Kitchen Tongs of Eastbourne

My great great Auntie was Mercy Bennett and she was married to Oliver Ephraim Mitchell.

Oliver was born in Eastbourne in 1880. His father was Ephraim Mitchell (born in West Dean in 1852)   When Oliver was born his father’s occupation is shown as a ‘Farm Bailiff’ however he was apparently also a poet and my grandmother said he was known locally as ‘The Road-Man Poet’  The family lived at Black Robin Farm over towards Beachy Head.

Oliver’s first job was with Chapman Brothers who ran horse drawn buses and hackney carriages from a stand near the pier but by the age of 19 he was working at Eastbourne Station as a shunter.   The 1901 census shows him boarding at Newhaven and his occupation is shown as ‘Railway Constable’. This was probably short lived as, by the time he married Mercy in 1906, he was working as a Coal Porter for Bradford’s Coal Merchants in the Railway Yard near Whitley Road Bridge.  Mercy Bennett was known as Nellie and the two lived at 3, Beamsley Road and later at 8, Annington Road.

My grandmother describes her Uncle Oliver as being ‘very tall and very jolly’. His nickname was “Kitchen Tongs” apparently because of the way he walked (!!) 

Every Morning form Monday to Saturday he would set off for work at 5.30am carrying sandwiches and a flask of cold tea which my great Auntie would make before she went to bed the night before.  He was a coal heaver and he would have had to have been a strong man to carry sacks of coal. When he got home in the evening he was so black with the coal soot that he had to stand in a tin bath in front of the fire to clean himself off. He would then dress and sit by the fire smoking an evil-smelling pipe.  His loving wife would clean his clothes, taking any money out of the pockets to keep for housekeeping. 

Mercy was very religious and would go to church every Sunday. Oliver however had other plans for his one day off a week.  Knowing that his wife took his loose change from his pockets, he would hide some money under a cabbage on his allotment and on Sunday morning would retrieve it and go to the pub.  Not a local pub – he would cycle the ten miles over to the Barley Mow at Selmeston where he was a well known and loved regular.  He liked to drink beer and sing. My grandmother remembers that he would cycle back to Eastbourne singing “One man went to mow”. It was remarkable that he wasn’t killed and it was a family joke that it was a good thing that the bicycle knew the way home!

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Is that Oliver’s bike outside Barley Mow at Selmeston (Chris Coleman)

My great-great Uncle Oliver died in October 1950. I would dearly love more information  about him and his father the ‘Road Man Poet”  The pair seem to have been very interesting characters indeed!


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