King Of Cannibal Island

Article written by Richard Gray

 I was fascinated to read the article “Growing up in Sandgate in the 1940s and 1950s” by Bryan Evans in the March 2004 Sandgate News feature articles. I am about the same age as Bryan and I knew most of the children mentioned in his article. We moved to Sandgate in 1953 and I was at Sandgate Primary School for one year, going on to the Harvey Grammar School in 1954. We lived in Sandgate until 1956

 My father (Lloyd Gray) was the manager of Halletts Builders Merchants at 26-28 Sandgate High Street and my mother (Kathleen Gray) ran the office. We lived above the shop, which is now a café (Gate 28). In 1956 we moved to Rhodes Minnis near Lyminge, but my father and mother continued to work in the Sandgate shop for several years until they opened their own business in Whitstable in the mid 1960s. 

Both of my parents are now dead and I found the group photo of 2nd Sandgate Wolf Cubs (now called cub scouts) amongst my mother’s possessions. The photo was taken in 1953 or 1954 and shows the cub pack in costume for a play. There was a competition to present the best performance amongst the different cub packs in the Folkestone area and the poor, suffering parents had to watch the same play repeated several times. The play was called “The King of the Cannibal Island ” and, as you can see, by present-day standards it was highly politically incorrect with most of the boys having to “black up”. 

I played the King (wearing the crown) not because of any acting ability, but because I was the tallest! I believe 2nd Sandgate cubs came second in the competition, losing points for spending too long getting on stage according to my parents.

There are nineteen boys in the photo, although I can only identify Serge Viatkin (2nd spear carrier from right) who was the grandson of Russian émigrés and lived with his parents and sister Alexandra almost opposite me in a guest house in Sandgate High Street. Perhaps some readers or their relatives are also in the photo – it would be interesting to put names to faces.

Soon I graduated through age from the Cubs to the Scouts, about the time that the 2nd Sandgate Scout HQ moved from Devonshire Terrace to the new Scout Hall on the Lower Undercliffe .

It was built by volunteers inspired by the Scout leader, Skipper Fred Moore, who was also the local shoe repairer with a shop next to the Chichester Hall. As the local builders’ merchant, my father supplied some of the building materials.

A feature of scout life in those days was Bob a Job Week, a fund-raising activity where scouts went on their own from door to door asking people if they had any jobs. A “bob” was slang for a shilling or 5p in modern currency. Most people were generous and required very undemanding jobs from the scouts or even just gave money without requiring any work. The householder had to complete a line in a book stating the amount given, the nature of the job and their signature. If they did not want a job done, they would make up something bland like “general work” or “tidying up”. On the other hand, there were just a few people who really wanted their bob’s worth – one woman made me spend what seemed like an eternity weeding her garden. I didn’t really enjoy doing the jobs, but, looking back, appreciate a community where it was considered safe for children as young as 11 to do such a thing. 

Like many boys I lost interest in the scouts about the age of 13 when I discovered the world of teenagers and the new music of rock’n’roll. To buy records (78 rpm on my wind-up gramophone which I obtained through a swap with Julie Showler) I needed money and started a paper round for the newsagent, David Burden, who had a shop at the Folkestone end of Sandgate High Street. His mother had another newsagent’s shop at the Seabrook end of the high street. His wife was German and a jazz singer – I heard her sing some years later (around 1964) in a club in a hotel on the Leas. I was paid 10 shillings (50p) a week, Mondays to Fridays in the morning for work which totalled about one hour a day, ride a bicycle with a heavy load of newspapers up Sandgate Hill and Coolinge Lane, often in the dark and the pouring rain. But I didn’t mind because I had money for the first time in my life. I delivered to the “posh” end of Sandgate including the Riviera , Radnor Cliff Crescent and part of the Lower Sandgate Road . I had many copies of the Telegraph, Mail and Express to deliver, but only one copy of the Guardian (then called the Manchester Guardian) which went to Gerry Holmes, the Geography teacher at the Harvey Grammar School, who lived at the top of Coolinge Lane Hill.

Although I did not live there long, looking back I realise that I have seldom felt such a strong sense of community as I did in Sandgate. Nearly all my friends lived in Sandgate High Street or just off it. Like me, some were the children of shopkeepers in Sandgate High Street – for example, David Philips (fishmonger) and Richard and Julie Showler (greengrocer). It was just about perfect for a child – right next to the sea, but also with the “wild” Undercliffe and the Cow Path (both well described by Bryan Evans), the Lower Sandgate Road and Sandgate Castle. In those days, when not at school we would roam free and just come home for meals. Very little of my time was organised – no clubs apart from the scouts, and if I went anywhere with my parents, I couldn’t wait to get back to play football in Gough Road , or ride my bike on the Parade with all the other children.