Memories of Shoreham by Sea

– a 1940’s/50’s childhood in Connaught Avenue and West Street

 

I was born in Connaught Avenue, Old Shoreham parish in 1938 and apart from the war years, lived and grew up in Old Shoreham. In 1946 the front gardens were still planted with vegetables. The big air raid shelter was in position on the green that separated the even number houses on the north side of the road from the odds on the south side. Orchard Close had not been built and the land was owned by the Worley family.

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A Connaught Avenue winter in the 1950’s (photo Bartlett Collection)

The Grammar School Gymnasium and playing fields were also on the north side where Mr Chitty was the groundsman and caretaker, he lived with his wife in a house adjacent to the school gymnasium. No 1 Connaught Avenue on the corner with Freehold Street was a shop run by Mr Stephens who was quite elderly and sold household goods and tinned foodstuffs. A bell was triggered by the front door that summoned Mr Stephens into the shop. In those days most of the houses were occupied by the original buyers having been built in the1930s.

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The Grammar School Gymnasium near where the southern entrance to Greenacres is now (photo Shorehambysea.com)

Many of the children born in Connaught Avenue, spent the first twenty or so years of their lives there. At the western end of the Avenue on the north side near Walnut Cottage there were some thatched cottages on the elbow in the road where it turns north, there were also the ruins of two thatched cottages, whose roofs had collapsed into the rooms and the whole was covered with stinging nettles. On the opposite side of the road there were a number of very old elm trees that were in a dangerous condition and in 1948 were cut down. A bungalow was later built on the land. At the extreme end of the Avenue, near to what is now the Amsterdam.

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The old cottages and elm trees near the top of Connaught Avenue (photo Doris Steers Collecton)

 

Mrs Winifred Perryman ran a little grocers shop in the thatched cottage next to the Amsterdam until about 1960 when it became an antique shop. Mr.Perryman worked for the Miles Aircraft Company at the airport and he set up a model steam railway that ran along an elevated line through his large orchard garden on the corner of Connaught Avenue opposite the old Post Office. On weekends during the Summer Mr Perryman would steam up his engine and run it to the delight of eager youngsters who looked on through the knot-holes in the fencing. This fence surrounded the old and ruined flint terrace of cottages that later became the Amsterdam.

 

It was about 1952 or so when the the terrace was converted into one building originally called the Blue Dolphin, the owner was a Mr Winter, before it became the Amsterdam. The row of Victorian cottages behind it were called Hoopers Cottages. The land in front of Perrymans shop was a lane with an island of grass, fenced off with chestnut fencing. This parcel of land is now the car park for the Amsterdam.

 

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Perryman’s cottage on the left with the derelict terrace alongside it. Hooper’s Cottages can just be seen behind to the right (photo Shorehambysea.com))

 

On the ground backing onto the railway line, there was a large rusty corrugated iron shed, it had been used by Mr Robins, for repairing cycles, and my father said the shed was originally used by a blacksmith. Mr Robins moved to Ham Road, and set up business as a garage opposite the Police Station, I think he was in partnership with a Mr Perkins. Most people are aware that in 1966, Dr. Beeching the Transport Minister closed many of the British Rail branch lines. One such was the Horsham to Shoreham line, a steam line. The Toll Bridge was operated by British Rail and they took a fee for crossing the bridge, the toll keeper also operated the railway gates, and the signals.

 

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The Toll Bridge railway crossing and toll house (photo Bartlett Collection)

 

Further down Connaught Avenue near the town centre was West Street where my grandparents and uncles lived for many years from the early 20th century and consequently I spent a lot of my childhood there visiting them.

 

The row of houses making up numbers 23 to 41 was known for years as May Terrace and was so called, I was told, because it was built by the Shoreham ship builder William May for his employees. My grandparents and their six sons occupied 41 West Street.

 

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The top half of West Street – May Terrace is on the left (photo Shorehambysea.com)

 

Curiously the front door to 43 opened into a passage-way between 43 and 49 which gave access to two cottages that were on land between Victoria Road and West Street. These cottages later became uninhabitable, were demolished and the land was absorbed into the gardens of 49 to 61. Apparently the cottages had no running water or drainage services. They faced onto Sugden Place I think it was called and would have been 45 and 47 (hence the gap in today’s numbering of 43 and 49). My father remembered the cottages and thought they went in the 1920s.

 

One story in our family goes back the early 1920s. Frank Dorey had been dressed in a new sailor suit in readiness for Sunday school attendance. His mother sat him on the flint wall between the back gardens of 41 and 49. My uncle George had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to make a pond near the wall but it just became a muddy patch. He hid the mud beneath an old newspaper and said to Frank “I bet you can’t jump down onto this newspaper ” – he did, and got covered in mud. His mother, seeing the muddied clothes went barmy and started shouting at my uncle who beat a retreat out into the roadway where the threats of retribution could still be heard along the street. I was not told of the outcome.

 

In 1945 Frank Suter was living next door at 39. Frank had a parrot that he sometimes gave an airing by putting its cage in the back garden but when this happened I wasn’t allowed into my grandparents’ garden because the parrot, as I was later told, quite frequently used the ‘F’ word.

 

When the war ended a succession of servicemen returned to West Street, which was decorated with bunting hung across the road. Brown paper notices declaring ‘Welcome Home’ Bill etc were dispayed on walls outside the homes concerned. Welcome home parties were often held in St Peters Church Hall in Ship Street. Sadly some of the West Street sons and daughters didn’t return and a list of those who gave their lives are displayed inside St Georges Chapel at St Marys church.

 

In those early years after the war cars in the street were virtually unknown and it wasn’t unusual for residents to leave their front doors open. Retired folk sat on a chair outside their front door and chatted to neighbours and passers by. My father who lived in the street from 1913 until 1937and told me front doors were only shut to keep the cold out as theft and burglaries seldom occurred because everyone knew each other and kept a wary eye on strangers. Residents were on christian name terms with deliverymen like the milkman, postman, and bread roundsmen. Almost everyone had a daily newspaper so jobs for older children were always available to deliver the dailies, Evening Argus and, on Thursdays, the Shoreham Herald.

 

Like many streets in Shoreham, a number of characters resided there. Mrs Reed at number 54 had spent much of her life at sea and in the 1940s sat on a stool by her front door, she always wore a dark blue roll-necked seaman’s sweater, and she smoked a pipe.

 

In mid 19th century my mother’s grandfather James Nutley, was the licensee of number 5, the Builders Arms, which was subsequently occupied by the Payne family whom my mother knew. Mr and Mrs Payne had three children Ivan, Mac, and Nina, and in the immediate years after the war following the death of their parents Nina had married a Canadian soldier and they all emigrated there.

 

As a small boy I often visited no 5 when it was no longer a pub and there was a huge cellar where the barrel trestles still lay. In the upstairs rooms, there were a couple of bagatelle tables and a large upright music machine which for a penny played music off a very large circular metal disc. In the cellar were a number of racing cycles – Ivan, Mac, and Nina had at one time belonged to Worthing Wheelers cycling club. The house was cleared in 1948 or so and I believe Mac let the house and returned to Canada. Access to the yard was from the High Street.

 

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Mrs Payne, her daughter Nina and a young Gerry White (photo author)

 

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Left: Number 5 West Street – once the Builders Arms (photo Shorehambysea.com)

 

No 9a was occupied by Mr Wimble who suffered from Parkinsons disease having to be dressed and undressed by others, poor chap. He had been employed at the Shoreham Chemical Works and the family attributed the illness to him handling chemicals, the illness was never properly diagnosed. He was married to my Dad’s aunt Alice, nee Bareham. As a boy I used to visit him to run errands, usually to Lakers on Saturdays for six Herrings and 1/2 pint of winkles, then to Browns the greengrocers in the High for potatoes and veg. and ensure the change included enough pennies for the gas meter

During the 1940’s the flint faced part of the Old Dairy building was occupied by Mr Dyer, a coal merchant, who kept his horses and delivery cart there which he later replaced by a lorry. Mr Dyer’s spinster daughter lived near us in Connaught Avenue. My father said that as a young lad during early 1920s Mr Dyer would clean a cart down and especially groom a horse to take Sunday school children to Bramber for their annual outing. A ‘bun fight’ would take place in the castle grounds. I believe Mr Harker who ran Harker’s Stores in the High Street, was still using the upper part of the flint faced building to store straw that he sold for animal feeds.

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The Old Dairy (photo Shorehambysea.com)

 

Before WW1 my father’s uncle Leonard, after whom he was named, was a milkman at the old dairy and on the outbreak of war enlisted in the 2nd Batallion of the Royal Fusiliers. His regiment was part of 38 Brigade that fought at Cape Helles on the Dardanelles in 1915 and later on the Western front. Tragically, Leonard was wounded a few days before the Armistice was signed, died on 16th Nov 1918 and is buried in Mill Lane Cemetery,

 

The house on the south side of the Twitten was once a shop, it was called Leazells. Mrs Leazell sold bread and a small range of tinned foods but the war years meant that there was not much to offer. She sold buns to the catholic school and milk was delivered to her shop then collected by class monitors to St Peters School across the road. She also had a large birdcage in her garden where she looked after injured birds. If any of us kids took in an injured bird we were rewarded with toffees.

 

When it rained we used to play with tennis balls against the curved wall of the railway bridge and the girls skipped with long ropes. In those days the only traffic in West St was pedestrian except for the odd horse and cart which was either Mr Dyer the coalman or Mr Patching with his horse Dobbin.

 

During the late 1940’s Sid Saunders, known as Crutchy, lived at number 7A. He had lost a leg, was a cobbler, and repaired shoes at home. He had a pet duck, which accompanied him for his daily lunchtime pinta in the Bridge Hotel. Also one house maybe no 11, was occupied by Mr Mitchell, who was chauffer for Mr White of Whites Timber Co. The only car parked in the street in those days was Mr White’s expensive Rover, a very smart and highly polished beige coloured motor.

 

20 & 22 West Street was originally a Methodist Chapel but from1945 it was used for something of a less than divine purpose (dependent on your point of view) when it became a factory for by Durex Ltd. Eric Long a local man was employed as a ‘test pilot’ – he released a blast of air into the sheaths to test their elasticity and soundness. The building was used from the mid 1950s as a boys club, and latterly as a snooker club.

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The old Methodist Chapel – now the Shoreham Snooker Club (photo Shorehambysea.com)

 

I can remember that the Thorpe family lived at number 9, one of the flint-faced cottages. In 1945 I attended St Peters Roman Catholic School in West Street with Michael Thorpe. Some of those cottages had a stairway down to a cellar, just on the left inside the front door.

 

1n 1945 number 34 was occupied by Rose Offord, she regularly called at 41 to visit my grandmother to have her ‘tea leaves ‘read. No 44 is where the Ellis family lived I attended St Peters RC School with June Ellis also went to the nearby catholic school and her brother John went on to be a superintendent for the Southdown Bus Company in Brighton.

 

In the 1940s the old barn on the corner with North Street had the stable doors facing into West Street, directly under the wooden beam. There was no entrance on the North Street side. It only housed one horse which in my time was called ‘Dobbin’ On Saturday afternoons I used earn sixpence cleaning the stable, polishing the harness and running errands for the owner Mr Patching who had the ironmongery store on the corner with the High Street.

 

The delivery cart was put into the back of the stable with much clanking of tins and various hardware goods that festooned the rear of the cart. I seem to remember that the roof of the building was covered with rusty corrugated iron sheeting and a pedestrian door within the main stable doors which facilitated access for Mr Patching without having to open the larger doors. For many years Mr Patching sponsored a road running race for teenagers in the town. It started in Mill Lane, then to Buckingham Road ending up at the finish line on the Upper Shoreham Road near Oxen Avenue where cup was presented to the winner.

 

The school in West Street here was the Roman Catholic St Peters school where children attended from primary to school leaving age, then 15. The gap in the wall is where a wrought iron gate hung giving access to the playground. The teaching staff were headed by Sister Aloysius Clarke, with Sisters of Mercy, Paul, Baptist, and Mary Mercy who were ably assisted by Miss Sirett, Miss Haggerty and the only male Mr Hilton. I have very happy memories of my years at St Peters, despite primitive toilet facilities that had just one toilet to flush three traps. The school badge was St Peter’s crossed keys. Discipline was strict but not severe and despite the occasional pupil caning that occurred it was for me a happy and pleasant learning atmosphere. The Convent for the holy Sisters and some boarders, was between the school and the railway line.

 

Returning to Old Shoreham – in 1947 up near the Red Lion two houseboats were berthed either side of the Toll Bridge and on the north side the boat was the home of the Rothwell family. The rear of the boat faced towards the Steyning Road. It had been a ships lifeboat, or at least that is what Robin Rothwell who lived there with his parents and three sisters told me. It was about 40 feet long and firmly moored into a deep channel that had been dug out of the riverbank. The boat had no electricity and water was supplied from a hosepipe laid across the railway line and under the rails from the house on the other side. Robin told me that they illuminated the boat by oil lamp.

 

On the south side of the bridge, Mr Northeast had a houseboat that appeared to have been a barge where he lived alone. In about 1949, the Duke of Norfolk’s Estate office told the houseboat owners to move off from his land and the boats were moved to about five hundred yards north of the Bridge and Mr Northeast berthed in a creek by Cuckoos Corner. in the early 1950s, the Rothwell family were eventually housed in Shoreham.

 

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Thought to be Mr. Northeast’s old houseboat some years after it was returned from its Cuckoos Corner mooring (photo Peggy Bailey Collection)

 

At the bottom of The Street there was a farm, the farmer was Mr Frampton who had a florid complexion and I remember he wore knee length gaiters. There was a large wooden barn that was set east/west opposite the farmhouse and farmyard. The barn sat alongside a big lambing field. In Springtime Mr Frampton brought his ewes into the barn for lambing and locals made something of a pilgrimage to visit the lambing field to see the newborn lambs.

The milking parlour was on the East side of The Street next to the farmhouse. The yard had been cemented over to make it easier to wash it down and keep reasonably clean. The dairy herd was grazed in a field opposite Adur Lodge at the top of The Street. I believe the Ellman Browns lived in the Lodge, the former home of Squire Colvill Bridger. A big house at Lesser Foxholes was owned by John Rawlings and his wife who owned the Sussex Shipbuilding Company on Shoreham Beach, they carried out repairs and built Naval craft. I believe he had also been the Commodore of the Sussex Yacht club. I knew his gardener Freddie Tester who, like my Mother came from Portslade. Fred’s sister Ivy married a Shoreham man Mr Priest, and they lived in a house in The Street.

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Inside St. Nicolas church (photo Sussex Archaeological Society Collection)

 

The Old Shoreham Church of St Nicholas, has its roots in antiquity. In those days after the war, the Rev Percy Shelley was the vicar and he held a Sunday School in the church. I recall helping my cousin David, with pumping the organ, which was done by hand. The church always had a damp smell and it was as cold as charity. Old Shoreham in 1948 was very rural and was out of time step with New Shoreham. It was easy to distinguish between the two.

 

Some of the children I remember in Connaught Avenue and the Old Shoreham Road were Tim Mahoney who lived on Commercial Terrace next to the Swiss Cottage pub. Anthony Payne of Freehold Street – his father lost a leg in the war and earned a living repairing shoes from home, John Lyne joined the Merchant Navy and became a Master Mariner; Malcolm and Graham Snelling whose parents ran the butchers’ shop in the High Street; Barry Hamilton whose nickname was “Spanner” his dad was Jock Hamilton who had a garage on Victoria Terrace, Brian, Eileen and Rosemary Parsons – Mr Parsons worked at Power Station; brothers Robert, Ronald, Royston, Roderick, Roland, and Roger Riggs – although Roy was a submariner in the Royal Navy for a while most of the brothers (and eventually Roy) entered various aspects of the building trade and are still well known working in Shoreham.

 

Phillip Sirrett also joined the Royal Navy as a lad and completed a full career there as did Keith Sharp of Colvill Avenue; a crippled lad called Michael Humpreys who propelled himself in a wheelchair that had a hand turned pedal cylcle chain that turned the front wheel; Burstow was a builder; Funnel’s Dad was the High Street furnisher; John Landale was a lifeboatman for many years. Colin Ulph became a town councilor at quite a young age; John Lyne joined the Merchant Navy and became a Master Mariner. As for me, when Dad was called up Mum took me to Fishersgate where we were bombed out, evacuated to Hamilton then on D day came back to Shoreham – initially to West Street then on to Connaught Avenue. I was called up for national service but stayed in RAF for 23 years at home and overseas. (other children’s names that Gerry recalls are listed at the end of this story)

 

Some Children were not given the freedom to roam but many were. We had the Downs, river, brooks and beach to play on. The seasons tended to dictate what we did. During summer months children went pritching flatfish (using a stick with a nail on the end to impale the fish) in the Adur especially at low tide and at high tide fished off the Toll bridge. In late summer, blackberries could be picked on the furze on Truliegh Hill and violets on Erringham Shaw along the Steyning Road. In springtime many local children had a small collection of birds eggs, not allowed now of course.

 

Picking wild flowers at Coombes and Small dole. Making a cart was fun – a box was usually put on a set of old pram wheels with a moving axle that could be steered. We could set off on a cart, which would zoom down Mill Hill then Erringham Road. One of us would be stationed at the top of Mill Lane watch for traffic and if nothing was coming the cart would continue down Mill Lane to Victoria Road. The speed and vibration often caused the cart to break up and the heels of shoes quickly wore out.

 

We hunted for frog spawn, minnows and newts in Meads Meadow and the Brooks along the Steyning road. On the Downs, in long grass, in summer a kick would raise a whole host of Burnet moths and little blue butterflies that are not now seen in such large numbers. The game of ‘I Spy’ helped to increase our knowledge of nature and bird names. Seeing Mr. Frampton’s combine harvester and threshing machine always caught the imagination as it cut, threshed, and bound the straw keeping the grain as if by magic.

 

The Norfolk Cinema, later named the Ritz, had a Saturday morning film show, when popular cowboy and other films were shown. There was often a serial that usually stopped at a critical time in the action to encourage us to return the following week to find out what happened. As the cinema emptied after each performance some would run up the road shouting “I want to be Roy Rogers” (or Hopalong Cassidy etc.,), slapping their backsides, to simulate riding a horse.

 

The excitement of the films though would soon be forgotten when we returned home to be brought down to earth with shopping chores, to Worrals for heavy spuds, cabbages and garden peas – the money for Saturday flicks had to be earned.

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Shopping chores in the High Street (detail from a Doris Steers Collection photo)

 

In winter the Brooks and Swiss Gardens Lake sometimes froze over when it was possible to skate there. Early in the winter of 1947 we, awoke to find a 3ft snow drift against the front door of the house which faced north. My Father was unable to travel to his place of work at Crawley despite struggling to get to the railway station, to find that no trains were running. Our next door neighbour’s daughter Hazel Norris and I managed to get to our school even though the snow was over our wellington boots. However, Miss Haggerty, our teacher at St Peters RC School was waiting to tell us to return home. We were pleased to be excused school but Hazel and I were were somewhat miffed at having to return home. “No making snowballs but go straight home” Miss Haggerty said. Our little school was frozen out and as the days progressed further into winter so more snow fell and the ground froze.

 

Work for my father at Crawley was impossible as the sand had frozen, house construction stopped, plumbers, bricklayers and all the workers were sent home. I think that all work at Crawley was held up for three weeks…an almost unheard of period of time. The dole queues that winter were long.

 

I remember at the Swiss Gardens the manager, Mr Bond, opened the gate on Freehold Street and crowds of people skated on the lake. Mr Bond kept his pet Alsatian dog on a short lead whilst so many folk were in the grounds. I think the ice was at least one foot thick of ice and supported the weight of many people ,… It remained so for about 10 days before a loud screeching noise from the ice told us it was melting. Apart from the winter of 2010 I don’t ever remember so much snow.

 

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Swiss Gardens Lake (photo Doris Steers Collection)

 

The most significant change to Old Shoreham of course has been the loss of farmland and the construction of dwelling houses. The closure of two farms, Old Shoreham and Little Buckingham owned by Mr Frampton, and Mr Nye have both gone. Obviously the value of housing showed a better profit than the continual hard toil on the land.

 

Even the allotments, on the South side of the once Old Shoreham School, were  given over to the construction of St Nicholas Court. The garage at the eastern end of St Nicholas Lane was sold to provide more building land. The Grammar School gymnasium and playing fields now lie under the Greenacres housing estate. The grammar school moved to Kingston Lane and took over what had been another private school called Caius School, pronounced ‘Keys.’ The thatched cottages in The Street and the top of Connaught Avenue however have managed to survive and now command good prices.

 

Above Old Shoreham stands Mill Hill now savagely sliced through by the A27 Shoreham by-pass. Despite that the view of the Adur Valley from there is still well worth the climb.

 

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(photo Peggy Bailey Collection)

A nineteenth century Vicar

A mighty vision he

To build a splendid chapel

That is seen from out to sea

It stands above the Adur

That flows from out the land

From Mill Hill the sight is still

Panoramic perfection

Nature’s picture, a silver sea

The Airport and bridges one two three

That carry traffic east to west

And then the other way

Shoreham folk and visitors

Completely all agree

The view from here is marvellous

The best there is to see.

 

Gerald White

March 2012

Edited by Roger Bateman

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Other children’s names recalled:- Terry Wells; Sonia Sharp; David and Joyce Ellams; Jennifer, John, and Peter Landale; Helen Samson; Robin and Mary Rothwell; Harry James; Stephen Hambrook; John Horton; Jean Bird; Peter, Teddy, and Wendy Weller; Joy Shepherd; Rohna Cotman; Brian Booker; Joyce O Connor and brother Donald; George Andrews; Anthony Gilbert; Pauline Tate; Sylvia Gammans; Keith and Sonia Sharp; Brian Burstow; David White; John Kennard and Kenneth Hambrook; Brian Firth; Brian Winter; Anita Thomas; Sylvia Bettridge; Hazel and Kevyn Norris; Anthony, Margaret, Christopher, and Peter White; Michael Beeler; Pauline, Venita, and Graham Hedger; Connie Munnery; The name Richard or Dick Hall also comes to mind as do the surnames of Kimber & Carpenter.

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