I was born in Brighton, in a terraced house numbered seventy-four Richmond Road, Brighton, on Saturday the third of January 1925. This house still stands at the time of writing, albeit now disfigured by the application of artificial stone cladding which renders it quite out of character with the other houses in the same row.
I think my father must have rented this house after his marriage in September of 1922, as I remember a lady, a Mrs. Fleming, living on the top floor, although, of course, she may well have been his tenant.
My mother died on the 23rd January, 1925, as a direct result of the unsanitary conditions relating to childbirth at home in those days. This left my father, at the age of thirty-eight, a widower with two children, my brother George aged sixteen months and myself aged three weeks.
My father was a wheelwright having served his apprenticeship with the firm of Arnold and Marshall whose place of business was just off Church St., Brighton, on what is at the time of writing a car park situated between Church St. and North Road. My mother was a daughter of a Mr. Waters who lived in Barking, Essex and was employed at the Barking gas works.
My father had married rather late in life, at the age of thirty-seven. At the time of my birth and until some time in the nineteen thirties he worked for Tamplins Brewery in Brighton repairing and servicing the horse-drawn brewery dray cars.
Ones earliest recollections are, I suppose, related to outstanding events, either of a traumatic or perhaps unique experience. I think my earliest recollection is that of falling over on the path in the Brighton and Preston Cemetery and gashing my knee on a large flint stone, being rushed home in my push-chair and my knee being bandaged while lying on the settee in the front room by my grandmother’s sister, Aunty Lottie, who managed to knead the wounded flesh together without the gash requiring stitches. I still have a scar on my knee to remind me of this event.
At this time, probably at the age of two, I was living at number nine Ashdown Road, Brighton. At about the time of my mother’s death, my grandmother purchased the house at Ashdown Road. She had lost her husband in February of 1924 and needed more modest accommodation than that afforded at her previous residence, number seventy-one Roundhill Crescent. Also, my father’s sister, Edith, whose husband had died in 1921 and who had been living with grandmother needed a home for herself and her son Albert.
Thus we all moved into 9 Ashdown Road. My aunt Edith (to whom I shall henceforth refer to as ‘my mother’) acted as housekeeper to my grandmother, my father and my brother and me and her son Albert, known to the family as Bob. This was of course, rather a house full, so my father continued for some time to rent a room at 74 Richmond Road where he slept, my mother going round every morning to make up his bed and to clean and tidy the room. I think my brother and I used to sleep there from time to time as I remember as a very small child lying in bed with the light of an oil lamp throwing shadows on the wall and being terrified of Mrs. Fleming whose imagined outline was cast by the shadow. She had a rather gaunt face and emaciated frame and rustled about in long Victorian clothing.
I was told in later years that, immediately following my own mother’s death, the landlord and his wife of the Victoria Inn in Richmond Road opposite number 74 had wanted to adopt me but that my father’s family and grandmother in particular would not hear of it.
Life at number nine Ashdown Road centered round my grandmother. My brother and I grew up there under the care of grandmother and Aunt Edith who, as previously mentioned we always knew as our mother, neither of us being old enough at the time of our real mother’s death to have known her.
It was a small house in a small, hilly street, with two rooms and a scullery on the ground floor and two bedrooms and a boxroom upstairs. There was a small garden and a lean-to shed against the back wall of the house in which was situated a large wooden rollered mangle and which was an ideal playhouse for my brother and me. There was no bathroom and the lavatory was outside, a forbidding place when we first moved in with a wooden seat and overhead cistern, later modernised by my father.
There was a ‘kitchener’ stove in the living room which my father later removed and when we first moved in the house was lit by gas. There was no means of heating water other than by a saucepan on the gas stove. In consequence my brother and I were bathed in a tin bath in the living room and, in winter, in front of a coal fire. Later, when were old enough, we visited the ‘slipper’ baths in North Road once a week where one could have a hot bath for a few coppers – extra if one didn’t take one’s own towel and soap.
I recall electricity being installed in the house, I think by a ‘friend’ who was no great expert as the initial installation had to be removed and the job done again. The electricity supply was direct current and the power was by two pin plugs with no earthing.
The front room of the house was seldom used other than at Christmas time and when the upright piano was played. The curtains and blinds in the front room and in the front bedroom above which overlooked the street were drawn if the funeral of a neighbour was taking place and remained drawn until the funeral was over. It is interesting to recall that, in those days, people in the street would stand still and face the road when a funeral hearse passed by an men would remove their hats.
Outside of the back door to the house was a small courtyard, leading to the garden, which was floored with red bricks which my mother used to scrub with a bass broom once a week. Leading up the garden was a cinder path, later concreted over by my father, which was edged with some charred lengths of timber which my Uncle Charlie had brought from Hudson’ furniture depository near Brighton station where he worked and where there had been an extensive fire. To the left of this path was a small flower border and to the right a small area of grass and, of greater importance to two small boys, a loganberry bush which produced a few fruits annually.
The shed contained, apart from the mangle and some lines for hanging up clothes on a wet day, a long settee type seat made of wood taken from a Brighton Corporation tram by my Uncle Reg (who was employed at the tram depot) when the tram seats were replaced by upholstered sheets. I may add that the wooden seat in the shed was also replaced later by one of the tram upholstered seats.
The shed as an ideal playhouse and accommodated a lot of our toys which would have otherwise have cluttered up an already overcrowded house. We had, in addition to other toys, a wooden ‘four-wheeler’ truck which my father made and in which my brother and I used to push each other up and down the garden path making it out to be a tram or a train.
It was in this shed that I had my first introduction to the mysteries of sex conducted by one Norma Pullen a girl of about my brother’s age who, with her parents and grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Nash, our next door neighbours. This was very much a matter of ‘I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours’ and I cannot recall being over impressed, although my brother, being that much older than I showed considerable interest.
The front door of our house was never locked during the day and the milkman and other tradesmen used to open the door and call out. There was no door bell, but a large brass door knocker which, together with the brass door handle, brass letter box, brass number plate and brass door sill were polished regularly by my mother. There were about six steps leading down to the pavement below and these my mother whitened once a week with a special whitening stone which could be purchased from the hardware shop. The steps were wetted first and the stone rubbed over the web surface leaving, when dry, a gleaming white appearance.
Our neighbours were, on one side, Mr. and Mrs. Nash and on the other Mr. and Mrs. Sharp, known quite obviously to my brother and me as Mr. and Mrs. Blunt. Mr. Nash had a dog ‘Prince’ which we could sometimes hear barking through the partition wall separating our two houses. He had an extensive garden which encompassed the large area of ground at the back of the gardens in Richmond Road, Round Hill Crescent and Ashdown Road in which he grew vegetables, raised chicken and produced honey from a number of been hives. He was a retired railway signalman and a very generous man giving us quite a lot of his fresh gardens produce from time to time. I recall the delicious tomatoes which he grew in his two greenhouses.
Other neighbours in the street were a Mr. Green who was a railway engine driver, Mr. Snow who drove a delivery lorry for the Kemp Town Brewery and the Misses Packham who lived three doors up the road and belonged to the Salvation Army.
Ashdown Road was then a quiet street with not a lot happening. The major events of the week ere, to two small boys looking out of the front windows, the arrival on a Wednesday afternoon of a man who played the cornet for a quarter of an hour of so, collecting pennies in his trilby hat laid on the pavement by his side, and the muffin man who came late in the afternoon with a tray of muffins carried on his head and a hand bell to draw the residents’ attention. Also in the late afternoons or early evenings the lamp lighter came round on his bicycle to light the street lamps of which there was one in Ashdown Road. I think when we moved in the street lamps had already been converted to electricity, but it was still necessary for each lamp to be lit separately by putting a stick with a hook on the end up to the lamp shade and pulling a switch.
Most foodstuffs were delivered to the door. The bread came in a horse drawn van and neighbours competed with one another to rush out after the van had moved on to collect the dung dropped by the baker’s horse for putting on the garden. The milk came in a large churn carried on a small cart pulled by a man who wore a billycock hat and ho always, during the cold weather, had a dew-drop on the end of his nose. He dispensed the milk into ones milk jug, measuring the quantities with several measuring cans carried on the side of the cart. Various other tradesmen did the rounds, including, from time to time, a man who bought winkles.
Coal was delivered to the house every few weeks or so and kept, initially, in a cupboard under the staircase, although later my father built a coal bunker in the back yard and the under stair cupboard became used for the storage of duster, polishes and other domestic equipment. The coal men brought the coal in horse drawn carts and wore, on their heads, a leather skull cap with a sort of short cape attached to it and hanging over their shoulders, presumably to protect their clothing and themselves from the rubbing of the coal sacks carried over their shoulders. There was a large coal yard adjacent to the Lewes Road railway station, knows as Lodders coal yard and from there domestic coal deliveries were made over a wide are. To assist the horses which drew the coal carts and to prevent them from slipping during wet or icy conditions, the road in D’Aubigny Road which led from the depot towards the main Lewes Road had raised ridges at intervals across the road against which the horse could obtain some purchase with their hooves.
Some time in the very early thirties, my father and his brother, ‘Uncle Reg’ between them purchased a property at the top end of Ashdown Road comprising a house with a laundry situated at the rear. They demolished the laundry building (which my cousin Leonard Everett thought was a criminal act as there was a perfectly good blackberry bush with lots of fruit growing up the wall) and built in its place a block of ten lock-up garages and a workshop which were rented out to owners of the few motor cars which had begun to appear in the neighbourhood. I recall during the construction period that they hired a Mr. Banks and his small ‘steam’ roller to level out the ground. This sticks in my mind as Mr. Banks kindly let me sit on his knee one day whilst he was driving the roller and I spilled the best part of my sherbet fountain down his trousers as a result, I suppose, of fidgeting about. Later my father and uncle concreted over the ground. This they did by mixing and laying the concrete themselves and spent many Saturday afternoons thereafter breaking up bits of brick and other rubble to make concrete slabs to replace or repair where the original concrete had deteriorated. I also recall them hiring water diviner to find out where would be the best place to dig a soak-away drain to drain off the rainwater and the water used for washing cars, and I actually saw his hazel twig fluttering up and down when he reached a particular spot. The intention was, in addition to renting out garages, to carry out repairs and in fact, for many years, there hung a sign just inside the garage entrance reading ‘Lock ups, Spares and Repairs’ although in fact I never recall repairs being done.
There was, however, in the workshops, a large saloon car at one time which had an almost flat battery but with enough power in it just to move the car a foot or so. My brother and I spent many a happy hour putting this car into gear and with the aid of the starter motor moving it forwards and backwards a few feet each way. Thus it will be seen the garages provided two young boys with a splendid alternative playground.
From time to time on a Saturday afternoon, my father would send either my brother or me, or both, to the sweetshop and tobacconists on the corner of Richmond Road and D’Aubigny Road for a packet of five ‘Weight’s’ cigarettes which cost, I think about twopence halfpenny. There was no problem about supplying cigarettes over the counter to young children in those days. We would be given a penny or two to spend on sweets and one could buy quite a lot of dolly mixtures or a sherbet fountain for very little. Sherbet came in a yellow tube with a licorice ‘straw’ in the top through which to suck the sherbet and these were known as ‘fountains’. The shop was owned by a Mr. Bath who was a retired Corporation tram driver.
Trams ran in Brighton from 1901 until 1939 when they were gradually replaced by trolley buses. They provided a cheap and efficient service; the fare to the terminus at the Aquarium, one penny. These were open top trams and the earlier ones had no glass in front of the driving cab, leaving the driver open to all winds and weathers. The seats on the top deck were capable of facing either direction, by moving the back rest one way or the other. There were two foot pedals in the driving cab, one operated a warning bell and the other deposited sand on the rails to avoid the wheels slipping during wet weather. As children, we always traveled on the top deck and on descending the staircase to alight from the tram made every effort to tread on the warning bell pedal as we got off. The trams provided small boys with a number of interesting diversions. One was when a machine was set up to grind the rails smooth which was necessary from time to time as the rocking motion of the moving tram caused some corrugating to the rails. This machine made quite a noise and gave off a shower of sparks. Another was when the trolley came off the overhead wire which it often did and the conductor had to lower the rope which was secured to the trolley in order to pull the trolley down and relocate its wheel to the overhead wire.
Both my Uncle Charlie and Uncle Reg worked at the tramway depot in Lewes Road; the former must have started work there in 1901 as he was a fitter and had a badge inscribed ‘Fitter No. 1’. Uncle Reg used to take my brother and me into the depot from time to time on a Sunday morning where we were able to collect up bundles of used tickets to play with at home. We could also fiddle with the tram controls and pretend we were driving. There was a tramway silver band which used to play on summer evenings in Preston Park, selections from Gilbert and Sullivan etc., and outings were organised during the summer months for the children of tramway employees. These outings were, invariably to the Chinese Pleasure Gardens in hassocks where we were conveyed by train from Lewes Road station usually eating our lunchtime sandwiches in the train long before arrival at Hassocks station. It was, of course, a steam train and the children used to sing ‘God bless the engine driver for bringing us safe home’ throughout the return journey in the evening.
There was at this time a single line railway running from Brighton to Kemp Town and calling at London Road, Lewis Road, Hartington Road halt and Kemp Town. The railway passed under Elm Grove, through a single line tunnel which was unique in that it was hewn through the chalk and, unlike most other tunnels, unlined with brick. The Kemp Town line was closed some time before the Second World War, but the tunnel was used during the war to stable electric train coaches as a safeguard against air-raid attacks during the night. The railway line has long since been taken up and in recent years the Lewes Road Arches which conveyed the line across the Lewes Road were demolished.
My father used to take my brother and me, almost every Sunday afternoon for many years, to the Brighton and Preston Cemetery to our mother’s grave. These were never depressing or morbid walks, but full of interest as we used to look for birds and flowers and different sorts of trees. We would always also visit the little grave in the Extra Mural Cemetery of my cousin Reg Hurrell’s twin sister who died three days after she was born.
My father used to take us to the Tamplin Brewery livery stables near Richmond Place to see the dray horses, huge Shire horses which he sometimes sat us on. Their backs were so wide that our little legs could not possible straddle them.
Every week, from what source I cannot now remember, my father used to bring home a huge bundle of children’s’ comics, including ‘Chips’ which was printed on a salmon pink coloured paper and ‘Bubbles’ a coloured comic, also the ‘Wizard’. There were a number of other comics on sale which we were not encouraged to read such as the ‘Hotspur’ not considered suitable.
There were not a lot of cars on the streets in the early thirties and one game we used to play when out walking with father was to see who could be the first to spot a spare wheel on the car. These were usually carried either on the running board of the car or attached to the rear of the vehicle. Our family never owned a car although my cousin Bob did have an Austin Seven Ruby in about 1932. Uncle Fred who used to come down from Croydon about every two months or so to visit grandmother had a magnificent bull-nosed Morris Cowley and I remember once being taken for a ride in tit with by brother in the ‘dicky’ seat. Petrol then was about one shilling and a penny a gallon and my cousin Bob always filled up with ‘National Benzol’.
Entertainment was very much a matter of finding ones own amusement. There was no television. We did, however, have a wireless set, in a bakelite case, which picked up medium and long wave transmissions, via an aerial in the garden running from the top of an enormous wireless pole to the house. Most of our listening as children was to radio Luxembourg which transmitted a number of children’s programmes, including ‘The Ovaltinies’ a programme sponsored by the makers of Ovaltine.
We also had a wind-gramophone with a supply of seventy-eight records, including recordings of George Robey, Ernest Lush signing ‘Oh for the wings of a dove’ and another much played record of ‘In a monastery garden’. We played a lot of card games and board games, Draughts and Ludo etc., and my father taught me to play Cribbage at a very early age. My grandmother’s sister-in-law, Aunt Jennie used to come round to the house every Thursday afternoon and tell ‘fortunes’ with the cards, which used to have my brother’s and my wrapt attention.
There were a growing number of cinemas in Brighton and grandmother and her sister, Lottie, would go to the Duke of York’s cinema most Monday afternoons, traveling by Thomas Tilling, No. 7 solid tyred and open topped bus from the beginning of Upper Lewes Road to right outside the cinema.
My first visit to the cinema was to the Court cinema in New Road to see ‘Africa Speaks’ on the first talking pictures and made by one of the earliest wildlife photographers, Cherry Kearton. As I recall the film was full of wild animals, all making lots of noise and no doubt encouraged to do so in order to exemplify the magic of talking pictures. When we were a bit older, my brother and I used to go to the Arcadia Cinema in Lewes Road, known to all the children as the ‘Scratch’ presumably because of the highly likely possibility of picking up a few fleas inside. There was no curtain, just a plain screen coloured from the footlights. The lights would go our and the first item was invariably the news and all the children would chant together ‘This is the Universal News bringing you the news of the universe’. On more than one occasion I remember the film being stopped, the lights going up and ‘Bert’ the chucker-outer coming down the aisle to see which kid it was who had been pulling the stuffing out of the seats and throwing in at others.
Before I was old enough to go to the cinema I used to walk past the Arcadia inside the entrance of which was a long vestibule with pictures of the film stars and I used to think that one paid ones money to walk up and down the vestibule just looking at those pictures.
In the late thirties a new cinema the ‘Gaiety’ was built on the site of a monumental masons at the corner of Lewes Road and Hollingdean Road which I used to visit frequently, quite often utilizing a complimentary ticket which I obtained from a shoemaker on the corner of Inverness Road who had a series of cinema posters outside his shop and who, in consequence, received complimentary tickets for which I paid him the princely sum of sixpence which enabled my to sit in the one and sixpenny seats.
There were very few large shops other than in the centre of the town and one relied on the little ‘corner’ newsagents, grocers, greengrocers and bakers shops of which there was a good supply near to our home. A lot of our groceries were bought from the Maypole, the Home and Colonial and other stores which no longer exist, also Appletons, a small grocer’s shop in Upper Lewes Road, which always smelled of the paraffin which Mr. Appleton sold for peoples’ oil lamps and paraffin stoves. Butter was taken from a huge block standing on the counter, the quantity purchased was molded into a square shape with patterned edges by two butter ‘paddles’ held one in each hand.
Most goods were sold loose and put into paper bags, but salt came in large solid blocks which we would break up at home and put into earthenware jars.
My brother and I both attended Ditchling Road School, both the Infants and the Junior Mixed sections. This school was a little over a mile from home and we walked both ways, morning and afternoon.
My recollections of the Infants School are dim, but I do recall that in the afternoons we were obliged to rest on rush mats on the floor for half an hour or so. I also recall that one of the duties of the school caretaker was to come if a child had been sick on the floor, scatter sawdust over the offending mess and sweep it up into his bucket.
We were given milk in the morning in one-third of a pint bottles for which we paid the sum of one halfpenny. In the winter months one could have either warm or cold milk. The bottles were sealed with a cardboard stopper which had a small hole ready scribed in the top through which went the straw, also supplied. It was a matter of some skill to push this small hole open without the whole of the cardboard plug being thrust into the bottle and thus propelling the milk all over the place.
My mother made most of our clothes when we were very young and to enable us to visit the toilet without undue difficulty she put a flap in the fly of our trousers instead of buttons. My brother and I used to refer to these as our ‘doorways’ and perhaps my most embarrassing experience at the Infants School was the day my doorway fell of during a visit to the boys’ lav.
Holidays, away from home, were with grandmother at house of her sister Fanny in Chichester. Aunt Fanny’s house was at the eastern end of St. Pancras and straddled the little river Lavant; in fact the river flowed under the stone floor of the back kitchen. Unfortunately this house has now been demolished and replaced with another with far less character. At the front, one walked straight into the front room of the house and, perhaps because of this, we always used the back door. The house was on three floors, the top floor rooms being attics, in one of which were stored drying onions and other garden produce and the other was used as a bedroom in which my brother and I slept when there. There was a thick rope up the staircase in place of the usual banister rail.
With Aunt Fanny, who had married twice during her lifetime, were ‘Uncle Ted’ her son by her first marriage and ‘Fred’ her son by her second marriage. Fred I recall as being slightly physically deformed. Uncle Ted worked as a farm labourer on a farm in Chichester which has since been cut in two by the building of the Chichester by-pass. One of his duties was to take milk, in churns, round to carious places in the early morning and on one occasion he very kindly took me with him. We had not gone very far when the horse pulling the cart had a very bad attack of wind and gusted a very strong smell of half digested hay back into the cart, whereupon Uncle Ted pronounced in the his broad country brogue “Er been eatin’ weeds agin!” What odd things stick in little boys minds!
Most of our summer holidays were, however, spent in Brighton and when the weather was suitable, on the beach. We invariable bathed from Dalton’s beach, the name I think derived from the owner of the bathing huts on that particular stretch. We went there because there was a sisal mat running down the beach to the shore which made walking into the water far more comfortable than treading barefoot on the beach stones.
We bathed in one-piece black cotton swimming suits which had straps over the shoulders. On bank holidays the beach became so crowded that it was often quite difficult to pick out ones parents from the mass of people when one was in the sea or returning from a trip to the ice-cream kiosk.
Also on the bank holidays there were always men selling newspapers and comics who would trudge over the beach stones usually with an ear catching shout of “terrible train disaster – hundreds killed!” or some other sensational item which, if one bought the newspaper, would prove a gross exaggeration of some minor event in a far flung part of the world. All the time there were boatmen touting for business and offering a row out to the end of the Palace Pier and back in a heavy clinker built rowing boat which would seat up to a dozen or more people. On bank holidays special trains were run to bring day trippers down from London to Brighton and in the early evening the roads leading to the station would be thronged with returning trippers.
As a small child I had my hair cut in Booth’s barber’s shop in Upper Lewes Road, sitting on a board placed across the arms of the barber’s chair. Mr. Booth appeared to live almost exclusively on tepid tea and toast, a constant supply of which Mrs. Booth used to poke round the door leading from their living quarters. I recall that, later on during the war, Mr. Booth had a very large photograph displayed on the wall of his shop, showing all the major ships of the British Navy which he diligently recorded, below the shop concerned, the date of its sinking by enemy action.
In common with most other children of like age, my brother and Iran the gamut of childish diseases then prevalent, including whooping cough, mumps, measles and, today almost unknown, scarlet fever. There were no anti-biotics and the prescribed medicines were pretty crude. When confined to bed at the house in Ashdown Road with one or other of the illnesses going the rounds, the fire in the bedroom was often lit during the winter months – the only times that there was ever heating upstairs other than a stone hot-water bottle in the bed. There was a basic form of health insurance known as ‘the panel’ the name derived from the panel of doctors who operated the scheme under the National Insurance Act. This was a contributory scheme and one contributed through one or other of the various companies concerned. Doctors’ ointments were made up be the doctors themselves and were contained in little round boxes made of very light fibrous like wood. Liquid medicines were dispensed in plain glass bottles if for internal consumption, the bottles marked on the back with graduations showing spoonfuls and other quantities to be taken. Poisonous liquids and others for external application came in violet coloured bottles. Iodine was the answer to all cuts and abrasions, usually painted on the wounded area in great quantities. Boys’ knees were almost permanently yellow. Nits were a permanent feature of most schoolchildren’s’ hair (although I am glad to say that neither my brother nor I ever experienced them) and a very stern nurse, dressed in a white uniform, used to visit Ditchling Road School at regular intervals to examine each child’s hair with a steel knitting needle.
These notes and observations will, I hope be of small interest to my grandchildren some day and, perhaps, give them some idea of life as a child in the late twenties and early thirties which, on looking back, was a happy time for the writer.
William Daniel Goddard
Shirley Drive, Hove