By Arthur Woodgate
Blue Cross at Northiam
At the Blue Cross Animal Centre, Northiam two old building had to be joined together for the animals to go in. In one corner, where they were to be joined up there was a great big witch hazel tree.
The tree had to be taken down. I sent for Mr. Cox, the father of the Peasmarsh hop farmer, he dealt with it. He threw that tree down, in the small gap just between the two buildings, all with a hand saw, he was a very skilled man using hand tools. What I would like to underline is, there were two architects on this job, both employed by the firm, neither of them had mentioned the tree in the plans, it was left to me to sort out the problem.
I was in charge of the jobs at Blue Cross, so I always tried to get to work first. On one particular morning somebody had been there before me and left the field gate open. Six cows were strolling down the middle of the road when I arrived. No one had bothered to put them back so I rounded them up, five were no problem but the sixth reared up at me. I threw my cap at him and he turned and raced off in the wrong direction. By the time I got him back a nosey neighbour had shut the gate. She started chastising me about leaving the gate open. I told her, in no uncertain terms that it was not me who left the gate open I will not repeat what I said to her. She was an influential person in Northiam and when the district surveyor, who was a Parish Councillor, turned up at my house. I thought I was going to be in trouble. But No!
“I have come to give you a note of thanks from the parish council.” he said. ”
“I thought you had come to have a talk with me about being rude to a lady.” I replied
“No You have done the village a service what you said to Mrs. Copthorn was what we have all wanted to say to her for years.”
Being a stranger to the village I could do it. It put her back in her place.
At that time there was a big old horse at Northiam Blue Cross, a lovely horse it was too. I built a shelter for him. The dogs used to be kept in the kennels next to the cats. Further to the story of the Blue Cross. I was kneeling down and doing some finishing jobs to the new dog runs when the architect and various officials of the Blue Cross together with my boss came along and stood in horseshoe shape round me. One of the architects said
“I am not satisfied with the progress on this job”. As I was the only one on the job I felt rather upset and said so. Whereupon Mr. Wood assumed the blame and sent more men along the next day.
Having dealt with jobs in the villages for Rye firms, I now will have something more to say about jobs in the villages for village firms, and first at “Broad Oak”, where Jack Homard and I built a row of bungalows for speculation for a small firm by the name of Green. The boss Bert Green, used to bring us the bricks and mortar all the week and our wages on a Friday. One afternoon everyone on the job disappeared, leaving me alone, bewildered. When they came back, I said
“What was all that about then Bert?”
“When there is a stoat about we always leave what we are doing and try to catch a it”.
I didn’t know builders were supposed to help farmers, but in those days it seems they did.
One day we found a W.C. pan stored in our shed. As we were not ready for such luxurys on our job I asked the boss what it was for and he said it had been ordered by someone in the village and he had agreed to fix it himself, but he didn’t like walking down the village with it. I offered to do it. So off I went with my hand round the bend and the bowl swinging about, after all most, houses had got one or more flushing loos by that then..
At the time, preparations for another World War were taking place. Groups of aircraft were flying overhead so there was a drop in houses sales and it was back on the dole for me.. Not for long though, soon I found myself converting posh houses in St. Leonards into troop accommodation and other War work.
After the War, it was back to normal work plus replacing War damage and so at Camber I found myself building a church boundary wall along the street pavement, and as we worked, there were loads of Camber sand being used for building roads. We watched as the dunes got smaller. I spent a while working for the National Trust. Repairing cellars, of which there are very many in Winchelsea. A very interesting job: and I was sent five young teenagers to have some work experience. Four of them didn’t seem to care and took no interest. But the fifth was very with it and was taking notice of everything I did and in my opinion, would have made a good craftsman. I told the powers that be this in my report but I heard no more. I hope something has been made of his life.
Lots of well known people have lived in ” St. Leonards “, Winchelsea and I had the job of rebuilding an octagonal shape chimney on the gate house, where, at that time, a garderner, Mr Webster lived.
I had old Bill Dibly working with me and when I was moved on I left old Bill to finish the various jobs, some of which were indoors. Mrs Webster said to me , “Would I do all the indoor jobs as before because she didn’t want that lecherous old so and so inside on his own (what a reputation to have!).
Lord Richie of Dundee had just moved into Grey Friars and had not got known by the local people, so when farmer Bill Crump went to look at his sheep on the marsh and saw a strange man knocking a small white ball among them, he told him to clear off. whereupon the stranger said “Do you know who I am?” Bill seeing only a nuiscence said “No I don’t. but no one must upset my sheep!” The noble lord said “I’m Lord Richie of Dundee” our local friendly farmer said, “I’m old Bill Crump of Winchelsea, so get off my land”.
Lord Richie asked me once what I knew of his father when I was in conversation with him, but he was called away to perform some public function, so he never got to hear my answer.. You got the impresion that he had no objection to what was said about his late dad. Winchelsea like Rye, was and stil is, home to some famous people. Among them the grand daughter of the founder of the Police Force, Sir Robert Peel (Maude Peel) when I was young she was an old spinster lady with plenty of money and an ear trumpet. She would ask one a question and then shove the trumpet so expecting an imediate answer. She gave many local famalies a livelyhood as she had lots of work done by “Ellis Brothers”.
When she decided to have an ornament seat of stone and brick built in her garden, my father being the only mason at Ellis Brothers was teamed up with an old bricklayer called Bill Hicks and when I came home from school, I would see the pair of them grouped over a ton of paper on our kitchen table. Eventually they satisfied themselves and the old lady by producing that we of the trade called a Circle on Circle garden seat, and it, quite rightly carried the names of the articifers who built it. Hope it is still there.
About this time Sir Milford and Lady Stevenson moved into Winchelsea just before their retirement. I came know them in person, especially Lady Stevenson, sadly they are both dead now. He was the Judge who put the murdering Cray twins away. During the trial a security escort was posted to the village to protect him from.the Cray’s associates. More about Sir Milford later when I get round to law and order.
When I was twenty I got a job for Frank Pellett, a smallish builder with an office and store at Holford Farm, opposite the entrance to Dogs Hill Road, and Winchelsea Beach Church. He took on many and varied jobs, like many small builders at that time Frank Pellett was rather excentric and left much of the running of his business to me and an old carpenter by the name of Jack Gall who had, in his time, built quite a lot of houses. Sadly, he drunk the profits, so had to go back as a journey man.
Frank Pellett’s trouble was women. Although he was married we often saw him from the sites, going in and out of various houses. All this in spite of not being two well off. Both Jack and I lent hime a few pounds to keep the firm ticking over, and this caused some very heated situations and, in my case, it was some 30 years before I was paid back. Meanwhile he was like a Mr. Macauber and used to dodge us down another street.
THE GREAT STORM OF 1931
The most memorable thing about my stay at Winchelsea Beach however, was the great storm which destroyed the Ship Inn. In those days to keep a pub license a part of the wrecked building, whatever the damage, had to be offering beer for sale all the time even if no customers came. The Ship managed to comply with this impossible situation somehow. It’s easier now.
A new ship was built in eight weeks, some distance back inland. The builder employed so many craftsmen as to make such a short time passible. I’ve never seen so many people round a new building before. Many other buildings were destroyed in the storm including a row of seven coastguard houses and about three quarter of a mile of land was lost to the sea. My employer had maintenance contracts at that time. So about five o’clock the afternoon he was contacted to save one of the houses. He took me with him to look at the building which had the sea pounding underneath. He asked my advice so I said, we should all go home to bed and see what was left when things calmed and the tide went out. It so happened that I had an old seaman as a mate and he told me when the tide would be at it’s lowest. We mustered up some poles and planks and made a pound round the site and started to shove beach over it, by morning the building was still standing but it’s back was broken so it had to be demolished very soon, so another small builder’s whim was destroyed too.
Soon after it was decided to build a new sea wall and many strong Irish navvies were brought in to build it under civil engineer Dobby. They made a good job of it but they also caused a lot of trouble because they were drinking rather hevily. However, in spite of their drink and Police action a lot of ground and property was saved . I think I’ll move on to Iden now and the small builders firm of J.A. Richards, who we all called old Jason. He was also the local undertaker and once, because his equipment was not that good.
I had old Bill Dibly working with me and when I was moved on and left old Bill to finish the various jobs, so ? of which were in doors. Mrs. Webster said to me , “Would I do all the indoor jobs before because she didn’t want that lecherous old so and so inside on his own (what a reputation to have!).
Lord Richie of Dundee had just moved in to Grey Friars and had not got known by the local people so when farmer Bill Crump went to look at his sheep on the marsh and saw a strange man knocking a small white ball among them, he told him to clear off where up on the stranger said “So you know whose I am?” Bill seeing only a nuisance said “No I don’t. but no one must upset my sheep!” The noble lord said “I’m Lord Richie of Dundee” our local friendly farmer said, “I’m old Bill Crump of Winchelsea, so get off my land”. The next Lord Richie asked me once what I knew of his father when I was talking to him, but he was called away to perform some public function.
But you got the impression that he had no objection to what was said about his late dad. Winchelsea at like Rye, had held and still do hold, some famous people. The grand daughter of the founder of the Police Force, Sir Robert Peel (Maude Peel) when I was young she was an old spinster lady with plenty of money and an ear trumpet. She would ask one a question and then shove the trumpet so expecting an immediate answer. She gave many families a life she had lots of work done by “Ellis Brothers” she decided to have an ornament seat of stone and brick built in her garden so my father being the only mason at Ellis. He was teamed up with an old bricklayer called Bill Hicks and when I was nearly buried alive whilst I was bricking round a double depth grave. This was seven foot deep and had not one of Charley Piggots uncles been watching as the timber sides gave way I would have been crushed to death.
Tom Clark and I had ben lent to old Jason by Ellis Brothers, to build a new house and Bultlers Shop in the middle of Iden, by the chapel for Chippy Jordon. Cliffords Dad. This we did, whilst Old Jason got an order for another new house in the middle of Wittersham level.
He had got hold of two blokes calling themselves bricklayers. They had made a mess of what they had done. Quite frankly. They had no idea of strains of the bonding of bricks. Tom and I were reluctant to carry on behind them but on the promise of everyone being we agreed to finish the place and so we did until “Old Misery” got so against us that both being born on the 13th and both bad tempered old bricklayers, we could read each others thoughts and slap went our tools in our respective bags and off we went up the road with the “Old Man” almost in tears behind us. He was shouting and asking us to stay when in the end we did, but it didn’t last because in the end we cheating on him we refused to stop working. As everyone was, but said nothing to him about that we had sent.
However, his son and daughter had seen what was going on. Next morning there was only Tom and I left and Jason told us that was a flash back to the Hinds family.
“Rye’s Own” June 2009
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