My last post about the preparations for the Dieppe and D-Landings were from an account by Seaford postman George Martin (1908-1976). He was interviewed by members of Seaford Museum in June 1974. The follow account is what he remembered about the town and its people…
There were four trains an hour in the 1930s. The railway had a ‘pull and push’ along the double line. The trains used to come down and shunt around on the turntable opposite the Terminus Pub and then go up the other line. There was a huge goods yard there, used for unloading all the merchandise. That was before the Southdown Bus Garage was built in Dane Road although it is now used by the Commissioners of Sea Defences.
There were 37 private schools in Seaford and up to a hundred boys in each school and their cases had to be moved about four times a year and when those schools moved they had about seven special trains and they had to put them somewhere. I’ve seen Seaford sidings choc-a-bloc with school trains, you would have thought that the railway was built just for the schools. That is why there is only one long covered platform at Seaford so the school kids didn’t get wet – the rank and file didn’t matter. Many is the time when I have had to walk all the way up to the signal-box to catch a train because a school-train was in the platform.
It was the schools that made Seaford go round. That’s why there are big houses in Sutton Park Road because they were guest houses for the visitors – everyone was running a guest house. Seaford finished when all the schools were evacuated in the war.
Before Mr Ford opened his works in Dagenham he bought the Cement Works in Newhaven. He was going to develop it and built a line to connect the cement works with the Southern Railway. But Mr Ford went off the Dagenham instead – you could have had the Dagenham Plant here!
The trouble is that the whole of Seaford Bay is owned by the railway. They have always used it for ballast because all the railway between the lines is chippings and they are made of stones that they picked off Newhaven beach. They take the round boulders and they are crushed. Because they splinter they make such wonderful bonding. They are the finest thing to use for ballast so that’s why the railway bought the whole of the beach.
A railway used to come all the way from Newhaven up to the apex of the Sailing Club. It was the railway that built the old piece of wall there. They used to employ men to pick up the stones off the beach and they would load them into a skip and they had a railway that used to go up and down pulled by a little donkey engine and they used to trundle the skips over to it. We used to have a picture at home of the railway that ran all the way along to the Esplanade Hotel.
In the 14-18 war there were huge ammunition dumps to the north of Newhaven. They used to bring the ammo down on trains and load them into these huge vaults – they are still there I think up on the North Quay. They are big dome arrangements that you can still see from the train, anyway there were also some on the beach between Newhaven and Tide Mills.
When the Chailey Heritage was built they had to build it each side of the railway. They had the hostel one side and the hospital on the other. The founder was Mrs Kimmings who came down to speak at my Toc-H club once. She thought it was a golden opportunity to get us able-bodied blokes to help her. During the week, trains bought the kiddies down but they had difficulty getting to the hospital. She got us blokes to go and carry them. The present Mayor of Eastbourne, Tom Ward was one of our crowd and used to help. They usually arrived at 5 o’clock on a Friday evening and we used to dash over there on our bikes. The kids would come in these big basket basinet things and we used to carry them. There were about 180 children at Tide Mills, tots – right from the time they were born ‘til they left at the age of 14 with a career in leather-work or making shoes. The hospital was made from the old 14-18 army huts but they were raised on these pillars which you can still see. They ran along in a line with the kitchen in the middle for easy access and there was one hut at the end which was an operating theatre. Russian specialists used to come down and break the children’s limbs and reset them. Harley Street people used to come down there too.
Four people worked at the railway station at Tide Mills as porters. There was a station master and it had its own sidings. There were gardens all around and I always remember the little yellow cottage which was originally the stationmasters house. You couldn’t see in the windows for geraniums and pot plants. I don’t know what they did about daylight!
I remember the Tide Mill well. Opposite to where the water came under the grills, on the corner opposite where the mill stood was an old warehouse. That’s where they used to stack the corn. It had tower made of tin painted red and during the 14-18 war one of the seaplanes from the seaplane station came round and caught the tower right between its floats and took it clean off. The seaplane landed in the old sluice and I can still see them getting that thing out – I’ve never known such a vile smell. There was a long low building next door and that was where Mrs Larkin lived.
They try and tell you that you cant grow flowers on Seaford seafront – then how come they can grow them in Eastbourne? The recreation ground has never been finished. It should have had a beautiful swimming pool and everything. When Mr Watts (Alf Watts father) went in there, the whole of the bank facing the railway was planted up. They had a beautiful boating lake there too but they said it cracked so it went. The ‘upper crust’ in Seaford never wanted the working class to have anything – you were here to work and work only.
You had three huge riding schools in Seaford, they used to supply all the school kids with horses. There was old Moore at Sutton Corner, he had about 30 horses and Mr Albery had Richmond Road running alongside the recreation ground – that was another colossal place and there was another stables behind Telsemaure which was an old coach-house.
The first summer shows in the town were held at The Chalet. That’s where I first saw Olly Oakley the banjoist – he could play one of those small concertinas. All the variety entertainments were at the Chalet.
Where the old Ritz is there was a big thick wall and it took about a year to demolish it. We used to walk along it as kids. There used to be a drop of about 30 feet down to an old piece of ground. Then there was the old fire station and then the chalet. On the side of it was an old putting course.
Admirals Walk – do you know where that is? You know the path that runs from Sutton Avenue down to Chyngton Road that is Admirals Walk – they even put street lights on it. Admiral Kemmis Betty wanted to exercise his dog and he got fed up with having to walk down to Arundel Road to get to Seaford Head. So he got on the council and passed a bill so that they put the path in right from his house to Chyngton Road and that why to this days its called Admirals Walk.
One of the ex-postmasters bought a piece of land, just over an acre, behind the Old Beach Hotel with no more chance of developing it than the man in the moon. Then he got himself on the council and sold it to the council for a preposterous price. They used it for keeping the grit for putting on the roads when there is a frost. Another chap lived on the corner of Sutton Road and he also got himself on the council. He sold some land to East Sussex County Council so they could develop Sutton Corner.
Mr Etherington never went to school – he was a self-taught man and became the Chairman of Seaford Council. He was a clever man and well-read and could converse on any subject. He was a JP but when he went up to the court in Lewes – well the way he was dressed was disgusting.
Old Judge Scully, (below left) well he lived up at Blatchington and he used to have this special train to carry him at 6.30 in the evening. At Lewes Station there is still the old Judges Entrance and only the judge was allowed to use it. As you come out of Lewes Station and turn right it is there with yellow doors. I have seen him to come out in all his regalia and policemen there to get him into his horse and carriage; it used to have six horses to get him up the hill. I knew Judge Scully because I used to look after his golf clubs. Mrs Paul was his daughter.
Sir Adrian Pollock (above right) bought the big house in Norton so that he could play golf at Blatchington and have an illicit affair with Mrs Paul.
Mr Maizie used to live at Saxon Lodge. He travelled on British Rail for nearly 30 years saying that he had a season ticket but he had never paid for a fair in his life. In the end they caught him and took him to court but because of his age they let him off.
Above the junk yard lived old Mrs Bignall and old Mrs Hackett and you have never seen such squalor in all your life. The stairs were all dropping down and there was no light in there. They used to be the stables for the cabs at the station and the ostlers lived above the horses. The horses belonged to old Woody who used to hire them out. He had the grocery shop in the High Street opposite Elizabeth’s fruit shop and next to the Old House.
They say the Bailiff used to live at the Old House and if you go inside you can see the old cell where they used to stick the prisoners at night. There was another cell in the Old Town Hall. I personally think the history of the Old House is a gimmick that is used to sell antiques and what they pass off as a cell was just a stable for horses
When Woody sold up, old Mr Gilbert came along and opened the Dorothy Café there. They used to have a lovely dance hall on the top with an old fashioned dance night every Wednesday.
My friend was the chairman of the Sussex Archaeological Society. He was blind and a member of our Toc-H club. He asked us fellows to dig at the Crypt. We turned up with shovels but he bought out these tablespoons from his pocket and said ‘You have to dig with these!’. We then had to sieve it out and wash everything we found. I can remember him saying that there was a mosaic floor under there and it has just been covered with silt. He said an ornate ceiling like that was bound to have a mosaic under and got some other men to take over from us. They found nothing either but he said that is because they had not dug deep enough. He thought it used to be a leper hospital.
When they were building Fitzgerald Avenue, just where the bank starts, they found an old Roman kitchen with an oven which was excavated and taken to Lewes Museum.
I can remember the public subscription going up for the Queens Hall and then the war came along and the Army claimed it so they could store their gun-carriages. We used to have to move the gun carriages outside into Broad Street while we had our dances there but the floor was shocking to dance on – you knocked the toes off your dance shoes with all the nails sticking up. It was nothing to go around with a 4lb sledge hammer to knock down all the nails before a dance. We then had to put down about 3lb of boracic crystals on the floor.
The Army used to have their own balls there every year and they would wear their dress uniforms. The army then just commandeered the hall. Where the Claremont Hall is was the Congregational Church Hall which is where they used to entertain the soldiers in the first war. They used to go up steps to get in there – it was one of those raised places – a colossal place leading right down to the laundry. They had a fire there and it was sold off even though it was bought by public subscription.
The old Miss Snows gave a house in Sutton Park Road to the Congregational Church as a memorial, There is a little tablet on it but it has been covered over with concrete now. I could name hundreds of place that have been given to Seaford!
The Bravery family walked in after the 14-18 war and bought up all the old army huts and the ground that they stood on then they started the demolition and one thing led to another. They never put a foot wrong especially Victor Bravery – the one that owned the Ritz. He was a pig of a man.
The old cinema was in Brooklyn Road and you used to have to go up on the outside to get to the top gallery that ran all the way around inside.
My wife’s uncle could remember when West House was the Customs House and they used to look out from the bay window to see the ships coming into Seaford Bay.