A potted history
There were several characters around the town in the 1950s. You didn’t have beggars like you do today but you had the well-known tramps. People like Pop the tramp, who used to frequent the Catholic churches for food and was an intelligent man. You could sit on a bench next to him and talk to him about anything. He never asked you for money. He was well liked by lots of us youngsters. Then there was Sunshine Joe. I supposed you would call him a hippie type today. He was very shrewd and he would try to con you out of a shilling, but, if you had it you didn’t mind and gave it to him. No one could institutionalise him and every time they put him in a home he walked out. He certainly was a colourful person.
Rag and bone men
There was a rag and bone man who used to push his barrow around town wearing a grey pin stripe suit collar, tie and a Homburg hat. People called him Gentleman Jim the Totter. He was over 6ft tall and sported a moustache (just like Private Walker in Dads Army). Then there were the Mitchell brothers, the last rag and bone men to use a horse and cart. They had their store at the bottom of Bear Road, and used to drink in The Bear. They were smart at work; Percy wore a brown grocer’s coat overall and Homburg hats. They used to take liberties in the traffic with their horse, cutting right across a car to turn in front of it, but nobody minded because everybody knew them. Their kind will never be seen again; such a tragedy.
The shops in the main high streets shut on Wednesday afternoons and, for the men who had to work on Saturdays, there was a thriving mid-week football league. It has phased itself out now, but in the 50s it was very popular and at Preston Park on a Wednesday afternoon hundreds of people watched the games. There was also a cycle track on Wednesdays and Saturday evenings. Teams like Preston Nomads, Brighton Excelsior, Brighton Mitres and Worthing Excelsior raced there.
Joe Lyons Corner House
In St James Street there was Joe Lyons Corner House. People used to go in there just for the ice cream. It was a round block of Cornish Cream taste. Lovely! Further up the street there was the hot pie shop. The bakers baked the pies right before your eyes. For 1s 2d (7p) you could get a beano pie and an apple pie. The beano pie was meat and beans. It was so hot you couldn’t bite into it and, when you could, there were so many beans in the pie they oozed out of your mouth and down your shirt. People used to travel miles to go to the pie shop, but we were lucky because it was en route to Whitehawk when we walked home.
Chris’ Fish and Chip Shop
In Edward Street there was another well-known landmark, Chris’ Fish and Chip Shop. Again people used to go there, travelling quite a distance to sample his chips. He was there for years (into the 60s).
The best ice cream in Brighton?
In Oxford Street, on London Road, there was an ice cream shop run by an Italian and his wife. His name was Pip and people called his wife Mrs Pip. This was definitely the best ice cream in Brighton, with lots of flavours, big helping and I hope any reading (even people in their late twenties) will be reminded of the pleasure of eating Pip’s tasty ice cream.
In North Road, Cobden Road and Park Street were public baths. For a shilling (5p) you would get a towel and a piece of soap. You would then see the attendant and he would usher you to your cubicle and, when you were undressed, you called for the water and he’d operate it from outside of the door. Some of my friends and I went up on Saturday afternoons and had a bath. We all used to shout “more hot, more hot!” at the same time and had the poor bath attendant running up and down in panic. Sometimes we would climb over the cubicles and one of us used to shout that the door was stuck, and when the attendant opened it there were five of us standing in the same bath!