more like a zoo which was, of course, where Buffon studied.


Dad has written so much about another neighbour – Mrs Packet that I thought I could return to her on another occasion.

And here’s the 21st century view to the same flat.


A family perambulation

February 21, 2015

Perhaps the title should really be a family perambulator or pram for short.


What we see today is a 1920s photo of a baby in a pram and a boy. Let’s start with him. He is my dad who was born in 1919

I’m guessing from his age that the baby in the pram might be his sister – my Aunty Dora – who was born in 1923. It is often hard to recognise a baby so it could be almost anybody else, but the ages look to be about right.

But really, it is the pram that is the star of the show.


I couldn’t be certain, but it appears to have some kind of basket work side and of course it is mounted on those big bow springs to make sure baby had a smooth ride.

I just don’t see prams like this anymore. They are completely incompatible with cars and as most people have cars, big prams like this have been consigned to history (or to very wealthy people) in the last forty years or so.

What a lovely photo this is. I only have a negative so there is no caption, but well done Grandad who took the shot.

Eric Ravilious – wood engraver

January 18, 2015

There may be some relieved to know that my monthly look at the work of artist Eric Ravilious via the calendar I was given at Christmas 2013 is over. Others may be pleased to know I’ll still feature my favourite artist from time to time. You see I was given the book ‘Imagined Realities’ which was produced to accompany a Ravilious exhibition some years ago. The book was written and compiled by Alan Powers and was published by the Imperial War Museum. If this seems a surprise then remember that Eric was an official war artist in World War II – a role which led to his death in 1943 when the plane he was on crashed into the North Atlantic near Iceland in 1943.

But the book covers the full gamut of Eric’s work and today we’ll look at a wood engraving from 1925 when young Ravilious was just about 22.


This is clearly far removed from Eric’s watercolours but it is amazing how the essence of a scene can be captured in this way.

This image was called ‘Sussex Church’ – the artist wasn’t willing to precisely locate it. But I will. This is the artist view of Lullington Church, most of which had been destroyed by fire, probably in the seventeenth century.

Of course, Eric has been a little fanciful with trees but they add to the scene and frame the church very well.

Now it happens I have written a blog post about this church and that incorporated my grandfather’s photos taken in the 1920s. This is one of his photos


 or click here to see that blog.

Clearly Eric tidied up the ivy but his church has to be Lullington.

Record coasters

January 9, 2015

My regular readers will know that I have a taste for dance band music on old 78 rpm records played on mechanical gramophones.

Another of my gifts at the most recent Christmas concerned such items. Somebody had the bright idea of taking the middles of such records, sticking a piece of felt on the back and selling them as coasters. I was given a little collection of four such items.


I’d like to hope that the whole records were beyond real use. Otherwise it seems a waste of them.

Let’s pick on a couple of them.


Night and Day – a Cole Porter song sung by the Comedy Harmonists. As far as I can make out this was a collection of German singers who operated from about 1929 to 1934


Cryin’ for the Carolines is film music, played in syncopated fashion by Raie da Costa. She came from South Africa originally and sadly died in 1934 so this record dates from the same era as Night and Day.

Search on You Tube and you can here both records. Obviously, my coasters don’t still have the groove with the music recorded.

I rather like these coasters. Actually using them might be a problem for it will rapidly wear away the paper labels.

Changes in a building

January 6, 2015

Cottages at Plashetts

Great Grandfather Stevens was a farm labourer and in particular a woodman labourer. He spent his life in and around an area of woodland near Uckfield in Sussex known as Plashetts. His home, and that of his family, was in a cottage convenient to the current workplace. Sometimes it was in the parish of Ringmer, at other times it was in Isfield.  He spent time in Ridgewood but this cottage was in Little Horsted and this is the place where my grandmother was born.


This pair of little semis was called Plashetts Cottages. The evidence is that great grandfather had the right hand half as home, for a while, certainly in 1892.

This photo is one of Grandad’s negatives and dates from the 1920s. He and granny must have paid a visit.

My dad visited too but around thirty years later in 1956. He cycled there from ‘camp’ with my brother.


My brother is standing in the middle and the occupant of the time is outside her front door. The windows and doors have been altered and each half has a lean-to. It looks as though the weather boarding has been replaced – at least on the bottom of the structure.

My dad had captioned his picture.


I visited in 2002. It was all rather different for two little cottages had become one large house.


I was pleased just to find the place but I’m not sure my gran would have recognised it.

Clowns in Firle

December 9, 2014

My Firle relatives – Great Auntie Nellie and family, liked their bit of fun and seemed ready to take part in village events. I never saw Firle at bonfire night but that was clearly a big event. There was also a summer fete. Or maybe this was a bit of sisterly fun.

Here we see a clown at Firle.


This is one of those photos, probably taken by my grandfather, for which I only have a negative. It has no caption but I’m pretty well certain this is Nellie’s sister, my Great Aunt Sue who lived in Ringmer. My guess is that this dates from the 1920s. Sue was born in 1882 and stayed a spinster until 1932. Rumour always had it that she had lost a boyfriend in what we now call the First World War. Sue died before I was born so I never had an opportunity to ask her. Not that I would have done. Youngsters just don’t ask.

I don’t think the photo has anything to do with bonfire night. The sun appears to be quite overhead, casting the short shadows of the summer season. Sue is dressed as a clown and seems to have a very clownish bicycle – devoid of an awful lot of items which might be deemed useful or even essential.


It seems to be without tyres and inner tubes, brakes and even pedals. Oh well! At least it has a bell!

Sue looks very much like a lady in charge.


What a lovely photo of a past age – but there’s more.

It’s the same costume so probably the same occasion but this time we see another sister of Nellie. This time it is my Granny – Ethel who was ten years younger than Sue.


It certainly looks like happy times.

A Record Album

October 20, 2014

Amongst things this happy nerd does is mount stands at fetes to support a charity and give talks, also to support a charity. The charity is actually a local museum which is 100% volunteer run. Being a museum it has a historical focus and to help create atmosphere, or at talks to give the audience a break from hearing me, I do play the old 78 rpm records on one of my period gramophones.

The record album is particularly useful since it houses the brittle and breakable records safely and securely.


Inevitably, I know nothing really of the origins of this album but there is what I guess is a retailer’s badge inside.


So presumably somebody from the Sussex coast was a first owner. My grandparents lived in Bexhill but they never had a gramophone so I know it had nothing to do with them.

Let’s see some of the records – the case holds 12 of them which could mean about an hour and a quarter of continuous play.

I have a taste for 1920s dance band music and here we have Shufflin, Along played by the Queen’s Dance Orchestra directed by Jack Hylton.


The sleeves in the album allow you to see the record labels. This one dates from 1922.


‘Looking for a Boy’ played by Phil Ohman, Victor Arden with their orchestra is a wonderful mix of Gershwin tunes played as a piano duet and recorded in 1926. You can click here to listen to this piece of music as it spins on one of my wind-ups. The sharp eyed might notice this isn’t a 78 RPM record. Oh no, it’s an 80 RPM!


This Paul Wightman record dates from 1923.

And let’s see an open album.


Great music – I think – in a lovely album.




Bad news and good from bad

October 1, 2014

Paul Piper

My wife’s grandfather died before she and I were ‘an item’. I never knew him. When he died, granny felt unable to live alone and she spent time with each of her three children. Much of her stuff, including family photos vanished. They had been put in a shed and got damp and mouldy. A whole raft of potential heritage was lost.

Much later, a nephew of grandfather died and then his widow developed dementia and had to be homed. To make it simple, I’ll just say their only daughter was not able to be interested in past family. A stock of photos came to us as family historians. We felt very lucky that, for us, out of bad news good came for us.

There were problems. The photos were inadequately captioned and we had difficulty identifying all people, but a surviving uncle was able to help.

Another problem was that some of the photos had been mistreated by having sellotape used to mount them.

Let’s look at this one.


This beautiful studio portrait, by a St Austell (Cornwall) photographer has had sellotape put over its corners. Now fortunately, none of the sellotape went over the actual image and it was a fairly simple job to digitally remove the diagonals in the corners.


This beautiful little lad is the nephew of grandfather, who owned the photos. His name was Paul Piper and he was, indeed, born and raised in St Austell. Paul was born in 1920 so we guess this photo was taken in 1921.

Paul qualified as a pharmacist and when I knew him, in the 1960s, he was manager of a branch of Boots the Chemist on The Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. He died in 1995.

I knew him as a lovely, friendly and cheerful man – quiet and caring. I always enjoyed going to see him.

And my message here is don’t despair if photos get lost. There just may be another source. If you are a blog or web site writer you can always publish what you know and hope for more. My advice is to give first and seek afterwards. This blog, and an earlier web site I wrote, have produced some marvellous results and I hope others have benefited from information I have put out there.

And I don’t really expect anything about Paul Piper (his full name was actually Richard Paul Piper).  He really had very few close relatives. We (my wife) will be amongst the closest.