By Gerald Stevens
My memories of my family begin after I was born in 1913, but I also remember stories told to me about my ancestors, by my parents and grandparents.
I will start with my paternal grandfather Thomas Charles Stevens. (1855 - 1887)
He was born in Brighton, Sussex son of James Brown Stevens and Eliza (nee Curtis). On the 22 April 1878, despite opposition from his family, he married a widow Sarah Sallows (nee Wilkes) who had two sons by her first marriage. Thomas and Sarah had four sons Edward Charles, Ernest, Thomas Henry and my father Frederick Augustus. Thomas died in 1887 and was buried in the Public Cemetery, Ford Road, Arundel.
Of course, I do not remember my grandfather but my first memory of my grandmother Sarah was during the WW1 when she was living on her own in straightened circumstances in an almshouse terraced bungalow at Mount Pleasant, Arundel. About 1920 she came to stay for a holiday with her sister “Jenny” Jane Cox [nee Wilkes]at the White Horse Public House, Chichester Road, Bognor, during the time when my parents and I were living there. She liked to help with the housework and whilst polishing the brass door knocker she fell and broke her hip. She was taken to Bognor Hospital and I got into trouble for laughing at the sight of my grandmother being carried out of the pub on a stretcher. She recovered but was left for the rest of her life with a limp when she walked. She came again to stay for a holiday with us when they were living at No.10 Mons Avenue, Bognor and when she arrived in a horse drawn cart, she had obviously fortified herself for the journey with some alcohol and was decidedly merry. My mother was not amused and when she found an empty gin bottle under grandmother’s bed, the relationship between them became strained.
Sarah Stevens (formerly Sallows nee Wilkes)
I remember my grandmother in later years as a bent little old woman hobbling about her bungalow, but she was very lively and alert and liked a joke. She often spoke of the fun she had when she was in domestic service particularly when her employer’s family went on holiday and the house was shut up and the servants were dispersed to live as they pleased on board wages. One joke she loved to tell was about a pest eradicator who operated near where she worked. Outside his shop was displayed a large sign which said “BUGGER TO THE QUEEN - NO CONNECTION WITH THE BUGGER OPPOSITE” This meant that he was a pest eradicator to the Royal Household. She also used to describe the local brewery’s ale as “ Alley Bumble - makes you piddle before you tumble.”
Sarah died in 1928 and was buried in the same grave as her husband.
My maternal grandparents were Charles Sturt (1844 - 1923 ) and Sarah Ann Berryman who were married in 1872. They first lived in one of the Clay Hill Farm cottages, Upper Warningcamp and later moved into one of a pair of cottages built by his father at Lower Warningcamp. They had eleven children (nine daughters and two sons)
Sturt Family: Top Row, L/R Rachel, Kate, Alice, Joseph (Charles’s brother), Charles Sturt (Grandfather) Gertrude, Martha (Joseph's stepdaughter) Middle Row, L/R William Eames(Alice’s fiancee), Joseph’s wife, Sarah (grandmother, holding my father's dog Rip), Frederick Augustus Stevens (father), Daisy Dora (mother). Front Row, L/R Hetty (Joseph's stepdaughter), Douglas, Winifred. Taken outside family home in Warningcamp about 1903/4
Charles Sturt was a son of James Sturt and Charlotte (nee Mitchell). James was a carpenter and he trained Charles in his business. James died in 1890 and under the terms of his will Charles inherited the income from his father’s properties, shares, etc., shared between him and his brothers and sisters. This income seems to have rendered Charles disinclined to work at his trade and he seems to have devoted his later years to pleasure, his favourite tavern being the The Railway Arms near Arundel Station. My mother, Daisy Dora Sturt, related how as a young girl, she and her sisters would lie in bed at night listening for Charles homecoming to hear if his step was unsteady indicating intoxication, with the resulting hostile greeting from his wife. Somehow he acquired the nickname of Gubby and his daughters were annoyed when they were referred to as “Gubby’s young uns”.
I remember my grandfather from about 1916 as being of medium height, slim-built and bearded. He seemed to be of a kindly disposition to a youngster, as when I fell in the garden and grazed my knee, he said “ Here, let me put my tongue around it, that will make it better.” He never seemed to go out to work, but he did dig and plant the garden and dug holes at the bottom of the garden in which to empty the contents of the earth closet bucket. He insisted on wearing clothes and boots too large for him and when he needed new ones he gave money to my mother to buy them for him. She bought them from Herringtons outfitters shop by Arundel Bridge and the proprietor Edward Herrington said smaller sizes would be much better for her father.
Charles died at Warningcamp in 1923.
My maternal grandmother Sarah Ann Sturt ( nee Berryman) (1848 - 1929) was born at Sutton West Sussex, fourth child of Samuel and Frances Berryman.
I remember her as a bustling, energetic woman who loved a good gossip. Their cottage at Lower Warningcamp was the last cottage at the end of the straggling lower part of the village and became a favourite resting place for tradesmen at the end of their rounds. Sarah would offer them a cup of tea or cocoa in exchange for any news they had picked up on their rounds. One of these was a young bespectacled man who delivered the “West Sussex Gazette” newspaper. Sarah would read the paper and discuss the local news with him while he counted the coins he had collected. Another was the postman called Mr Stiles who was killed in France during WW1. Sarah befriended his family, visiting them at their home on Kirdford Road and later entertaining his two daughters, Edna and Cissie who later married Claud Lewis, one of Sarah’s grandsons.
Sarah’s daughters often visited her, sometimes with their husbands and children, sometimes on holiday, sometimes for longer periods if they had local employment or were convalescent from illness and there seemed to be a real family unity and love, but it seemed that the daughters could only tolerate each other‘s company for a few days at a time.
After the death of her husband Charles in 1923, Sarah occasionally took in a lodger.
I remember one called Mr Bell, an electrical engineer, whose company was engaged
in installing a private electric supply to Sefton Place. This involved building an engine house and battery room next to the footpath which passed the end of Sarah’s garden with a cable laid across the meadow to Sefton Place. Mr Bell lodged with Sarah for some months.
Sarah collected milk daily from the farm along the road towards the village school and I remember collecting the milk myself in a small can when I was staying there on holiday.
She bought her other groceries from Watkins Store in Arundel, a two mile walk away along the river bank.
Sarah eventually became infirm and had to give up her cottage in Lower Warning Camp, living with her third daughter Alice Blanche Eames at No. 2, Stanley Road, Emsworth, Hampshire. She died there in 1929 and was buried in Warblington Cemetery, Near Emsworth.
My father Frederick Augustus Stevens was born at No.8, Orchard Place, Arundel, Sussex on 8 December 1885, fourth and youngest son of Thomas Charles Stevens and his wife Sarah. He was educated at Arundel Board School, the headmaster was Mr Richardson.
He served in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment from 30 April 1900 (aged 15) to 31 March 1908.
He had a number of jobs including:-
1) working in a bakery in Arundel where he remembered the boys spending their spare time boxing until one boy was injured and boxing was banned.
2) working at Swallows Brewery in The Causeway, Arundel, where a bricklayer was building a lavatory and bricked himself up inside leaving no doorway and some men sawing up beer casks got drunk from the fumes.
3) working as a Footman in Mr Constable’s household at Sefton Lodge, Warningcamp, where one day the footmen and maids were skylarking in the kitchen, father carried a cooked, hot goose on a platter to the dining room. He collided with a young maid and spilt greasy goose fat down the front of his uniform. It was while working at Sefton Lodge that he met his future wife Daisy Dora Sturt.
4) worked at Bullbeck’s Timber Yard in Arundel where he cut off the top of one of his fingers resulting in a dwarf fingernail on that finger. His job included travelling with a gang of tree fellers to various estates in West Sussex to fell and load trees for transport to the yard in Arundel. Sometimes this involved being away from home for many days lodging in a village. At one such lodging in Heyshott near Midhurst run by a Mrs Pope who would fill a large teapot at mealtimes and placed it on the table for her lodgers to help themselves. When the pot was empty, the lodgers would call out “Fill ‘em up Mrs Pope”. This became a family joke at the Stevens home later when the teapot needed refilling.
5) an outdoor estate worker on the Duke of Norfolk’s estate in Arundel. He was employed on the estate doing fencing work with a man called Jimmy Bacon and also worked in the estate sawmill.
6) With the encouragement of his elder brother Thomas Henry who already worked for them, he joined the Pearl Assurance Co. Ltd as an agent.
Frederick Augustus Stevens and Daisy Dora Sturt
Soon after this he married my mother Daisy Dora Sturt on 1st August 1912 and they lived for a while with his brother Thomas Henry and his wife Margaret in Chichester, Sussex. He spoke of cycling with his brother Thomas Henry, who was an Assistant District Manager of the Pearl Assurance, around the Chichester area, some journeys were very long and tedious against the wind, as far as Selsey to collect a few pennies in premiums and many stoppages due to punctures caused by poor quality tyres.
About 1912/13 my father was transferred on Pearl Assurance business to Midhurst, Sussex and lived in a terraced cottage, 414, Rumbolds Hill, opposite a Public House and next door to a Roman Catholic Church. I was born in this cottage on Saturday 12 July 1913. We then moved to another terraced cottage at The Mint, Bepton Road. I have vague memories of this house and of spending a whole day kneeling in a window seat waiting for my uncle George Sturt, one of mother’s brothers, who was coming to visit. George was a steam traction engine driver with Penfolds, contractors of Arundel, and I probably expected to see him arrive on his engine, but he never came and I never did meet him at all. I also remember being taken by my father for Sunday morning walks along Bepton Road to Severalls Wood near the Shamrock Public House to see the mid-day train pass along the Midhurst to Petersfield railway line.
My father was a close friend with Arthur Ede who was a Pumping Station engineer at the waterworks run by the Midhurst Rural District Council. He was reserved from military service during the First World War because of the importance of his work. My father and Arthur cultivated a piece of land at the Midhurst Waterworks and grew a crop of potatoes in 1914 or 15. They harvested the potatoes and put them in sacks tied to their bicycles to take them home. One night they were stopped by a policeman for having no rear lights on their bicycles, it was a requirement of the Defence of the Realm Act that bikes should have rear lights after dark. They were prosecuted in the Magistrate Court and fined two shillings and sixpence each.
In 1916 my father was called up and enlisted in the Royal Engineers. He was trained at Chattenden Barracks and Chatham, Kent, and lived under canvas in a camp at Detling, Kent. Later he was billeted in Rochester and I remember being taken there by my mother to see him. She left Midhurst and moved back to Warningcamp to live with her parents, Charles and Sarah Sturt. My father was posted overseas to Salonika in Greece. This was the main base for the Allied front against Bulgaria and for mounting the Dardanelles offensive against the Turks. He travelled across the English Channel and then in a first class railway coach through Italy to Brindisi and then by boat to Salonika. Having been in the timber trade earlier he was put in charge of a squad of Turkish prisoners working in a timber saw mill. He spoke of having tried unwittingly to get the prisoners to work during a Moslem religious festival but they, being Moslems, refused. After the War he often used a Turkish expression which sounded like “Hydi boos” meaning “Get on with it”. In 1919 he came back to England by railway in cattle trucks !! He was released from the Royal Engineers and returned home.
He resumed work as an Assistant District Manager with the Pearl Assurance at Bognor, Sussex. The family took lodgings with his Aunt Jane, who was a sister of his mother. She had married Herbert Cox licensee of The White Horse Public House in Chichester Road, Bognor. We occupied a large room on the first floor which was partitioned off by curtains suspended from the ceiling rails to form separate rooms.
In 1920 we moved to Emsworth in Hampshire and lodged with my mother’s sister Alice and her husband William Eames at 2 Stanley Road. This was because my father was moved by the Pearl Assurance to that area. It was in this house that my brother Roy was born on 29 May 1920. Later that year we moved again back to Rumbolds Hill in Midhurst. The front room of the house was used as a Sub-District office for the Pearl who soon decided to close this office and centralize business in Chichester. My father had to accept a job as an agent for the Pearl in Bognor. After taken temporary lodgings the family finally moved into a council house at 10 Mons Avenue and it was here on
26th May 1922 that my second brother Geoffrey was born.
My father joined the Bognor Town Band about this time and also played in the Pier Cinema orchestra providing musical accompaniment for silent films until 1930 when talking films began. His pedal cycle was stolen with his attaché case containing the company’s collecting record book on the rear rack. The cycle was recovered and the thief apprehended by the police, the attache case was found in a cornfield where the thief had thrown it. Father was the principal witness at the court trial but he was annoyed to be named in the local newspaper as Mr Percy Stevens. He purchased a motorcycle at this time to help with his large collection round for the Pearl.
In 1929 the family moved once again into a council house at 99 Hampshire Avenue, Bognor Regis ( Bognor now having Regis added to the name after the convalescence of King George V), and on 4 October 1929 my sister Rita Mary was born there. Later we finally moved into a new 3 bedroomed semi-detached house called “Blakehurst” at 39 Murina Avenue, Bognor Regis. The name “Blakehurst” came from the area at Warningcamp where my parents used to walk during their courtship.
Stevens Family: Frederick Augustus (father), Geoffrey, Rita, Gerald, Daisy Dora (mother) and Roy.
On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 my father trained and served as a part-time Air Raid Warden attached to the Wardens Post established at the Cigar Box shop in Chichester Road. In 1941 he was diagnosed as having a diseased kidney, he had to give up his Warden’s duties, but after recovering he continued working full-time for the Pearl, took on part-time Street Fire Guard duties covering Murina Avenue and any spare time was spent working on his allotment.
My brother Geoffrey who was serving in the Grenadier Guards was killed on 30th October 1944 while on active service in Italy. In 2002 my son Robin and I visited the War Cemetery at Castiglione and placed a poppy wreath on his grave. We also obtained a copy of the company’s war diary which recorded his death in a village called La Guercia from a German wooden box mine.
My father retired from work in 1948 on pension after 36 years service with the Pearl.
In 1955 his kidney trouble returned and he was admitted to Bognor Regis Hospital for surgery to remove the diseased kidney. He recovered from the operation and resumed his interest in the Orchestral Society as Conductor. On 25th February 1958 he died peacefully in his sleep at home and after a funeral service at South Bersted Church, he was buried in Hawthorn Road Cemetery, Bognor Regis.
My mother Daisy Dora Stevens (nee Sturt) was born on 27 July 1886 at Clayhill Cottages, Upper Warningcamp, nr. Arundel, Sussex, a daughter of Charles and Sarah Anne Sturt). She started school in 1892 at Warningcamp Village Elementary School.
She was apprenticed as a dressmaker with a large firm of Ladies Costumiers in Arundel. She recalled working on dresses for the Norfolk family at Arundel Castle, and seeing stonemasons restoring the Castle on her way to and from work. She moved at some time with her parents to one of a pair of cottages at Lower Warningcamp which were built by her grandfather James Sturt. She was of medium height with auburn hair and was a very attractive young woman. On 1st August 1912 she married Frederick Augustus Stevens, my father. During the First World War she received an allowance from the forces and also my father but supplemented her income by undertaking dressmaking for private customers.
She had a number of pet sayings including:-
“It doesn’t matter about your colour so long as your heart isn’t black”
“Blessed is he whose quiver is full” (About family)
“I am feeling leer” (hungry)
“Put on with red hot needle and burning thread” (About buttons coming off clothes)
After my father’s death she continued to live on her own at “Blakehurst” with occasional holidays with her children. After a slight heart attack she moved into a Private Rest Home which she enjoyed. After another heart attack she died in the early hours of her birthday the 27th July 1973. She was cremated and the ashes were buried in her husband’s grave.