Reg Weeks was born at 2 Bridge Place, Rye, Sussex on the 1st February, 1907. His parents were married in the Registry Office on 30th November, 1901 and their first child, Elsie was born a month later. Alice was relieved that Reg was born healthy, her previous baby had been stillborn and her first child. Elsie, was now five years old. She would soon begin to take in washing again to supplement her husband Charles’ earnings as a bricklayer.
When Reg was six months old he was wrapped in a blanket and put in a home made handcart and taken hop picking. Alice went “hopping” every year at Frank Reeves’ farm at Peasmarsh. She and one or two other local women made up a “set” of a dozen bins taken every year by a cockney family called Gumble, who came down to Sussex and camped on the farm. Alice and Elsie set off each morning around 6 am. to push Reg in his cart from Bridge Place, through The Grove, up Leasam Hill, down Shady Lane and across four fields to get to the hop fields by 7 am.
At the end of the day they would do the same journey back to arrive home about six in the evening. Later on, when Reg was older, he and Elsie would be sent on ahead with the Tiltman children from next door, while Alice stayed behind to make the cheese sandwiches for them and her husband’s mid day meal. The children had to pick three inverted umbrellas full of hops before they were allowed to go off and play and this would take them most of the morning. At 4.30 Elsie and Reg would be sent on home to get the tea ready for their parents. The hop picking generally lasted about six weeks but if it went on any longer the school holidays would be extended as so many of the local families were involved. The tally men came round the hop fields several times a day to measure the picked hops in their bushel baskets. They had to be cleanly picked with no leaves and were flicked into the baskets and not pressed down. The old women would up-end anyone in the bin who they thought might be cheating them. They were given a tally for each bushel they picked and at the end of the period Alice would have to walk to Peasmarsh once again to collect her money. She wore a long skirt, a hat with a shady brim, a sacking apron around her waist and lace up boots. They would continue picking hops even when it poured with rain. On the last day there would be a great celebration. The men would build a large bonfire of hop bines and broken poles. Mr. Gumble supplied one hundred weight of potatoes to be cooked in the embers and the women would add their own food.
Day Out in Hastings
When Alice had collected her money, the family would have a day out in Hastings to buy new boots which had to last until the next hop picking season came round. Reg would get heavy hobnails and Elsie button boots. Leather boots cost 3s/ – a pair, a cloth cap was 6d.
Money was always short and sometimes, when Alice was busy with the washing, she would give Elsie and Reg the big jug from the wash stand in the bedroom and send them up to the soup kitchen at the top of Rope Walk for soup which cost a copper or two. Sometimes, Reg would be sent to the fishmarket for a bucket of fish – 4d, or to buy a sheep’s head which cost 6d. Reg also used to pick watercress which grew in the stream running along Military Road. He would sell it for 1p, a bunch.
School in Rye
When Reg was five years old, he started school at Lyons Street Junior School, moving on at eight to the Junior School in Mermaid Street to work his way through the six classes until he was fourteen In 1916, when Reg was nine, his family moved to a larger house in Military Road and his father, Charles, joined the Queens Own Regiment – the “Mutton Stabbers” as this Regiment was known, as the standard bore a sheep with a lance over its shoulder. Soon after this, Reg got his first job as a boot boy to Mrs. Boone at “Halfway House” further along Military Road.
He worked for an hour before school and had to clean all the boots, chop wood and fetch in the coal. He was paid half-a-crown (12.5p.) a week. On Saturday mornings he went round knocking on people’s doors to ask if they wanted cinders, and if so, he would take his handcart over to the gas works, rake over the cinders, sort out the best and sell them for 6d. a bag.
Work at Deacons
A year later he managed to get a job at Deacons Papershop in the High Street (next to Boots the Chemists). This job involved going up to the shop in the mornings to get the handcart which he took down to the station to collect the morning papers off the 4.45 train. The two other boys with him would push their carts up Market Hill to the shop to sort and deliver the papers before going to school. Reg’s delivery area was The High Street, Landgate, Military Road and along The Mount, which enabled him to call in home for his breakfast before going to school. In summer his breakfast was a slice of bread and jam and in winter Alice would make porridge for all the family.
Reg was not keen on school and often got the cane for being “mouthy”. His punishment would be given in the VI Form Room by Mr. Sprigge Walker, the Headmaster. There were three steps up to the Headmasters desk and Reg would be given three strokes of the cane on each hand and one on the backside as he left. Sometimes he would pull his hand away and the cane would come down on the desk, or even on the Headmaster’s thigh. If this happened he’d get two more strokes. Mr. Sprigge Walker was also the organist in the Church and even though Reg worked the bellows for him, it made no difference to the amount of caning he got.
During the dinner break, Reg would return to the shop to run errands. Another of his jobs was to change the glossy magazines such as Tattler, Sphere and London Opinion. Deacon’s customers didn’t buy these but paid an annual subscription to look at them. One day Reg would go to the Hinds family in Ferry Road, take them
The Sphere and pick up the Tattler. He would then take the Tattler up to a house on Point Hill and pick up the London Opinion for another family. He’d then call in home for his dinner getting back to school by 1.45pm.
When school closed at 3pm. Reg would go back to Deacons to do more errands before going home to tea. One day he took home with him a halfpenny comic which was out of date. Alice was furious with him and gave him a leathering before sending him back to the shop with it, where he was told off once again. When Deacons Almanac was printed, Reg had to help in the printing room. His job was to fold the sheets of paper and guillotine them. The Almanac was a paperback book which contained train and bus timetables and local information. It was sold for 3d. or 6d. and when they were printed Reg would load them in a handcart and go out trying to sell them. He was paid 3d. extra for every 100 he sold. On Monday to Thursday he worked until 6 0’clock before he could go home for his tea, but on Friday he had to work until 7pm. On Saturdays he worked all day at the shop and had to sweep and scrub the shop before leaving at 8 0’clock. When the Almanac was being printed it was often 9 0’ clock before he left. His wages were 5s/ – a week (25p). Another of Reg’s jobs was to pump the church organ. He and another lad had to pump the two big bellows while the choristers practised during school hours. His Headmaster, the organist, paid him 3d. an hour. The organist would ring a bell on the console when coming up to a heavy piece of music, so that the pumpers would know the bellows had to be kept full. One, day, when Lady Maud Warrender was singing, the lads let the wind out of the bellows for a joke.
They were severely punished. However, only adults were allowed to pump the organ on Sundays for the church services. Once a quarter Reg would have to go down to the station to meet the organ tuner off the 9am. train and carry his gear up to the church. Reg would then help by taking the reed pipes out, one by one, and hand them down to the tuner. When the tuning was finished, the organ tuner would give the lads 3d. for their help.
No School Today!
Reg did not like school and one day he decided he wouldn’t go any more. After all Alice’s efforts to get him to go had failed, she called in the local bobby who led Reg through the town by his ear to the Police Station. There he was put into a cell for a while before being taken to Mermaid Street School and presented to the Headmaster. The rest of the class watched as he got four thwacks on the hand and three on the backside. The teacher in the VIth. Form was greatly feared by the boys. He was an ex-Guardsman, 6’6” tall with feet “like two backyards” as the boys would say. He used a map-pole about 12′ long with which he could reach most of the pupils in the class. Anyone seen playing about would be struck on the head or shoulders with the pole. Each class was taught by one teacher throughout the day. Sometimes, if the weather was fine, the class would be taken out for Nature Study. On Friday afternoons they had a games lesson from 3 0’ clock to 3.45. They were lined up and marched down to The Salts for a game of football. They were put into teams, and if they were lucky they managed to get two kicks at the ball before it was time for them to return to the school. For this privilege the pupils had to pay a halfpenny each.
Caught Red Handed
During the summer months Reg and his mates, would sometimes go scrumping for apples. They were quite often caught by the local Policeman who would give them each a good hiding. If this happened, and Alice found out, Reg would get another beating when he got home. One Policeman the kids all hated was nicknamed ‘creeping Jesus’ because he would lay in wait and then jump and catch them. In those days the policemen each carried a heavy black cape rolled in a tight roll with two lion head badges which did up at the neck. The Policemen used to lash out at the boys with their capes and if they were hit by the badges it would be really painful.
Fun in the Rother
Reg was not supposed to play in the river, which was muddy and dirty, but he sometimes disobeyed his mother and would go down for a swim in the summer months. He learned to swim when some of the other lads threw him off the railway bridge and he somehow managed to dog-paddle to the side. The boys would swim there in preference to the road bridge as there were no supports actually in the river. One of the boys was drowned in an unfortunate accident at the road bridge by having been swirled under by the current which ran around the supports. They spent many happy hours playing around in the river and if they had no swimming suit, they would swim in the nude. One day Alice spotted Reg swimming and picked up his pile of clothes, which he had left on the bank and took them home. Reg then had to make a dash for home with nothing on, along the bank, across the allotments and in by the back garden, but Alice was waiting for him and gave him yet another beating.
Sports Day in Rye
On August Bank Holiday, a Sports Day would be held on the Cricket Salts. There would be egg and spoon races, three-legged and bicycle races and the Fire Brigade would demonstrate putting a fire out. There would also be a competition for the men to catch a greased pig. When Reg managed to get together some spare parts, he was able to make up his own bicycle and take part in some of the races. In 1914 The Territorial Regt. Machine Gun Corps came to give a demonstration. The machine guns were drawn on bicycle wheels by dogs. They practised for two days but then war was declared and the Regiment left without putting on their show.
The Perfume Barrel Mr.
Ashenden’s sheep were kept on the cricket field in those days and the droppings had to be first raked up and then put into a large barrel. This was kept behind the white boarded, thatched Pavilion and sold to local allotment holders. One day, Elsie, Reg’s sister, nearly drowned when she fell into the barrel which had filled up with rain water. She was dragged out and taken home in an awful smelly state. Mike Rhodes was the Groundsman in those days for the Rye Cricket Club. He used to lead a horse, wearing hoof-shaped boots, pulling a heavy roller, up and down the wicket. To Be Continued.
“The life and Times of Reg Weeks”, who lived in Rope Walk and died on 1 March 1993 will be continued in next months issue of Rye’s Own.
“Rye’s Own” September 2004
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