Memories of West Malling
By Phyllis Stevens
West Malling, a town I have loved and always thought of as home, I have decided to write my memories of the town when I was about 10 years old in 1925. I am now 89 years of age and in my memory I can still see myself emerging through the iron posts at the bottom of the path that came down from St Mary’s Church door to the top of the High Street, alas the posts have now gone and one can get a car through.
My father, Arthur George Emmerson, who was born in Southborough near Tunbridge Wells in 1887 moved with his parents , Phillip and Mary Elizabeth Emmerson, to Bidborough as my grandfather took employment with Mr Henry Wood who owned Bidborough Court. My grandfather had come from Dedham in Essex after marrying Mary Elizabeth Collins whose home was in Pennington Lane, Southborough. They had two sons and one daughter. My father went to school at Southborough and it was arranged for him to go to another school and then start work in the Post Office, but he was not at all happy as he wanted to work in the gardens, so Mr Wood had him trained to go into his estate. Mr Wood then bought the Manor House at West Malling, the last Miss Savage having died. My grandfather was moved there and my father went with him as an assistant. There were four or five other gardeners there and some of them lived in a bothy over the stables. They required a number of extra gardeners as the grounds had been badly neglected. This was in 1906.
My father married my mother, Ethel Tremlin Jones, in December 1911 at Lamberhurst and they lived in one of the Park Cottages at West Malling, which were opposite the Castle or Keep in St Leonards Street. They were very happy there especially when my brother Ernest Arthur was born with the assistance of Dr Pope, the town’s doctor. In 1914 dad was called up to go as Manager of a woman’s factory making munitions at Cliffe at Hoo. Mum went back to Lamberhurst and I was born in 1915. My Dad joined her when he was de-mobbed in 1918.
Mr Henry Wood died in 1916 and the Manor was bought by the Trustees of Frederick Andrew, a solicitor from Lincoln, who left money in his will for a house to be bought and used as a convalescent home “for poor gentlewomen striving to earn their own livelihood”. In 1919 we returned to West Malling and moved into the Lodge at the front gates of the Manor House.
I was nearly four years old and my brother six or seven. He went to the Church School at the top of Church Fields and I joined him there as soon as I was five. Miss Funnell was in charge of the Infants and was helped by the Misses Hughes and Tomlin. It was a very happy school and at seven I went into the Girl’s school next door. The teachers were Miss Lester, Miss Harland, Miss Neath and two others whose names I cannot remember. I didn’t settle there so my parents sent me to Elwood School, later called St Christophers, in the High Street next to Dr Robert’s house and surgery. My brother went to the boy’s school at the bottom of the High Street near Bull Bridge, the headmaster was Mr Cheal.
I remember the High Street so well and most of the shops. Going down the High Street from opposite the Church, next to Elwood School was the house and surgery of Dr Roberts then what we always called Watery Lane but is now Water Lane. Then a few houses, a cottage called The Salt Box, Wellards a shoe repairer, Johnsons a sweet shop, Hitchcocks dairy, a coal merchant, The Bear Hotel, Newmans greengrocer, Reeds shoe shop, Hoads watchmaker, Olivers chemist, I always remember Mr Oliver because of his long beard. Next came an alley called Mairs Nest and then the Fire Station. If a maroon went off it was exciting to see the firemen on their bikes or running to get the fire engine out. The next was the yard of the George Hotel and the George itself where the gardeners of the town including the cottagers would hold their shows every month or quarter. My school used a room in the George as a gym and played tennis on their tennis court at the back.
Next to the George was Smiths who had two shops on the same side of the High Street, the first one sold household goods such as sheets, curtains, carpets, etc., then came Wellers the jeweller who visited the large houses in the district and kept their clocks in good order. Next was Griffin the ironmonger who repaired mowers and radios when they were made popular in the early 1920’s. Next was Harrington’s grocers and Carman’s a Gentleman’s Outfitters, Kents the bakers who had a Dentist upstairs which one could visit once a week, another chemist then Smith’s second shop which sold Ladies underwear, top garments and hats. So we come to the top of Swan Street, cross over and we are at the Post office and still on the same side there is Foremans bread and cake shop, selling cakes which I doubt anyone could beat. (This shop after many years was taken over by Briggs and is now a Restaurant called The Bakery.)
We are now at Mrs and Miss Brewers sweet shop which sold childrens’ sweets and sherbet fountains. This shop was a very dark small one, children were rather afraid to go in.Once more a grocers T.D.Brice, then Stedmans a stationers who sold books, paper, envelopes, cards, etc., in fact everything that one requires for writing and they also sold toys.
I find it difficult to remember what came next but I think there was an office connected to the Council and then the Westminster Bank. Now we are at The Cabin owned by Joe Martin and Mr Marten’s the fishmonger. Cross over to the West side of the High Street which runs parallel with King Street and there is Newmans a grocer, Barkaway a butcher, Fullager and Collins, drapers, a toy shop and a dairy called Armstrongs. I was very friendly with the two Armstrong daughters and my brother with the son. In the school holidays we would go down and watch them skim the cream off the milk and in the middle of the morning would be given a glass of the milk to drink.
A passage then ran from the High Street to King Street, there were quite a lot of these passages on this side of the road. Next came Norris a china shop, I am afraid I dont remember just how the different premises were except for a Public House called “The Rose and Crown”, a fruit and sweet shop and Viners which was quite a big store with a men’s department, the International Stores, the Joiners Arms, a sweet shop, Blanks the grocers and on the corner Miss Barton who was a great favourite with the children as she sold balloons, hoops, skipping ropes, tops, marbles, etc.
It was in this area that the buses turned round and of course there was a lot of open decked ones which children loved in the summer in spite of the flies, maybugs and other insects. This is where West Street comes into the High street and on its corner was a butchers called H. Dunn. I was very friendly with the daughter Joan from our early years at the infants and spent many hours in the cold store of her Father’s shop watching the sausages being made.
Going up the High Street on the West side it was nearly all houses except for The Five Pointed Star Public House and then mostly larger houses with a Nurses Home, The Vicarage, and ended at the Church and War Memorial which I can remember being unveiled in 1919.
Following on my description of West Malling High Street, I return to the top of Swan Street which is between the Post Office and Smith’s Ladies Shop. Going down on the right-hand south side we pass the Working Men’s Club which was very popular with billiards, snooker, darts, card games, etc. Next a Shoe repairers, and a man’s hairdresser. Then came an entrance to the back of the High Street shops for deliveries. Then the Swan Room which was let out for Whist drives, Concerts, Wedding Breakfasts and various other entertainments.
We now come to a large piece of land and the gate to the Abbey where nuns and monks have lived since 1090. The old building is hidden behind a very high stone wall. During the Second World War the monks living there came into the Town and were very popular with the local people. Further down Swan Street we come to a Cascade of water which flows through from the Abbey grounds. It is a stream which flows from the Manor Park lake which starts as springs round the Keep in St Leonards Street. From here there are orchards of Kentish Cobs, then the road divides into Station Road going to the station where we had steam trains going to and from London and the other road to East Malling.
The Water Cart by the Cascade in Swan Street
Returning to the High Street, on the right-hand north side we see Went House followed by a lane called Cascade Avenue commonly called Frog Lane because lots of frogs would come out of the stream onto the road. Next two houses then a Public House called The Brewers Tap. I am not too sure exactly how the rest went but I know there was Goddens who repaired carriages also their house and yard, a Wine and spirit shop, the Baptist Chapel, Dr Cole’s house, some cottages and the entrance to Police Station Road. On the opposite corner The Kent Arms, and a house, The National Provincial Bank, The Swan Hotel, a house, Styles Yard, a confectioners called Stripps, Hobdays, and Baldocks who sold nearly everything.
We now cross over the High Street and go up as far as Bartons corner and turn into West Street. On the right is a Colonnade under which is Rogers cycle shop and Smithers a grocers. I particularly remember Smithers because when you walked in the door you could smell all the goods which were in open containers including tea, coffee, etc. We pass an orchard and cottages until we come to the Gas Works where there is a gate which leads into the Cricket Meadow. I was told that the first recorded match was played in 1705. We always went to the Gardeners Annual Show on August Bank Holiday, which was always the first Monday in the month.They had a large T-shaped tent which was full of flowers, vegetables, fruit, cooked potatoes and runner beans as well as flower decorations and cakes. There was also drawings done by the schoolchildren. There was also the usual fair which was roundabouts, swings and stalls with different games and coconut shies. In the evening there was a Flannel Dance in the Badminton Hall. I once heard a gentleman say “On August Bank Holidays all roads lead to West Malling”
Another good thing in West Malling was the Operatic Society which put on a Gilbert and Sullivan opera every year. The performers were mostly local people. I can remember as a youngster going to see the “Mikado”, “The Pirates of Penzance”, “Iolanthe” and “Patience” also “Ruddigore” and “A Country Girl” which is not G and S. The school children went to see them on the Monday which was the dress rehearsal. They were all played in the Badminton Hall accompanied by an orchestra.
Another regular meeting at the Badminton Hall was “The Fanciers Society” showing Hens, Cockerels, Rabbits, Canaries and Budgerigars, not forgetting new laid eggs. It was a two day show having a night watchman to make sure that all the cages were kept locked up and nothing escaped. Regular Dances were put on several times in the year. Now we will leave the Badminton Hall and go into the Offham Road. This is a road which is all houses except that at the top we come to a Public House called “The Fountain.” We skirt round that to go into Church Fields and come to a little shop run by a little old lady who sold Aniseed Balls, Lemonade, Sherbet Powder, eucalyptus gums and bottles of Lemonade and Ginger Beer also penny bars of Nestles Chocolate and a variety of sweets in jars. Whatever you wished to buy, she would pick a square of newspaper, screw it up like a cornet and put your sweets into it. We go up the road with cottages on the left and allotments on the right until we come to the infants school and Girl’s school which had an apple tree in the middle of the playground. Now through some wooden posts like the iron ones at the end of this path at the top of the High Street.
There are such a lot of those days that I remember, being proud that my brother Ernest was solo boy in the church choir. The Rev A.W. Lawson was Vicar and Mr Cossom choir master and organist. One Easter Sunday morning the choirboys went on strike because they had not been paid their money for some previous Sundays, they stood outside the Church in their cassocks and surplices until they had been promised their money in the evening------- THE BOYS WON!!! I go down to the Iron Posts again and I am at the top of the High Street and facing me is Church House in which the Bracher family lived. I turn to the right and there is a large white house named Brome. We go round the double corner and come to the lodge at the gates of the Manor House where my parents, brother and I first lived in 1919 and to the left is the lake where my father took us in the punt to the island for picnics.
Further along the road is a cutting in the rocks which is the road to the Manor Farm, which at that time belonged to Hinge and Doubleday who had a Bailiff, Mr Waters. He never worried about us running over the farm to see the Horses, Pigs and Cows. Our greatest delight was at hop picking time when we spent most of our school holidays in the Oast houses which had three large fires on the bottom floor. The heat rising to dry the hops brought from the fields in Pokes (a sack) and spread on the top floor which was made of horse hair. The hops were then shovelled on to the floor below the Oast floor and , pressed into pockets (very big long sacks), then dropped to the bottom floor where we enjoyed stencilling the date etc., on them. In the evening we would take some potatoes up to the oast house and the drier would put them in the pile of hot ashes that was under the fires and later we would fetch them and have them for supper with plenty of butter.
Those days were the happiest that I can remember of my childhood days and we were very lucky to be in such an interesting place. There are still places that I have not told you about. New Barn, Bo Peep where one of the butchers kept his sheep before sending them to the slaughter house in King Street. Banky Meadows where we tobogganed when the snow was on the ground, unfortunate for those who went in the stream at the bottom if it was not frozen. There was also a very old house called Fartherwell Hall, park and grounds.
Now I can only thank my ancestors who passed on to me a very good memory to enable me to write about “The Town of West Malling ”. in the 1920’s.
My Grandparents Phillip William Emmerson & Mary Elizabeth (nee Collins)