Air raid shelters and evacuation

Image shows Eileen with her fellow-evacuees from Brighton in Yorkshire
Photo from private collection of Eileen Franchi

“I had just had my 7th Birthday when war was declared in September 1939 and was attending St. Mary’s C of E School in Mount Street, Brighton. I don’t remember a great deal about lessons, (other than we had to attend St. Mary’s Church opposite my home on Thursday mornings), because we had to spend more and more time in the air raid shelter which was in some caverns beneath the Rock Brewery at the bottom of the road.

A strange place to shelter children
What a strange place to shelter children, all those glass bottles and beer!! It was quite an exciting adventure, though I think we felt a little apprehensive. It appeared vast and ‘cavernous’ – sorry no other word for it. We had to pass bottling machinery down some stone steps (I think they were cut into the rockface, but can’t be sure about that.) It was quite cold and there was a strange smell – the beer of course – and clanking of the bottles. I can’t remember what we did while there, but imagine the teachers found us something to do with lessons until the ‘all clear’ sounded and we all returned in ‘crocodile’ to school once again. When the Brewery was demolished the caverns were re-discovered.

Our shelter in the basement
My own home in St. James’s St. opposite St. Mary’s Church had its own approved shelter. We had a basement and the staircase down to it was reinforced with heavy timber framework. We all sat on the wooden stairs when the siren sounded, even in the middle of night. The other local shelter was on the opposite corner of St. James’s St and Upper Rock Gardens where the basement of the Off Licence on the corner had been turned into one for the general public.

Brighton – a dangerous place to be
It was decided that Brighton was a rather dangerous place to be because the German planes were dropping bombs on the way to and from London, and flying in low over the sea and firing into the streets. I remember watching ‘dogfights’ high up in the sky between the Spitfires and the German planes on the way home. A bomb dropped at the top of Upper Rock Gardens when a little friend of mine was badly injured and also on the Odeon Cinema in Kemptown on Saturday 14th September 1940 when fifty-five people were killed. The beach had been mined and was full of barbed wire to keep people off.

Tearful evacuations
So parents were given the chance to send their children to a safer place and I became an evacuee with a group from our school and others who were shunted off by steam train with our labels and gasmasks and a change of clothing. Some were very tearful, but to me it was just another home and a great adventure as it turned out. We arrived at our destination, which turned out to be Harrogate, in the dark, where we spent the night in ‘dormitories’ in a large Hotel which had been commandeered to receive us. Next day were were bussed to our final destinations..

Eileen goes on to describe her vivid memories of staying on a Yorkshire farm as an evacuee. Visit her website for the full story.

……In August, 1943, I returned to Brighton to attend Varndean Grammar School for Girls and the last years of wartime and rationing and the final break-up of my Newman family. Things were never the same again.”

Comments about this page

  • I was interested in Eileen Franchi’s story and I have added mine. Maybe someone has one similar? My cousin John Knight then living in Belgrave Street was injured by bombs that fell on Albion Hill, during the day of 24th Sept 1940. (As in his book A HAPORTH OF SWEETS). I was evacuated to Grange Moor about 5 miles from Huddersfield in 1942 aged 10,at that time named Roy Cole,I was later adopted and I am still living in the same area. Also in 1941 I had spent a few months evacuated to Edenthorpe, Doncaster,from St Nicholas School Shoreham by Sea. Are there any others evacuated from the same school?

    By Roy Townend (16/07/2004)
  • I am Brighton born and bred and it was nice to come across someone who remembers this school. I attended the same school in the three years up to its demolition in 1977. There don’t seem to be many around who even know there was once a school on the site of what I believe is now sheltered housing. I enjoyed every moment at that school and, although it was exciting, was saddened to move from it to the new site at Queens Park.

    By Rebecca Watson (14/10/2004)
  • St Mary’s C of E, I loved this dear old school and remember it quite well from memory. I was sadened when it had to be demolished and had to go to the newer Queens Park School. I have always had attachments with older buildings and St.Mary’s felt like home even though it was school. I really wish there were more photos to be found on this school or anything regarding it, when I search online the only info seems to be on “My Brighton and Hove” site. If anyone has any photos of the St. Mary’s School or any history of it I would love to be able to see pictures and read about it. I, like Rebecca, am a Brightonian born and bred but I now live in Canada. I attended St Mary’s with Rebecca and I share her sentiments about it. Thank you Eileen and Rebecca for sharing your stories on the school we loved.

    By Fiona Coleman (nee McKechnie) (20/02/2006)
  • I used to live in Lavender Street, near St Mary’s and I was at the school from 1947 to 1951. It was a great place to be. The head’s name was Mr Cooper and I was lucky enough to pass for Varndean. The thing that stuck in mind was the monthly visits to Ogden’s Bakery just behind the school. We did the tour and came out with cakes and mini loaves of Hovis bread. Another memory was games day; we had to walk all the way to East Brighton Park to play football. After the session, we all made our own way home. Could you imagine doing that today? My best friend was John Bruce. His dad was caretaker of St Mary’s Hall [a different school]. Incidentally, the school was in Mount Street, not St James Street.

    By Harry Atkins (19/04/2006)
  • Has any one out there got any school photos for 1947-51?

    By Harry Atkins (24/04/2006)
  • I used to live in Hereford St (there was a gas mantle factory on the corner) off Lavender St and was at St Mary’s School in Mount St from 1951 to 1955. The teachers each academic year were Miss M J Wilkins, Mr De Bourne, Miss N E Pace and Mr A A Gardener, with Mr G H Cooper as Head throughout (I still have my old school reports). I left in 1955 for Varndean but do not recall Harry Atkins although I might have come across some of his contempories as I played chess for Varndean from quite an early age and mixed with much older pupils. I do remember reading a lesson on Ascension Day in St Mary’s Church and then we had the rest of the day off.  I remember playing football at East Brighton but by then we went by bus. But I never got to go to the bakery!  I was in the choir at All Souls Church in Eastern Road, now demolished, and was friends with a lad called John Brookshaw whose father was caretaker of All Souls School in nearby Essex St. There was a bomb site between the council flat where I lived and All Souls School.  I have a photograph of the presentation of coronation mugs in St Mary’s playground. Bomb shelters did not exist at the school in my time although they were in the playground at Queens Park Infants School (Head Miss Dearing) where I attended before St Mary’s.  It is nice to see favourable comments about the old school which for me was a good one. I enjoyed it there and did well, thanks to some good teaching practices. I am a school governor now and some of the learning methods of St Mary’s would do well today.  My career with the Inland Revenue took me away from Brighton and I now live in Kent but we visit the old town quite frequently as we have connections there. I once visited someone near to Mount St in the line of my tax duty and he had renewed some of his house windows with ones taken from the old school which I found rather sad.  There are some entries for the school on Friends Reunited but nothing by way of photographs. I do not ever recall any school photographs being taken although I do have a couple from the Infants School.

    By Dennis Parrett (29/01/2007)
  • I am doing a GCSE IT presentation on Whitehawk and its history. As a young girl I went to St. Lukes Primary School. I know the school celebrated its 100th years a couple of years ago but I was wondering if anyone had any more information about it and its past life? Please, if you have any infomation that could help me, leave a message.

    By Susan Stead (19/02/2007)
  • I lived in Park Street, and was evacuated, along with my brother to my Aunt’s home in Aylesbury until 1945. On my return, at the age of eight, I attended St.Marys School & spent three happy years there. One of my fondest memories is of the races we used to have, which were held in Mount St!  Fortunately there was very little traffic in those days!

    By Mike Broomfield (11/03/2007)
  • I too went to St Mary’s School. I think I passed the Eleven Plus at the same time as Harry Atkins? We used to have extra lessons with Mr Cooper. There were five of us who passed for Varndean that year. I also remember Miss Wilkins who was a lovely kind lady, my favourite teacher there apart from Mr Cooper. I can honestly say I was happy to go to school in those days!

    By Wendy Read (nee Broomfield) (29/03/2007)
  • In about 1943 (I was about 7) I met Michael Moscrop in Queens Park and he told me how nice St. Marys was and so the next day I went to the school and sat down in a classroom with Michael much to the surprise of the teacher who didn’t know who I was of course. I was accepted and a few years later passed my 11+ and went to Varndean. I loved St. Marys, learnt to swim at St. Lukes school pool and loved my teacher, Miss Watts.

    By Peter Oakley (17/06/2007)
  • I remember Mr Gardener when he was a teacher at St Margaret’s School.  When we heard he was leaving to go to St Mary’s, the whole schol took a collection to buy him a leaving present.  I remember him as being very firm but very fair.

    By John Wignall (12/08/2007)
  • Hi Wendy, I remember you very well. You and your friend Mavis Thompson used to live in Tillstone Street, I think. I used to have a crush on Celia Hewerdene, do you remember her? Also John Rowdon and Geoffrey Mann lived in your street. Believe it or not, we were qiute good friends.  My email is if you email, we could swap a few memories.

    By Harry (Hyman) Atkins (10/10/2007)
  • It is lovely to read all the comments from past pupils. I was very amused by Harry Atkins comment about the visit to the bakery! It jogged my memory and I remember very well how the lads used to climb over the wall into the bakery which was out of bounds and on at least one occassion were caught red handed and given a caning by Mr Cooper on the stage in the hall in front of the whole school as a warning! This was pre- 1941. I agree that it is such a shame that there appears to be no photos of the old school.

    By Eileen Franchi (nee Northeast) (03/11/2007)
  • I attended St Mary’s from (I think) 1950 until 1953. We lived in Bristol Road, near the City of Hereford pub. My step-brother was Terence Morgan who lived in Wyndham Street for a while. I was in the choir at St Mary’s Church and was also in the old 37th Brighton Scouts. The Scoutmaster was called Nimrod Rewell, and I think he committed suicide in the mid Fifties. I well remember the death of George VI and the coronation whilst at St Mary’s. I somehow passed the 11-plus and went to Fawcett Grammar Stream and then on to Westlain when it first opened. Although I left Brighton in 1964 my family all still live there, in Kemp Town and Peachehaven. Would love to hear from anyone with similar memories. Anyone of my age would now probably be retired as I did this year.

    By Paul Morgan (12/11/2007)
  • Hi Paul, I do remember you and your sister. I was a year younger than you but had gone up a year with Bob Ducharme, Pauline Robinson and Marion Tipple and was in Mr Gardner’s class for two consecutive years. You were certainly with me for the first of those years and you went off to Fawcett but possibly you would not recall me as I was  younger. I recall you saying to me that Terence was your stepbrother. You were of the same year as people like John Weatherell, John Wills, Michael Croucher, Edgar Hughes and others. (John Wills Bob Ducharme and I ended up at Varndean.) I used to go to watch Brighton play football at the Goldstone with Edgar. I think you ended up at Westlain; a friend of mine, Alan Brown who is a year older than me as well, remembers you. He has an old school photo with you in it. I visit Brighton a lot but I am now living in Kent. They were happy days.

    By Dennis Parrett (13/11/2007)
  • Hi Paul Morgan, I saw your notes and wondered if you remember me. We went to Westlain together (and Fawcett). Good to know you are still around. We were about the same size – small – but I remember you as a great goalkeeper. I went to the Westlain 50 year re-union recently with Ken Arthur. There were a few names there you will remember: teachers Miss Thicke (Art), Mr Adkins age 99, Mr Gloyne 90 and the girls PE teacher? The lads were Graham Penfold, Harry Lawrence, Keith Willis, John Francis. My friend Dennis Parrett found your note, he went to St Marys with you for one year. Sorry to hear about your step brother recently.

    By Alan Brown (14/11/2007)
  • Alan Brown – thanks for your reply. I saw the old panoramic photograph on the Westlain website and tried (without success) to upload a couple of photos of the school cricket and football teams. I wish I had known about the reunion, I remember all the names you mentioned. If you hear of anything or anyone of interest, please let me know. My email address is I now live in rural Oxfordshire with my wife of 36 years, have 2 children and 2 grandchildren. Did I hear you have an accountancy practice? Regards

    By Paul Morgan (30/11/2007)
  • I attended St Mary’s School prior to it being demolished and I remember helping Mr Gardener when he was moving to the newly refurbished school. I live in Dorset now, but I would very much like to speak to any of my old class mates or see any photos of this school.My email address is

    By Neville Chambers (23/01/2008)
  • I think I’m the tall one at the back of the photo on the front page! I was born in 1931 and evacuated to Burton Leonard in Yorkshire from St Mary’s. Went from thence to Holmfirth near Huddersfield and back to Brighton to Varndean. Finding this site has been/is a wonderful experience. We lived in “The Ranelagh Arms” in High Street where I was born.

    By Dorothy Green Nee Stevens. (11/03/2008)
  • It was good to see St Mary’s remembered at last. I was there in the 1970s and feared Mr A A Gardener with a vengeance although I do remember he smelt nice? I lived in Upper Bedford Street. My Mum (nee Helen Emery) has only just moved to sheltered housing in Somerset Street so I still visit the area. I have to admit I still have dreams about that old place and do wish I could get hold of some photographs.   I remember Jason Leach, June Miles, Claire Catter?, Tracey Baker, Ratna Zuha, the Longstreaths, the Cousins, the Burbages, the Corrs and the Offords.  And summer holidays with the whole of the neighbourhood playing cricket down Hereford Street.  It is a trip down memory lane for me – but these were the most happiest days of my life.

    By Sally De-Bargeton (nee Watkins) (21/03/2008)
  • I was also at St Marys in the 70’s. I remember all the people mentioned by Sally especially Ratna (I used to be best friends with her brother Raj) and John Longstreet, teachers Mrs Hoile (she used to ride a bike to school), Mr Patterson (friend of Steve Ovett as I remember) and of course Mr Gardener who was the head teacher when I attended. The small boy’s playground at the top, the girls playground in the middle, and the big boy’s playground at the bottom, I wonder why they kept the big boys from the small ones?…….oh yeah I remember bundles! I remember the painting of the playground and when the school was 100 years old we had to come dressed as Victorians for a day. It was a shame the old school was demolished, and it wouldn’t have happened today.

    By Peter James (21/04/2008)
  • I note Peter’s comments – especially the 100 year celebration. There must be photographs of this somewhere; has anybody got any?

    By Dennis Parrett (23/04/2008)
  • Photographs can be found at Carry out a search for St Mary’s C of E School and four photographs are available dated 1975.

    By Dennis Parrett (11/07/2008)
  • Further to Susan Steads’ comment of 20.2.07, one can find a lot of information about St Luke’s Terrace Junior School from its web-site. It is

    By Vic Bath (22/12/2008)
  • I attended St. Mary’s for about a year at the end of the war, and I must admit I found it a wonderful school. My brother Michael and my two sisters, Wendy and Jennifer all went to this school, and we all enjoyed it. I remember some of the names of the contributors to this site,who probably were classmates of my siblings.

    By Barry Broomfield (25/03/2009)
  • Does any one else remember poor Billy White, who ran out into Mount Street to retreive a ball before the railings were there? He got hit by a lorry and had to have his leg amputated, roughly 1948-50.

    By Harry Atkins (08/11/2009)
  • Is there anyone who attended St. Mary’s Hall in the early 1950’s? I would like to have more information about school life during that time. Thank you.

    By VL Yat (21/12/2009)
  • I have managed to track down some pictures but can’t see how to upload them?

    By Peter James (16/01/2010)
  • Peter, photographs can be added if you click on “contribute” at the bottom left hand side of the page. Go through the various sections of that; you may have to register if not already done. If you get a problem send them to me at and I will put them on for you with due accreditation.

    By Dennis Parrett (20/01/2010)
  • I was a pupil at St Mary’s from about 1934 to 1935. Miss Apthorpe was head, and Cooper assistant. I think I was the architypal naughty boy. I was given the strap. Miss Apthorpe was highly religious. I remember writing something in my compo book which she didn’t approve of. “Who told you this?” she demanded in heavy ink. Miss Dawson was my favourite teacher and I think she liked me. She took us to Queen’s Park for a sketching lesson. Miss Smithers was also highly religious. I used to look forward to seeing her in St Anne’s Church. She turned, after the service and smiled. One day I transgressed. “If the people at St. Anne’s knew what a wicked boy you are they wouldn’t come to church.” Imagine an empty church but for me and my mother! We went to some place in Moulescombe for school sports; but I remember practicing in Mount Street. I think the morning service at St Mary’s was on Wednesdays.

    By Maurice Packham (02/02/2010)
  • I was at St Mary’s from about 1932 to 1935. Miss Apthorpe was head: a most religious, severe lady. I don’t think she liked me much. Cooper was assistant. My favourite teacher was Miss Dawson who took us sketching at Queen’s Park. I was in a play with Betty Boxall whom I had to kiss. The boys were envious, I think because she was a charmer. Where is she now I wonder. Also Eileen Plenty whom I kissed out of school hours and I believe Ivy Weekly. Of course their surnames will be different now. I was a naughty boy, I think and Cooper gave me the strap. Miss Smithers was a very religious lady prone to fainting fits. She was once caught by Miss Mullins, an ancient crone who slapped me hard on the thigh because my picture wasn’t good enough. Still life. Fruit. We went to Merbecke’s sung mass at St Mary’s church on Wednesday mornings. I also remember Miss Baker and Miss Burr who took swimming at St Luke’s baths. She used a long bamboo stick to help swimmers and was once pulled in by a struggling swimmer. Wish I’d seen it.

    By maurice packham (02/02/2010)
  • The two best looking girls at St Mary’s, when I was there were Cecilia Hewerdine and Carol Gates, who moved to Bournemouth. I thought Carol was gorgeous! The day she left the school I walked her home to West Hill Road. It must have been love, because I only lived in Lavender Street, 50 yards away from the school.

    By Harry (04/02/2010)
  • Have just discovered this web site and love it!
    I went to St Mary’s at the outbreak of WW2 spent many hours sitting under the brewery in the air raid shelter and remember Mr Cooper reading to us all about Norse mythology. He was the most wonderful teacher and I hope some of his descendants read this as I would have loved to have been able to say ‘thank you’ for his dedication. Both my sons and my daughter went to St Mary’s as well. There may be people who remember them? They were Stephen Martin and Alison Field and they remember their days there with fondness. In the war the bakery used to call us and give us misshapen doughnuts and as food was rationed it was welcome. I was married in 1953 in St Mary’s Church. One of the vicars, the Rev Bird, during the war used to make frequent broadcasts with rallying types of speeches.

    By Betty Field (nee Dibblle) (05/05/2010)
  • I was at St Mary’s 1945 to 1949 and remember names on this page. I had two brothers – Peter and Roy. Pete off to Queens Park and Roy to Varndean. I can’t remember the name Billy White but I was a witness after an accident of a boy running into the street and being hit by a lorry from the brewery I believe. I had to give statements to the police. I was in the church choir and football captain 1948 to 1949 also in the 37th Brighton Scouts. I remember representing St Mary’s Choir at the Festival of Britain in 1951. Also singing at the Dome during this Festival. It’s good to read this page.

    By Colin Hillman (01/06/2010)
  • Hi Colin. I remember you. Didn’t you live in Tillstone Street, a few doors up from Frank and Sydney Aylott?

    By Harry Atkins (04/06/2010)
  • Hi Harry. I remember I think Frank and Sidney Aylot, my cousins Alan and Barry Hillman lived in Tilstone Street. I lived in Stanley Street off Queen’s Park Road. I was good friends with Charlie Towner in those days.

    By Colin Hillman (05/06/2010)
  • Hi Colin, I remember Barry. He was taller than us, and slim. Do you remember Fay and Maxine Seaplin, who lived round your way?

    By Harry Atkins (12/06/2010)
  • Hi Harry re my cousins, Alan was taller and slimmer. He left for Varndean in 1948. Barry was two years younge.r I can’t recall Fay and her sister Maxime. I remember Shirley Warden and her sister Jenifer, I can remember most of the teachers mentioned on this page. I still have my schoolreports, attendance certs and swimming certs.

    By Colin Hillman (15/06/2010)
  • Hi Colin, do remember Tony Bowles? He must have been around your time at St. Marys, He used to box a lot. He lives up my way, and he has still got the same hair-style.

    By harry atkins (02/08/2010)
  • Hi Harry: the name Tony Bowles does ring a bell – but I can’t picture him. My close friend in those days was Charlie Towner – have lost touch with him now.

    By Colin Hillman (09/08/2010)
  • Hi Harry, it has been a long time since I last visited this site. Re your comment about Tony Bowles as you know I lived next door to him. He spent all his schooldays at St Lukes. I used to see Tony quite often when I was reading meters in Bevendean. I have not seen him for a long while now.

    By Bob Dainty (14/02/2011)
  • Are you still writing, John Knight? I am sure you will remember me as your next door neighbour at Downsview Road, Portslade from 1939 to about 1955. In one of your books you mentioned my brother David. I would like to hear from you if you recall. It is a small world as someone wrote to say they were evacuated to Edenthorpe, Doncaster, and I live about three miles from there.

    By Ann Singleton nee Hawkins (16/11/2011)
  • What happened to Betty Boxall, a page three beauty? I acted in a play with her containing the line: “Goodbye Lubin, let me kiss you. Be back soon for I shall miss you”. “Did you ‘ave to kiss her?” asked the boys enviously. Yes, I certainly did.

    By maurice packham (08/08/2012)
  • I attended St Mary’s 1961 to 1965. I would like to hear from anyone who was there the same time as me. Does anyone remember the 37th Brighton scouts being held at the church hall? contact me

    By Steve Humphrey (18/01/2013)
  • My Penver ancestors lived in Mounts St Brighton around 1881. I’d love to know something about the area of that time and a photograph would be fantastic. The family moved on to Lambeth, but members of my dad’s family kept returning to Brighton. Any snippet of Mount St would be gratefully received!

    By Sue Rilstone (29/05/2013)

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