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Ken Brown's story

 

I was born in 1922, November 12. What a problem I caused, because my grandfather died on November 8th and was buried on November 12th. My mother’s bed was moved to the window so she could see her father’s funeral. So, straight away, November 8th became very significant in my life—I will say more about this later on. I was born in ‘The Nest’ next to Salthouse Church, the cottage with no well, bathroom et cetera. Things must have been very hard for my parents. ‘The Nest’ became a significant part of my life once again later on, and I will explain later.

The earliest thing I can remember was when my sister Vera’s boy-friend would visit her. I can see his motorbike chugging up the lane now. I was about three years old and wanted to sit on the seat—I found this was not good enough because I could not reach the handlebars. The old bike was a BSA with a long square tank, so they laid me out flat over the tank so I could just touch the handlebars, and this satisfied me.
I wanted to get down to the marshes when I was three or four years old. My mother said this was far too dangerous; I could go down as far as the road, but on no account was I to cross over (why, I could not understand—cars were a very rare sight in those days, only one or two being seen each week). So now I found myself at the bottom of Grout’s Lane. I looked to the right and a car was just passing the beach road, which was quite a long way away, with lots of kids running alongside of it. This was the first car I had ever seen. I thought what do I do now, should I cross the road to the Mill Drift or wait? I was terrified of this car and thought I would be run over. I would have had plenty of time but decided to wait. The car came chugging up with the occupants exposed to the elements, dressed in big coats, and still with the children running along side. It passed me and, after I saw it reappear at the Dun Cow corner, I crossed over to the Mill Drift. The mill had long since gone but the brick rubble still laid around in heaps. There was an old railway carriage on the site with people living in it.


They came out and said, ‘Kenneth, does your mother know you are down here?
I think you should go home.’

 

 
The building where the Brittains spent
their holidays

 

On another occasion I managed to get up and on to the beach at long last. As I went over the top of the beach it was littered with oranges. Cases were floating in the breakers. Instead of picking some up to prove my point, I ran back home as fast as I could and my sister Phyllis who was washing up said ‘If this is not true, you’ll get a big hiding from me,’ but when we got there she realised I was telling the truth—and she hadn’t brought anything to put them in. She said she would run home to get some baskets and bags and in the mean time I was to stop on the beach and gather as many oranges into a heap as I could. It appeared that a Spanish freighter had arrived in the North East with its load, to find that the port was on strike and they wouldn’t let them off-load the oranges. The ship’s crew was instructed by their bosses in Spain to go out to sea and dump their cargo overboard.

Another experience I would never forget was when I was about four. I heard a metal clanking going on from the farm buildings in Purdy Street. I decided to investigate, and found three or four men working on a well and fixing pipes down it. One man was looking down the well and lowering tools to his mate. I got nearer and nearer until I could almost look down the well myself, and I was told to get out of the way as it was very dangerous for me. I moved back, but when the man disappeared through to the road I thought now is my chance, I’m going to look down that well and see what is going on. So I crept to the edge and two men were down there, working on the pipes. Then, right out of the blue, I was grabbed from behind, tied up in a sack and lowered down the well on a rope. I passed the men and went down until my feet touched the water. All the men were laughing and I was hauled up and run home and explained to my mother that I had got my feet wet in the creek.

 

Kelling School

I had started school now and my sister Phyllis used to escort me. Another sister, Joan, had a huge mop of hair and this had to be brushed and finished before we could start our two-mile journey to Kelling School. Invariably we were late and we would run a post and walk a post [from one telegraph post to the next]. I was usually tired out when we got there and, in the winter, sodden wet. I can remember Mr Ridley was the headmaster and he was very brutal to everyone. Most of the children hated him and we were scared of him. I can remember him meeting my sister Phyllis—the time was five past nine—and striking her across the head as she was hanging up her clothes in the cloakroom, for being late. What a way to start the day.


About the age of nine years old, the farm buildings were quite a magnet for us boys. We had a bet which one of us would dare to climb on the large barn opposite Jimmy Duffield’s house in Purdy Street and turn the weather-cock around. The other boys agreed, as I was the smallest, I should do it. As the roof was very bad and there might be an accident, I was very scared indeed but did not show it. I climbed a wall and went up the middle of the main roof to the ridge and was scared out of my wits. All the boys were egging me on, shouting to me, ‘Don’t let it beat you,’ and I was now sitting on the ridge of the biggest barn in Salthouse. I looked down and saw how far up I was. I had to go along the ridge to the gable-end where the weathercock was situated. I got there and tried to turn it, but it was rusted up and it was impossible to move it. Now I was facing the wrong way and had to get back, so I decided to go down the shortest way though this meant going over a bad section of roof. Suddenly a loud crack—and a hole opened up and tiles cascaded down the roof. Although I was very scared, I dared not show it to the other boys; I just froze. One of my friends alerted Mr Duffield and he told me not to move an inch. He got some other men to help with a large stack-ladder. They rescued me and I was a hero in all my friends’ eyes.

At school I loved the modelling classes. We were each given a piece of plasticine the size of a tennis ball and were told to make what we liked. The plasticine was so hard we could not do anything with it. So the next week I made a small roller which I used to roll out the plasticine. The other kids near me kept asking me if they could borrow the roller. I said yes, but you must give me a piece of plasticine every time you borrow it. One girl borrowed my roller so much that at the end of the session she only had a small piece rolled flat, where I had enough to make a farmyard. When the teacher came round she said to the girl ‘What’s that?’ The girl replied ‘That’s a mat, Miss.’ My farmyard received first prize (two pennies).
There were about five of us boys all about the same age. One day we were at our wits’ end to know what to do with ourselves. We only had a ha’penny between us and we wanted to buy gob-stoppers. I said ‘Wait a minute. I’ve got a plan!—All of you keep looking down this drain. None of you must look up.’ I had spotted the Colonel de Crespigny almost home from his walk. I had gambled on his generosity. When he got up to us he stopped and said ‘What’s the matter, boys?’ I replied (as if I was crying), ‘I have lost my penny down the drain.’ He replied, ‘Don’t worry, you will never find it. Here is a shilling. Share it out among yourselves.’
I used to work some Saturday mornings for the de Crespigny’s gardener. He gave me a large skip about the size of a dustbin, saying he would pay me a penny if I would fill it with weeds. After two hours I was getting nowhere, as the weeds were very small in the flower beds, so I wandered over to a rough area of the grounds where the hogweed and docks were two to three feet high. I placed them in the bottom of the skip and soon filled it up. I done this for two to three weeks until the gardener realised what I was doing, and I was not asked to go anymore.

I remember being in the school playground when either the Hindenburg or the R101 Air Zeppelin came over, very low. It was a sight I will never forget. I could see people in the gondola quite clearly.

I found the following episode quite funny but I was quite scared at the time. At the school, our desks were in pairs: two boys and two girls. The girl sitting next to me had a skirt which had press-fasteners down the side. One or two of these fasteners had come undone. Unbeknown to her, I leaned over and undone the rest.We were reading one by one to the class and when the girl’s turn came up to read, her skirt fell down. She was ridiculed, but no one knew it was my fault. Mr Coe, our new headmaster, always left the class for tea at his house during the afternoon. On this particular day, as soon as he left, I got up from my desk, climbed onto the guard-rail around the fire and put the clock on by fifteen minutes. When the headmaster returned, he glanced up at the clock and said ‘Books away, class dismissed.’ The next morning there was a witch-hunt. No one would split on me, but John Holman started bubbling with laughter and he received six strokes of the cane. We got our own back because we then cut the cane with a razor-blade in about six places. The next time he used it, it split into pieces.


Mr Ridley

 

 
see also Jimmy High on the cruel discipline of an unnamed Kelling school master in 1890

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Val Fiddian 2005