Chapter. The Struggling Years. [1946-1961]

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CHAPTER. 4. The Struggling Years. [1946-1961]

The train eventually arrived into Brighton Station, and it was all change for the Southdown bus to Chailey. It did feel rather odd travelling home, with my kit bag, steaming bag and suitcase, knowing that I was not going back to the Navy life. The bus eventually pulled up outside of the Horns Lodge pub, and there the front entrance was decorated out in flags and bunting; welcoming me back home. Lots of hugging from Mum and back slapping from Dad, and I eventually settled down to have a look at my new home, as the move from Haywards Heath to here had taken place in February whilst I was away. This move from Haywards Heath to Chailey, was a coming home for Dad, as he was brought up on a farm at the North side of Chailey called Lindfield Farm, and I'm sure that to come back, and take on a pub, was killing two birds with one stone! Dad's Mum and Dad; (my Grandmother and Grandfather) lived just up the road from the pub in a Council house where Granddad had a beautiful garden. More about Granddad and Grandma later.

Once home indoors, it was lots of chat and news and a good look around the pub to sum everything up. There was a very nice surprise waiting for me when things had settled down a bit. Dad was showing me around the place, which had a stable at the back, and when I had a look inside, there was a motorbike standing there. Dad told me that he had got it from a mate when he worked as a driver on the Southdown Bus Co. It was a two-stroke 125cc. Francis Barnett, and Dad said that he would give me some lessons and then I could have the bike for myself! I was over the moon and just couldn't wait to take the bike out on the road.

Mum and Dad took the pub over from an old couple by the name of Lewry, I never knew the old couple, but apparently they were well known to Dad. When the pub was taken over, Mum and Dad found it to be in a bit of a state, there was much dust and dirt to be got rid of before it was ready to take in a proper flow of customers. The old lady had died and her husband who had tried to carry on with the pub, found that he was in a losing battle, consequently the brewers moved the old chap into a little detached cottage that went with the pub to finish out his retirement. A Croydon brewery owned the pub by the name of Page and Overton. I think the brewery acted quite honourably in relocating the old landlord.

When the pub was being run by the Lewrys, it seemed that the old lady was very particular as to who she wanted to serve, and if she didn`t like the look of you, it wasn't long before she made it clear that she didn`t fancy your custom. Apparently things got so bad that the amount of beer being sold was about a “Pin” a week, a Pin being four and a half gallons! It was obvious that such a situation was unacceptable, hence the take-over. The pub which was quite small, was joined on to two small “Two up and Two down” cottages with a stable at the other end. The first cottage was occupied by a cobbler by the name of Smith, and the second cottage was occupied by a roadman by the name of Taylor, both very friendly tenants. The rent for these properties at the time was 4/3d a week for the detached cottage and 4/0d a week for the other two; and by agreement with the brewery, the rents were payable to and to be kept by Mum and Dad. The whole property was set in a very spacious garden with plenty of parking in front.

By the time I arrived home, the place had been cleaned up beautifully and was turning into a good running concern. Two factors contributed to this, one was that Dad was very well known in the area, and the other was that Dad had some good connections with bus drivers from his previous job. With a bit of conniving with his mates and a few “Pints” being dispensed, quite a few coaches managed to stop at the pub during their evening or day tours! Mum was a brick at this time as she was always busy behind the bar and she always seemed to be making piles of sandwiches. I was getting involved in the dispensation of the good ale and was quite enjoying myself.

Pubs in those days were proper pubs, and this one was really the social centre for the surrounding cottages and farms, and brought in all sorts of characters. The highlight of the week was Saturday night, when the place would be packed out, and an old chap by the name of Charlie Buckman would get his “Squeeze box” out and all the old songs would be played and sung to. There was one old chap who had served his time in the Navy, who would insist that the Sailors Hornpipe should be played, whilst he cavorted around the bar. All this merriment was carried out aided by the downing of copious pints of mild ale as the Pub was known as a “Beer House” and was only licensed to sell wines and beers—No spirits. At this time in 1946 there was a sort of rationing of beer going on, and occasionally the pub would run short of beer, so it was important that any closure of the pub for a short time, was done in mid-week and not on a Saturday.

Going back to the characters that came into the pub. There was one old chap by the name of Harry, who used to roll up on an old three-wheeled bicycle nearly every dinnertime, and spend a bit of time with a pint of ale. This doesn't sound very unusual, but what was unusual, was that he chewed tobacco and had an ingenious way of dealing with any excess spit that accumulated in his mouth. Now when Dad took over the pub, there were spittoons placed on the floor in front of the bar, and Dad didn`t take too kindly to this arrangement, and removed them. This change upset old Harry a bit and he was forced to change his habits. The dilemma was solved for Harry by keeping a small tin in the inside pocket of his jacket. Harry would dispense his tobacco juice by just opening his jacket and discretely filling the tin! Other characters that used the pub were such people as Freddy Avery who always insisted that he wanted a “Drive around the Park” when he wanted a packet of Park drive cigarettes. It seemed to me that everybody who came into the pub, chewed, rolled or sniffed tobacco. It would be a perfect nightmare today with the ban now on smoking. Dad sold tins and tins of SP Snuff and one character who indulged, was Tommy Tasker. Tommy was a retired roadman and had been gassed in the First World War and I suppose he thought that “snuffing” was a good substitute for smoking. Bill Snelling the son of Arthur who owned the donkey in the stable (more about that later) was also gassed during the First World War, and he kept Tommy company!

Enough of the characters in the pub; more about them later. My demob leave was nearly ended and I had to think about settling down to civilian life. One of the first priorities was to pass my test on the motorbike, as I would need the bike to get to and from Haywards Heath to take up my work at Central Sussex Electricity. It didn`t take me long to get to grips with motorcycling, and it wasn't long before I was taking my test down at Hove. Tests in those days were quite simple affairs. I met the man who was going to test me outside Hove Town Hall, and after showing him that I could see a number plate from far off, he asked me to drive around the block whilst he stood at the corner to see how I was getting on. I gave all the correct hand signals and off I went, How he was going to see what I was up to, when I was at the opposite side of the block, I`ll never know, as there was no way that he could see me. After going round the block a few times, he stopped me and told me that I had passed. It all seemed a bit too easy to me, but it was good to lose the “L” Plates.

Petrol was strictly rationed just after the war, and I was allocated coupons that enabled me to get to and from my place of work. When these coupons were allocated, you had to state what route you were going to take, and thereafter if you were caught off the route, your coupons could be withdrawn, so you can see I was a bit restricted in travelling about. However my Uncle Jim came to my aid, as he said I could pop up to his builders yard occasionally and fill my tank up, but I still had to keep to the allocated route. At least I wasn't too restricted as to the number of journeys that I could make to Haywards Heath. That motorbike was a Godsend to me, it was very reliable and did the job admirably. It was a two-stroke, and when it was necessary to top up with petrol, the tank cap had to be inverted to show a little measuring cup, that had to be filled with oil for each gallon of petrol. Gear changing was accomplished by manipulating the three gears with a gear stick on the side of the tank. After filling up with petrol, the bike had to be shaken vigorously, to make sure that the oil and petrol had mixed thoroughly.

Shortly after my arrival back into “Civvy Street” a little parcel arrived by post from the Admiralty, inside was a cheque for £4-10s. with my war medals. The cheque was my share in the prize money that had been awarded for each rating in the Navy. It sounded as if we had been involved in piracy on the high seas! I haven’t a clue as to why or how this figure was arrived at. Also included in the package were my medals, not for bravery I must add, but for being in the right area of conflict at the wrong time! My package contained the Atlantic Star, France and Germany Star, Italy Star, Burma Star, 1939/45 Star which was generally known in the Navy as the “Spam Medal” and the General Service medal. Out of all these medals, I didn`t think that I deserved the Italy Star, as I had only visited Naples and the war ended shortly after that! These medals are still tucked safely away in the original box that they arrived in.

It didn`t take me too long to settle down at work at the Central Sussex Offices and soon I was completing drawings for the installation of small transformer compounds and Overhead line layouts. It was during this time at work that I met my first girlfriend, her name was Beryl Hobden, and she worked as a Comptometer Operator in the Accounts office below the Drawing Office. I first met Beryl when I was playing football for the village team; she was on the touchline watching her brother Freddie, who was also playing. Beryl lived at North Chailey with her Mother and Father, her Father Jim, ran a business that involved letting out steam engines and threshing machines, a business that doesn't exist anymore. Beryl and I seemed to get along quite well at first and soon started to go out quite regularly, but somehow as the time went by, I started to feel as if I was being pressured too much, as she became very possessive, and became quite jealous if I started to talk to any other girls. This didn`t go down too well for me at the time and eventually the relationship was broken up.

Going back to the football, Chailey seemed to want my services in their team and I played quite regularly at right half or outside right for 4 years. We never had an established pitch, but with the kindness of a local farmer, we played on one of his fields down the road from the pub. There was one big snag to this arrangement. During the week, the farmers cows grazed happily away and consequently left their trademarks all over the playing surface, so Saturday mornings when there was a home game to be played, we had to get out on the field with shovels to remove the cowpats and put the nets up around the goal posts. I wonder how many lads would go to that length to have a game of football now! A couple of incidents come to mind during my footballing days. On one occasion we were playing a cup match for the so called Montgomery Cup, and I found myself in such a position, that to clear a ball that was threatening our goal, it was necessary to use my left foot. Now kicking with that foot was a trial for me, and when I attempted this move, I sliced the ball and it sailed beautifully into my own goal, beating the goalkeeper hands down! I was the most popular player according to the opposing side, as they gathered around and slapped my back with gusto. I was also the most unpopular player on our side, as it was the end of our Cup run. Our changing room was the bar of Dad's pub, so I was able to make some amends.

On another occasion, we had to play an away game at the village of Ringmer just outside Lewes. Incidentally this was the home of James Callaghan who was our Prime Minister a few years ago. It was an awful afternoon, with the rain coming down in sheets, but nothing deterred, we set out to play. Just after half time it was noticed that a stream was beginning to form down the centre of the pitch and the whole shebang was turning into a quagmire: the game had to be abandoned. When we came off the pitch, we looked as if we had been playing with the mudlarks, and worst of all the home side had no facilities to get ourselves cleaned up. Somebody noticed that the guttering of the changing room was overflowing, and we all stripped of in turn and washed down in the gusher! Eat your hearts out Manchester United! On another occasion we were playing Balcombe on their home ground, unfortunately Balcombe is rather a hilly place and their football pitch had a very bad slope on it lengthways. The slope was so bad that if you stood in the goalmouth at one end you could only see the crossbar at the other end! Also the slope on one side of the pitch was so bad that if the ball was kicked over the side- line, the ball kept going until it fell into Balcombe Lake! And Yeovil think that they had problems! We enjoyed our football though.

I was now settling down very nicely into civilian life, and had started to enjoy Saturday nights at 7the local hops around the district. On such an outing, I had been to a dance in Haywards Heath, and was coming home about midnight and had reached a point alongside the Birch Hotel, just outside the town, when the motor bike refused to go any further. It was pitch black and as the bike ran on a magdyno system, I had no lights. Nothing for it, but to push the bike back home. Home was about 6 miles away and I can tell you by the time I reached the Horns Lodge, I was knackered. With much cursing, I put the bike away and decided to look at it in the morning. On inspection the next day it was obvious what the fault was, the HT lead from the Magdyno to the plug, had been rubbing on the external flywheel and was shorting out. If it had been daylight at the time of the fault, I could have wound my handkerchief around the lead and I could have gone on my merry way. I was determined not to push a bike like that again!

Still on the subject of motorbikes. At the drawing office at work, a small James 98cc. Motorbike was available for transport to work that was being carried out locally. Locally was about the only distance that anybody would want to travel on the thing. There was no kick-start. To get the thing going you had to put the bike into one of its two gears, run with the clutch in and then leap into the saddle when the clutch was released. Once the thing was under way, the speed control was carried out by a little Villiers lever; there was no twist grip. Riding it was a bit of an adventure!

My Twenty-first birthday came up in 1947 and Mum and Dad laid on a bit of a do for me in the pub. I think by then that I had settled down to the routine of civilian life, I had a smashing day and a good time was spent with a lot of my mates appreciating the quality of Page and Overton ales. Mum bought me a signet ring, which I wore for many a year, but strangely enough it went missing one day off my finger, and I never found it again. It was early in this year, now that I was getting a penny or two in my pocket, that I decided that I wanted to upgrade my transport. A chap at work had a 1936 250cc Triumph 4stroke motor cycle for sale and it looked very smart indeed. I think I paid £40 for it and sold the Francis Barnett for £30. This was a much more satisfying bike to ride and had a lot more Oomph! Being a 4stroke the machine it had a separate oil pumping system, which was different from the petroil arrangement on the Francis Barnett. I mention this, as it was the cause of my short ownership of the Triumph. Being used to the petroil system, muggins didn`t keep too watchful an eye on the low level pressure button on the petrol tank. I was going to work one day, and suddenly the bike started to sound as if there were a load of loose nuts and bolts inside of it, and I came to an abrupt halt. I had seized the thing up! Dad was a friend of Mr.Dinnage who owned a garage in Haywards Heath and he sorted the mess out for me, with a rebore and new piston rings. That made a hole in my savings!

It was while I was waiting for my bike to come back from the menders, that I had to get the old pushbike out from the stable at the end of the pub and cycle to work. This came a bit hard, but there was no getting away from it. One morning, ready for work, I went to fetch my bike and when I opened the stable door it was gone. I was sure that I had put it away safely the previous night. There was no doubt about it, my bike had been stolen! I got onto the police and reported the theft, and all that was left to me was to catch the bus to Haywards Heath. Sometime later, my motorbike had been mended and I was mobile again, I had a call from the police a little later saying that my bike had been found; in Bognor of all places. They told me that the bike was being transported to Lewes police station, and that I could pick it up when I liked. When I arrived at the police station to take the bike home, the police told me that the bike had been stolen by a German prisoner of war. Why he went to Bognor, I cannot think, perhaps he felt like King George V when he got there and said “Bugger Bognor” and gave himself up! On inspection of the bike, I found that the saddle was missing and that the 3speed gear was permanently fixed in top. I had to ride the bike in that condition back to Chailey!

Not long after this incident, I decided that I had fallen out of love with my Triumph motorcycle and sold it for what I had given for it in the first place. Another factor of the sale was that my Chief Draughtsman in the Drawing office assured me that I could offset the cost of a new motorcycle, against a travel allowance that the Company was prepared to give me. This sounded like good news to me, so I took the bull by the horns and treated myself (on the “never never”) to a brandnew. 350cc.Matchless. I'm not sure how much I paid for it but it was in the region of £140. This time I was going to make sure that the oil was going around the engine properly, as it was possible to see it bubbling away when the oil cap was taken off. I bought the bike from “Apex Motorcycles” a well thought after outfit, right opposite the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

I was now well away for transport and as the Chief Draughtsman had promised, I was sent out to various offices in central Sussex to update their maps. These maps showed the various HV and LV Overhead and Underground supply lines and gave an indication of where the transforming and switching stations existed. Generally all the information was in good order and didn`t need too much work. I think all this updating was the precursor to Nationalisation of Supply and Generation that was just around the corner. I thoroughly enjoyed the work and it was making good inroads into clearing my debt for the bike.

Christmas came around, and I found myself being invited to the firm’s party. This was a revelation to me, as for the first time, all those people who were my bosses let their hair down and became “human” I think one of the highlights of the evening was an old fashioned film show. They were silent films and Arthur Hentschel, my Chief Draughtsman, accompanied the films on his piano, and had everybody in fits with his playing to the antics of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel&Hardy. I hadn`t realised, but Arthur had been the resident pianist at the local cinema a few years before the war. Arthur was also a very good poster artist and he introduced me into poster work, as we had to do all the displays in the showroom windows down the road.

Nationalisation did come along in 1948, and from somewhere, an advertisement appeared wanting a draughtsman at the Headquarters of the South Eastern Electricity Board, situated in the Princes Hotel on the Hove seafront. I thought that I could manage to do this work, and with some encouragement from Arthur Hentschel, I applied for the job. The day came for my interview, and with some trepidation I set off for the Princes Hotel, to try and convince somebody that I was the right person for the job. The Chief Engineer (Mr. Gibbs) and the Chief Draughtsman (Mr. Harries) interviewed me, and I was able to persuade them that I thought I was up to the job of being an Engineering Draughtsman. However they were not over the moon that I had no qualifications, but after a bit of consideration, they said the job was mine, on the understanding that I signed up at the Brighton Technological College to obtain my Ordinary National Certificate in Electrical Engineering. (And possibly my HNC). I was over the moon with this, and assured them that I would do my best to obtain that qualification. I was told that the course for the ONC was over three years and had to be accomplished by going to night school. The fees for each year would have to be paid by myself, but if I passed the examinations for each year, the fees would be refunded. I thought this was all very fair, and left the interview, determined to make a success of it. Little did I appreciate what a grind I had let myself in for.

I said all my cheerios at the offices in Haywards Heath and was quite sad to be leaving. The lads in the office, all six of them, had clubbed around and presented me with a Petersen pipe and a few ounces of tobacco. God bless `em. It was also my first attempt at speech making.

I think it was about August 1948 that I started work at the HQ of the SouthEastern Electricity Board, (SEEB) and I was welcomed by the other draughtsmen who worked there. Apart from the Chief Draughtsman, there were eight other draughtsmen in the office, with me making the eighth. The team leader in the office was a chap by the name of Edwin Charles, always known as Charlie. Charlie was the brains in the office and he was more than helpful to me when things got a bit tough in the learning department at Tech. I never found Charlie wanting in any explanation of a technical nature all the time I was studying, right up to the Higher National Certificate. His knowledge of mathematics was absolutely brilliant. Charlie was self-taught and mathematics was his hobby. Charlie’s right hand man was Jack Daniel, he was an excellent draughtsman and also been in the Navy during the war and had attained the dizzy height of 1st.Lieutenant on one of his Majesty's Corvettes. He was known as Danny. The remaining “Draffies” were Douglas Muirhead, Jack Jackman, Roy Goodman, Peter Burgess, John Skeates and myself.

The work that was carried out in the office was much more complicated than what I had been used to, but it wasn't long before I got into the swing of things. As mentioned before the Headquarters of the SEEB was housed in the Princes Hotel, I don't know when it ceased to be a hotel, but all the furnishings and facilities were still in place. Half way through the morning’s work, a coffee break was allowed, and we would all troop off to the restaurant and sit down to enjoy the break, drinking our tea or coffee out of fancy china and seated at individual tables as if we taking tea at the Savoy or Simpson’s! It was all very civilised and enjoyable. During the lunch hour we would sit on the beach opposite or take a stroll along the Prom. In the winter if the weather was a bit unkind, we had a games room where we could unwind with a game of table tennis.

Once having settled into this new environment, it was time to go down to the Brighton Technical College to sign on for my first year of an ONC (Electrical) course. I found myself signing on with Peter Burgess, who had also given the assurance that he would take up studies for the National Certificate. John Skeates was already on the course and was signing on for his second year. For this first year I had to attend the Tech.for three evenings a week to be lectured on Electrics, Mechanics and Technical drawing. As well as this, we were set three evenings homework, which sometimes included writing up Laboratory reports. There was an excellent laboratory in the College, where we carried out experiments related to the course work that we were doing. As you can see I had my work cut out to keep pace with these requirements. Enough of Tech for the moment. It was imperative that I had to have some leisure time to myself or I would turn into “Jack’s dull boy.”



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