Growing Up In Sandgate 1940/1950’s

Article written by Bryan Evans

I moved to Sandgate in the Autumn of 1945 at the age of three when my father left the army. My mother had been born in Sandgate so this was a “coming home” for her. For a few weeks we lived with my Grandmother, Kate Jago, at 1 Martello Terrace.

This had been my Gran’s home since soon after the turn of the century and my mother, known to everyone as Dolly, had grown up there with her 3 brothers – George, Jim and Tom.

Soon though Mum, Dad, my sister Dorothy and I moved into James Morris Dwellings. The Buildings, as they were also known, had been built about 80 years earlier, the gift of the rich owner of Encombe, as homes for the elderly. My father became the caretaker and we lived in the ground floor flat right on the High Street – where the Sandgate Library is now.

In 1947 I started school at the Sandgate C.E. Primary School in Castle Road. Two of my Jago cousins, Michael and Tommy, were already at the school. The infants’ teacher was Mrs Warwick, and other teachers at the school during the time I was there were Miss Woods, followed by Miss White (they were successive headmistresses), Mr Snare and Mr Rigby.

I remember birthdays in the infants’ class when the birthday boy or girl would stand in the middle of a circle of classmates, serenaded by “Happy Birthday” and then get a sweet all to him or herself.  This made a big impression – sweets were still rationed at the time. In fact when rationing stopped (in about 1949 ?) Kellock’s sweet shop (on the opposite corner to the Fleur de Lis on the same side of the High Street) was besieged with children. My mother had given me half a crown, a vast sum of money, and as everybody else was similarly well off the shop ran out of sweets within a couple of hours and it was a couple of days before fresh stocks were brought in.

Some of the children at the school came from Folkestone but the majority were from Sandgate itself (much smaller than now in the days before Golden Valley and other developments). I went through my time there accompanied by Roger Gooding, Peter White, Robin Mitchell, Lennie Maris, Carol Middleton, Sandra Simpson, Margaret Rouse, Pamela Hodson, Ronnie Warren, David Hourahane amongst many. There were 2 playgrounds, separated by a fence. In my mother’s day one had been for boys and one for girls. In my time one was for older and one for younger children. School dinners were introduced while I was there (1949ish) at a cost of 7d a day. A weekly cost of about 15p in today’s money.

Out of school the children who lived in the village tended to play together as a gang. There was the recreation ground of course, some way up Military Hill, where we were marched for school games but mostly we thought that too far.

There were the 3 Undercliffs. The First Undercliff became the site of the new Scout Hall when they moved from Devonshire Terrace, incidentally ruining it as a play area. The Second Undercliff was fairly close to the High Street and was a good place for games – and the Baker family had a house nearby with a large garden and many fruit trees which were considered fair game by us. The third Undercliff was better still; much wilder and with the advantage of having a pill-box in it which could be used as a base. And at the top of the Third Undercliff was a Martello Tower which we used to get into via a decrepit and incomplete bridge.

But mostly there was the beach, and the Parade, policed by the fearsome Phil Drayner who worked for the Rowing Club and saw it as his chief duty to discourage the local youth from almost everything.

Prior to the ‘new’ seawall the character of the beach had been very different. The castle was in a ruinous condition with a great jumble of stonework running half-way down the beach. We used to go into the castle a lot, sun-bathing on the parapet at the top. You could either climb over the top of the then seawall or, if you were little as I was, could actually worm your way up 30 or 40 feet between gaps inside the great cascade of stonework on the beach – up through a natural tunnel in fact. Pretty dangerous, thinking about it now.

I think the old seawall must have suffered from lack of maintenance during the war. At any rate it began to fall down in places. One day, probably in the late 40s, I was at my Gran’s house when there was a noise as of an enormous explosion coming from the beach. We rushed down to find that a section of wall, perhaps 15 feet high and 30 feet long had collapsed. On the beach in a shocked state was a young soldier who had been walking along when the wall suddenly collapsed about 10 feet behind him. We took him to my Gran’s for hot sweet tea.

Houses and other buildings also disappeared. Most of May Terrace had already gone by the time I lived there, but I remember a storm (again about 1950) taking the last 2 houses – semi-detached I think. They stood next to the cottage that is still at the Eastern end of the Parade. We kids were fascinated as the storm simply took off the front of the houses so that the insides – baths, furniture and so on were exposed as if in some giant dolls’ house. And a policeman stood outside all day to prevent looting – that was particularly impressive!

Again roundabout the late ’40s was the stormy but sunny Sunday when what seemed to be a lot of people sat on the wall of Encombe, just past the end of the coastguard cottages, to see a café and a police box slowly but inexorably consumed by the rising tide. We were probably there for a couple of hours in almost a carnival mood, safe from the elements and eating our picnic lunches, as the buildings slowly disappeared.

The building of the new seawall, which must have taken a couple of years at least, was a major event for us children. The workmen’s base was in the grounds of the Sea Cadet hall. We kids would run errands for them – in particular we’d go and buy them bottles of pop from the sweetshop – 7d and 2d on the bottle, and we got to keep the 2d as our reward.

In Winter there was sledging. I think we had snow every year. Over the years though all the sites that we used have been built on. The main places were both off the Cow Path. This was the path from Chichester road running alongside of the grounds of what was then the Police College towards Coolinge Lane. To start with this was a path between fences but after a while there was a gate and on the other side was the Cow Field, which was exactly that. The path ran straight ahead eventually getting to a farm on Coolinge Lane. We usually turned immediately right where there was a steep slope for sledging, but when there was a whole gang of us we would go to the left. This led down to the small stream, then up again to allotments on the other side, below the heights marking the beginning of Shorncliffe Camp. At this point a couple of the braver souls would appropriate a corrugated iron sheet or two. These normally did duty as part of the allotment fencing, but with one end turned up became magnificent sledges on which about 6 of us at a time would desperately try to stay on board as they hurtled down towards the stream.

Virtually all boys joined the cubs in those days, in the then Devonshire Terrace HQ. Fred Moore was scoutleader, as he remained for many years after. His son Ronnie was a cub at the same time. Several of us also became choir boys. The vicar, the reverend James Cethin Gethin-Jones had been an army padre and was much liked. The choirmaster, Mr Parsons, was relatively young and would take us to the rec after Summer choir practices to play rounders. When I started in 1950 the young choristers were all boys, but after a couple of years girls started to appear and after a while no boys volunteered at all. The pay was 2d per service or practice and if you attended all four of these in any week the resulting 8d was doubled to a princely 1s 4d. Perhaps the mainstay of the church was Miss Phyllis Fynamore, herself from an old Sandgate family, who had devoted her life to the church. She ran the Sunday school, gave choirboys hymnbooks and psalters out of her own money, and generally acted as the church’s guardian.

St. Pauls had two rivals in religion – the Congregational Chapel in the High Street where the FHODS are now and the Methodist Chapel in Gough Road, or Donkey Lane as my mother’s generation always called it. Each tried to provide some sort of activities to attract the local youth and I flirted with both of them before joining St. Paul’s youth club – of which, come to think of it, I was one of the co-founders, urged on by the new vicar the Rev. St. Leger Blakeney.

For gathering places there were the Swiss Miss cafe, run by Ron and Heidi Samme. Basically tea or coffee and the use of a fruit machine at 1d a go. And the fish and chip shop run by Mr and Mrs Kerr which sold only fish and chips – cod, plaice or huss, small 8d or large 10d with chips at 3d a portion. In the Summer there would always be several young people outside eating their fish and chips from the newspaper wrappings. And if you were feeling particularly well off you could eat in the little restaurant at the fish and chip shop – and order bread and butter at 1d a slice. Luxury !!

And eventually we graduated to pubs. There were more than there are now.

From East to West :

  • The Royal Oak was opposite the school very small with bar billiards squeezed into a tiny room at the back.
  • The public and saloon bars of the Royal Norfolk Hotel – the public bar just across the side street from my bedroom, favoured very much by students from the Police College (now Saga HQ) and with a particularly jangly piano which played me to sleep each night. The saloon had bar billiards.
  • The Fleur de Lis was at the foot of Military Hill on the south side of the High Street (landlord Mr Samways followed by Tom and Dora Shakespeare).
  • The Military Tavern (known by all as the Hole in the Wall) was on the other corner from the war memorial on the north side of the High Street (Mr Mills) The Providence (John Latchford).
  • The Ship (George Warden).
  • The Kent Tap – part of the Royal Kent Hotel.
  • The Old Rose – opposite the coastguard cottages on the corner of the road down from Wilberforce Road. More bar billiards.
  • The Clarendon on Brewers Hill run by the father of my school-friend, David Hourahane. Bar billiards again.

In those days I knew most people – if only by sight.. There were cousins and quite a few other relatives ; schoolfriends and their relatives ; people I met through Church ; people who had known my mother and grandmother during the 50 or so years that they had known Sandgate; people I delivered papers to; all the various shopkeepers.

In 1960 I left school to work as an assistant at Folkestone Public Library. I left Sandgate in 1963 to go to college and have just retired as Assistant County Librarian for Dorset. Over the years my Sandgate relatives have either died or moved so that a family connection that started in the 1870s when my coastguard great-grandfather and his wife first arrived in Sandgate is now broken. There are still plenty of Jagos in Folkestone though – my cousin Michael and his wife Astrid, their five sons and many grandchildren.