Down Rye Way – Bob Woolley

by “Elaine”

He guarded the Bank of England

Robert Woolley first saw the light of day in 1894. He was born in the Mint.

Bob, as he has always been called, first went to school at Mermaid Street then going on to the Lion Street school for the second part of his education. Before leaving school he took a job as a Hot Roll Boy delivering bread rolls around the town for Mr. Clark who had a bake-house in Needles Passage. The rolls, sold mainly for people’s breakfasts, were 1d. each or 7 for 3d. Bob Woolley also did a milk round at this time and he completed both jobs before he started school in the mornings. On Saturdays he was busily employed with a meat round, a job which occupied him from 8.0 a.m. until midnight and involved cycling around the district on a cycle with solid tyres and an oil lamp. For this Saturday activity he received the magnificent sum of one shilling.

He remembers the soup kitchen at the top of Rope Walk and going there with a wash stand jug and getting it filled for 2d. In his youth Bob was a member of a gang of boys calling themselves the Ten Disciples, they were well known in Rye by this name.

On leaving school his first regular job was with the railway as a ‘number taker’ in the Goods Shed at Rye Station. He worked at Rye for three years after which he went on to Ramsgate as a junior railwayman. At Ramsgate his wage was 14/- he paid 11/- a week board and lodgings.

On completion of a three year course he returned to Rye and was trained to become a signalman.

Bob soon passed out as a fully fledged signalman and was transferred to Sandgate and very shortly afterwards to Folkestone Junction. At Folkestone he was responsible for three emergency signal boxes between Folkestone and Dover, these were built as a safeguard in the event of chalk falls from the adjacent cliffs.

Bob was a Territorial and when the 1914 war broke out he was posted to Dover Castle with the ‘E’ Company of the Sussex Regiment. While he was at Dover the German spy, Lody, was executed.

Bob was moved on to the Tower of London and during his time there he did sentry duty at the Bank of England and at Olympia. He was once put under open arrest whilst guarding prisoners and accused of conspiracy in an escape plot. At the subsequent enquiry it was proved he was innocent and doing his duty and he was granted a week-end leave.

E Coy Royal Sussex Regiment Veterans
E Coy Royal Sussex Regiment Veterans

Bob Woolley was posted to France in February, 1915, but was not destined to take part in the bloody battles that were to come, bad health resulted in his transfer back to England and he was finally invalided out of the army.

Mr & Mrs Bob Woolley
Mr & Mrs Bob Woolley

Happier times were ahead for Bob in 1916 he married Rye girl, Miss Elsie Apps at the Wesleyan Chapel. The Wedding was officiated by the Reverend Dyer. The wedding nearly never came about as the Reverend gentleman had overlooked the fact that he had a marriage to perform on that day and had to be fetched from the Salts, where he was watching a cricket match.

After his discharge Bob went back to the railway and he was working at the Rye Signal box during the Second World War. He remembers that the evacuation of Dunkirk was a busy period and there were often as many as thirty empty trains between Hastings and Ashford feeding the various evacuation ports. All trains continued in a circle via London taking the troops from the ports.

After 34 years service Bob retired from the railway and bought a small window cleaning business in Rye which he continued to operate until his final retirement three years ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Woolley celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary in April last year.

They have one son, Robert Jnr. He is headmaster of Northiam School.

From the April 1967 issue of “Rye’s Own”

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