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Childhood memories of the 1950s

Part of the childrens' playground in the 1930s
Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

My back garden

The Level was almost my back garden in the 1950s, living as I did in Prince’s Crescent. Prominent memories include bonfire nights, in an age when fireworks were cheap and ubiquitous and every local family went to The Level to let them off. They were usually accompanied by a huge bonfire built mostly out of old sofas collected by locals over the preceding week.

In the name of public safety

The magnificent boating pool, now almost completely filled in by the health and safety obsessives, was originally about eighteen inches deep, filled with opaque green water and extending under the two now high and dry footbridges. Tadpoles and newts lived in the pond in those days. And of course there was the equally ‘dangerous’ swings and slides, notably the ‘umbrella’ and the ‘swingboat’ whose massive, highly mobile ironworks could leave you with a fair-sized bruise (or worse) should they catch you unawares on the back of the head. They are all gone now, of course, in the name of public safety.

Where is the excitement now?

I well remember the annual takeover of the whole northern section by either Billy Smart’s or Chipperfield’s Circus. The gravelling-over in around 1962, of one quarter of the above to make an all-weather sports pitch, was much appreciated by teenaged lads for an evening kickabout. And of course the Park Keeper, a truly godlike, wrathful figure who periodically terrorised us small children into sensible behaviour. The Level is still a valuable green lung, but somehow the excitement is now largely missing. Or am I just getting old?

Comments about this page

  • These ponds bring back very happy times for me, I used to sail my boat on them whenever I could, and I fell in a few times trying to get it back, when the clockwork ran down and no wind to sail it back. It’s a shame they were filled in.

    By Donald Waller (29/10/2012)
  • The photo above is just as I remember the Level in the late ’40s and ’50s. I had no idea that the ponds were filled in. How sad.

    By Mick Peirson (31/10/2012)
  • The Level was my garden, living as I did in the now rebuilt Ashton Street. Bonfire nights were the highlight of my year as was the circus which I never went to as we did not have the money just after the war. I went every Sunday to hear the Salvation Army band which was quite good and walked beside them as they marched back to their hall. I remember a great mound in the park which I think was associated with the emergency water supply during the war.

    By Bob Munro (04/07/2013)
  • My childhood playground in the 50s. I lived at 1/2 Whitecross Street. My father was Don Waller of H A Waller & Sons, sheet metal workers. I remember falling off the ‘umbrella’ several times. I also remember Chipperfields Circus, my dad once made some lion stands for them!

    By Linda Horsburgh (17/09/2015)
  • Oh, what a memory I now have after seeing this picture! I had forgotten the green pond. I used to walk through the ‘flower’ path on my way to the bus for school at Margaret Hardy in the early 70s.

    By julia wickens (nee Morgan) (16/02/2016)
  • I was born at 50 Hanover Terrace in 1950 and went to the building technical school there from ’68 -’73 so I grew up going to the Level on an almost daily basis. I could write a book about the people and places in that area over the years! I have lived overseas for over 20 years now but whenever I return to Brighton I always re-live my youth and teens by revisiting that area, taking in the Level, Islingword Road and Queens Park. So many memories.  

    By Peter Paolella (11/11/2017)

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