The Joys of Owning a Bike


By Beryl Dale

As a child I lived in the village of Playden, near Rye in East Sussex, close to the boundary with Kent. It is a village where the centre housed the church, village hall and The Peace and Plenty pub. Not far from there was the school which my brother and I attended until we were eleven years old. We lived on the far reaches of the village near The River Rother and close to the lock gates and the Star Inn pub.

I was seven years old when the Second World War ended and until then we had been restricted in our movements. Having to show identity cards wherever we went. Suddenly we could roam free. Dad had a small arable farm on the far side of the river to where we lived. Also a market garden, a grain drying unit and he reared pigs and kept hens. We knew all the local farmers and felt free to play in the fields around us.

Elswick Bike
Elswick Bike

Walks Before School

Before school, we would take our dog Danny, for a walk, sometimes in the woods, where I remember well the scents of primroses and violets growing in the damp soil under the trees and in late Spring coming across what seemed like a sea of bluebells. We used to pick the primroses for my Mother. On one occasion we picked them, made them into bunches, took them to Rye and sold them outside the post office! We did that only once as our parents were not amused.

Other walks would take us along the river banks. Wherever we went there were hedge rows and we saw birds nesting, wild roses, honeysuckle, blackberries appearing, according to the time of year. If we walked across fields we didn’t take our dog because there were sheep or cows grazing in most of them. We would however pick mushrooms for breakfast. In the Autumn we would look for sweet chestnuts and hazelnuts. My brother searched for conkers as most of the boys at primary school played using them attached to strings to play very competitive games with them. All of these were part of the joys of the countryside. On the down side were mosquito bites and the terrible noises made by French frogs swimming in the ditches. However our ducks swam in the ditches and we collected their eggs which Mum used for baking.

One other task to carry out before school was feeding the hens and collecting their eggs. One day we were appalled to find that a fox had killed all of the hens, bitten off every one of their heads and left all their bodies, not one had been eaten by the fox.

Further Afield at Weekends

At weekends and holidays, according to the season, we would venture further afield. We would try to find watercress beds in fast running streams or try to catch fish with home-made rods. We used worms we found in the mud banks and used them as bait. We rarely if ever caught a fish! Whatever we set out to do it was after a big breakfast and we would take sandwiches and an apple with us. We always returned home hungry and greatly enjoyed Mum’s wonderful meals.

During the war Dad shot pigeons and caught rabbits and with fresh vegetables from the garden and because of Mum’s love of cooking we had been fortunate to eat well, most of the time. During term time we always had school dinners.

Our doctor and dentist were in Rye and as there was no public transport, we would walk there and back, possibly visiting various shops. Most of our daily needs were met by deliveries of bread from Longs, meat from Ashby’s and fish from Salmon’s, all trading in Rye. We liked to go to Boots the chemist for various things but best of all to borrow books from their lending library. For a treat we would be taken to Long’s Bakery in the High Street in Rye. It had a tea-shop adjoining the bakery. We would have a cup of tea and a piece of cake. However, if we visited the dentist we were taken to Webb’s bakery where they served hot tomato soup!

In the post war years we attended the Rye Carnival and the Circus and when a little older we went to the big event “Rye Bonfire Night”. It seemed a very long walk and I started to see the benefits of owning a bike… I was an avid reader from a young age and enjoyed Enid Blyton’s “The Famous Five” and other adventures. I realised that there was a world to explore out there.

Odell The cycle Man

I put this idea to my parents. “Well, first you will have to grow taller in order to reach the pedals on a “grown up” bike, then you must save up for it. We will then consider taking you to Odell’s cycle shop, in Rye and we can look for a good second hand one. My heart sank as I knew it would take a long time to save up. I didn’t have pocket money but had comics and the odd Mars bar. I also had a small amount of National Savings and might have a postal order on my Birthday. I decided to run errands and go hop picking and apple picking which should make enough money to buy the bike.

In the meantime I practised riding my Mum’s “sit up and beg” bike. I couldn’t reach the saddle but apart from a serious wobble, I managed and became more confident. When I saw our neighbour I called out “Hello Mr Court” and managed a wave. The next thing I knew was that I was in the ditch with the bike on top of me. I didn’t dare to tell anyone for fear of being barred from using it again.

Cycle Speedway at Rye

Young Rex of the Rye Aces

By the time for leaving Playden school and going to school in Rye, I had saved through picking hops and apples, to raise funds that greatly longed for bike. We went to Odell’s and chose one which I loved. It came with a carrier at the back, front and rear lights, a pump and a puncture outfit. After school activities took up some of my time and on Friday evenings it was either Youth Club or later, Rye Cycle Speedway, on the town salts, to the strains of “Good Old Sussex By The Sea”. Two of the heroes I remember by name are Rex Swain (now The Town Crier for Rye) and Bert Polley.

The Rye Aces
The Rye Aces

At 15 years old I changed schools again and had many more adventures on my bike.

It made me smile when many years later, my son aged six years, was heard telling his friend

“When my Mum was young the bicycle hadn’t been invented”!

“Rye’s Own” March 2016

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