Brompton Oral Histories 1
Royal Engineers Museum,
Library & Archive
Oral History Interview 13.01.12 (1)
If I could just have your name?
Wendy Morris. And I was born at 10 River Street, Brompton, on the 6th of June 1939. We moved out in 1940 because the bomb fell opposite and blew all of the windows out. But my grandparents lived at number 12 and they were William and Mary Mitchell and they stayed there, you know, until they died. And we moved to Luton just to be away from the dockyard because my mother thought that was a prime, you know, place to be bombed. Just for our own safety.
Luton as in Luton?
Right ok. And yourself Sir?
[inaud] I was born in Brompton by the down by the canon. I can’t think of the number of the house but up by the cannon. My grandparents lived up here, the Rellicks. Anyone remember ‘em?
The Rellicks. I know that name.
They used to have a café.
In the High Street?
Well there was one just opposite the Barracks, the Little Wonder.
Oh the café right on the corner?
No it used to be next door to one to Waldred's [ph]. That was the first one.
Oh yeah, I know Waldred’s, a second hand shop wasn’t it?
That’s it and they were a couple of doors along from there then they moved in at the High Street. But then my parents moved to Chatham and then during the war me dad was away and me mum used to come up and help in the café. So I didn’t actually live here as such but I was up here quite a lot. And, as I say, whether there can be anything that I can help with …
OK, what we’re after, we’re looking for memories, things that you remember from Brompton as the village. So if we go back round the table again and those little things that you remember. From my point of view, I find it intriguing that there was a kennels in the middle of the village.
Yeah. Well we had number 10 which was the hardware shop and behind it was a big yard and he had these kennels there, Bosworth Kennels, and everybody used to know him by Uncle Jack. He used to take dogs, about three on each arm, up to the Lines for a walk, you know. And, as I say, he bred, Bosworth Kennels, the most famous dog relating to Churchill and all that. And I think there’s a photograph of her in the Imperial War Museum. Yes, there was four of us. We moved back to the High Street because my uncle had to do war work during the war so his mother served the shop then when she died we had to move back and look after the shop. And it was a real village. I mean there was so many shops I don’t know how they all made money. We had Summers the grocers, there was Friends the grocers, Mr Gel the Grocer besides a lot of [inaud] shops. We had Honeyset's the military outfitters. Next door to us in 12 High Street was a sweetshop called the Pocock's. Next to that was the British Legion. The Golden Lion Pub at the top of Wood Street. And there was a cobblers, Mr Smith, Mary Smith was in my class at school. And there was Wybrow's; that was a general store. And there was Bob the butcher. Dusty Miller the barber. And when the boys were good he used to give ‘em a penny and they used to go across the road to Mr Haysmore who had a general shop and they used to buy an Eccles cake. What else did we have there? Oh, there were so many little general shops you wondered how they all made a profit. Oh and there’s a collar factory in Westcourt [ph] Street and opposite the collar factory there’s Mrs Burton’s. Now she was a well known character. And up by the church we had a youth club. It was a church building and in there she used to run the canteen and the boys could play snooker, darts and there was a table tennis room and a quiet room where you could go and read. Don’t know who paid for it all cos it didn’t cost us very much. [laughing] And, as I say, I was at Brompton School until I had to leave at eleven. And Taffy Llewellyn was a head teacher. I think he used to walk across the Lines. He lived in Upper Gillingham, Chester Road I think. And there were two other teachers, Miss Johnson used to take the little ones. But it was funny because my brother who is two years younger than me and my sister who was about eighteen months younger than him, my brother and sister were in the same class and when she couldn’t do anything he’d say to her “Go and sit next to your brother, he’ll show you”. [laughing] Yeah, very happy memories. But life for young people revolved around the church. We had scouts, guides, cubs, brownies, everything. And I was born at the Military Hospital at the top of Maxwell Road and so were my two daughters. The vicarage was in Maxwell Road. And when I went to the Garrison School before the war we lived in Kitchener Barracks for a time and I used to walk through the barracks to the top of Maxwell Road and one day I was taking some glass jars for painting at school and a child pushed me and I fell over and cut my hands and legs. And when I got to the gymnasium there was an RP there and he saw me and he took me back to the Medical Centre, got them dressed and then took me to school. [laughing] You wouldn’t get that today would you? And at the top of Maxwell Road was the Garrison Gardens and that was supposed to be for officers only. I was lucky, my father was an officer, so we could go in there and play, you know. [laughing]
We’ll move round one. Just tell me a little bit about what you were doing.
Well not very much but I got this from my brother who doesn’t live around here any more. But quite a lot of what you said – Mr Gel’s the grocer – and when you mentioned the Barber, my brother said he was a blind man.
He was disabled. He had a bad foot I think.
Oh my brother thought that he was blind and he thought he’d lost his sight through a horse’s tail flicking in his eye.
Oh did he? I don’t know.
Yeah and he also remembers there was a radio shop and he saw his first television set there and it was a grainy picture of Tommy Farr boxing and half of the men of Brompton were looking in the window.
That must have been after I left I’m sure.
Yeah, that was then.
I can imagine that, everybody sort of huddled round a television.
Yeah, all I can remember is I was born in 1939. 1914 our house was sort of damaged so we moved out. But my Gran stayed next door and she looked after me because my father was a policeman on the dockyard gate. My mother worked in Number Five Machine Shop in the dockyard. And I used to go right down to Pembroke Gate every lunchtime with a hot pie for my dad, my granddad, for his lunch, and back again. You know, I walked down there. I was only a little girl. I don’t know what else I can tell you really cos you’ve said most of it.
Well the Wesleyan Church was a British Restaurant during the war and we used to go over there sometimes for serving. Well the dockyard workers went in there.
Yeah, that’s right.
And very often the dockyard workers used to say to the children “Here, you can have my pudding”.
Yeah, that’s right.
Yeah, that was the Wesleyan Church in Prospect Road.
Mmm, but where River Street was there was a – it’s not there any longer – but there was a big high wall backing onto Dock Road and that was the back gardens.
I know, yeah.
And we used to sit on the wall and my brother said that the Royal Marines used to march down the hill
The did, yeah.
Twirling the thing and when they got to the – he didn’t understand why – but when they got to Pembroke Gate they used to throw that over the gate.
Over the gate and catch it the other side, yeah, yeah. [laughing]
And he remembers numerous horses and carts going down delivering stuff to the dockyard. And I can remember when I was a little girl my gran used to say “Sit in the window and count the dockyard mateys, see if there’s anybody not come in today”. And there were thousands of them. On bikes and buses. And say fifty for about, you know, I used to sit and that’s why I’m good at maths you see.
You’ve said most of what he remembers. But my mother lived there and she loved Brompton.
I loved it, mmm.
She grew up in Old Brompton. She lived in Green Court, Green’s Court off of Middle Street originally and they moved down to River Street. But she loved it and she loved the people.
There was loads of pubs in Brompton.
The Sawyers is still there I notice but ...
Was the Dewdrop there?
Yeah, that was down the bottom, River Street.
Well my mum was a skipper of the Dewdrop dart team and the skipper of the …
Oh yeah. There was about three pubs in River Street weren’t there?
Yeah, four pubs, yeah.
Was there? And there was the …
But you’ve really said most of it that he told me that he remembered.
Yeah, I do remember …
As I say, my mother she’d have loved me to come to this cos she’s got such happy memories. No I don’t really remember but, as I say, my brother’s a bit older and he does. And the day that I was born on the 6th of June 1939 there was a boat launched in the dockyard called the Uranus.
Well I went to one launch in the dockyard as a child.
Yeah well my grandmother took my brother down to see it launched while my mother gave birth to me, a ten pound baby, ten pound baby, to get him out the way. So … and he’s still got the newspaper cutting of that, you know, yeah.
Yeah, I remember that, we went to the launches.
But my mother and father met on the Medway Queen, the paddle steamer.
And I’ve got all the information on that here because there is a …
And all their photos. There’s my dad on the wheel, yeah. And I’ve got to get in touch with the Medway Queen.
I can help you with that, I’m talking to you about the ... Your memories?
I think the lady over there mentioned most of it.
Well then carry on and …
One shop you didn’t mention, Jarvis’s the fish shop. Don’t you remember that?
I remember Mr Copper the fish shop in the High Street next to Jennings the greengrocers.
No, I only remember Jarvis’s.
Oh was it in the High Street?
I know it, yeah, near the barber’s wasn’t it?
That’s it, yeah.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I used to play with Tony Jarvis.
Oh did you, yeah.
Tony Jarvis? I remember Tony Jarvis, Tony Alouitious Jarvis? [laughing]
A name not to be forgotten.
Tell you what, because I’ve got my christening thing and he was christened at the same time as me in the Holy Trinity.
Yeah, that’s where I was christened, yeah, yeah, yeah.
No, well, as I say, there was a load of ‘em. As I say, I was only up here as a kid mainly. So, you know, playing round by the school in what we called the walnut field.
Oh that’s where my brother fell out the walnut tree and broke his arm, yeah, when he should have been at choir practice, yeah.[laughing]
[laughing] Yeah but then why can’t life be like that now?
I don’t know. My mum had to take him to Bart’s Hospital and they kept him in overnight. [laughing]
… playing on the assault course, yeah.
I think it’s those sort of things, but, you know, boys will be boys, so what did you get up to?
Just going over the assault course which, looking back, was a bit silly.
Ah but when you’re a boy you don’t think like that.
But it was great fun.
And what about …
And where was the assault course?
Do you know where Napley is. As you’re going just past Walnut Field on the right [inaud] part of the old moat, well it was up there and then right up the end of that moat was the firing range which we also used to play in. We shouldn’t have done, but we used to go all over the fort.
What about when you pinched a pie?
Yes, that was in the walnut field because there used to be air raid shelters up there.
That’s right yeah.
And Tony and I we were playing around and it was, well it should have been cut down this bit of old stump, and a lovely big pie, which turned to be an apple pie, so we have inched it and I went down the road, a bloke come out from one of the …
Running after you. There was a caretaker there weren’t there? Yeah.
Would Tony be about seventy two? Cos …
A friend of ours gave us … a similar thing to that and Tony had been in touch with this lady who, I think her name must have been have been Price and it was on about Tony and he was seventy two.
Yeah, well that would have been the same one that was christened at the same time as me then cos he was next to me on the baptism form. Cos that’s what I am so …
Well there you go.
And at the top of Prospect Row my friend lived in number 19, Dorothy Fisher, I think she emigrated to Australia, and number 20 was the Rector of St Mary’s Church Chatham. And he had a key. There was a gate that could get him into Kitchener Barracks so he could walk down to the church, you know, in Dock Road.
As a short cut?
A short cut, yeah, yeah, through the barracks. But he had a key. And the Boyles lived at 18 and the Runhams lived at 17 and, you know, I knew quite a few people in Prospect Road. [laughing]
Didn’t your mum meet your dad, cos he was in the army.
Well he was stationed down there, yeah.
At her gran’s caff?
At which café?
Was it the Little Wonder? He met …
Yeah, that one just opposite the [inaud]. Do you remember where the Masonic Hall used to be?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Well it was next … cos the Masonic Hall laid back off the …
That’s right, yeah.
And then this little old café, that was the first one.
Well there was Jimmy the Jewellers when I lived there.
Yeah that was next to it.
Yeah, Jimmy the Jewellers. He was a friend of my uncle, yeah.
And that’s where your mum met your dad wasn’t it in there?
Well, yeah, possibly.
When he used to come up.
But then later they moved into the High Street. Once again I can’t remember the name but you’ve mentioned a shirt factory?
Oh the collar factory down in Westcourt Street, yeah.
Well on the corner of that was a pub, can’t remember it’s name.
Yeah, the British Legion. There was a British Legion at the top of Westcourt Street. On the other corner of Westcourt Street was the Golden Lion.
Yeah, that’s shut down now, yeah, yeah.
Yeah. Well it was the Dunbars in one of ‘em. I remember Mr and Mrs Dunbar.
And Dorothy Fisher who lived in number 19 Prospect Road, she worked in the collar factory. Yeah.
So did your aunt, didn’t she?
And Aunt worked in there.
Peggy, I don’t know what her name was.
I can’t remember her Maiden name but her married name was Reddick.
Yeah I know Reddicks, I can remember Reddicks, yeah.
Yeah well they’re the ones who had the café.
So that’s my grandparents.
Oh yeah, yeah.
I lived with me mum, Ivy, with Violet, Grace, Roderick, Bob
And Jack and Bill. So quite a big family.
In small houses sometimes.
You mentioned Mr Gel.
Yeah, Mr Gel, the Great V [ph] grocer’s shop.
I used to go in there every day with my gran.
I don’t know how they had all these greengrocers in the High Street.
Yeah, he had a kitten.
And he named it after me.
And I was thrilled to bits. I can remember he said “I’ve got a little kitten” and he showed it to me and he said “I’m going to call it Wendy after you”.
And I can remember that cos I was thrilled to bits.
Yeah. I never saw a Mrs Gel. It was always him in the shop. I never saw here. But, you know, but there was Summer’s and Friend’s wasn’t there. I don’t know how they kept in business.
They kept in business cos of the dockyard. Because it was the passing trade [inaud]
Yeah but they used to come in our shop from the dockyard, you know.
Yeah and it was totally like a little village, Brompton, wasn’t it? My mother hated [inaud]
Yeah absolutely. The only thing you couldn’t buy in Brompton were clothes. That’s the only thing you couldn’t buy.
She went to the military outfitters. [laughing]
Yeah, military outfitter but, you know, you had to go to Gillingham to buy clothes, you know.
Cos me gran used to take in dockyard workers during the war.
Oh did she? And in our … being a hardware shop, we used to have a big paraffin, great bit tank, and that was in the yard at the back and if a bomb had dropped, well … And we sold methylated spirits and all sorts o’ things you see. Well we had the shop windows blown in when a bomb dropped on the Lines
[both talking at once]
And all the windows. And my uncle was an ARP warden and we were down the cellar and we could hear something up but it was him taking all the stock out the window. [laughing] Before it got pinched. [laughing]
I remember early on in the war when they raided the dockyard.
[all talking at once]
And that’s the only raid I remember round this way. As you say …
There was a bombing of the smithery, that would have been quite near, you would have heard that.
Down the road, yes, yeah.
In the dockyard.
That’s right, yeah. I mean it’s amazing.
Where did you go for air raids?
Yeah, because the shop it was on three levels. Downstairs was a shop and then we went through a work room where my uncle used to cut keys and things and then there was a kitchen at the back and then a scullery and an outside toilet. And then upstairs was the sitting room and two bedrooms and up another flight of stairs was more bedrooms. And I remember when the bomb dropped I must have been up on the top floor and I fell down the stairs trying to get down quick. [laughing]
Was your gran’s place that big?
The second one was, yeah.
I was going to say, because you had a big family didn’t you?
She used to take in lodgers.
Because the link with all of what we’re doing is with the army and the military side of the town, we’ve talked about dockyard workers, can anybody remember the army in the village?
Well we lived in Brompton Barracks before the war and we had to move out of quarters, we had to … you know. But my uncle used to supply the barracks cos he had the hardware shop, you know. He had a car and he used to supply the barracks.
Do you know what he would supply them with?
Well stuff from the hardware shop. I don’t know, we used to sell all sorts of things in the shop, you know. But I suppose he supplied the quarters as well because they didn’t have cars in those days did they? But he did and it was quite amazing. And I always remember going into Lovell’s, that was a tobacconists and newsagents on the corner of Garden Street and the High Street. And my father used to send me and I used to remember “Twenty Churchman, Capstan, Gold Flake or Player’s” [laughing]
Isn’t it strange what you remember and what you wouldn’t do now like “Five Weights”
Five Weights, yeah, you know, if they were hard up they used to buy five didn’t they?
Or two, I’ve been known to be sent for. [laughing]
Have you? And down the cut there was Tickell’s Dairy.
That’s it, yeah.
And Rose Green used to give over the milk. Do you remember Rose Green and Bert Green and Harry, Bill Green and Sam Green. They lived in the High Street. And Tickell’s Dairy. And also down the cut was the soldiers’ home.
And my uncle used to go down there once a week and have a bath. [laughing] Quite amazing, you know.
I’m going to press stop.
[End of tape]