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Mike’s Story – 1946 to 1952 Growing up in Herne Bay
My ‘Growing Up’ began soon after the Second World War, a year or so after starting my secondary education.
Having originally attended Reculver Primary School from 1939 until 1945, in September of that year I began my secondary education at the Simon Langton Boys School in Canterbury. Until 1944 the school leaving age had been fourteen but it was now raised to fifteen. The practice at that time was that at age eleven when one took the ‘eleven plus’ examination it was actually sat at the secondary school of one’s choice, in my case the Simon Langton. If I had failed the examination, depending on my marks I might have had the chance to go instead to Faversham Grammar or if I hadn’t been as good as that it would have meant going to the Council School in King’s Road in Herne Bay as the school at Greenhill was yet to be established. At King’s Road there was a facility to take a further examination at the age thirteen to go to Canterbury Technical college. Failing that one stayed at King’s Road until finishing education at age fifteen.
I was lucky enough to pass the Simon Langton examination so at five to eight each morning I caught the No 42 bus from Beltinge Post Office, then located in Reculver Road opposite the end of Burlington Drive. The No 42 bus went down Beltinge Hill and I got off at Cox’s Garage on the corner of Cavendish Road in the High Street, just past the traffic lights. To serve the Canterbury schools there were two No.6 buses leaving the Pier at eight o’clock with another one at five past eight. Then at ten past eight there was a No. 7 bus. The No 6s went via Herne village while the No 7 took the country route via Broomfield and Hoath. In those days there was still no Sturry bypass so after going over the railway with its pair of massive manually operated wooden crossing gates, the buses turned sharp right and passed through the actual Sturry village. In Canterbury with no Tourtel Road bypass the buses went on through Northgate and out into the High Street at the Guildhall. We got off our bus at Sun Street and then walked through to the High Street and up past ‘Marks and Spencers’, one of the only buildings that remained standing at that end of the High Street, to where a path through the bomb ruins took us through the surviving White Friars gate through the ancient brick wall which still survived arround the Langton Boys School. The school buildings which had previously housed both the boys and girls schools had suffered significant damage in the Canterbury blitz and this had resulted in the girls school having to be relocated elsewhere. So in September 1945 I along with Jimmy, Kieth and Bernard from Reculver School and several others from Herne Bay arrived at The Simon Langton Boys School in Canterbury to prepare us for ‘growing up’.
The school day finished at five minutes to four and initially it was a race up the High Street to catch the four-fifteen Number 6 from Station Road West or if we were very quick it was just possible to leap on to the open back platform of the four o’clock as it turned the corner from High Street into Guildhall Street. After I had ‘grown up’ a bit. by the time that I was in the third form, it was dawdle up the High Street, buying an Evening News on the way to catch the twenty past four Girls School bus as it called at Station Road West to pick up additional passengers. By then too I had started to use my bike into the town, leaving it in Cox’s Garage rather than use the bus from Beltinge, meaning a little more independence and self reliance. I did pretty well in the ‘A’ form at school passing my ‘School Certificate’ exams with Matric so I was qualified to go on into the sixth form at Simon Langton had I wanted to. But I had always wished that I had gone to the ‘Tech’ because my real interests were in engineering, specifically in electricity and tunnelling,
So in July 1950 at age sixteen I jumped at the chance to leave school and applied for an electricical apprenticeship at Chislet Colliery. I had to wait until January 1951 to begin ‘Underground Training’ at the Betteshanger Training Centre and after three months there. it was straight down the mine at Chislet to join with the electricians there. The job was well paid compared with other occupations at the time. I got £5 per week and very quickly bought myself a motor bike for my daily travel to work. It was bright blue and I got it fitted with a pillion seat as several girls seemed keen to have a ride on it. They probably fancied the bike rather than me but it gave my ego a boost anyway. I eventually got my wish to go to the ‘Canterbury Tech’ because my apprenticeship gave me ‘day release’ to learn mining subjects and I chose to go also to evening classes to get my Ordinary and Higher National Certificates in Electrical Engineering.
I suppose that my period of ‘Growing Up’ had really finished by this time but after another completing a National Coal Board Management Training Course, I deserted the coal mines and applied for an Electrical Supervisors job working for ‘Texaco’ in their Trinidad Oil refinery. Eventually I finished up working in various London Offices as a Senior Electrical Engineer in the Oil Industry. I still lived in Herne Bay but for thirty years commuted to London interspersed with a few short periods on refinery sites and to visit electrical equipment factories in various parts of the world.
But things other than school occurred during my ‘growing up’ period.
I and probably most of my friends were into the Trainspotting hobby, It was more properly known as Engine Number Collecting at the time since the rest of the train didn’t really interest us. We each had our ‘Ian Allan ABC of British Locomotives – Southern Region’ which listed by Number, Class, the Name (if it had one) and a variety of detail of every locomotive running in our area of British Rail at that time. I have still got my rather decrepit copy! In this booklet we carefully underlined the number of each locomotive that we had seen, and we went to quite a lot of trouble to find additional ones
Blacksole Bridge was our favourite spot for observing the locos that ran through Herne Bay. We could remain sitting on our bike saddles while propped against the parapet of the bridge – and there wasn’t enough road traffic to make us move on. There were railway signals for both ‘up’ and ‘down’ lines visible from the bridge so we knew when to expect a train to come along. From our vantage point we could see the puffs of smoke and hear the noise as locomotives started out from Herne Bay station and subsequently had to climb the comparatively steep slope up to our bridge. There were only a limited number of locomotives that were used on the regular trains that passed through Herne Bay but on a summer weekend the extra trains that were put on for day trippers visiting the coast brought a few locomotives rarely seen in this area.
But we needed to go further afield if we were keen number collectors. In lunch hour at school I just had time occasionally to dash up to Canterbury West Station to look for any locos that might be passing through or shunting there. We used our bikes to visit the loco sheds at Faversham and Ramsgate. On one occasion several of us cycled to Ashford and visited the huge locomotive works that was located there. My friend David and I also made several trips to London. We used to catch the ‘workmans’ train from Herne Bay at about a quarter past five in the morning because that train was at a particularly cheap fare. We had to change at Gillingham and from there it was an electric train into Charing Cross. We would keep a particularly good lookout for the special shunting locomotives as we passed through the huge marshalling yards at Feltham, and then on arrival at Charing Cross we would walk back across Hungerford Bridge to Waterloo Station where we could guarantee seeing some of the many locos that never traversed the Kent Coast lines and that we hadn’t had the chance to see elsewhere. On most of our London trips we could not resist the opportunity to take the tram from the Embankment through the Kingsway Subway and up to High Holborn where the shop of Basset-Lowke displaying fantastic model locomotives of all sizes and types was located.
1947 was in an era when only the really well off people had a refrigerator in their home so perishable things like meat had to be bought from day to day. Most people ordered their weekend joint to be delivered on Saturdays so from about the age of thirteen I managed to get myself a Saturday morning butcher’s round job for Mr Wally Bryant who had his butcher’s shop on the corner of Reculver Road and Osborne Gardens in Beltinge. My friends David, Keith, Barry and Gerald also worked for Bryant on Saturday mornings and we each had our regular rounds to do. We started at eight in the morning by which time Mr Bryant had already got our baskets loaded and the carrier bikes at the ready. My first round was always Grange Road, still then only a muddy track, and Glen Avenue. I remember that Keith’s first round was to Alma Road and Salisbury Road and that David’s was Seaview Road and Beltinge Road. My second round was normally the Bishopstone Estate. Fred Tutt, who was Mr Bryant’s full time employee usually made the deliveries to outlying places like Maystreet, Hillborough and Reculver in a small van. But there were often times when something had gone wrong with the van and then David, Keith, Barry, Gerald and myself would draw the short straw for the extra trip, although there was no extra pay for it. More than once I found myself delivering to the little row of cottages that then still existed near to the cliff edge behind the Reculver Towers. Pay for the Saturday morning was three shillings and threpence to start with, but it eventually rose to four shillings, (that converts to about sixteen pence rising to twenty pence in decimal money).
Things didn’t always go smoothly on my butcher’s round. When the basket was full to capacity the bike was very heavy and difficult to stand up against the fence or hedge outside the houses that I was delivering to. There was more than one occasion when the bike fell over and the wrapped parcels of meat fell out all over the pavement. I was very lucky if all the parcels remained intact with their delivery tickets still pinned to them. Most likely I would find myself trying to wipe a bit of dirt off somebody’s leg of lamb, or else if the tickets had come off I would have to unwrap various parcels to identify which was a pound of stewing steak and which was pork chops etc. so that I could match them to the tickets. I wasn’t really very good at identifying the various cuts of meat so not every householder always got what they had ordered. It was even more chaotic if the wind had been a bit strong and blown some of the tickets away altogether.
Some of the customers were really generous and gave me threpence or even sixpence every week as a tip, but most customers only gave a tip at Christmas when I was delivering their chicken or turkey and then it was about half a crown with which I was very pleased. A half crown is equivalent to twelve-and-a-half pence in decimal money. It doesn’t sound very much now but I managed to save my earnings sufficiently to pay for my trip to Switzerland where I purchased my first watch while in the Simon Langton fifth form, I also to bought a new black Raleigh bike with Sturmy Archer three speed gears and hub dynamo powered lights from Curry’s, then in Mortimer Street.
Outings and Pastimes
My new bike incentivised me to venture further afield and along with my pals a fine summer’s day in the school holidays would sometimes entice us to cycle to Dreamland at Margate or to Ramsgate to go to the amusement arcades that were actually a conversion of the original Ramsgate Sands railway terminus. While we were there a trip on the little train through the old tunnel up to Dumpton Park was a must.
Annually we would cycle to the ‘Battle of Britain’ air show at Manston where many of the surviving World War Two aircraft gave spectacular flying displays as well as there being many static exhibits on the ground to inspect. The crowds were always huge so it was impossible to get to see everything. I suppose the most memorable occasion for me though was in 1948 when, as we were still approaching the aerodrome from the Acol direction, we were watching an aerial display over the airfield by a Mosquito twin engined fighter plane. During the display the aircraft failed to recover from a nosedive and crashed on to traffic still trying to get to the show from the Ramsgate direction. After an explosion we saw a huge plume of black smoke rise up and of course realised straight away what had happened. It was obvious that there would be no more display that day so we turned home before the crush to leave the aerodrome got started and keen to be first back to Beltinge with the news. I heard afterwords that the two aircraft crew were killed in the accident along with ten spectators on their way to the aerodrome.
The roller skating rink at the Pier Pavilion was an attraction for us. On Saturday afternoons there were ‘free style skating sessions’ where we could go to learn to skate and eventually just to go round and round to music.. If you were clever, after a while most people could even skate backwards, but I never achieved that myself. Skates were a very expensive item so when the metal wheeled skates that I had inherited from somebody were banned, I had to revert to hiring those available at the rink shop. On Saturday evenings I would often accompany my brother Norman to watch the exciting International Speed Skating or Roller Hockey events or perhaps the weekly Kent league roller hockey matches at which our favourite team ‘Herne Bay’ several times won the National Championship. ‘Herne Bay United’ was the other principal team based at the Pier Pavilion. But roller skating in Herne Bay was a seasonal affair and from about May to September the pier rink was decommissioned and replaced by the construction of raised seating for the Summer Shows. The pavilion had a comparatively well equipped stage and several personalities that later became well known stars appeared there from time to time. Herne Bay’s own Arpeggios Choir also sometimes performed there when they featured some well known guest singers. But I usually felt them to be a bit too highbrow for me.
As I got a little older and I began to develop an interest in the opposite sex. Public dances were seen as the way of getting to know a few girls. Barn dances were held occasionally at the Parish Hall in Beltinge and I can remember the mother of one of my friends taking us lads in hand to persuade us to ‘have a go’. She went on to teach us various dances. In those times virtually all types of dance demanded dancing in couples. Dancing alone whilst swinging ones arms about just didn’t happen. Oft times two girls might form a dance couple but I never saw two boys. A lot of the dances were ‘progressive’ which meant that one didn’t need to show allegiance to some particular girl but danced with each girl in turn as the circle moved round. It even parted the girl duos. It was a great way to get ‘very close’ to a girl that you had seen and fancied without the embarrassment of having to go up to her and ask for a dance.
In the summer there were various dance venues for us to choose from. For ‘new starters’ probably the best place was at The Bandstand. There would be a small orchestra there and there would be a good selection of holiday makers, probably from the London area and probably staying in a caravan at Reculvers. This made making a fool of oneself in front of a girl less embarrassing and anyway they had to be away to catch the last No.39 bus from the Pier which was usually before 10 PM.
With a little more experience and confidence the big dances held at the King’s Hall usually in the winter months became a must go to. There was often one of the well known ‘big bands’ of the day playing and often as many as six hundred people dancing. Some of the bands that I remember were The Squadronaires, Kenny Ball, Terry Lightfoot and Ken Mackintosh. There was a good deal of extra space then in the King’s Hall, as what is now the bar was then part of the main hall and dance floor. The bar then was always a temporary affair erected in the cafe area.
There were also two cinemas in Herne Bay for us to choose from although they each had only one screen because the ‘multiscreen complex’ hadn’t yet been thought of. The larger was ‘The Odeon Cinema’ on the sea end of Pier Avenue where the flats are now. The smaller cinema was an ABC cinema ‘The Casino’ on the Sea Front next to Macaris.. I wasn’t a regular cinema goer but chose my films and usually went with some of my pals. At that time the practice in cinemas was that they opened at about two in the afternoon to show firstly a second rate film, then the newsreels, and then the main feature film and that sequence would continue into the evening. One could go into the cinema at any time during the performance and leave as soon as you had seen the sequence right round. If one went into the ‘flicks’ at about 6.30 it was probably in time to see the end of the main feature film at its first showing and then one could come out of the cinema before the end of the main film at its last showing and in time to catch the last No.42 bus to Beltinge at about ten o’clock. If one stayed to see the finish of the film, it was a long walk home ! One also had to wait probably several weeks for a particular big film as it was all on big reels and these had to be passed round from cinema to cinema. For a long film there were often as many as three separate reels and when one reel came to its end the next reel which was on an adjacent projector would switch in. It wasn’t unknown for the projectionist to get a couple of reels in the wrong order in which case the plot could be a bit difficult for the viewer to unravel.
The Village Policeman
As youngsters we were all a bit wary of our local Bobby who lived in a police house along Reculver Road in Beltinge. His name was Mr Tuff or to us ‘Copper Tuff’. Riding a bike without front and rear lights after the official ‘lighting up time’ was illegal but when we were going out for the evening my friend David who lived at Hawthorne usually left his bike at my house in the middle of Beltinge so that we could catch the bus down to the town. His bike never had lights on it! One dark night as David left my house to go home he realised that Copper Tuff was close by and he immediately leapt off his bike and began to push it. Copper Tuff soon caught up with him and it was “Hello David. Going home ? I am going to Hillborough so I will walk with you that far to keep you company.” Copper Tuff’s company was not what David had hoped for and beyond Hillborough as soon as he was out of Copper Tuff’s sight it was on his bike, without lights. and away. I think this is really a good example of the ‘friendly policing’ that was common at the time. We all had many minor confrontations with ‘Copper Tuff’, scrumping perhaps or climbing on a farmer’s haystack, and he knew us all by name and who our fathers were.
The local Beltinge barber, Harry Richardson, was community spirited, he was keen to keep the village youths off the streets and it was his idea to persuade us to form a club. The Beltinge Parish Hall had started its life as a World War One army hut. It was entirely made of wood but with a corrugated iron roof. It was built about eighteen inches off the ground supported on brick piers. It was the only venue in the village that might accommodate our club and we found that we could hire it on a Monday evening for, I think, about five shillings a week and somehow we borrowed some equipment to use there. We had two table tennis tables, one a full size table and the other one about a three quarter size. We had several pairs of boxing gloves, balls of various sizes and we had a set of weights. I believe that there were about eight of us youngsters in the club and we took it in turns to use the kit. There wasn’t room for everything to happen at once so things worked out pretty well. One problem was storage of all the kit and as the one who lived the closest to the hall my family had to accommodate it all during the week in our garage. Then at seven o’clock and at ten o’clock on a Monday evening there was a procession along Reculver Road as we carried our kit back and forth. Harry Richardson was always there to supervise our activities but even he didn’t foresee what was about to happen when Gerald’s foot went right through the floorboards while doing a ‘press-up’ with a set of weights. I think it was probably that event that brought our club to a close ! I suppose all the equipment went back to from whence it came.
I had learned to swim at about the age of eight when, if the weather was right, with the war still on, we used to go along Burlington Drive, worm our way through the barbed wire entanglement that was along the cliff top, then scramble down the clay cliffs and worm our way through the barbed wire entanglement that was at the cliff bottom. This was all just to get to the sea. I learned to swim by laying in the shallow water while the tide was low and just experiencing the lift that I got from the water. In my earlier years at ‘Simon Langton’ I was about the only boy in my class who could swim and several of the others were pretty jealous about it.
In my teens, usually in a mixed sex group, our favourite spot for swimming was at what was then known as ‘The East Cliff Bathing Station’. We used to walk along the cliff top and then down the ‘Hundred Steps’ at the end of Sea View Road. The lower promenade there was lined with concrete bathing cabins and a little way along there was an opening between them and behind them were a couple of manicured grass areas. Just ideal as a place for us to change our costumes and to lie out on in the sun after our swim The East Cliff Bathing Station location was good too as a bit further along there was a diving board and there were also some rafts anchored a little way from the shore for us to swim out to. A swim was the daily ritual after school if the tide was right.
In the winter months the wooden doors were all removed from the bathing cabins by the HBUDC to avoid storm damage and the signal for the start of the swimming season was always the re installation of the cabin doors.
Learning to drive in the 1940s and 50s was not the structured affair that it has become today. There were barely any professional driving instructors. It was usually fathers that taught their sons and daughters to drive. In my case it was mainly my brother who was twelve years older than me who taught me, with my father taking me out occasionally. I had actually learned to control a car from the age of about ten by manoeuvring cars around in our back yard. But it had to wait until I was seventeen in 1951 for me to get practice on the King’s highway in my dad’s 1945 Austin 12 saloon with which I became quite adept. I had to apply in the post to the test centre which was then a little way up the New Dover Road in Canterbury and I was of course devastated when I clanged in my first test because the examiner said that I was doing ‘S’ turns whenever I went to overtake a parked car. My second test came on a day that the Austin 12 was not available so I finished up taking it in a big old 1935 Austin 16 which I had hardly driven before. However I passed that time.
Coincidentally with learning to drive the car, I had bought my motorbike for travelling to work. At least one didn’t have to have a tutor for riding a motorbike, just ‘L’ plates. I actually took my motorcycle test between the two car driving tests and passed this on the first try. My motorbike was a 350cc twin, a size that was allowed for learning on in those days. In fact it was probably no more powerful than the 125cc maximum that is allowed today.
The Operatic Society
There weren’t really many youth clubs available to us as teenagers in Herne Bay, Anything had to be pretty local as most people relied on buses or a bicycle for transport. So when the mother of Tony, one of my school friends, mentioned the number of young ladies that belonged to the ‘Youth Theatre’ that was run by her husband, I and a some of my pals decided that it was probably a good idea for us to go along too.
One of my first associations there ended in disaster because one day when she had a puncture in her bicycle tyre I offered to mend it for her. Having done so I set out riding my bike while pushing hers beside me to return it to her. She lived in Tyndale Park but I decided to go via the downs and Beacon Hill to avoid traffic (and Copper Tuff) as far as possible. Beacon Hill however is rather steep and part way down I lost control of her bike and somehow managed to run over its front wheel. When I reached her house on foot with her crunched up bike our friendship came to rather an abrupt end.
Soon after that we were persuaded to join with the just formed ‘Herne Bay Operatic Society’ which had invited Tony’s father to become the director for their first production ‘The Maid of the Mountains’ to be staged at the King’s Hall. The enjoyment that we all got with that show resulted in ‘Amateur Theatre’ becoming a life long hobby for me.
Herne Bay – A Big Part of Our Lives
Our Mum and Dad married in 1942 and went to Herne Bay for their honeymoon. They stayed at Roselea Avenue, Eddington with our Mum’s relatives Bill and Ivy Wright and our cousin Alan. Bill was a painter and decorator by trade. I remember them telling us they couldn’t go on the beach due to the barbed wire barricade erected while the war was on.
As children we stayed in a boarding house, which we think was called Beaufort in Oxenden Square. It was run by Jack and Dorothy Childs every summer. Treat of the holiday was a knickerbocker glory at Macaris. We also kept a bus inner tyre at the boarding house for use in the holiday and our Sunday trips to Herne Bay. Swimming out to the raft anchored in the sea was a big adventure.
Most Sundays, summer and winter, we would go to Herne Bay and when we met our future husbands they were taken there as well. We have lots of memories of those wonderful holidays and days out. The Fairy Glen at Beltinge and the boating lake in the park, the arcade where we could spend our saved up pennies, crazy golf and lots of walks along the pier.
Our great great grandad helped to pull up the horse and carts from the beach and Ernie Wright is named on the war memorial in the park.
After Mum and Dad died my sister and I had a bench erected near the Kings Hall on the cliff top in memory of them and their love of Herne Bay.