By John G Langley
Keen train-lover John remembers coming on holiday to St Leonards-on-Sea as a child. He and his family moved down to Hastings when he was seven.
What was very exciting was going on holiday to St Leonards. Getting on a train and Mum saying, ‘Don’t touch the side of the door or you will get filthy!’ Although of course, I did. Then, as the train left the station, my brother and me taking it in turns to put our heads out of the window to smell the smoke and duly getting smut in our eyes.
While on holiday we would pop in and see a man who owned a tobacconist and confectionery shop. Dad had gone to college with him many years before. On one occasion Dad told him how I loved the railway journey and trains in general and he took us upstairs to see his model railway, a Hornby Dublo three-rail, pinned to a board. I was mesmerised to see those trains running around the board without having to be wound up. That was the star attraction of the holiday as far as I was concerned. Also, a short distance from the shop, there were miniature trams that we rode on.
I remember a special trip with Dad. It was on the London Trams. It was very exciting; the seats were hard and you could feel the vibrations and hear the screech of the wheels. The trams were noisy and swayed and wobbled about. Dad told me to remember the trip, as the trams were being scrapped and there soon wouldn’t be any. I have been thankful since for this memory.
The 1951 Festival of Britain was another very exciting event. My parents and my brother and I had a day there. The main things that I remember from it was seeing the Royal Mint producing coins and everywhere being so crowded our parents told us not to let go of their hands or we’d get lost.
This was the year that we moved from London to Hastings, and had to spend the first night in a hotel in Wellington Square. The rooms seemed massive to me and during the night there were awful noises that kept me awake and terrified me. I now know that it was only cats fighting, but then I had never heard it before.
The next day we moved into Emmanuel Road and I started at Mount Pleasant Infants School. I remember being asked to repeat words and being bullied by a couple of pupils because my accent was different. They called me ‘Foreigner’; I soon lost my London accent. The hobby of collecting car registration numbers was big at the time, but sitting on the front steps you had to wait for a long time to see a vehicle in Emmanuel Road in those days.
The next move was to Hoadswood Road as there was an addition to the family: my sister, ten years my junior. Halfway down Hoadswood Road there was a place where people did their fly-tipping. It was a good source for old pram wheels, which we took home. There, with old wooden soap boxes, scrap wood from Dad’s shed and a length from Mum’s washing-line, we made our go-carts. I now wonder how we didn’t have serious accidents as we sat on them and went down the hill at speed, with only our feet on the wheels to slow us down.
Another favourite was to get two empty tins, make a small hole in each and attach them by cord to use as telephones. My brother would have one tin and I the other, then we’d walk away from each other until the cord was taut. It was surprising how long the cord would be at times and we could still communicate with each other..
I remember scrumping in an orchard. We had tucked our jumpers into our trousers and filled them up with apples, when a shout went up, ‘A copper’s coming!’ We all climbed through a gap in the fence but, as usual, I was the last to get out. As I climbed through, a very large policeman appeared who asked me what I was doing in there. ‘Nothing, sir,’ I replied. At this he pulled the bottom of my jumper and all the apples fell over the pavement. At this he told me not to lie, gave me a thick ear and sent me home, saying that if I was caught again he would be seeing my parents. When I got home my Mum wanted to know why my ear was red. When she found out what had happened,I got another slap from her and then a leathering when my Dad got home from work.
Our last childhood move was to Priory Road. It was from there that I joined the 7th Hastings Boys Brigade, led by Captain Mapson. It was with them I enjoyed my first experience of camping. I then also joined the 15th Hastings Scout group and doubled my chances of going camping.
My brother and I spent a good part of the school summer holidays train-spotting, mainly from Hastings station. The first week of the holiday our mother gave us a Holiday Runabout ticket that took us to Brighton where we saw the Brighton Belle, the all-Pullman electric train that ran the Victoria-Brighton line, also an old Terrier tank steam loco shunting about with Brighton Works painted on its sides. At the end of the holiday we were given another Holiday Runabout ticket that took us as far as Ashford, where we could see the Golden Arrow speed through the station.
One dangerous event took place on the branch line to New Romney. The train was made up of an old tank steam loco with non-corridor carriages. While the train was slowly chugging along the track, we opened the door of one compartment and walked along the running board on the outside of the train, then opened the door of the next and climbed in and so on. Looking back now on how dangerous this was, we could have fallen off and killed ourselves!
‘Snapshots of Childhood’ is from ‘Diamonds – A Collection of Childhood Memories’ a charity anthology compiled and published by Hastings Writers’ Group last year to celebrate their Diamond anniversary. It contains childhood memories from 60 adults and six children. Profits from Diamonds are shared between Demelza House Children’s Hospice, RNIB Talking Books and Xpress Yourself magazine for children in care. It is available at £6.50 from Hastings Tourist Information, League of Friends of Conquest Hospital shop, or by post (cheques to Hastings Writers Group – Diamond Account) from HWG, 39 Emmanuel Road, Hastings TN34 3LB.
Rye’s Own July 2008
All articles, photographs and drawings on this web site are World Copyright Protected. No reproduction for publication without prior arrangement