A 1940’s/50’s childhood in Connaught Avenue and West Street by Gerry White
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.
I am sure that so long as people continue to live in Shoreham there will always be characters around. Some memorable and maybe a few that are perhaps best forgotten. In the past I have just written the odd story about one or two individuals but I have now been asked to collate them into a story and this is it…….wish me luck!
Following the commencement of hostilities Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of War and it was he that laid the format for the organisation of four separate armies. Shoreham with a railhead, seaport and airport in a strategic position on the south coast became the location for forming the 24th Division, part of Kitcheners Third Army or K3 as it was known..
Almost before the ink was dry on the recruiting posters men started arriving by rail at Shoreham and local territorial soldiers began creating a tented camp on the Oxen Field to the north of Mill Lane. The close proximity of the railway station to the field meant that heavy equipment could more easily be hauled there. Initially, there were no instructors to train the new recruits nor uniforms or small arms. The flood of men was so great that the churches and townsfolk were needed to assist with providing temporary housing and food for them. As new recruits continued to arrive it was not long before Buckingham Park was also being used as a tented army camp with a field kitchen and latrines dug to provide a modicum of hygiene. The local Territorial soldiers were engaged to set up the spacing for tentage and supervise raw recruits by organising swimming parties on the Beach and holding basic roll calls to keep unsworn trainees busy.
Many of Shoreham’s old photos of the High Street and from across the river show a familiar chimney on the spot where Coronation Green is now. Originally part of a cement works in the early 1800’s it later became a brewery.
An historically important document recording the signatures of those Shoreham Master Mariners who took out insurance and assurance cover prior to their voyages. Each were indemnified for up to £40 against loss of their nautical instruments, charts and clothes and a full £40 in the case of their death payable to the widow or nearest relative. Shoreham born Thomas Brown Kirton of Queen’s Place who wrote and signed the front page conditions of the document was himself a shipowner.
The year 1853 could be misread as 1833 but has been discounted as many of the ships named were not built until after the latter. Some entries only show the year but a few do include a date – were these the date the ships were due to sail or just when they were added to the policy? In the case of James Francis of the War Hawk it had to be near the maiden voyage as the date entered was only six days after the launching!
Before the bungalows arrived the chemical works, cholera hospital, coastguard station, and a few boat and fishermen’s huts were about the only buildings on the beach. The location of the earliest bungalows can be seen on the 1898 Ordnance Survey map. Matching this to the 1930’s Bungalow Town map and lists shows that these first bungalows were named, from west to east, Kittiwake, Arcadia, Struan Lee, Rhodesia, Lazyland, Sea View, Sea Spray, Coronation, Shoreham Dene, Waterville and Canaan (the empty rectangles were plots for later bungalow to be built on them but some don’t seem to have materialised.
Built as a Custom House in 1830 by George Henry Hooper at the expense of the ancient Poole family mansion that had stood on the same site for centuries before. Hooper was himself a descendant of the Poole family and the new building was, initially at least, an attractive one designed by Sydney Smirke R.A, but its appearance was somewhat compromised during the subsequent enlargements of 1920.
– a collection of images from the galleries and collections of shorehambysea.com illustrating the changes to the area since the 18th century.
What a wonderfully eccentric place it was! Besides a fascinating ropemaking and shipbuilding past there were, in Victorian times, ancient buildings still standing, quaint cottages, wharf houses, a gas works and, spookily, a mortuary alongside an incinerator! In the Little High Street there were peculiarly shaped houses and strange, shop-like windows.
It was never a fashionable area, being part industrial and part residential where the poorer, labouring families largely dwelt. In 1817 William Butler’s poor grammar described it as being “the lower ‘hend’ of town” and goes on to mention a ‘pour new’ shop where he had ‘connections’ with Sarah Fillaps. Something of a mystery and perhaps a pawn shop (a corruption of the French ‘for us’) or as William’s escapades suggest one of the numerous brothels in Shoreham port then?
During the early part of the 19th century Ropetackle included wharf houses, sheds, a brickyard, coal yard, a bonding pond, Thomas Clayton’s deal yard, his cement factory, stables, a mixture of 17th to 19th century houses and even a mill pond. By the Victorian era there was also a sewage plant and of course the gasworks, flint-built ware houses, incinerator and mortuary. It all added to a certain air of eeriness and mystery to the area.
Naval sketches of the fourth rate, 48 guns, three-decked man-of-war HMS Dover, built at Shoreham in 1653, give the impression of a very large ship. Surprisingly at 533 tons and keel length of 104 feet it was very similar in terms of length and tonnage to many of Shoreham’s typical 19th century home built merchantmen such as the Shamrock 500 tons/117 feet; Agricola 600 tons/119 feet and Cambria 500 tons/116 feet.
Visual comparisons perhaps give more idea of sizes and this view of an average 19th century vessel between the Dover (left) and the considerably larger Britannia (right, recorded at 800 tons and a length of 140 feet) reveals a perhaps diminutive but nevertheless beautiful example of Shoreham’s shipbuilding history.