Stealing Coal and Queues, Queues, Queues

Bob Caffrey's memories of Fishersgate

By Bob Caffrey

Photo:Bob Caffrey in person

Bob Caffrey in person

Photo from the WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Caught on camera!

Caught on camera!

Photo from the WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Bob Caffrey speaks to the nation

Bob Caffrey speaks to the nation

Photo from the WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Bob and Rod chew the cud

Bob and Rod chew the cud

Photo from the WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Bob Caffrey was brought up in Fishersgate having moved there just after the war.

Mum sacrifices a nursing career to bring us up

I moved to Fishersgate (16 Laylands Road) in 1947, we were very poor as my dad had a drink problem (see later) and spent all his war pension at pubs. My mum had been a SRN (State Registered Nurse) but due to circumstances could not follow her profession. She worked at Fairylights just over the bridge from Fishersgate Halt. A law had just been passed that all bikes had to have a reflector fitted at the back, so Fairylights got the work. We used to make the brackets at home to help with money. I made my pocket money from fetching the bagwash from the Star Laundry. Poor people who worked could drop off a big bag of white cotton and it would be ready by next Friday if it was in by Monday.

Coal 'salvaged' from the power station

I remember seeing the walls around St Johns Ambulance had glass strips in the cracks and I wondered why.  The new power station was being built, and the canal tunnel for power outlet to pylon in Fishersgate recreation ground (South East corner) was being made and the bank was slipping. One night it slipped - as you see it now, before it could be stopped - hence the glass strips. Incidentally we used to steal coal from where the bank had collapsed. They had put a steam crane there to work on the slip, so we dug into the small fence and bagged enough coal to carry. This went on for a while until the watchman caught us and we ran off. It was welcome at home; you had to do a lot of that to keep going.

Wartime memories: a 'British Restaurant' and the shelter

There is no order to this memoir: I remember in Fishersgate rec. there was a 'British restaurant', the idea was that people could get an unrationed meal at dinner times. Next to the restaurant was the only air raid shelter I recall; it was the usual thing, brick and concrete slab roof to stop wounds from shrapnel.

The Festival of Britain comes to Fishersgate

The rec. was allotments until 1951 when the SUDC decided to use it for the Festival of Britain celebrations. We all lined up with spades and someone gave a signal. We all charged across and took all the vegetables we could. The poor allotment users tried to stop us but no good! The festival was races for boys and girls: my sister Sheila won the prize and got a fountain pen I recall. We had dog races and a slow cycle race, the Five Smith Brothers (radio stars) opened the fête and Aileen Chase the local beauty queen was in attendance. Only people who put eats out got to eat anything! Although I did manage to get one cake.

The Fishersgate Flyers

In the south west corner of Fishersgate rec. some lads and their dads dug a cycle track for speedway. This was a national craze and gradually the track was refined with cinders and starting tapes on springs. They were called the 'Fishersgate Flyers'. Lads had special bikes and wore colours and numbers. It was gradually wound down with lads going off for national service for two years, so it all disappeared.

School Bus

The Southdown green bus, number 31 came by on the coast road and the number 6B & Hove Company served up to St Auburns Crescent. I used to go to school at Upper Drive in Hove on the number 6. We got free bus tickets.

From gas to electricity - gradually

The family allowance in 1947 was six shillings. The meters used pennies; a week's gas was about one shilling. Lots of houses, streets and stations still had gaslight. Gradually the houses were turned over to electricity. There were no washing machines, dryers or anything except bulbs, people couldn't afford these things then. A table and chairs and a bed each, a wardrobe and lino on the floors.

My dog bugs bunnies

We kept rabbits, my brother Paddy owned them but my dog killed most of them. One day we came home and they were all piled up by the door. At Mr Muggridge's store we had to buy live chickens and rabbits and at Christmas we used to kill them. Every kid was able to do these things because you had to, it was quite normal to wring a bird's neck or hit a rabbit's head behind its ears and nobody took any notice. We were not cruel, just practical and hungry.

Queues, queues and more queues: rationing remembered

We used to go to Sainsbury's in Station Road, Portslade for a 'big' ration shop. You used to have to register for certain things, meat, bacon, butter and cheese, and then it  was a matter of queuing by the item and paying. The money was sent on an aerial wire to the pay box and the receipt sent back etc. so a visit to the shops could take hours. A great treat was if we could get cracked eggs and/or broken biscuits cheap with no ration books. Rationing lasted until 1951 and you could get very hungry, also if my mum wasn't working we used to parcel up the sheets and any other best stuff and go to Hove Church Road near the old Town Hall to the pawnshop on Monday and pawn it. You used to redeem it when you could; everyone did it except the fortunate ones who worked for Gas and Electric power stations.

Dad's dangerous duties

My dad got work at Portslade gas works on the retorts, these heated coal in large vessels to extract the town gas. Then the men had to empty the vessels and re-load them, it was very dangerous work, my Dad was gassed several times. They were just laid out on the Quayside until they recovered. As I said before my dad was a drunk but he had lost part of his skull at Dunkirk in 1940 so he had an excuse.

Farewell British restaurant

The Metal Box was extended specially to make Aerosol valves and in 1961 the new extension opened. The production went from a few thousand to 20 million plus in those years. The British restaurant closed except for private functions and was demolished sometime in the mid sixties. The road was moved to its present position and the Meeting Place built.

Post-war planning and a VIP visit

The SUDC started to demolish Fishersgate in 1953 and we were all moved to new houses and flats in Highdown, Downsway, Summersdene, Cromleigh Way over the next seven to ten years. Alongside this the new flats at Fishersgate were built starting with Westlands Court and Old Mill Close.  Work then ceased for a while, then Caylands Court and Wyke Close. The last places to be built were some new buildings near Southwick Station. Princess Elizabeth visited Brighton in the fifties and we lined the seafront road to see her. I remember an arm coming out with a long pink glove and waved, that was it zoom and gone!

The canal: fun for kids but marred by a tragedy

The canal was a great play place for us kids, there were always crabs to try and catch. It was too polluted for fish I think, and in the summer it stank - probably the gas works mainly. They needed power so badly that they opened the power station with only two thirds of it built, the final chimney was built a lot later and that was left until last to be blown down. Some ships that regularly came in were Elizabeth Lysett, Sylvia Beale, Londonbrooke and all the other Brooke boats. The new power station had four or five of its own colliers, quite large. The CEGB paid for all the piling, harbour works etc. Adrian Rapheal from my school was drowned at Southwick locks, he was ten or eleven and came from Underdown Road Southwick. He is in the cemetery.

This page was added by Nicola Benge on 15/05/2008.
Comments about this page

Stumbled across this searching for something else .
Wow..thats my Dad
Well done all involved

By Kathy Caffrey
On 30/08/2008

I think my ancestors lived at 18 Laylands Road. I was born in 1951 and lived with my dad Roy, mum Jean & family at that address when I was very young. My auntie Lilian & Uncle Bill Strutt who lived I think in Gardner St, a road running of Laylands Road which is also significant to my young years. Bill had something to do with the sea cadets and had a boat on the canal. Do you remember anything about my dads grandparents? Thank you.

By susan merchant (nee virgo)
On 05/03/2010

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