The Life and Times of Reg Weeks

 By Daphne Llewellyn

Part Two

On Sunday afternoons, after the children had been to church service at the Congregational Church and Sunday School, Alice and the family would walk over to the Tollgate House in Winchelsea Road to visit their maternal Grandmother and Great Aunt Sarah.

By then, Reg had another sister Lily. The children weren’t allowed to play but Reg would have to put on one of Gran’s big aprons over his best sailor suit and go out and feed the chicken and bring in the eggs. The Tollgate bungalow had three rooms and a Scullery. Gran and Aunt Sarah slept in the bedroom and most of the living room was taken up by a double bed. If the family stayed overnight, as they sometimes did in the winter, Alice, Elsie and Lily would sleep in the double bed and Reg had to sleep on a couch with a chair along side with a coat slung over it to keep out the light. He was supposed to sleep in spite of the women’s chatter. Reg would also have to do some light jobs in the garden like hoeing or weeding, but no digging or anything heavy on a Sunday, though he would have to help Gran during the week digging and planting.

Reg said the garden was “as long as a row of houses” – actully Gran had five acres on which whe grew mostly potatoes. She also grew asparagus and a few flowers to sell and had some rhubarb and soft fruit bushes. Once she caught Reg eating a gooseberry and she hit him around the head with the men’s cap which she always wore. She also wore a long dark skirt with three cambric petticoats beneath. When people wanted to come along the road they would shout for the Tollkeeper and Gran would come out to take their money before opening the gates. Pedestrians and cyclists could pass free.

Horses and carts were 4d. The few cars there were in those days, were 6d. King Edward came through the gates once and even he was made to pay before passing. The road from the tollgate to Winchelsea Bridge belonged to the Crown and it was one man’s hopeless task to try to keep the road in good repair, but as Reg used to say “it had more holes in than parsons in hell”. The holes were filled in with rubble, but later on the road was concreted. (In 1928 during the depression, when there was a great deal of unemployment, local men were employed to mix and lay the concrete for the whole road to Winchelsea by hand).

After tea with Gran, the children would have to sing hyms and then she would allow them to look at an old caralogue from Gamages while the grown-ups chatted. At 9 0’clock they would have a cup of cocoa before walking home – in the middle of the road, as Alice was once assaulated on her way back to Military Road. Sometimes, during the summer, Alice would make a picnic and the children would walk across the fields to Camber Sands with the Tiltman family from next door.

A Ride on the Camber Tram

A Ride on the Camber Tram A great treat would be to ride the little train which ran from Monkbretton Bridge to Camber Sands. This had three coaches in summer and two in winter and drew a trolley at the rear which was filled with sand on the homeward journey for the use of the local builders. Alice’s father, Reg’s grandad, lived at the Union (the workhouse) at the top of Rye Hill. He was on the staff and looked after the pigs. He had a donkey and cart and fetched the groceries from the town. On Saturday afternoons he would come back down the hill to visit Alice who would give him a cup of tea and half an ounce of tobacco (which cost 2d.) Tramps and the homeless who went to the workhouse (now Hill House) were not allowed in before 6 pm. and would hide their tocabbo under a pile of stones before entering. They were given bread and cheese and a cup of cocoa in the evening and a bowl of cold porridge in the morning. Two to three people shared a cell and they were expected to get up and work from 8am. to 10 am. in return for their nights lodgings. The windmill which stood opposite the workhouse was worked by Mr. Luck the miller.

If Reg and his mates managed to make any money for themselves, they’s spend 2d. to get into the Electric Picture Palace cinema. One lad would go to the desk to pay while the others would crawl in, out of the sight of the cashier. They paid 1d. for “hard bake” made out of old cake crumbs squashed together on a pastry base.

Reg left school the day after his 14th birthday and went to work at the Post Office as Telegraph Boy. He was paid 10s/- (50p) a week plus 2s/7d. War Bonus. His wages were increased to 17s/4d. during the two years he worked there, and of this, he kept 2s/6d. for himself; the ramainder he gave to Alice. One day he had to deliver a telegram to Lady Maud Warrender who lived in Leasam House. The charge was 1s/9d. but Lady Maud had only a two shilling piece in change. The maid paid Reg and was told to tell him to bring the 3d. change back the next day. Reg wasn’t having that! he bought a 1d envelope, put a 2d. stamp on it and sent it to Lady Maud. When it reached her she telephoned the Post Master and Reg was sacked on the spot. However, he turned up for work the next day and nothing more was said, so he carried on working as usual.

Father Killed in Action

In June, 1918, when Reg was eleven years old, Alice recieved a letter from the War Office informing her that her husband Charles had been killed in action while serving in Italy. He was then in the Royal West Surrey Regiment and was killed on the 16th May, 1918 by a shell while in action on Asiago Front in N. Italy along with 2,600 other men. Alice paid one shilling for a shroud and 7s/7d. for 23 letters to be engraved on his headstone. (In exactly eighty years to the month, Charles great grand daughter, Christine, was to visit the grave and lay flowers there, the first member of his family ever to see his resting place). Alice had been receiving £1.3s.0. weekly since Charles had been called up. When he died the Ministry of Pensions sent her £7 “to meet the expenses that may fall on ou in connection with your bereavement”. She was also given £7.10s. from Army funds to be used for the “exclusive benefit of Reg and Lily”. By then, Elsie was 14 years old and in service.

When Reg was nearly 16 he went to Ellis Brothers for a job in the building trade like his Father. “Old man Ellis” the boss, kept him waiting for one and a half hours before seeing him and then said he wouldn’t indenture him, but would pay him 4d. an hour. No pay during wet weather. (If indentured, the pay was much lower), but Mr. Wllis did give him “papers” in the end. He did his appresticeship of three years and then became a journeyman. Reg worked on many of the houses in Watchbell Street and Mermaid Street and had a reputation for beingable to make a good job of waffle and daub. He also worked on the Church in Rye. When the church roof needed inspecting one year, Reg and his mate had to put up a three extension ladder which had 72 rungs. This rested on the beam in the roof with only one rung above. When climbing up, the ladder would sway 3 feet in and out. It was very hot under the roof and they found parts infested with death watch beetle which needed treating. They could only work for half an hour at a time because of the heat and fumes. The Boss came to see how they were getting on and Reg called down to him to come up and see. He had climbed halfway up the ladder when he looked down and froze. He couldn’t move and locked his arms around the ladder. Reg and his mate shouted at him, cajoled and even resorted to swearing, but he stayed locked on the ladder. By then Reg and his mate were sweating with the heat and anxiety. The Vicar came in to see what the commotion was about and to ask if he could help, but was quickly told to “bugger off”. Eventually Reg tied a piece of cord around his waist and climed down the back of the ladder hanging on by his arms. When he reached his boss, he talked to him and somehow managed to prise his hands free. He then helped him down the ladder until they reached the churchfloor. By that time, Reg was in agony as he had been hanging on by his arms as the weight of the two men had bowed the ladder so much.

In 1926, when he was carrying stone, Reg reptured himself and had to stop work and go on the dole for three months. He was promised his job back, but was disappointed and had to seek work elswhere. He was given the opportunity to build a house from another firm with two labourers up by The Plough at Playden and this house still stands today. Reg worked on many buildings in Rye during this time. He and his mates gutted and rebuilt the Hope Anchor. They discovered a pathway 3′ down topped with broken clay pipes instead of beach, and when digging the cellar they found a small glass bottle, obviously very old about 5′ down. Cementing was done by hand in those days. A yard of ballast was put down to which three bags of cement were added, and then six men standing in a row would turn it over. One Saturday Reg and his mates put up 8 windowframes with four courses of brickwork around them. They were all smashed up the following morning when Sir Roger Blomfield, the Architect, decided he didn’t like them. At La Rochelle in East Street, the roof had to be retiled. The scaffold poles were piled onto a handcart and pushed from the Ellis yard in Cinque Ports Street, up through the tower to East Street. The poles were then tied together with rope to form a scaffold which were tightened with woodenwedges – especially dangerous on damp days when the rope was liable to stretch. The tiles were carried up 60′ to the roof.

In 1925 Reg met Hetty at a dance at the Rother Valley Hotel. They won the balloon dance together with balloons tied to their ankles, which other couples tried to burst. They shared a taxi home. Hetty worked in Hastings at the time and was known as “the Mamzelle” as she spent some time working in France as Lady’s maid with the Darymple family. Reg and Hetty subsequently became engaged and were married in the Parish Church in Rye in 1930.

Hetty got a job helping in the house at Horrells the Chemist and they lived at No.2 Tower Street, next to the Dibley family, where Daphne was born on a Sunday in December. Reg asked the Salvation Army Band playing in Tower Street at the time if they would move on as Hetty was having such a rough time! In 1933 they moved across the road where Christine was born in October. Reg was out of work at the time and waited until the last minute before going to collect extra half-crown dole money for her, the deadline being 10 0’clock. Later that month Reg cycled to Deal, in Kent, to get work and lodged with a miners family. At the end of the week, Reg would cycle the 45 miles to Rye on Saturday afternoon, returning on Sunday evening. The journey took him two hours and he would have to walk up Folkestone Hill. Hetty and the two children moved to Deal just after Christmas in 1934. They had a flat in Drum Hill and later moved to Stockdale Gardens where Gerald was born in November 1935. They then managed to get a house in Cemetery Road and the two girls attended the school in Walmer.

Then in 1938 there was no longer any work in Deal so Reg cycled to Bexley Heath and got a job there as Foreman Bricklayer. There were some expensive houses being built there which cost up to £15,000 when completed. His take home pau was £3.6s.6d. for a 50 hour week. Nine hours a day, half an hour lunch, and 5 hours on a Saturday. However, by laying bricks at a faster rate he could earn an extra 3d an hour. Reg could lay 1.775 bricks a day (209 bricks an hour, three and a half bricks a minute). At the end of the day he would go back to his digs in a daze! On Saturday evening he would catch the train from Bsrnet back home to spend the weekend with Hetty and the children.

Hetty’s sister Bubbles stayed with them for a time and while there she won a crossword competition and bought Daphne a bicycle which cost £5, The shole family would go for bike rides on a Sunday – Reg had a seat on his crossbar for Gerald and Hetty had a seat on the back of her bike for Christine. They also liked to go down to the front to watch the Marine Band on a Sunday morning.

Talk of War There was talk of war and shelters were being built The General Foreman offered Reg a house (£1 for the key) by Hetty didn’t want to live in Bexley Heath if war was coming. So Reg packed up and went backto Deal.

In 1939 the first ship was mined off the coast and its cargo of lead pancils was washed up on the shore. Reg and the children collected some and Reg built the children a sledge from some of the timeber, as it was a very cold winter. He also made a fender to go around the fire place.

Reg and family moved back to Rye and went ot live with Hetty’s parents in New Road. When war broke out in September, invasion seemed imminent and because Rye was on the front line, the families were given 36 hours to move out. Hetty had made friends with a Mrs. Wood, mother of four children, who had two madien aunts living in Scotland, who she thought would take them in. So they packed their bags and Reg escourted the two women and seven children to the station. He decided he should accompany them to Ashford where they had to change trains, but then he went on to London with them where they had a shelter in the Underground during an air raid. He eventually travelled all the way to Cowdenbeath, near Dunfermline in Scotland with them, still in his working overalls. He returned to Rye the following day with only his platform ticket, to which the Station Manager turned a blind eye. It is hard to imagine how the two aunts, Davina and Susie, felt when the two women and seven children descended on them.They owned and lived over a small sweet shop which also sold a few groceries an vegetables.

“The Life and Times of Reg. Weeks”, who used to live in Rope Walk and died on 1 March 1993 will be concluded in next month’s issue of “Rye’s Own”.

The events in Reg’s life were compiled by his daughter Daphne Llewellyn of Sidmouth, Devon from her memories of all the things he told her about his early life in Rye .

“Rye’s New” October 2004

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