Letter from Brighton

I am 83 years of age, and I decided to sit down and record some of my childhood memories of when I was a boy living in Frognal Lane.  I hope your readers are interested in what I have jotted down.  It’s strange but as one gets older, memories become more vivid, perhaps it’s because they were happy memories and we have more time to remember.  I should mention my sister Ena who is 79 and also lives in Brighton with her family and visits Teynham with me when she can.  I love reading “Teynham News” when I can get a copy.  A great little magazine.

My Boyhood Memories of Frognal Lane in the Twenties and Thirties

I was born in Frognal Lane on the 28 July 1920 in my grandmother’s house where my mother was living at the time. My father was a sailor in the Navy until 1932 but fortunately my paternal and maternal grandfathers lived next door to each other and therefore you can imagine where my discipline through my early years was administered from. My schooling started when I was five, and continued until I was fourteen. It was a good education. It covered the three ‘Rs’, History and Geography and I consider I was far better equipped in these areas at fourteen than a fourteen year old of today. We had to read, learn and then write an answer that could be explained without the aid of calculators. I can still convert decimals from fractions and visa versa, square roots and still know the formula for the division of decimals, common denominators, £. s. d. etc. What about yards, feet and inches? Students of today are also blessed with the easy metric system, which makes it so much easier for them.

Back to my boyhood.  Well I remember what Frognal Lane comprised of in those days. On the right hand side going down from “The Fox Inn”, behind the poplars there was a hop garden where the playing field stands.  This went down as far as the “Tin Huts” which no longer exist.  On the left hand side there was a hedge behind which there was an orchard of magnificent cherry and apple trees and in the spring you could hear the chatter of birds from the hundreds of trees bursting with lovely blossom.  If I remember correctly there used to be a snowplough situated on the left hand side about half way down the lane on the left.  Our childhood games were football and cricket in the orchards for the boys, and the girls did what girls did in those days;  us boys weren’t interested apart from playing whip-top to show who could hit a top furthest.  Another hobby for the boys was catching eels in the marshes over the railway line and spending a day watching wild life which was abundant in those days.  Frognal was famous for the swallows who built their mud nests under the guttering of the houses.  I think they used to come back every year.  Never see one now or a skylark.  

One of my fondest memories was visiting the wheelwrights shed and carpenters shop run by Mr Heathfield and the forge run by Mr Seammel.  Wagon wheels made expertly by Mr Heathfield were completed by Mr Seammel who shrunk the steel rims he forged onto the outer frame of the wheel by quenching them in the pond at the back of the sheds when red hot.  It was also an education to see the shire horses being shod.  

Hop picking every year was eagerly looked forward to.  Everyone chipped in to help mother earn enough to get new winter clothes.  I would plumb for a new pair of football boots as I played for the school.  Oh for the familiar cry from the men “Pull no more”, “Tally up” and my contribution, “Mum, the ice cream man’s coming”.

I still have great affection for the church, which I try to visit whenever I visit Teynham, and I used to sing in the choir.  “Choir Practise” was held in the School on Thursday evenings and the choirmaster was Mr Alf Gates, the Headmaster at that time.  He was a very good teacher and disciplinarian;   needless to say I had difficulty in coming to terms with the latter and consequently was never in his good books.  One of my memories of singing in the choir was the lovely voice of Mr Lewis, a great bass.  Vernon Page was another good singer.  He went to Margate once a year for our choir outing.  

I’m so sorry to see the churchyard so neglected these days.  When I was at School a large group of us boys would spend the evening with helpers to keep it tidy.  This was done after school.  I could tell you so much more about life then, but I’m sure my friend Doug Stubbings contributes his memories more adequately than I am able.  He is always a delight to read and I am always trying to cadge a copy of the magazine when I visit Teynham.

I left Teynham just before the war and after serving four years in the R.A.F. was invalided out in 1943 when I married and settled in Brighton.  My parents lived in the street at 145 for many years and I used to visit frequently to see them.  I still keep up my visits to Teynham as often as possible.  Nowadays I’m afraid I don’t feel able to do the return trip in a day and I am grateful for the hospitality my dear friend Don Sattin affords me by letting me and my wife stay with him overnight.  I always try and pay my usual pilgrimage down the lane when I visit, but I’m afraid my enthusiasm has waned somewhat when I see how the lane looks now compared with the way it looked then.  I wonder, Is this progress? and Wasn’t I lucky to have lived ‘down the lane’ in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  I’ve included a list of Teynham School old boys (of leaving school at 14);  one or two went to Lynsted but I’ve remembered them all with great affection and I hope whilst being an adopted Brightonian  I can still be considered a Teynhamite.

Ivo (Didda) Heathfield, Ernie (Punch) Heathfield, Gorden Cork, Chris Burden, Arthur Gates, Bill Gates, Doug Mount, Les (Nookie) Ford, Rodney Clarke, Alf (Tablo) Black, Arthur Phipps, George Wyles, Paul Read, George (Podger) Manser, Ernie Filner, Harold Taylor, Stuart Brett, Ron Austin,  Harold Austin, Ray Wood, Buster Brown, Sammy Parkhill, Chubby Horsnail, Roy Button, Bill Edwards, Tom Bailey, Eric Cheesman, Aubrey Mills, John Baker, Monty Dalton, Frank Kinsella, Chalky White, Ken Yates, Tom Chittenden, Archie Huntley, Fred Cooper, Fred Wood, Cocker Drury, Don Seager, Wilf Pankhurst, Jack Pankhurst, Eric Nye, Don Sattin, Les Ruck, Ernie Madgwick, Ray Carrier, Matt Boorman, Doug Stubbings, Cecil Austin, Ron Nichols, Alf Gambell, Neddy Shirwood,  and, oh yes,  my name is Albert Back.  

As mentioned previously some of the above are Lynsted boys but 90 per cent are Teynham Boys circa 1933/34.  The list is from memory.  If I have omitted anyone I apologise.

Albert Back