The second and final part of Alfred Peckham’s random reminiscences about life in Arundel in the early 1900s, where he recalls the shops, traffic, religion, fairs and the coal cart incident.
While looking through my library I came across a document I did not recall seeing before.
It contained random reminiscences of life in Arundel in the early part of the 1900s, written by Alfred Peckham.
Alfred was born in 1905 and put these memories to paper in 1985, four years before he died.
Alfred remembers the wonderful olde-worlde grocery shop belonging to Miss Watkins on the corner of Tarrant Street and Maltravers Street that is now La Campania Restaurant: “It should have been preserved as a national monument.
“It had sacks of grain, corn and suchlike on the ground around the counter, numberless hams (the shop was renowned for smoking its own bacon in the smokehouses at the rear of the shop), strings of onions and other produce hanging from the rafters, huge decorated metal containers for tea, huge cheeses and mounds of butter, and an all-pervading lovely smell I fear has gone forever from grocery establishments now.”
A very popular grocers was Bennett’s, located at the bottom of Maltravers Street.
Alfred has the following fond memories of the goodies the children purchased there: “We would spend our weekly penny at Mrs Bennett’s shop and huge supplies of sweets could be got for this.
“Liquorice strips were perhaps the favourite although there was also brandy balls (gobstoppers).
“A small handful cost a penny and each one changed colour as you sucked it and it got smaller until it disappeared.
“Sherbet dabs were lovely – a round flat sweet on a stick and a tube full of sherbet powder and you dipped the stick in and sucked until the sherbet was gone and then you ate the sweet.
“The only thing we did not eat, despite our good teeth, was the stick!”
During his time in Arundel, Alfred lived at the top of King Street near a grocery shop run by the Burchell family.
In the early 1900s, William Burchell was known locally as ‘Billy Split-raisin’ as he was allegedly so mean he would split a raisin in half to balance his scales.
Alfred said: “On the corner of Bond Street and King Street, opposite our house, was a small grocery store and in the side window there was, for many years, a bottle of Camp coffee complete with the soldier in kilts on its label. We kids used to admire this very much.”
Alfred notes that the traffic was all horse-drawn carts and timber wagons in the town, at least up until the First World War.
He recalls seeing the great logging wagons coming down the upper London Road or the Chichester Road: “They had a pair of great draught horses, pulling a kind of two-wheeled pivoted platform with the driver sitting on it, usually on one of the shafts attached to the horses.
“This was connected to a pair of heavy wheels, with another platform, about 15 or 20 feet behind by a great axle, like a telegraph pole and would contain anything up to six huge tree trunks.”
Apart from these vehicles and traps and carriages, the only other horse vehicle Alfred could remember were the Sparks and Sons furniture wagons that would occupy a good half of the width of the street and delivered to and from Sparks Auction Rooms in Tarrant Street.
He had little recollection of motor vehicles coming to Arundel other than tourists arriving by charabanc, a sort of early bus.
Religion and Christmas
Arundel was, and still is, the main residence of the Premier Duke of England, the Duke of Norfolk, who was also, “the leading Roman Catholic in the country.”
Alfred continued: “Duke Henry, who built a huge Roman Catholic church at the top of King Street (elevated to the rank of cathedral in 1965) was still living when I was a child, and I remember the Christmas parties he held in the castle for the Arundel children.
“On one night the Roman Catholic children had their party and the Protestants on the following night – possibly due to lack of room but more likely to avoid battles between the various creeds.”
This traditional party was held at the castle in the Great Hall, now better known as the Barons Hall, which was decorated for the occasion with a large Christmas tree and roaring log fires.
I suspect, however, it was the main event of the huge feast that most children looked forward to.
Traditionally this was always presided over by the Duke, who Alfred remembers as “an imposing bearded figure.”
During this period there was a large division between many Protestant and Catholics in the town, each having their own churches and schools, and just like Alfred I can recall my own schooldays in the 1960s and how, “from the school, we all marched in a long crocodile up Maltravers Street, over the road and up the steep Parson’s Hill and from there turned right and along to the old St Nicholas Parish Church.”
Here, Alfred and his classmates, “sat in several rows of pews to the right, by the side of the choir, where in winter our feet dangled over the stone-flagged floor and we suffered agonies from chilblains, very prevalent in those days.”
Twice a year a huge circus/fair would come to Arundel and was given permission to set up in the old ‘Cows Field’ which is now mostly covered over by the western roundabout that forms the end of the A27 relief road.
In Alfred’s words: “There was rather a wet field and a stream ran through it (the Spring Ditch) which came from the water cress beds on the other side of the stone-walled causeway.
“We were allowed to go and have rides on the roundabout and I remember so vividly the magnificent mechanical bands on the inside with figures playing instruments and banging drums, all driven by the electricity generated by the great steam-driven traction engines.
“We could hear it playing even from the top of King Street.
“The one tune I can always remember it playing was ‘How yer gonna keep them down on the farm.’
“Oh, wonderful memories.”
The coal cart accident
This incident appears to have been so memorable that it has gone down in Arundel history to be recalled second and third-hand, always with a different twist, often by relatives of those who lived in the town at the time.
The following is Alfred’s recollection of the sad event, which is not for the faint-hearted: “A coal cart used to deliver coal starting from the top of King Street as the hill being so steep.
“The coalman had to fix brake shoes or skids under the back wheels of the cart to help the horse support the weight while the coalman delivered the coal.
“These skids were sort of iron shoes attached to the cart by iron chains and were slipped under the front of the back wheels.
“Thus the back wheels were blocked and when the horse pulled, the cart would slide rather than roll down the hill on the skids.
“One day we heard a great shouting and clattering out in the front.
“We ran out into the street to see what was happening, but were too late.
“It seemed that the horse was frightened by something before the skids were fixed and bolted down the hill.
“The bottom the hill is very steep with a sharp bend and leading to the T-junction of Maltravers Street that had a high solid stone terrace on the opposite side.
“The poor horse could not have had a hope in heaven of pulling up and so ran full tilt into this wall with all the weight of the loaded coal cart behind it. The aftermath is best left to the imagination.
“This tragedy for the poor horse and the coalman, who had lost his livelihood, was the talking point for days.”
I will allow Alfred to conclude this month’s article with a short comment on traffic in the town during his childhood – a topic that can still be very relevant yet emotive in our day.
One can only imagine our now busy town when, “the idea of there being any danger never entered our heads as there was little danger in slow-moving horse-drawn traffic.”
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