More West Malling Memories
By Phyllis E.Stevens
Once again I am putting pen to paper about people, buildings and my life in West Malling. I have been sent some old photographs and memories by Merralls Martin, the eldest son of dear old Joe Martin (Ernest Joseph Martin) who went to school with my father Arthur Emmerson at Southborough near Tunbridge Wells and later settled in West Malling opening the first Cabin sweetshop at the bottom of the High Street, next to Martens the fishmongers which was near the Bull Public House. My brother Ernest and I would go to The Cabin every Saturday to spend some of our pocket money, four pennies for sweets and two pennies to save for birthday and Christmas presents. We often had a penny ice cream which Joe made in an old fashioned bucket which had ice in it and a handle to turn. Joe Martin was married with three sons and always seemed a happy man and Merralls describes him as a joy to live with.
Merralls remembers going to Miss Buttericks school at the top of the High Street and one of the teachers named Molly Weller who was the daughter of Mr Weller the clocksmith/jeweller who had a little pony and trap which he used to collect and deliver clocks and watches and visit the larger houses to wind their clocks. Merralls was born at the “little” Cabin at the foot of the High Street in a room in the roof which was part of next door, Martens the fishmongers. The room had no door or window and was painted blue and was grandly referred to by his parents as The Blue Room. There was just room for a double bed in it with a crib for the baby. A little landing outside the opening from the room led down into their house. They rented the “little” Cabin which was later sold and pulled down so the Westminster Bank could be enlarged. He also remembers a Miss Hughes, one of the teachers at the Church School at the top of Church Fields, trying to teach him how to play the piano but in the end she said she could not take the shilling for his lessons as he would never be able to play a musical instrument. Miss Hughes lived in one of the row of cottages at the foot of Banky Meadows on the London Road. The little stream from Banky Meadows ran past her cottage and when he was sitting in her front room playing the piano, he could hear the steam bubbling past the cottages. He later went to the Boys School near the Bull Bridge. The headmaster was Mr Bill Moore who lived at Teston and cycled to Malling every day.
Joe Martin bought the watch repairers shop that belonged to Eustace Hoad and altered it considerably into a much larger shop , again calling it The Cabin. When we were teenagers we would go in for a drink of lemonade and to talk with the lads from the Leybourne Cricket Team. My brother Ern was a member of this cricket team. Joe died in 1945 and was very much missed.
I remember Christmas Eve in the town when people would do their last minute shopping. The shops were brightly lit and the light shone out onto the pavement. The local brass band played carols and Christmas music and during the evening the Church Choir carried a small organ and wearing their cassocks and surplices sang carols. The Mummers dressed in old clothes and caps and with soot on their faces would go from shop to shop reciting small rhymes and holding out a tin for a donation. The only rhyme I can remember is:-
“Here comes I little Jimmy the sweep
All the monies I earns I keeps
All the bread and cheese I rolls up my sleeve
Ladies and Gentlemen
Give me what you please”
I remember my father going into Mr Harrington’s shop to buy some sherry glasses for Christmas and having picked out some nice ones, he asked their price. Mr Harrington said they could not be sold but that he could lend them. My father protested but Mr Harrington would not be moved. He wrapped them up and gave them to my father. I think it is possible that Mr Harrington had been celebrating the season too much and no doubt my father paid for the glasses later.
My father always gave Miss Funnel a Christmas Tree for the Infants School every year and she would collect donations to enable her to buy each child a small present which was put on the tree.
Another annual celebration was Empire Day on the 24th May. We were given a half day off school. In the morning we went into school and went in a crocodile line to the High Street where the buses turned round before going on their way to Chatham, Maidstone and Wrotham. The vicar would give a talk and then Arthur Jolly, one of the best male singers in the Choir would sing “Land of Hope and Glory”. We then all trooped back to school where we were given a boiled sweet and sent home.
On 19th July 1919 the whole town celebrated the end of the 1914-18 war. Twelve children were dressed as red, white and blue flowers, Irene Pickup and I were dressed as lilies. My brother was dressed as a fisherboy carrying a net with a large fish it. The day was hot and caused the fish to smell strongly and it was later thrown away. The older children danced round the Maypole.
About 11th November, on Armistice Sunday, there was always a gathering at the War Memorial which is on the edge of the road near the church. A band played and marched from Station Road to the Church followed by the veterans. The Vicar held a service with the choir and a trumpeter would sound the “Last Post”.
In my previous article about the shops and houses in the High Street I missed out two houses which I will describe here. On the west side towards the church was a house called Wisteria House where Dr John Vincent Bates lived. I remember him living there when I was about four years old and was still there in 1947. His wife would drive him around in his car to all his patients. Just above his house in the roadway was the old Town Pump. This was its original position but during the Second World War it was hit by a lorry driven by men serving in the Royal Engineers. It was repaired and replaced on the pavement
On the same side of the road was a rather nice house in which lived Mr and Mrs Leonard Robinson and their daughter Vivienne nicknamed Bunty with whom I played when we were young. Close to this house was a shop which sold radios, it was a garage originally but on the shutter door was printed the advertisement “Pennell Bros have gone home to their Philco”.
There were a lot of games played in West Malling. Cricket in the summer, football and hockey in winter, badminton in the Badminton Hall and tennis on the courts in the cricket meadow.
Now some memories of the Manor House where my grandfather and father were head gardeners. Mr Henry Wood who owned the Manor died in 1916 and it was sold to the Trustees of Frederick Andrew a solicitor of Lincoln who left enough money to buy a Convalescent Home for ladies striving to earn their own living. It was opened in 1921. I remember my brother and myself sitting on the bank halfway up the drive under the large horse chestnut tree a few days before the house was opened, making herring bones with the leaves . My father, Arthur Emmerson, took over as Head Gardener in 1924 after my grandfather Philip Emmerson moved to Shropshire to be Head Gardener at Meeson Hall in Wellington.
The matron was a Miss Russell and there were eight maids. Dr Genney was the Chairman and the rest of the Trustees were Lincolnshire gentlemen. The secretary was Mr T. Friswell and they lived in the stable area. We lived in the Lodge where we were very happy in spite of me getting diphtheria. Two other children in the town also caught it and one little boy died. The Lodge was thoroughly cleaned and the drains were tested but where I picked it up was never discovered. I was taken to East Malling Isolation Hospital and my parents and grandfather would come and see me through the window. I was taken there in a horse drawn ambulance but returned home in a taxi with the Matron. I had been given a wax doll and was very upset because I had to leave it at the Isolation Hospital as it could not be baked in the oven to sterilise it. At the Lodge we were pestered by mosquitoes coming off the lake in the summer and in the mornings my eyelids were so badly bitten I could not open my eyes. I remember my mother going round at night with a rolled up newspaper trying to kill them. I was very happy at school and I could get home by going through the private gate from the churchyard into the Manor grounds. My father would open it for me as I was too small to reach through the bars at the top to open it.
Miss Russell, the matron, left and Mrs Paul took over. It was a great change because she had a family of one girl, Doreen, and two boys, Douglas and Gordon. The two boys were very fond of my parents and were with us a lot when they were home from boarding school. Their father, Rupert Paul, worked in London and came down at weekends when we would sit outside in the summer and he would entertain us with stories he had made up about a character called Toddy. Mrs Paul would arrange musical evenings which were held in the Music Room on Saturdays in the winter. Christmas was celebrated with a large Christmas tree in the Hall or Conservatory and I remember my brother Ernest, Tom Smith (the coachman’s son) and myself singing Good King Wenceslas”. My brother was the King, Tom was the poor man and I was the page. The audience were the patients and some of the local shop owners. In the summer the musical evenings were held under the beech tree on the lawn. A piano was put on a support so Mrs Paul did not get her feet wet.
We later moved into the stable block which was called The Larches and the Smith family lived next door. The Smith children were Walter, Tom, Marjorie and Harold. Their father was the coachman and he looked after Jack the horse who drew the wagon, carriage and dog carts. He would meet the patients at the station with the carriage and drove them through the town to the Manor. In good weather Jack was put in the park and we were delighted to be given a ride on his back. We would often play in the stables on wet days. There were six stalls for horses and this gave us plenty of room to push each other up and down in a large wheelchair which was kept there. We also played theatres in the coach house and harness room and our parents and the Paul children would come to see our productions. We also played Tip and Run outside the coach house door, clock golf, cowboys and indians on the rocks by the back drive gate, wooden hoops for the girls and metal ones for the boys with a hook to make them go and we children found a way to get into the boathouse on the lake without unlocking the door.
The local Conservative Party started a society for children called The Young Britons. My brother was secretary and I was on the committee. We all paid sixpence and were made members after we had stood under the Union Jack flag and repeated a promise. We had talks and games, the girls were taught to knit and crochet and I remember winning a competition, the prize being a book about Captain Cook. The older teenagers were called The Junior Imperial League.
Gordon Paul had a crystal set in one of the bedrooms at the top of the Manor House and we would listen to a man saying 2LO, Handley Page calling, a man or lady singing and Croydon airport calling. Later Gordon made us a wireless set on top of an upside down box, it had two pairs of earphones attached so my parents, my brother and I could have one earphone each. On top of the box were two valves and on the side two coils. There were also an accumulator and a dry battery. We took out our first Radio Licence on 29th February 1924. We always enjoyed listening to Childrens Hour when Uncle Peter would tell children where they could find their birthday presents. Later we listened to Jack Payne and Henry Hall’s Band and my parents enjoyed The Savoy Orpheus Orchestra which played late at night.
After Mrs Paul left the Manor before the war, Miss Townsend took over as Matron with an assistant Mrs Lyne who carried on after Miss Townsend retired. The running of the house changed, Jack the horse went and a car with a chauffer was bought.
12th May 1937 was Coronation Day for George VI and we had great celebrations in the Town. People dressed up and there was a parade including the Gardeners Society and this finished in the cricket meadow where there was a fair and children racing for prizes. There was a fancy dress competition and Freda Barton’s granddaughter Jean won first prize with my old doll and pram.
Merralls Martin told me an interesting story from the second world war about the German planes which on their way back from bombing London, started shooting at the people picking hops. The farmers stopped this by cutting the hop bines and distributing them to the local people’s homes in the morning so they could pick the hops off the bines in their own gardens.
Wartime was not very good for us as we were so close to the aerodrome and the Manor House was turned into an Officers Mess. In the cellar, the RAF officers made a bar room and they called it “Twitch Inn”. They called it this because their nerves before flying gave them a twitch. They got into the cellar from a stairway which was underneath a wooden serving bench outside the dining room door. My father was still in charge of the estate, park and lake and the officers were not allowed into the gardens or grounds, a rule which was often broken. We also had evacuees in the town and my father came home one day after helping distribute them among local families, with two sisters from London. They soon settled with us and stayed until Christine, the eldest one, was awarded a scholarship to a Grammar School in Canterbury. It was surprising that we had evacuees in the town as we were bombarded with Doodle bugs and rockets. There were two big guns in the park and the German planes tried to destroy them.
My father continued working in the Manor grounds during the war. Four of his men were called up so he had to manage with a retired helper, Freda Barton’s son Lesley and a land army girl, Dorothy Baker, daughter of the postman. There was a lot to do keeping the place running and this included keeping hives of bees. In the summer the bees swarmed out of the hives with a new Queen bee. My father would find the swarms which had to be smoked and knocked into a skip, often up a ladder as they had settled in a tree, and transfer them to a hive. The honey from the hives, fruit, vegetables and salad were sold by the shops in the town. In the winter my father was allowed an extra ration of sugar to make a syrup to feed the bees. He was also a Special Constable and went out on patrol at night.
Merralls Martin remembers when Wickens Row, next to The Salt Box, was bombed during the War and the wife and little daughters of Sgt Driver were killed. The body of the baby girl was found the next morning on the manure heap in Schofield’s yard by the ARP who Merralls and his friend “Bishop” Pope were helping. After Wickens Row there was a sweet shop run by Mr Wingate who later moved to the Five Pointed Star. Merralls father Joe Martin was wearing his one and only suit one night to a function. Returning home he got to Smiths corner shop at the top of Swan Street when a bomb came down. He told his wife where he had been and she said she expected he would have got down on the ground with all the sharp pieces of glass flying around from the shattered shop front. Joe had to admit that he had stayed on his feet because he had got his suit on.
I would like to thank Merralls for his memories and photographs of West Malling which is the place I have always loved although it has changed a lot over the years, the Manor estate being developed, different shops, the Farmers Market, Public Houses changing their names and the gardens at the back of the shops made into a car park. I hope our memories will give a picture of how it used to be.