Down Rye Way – Kenneth Clark


It is hard to imagine “Rye’s Own” without Ken Clark. When I mentioned to him, shortly before his death, that I was toying with the idea of relaunching the magazine he was filled with enthusiasm and promised many more articles on the history of this small town he loved so well.

Alas, it was not to be, by the time preparations for the Millennium issue got under way Ken was no longer with us. None the less, several of his old articles were of such interest they have been reprinted for new readers to enjoy. Others will appear from time to time.

This article is printed under the banner we usually reserve for our Down Rye Way feature. There is no doubt that if Ken had still been alive he would have been one of the first people invited to appear in the new series.

Fortunately, Jo Kirkham and her pupils at the Thomas Peacocke, with great foresight, produced a series of booklets in the eighties called Rye Memories recording the recollections of a great cross section of Ryers. One of these was Ken Clark and with the kind permission of Jo Kirkham the following sections of Ken’s reminiscences are reproduced here:-

A Few Memories of Leisure in my Young Days

“I was born on 15 October 1930; my grandparents (Edgar George Snr. and Clara Beatrice) owned the shop “Clark Bros.” bakers and confectioners at 40 The Mint. My father was Edgar George (“Jimmie”) Clark who had a brother Reg. and a sister, Alice. Alice married Ted Parlett, who opened a radio shop at 39 The Mint (which at one time was in the Needles Passage). Alice and Ted had one child, Joan Page, who is my cousin. My father married a London girl named Grace Parlett (no relation to Ted).

By comparison with today, the young people seemed to have had little, but what we did have was lovingly cared for and prized. If, (and this is a big if,) we lacked material things, we had some­thing far more important, namely a solid parental and family background. The family unit was still the basis of a stable society, and crimes of violence never reached our tender ears.

In 1939 my father bought me an oval and one siding of ‘00’ gauge T.T.R. (Trix Twin Railway), bakelite electric railway track. However, with the opening of the War, no further items could be obtained as T.T.R. was made in Germany and imported! Hence no controller, transformer and perhaps, worst of all, no electric loco! Nonetheless a clockwork engine, (also made in Germany) was obtained, and it worked the railway without any hitches until 1951, the year in which I personally purchased an electric locomotive. Some boys would appear never to grow up!!

My parents bought the last bakelite Frog aeroplane kit (superb models!) from Bryan’s of Landgate in 1940. It was a Boulton Paul Defiant. The model lasted till accidentally broken in 1955!

During the War I possessed two Dinky Toy aero planes – a Spitfire and a Hurricane – and I made a model railway for them to “attack”. The railway was made as follows trackwork was made from used matches, while the wagons consisted of canisters from spent No.8 Every Ready Batteries. These provided endless fun. Although my uncle, Ted Parlett, made me a fort and soldiers were provided by various relatives, these did not enthrall me like the self made railway

Other models that were obtained first before and then during the War included Dinky Toy ships of both the Royal and French Navies. One of these – H.M.S. Hood – brings back a sad and stirring memory. One of the most beautiful and powerful warships ever built, I clearly remember the radio announcer reporting her destruction on a cold dark morning in 1941. That she had been lost seemed impossible, but it was true. Luckily, her destroyer, the ‘Bismark’, which threatened this country’s lifeline across the Atlantic, was quickly found and sunk by the ‘Arc Royal’, Rodney’ and ‘King George V’. The model of the ship bought so many years ago, is still in my possession and remains greatly treasured.

A few aeroplane and warship kits were also given me during the war. Unfortunately they consisted of very hard wood and consequently took many hours to build, sandpaper and paint. Nonetheless they provided much happiness and kept me out of mischief One model – a Mig 3 fighter – turned out particularly well, and consequently was given to a very nice young lady called Babette Hopkins, who was a little older than myself’. The greatest delight of all, however, was the very large scale Frog, balsa wood flying kit of a Hawker Hurricane with a wing span of approximately one metre. With my father’s willing aid this was carefully constructed. What a delight it was to cover the bare frame with thin tissue paper and paint it in the well known 1940 camouflage scheme. The model, which was greatly admired by my school friends in the Ferry Road Junior School (up to 1939 in Lion Street), never flew (poor construction on my part). It survived, albeit in a decrepit state, until completely broken up in 1980.

The day before war broke out on 3 September 1939, I was taken by two very attractive young ladies, (friends of my cousin), for a day out to Camber Sands. We travelled down in the wagons of the Camber Tram, had a paddle and picnic (sand and all!) and walked back during a glorious sunny afternoon to Rye. Sweets and, of course, ice cream were provided on this never to be forgotten happy day.

Another simple treat was to go to the Rye Tram Station and wander all over the place after the tram had departed. With no one around, (except possibly my mother) I investigated all the sheds, even the locked ones by crawling under the doors!) and discovered all manner of wonderful sights and smells. Wriggling through a hole in the corrugated iron wall of one of the sheds, I found myself on one occasion confronted by a neat and clean steam locomotive, which nobody seemed to know any­thing about (in fact it was the locomotive ‘Camber’, which had been bought for the Tramway as long ago as 1895) The thrill and awe of this discovery defy description by words. It was pure magic, a feeling of wonder and delight that has been savoured but rarely in my life.

In the lovely snowy winter of 1939, (we had no central heating, basically only one fire and one indoor toilet – Spartan by today’s standards!), most of Rye’s youth spent a great deal of time ‘tobogganing’ down Leasam Hill. My uncle, Ted Parlett, made a sledge for me, and the Tiltman girls (Helen, Gloria and Sheila), had the dubious honour of upending my ‘toboggan’, throwing me, to everyone’s delight, into a deep snow drift! This was my first encounter with the family.

My pocket money began in the summer of 1939, at the rate of 6d a week. With my first payment I decided to treat the family by buying the largest tin of peaches available at Rye’s Woolworths.

In the early War years groups of youth were not encouraged outside of organisations, such as the new Youth Club, which was lead by Madge Lister, who lived in Winchelsea Road. This met at the F.E. Centre every evening of the week ( Sundays were reserved for a talk on a religious subject and games were not permitted). We gathered round an open coal fire in what is now rooms 2 and 2a. It catered for some 120 young persons of both sexes, and every room was used except the Band Room. (The Boys Club in Mermaid Street catered for the ‘tougher boys). It was here that I first learned to dance – and it was Helen Tiltman who showed me how. Those were happy days.

Camber Castle was used before and after the War as a playground for a day out. One group would defend the bastion, while the other would attempt to storm it!

I will always remember the day of the Dieppe Raid in 1942. Going out for a walk towards Camber Castle with my mother in the afternoon, we saw a lone Spitfire come limping over the coast, emitting black jets of smoke and flame. My heart sank I felt the raid had all gone wrong, a feeling which in the event proved to be tragically correct.

A great post war pastime was walking. My best friend Don Henley and I would go, for example, for an evening walk in the early 1950’s, to Witter­sham, armed with four cigarettes to share and nothing else. We were happy to talk, be silent, to listen and observe. It was a simple but highly satisfying pleasure, unsullied by violence and the TV.

Walking and Cycling

If walking was one of life’s greatest pastimes the acquisition of a bicycle greatly increased one’s mobility. Don Henley possessed a sturdy British made machine (British was best in those days). John Gambell had a lightweight racing model. About 1952 the manager of Lindridges (Grahams) in the High Street, Johnny Baker sold his cycle to me. The process of acquisition was simple, Johnny wanted £2 for it and Reg, my uncle, lent me the money which was repaid in instalments of 2s. a month. Each week a group of us would ride to Beckley Youth Club, play table tennis, talk to young ladies (this seemed to be the most popular pastime) and return to Rye via the Cock Inn, where we each had a drink. The evening’s entertainment, including refreshment, cost about 9d.

In the late forties and early fifties dances used to be held mast Saturdays in Rye at either the Monastery (now Cinque Ports Pottery) or the Drill Hall (where the Fire Station stands today). Dances held in Hastings and other distant places were rarely attended by either myself or my friends on account of transportation problems. Nonetheless occasional visits to Hawkhurst, Hastings and Crowborough were arranged and enjoyed enor­mously. The Crowborough one was a special, (a fancy dress affair) which many of us (Douglas Smith of Peasmarsh, Peter Mitchell and many others) from the Youth club attended. Richard Murdoch was present and even, poor chap, fell down a ladder.

The Monastery was not licensed to sell alcoholic drink and, consequently, in the intervals we re­sorted to the George, either as a group or with our young ladies, depending on the state of our finances.

Just after the War a small group of boys (Maurice Blackman, Bernard Osborne, Eric Hatter and oth­ers) used to play cricket on the edge of the Cricket Salts, approximately where the pavilion now stands. There were not enough of us to make proper teams so each would bat in turn then joined the rest of the players as a fielder when out. The equipment was supplied basically by Maurice Blackman of the Bedford who, like many of the others, developed into no mean cricketer! The Youth Club also had a team, which did not always take the game very seriously. Charles Minter, Peter Mitchell, Don Henley, John Gambell, Peter Albrecht and many others participated in matches which were played on the Grammar School (Tho­mas Peacocke) grounds under Marley, and usually resulted in crushing defeats! On one occasion we even managed to lose our last five wickets to Peasmarsh for 2 runs – and we only needed four to win!!

The Open 100 at Rye Sports

Just after the War I did a great deal of short distance running. Frank Clark, leading light in the organisation of those splendid August Bank Holi­day Sports Festivals, persuaded me to compete in the Open 100 yards in the 1948 Sports Day. Training was taken very seriously and my Uncle Reg. timed me in several practices on the Gram­mar School ground. Justly proud of all branches of the family, Frank naturally hoped I would win. In the event, however, although victorious in the heats, I was beaten in the final by a much better athlete named Peter Albrecht. It was a bitter disappointment, but it had been great fun.

Batting for “Rye’s Own”

Perhaps the most unusual and humorous Rye Sporting event in which I took part occurred in the heyday of “Rye’s Own Magazine”. On a sunny Sunday one September, Rye’s Own Cricket XI, under the witty captaincy of Jimmy Hollands (the editor), took on Udimore on the latter’s ground. With a ground covered in tall grass, Udimore managed to make 86 runs. Then it was the turn of the Rye’s Own batting power (?) in which I was accused of setting a new record. Taking “22 minutes to fit pads and gloves” the contemporary observer recorded, “he (myself) made his way to the wicket with opener John Horsfield and found the Udimore fielders tired and strained after their long wait is this called tactics?” One hour and ten minutes later I was dismissed l.b.w. for the magnificent total of 2 runs!! Despite all this stone walling we were dismissed for the modest total of 33 runs. After the match everyone retired to the King’s Head to celebrate in the traditional manner.

Kenneth M Clark . 1 January 1988 Reprinted from Rye Memories by kind permission of Jo Kirkham.

Rye’s Own January 2001

All articles, photographs and drawings on this web site are World Copyright Protected. No reproduction for publication without prior arrangement. © World Copyright 2015 Cinque Ports Magazines Rye Ltd., Guinea Hall Lodge Sellindge TN25 6EG