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Memories of WWII bombing

Eastern Road
Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

Cellar air raid shelter

My mum Phyllis Brown (nee Barber) was born and brought up in Kemp Town. The cellar of their family home at 60 Eastern Road became an air-raid shelter at the beginning of WWII. Her father Bill brought wooden sleepers back from the beach on his fish barrow, and reinforced the ceiling of the cellar. Mum remembers that there was a glass skylight up to the pavement outside. Some of the neighbours also used to shelter there during raids, sometimes overnight.

Odeon cinema bombing

On the day of the bombing which destroyed the Odeon Cinema Kemp Town, mum and her family had a very near miss. Her childhood friend Billy Thwaites was unwell so he and mum did not go to the Odeon as planned. It also meant that their mums Liz and Minnie did not walk to the local shop, known as the green shop for its door colour. The shop, which sold bacon and ham, was destroyed, and two girls that mum knew from school were killed along with George Elliot.

Canary survived the bombing

The wife of another local shopkeeper, Mrs Robb, and her daughter were injured in the Odeon Cinema bombing. Mum sadly lost other childhood friends that day. Fortunately both she and Minnie got safely to their cellar. When they came out they found the back of their house was badly damaged and they had lost windows but the bird cage was still dangling with the canary alive inside it. All that remained of their glass wind-chime was the central thread.

Rehoused after bombing

Council inspectors came round to assess the bomb damage. They saw Bedford Street which was behind mum’s house but not the damage to the back of 60 Eastern Road. Minnie went to the council offices and refused to leave until the man in charge came out of his office and agreed to help. Her persistence was rewarded and they were rehoused to Cowfold Road.

Moving with a barrow

This was a huge improvement in living standards. Mum says that Minnie must have felt she’d gone to heaven in a house with electric light, kettle, cooker and wash boiler. They had been used to oil lamps with mantles, supplemented with candles. The house move was made by Minnie and Liz pushing their belongings all the way there on a flat barrow. Mum’s father had been away fishing at the time all this happened, and on returning to Eastern Road had to ask around to find out what had happened to his family.

Comments about this page

  • Perhaps surprisingly, in view of the many modern developments in Brighton, the row of shops in the above photo is still standing, and very little altered. “Chris’s” is currently “Rockys Pizza”. The hoarding has gone though, and the apartments of Kebbell Lodge now stand there, on the corner of High Street.

    By Alan Hobden (29/11/2015)
  • I should perhaps have added that I am unsure why a photo of Edward Street has been used, when the article is about Eastern Road, but it is still an interesting one!

    You spotted my mistake Alan – don’t know whether it was a blonde or a senior moment. Possibly both! Jennifer

    By Alan Hobden (29/11/2015)
  • My mum lived at 145 Edward St in the 1920s (Lumleys in the photo), the family had at one time lived in rooms around the corner in Devonshire Place. Mum would vividly recall Friday and Saturday nights when the children were all kept in as Edward St pubs were notorious for violence. She recalled much animosity and racial aggression to the Italian community who lived further up the street in the Hereford St area.

    By Geoffrey Mead (30/11/2015)

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