Memories of Old Rye

By Arthur Woodgate

Situated at the Winchelsea Road entrance to Gateborough Farm Road and surrounded by houses and other buildings stood ‘Gasson’s Hut’, a large timber building, open fronted on the road side, was used for tarring sails. It was very close to Suttons Marine Store and home (later known locally as Sutton’s Yard). On the other side of the hut was a roadway leading round a row of houses, This was wide enough to take several vehicles at the side and just before dark, one night back in the 1930s, two vans were parked there, laden with fuel for oil stoves, ready for delivery around Rye the following morning.

Someone noticed that smoke was coming from the rear of one the tankers, which belonged to the Anglo American Oil Company, Soon flames were shooting from the vehicle. My family and other neighbours were called on to help get the furniture out from Sutton’s House in case the fire spread. Whilst all this was going on, the fire brigade were summoned, they had no engines at that time, just a hose cart and a hand pump that was housed at the east end of the Town Hall. As they came down the Mint and out onto the Strand, one fireman, Arthur Devonshire, from whom I had learned a lot of my sarcastic humour, could be heard shouting “too late! too late!” but the handle of the hose cart was still moving along behind him.

One of the drivers hearing his lorry was shooting out flames arrived and to everybody’s shock, got in his cab and drove his vehicle away with flames shooting up behind him, he left it on the spare ground on the other side of the road, where fishing smack “Pert” had been rotting away for years. Not satisfied with that he came back and took his mates lorry, which by now was also well ablaze. No explosion happened and the firemen dealt with the flames, I hope the oil company treated their driver well for his unselfish act of heroism. I expect they did.

Now, when I was a school boy there was a set of cigarette cards called “Cries of London”. But it was not only in London that street cries were heard. Rye had its own ‘street vendors’ who advertised their wares at the top of their voices,

“Old chairs to mend” was the cry of Traty Collingson from The Sluice area off Winchelsea Road. There were other dealers in the sluice. one traded with his daughters from their home. Bill Beeney and his two daughters worked as a team. The girls held the goods and took the money, but father Bill did the shouting.”I’ll give two pence each for an old rabbit skin”

He would buy any old fur skin. At other times his older daughter ‘Maria’, who was a well known and liked character in Rye would be holding an arm full of the flowers. The old man would be shouting “Sixpence a bunch, will you buy my lovely Carnations, six pence a bunch.”

There were also our long shore fishermen who would be shouting “Fish and Shrimps” from their front door steps with baskets full standing there wedging their front doors open. “Get your cooked shrimps here”. then “Oh where have all the shrimps gone?” and so it went on.

Now back to Gassons Hut. Many will remember the building, it was situated on the corner of Winchelsea Road, directly opposite the petrol station which is also gone now. It was used by Hinds the Timber Merchants as a timber seasoning store. What was such a big and ugly hut doing in amongst the other buildings? No doubt it had been there longer than most. It was big enough to lay a ships mast, as big as the sprity main mast, flat on its floor, then engage an army of women with long handled tar brushes and pots of tar. One would be loath to upset these ladies whilst they had this equipment in their hands. My grandfather, a master mariner, heard one day that he needed some ‘Stockholm Tar’. I’ve heard of others wanting this, it being retailed in tins. I don’t understand why the Swede’s should make tar better than us but no doubt someone will come up with the answer.

Some people might think of this shed as a timber store but this is not quite right as it was used for many things during its life but its all gone now, with housing in it’s place.

When the Rye Windmill burnt itself to destruction it was one mass of flames and a frightening short distance from the town’s gas holders. The fire was very close to the big one. The smaller one was full of gas.

The elder Mr Frank Rook was a top line gas expert who travelled the country building gas works. He had built Rye Gas Works and when home in the town for a few days would oversee the establishment. He was home during the mill episode. Being his next door neighbour I could observe his action – I saw him put a ladder to the top of the bigger holder and climb up to it with a pick, thermometer and a box of matches. Having close contact with him I asked what he was doing and he told me that gas would not explode if it had access to air and would burn itself out. If it had reached a certain temperature he would have driven a hole in the top and lit the gas. “There would have been no explosion” he told me.

My mind goes back to the driver when he moved the oil tankers. Perhaps the driver had some reason to know the lorries would not explode. I spent the rest of that night putting Mrs Suttons furniture back. I was very pleased to read the name of the old lady who used to open the gate at Broadwater Corner by Peter Ewart and how near I had been, some of the Drurys I knew must have been her off spring. I think the stink I talk about must have come from Broadwater although a little way nearer Rye; I expect is all piped in and ventilated now. Now if Liz had not slowed the traffic down, it would not have just gone through a gorse bed but also lots of deep water beyond that; that was quite a lake but had come to be by the concrete firms digging beach. I’m thinking the 1920s. Its unlikely that anyone knew my school mate, Charlie James, but when we had left school and were at work, Charlie fell off a dredger in that lake and was drowned. Since that time, all things have changed including the stink, the open sewer has been piped and it is all more under control; before all this, the Camber Tram ran over it and the rails would give a bit as it went across much to the fun of us kids.

At that time the Camber Tram has been demolished in place of a tram Rye terminal was put a group of Nissen huts to house people waiting for a proper home. At that time we had a temporary doctor stationed here for a while and when he visited that group he called it Napkin Avenue because they all had outside washing lines and the doctor got a few slaps by wet linen when he went to see his patients there. With the completion of Kings Avenue, giving the people permanent homes, Napkin Avenue, disappeared – time goes by and with the gates to Camber, the only way to get there by “Wright and Pankhurst” was by little blue buses or your own motor car. They bought, I think, four little thirty seaters, painted two shades of blue with paintings by a local artist of the Church, Landgate, Ypres Castle, my much praised memory is beginning to fade on this more modern stuff so if anyone can remember if, in fact, there were four buses and the picture of the fourth, please let us at Ryes Own know. Anyway the three I mentioned are true enough and a service was started – Rye – Camber; Rye – Rye Harbour and Rye – Winchelsea and the Beach. The Rye starting place was outside the Dormy Club and that was the first time I had seen a service bus inside the town wall. So off we go, return ticket to Camber – no (one way) in Rye then go down through Landgate, round by the Bedford Arms and soon on to the Camber Road at the Royal William at golf links a few of the passengers with golfing gear got out. The “Dormy” Rye is where visiting golfers stay and the Royal William was by the golf club. Now we know why the buses started at the Dormy, but things got altered and the golfers stopped practising swings on the pavement by the Hilder’s Cliff railings. That’s an update on the “Rye to Camber return”.

“Rye’s Own” June 2014

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