Rye in The Fifties

The town of Rye in the fifties was a hive of activity and no one saw the changes that loomed on the distant horizon. Then all England was starting to come together after the war and things were returning to normal. Everyone that wanted a job was able to find one in Rye. Everything that the tradesman or housewife needed was accessible in one or other of the shops and little needed to be transported from afar. Two major builders’ yards supplied the town with craftsmen and any timber required could be sourced from the timber yard that was supplied by ship to the Strand.

Local lads looked forward to the Anna, a Dutch coaster that sailed up the river to Rye, as then there was quick money to be earned from unloading the cargo. No need then existed for fork-lift, the timber being run on your shoulder from ship to yard.

On the opposite side of the river a scrap yard was willing to buy anything, from old bottles, metal, rags to bones??

Along the road from there was the coal yard, and the model laundry where a lot of the women and girls worked. Another place the women found work was at Deans making rag books and stuffed toys for children. Other gifted women worked in the Potteries throwing clay and decorating the wares.

The railway bought a lot of the wanted goods to Rye, and there was a goods shed and an animal-loading ramp attached to the cattle market. Adjacent to the Rope Walk was where all the coal was unloaded from the wagons. Men shovelled by hand tons each day, weighing and bagging it into stiff dusty sacks. The railway also had a spur line to Rye harbour crossing the main A259 at the top of the Harbour Road. Many times with father, I sat in the van as the man closed the gates and the train puffed its way over the road crossing. I remember the other man that closed the gates across the Ferry Road; he stood in a raised cabin with windows around the sides. To operate the gates he turned a large wheel. While the gates were shut, and sometimes they were closed for a while as engines shunted trucks into the sidings, all those that were walking were able to cross the lines by the footbridge, a large green painted steel latticework affair. Kids loved to stand in the middle as the engines puffed smoke and steam over them. Imagine today, the youth would not be happy to get smothered in soot! They would have to stone the driver!

The goods shed and siding have now gone to be replaced by a one-way road. Budgens stores now stands on the site of the Maidstone District Bus Depot where you could wait in the warmth for your transport to arrive. At the top of Station Approach, a large pair of white gates hung from the brick pillars. Now only the brick work remains.

The other bus garage was round South Under Cliff. East Kent had the building Alfords use now as a timber shed. Imagine today pulling a double decker bus across the road to reverse into the garage! Alongside was the ironworks, where they had a furnace to melt iron and they cast anything you needed. Behind them towards the river was the bedding works where they made mattresses and my older brother courted a lass who worked there. To earn extra money the girls brought home sacks of

leather buttons that were sewn into the fabric to hold it together. This girl bought them loose to our house and while my elder brother and her courted each other, as they baby sat my younger brother and I, she got us to put them into long polythene sleeves, a dozen to each pocket. Of course my brother and I loved it; anything was better than bed at that age; slave labour never entered our heads!

Rye in the fifties had a real twenty-four hour manned police station up Church Square. The Salvation Army had a meeting hall and visited all the pubs on Friday night selling the War Cry. Old men would pop into the pub selling pints of fresh shrimps and winkles.

Sports day was held each year on the Salts and a carnival toured the town every year. Builders’ yards, where men picked their day’s orders up and collected the gear to use that day and transport it around the town on hand carts. The cinema has closed and been replaced by the police station, shops, offices and homes. The town no longer has a court to try the prisoners at.

Large boats are no longer made in Rye; the boat yards instead maintain the weekend sailors craft. There is no provision at the hospital for accidents; all medical emergencies are dealt with in Hastings. Even the council workers who look after the town’s needs come from Bexhill! The council yard is now Rye Hire, a private business. The private buses of Dengates have left the roads. Once Rope Walk was full of their vehicles waiting to go to the outlying villages.

The cattle market and dairy no longer exist; the herd of milk floats are distant memories. The farmers in the area ship all their corn out from their farms in bulk in large lorries so the old corn stores of Stonhams and Thorpes have gone. Thorpes is now the nightclub and Stonharns on the strand converted to flats, shops and restaurants.

A little further along the road the mineral water factory of Colebrooks is now houses. Across the river the coal yard and laundry has vanished, along with the engineering works.

We are now back where we started, except all the shops have gone from the town that you would buy food from. In their place we have one big supermarket, antique shops and coffee houses. Soon all the schools will vanish, to leave one huge complex; like the old air raid sirens, that used to summon the fire brigade, they too will be history.

Dear Editor,

From a lifelong resident and regular user of the Rye Harbour Road, many congratulations on the long awaited completion of the cycle track. It is of a very high standard and should make things a lot safer.

However, it is apparent there are a number of cyclists of all types who evidently have some reason of their own for not using it.

Why they choose to jepardise their own safety I know not, but they place an unfair burden on motorists.

Is their anyway they can be convinced or will the continue to be a danger to themselves and others?

Graham Saunders.

The short answer is that a cyclist has a legal right to use the road or the cycle/footpath.

For years, both you and me have seen mothers with prams, children of all ages, and working people without transport, running the gauntlet down that road where, at times, there was not an inch of off road space to get into to avoid traffic. That problem is now solved.

Legitimate reasons for some cyclists choosing to use the road are if they are riding fast, and a fit rider will travel at 25+ mph, they might be a problem to pedestrians and child cyclists and slow cyclists. On the road they also have right of way when traffic pulls out from the Business Park and other exits, that right of way is surrendered on the cycle path. A cyclist riding fast is not such a problem to a motorist who will be longer making the ground up.

At 76 I am a leisure cyclist now and will always use the cycle path, so do our Rye Wheelers club runs who travel around 12-15 mph.

I would always advocate that cyclists use the cycle path as long as they are patient and careful when passing, children, walkers and slower cyclists and are aware that exiting traffic has the right of way. Ed.

  First Published in “Rye’s Own” November 2015

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