THOSE WERE THE DAYS MY FRIENDS . . .
Like many of the people whose reminiscences of Lancing life appear here, I too came across this fascinating website by pure chance whilst trawling references on the internet to the Lancing/Sompting/Worthing area. So I trust my few recollections of growing up there will prompt further reflections among those of us scattered around the globe, and of course those of you still resident in the area, and also prompt others to write accounts of our early lives and even perhaps engage in mutual correspondence whilst we still have time before our all too soon inevitable demise.
On the east side of the Cokeham Lane/Cokeham Road corner there existed in the forties and fifties a small Roman Catholic church, surrounded by its own small garden area, at one time presided over by a priest whose name was pronounced Father “Towi”, but of whose correct spelling unfortunately I have no idea.
The area to the west of Cokeham Lane in the 1940s and early fifties was our childhood playground wilderness of fields, streams, apple orchards and scrubland known locally as The Brooks, wherein I and other local kids would roam endlessly and happily throughout the year. Now, like so many similar patches of infill land on this part of the West Sussex coast, it has been almost entirely covered over by characterless, identikit housing estates. Like another correspondent to these memoirs, during the course of their building we youngsters would clamber all over the partially built houses of an evening when the workmen had departed, jumping off the scaffolding boards onto the sand piles used for cement mixing, purposelessly nicking whatever was imprudently left lying about by the builders. I remember once coming across a patrolling policeman who ordered me to turn my pockets out – fortunately I had yet to commence my daily haul!
The land behind the houses on the east side of Cokeham Lane until the present housing estate was built around 1950 was a large nursery of greenhouses and cultivated fields, mainly given over to growing tomatoes, and at one time chrysanthemums. A siren would be sounded four times a day for the nursery employees to start or cease work that could be heard all over Cokeham; one could set one’s watch by it. I also particularly remember the farm implements, ploughs, rakes, harrows, etc, being hauled by a pair of enormous grey shire horses, who would loom up over our back fence on making their furrow turn, scaring the living daylights out of little 6-year-old me.
A public footpath, known locally as a twitten, running from Cokeham Lane a few houses down from ours through the nursery fields and between the greenhouses and a series of housing estates, still exists and exits on North Road in Lancing village just beyond the football ground. During a severe thunderstorm in the late 1950s, when many of you may remember a bus was blown off the wooden Adur toll bridge, several of the nursery greenhouses were flattened and a couple of houses along the twitten severely damaged, walls blown out and roofs torn off.
My particular delight was watching the coal-fired steam-roller puffing up and down the road smoothing out the newly laid tar surface covering the refilled ditches, a raucous, clanking behemoth of a machine belching out what would today be condemned as the foulest of polluting fumes, whose few remaining cousins are now confined to appearances at heritage steam traction engine shows.
The road gang had their headquarters just inside Cokeham Lane near our house, where the steam roller was kept overnight, so in the early morning I was able to watch it being stoked up for its day’s work.
Milk was delivered daily at that time by horse-drawn milk floats belonging to Highfield and Oakland Dairies of Worthing. On Saturdays, when the milk man had the added duty of collecting his week’s money from the householders, I would quite often ride around with him for an hour or so delivering milk bottles. I remember that whenever the horse did a pooh on the road, a man would instantaneously materialise from the nearest house with a bucket and spade to scoop it up to manure his vegetable garden.
In those days bread was also delivered to households in our area twice weekly by an electric-powered van from Mitchells Bakeries in Lancing. I often used to cadge a lift from the driver to Lancing on a Friday evening to visit the public library housed in a concrete pre-fab hut behind the village hall on South Street.
Although not an especially religious family, my sister Barbara and I would usually attend Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival services at Sompting parish church, the ancient Saxon Church on the fringe of the Downs just off the A27 trunk road, and where in 1950 she was married. We would go up West Street past the former Sompting Rectory House, at one time a Convent school where Barbara went for several terms and is now a nursing home, to Dankton Lane, then hike across the fields, cross the A27 and continue on further field paths to the church. I also remember crack-of-dawn mushroom collecting trips in the late 1950s with Barbara’s husband in the field adjacent to Lower Church Lane opposite the Marquis of Granby pub, now an equestrian practice ground. Our mother, Mrs Hill, worked part-time until the late fifties at Sompting Junior School on Loose Lane, doing secretarial work and acting as lunch-time playground supervisor.
Although strictly speaking not entirely pertinent to a memoir on life in Lancing, nevertheless another notable event in my memory of those days around 1950 was my annual trip to the Alton Treloars hospital for a check-up on my wobbly leg, on account of the enormous contrast between road travel then and the present day. This day-long journey always took place at the height of summer, on a day which was invariably gloriously sunny and hot. A small boxy hospital car, probably a Ford Prefect, always driven every year by the same friendly female nurse, would pick my mother and I up early in the morning and we would set off on virtually traffic-free roads across country to Alton. Up Busticle Lane to the by-pass, then across the Downs to Washington via the Findon by-pass, through the sleepy towns of Storrington and Pulborough, over Stopham Bridge to Petworth and Midhurst and onto the Petersfield road where we would turn off at Rogate and amble down leafy country lanes through Liss and Selborne, past Gilbert White’s home, to eventually arrive at Alton for my appointment. All being well, and thankfully it always was, we would return by the same sublime country route in the afternoon. I don’t suppose we ever exceeded 50 mph on our little cross-country jaunt, on peaceful, lonely roads in sight of the unutterably beautiful South Downs for many miles, thence plunging through the deep Wealden forests around Selborne. No yellow lines were to be seen scarring the road edges in those days; virtually nothing in the way of street furniture, bollards, traffic islands, direction indicators, etc, which so despoil our country roads today; no monstrous, diesel fume belching lorries, irritatingly tail-gating and endeavouring to overtake.
Like many contributors to this website, I attended North Lancing Primary School on Mill Road, and then, having failed what I afterwards realised was the 11-plus exams, and after two terms boarding at Wedges Farm Camp school near Horsham, continued my schooling at Irene Avenue Secondary Modern School from 1951 until 1955. A ginger-haired boy, for the first couple of years at North Lancing I wore a rigid iron brace from foot to hip on my right leg as a consequence of my previously mentioned ankle operation. Although excused sports and PT classes, I was in no measure inhibited from taking part in any rigorous activities children my age generally engaged in, either in school or out. This included pedalling furiously up and down Cokeham Lane on a specially adapted tricycle with a single left hand crank pedal and a footrest for my right leg, plus, as others have mentioned, after-school roaming on the adjacent downs, scrambling around the chalk pit, exploring the old Manor grounds, occasionally venturing as far as Lancing Clump, eventually getting the 7A Southdown double-decker bus home from The Corner House. You may notice I have used the term Lancing Clump for the ring of trees atop the prominent downland hill to the back of Lancing. It may well be known as Lancing Ring in more formal academic and geographical circles, and for mapping definitions but we local natives of the time always referred to it as The Clump.
Of the teachers at North Lancing there was the redoubtable headmistress Miss Humphrys, and Miss Tait, and Mrs Green, my last teacher whom I shamefully admit having given rather an intolerable hard time and who used, quite deservedly but futilely, to cane my knuckles with the flat side of a ruler on a regular daily basis. I think there was a Mr Evans, and a Miss Conway or Cornwall whom I was also notedly disrespectful of. Our last year with Mrs Green was spent in the old school hall classroom on the lower level beside the Mill Road entrance, part of the building doubling as a Scout and Wolf Cubs meeting room; I was in the Cubs for maybe a year here at this time, the Cubmaster perhaps being the school’s Mr Evans.
My most notable recollection of North Lancing Primary was being a member of the school choir and of learning two songs in particular, the first lines of which may well prompt memories in some other readers of these reminiscences: “How beautiful they are, the lordly ones . . . ”; and “Early one morning, just as the sun was rising . . . ”. After incessantly rehearsing these songs, and probably others which I do not recall, for weeks on end, we went off one day to join up with a mass choir giving a concert in a neighbouring town, possibly Chichester, to entertain the local bigwigs of the time. These two song’s poignant words and music have remained with me throughout my life, and it is only with the advent of the internet that I have at long last been able to download excellent recordings.
The only fellow pupil I recall of any note was a lad of my own age by the name of Leslie Evans, a rather short but formidable, fleet-footed runner. He used to challenge all and sundry in races across the school playground and in all the years I knew him was never bested. He lived just nearby the school on Manor Road.
Moving onto my time at Irene Avenue Secondary I would first like to say that I have found the Friends Reunited website very useful in recalling names of former school- and class-mates, as well as teachers, particularly the various entries by Brian Lisher. Not all names I remember are listed and few if any I can now apply a face too either – of course all those surviving are pretty ancient by now, at least in our seventies. Here are some names not listed: Janet Wood, Janice Hammer, Victor Nason, Sonia and Susan Bretherick, Angela Taylor, Christopher Stringer, Barbara Carpenter, Michael(?) Webb, Geoffrey Wagger, Brian Woodward, David(?) Bunn, Does anyone out there, anyone reading these reminiscences, have any knowledge of these people, or the others on Brian Lisher’s list? Are any of you he mentioned reading this right now? We are after all rapidly running out of years to renew acquaintance, if not by personally meeting, scattered in many lands as we are around the globe, then at least by the use of our modern technological correspondence marvels, e-mail.
Irene Avenue school’s population was never particularly large, being conducive to a sociable, close communal spirit, roughly averaging 300 to 350 pupils, unlike many of today’s incohesive schools of a thousand or more. We were divided into four year, four stream classes, A, B, C and D, depending on how bright one was, elevation to a higher (or relegation to a lower) stream depending on year-end examination results. Not being of the brightest but neither the dimmest, I remained throughout my time in the B stream. This had the advantage though that my last two years at Irene Avenue were spent in Mr J J Bonner’s form class, the school’s most popular teacher, amiable and easy going but strict when necessary, highly respected by us boys and doted upon for his handsome looks by our class’s girls.
Previous form teachers had been Miss Poole and Miss Street. I believe the year following the one I left, 1951, still almost two months shy of my 15th birthday, the school instituted a single fifth-year class for the brightest of the bright (which excluded me) the objective being to sit for the General Certificate of Education (GCE) exam at the end.
I remember that due to overcrowding in the school’s main building, which several new prefabs built on the periphery had failed to entirely relieve, once a week our class had to troop down to the Scout Hall in Lancing South Street, which we all rather enjoyed partly because it enabled us to idle our way down through the village during our lunch period by ourselves (unless one went home for lunch one was forbidden to leave the school premises at lunch time).
One, or possibly two, members of our 4B class embarked on criminal careers; a pair of familiar names, forgotten now, popped up in a local newspaper report of a petrol station robbery on the Arundel Road west of Offington Corner sometime around 1960.
Having become by the time I graduated from Miss Street’s class a quiet, well-behaved and bookish, if not particularly scholarly, boy, she persuaded me to assist her, together with a fellow classmate, David Bunn, in running the school library during the lunchtime period, which she was in charge of, checking books in and out, keeping the place tidy, etc. Any popularity among fellow pupils I may ever have had diminished to zero at the end of each school term when my library duty required that I to go round to each class with a list of people who had not returned their library books in the allotted time and/or paid the requisite overdue fines, and request the miscreants do so immediately, all humiliatingly in front of their classmates and teachers. How to make enemies . . .
Prior to becoming a good little boy though, I was once sent to the headmaster to get the cane. Sitting next to the most troublesome boy in our class one day (actually the boy who was eventually named in the aforementioned newspaper as being involved in the petrol station robbery), whilst the lady teacher was endeavouring to inspire in us the joyful delights to be gained by a comprehension of English poetry, we got into a shoving match at our desks. Quite rightly losing patience at our disruptive antics, Miss Whoever (possibly Miss June Bradley), a generally mild mannered young lady, ordered us both off to the headmaster’s study to explain ourselves and to request the cane. This was in the time of Mr Russell, a much-feared head with a reputation of relishing the application of the cane to the posteriors of errant pupils. I was petrified, but my companion in misdeed, a wily, cunning fellow, likely having been sent for caning on more than one occasion, seemed to take it all in his stride. After standing outside the absent Mr Russell’s study for fifteen minutes or so, he suggested we should simply go back to the classroom and say we had been thoroughly caned and that no-one would be any the wiser. I uneasily agreed and as luck would have it nothing was said by the poetry teacher. However, none of our classmates were convinced that we had actually been caned.
One particularly memorable lesson was the, supposedly, sex education one, not because it taught us anything about the birds and the bees but that it left us barely pubescent teenagers utterly bewildered as to what the entire lesson had been about. Mr Holtham, the rural science teacher, entrusted with the dubious task of enlightening us children into the mysterious complexities of this thorny subject was at that time in his first year at the school, having only recently been installed in the newly built biology pre-fab on the edge of the playing field. As I remember, an amiable, helpful, friendly sort of man, inclined to the occasional quick outbursts of temper if riled, we had all got to like him for his zestful, enthusiastic teaching manner.
This particular day though he was far from his usual cheery norm – nervy, jumpy, seemingly overwrought and distracted, he shouted at us that no-one was to as much as utter a word during the lesson; a snigger or a laugh would be instantly punishable by sending off to see the headmaster, ie the cane. We kids grew numb with dread and apprehension, practically paralysed with alarm at this transformation in the demeanour of our usually affable teacher – whatever was he going to tell us today that was of such overwhelming, awe-inspiring importance. He drew several puzzling looking sketches purporting to be rabbits on the blackboard, mumbling semi-coherently all the while about certain ill-defined peculiar activities they got up to from time to time, none of which made any sense to us. The lesson thankfully over, we filed out and looked at one another in utter bemusement, exclaiming: “What on earth was all that about?” None of us, not even the class smart aleck know-it-alls, had the vaguest clue.
There was also an outing with the more typically congenial Mr Holtham one afternoon to a pig farm in the Old Salts Farm area south of the railway line in which, besides our class’ fascination at the twenty or so little piglets suckling at each belly of several sows, both the boys and, giggling, girls were equally, if not for entirely different reasons, overawed at the boar’s outstanding masculine attributes. Other school visits were to Highfield and Oakland Dairies in Worthing, and to the Lancing Railway Carriage Works, where likely a fair number of the school’s boys were destined to be employed, and indeed many of whose fathers worked at that time. Who can ever forget the extraordinary sight of the packed throng of the Carriage Works employees’ bicycles amassed at the closed railway crossing gates at Lancing station upon finishing their shift every day.
Brian’s (Lisher?) description of the cross-country race on the Friends Re-united website reminds me of the inception of these races at Irene Avenue school and my own involvement in one of the first runs at the end of my last term. The race route was as Brian describes: along Crabtree Lane, up Boundstone Lane, then an awful lung-bursting climb up to the Clump, across the down to the woods, descending through the manor grounds to the Corner House, along West Lane, across the A27 road and thence returning to the school.
However, my part in the race was not as a runner, since I was still excused participating in all sporting and athletic events on account of my wonky leg, albeit I must confess rather speciously by this time, but as a race monitor to ensure every person completed the full course distance. I was issued with a bunch of coloured bands by Mr Walters, the PT instructor, and sent off on my recently acquired bicycle (a dubious swapsy from Denys Gould if memory serves me right) to the furthest extremity of the course on the north-west corner of the Clump, with orders to hand the bands out to each runner as they passed by. About halfway up Boundstone Lane disaster struck; one of the bicycle tyres sustained a puncture and I soon realised that there was no way I was ever going to reach my designated monitor’s position before the first runners were due to come by. So I stationed myself at the corner of Manor Road and the lane leading up onto the downs and naively pleaded with some early arrivals to take the bands to the Clump so that they might be picked up. To the vast majority of my schoolmates whose unwilling participation in any kind of athletic exertion was an absolute anathema, let alone a brutal cross-country race in the heat of a summer’s afternoon on the South Downs, this suggestion was regarded with utter astonishment.
“To hell with you” was the almost universal reaction: “You must be joking!” they chorused, barely able to restrain their collective glee at this unexpected opportunity of being released from their afternoon’s torment. Maybe a handful of the more conscientious athletes took a band and set off up the steep hill to the Clump but it is my distinct memory that the majority snatched one from me and cheerily sauntered off along Manor Road to rejoin the route back to school at their leisure, many nipping into the nearby confectioners for sweets and soft drinks.
Having disposed of the last band, I slunk off home wheeling my bike, leaving all thoughts of what might become known of my dereliction of duty in any subsequent post-mortem to the following day. I think it is entirely probable that as a result of this day’s farce Mr Walters decided it would be wiser to accompany the runners on subsequent runs, as mentioned by Brian.
I can’t write of football and cricket because I was, as aforementioned, still excused any participation but other consumate trials of skill and dexterity were forever taking place at break periods in the playgrounds, in which virtually all of us took part. Such perennial child’s games as marbles, conkers, five stones, etc were commonly played but we also held ferociously competitive lollipop stick contests, unique perhaps to our school due to its proximity to a confectionery shop which sold vast quantities of lollipops for a penny each to us parched children on hot summer days. The idea was to hold a bunch of these used, flat-sided, wooden sticks upright in the curve of one’s thumb and fingers on the ground, let them fall so they fanned out and see how many one could retrieve without disturbing the other sticks in the pile, when one’s opponent would have his turn and so on, until either of one’s lollipop stick stash had been exhausted.
Of course, as among all groups of sometimes boisterous and excitable school children, fisticuffs were resorted too on occasion to resolve disputes, which we all gathered round to view with vicarious glee. However, we took honourably principled exception on one occasion when two brothers, twins at that I believe, started pounding the daylights out of each other, and stepped in to separate them, considering it most unseemly that siblings should fight one another.
Other memories were of our resident Welsh teachers, the diminutive Mr Powell and the hulking, bear-like Mr Jones, who, whenever they encountered one another, would completely baffle us all by chattering incomprehensively away in their native tongue.
An event we boys particularly enjoyed one day at school was the showing of two popular movies of the day, the Australian outback adventure dramas The Overlanders and Eureka Stockade, both starring the famous Australian film star idol, Chips Rafferty. I wonder how many of us emigrated to Australia as a result of seeing these films. And on the subject of movies, I must mention The Luxor Cinema where I remember seeing the two most popular children’s movies of that time, Treasure Island and The Wizard of Oz.
To sum up, on leaving Irene Avenue school in 1951, I commenced a six-year apprenticeship as a compositor at The Grange Press in Southwick, attending day-release classes at Brighton College of Arts and Crafts, now incorporated into the University of Brighton. And in the autumn of 1963, shortly after my mother had died, I answered a small ad in one of the local newspapers seeking an extra crew member for an overland Land-Rover expedition to East Africa – and never returned to live in Lancing again.
Malcolm G Hill
3 July 2015