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'Borrowed' ammunition and explosive consequences

View across Warren Road to the Ridgway, 1954. This was just before the post-war building boom in Woodingdean gathered momentum.
Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

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An exciting place for children

Woodingdean during WWII was an exciting place for the children of the area. I am still in touch with some of them. Perhaps some of you might remember the huge six-wheel go-cart that used to charge down Crescent Drive South at breakneck speed with up to eight kids on board? Over the hills from the village was Balsdean used by the Army for training purposes. This proved to be a great temptation for the local boys because live ammunition, mortar bombs and the like could be found and, sometimes ‘borrowed’.

An explosive mishap

One young lad and his pal brought home an explosive device of some kind. Putting it in a vice in their garden shed, they hit it with a hammer and it went off blowing the roof off the shed and taking the first finger and thumb off one of the lads. His mate received scrapnel in his stomach. I am pleased to say that both survived and are alive and well at the time of writing. This was just one of such incidents. I wonder how we would be judged in today’s climate?

VE day celebrations

On VE Day the lads of The Ridgway decided to hold a bonfire celebration with the street party. A huge bonfire was built around one of the street lights and put to the torch. The metal pole of the light consequently melted. Next morning when it had cooled down it was seen to have drooped so that the top of the pole reached halfway to the ground. Needless to say all hell broke loose next day but the culprits were never found.

Did you live in Woodingdean? Do you live there now? How has the place changed? Please share your memories with us by posting a comment below.

Comments about this page

  • This is how I remember it. Of course, I know that the field in the foreground is all shops and houses now, but we moved away in 1957 when the estate had only just begun to be built, so this picture is how I remember things looked – walking to and from school each day, although we did get the bus back after dinner because there just wasn’t enough time the walk home and back, and eat your dinner! Yes, as I said, I do know how it looks now, but I like to remember seeing cows in the field rather than houses! I also like to remember walking up Balsdean Road (just off at left there) when it was a dirt road up to the downs and the dew pond. Anybody remember the dew pond? It was full of cow pats and smelt of sulphur – but there were newts. When my sister and I took our friend Roger, who wasn’t a Woodingdeaner but would come and stay with his grandparents the Wesleys in the Ridgeway, to the dew pond he said he’d eat his hat if there were newts living in there. We found some but Roger wasn’t wearing a hat…

    By Jean Jardine Miller (11/07/2013)
  • Does anyone know if there was ever a farm building or any kind of buildings on the land that is now Sandhurst Avenue? Thanks.

    By Laura-Ann Windsor (15/10/2014)
  • About 1957 or 1958 some of us fourth year pupils from Fitzherbert school in Woodingdean would meet up on some Saturdays and go to Balsdean for some general fun and fooling around. There was a big barn as I remember full of straw and hay where we would jump and tumble around and just have fun. We never thought of causing any trouble or damage and indeed one day the farmer saw us in his barn and just said something like “be careful”, or words to that effect. Reading the above about army training ground we found lots of empty shell cases and live ammunition laying around, mostly .303 rounds. I remember myself and another lad giving the ammo some adventure by one of us holding the shell casing with a pair of pliers and the other giving the arse end some stick with a nail and a hammer in the little copse along Warren Road. Later on when I was in the military I realised how stupid this fooling around was. Although we pointed the sharp end towards Ovingdean it could have turned out a disaster, maybe somebody was just strolling in the distance out of eyesight, who knows, I think at two or so miles a .303 was still a bit on the dangerous side. I seem to remember that we went past the house of one of our fellow schoolmates called Brian Hodges to get to this Saturday playground of ours. Fine days altogether, but sometimes a bit foolish.

    By Mick Peirson (16/10/2014)
  • The view in the photo across Warren Road is actually across Warren Way  just east of the Cross roads.  The field in the foreground is where Warren Parade shops are now.  The hut-like building with the two chimneys, bottom right-hand side of the photo, still exist today as the village barber’s shop.  I grew up in Woodingdean in the 1940s – 1950s and have many fond childhood memories of the Village as it was in those days.  I don`t remember any farm buildings on the steep hillside where Sandhurst Avenue is now but that is not to say that some sort of building perhaps existed there in the distant past.  During WWII much of the Downland south east of Bexhill Road and Cowley Drive was used by the military as a training ground (as mentioned). Sadly most of the isolated historical farm buildings that existed in the area including the long lost Hamlet of Balsdean were used as target practice and destroyed by Canadian soldiers billeted at Saltdean and Rottingdean. (See also the Harvey`s Cross page on this site)  Mick Peirson mentions the Fitzherbert School in Woodingdean -surely in the 1950s the school was known as  St John the Baptist RC School? The name was changed to Fitzherbert in 1961.           

    By Chris Wrapson (17/10/2014)
  • Thank you Chris Warpson. The reason I ask is myself and a neighbour have visitors, a young child and adult man, from the other side (yes ghosts!). I have tried to find out if anything happened in the area that would link to the two, but can’t find anything.

    By Laura-Ann Windsor (18/10/2014)
  • I first attended St. John Baptist school in Warren Road, Woodingdean in 1954 aged 11, and I left the 5th year sometime between 1958 and 1959. The name of the school was changed to Fitzherbert whilst I was a pupil at the school. 

    By Mick Peirson (19/10/2014)
  • Hi Laura-Ann, on reflection there were old farm buildings adjacent to the  Sandhurst Avenue area.  ’Norton Barn’ once part of  ’Wick Farm’ was situated at the top of Falmer Road and demolished circa 1957 to make way for new housing and later on the  ’Sunblest Bakery Factory”. By using the search box at the top right-hand side of this page type in the name Peter Mercer.  Peter is the author of three books tracing the history of Woodingdean, most famously ‘The Hunns Mere Pit’  and more recently published  ’Woodingdean Millennium Reflections’  and  ’The Hunns Mere Way’. All these books contain a wealth of information on Woodingdean in days gone by. The ‘Hunns Mere Way’ story prologue is particularly poignant and will bring a tear to your eye, it may also give you a clue to this ghostly tale of yours.  Good luck with your ongoing research. I’m sure if you contact Peter he will be pleased to assist.  His e-mail details can be found posted in one of the comments in the ‘Hunns Mere Pit’ page.  Regards       

    By Chris Wrapson (21/10/2014)
  • I’m always pleased to assist anyone with the history of Woodingdean. Thanks Chris, hope to see you soon. Regards

    By Peter Mercer (21/10/2014)
  • Hi Mick.  So far as can be ascertained  “St John the Baptist RC School” at Woodingdean changed its name to Fitzherbert in 1961. This subject has attracted many comments from former pupils elsewhere on the site so perhaps this is a good opportunity to clarify things.  According to the administrative history of the school at  Sussex Records Office, it states  “Prior to 1961 the Fitzherbert Secondary Modern School was known as the  ”St John the Baptist Roman Catholic Secondary School”.  However, the directory for 1962 still lists the original name and it was not until the next edition in 1964 that a name change was recorded.  Speculating upon this, the name change would not have been likely during the academic year, so presumably it changed around September 1961. As directories were compiled in the year prior to publication, usually coinciding with the start of the financial year in April, the name change may have been missed and therefore not published until the next edition in 1964.  I attended this school 1954 – 1958  albeit as a non-Catholic and being one of the first intake of local Woodingdean children at that time.  I have mostly good memories of the school and of its teachers.    

    By Chris Wrapson (26/10/2014)
  • I lived in Woodingdean from 1954 until 1968 when we moved into Brighton. The photograph looks like it was taken looking across Warren Way from the field to the north which was developed into shops around 1957. We moved then from a prefab in Rudyard Road to Sandhurst Avenue. Before the houses there were built I remember the area of what later became the Sunblest factory. I’m sure there were a few trees in what was the area around Norton Farm. I seem to remember a small enclosure and occasional visits from Romanies.

    Robert Coe (any relation of Graham I was in the scouts with?) mentions old munitions left over from the war. When in the scouts (23rd Brighton) we used to go on frequent over-night camping expeditions to Newmarket Copse. On one occasion we found a round black object about the size of a cricket ball with which we had great fun throwing around and chucking it at the tree, only to discover later that it was a live hand -grenade. Our scout master promptly rushed it off to the police!

    I’ve just purchased a copy of Peter Mercer’s excellent book ‘Hunn’s Mere Way’. What a fascinating book with some great pictures. For me the best bit was reading about Dick and Peggy Cuthbertson who were great friends of my late father, Alf (better known as Jock). We had some great bonfire night parties at Dick and Peg’s, and what a lovey garden they had. I remember having tea with Dick’s mum in her old wooden house and exploring her long garden which stretched right back to Balsdean Road before Dick and Peggy built their house.

    By Dave Crockatt (27/10/2014)
  • I was born in Ewart Street in 1933 and I went to Stanford Road School. I remember going scrumping in ‘Snakey Lane’ for crab apples, and sledging down the hill under the arch into South Road during the winter. Perry Brothers  the bakers had there  storage yard near the bottom of South Road. They kept their horse and carts in the yard; many times we would get in and go through them to find any stale cakes, only got caught once.

    Round the corner was Mrs Durrant’s tuck shop. Sunday morning was the highlight of the week, us kids would pay her a visit with our sweet coupons and what pennies we had. At the top end of Robertson Road is the junction to Hampstead Road If you turn right it leads to Preston park Railway Station, where we would get conkers.

    We moved to Woodingdean in 1940 but were bombed out in 1941. I went to Warren Farm School temporarily but was eventually sent to Yorkshire with a lot of other evacuees. Came home to a flat in a hotel in Millers Road. There was  seven in the family, I had two brothers and two sisters. Only three of us left now and I still think about the good old days.

    By Pete Rose (27/01/2016)
  • Message for Pete Mercer. I have just finished reading The Hunns Mere Way. On page 80 it shows a house damaged by a bomb on the corner of Downs Valley Road, junction to Crescent Drive where a donkey was killed. This is wrong information given to you. At the time I was living half a mile away still in Crescent Drive over the hill heading south about a third of the way down. That particular morning we heard a whistling noise and an explosion, it took the front door off its hinges and all the windows were blown in, shrapnel flew everywhere. The bomb landed directly opposite us, across the road to where the donkey was stabled, sorry to say the donkey was killed. The stable was on fire (what was left of it) and the complete back of the owner’s house was blown out, a bed and other bits of furniture  was just about hanging on to the floor tilting ready to fall. Next house down was the Carters’ house, with plenty of glass lean-to’s, glass everywhere,  plenty of rubble, wood, slate and gutters.
    Regarding evacuees heading for Edlington-Warmsworth, page 152 says it’s in Lincolnshire, but I was one of the children that went there and it’s in south Yorkshire.
    Apart from my little pointers, it’s a good educating little book – ready to read again.

    By Pete Rose (05/02/2016)
  • Going back to the bombing incident in Crescent Drive, the family next door was the Bakers, Jim-Beat-Jim jr and Sheila. If Jim or Sheila happen to see this please get in touch, it’s been a hell of a long time, it will be nice to see you.

    By Pete Rose (13/03/2016)

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