Memories of a Patcham Childhood.

Ladies Mile construction c1930
My Brighton & Hove
Old London Road c1960
The James Gray collection
The view across the main A23 London Road
James Gray collection

I was born in Buckingham Place Nursing Home (not Palace!) on 27th April 1938. My parents – Ebenezer Charles (Charlie) and Celia Mary Caroline Snelling came from Brighton (dad) and Balham South London (mum) respectively. Snelling is a fairly common name in Brighton and oddly in Norfolk where we now live. My 1st home was in a 1935-built semi in Mayfield Crescent South Patcham which Joined Wilmington Way with Braybon Avenue which the old Bristol buses on route 35 used to almost stall when “changing down” into 1st gear to climb that very steep ascent.

Father was enlisted into the ARP

During wartime, my Father (who was a plumber by trade}, was enlisted into the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) and, should there be a siren sound, would have to get up and go on patrol, hoping that no bombs would land locally. My first memory of that time was being held in my Mother’s arms and looking out of our upstairs front bay window, listening to the throbbing sound of a “Doodlebug” as it headed North over the South Downs. The nearest we ever came to being bombed, was when a German Landmine dropped on the Northern end of our street at the junction with Wilmington Way. Talking of which, the No35 bus used to terminate on that road. I think the route was later renumbered to 19. Eventually, and after the new Hollingbury Estate was started c 1946, it became a trolley bus service given route 46 into and 26 out of Hollingbury via Ditchling Road into Brighton Old Steine.

The new factory estate

I recall when the Hollingbury estate was started, German POWs were used for road construction. They were obliged to wear a black circular patch on their jackets. Some were very talented and would make slippers out of string to make a bit of money, Where they were stationed, I never discovered. Later, the new factory estate was built beyond the Hollingbury Estate towards Ditchling Road and Stanmer Woods where we later used to pick blackberries. C 1943 I started school at Warmdean Road infants which were at the Northern end of the School complex and adjacent to Ladies Mile Road. This was a lengthy road, starting at the junction with the Old London Road and climbing up to Highview Avenues – North and South, passing the allotments on the right and descending to the junction with Winfield Road, then climbing again up until it petered out unfinished on Downland,

Twitten unique to the area

I think the Headmistress of the Infants School then was Miss Honeysett. I progressed to Junior’s next door at c 9 years old. during this period The Juniors became overcrowded and an “overflow” was set up in the original Patcham School in The Old London Road. This school was later used No 225 Squadron, Air Training Corps and after that, I have no idea. Getting from my home in Mayfield Crescent to the Old London Road involved me using “Twittens”, A term that appears to be unique to the local area. For me, I would take a twitten down to Church Close, cut across the wasteland where the RC church now stands.

Walking to school

I would Cross Carden Avenue into Warmdene Road then another twitten down to Winfield Road – Cross and take another up to Highview Avenue North where Just one cottage stood, then down the rough unsurfaced path to the “Ups and Downs” then (Virtually opposite the Coop), left into Old London Road where the school stood on the right between the Old London Road and the London Road by-pass.

Train spotting steam trains

With a school friend, I used to go train-spotting just north of the Old Portsmouth Rd and the railway tunnel, there was still steam in those days and I had my “Ian Allen Locospotter’s Book” to underline the train numbers (There was still steam in those days) Just to the South of our spotter’s paradise stood a small “Tea Garden”. Then a bit further on the junction with The London Road where the “Robin Hood” garage stood. To the right was a park (still there) and at the far end Patcham Place. The last time I Was there it had become a “Youth Hostel”.
If one crosses the London Road, there stands The Black Lion Hotel and in front the fountain and horse trough.

A Victorian Dovecot opposite the church

Both my parents are buried in the All Saints Churchyard almost at the top of Church Hill where there are a row of very old cottages and a Dovecot opposite the church which I read has been stripped of its Victorian plater, revealing the beautiful flint-work underneath. Sadly, the pond is no longer there below the churchyard wall, where my parent’s grave stands behind. Nearby another grave for my Godparents Mr and Mrs Baird and on the lower side was the Grave of “Charlie” the sexton who dug many of the graves All Saints was where I was Christened, as The Church (Hall) of Christ The King was not yet built at the North end of Braybon Avenue. The first Vicar there that I remember was the Rev Alan Shrimpton followed by the Rev Ridge. During his occupancy, a Vicarage was built at the top of Church Close?, where there was a plot of wasteland and the road became a footpath crossing Mayfield Crescent then Greenfield Crescent up to a parade of shops.

1960 I joined the RAF Music Services

My Father played the Bass (G) Trombone and was a member of the Patcham Band which I am told still exists in a hall on Mackie Avenue. He also played with Territorial Army Band. Having learned the Piano from age 5, I also joined the Band, learning to play the Baritone which later served me well when in 1960 I joined the RAF Music Services playing the Tuba (a big baritone!) and then the Double Bass and The Bass Guitar, but that is another story.

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