Posts Tagged ‘Bexhill’

Granny and Grandad get a garden

May 1, 2016

Life is so very different now from when my grandparents were young. Back when my dad was born, in 1919, the family household was a flat. It remained that flat until the Second World War disrupted life. The family home was Bexhill on Sea on the Sussex Coast. It was evacuated and the grandparents moved from one temporary place to another until a more permanent home – another flat – was occupied in Tunbridge wells. When Grandad retired – about 1955 – they moved back to Bexhill, to rooms in a house and then in 1957 they were able to rent a brand new home. This was a bungalow built especially for older folk. The home was great but it was a long way to shops and facilities.

For the first time Granny and Grandad had a garden to call their own and they made good use of it.


This photo of the couple dates from 1957 and shows them admiring their plot and planning what to do with it.

Granny would have been 65 and Grandad about 67 or 68. Grandad had suffered a bad leg for years.

This was a happy and cheerful home. I always enjoyed going there. My Granny and Grandad were such caring people. It was probably sometime around this time that Grandad achieved his ambition of getting £5 per week. He never achieved that as a worker. They were never well off but always seemed able to share what they had and in retirement they always had time for others. All the neighbours at this house were elderly and Grandad would call on several each day and make sure they were OK. I’d like to think I picked up much from them, both directly and via my dad.

Happy memories!

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.



January 20, 2015

My Dad aged 0 to 10

I am well blessed with photos of my father. My grandparents were, I am assured, always short of money but photos were taken. Of course these were not in the huge numbers taken today. But there are enough to portray the change from baby to boy and onto being a young man and more on into adulthood and old age.

Let’s just look at early days here.

Dad was born in 1919. No doubt this was approximately nine months after his dad returned from World War One service.


This is an early photo with dad just a few months old.

Dad was born and raised in Bexhill so the seaside was always an available attraction. Here we see him as about a two year old with his spade and ready to dig.


At a similar age dad had a close encounter with a black swan. This must have been in the Egerton Park in Bexhill.


The next photo has been captioned by my dad.


His Aunt Mercy lived on Malthouse Road in Crawley.


This collection was taken when Harry stayed with Aunt Nellie. Aunt Nellie at Firle seemed to have been his venue for a summer break.

Another photo at Firle.


I think there are amazing family likenesses here with grandchildren and great grandchildren my dad never knew.

Let’s finish with Harry the schoolboy in 1928.


So there we have just a few photos to cover the first ten years of Dad’s life. There are many more.

On the beach at Bexhill

February 15, 2014

My grandparents spent most of their adult life in Bexhill on Sea in Sussex. They married there in 1916, celebrated a Golden Wedding there and ended their days in the area.  For about a dozen years they were elsewhere. Under fear of invasion in World War II, Bexhill was largely evacuated. For a while grandparents settled in Tunbridge Wells but on retirement they moved back to Bexhill.

Grandad was quite a keen photographer, but without the cash to really indulge in a hobby. He took photos and got the local chemist to do the difficult developing of the film. Grandad could then select negatives for contact printing. Printing paper was made to be insensitive to red light. Grandad could happily process his own prints. But many of his negatives were never printed (or if they were, I do not know where they are). I have his negatives which of course, have no captions. Here is one of them which shows a lady on the beach at Bexhill in the 1920s or 30s.


I’d love to be able to tell you who this is, but I have never been able to decide.  She has something of the look of my granny – but definitely is not her. Maybe it’s a relative – perhaps Great Aunt Eliza. But there again it could just be a friend, never known to me. Whoever it is, I love the image of this rather mournful looking lady sitting on the beach doing her knitting or crochet.

But I do wonder who she is!

Aunt Ruth acquires a Postcard

November 7, 2013

Many of the collection of postcards are very definitely family by origin but here’s one sent from someone – I have no idea who – to someone else who is not a family member. Well, it is a lovely card.


Now I have had a lovely experience of Loch Lomond – the time I travelled it on the paddle steamer called Maid of the Loch. On other visits I have found the banks to be less than bonny – but I have been travelling by car and there really seem to be so few places to stop for casual passers-by. But this artistic card portrays an idyllic scene quite delightfully.

The card was sent and has a message.


The card was sent to Miss M Stonley of The Gables, in Bexhill by L S. in the summer of 1912.

Looking up on the 1911 census we can see that Miss Stonley was running a small, private school  for children aged 6 to 9. My Great Aunt Ruth, older sister of my grandfather, was the cook there when my dad was little in the 1920s and she must have acquired the card for my dad’s, or more probably his sister’s collection. Ruth was a spinster at the time and it seems she quite doted on her nephew and niece.

My dad, in his memories, wrote about visits to Miss Stonley’s school.

In my childhood she was cook at The Gables in Cantelupe Road, advertised as a ‘Pre-Preparatory School for Boys aged 4 to 7’ .I understood that these were children of parents who lived in unhealthy parts of the Empire; I wonder now whether some were there on account of unorthodox family backgrounds. The school evidently met a need because it was always full.

I sometime visited The Gables when the boys and the two Mistresses were away. The semi-basement kitchen housed one of those massive cast-iron kitchen ranges that one sees today preserved in Stately Homes open to the public. It must have shifted a good deal of coal. I knew of houses with electric front door bells; this one had one loud bell but many bell pushes and an indicator high up in the kitchen showed which one had been pressed. There was also a speaking tube between the upstairs dining room and the kitchen and, with Aunt Ruth’s help I was allowed to try it. If the dining room wanted to talk to the kitchen the bung, which contained a whistle, was pulled out of the mouthpiece on the wall and the caller blew into the mouthpiece. This blew the corresponding whistle in the kitchen whereupon a maid withdrew the bung and applied an ear to the tube. Speech could then be transmitted downward and by interchanging mouths and ears, replies or questions could pass upwards. The bungs were tightly replaced when conversation was over.

I think I was presented to the proprietors/teachers -Miss Biggleston and Miss Stonley; I have a hazy memory of these somewhat forbidding ladies. The staff included the Matron who probably did most of the work in caring for the boys. She caused me semantic confusion because, while a matron, was clearly a sort of nurse, advertisements for womens’s clothes described some as suitable for ‘matrons’. I did not know at the time that they meant middle-aged women in general.

Any relatives of Miss Mary Stonley out there?

Woodsgate Park Bexhill – then and even longer ago!

November 1, 2013

I can’t say I know Woodsgate Park in Bexhill, but a photo shows me, aged three, at this park. That, I regret to say was more than 60 years ago for it dates from 1952.


In fact my dad took several photos and in all of them I am holding a stick with one hands and the wire fence with the other.

Somebody took a photo of my dad as well on this occasion – someone who didn’t quite hold the camera steady or get the focus right.


It was only when I inherited older family photos and negatives that I learned why my dad had been clearly keen to get these photos taken.

This photo of dad dates from about 1922 – some thirty years earlier.

image006I was clearly set up for a ‘then and now’ photo.

Typical of my dad to have such a memory.

But what a lovely set of photos for now as well.

By the way, Woodsgate Park is in the north, Sidley area, of Bexhill. I don’t think there is much parkland left now.

Hoad’s Mill, Bexhill

September 28, 2013

Many of my grandfather’s photos, which came to me in negative form, are of people – family and friends. Just a few are of landmarks and buildings and here is one of them. It is of Hoad’s Mill in Bexhill.


Although I have but a negative, I can date this photo to around 1928. I’m pretty certain that’s my Aunty Dora in the photo.

Grandad has captured a fine post mill which, alas, is no more. I shall quote some of its history from – web site of the Sussex Mills Group.

Hoad’s Mill was a post mill built by a millwright called Plumley and documented 1784, but believed to have been built earlier.

Mr Fuller, for whom the mill was built, was recorded here in 1820. Brothers James and Thomas Hoad worked for Mr David Page from 1884 and took on the mill in 1887. Shortly after, Thomas went to work at East Hoathly on his own account as a baker, leaving James Hoad.

The mill remained in ownership of the Hoad family until 1965 when the whole body collapsed, leaving the trestle and roundhouse.

More information can be found at the Bexhill Bygones site at It’s worth visiting that site for a photo of the collapsed mill with Mr Hoad surveying the wreckage.

I can remember the mill, long since out of use, but still standing, back in the early 60s when I used to stay with grandparents.

Meet the Relative – Great Uncle Joe

April 17, 2013

I have no recollection of meeting Uncle Joe. I was only aged three when he died and I’d suspect I never did meet up with him. He was a man who mattered to my dad and I’m going to let him do the writing – taken from his reminiscences.


Great Uncle Joe in his Bandsman’s uniform

Now to Dad’s writing.

Turning to others with memorable influence I begin with Uncle Joe, Dad’s oldest brother because of his major influence on family history. With an age gap of nearly 9 years he cannot have been much of a childhood companion for Dad; he must have been out to work before Dad went to school. At the turn of the century Joe worked for Warburtons, the Uckfield corn chandlers. As new Bexhill developed, Warburtons opened up there and Joe was moved there. The Warburton family also moved. In my time they were active in the Baptist Chapel and there was a boy about 2 years older than me at the County (Grammar) School. I do not know dates or details but by the time my grandfather died in 1913, Uncle Joe was married with children. The family home near Buxted was broken up. Granny Frost and her unmarried children, Ruth, Obed and Mary moved to Bexhill. Joe’s brothers and sisters had probably moved earlier because only 19 months elapsed between Grandfather’s death and the outbreak of war and I cannot fit all I heard of my father’s life before the war into that short period. I know that he lodged with Uncle Joe and that Ethel Stevens had followed him to Bexhill. I suppose she had a living-in place but she was involved with the Frost family. I have a pre-war photograph of her and Dad out for a walk with Uncle Joe’s oldest son -Walter. And when his youngest (Ethel) was born in 1914 or 15 there was some birth complication and Mum played some part in dealing with it. Cousin Ethel reckons that she owes her life to Mum’s assistance and I expect she owes her first name to it.

Uncle Joe learnt to play the cornet in the Salvation Army. I picked up a somewhat muddled story that a key factor in his switch from his Baptist upbringing was an attractive Salvation Army lassie whom he later married -my Aunt Cissie (Cecilia Baker) -but I cannot vouch for it. By my time he had left the Army band and was first cornet in Bexhill Town Band; I saw him in that capacity when the band played in Egerton Park but he must left the band before 1930. Aunt Cissie remained with the Salvation Army to the end of her life but was not a completely regular attender.

I do not know when Uncle Joe left Warburtons -probably when he joined the army and served in an infantry regiment in France during the war. In my memory he worked for Harry Hoad -a pillar of Methodism and proprietor of an oil and hardware shop opposite the Sackville Arch. I do not know just how they were associated; it was not simply master and hired hand. The business depended on hawking away from the shop. Uncle Joe was the principal hawker and had a hawker’s licence. In my earliest memories he called on us every Thursday morning bringing supplies of paraffin, soap, brushes, polishes, pegs and the like -all this carried on a handcart pushed by Uncle Joe and his aide whom I knew only as Dennis. I took all this for granted but it surprises me now that they could cart enough to supply a fairly extensive round -probably 600 households. Later on they had a van with a large paraffin tank fitted under the floor. Dennis drove it but it was Uncle Joe’s round; Dennis was hardly a dynamic salesman. Sometimes they carried what would now be described as ‘special offers’ .I have a snapshot memory of Uncle Joe showing Mum a half pint milk jug with a pattern of violets, said to be a bargain at 6d (2.5 new pence) .I suspect now that Hoad had invested in a job lot of crockery ‘seconds’. I cannot judge whether Mum got a bargain or was conned but the jug came into regular use and I still have it. When I was a bit older I was sometimes allowed to join Uncle Joe on his round, nominally to help him. I could run little errands as when a customer wanted something he had not thought to take to her door. I could recognise most of the regular commodities and find them on the cart and later in the van. I became familiar with passages behind terraced houses in Sidley; they always called at back doors when they were easily accessible.

Towards the end of the round we ‘did’ Camperdown Road at the top of a rise at the north end of Sidley. The next street was down the rise in Turkey Road and a steep footpath led down. I was astonished on my first outing that they proposed to take the handcart down this path but a rope was produced and tied to the handle. With one of them holding the handle and the other the rope, both leaning backwards they took the cart down, untied the rope and were immediately back in business. The last calls were at Arncliffe Terrace the last working-class housing in that direction. There was no housing at all in my earliest recollections but speculative builders moved in as the years passed. The round over we turned towards Bexhill. I was dropped by Sidley Station and sometimes given two (old) pence which I spent on a bar of Fry’s chocolate cream from a cast iron slot-machine in the booking hall.

Hardware rounds like that filled a useful social niche away from town centres. Most shops stuck to a fairly narrow range of wares and the few in places like the Honies and Sidley were food shops. Soaps, washing soda and the like were often unwrapped and food shops hesitated to handle them. But for Uncle Joe’s round I think Mum would have needed to carry soaps, polishes and brushes from the town centre. There was a similar round in the rural area west of Lewes where Aunt Nellie lived (at Firle) .This man had a van hung round with pots, pans brushes and so on.

Uncle Joe had a long-term significance which I could not have foreseen. He was a gardener on a considerable scale and when I became a gardener myself (kitchen garden) the patterns implanted by Uncle Joe and Uncle Frank (of whom more later) played a considerable part. I learnt practical tips from Dad on his allotment but these two gardened to a higher standard and to greater visual effect given the advantage that their gardens adjoined their houses. I shall never be as good as either but a good deal of both is represented in our present garden. When I was very young Uncle Joe’s family lived in Chandler Road in a house adjoining the ‘Bexhill River’ which was liable to flood at high tide after heavy rain. I knew he had a garden not far away but I learnt where only when he moved to a larger house in Belle Hill. The geography was something like this. Station Road (which later became part of London Road) and Amhurst Road ran roughly north from Town Hall Square starting about SO metres apart but diverging gently until where they were crossed about 500 metres north by Belle Hill they were nearly 300 metres apart. There were gardens behind houses in all three roads but these left a triangle of between a third and half a hectare. Road access was from Station Road but there was also access from Uncle Joe’s house in Belle Hill and Harry Hoad’s house in Amhurst Road. Buildings there had probably been built as stables. Those nearest to Amhurst Road belonged to Harry Hoad, housing reserve stock, hand- carts and later the motor van. I believe Hoad had once had a horse and van but that was before my time. The southern end where the triangle narrowed was Uncle Joe’s kitchen garden which he had nursed since before I was born. The picture I carry in my mind of text- book perfect rows of vegetables may be larger than life, but it persists. I remember in particular rows of peas coming on in succession as gardening books say they should, including tall varieties, 2 metres high, covered with well filled pods. Dad never grew tall varieties partly, I think, because he could not afford the necessary pea sticks but mainly because they produced a luxurious excess when vegetables were plentiful and he was concerned for continuity- for crops in difficult periods -late winter and early spring.

Number 40 Belle Hill (since demolished for road widening) had a considerable garden mainly down to fruit, including a mulberry tree at the end of a small lawn where we just managed to play back-yard cricket. But Uncle Joe also looked after Hoad’s garden; I do not know how this was organised. Probably there was no formal arrangement and probably Hoad had a gardener who counted as a shop expense.

We spent a good deal of time with Uncle Joe’s family but the other members do not stand as high in my memory. The cousins were too different in age and interests. Aunt Cissie was a competent housewife but she never displayed the energy of my mother and she earned the disapproval of my grandmother (Granny Frost) and to some extent of my mother by reading novels of the kind now associated with Mills and Boone. They said it meant neglecting her housework; I cannot judge but acknowledge that she was not as perpetually committed to needlework and knitting and, apart from intermittent attendance at Salvation Army meetings, did very little outside the home. The boy cousins, Walter and Leslie, were 10 years or more older than me and Ethel about 6 years older so we never had a great deal in common. Walter was temperamentally a bit of a showman. He presented indoor fireworks at Christmas; they had more appeal before interesting items were banned because foolish purchasers did foolish things. He had a superior gramophone (acoustic) whose superiority I came to doubt when I was with HMV and I remember him making much of his records being ‘electrically recorded’ but I did not know what that meant and I doubt whether he did. I remember however that even earlier Uncle Joe brought home a phonograph and a collection of hollow cylindrical records about 100mm long and 50mm diameter. I understood even then that this was a museum object and I wish I had it now. The sound box and horn ran on rails parallel to the axis of the cylinder but did not rely on the groove in the record to carry them forward. A fine screw of the correct pitch and about 20mm diameter on a parallel axis was part of the machine and a half-nut meshing with it advanced the sound box. Lifting the needle and sound box from the record lifted the half nut from the guide screw so that the needle could be slid back for the start of the next record. Records often began with a spoken announcement: -This is an Edison-Bell record- which might or might not be followed by an announcement of the content. I am surprised how much I remember about it after nearly 70 years. I may have seen others in glass cases but have certainly never handled another. Perhaps there is something in the science-teaching assumption that handling apparatus fixes it in the mind. Walter was agent for another discovery -the stereoscope. The prime movers were a cigarette company who, by way of cigarette cards, presented stereoscopic pairs of cards portraying dinosaurs. They must have been made photographically from model dinosaurs in modelled backgrounds of Jurassic vegetation. One could send for an inexpensive stereoscopic viewer and Walter had one. I was fascinated both by stereoscopy and dinosaurs. Walter also took me to my first ‘talkie’ at the St. George’s Cinema in Bexhill. It did not hit me as a major innovation because, presumably on account of grandmother’s disapproval, I had so little experience of silent films. We were sometimes taken from school on Empire Days and the like to see improving films about the Empire plus (more appreciated) Charlie Chaplins and Harold Lloyds. I was only once taken by my mother and that was to see Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Circus’ .Thus Walter’s ‘talkie’ was a development from only 3 or 4 experiences of silent films and could not impress me as it did people who had experienced dozens of ‘silents’. Moreover I barely understood the main film -a ‘whodunnit’ called ‘The Perfect Alibi’ but I made the acquaintance of Mickey Mouse in a ‘short’ called ‘Mickey’s Choo- Choo’ in which Mickey Mouse placed a container of coal in front of the (American) engine which proceeded to eat it with its cow-catcher as its mouth. St. George’s Cinema in the Town Hall Square had been known before the war as ‘The Bijou’ and had been the site of some of Dad’s magic performances. It was the first cinema in Bexhill to convert to talkies with the sound based on discs. One could see them through the open window of the projection room above the foyer -discs about 350mm in diameter rotating just behind the projectors. Bexhill’s larger cinema -The Playhouse in Western Road -installed apparatus a little later for the Western Electric system in which the sound track was an optical strip on the film itself.

In 1929 or thereabouts Walter, with a job in the motor trade, hired a large car (a Cubitt) in which on one Sunday Uncle Joe’s family and our family visited relations in various parts of Sussex. We certainly visited Crawley where Aunt Mercy (Edwards, my oldest Aunt born 1878) lived in Malthouse Road. In Hadlow Down churchyard we looked at the graves of Hepzibah (my oldest Aunt of all except that she died in 1909) and alongside the grave of James (grandfather) who died in 1913. The graves were marked with wooden crosses at that time in good order. They were still there in 1960 but badly decayed and disappeared later when the church-yard was tidied up. Happening to pay a visit while the tidying was in progress I picked up from grandfather’s grave the small iron cross which sextons used to mark the foot of graves, clearly destined to join a scrap pile within a day or so, and I still have it Visitors often think it marks the grave of a cherished pet!

We also visited Uncle Sam {born 1887 and Dad’s closest companion in his childhood) .I do not remember much of his family but Dad took me for a short walk and a man walking past said ‘Good night Obed’ without stopping. Dad had left the area 15- 20 years earlier; he could just place the other man whom he had not known very well.

I have fewer early memories of the younger cousin Leslie who was a less assertive character. I remember hearing Uncle Joe tell Mum that he had got Leslie, who had left school, a job with Pratt’s the paraffin and petrol wholesalers later known as Esso (S.O., Standard Oil) .I used to see Leslie as driver’s mate {he was too young to drive) delivering paraffin to Goble’s shop at the corner of Havelock Road. It was not a high-tech operation. The tank lorry had large taps at the rear with hooks to carry galvanised carrying cans officially stamped ‘5 gallons’ .When they were full, driver and mate alternately carried two cans up the steps to the shop’s storage tanks. In due course Les became a driver in his own right and spent more time on petrol, of rising importance, than paraffin, of declining importance. Tanker lorries became progressively bigger. After he married {Nancy) in the 30s he lived just over the border in Hastings in one of the houses built in the fields where, in my earliest days, trams used to leave the road and take a short cut across the field while the road wound up and down a small cliff at the sea’s edge. Les took up sea angling and had a share in a boat normally beached at Glyne Gap. He once took me fishing from St. Leonards Pier -my only experience of the activity. I caught a few small fish which I took home and ate. I learned also to identify the weaver -a small fish with highly poisonous spines, edible if the spines were removed. I never caught one but I knew a man who got stung while shrimping and his hand was in a bad way for several weeks. During the second war Leslie’s job hardly changed except that he drove petrol lorries for the army in N. Africa rather than for Esso in East Sussex to which he returned after the war. The job killed him in the end. Leslie and Uncle Joe both died from carcinoma of the bladder a characteristic disease of people working with hydrocarbon oils.

Uncle Joe’s household in my childhood could probably be labelled sexist. I never knew the whole family go anywhere together. The males went places but the females never joined them whereas in our family, although excursions were rare, if anybody went we all went. Uncle Joe and his boys went to the Wembley Exhibition in 1924; I saw things they brought back but I never understood what it was all about. From time to time they went to events at the Crystal Palace -probably brass band events. They habitually went out with the harriers on Pevensey Marsh on Boxing Day mornings. They went to see Sussex play at the cricket grounds at Hastings or Eastbourne (Saffrons) .They sometimes took me to Saffrons and we stayed on to see shows at the Eastbourne Hippodrome. I remember a variety show in which one turn was provided by the famous comedy troupe led by Harry Tate. On another occasion we saw a play; Yvonne Arnaud was in it and I think the play was ‘The Improper Duchess’. Most years the men went out on massive black-berrying expeditions bringing home up to 25 lb {11 kilos) .Aunt Cissie turned it into pies, jam and jelly but she never went out with them. I cannot guess whether this was male chauvinism or Aunt Cissie’s preference. My female cousin, Ethel, was never involved in these male activities but this may not have been preference because when she married Jack Crittenden who was a cricketer she regularly went with him.

From time to time Uncle Joe and Dad reminisced about the area in and around Blackboys and I heard about locations like The Hundred House, Little England, Nan Tuck’s Lane, Pounsley, Rozers Cross, Shepherds Hill and Tickerage most of which a casual traveller would hardly notice (except that Pounsley is now a Youth Hostel) but they had obviously been significant. A few years before he died I drove Dad around minor roads in the area not accessible by public transport and he was obviously moved. He said of one unremarkable cottage where the family had once lived, ‘I never thought I should see that again’. I became aware for the first time of variations in pronunciation. The hamlet of High Hurstwood is about 3 krn north of Buxted and people today pronounce it as High HURSTwood whereas Dad and Uncle Joe always spoke of Highhurst WOOD. [I have met similar differences with my maternal relations for whom the seaside resort over the hill from Firle which most people call SEAford was always SeaFORD.

I suppose my last recollection of that family as I knew it in childhood was triggered 40 years later when after my father’s funeral (1966) we went back with my mother and Walter and Leslie sat side by side on the settee arguing as of yore. The years fell away because the sound was as it had always been.

Dad’s Seeds

March 4, 2013

Dad was an enthusiastic gardener. He explains some of his early gardening influences in his own reminiscences, completed shortly before he died in 1996.

Uncle Joe had a long-term significance which I could not have foreseen. He was a gardener on a considerable scale and when I became a gardener myself (kitchen garden) the patterns implanted by Uncle Joe and Uncle Frank (of whom more later) played a considerable part. I learnt practical tips from Dad on his allotment but these two gardened to a higher standard and to greater visual effect given the advantage that their gardens adjoined their houses. I shall never be as good as either but a good deal of both is represented in our present garden…

…The southern end where the triangle narrowed was Uncle Joe’s kitchen garden which he had nursed since before I was born. The picture I carry in my mind of text- book perfect rows of vegetables may be larger than life, but it persists. I remember in particular rows of peas coming on in succession as gardening books say they should, including tall varieties, 2 metres high, covered with well filled pods. Dad never grew tall varieties partly, I think, because he could not afford the necessary pea sticks but mainly because they produced a luxurious excess when vegetables were plentiful and he was concerned for continuity- for crops in difficult periods -late winter and early spring.

That described as time in the 1920s. By the 1990s, dad had got more experimental and took to growing unusual vegetables. Sometimes he saved seed and passed some to me. Here are a couple of examples.


Here we have a packet containing scorzonera seed which he saved in 1993, along with cultivation and cooking instructions with an added comment that it should do well on greensand. He, of course, knew that where I live I have a greensand garden.

We ate scorzonera at his house. It was OK, but never special enough for us to bother with it. It is probably too late to plant those seeds now,

The other example I have is asparagus pea. These are in a clear packet so you can see the seed as well as cultivation and cooking advice.


These are members of the pea family producing pods that have a reptile look about them with an asparagus flavour. Maybe we ought to try a few of these.

Actually, it is good to have preserved these bits of dad’s gardening past which also show him with a thoughtful and very kind nature.

Was Grandad a nerd?

December 9, 2012

I’m sure the answer, really, was no he wasn’t. The view of some was that Grandad’s life was blighted by the first world war. He came home, as far as I know, unharmed in any physical sense. But the ‘land fit for heroes’ was unable to get him his pre-war job back. He’d been a postman. He had some skill as a cobbler and got a poorly paid job doing that. There was certainly poverty, but at least grandad had a job and the wolf was kept from the door.

Grandad took photos. He didn’t have facilities to develop a film, so he got that done at a local shop and then printed his own images – or those he thought were worth the money. I think this one fell into the ‘not worth it’ category, but Grandad kept his negatives which, eventually, were handed to me. I have been able to digitise them and so can see something of my ancestor’s life and that of his family. Of course, negatives are not captionned. It has not always been easy to sort out where photos were taken, let alone why. But as we can see, this shows a railway.


Now I’m on guesswork. I think this will be near Sidley on the Bexhill West to Crowhurst Line of the old South Eastern and Chatham Railway. I suspect part of the purpose of the photo was to do with the vegetable garden on the left. I know grandad’s brother, Joe, had an allotment somewhere near the railway so it might have been his.

The sign on the right says ‘catch points’. There may be an expert who can recognise that sign and its proximity to an over bridge.

It’s certainly a shame that granddad was unable to get a train in his picture. That would have helped to date it and locate it.

Since I last wrote about the Bexhill West branch, I have located another ticket, probably bought as a souvenir by my dad for it dates from the time of his last trip on the line.


Sixpence for a journey of slightly over 4 miles sounds laughable today but the adult rate was, no doubt, threepence per mile back then. It would not have seemed cheap in the 1960s.