Click here to go to the Ridgers.org.uk home page

 

In 1987 these were thoughts of NORAH;

 

"I was born at the bottom Of West Street in Brighton, December 1920, just a stones throw from the sea, and from this fact have always felt happier living by the sea, that partly being the reason I returned to the coast when I felt I had to make the effort to make a new life in 1980.

 

On reflection I realise that my sister and I had a very happy childhood. Not much income in the ‘20a and '30s but I helped my father with his allotment, that was on the west side of the hill over looking the County Hospital, thus starting my interest in the garden which has increased with having my own.  We always had plenty of fresh vegetables and in season, strawberries and gooseberries galore.  Our house up by the racehill, looked out to the sea in one direction and over to the end of the racecourse in the other, facing across a huge valley. On race days we would run home from school hoping to see the end of the last race from the garden, then out to the front of the house, to sit on the gate to watch the race goers pouring off the racehill. The double-decker buses would be full to capacity, but good number of people would be happy to walk.

 

On Saturday nights during the holiday season, there would be firework displays off the and of the Palace Pier and the high rockets we would be able to see from the garden, or the windows of the house.

 

The road going up to the racehill was a very wide road and in the evenings during the summer we were allowed out to play in the road.  We had whips and tops, how we could slosh our tops down that road, or we skipped or made a hopscotch plan.  No continual cars to interrupt our play, only an occasional bus, or during the school holidays we would meet the baker with his horse drawn cart.

 

In the summer on Sunday afternoons, tea would be packed and the beach would be our destination to meet Grandma, Granddad, aunts and uncles; most could swim and did; we really had a great time. Another summer treat was our Sunday school outings.  One year to Hassocks; one year to Burgess Hill.  I seem to remember it always raised on these days, but it was always very much enjoyed - and we had to save our spending money for this day to spend on the side shows.  But the highlight was the tea.  How ill some of the children were going home on the train in the late afternoon.

 

The junior school that I attended was Saint Luke’s Terrace, the only school in Brighton to have their own swimming baths. I worked very hard to get my first swimming certificate in order that I could go swimming during dinner times.  There was a long playing ground between the school and the baths and I can remember how we made a guard of honour in this playground for Amy Johnson to walk through the children when she came to see us, after her first solo flight.

 

At Christmas we would spend alternate holidays with Brighton grandparents and at Oxford, my father's home.  All my mother's family would come to our house, again Granddad, Grandma, aunts and uncles with married partners.  We slept three and four in a bed, for the couple of nights that was Christmas, no week long holiday.  We were allowed to drink port and lemon and to play cards with the adults until we fell asleep.  We sang songs, one of my Aunts played the piano and another had a lovely voice to lead the singing, all great fun.  But when we went to Oxford, we always hoped it would snow, as the weather was much colder there.  Oxford was summer hols for my sister and I.

 

In the '30s my father's brothers and friends from Oxford would visit Brighton for the August Bank Holiday race meeting, when the Bank Holiday the beginning of August.  Some came for the week, some for just the day, but it always meant a happy time for us to see them all; particularly when my sister and I hoped to return to Oxford to spend our school holidays with my Grandmother and Aunt.  But we could never be sure that we were going, One year, when I was twelve I developed scarlet fever and had to spend six weeks in isolation in the fever hospital. This hospital was quite a distance from where my Grandmother lived and the buses were few and far between.  No car to hop into; also it was a serious complaint when I was a child.  I can still remember how long it was without seeing my parents, only letters passing between us and how pleased I was to return to Brighton.

 

Earlier years than the above when my sister and I were very small, we were taken most years to the pantomime in the theatre at the end of the Palace Pier.  Late most Sunday afternoons in the winter we would walk down to see my maternal Grandparents.  We would have had our tea, but would find the table set in my Grandmother's house, with a plate of thinly cut bread and butter plus ;3. dish of winkles.  After a nod from my Grandmother we could climb up to the table and demolish what was left.  The winkles of course had been freshly bought from the fish man crying his wares in the street on Sunday morning.  Another thing we like to watch from this house was the lamp lighter going up the street with his wand to turn up the gas lamps.

 

September 3rd 1939, a Sunday, is imprinted in my mind, the day war was declared.  We were all waiting the announcement on the wireless. My Mum and Dad, sister and myself.  Not a word was said after the declaration, each moved in silence back to their previous chores, and wondered what the future would bring.

 

In October I joined the ATS  (Auxiliary Territorial Army). We had great fun and sometimes I feel guilty about this, but then I am forgetting the difficult times that we had the panics to get on duty during the air-raids, being away from home and not hearing from them, the cold night duties.

 

Syd proposed to me in a train corridor crammed with uniformed personnel.  I was returning to barracks in Wiltshire and he was travelling on to Plymouth. I very nearly got out at the wrong station in my excitement. A very dear Great Aunt gave me some of her clothing coupons in order that I should have enough to buy new clothes to be married.

 

We managed a weekends leave to be married and a month later we arranged another weekend and decided to spend that in Bath.  Neither of us knew the city.  We found a house that offered rooms.  It was gloomy outside and more gloomy inside.  The bed was a four poster with very dirty curtains around, the room itself was freezing.  No hot water, no hot drinks, "due to restrictions and rationing." The next morning we found the Police Station and enquired about somewhere to stay and a friendly policeman gave us an address which we discovered was his own home.  We had a most comfortable stay in Bath for the rest of that weekend and Bath always had a very special part in our lives.

 

When Colin was born in 1943 the battle of the desert in Egypt was in full swing and forces leave was not easy, so when Syd walked into the hospital to see us both that was one of my very happiest moments.

 

I knew that I should not be able to see my paternal grandmother very often, so I arranged for a visit to Oxford to stay from the Easter to Whitsun in 1943 in order that my Grandmother should see her great grandson grow for a few weeks.  Syd was also able to get leave from Ipswich at that time.  Later during the year I joined Syd in Ipswich and we lived in rooms, with most peculiar people, but always comfortable lodgings.  In one place I was told that I washed my baby's clothes too often and in another place we learned the husband was in prison.  We experienced ghastly air-raids in Ipswich, I was not sorry to leave there, except it was a minutes notice for Syd to leave and I was left with a small baby and goods gathered during our four months stay there, including a battery wireless and homemade jam.

 

It was a challenge to travel at that time, air-raids could keep a train held up indefinitely, your luggage would mysteriously vanish or be damaged.  I can recall Colin’s lovely Harris pram being damaged, and it took ages for the repair to be completed.

 

I lived with Mum Ridgers for two years when Colin was small, she helped me a great deal. We pooled our rations and she kept chickens.  All the family benefited from the chicken, which ended in the pot when her egg-laying days were over.

 

After Syd was discharged from the Navy with ill -health, he worked in Brighton for a while, but then decided that if he wanted a career in electronics he would have to go to London, and also study.  This had to be in the evenings, but through the lodgings he had in Hendon, he was offered a flat in Battersea and we moved into this very bare flat opposite Battersea Park, before the big round-about that is now there, or before the funfair went into the park.  I always think of the park as being Colin's play ground, for we went there every day for our walks, to feed the birds, also we went up to Chelsea Bridge to watch the boats go through.  At this time, 1946/47/48, the museums in Kensington were re-opening and we were regular visitors.

 

Then down to Somerset.  One day when I met Colin from school, his teacher -asked, "Where do you come from?  We have been trying to place Colin's way of speech." His mixture was Sussex, London, where he had been to school for two or so months, and then the children of Somerset.

 

My thoughts of Somerset are so happy.  I leant to ride a bike up in the Quantock Hills, before I could ride an auto-cycle.  These we decided to have, as transport was difficult, if we wanted to get around the county. We would take our petrol tin to buy half a gallon of petrol, with a squirt of oil added to it.  We travelled miles on those bikes, with Colin on the back, until he became too heavy to carry: and then our first car.  This was a Morris Minor,

 

<pix>Our first car

April 1949

 

 

which opened far wider horizons for travelling.  Syd made fishing rods for himself and Colin and hours were spent by the River Isle, on the edge of Sedgemoor, just sitting awaiting a bite; walking up the river, with only the cattle or birds to keep us company.  Perhaps an odd person to wave a hand, but no constant stream of cars -and no noise.

 

Wendy, with her Mum and Dad spent summer holidays with as, in our prefabricated bungalow in Taunton, and we would pack into that little car. We always had a picnic, rain or shine; we took a large

 

<pix> The Pre-fab

 

17 St George's

Avenue, Taunton

 

 

loaf, butter and filling, and a bread knife, no cut bread yet, also equipment for making the tea.  One day we forgot the kettle and another day we forgot the cups.

 

But one day we were out in the heart of the hills and the little laden car wouldn't keep going up the hill, "Everybody out", yells Roy, then off he went and the rest had to walk up the hill.  Roy had a serious illness and came down to us in Taunton to convalesce.

 

Mum Ridgers, with a very kind thought, sent us a chicken as a treat.  Unfortunately, it arrived when we were out - and it was a hot day.  we could smell the gift before opening it, so Syd and Roy took the parcel into the garden and made a bonfire and made sure all was well burnt.  We never did tell what happened to that bird.

 

Our second car in Taunton was a Raleigh three-wheeler. Syd went up to Bristol to buy this and came home very pleased with himself. The body was made of aluminium, with a 950cc motor bike engine.  Very easy to maintain, and to run, We travelled to Brighton seven times one year.  At Christmas we travelled over Salisbury Plain in the snow, keeping to the lorry ruts.  This journey was quite a feat, as there were no dual carriage ways or motor ways and it was an all day journey.

 

When detergents first came on to the market, Colin thought he would sample ours by washing the car, which was royal blue.  After a few minutes he wondered why there was a blue stream running down the gutter, and found the paint had been stripped off the car!

 

So to 1953 when Penny arrived.  When I was in the nursing home after her birth, Syd and Colin, with the help of my mother, moved house to Weymouth.  How I hated Weymouth with all that sand.

 

After we left Weymouth we were ready to buy our first house.  This was in 1954 and we went to live in Lower Kingswood, on the main road through to Sutton.  The house was quite large and cost us £2500.  Colin went to grammar school in Epsom; he had to travel by bus to and fro and walk over the race course-on race clays.  It was a small community there, and very happy.  I took my driving test in Sutton and it was no bother to get any of my friends to look after Penny whilst I went for a driving lesson.  Just before the test Syd had been experimenting with a glass phial in water, and unfortunately it blew up, badly cutting his finger, and spurting blood al- down the front of a newly made yellow pullover. We made a mad dash to the emergency hospital in Reigate, leaving Colin in charge of Penny.  The hospital kept Syd to stitch his fingers and I was told to go home to see the situation there; "But what about my L plates?" I cried. "Take ‘em off and drive carefully" I was told.  So this I did, and I can remember going up Reigate Hill and praying all the way, "Please don't let me hit anything!".  Colin had coped of course, and had a cup of tea ready for me.  My driving test was about a week after this incident, and I passed with a caution from the examiner to approach cross roads with a little less speed.

 

Our next move was to Kent, but I remember this only recalling disaster.  Penny had measles when we moved, it turned out to be a very hot summer and both Syd and Penny were very poorly all the time that we were there. So we returned to Sussex and had a house in Worthing.

 

Colin decided to join the Royal Marines and I can remember so clearly the morning he left the house about 7.30 to catch the train to Deal to start his training; and how like a lean Indian he looked when he returned from his first foreign trip. Then we had the excitement of Colin and Heather getting married and the birth of our first grandson.

 

How we enjoyed listening to Penny playing the piano, for we had no television or car during our stay in Worthing.  We walked a great deal and read a great deal.  I tend to forget the panic when Colin crawled home from school feeling very ill; this turned out to be acute appendicitis.  Then the time he had a deep ear infection and was completely deaf for a while, and the operation that was necessary for him when he had just completed his Marines training. No ordinary illnesses for Colin.  Penny had her share too, apart from the ordinary children's ailments she had a deep kidney infection that the doctor just could not get hold of, and we sat and watched her all night to see the change take place - or it was the hospital next day.

 

We decided to leave the coast due to health reasons and went into Surrey, finding a nice big house that was a very happy house for us. Penny went to the grammar school in Godalming, and I found several interests in the town and so did -Syd.  We found a joint interest in industrial archaeology, attending the lectures in Surrey University.  Most interesting to hear about the development of Croydon aerodrome, where all the famous flyers would put down at one time or another; the railways and roads; about the charcoal burners in Sussex forests; how the development of the canals came to a halt once the railways really took on.

 

Penny finished her ‘A’ level study and made preparations for University, deciding to study languages. One year had to be spent in Europe. We took her up to Victoria to join her travelling friends, and that was goodbye to Penny and her life at home.  But we had two super holidays in Europe; first in the South of France to celebrate Penny's 21st birthday.  Our car was a VW caravette at the time so we just packed everything and away.  Then in the spring we met up with Penny in Germany where she completed her study, and had a fine time during that year.  What interesting letters we received from her.  I can remember when she travelled from the South of France, up into the centre of Germany - and no letter for a week.  I imagined all sorts of things happening, but the letter arrived telling us all about the journey.

 

We had some lovely holidays in the caravette; Scotland, Ireland, Norway and the Scandinavian countries.  I remember them with great joy, and no real difficulties.

 

But the time came to change our holiday style, also the car.  I missed the VW - it was fun to drive, so much could be seen from the front seat.  So we decided to go self-catering, and found some really exciting places.  A flat in an old smugglers inn on the River Teign.

 

Lovely cottages very near the edge of Dartmoor.  Also in the north in Yorkshire, we had a modernised farmworker's   cottage with every mod con, even stone walls 13" thick.  Our centre was Scarborough; this was the last holiday that Syd and I had together, and it was just fine.

 

With retirement just around the corner, we began to make plans.  Syd being a Design Engineer he was never short of ideas, but it was not to be. With great support from my family and friends, I decided to make a new life back in Sussex.  I just could not face life in Guildford by myself, looking out to an empty garden, or from the garden looking into an empty house, no music being played on the organ in the evening, and nobody under the car on the front path.

 

Yes, back to the sea.

 

And so when I go into Brighton and notice all the rebuilding, I recall the cinemas, how my friend and I would queue for an hour to get into the cinema to see our favourite film star and pay 6d or 1/- for our seat. I can think of twelve cinemas in Brighton, plus the Hippodrome. The performers that came there were the greats.           All the big band leaders - Harry Roy, Jack Paine, Geraldo, Roy Fox; then there was Charlie Kunz and Gracie Fields.  When the theatre at the top of North Street was opened by Tom Walls and his partner, my office was over the Regent Cinema next door, and my colleagues and I nearly fell out of the window watching the people arrive.

 

How sad we felt to learn that a marina was to be built at Black Rock.   This was the walk of so many courting hours. But we visited the area on each visit to Brighton, to watch the developments and to realise what an asset it could be to the area.  Now I have to concentrate to remember what it was really like originally with the swimming pool and the paddling pool and far back when the old houses were on the cliff edge, before they were demolished.

 

In 1985 Penny and Martyn were married in London.  What enjoyment I had in helping with the operations for this wedding, and now, in 1987 I am looking forward to the birth of their first child, to see this child grow, together with watching my three other grandsons, grow to maturity.