The Reminiscences of Jimmy Bridger.
Jimmy spent his working lives as a shopkeeper, at first at Latty's in Redhill High Street until the shop was swept away in the redevelopment of Redhill and he moved to Bell Street in Reigate. Interviewed in 2010 this is how he remembered his life in Redhill and Reigate.
My father was 71 when I was born in 1928. He died when we lived at Tooting Broadway. He had worked for Lavells the confectioners and opened seventy-five branches. He would take an empty shop, get it stocked, install a manager in and move on. Because of the constant moving my brother John went to twenty-two different schools. John was twelve years older than me and I didn't start school until after our Dad died and as we were settled in Redhill then I just went to the one school. Dad had just opened a Lavells branch at Tooting when he died.
|One of My Dads London shops|
| As a mark of his passing my mother was allowed to pick any one of the shops to run in order to make a living for herself and her family She chose a double-fronted premises in Redhill and we moved there in 1933. She painted out the Lavells sign and finished up with the name Latty's, which was not too far from her own name of Lotty, so it was an amalgam of the first two letters of the original name and the last three letters of her own name.|
Before Lavell's had the shop there was a tailor there. Grice's shop was opposite us in the High Street. Grice's bakery was originally behind our shop (possibly before the tailor) and also at the top of Brighton Road between the Padlock and the New Inn. Miss Langridge was the manager of the shop and Miss Loveday was manager of the bakery in Brighton Road. As a boy I used to clean Mr Grice's car, a Ford V8 - it had a radio I remember. He had owned our shop at one time and still had a couple of garages behind it.
I went to St Matthew's School. We would all be together for assembly and there were two screens that were pulled across to divide the hall into classrooms. Standard 1 and 2 was taught by Miss James and there was also Mr Shorter. The stove was in the middle so that was nice and warm but anyone in the outer two classrooms froze in the winter. The lighting was all gas, which wasn't too good. I hated it at St. Matthews. If you didnt understand something you darent put your hand up and ask, it was horrible.
I later went to school in a little village in Norfolk. Id been staying on holiday with my mothers eldest sister when the war had started - that was the only sort of holiday we had then, with relatives and my mother said Id better stay up there. The village had nothing much, I lived on a farm. When I went into the school it had electric lighting and a lovely atmosphere where you werent afraid to ask if you didnt understand. Years later we went back to see the relatives Id lived with and they said youve got to go to that lovely bungalow that Miss Stevenson, the school headmistress has had built because she retires today. So I went and knocked on the door thinking Id have to say You wont remember me but I was a pupil here during the war. The door opened and before I could open my mouth she exclaimed Oh Jimmy! How lovely to see you again. She recognised me straight away after all those years. I was there until ten oclock that night. It turned out that she had been talking about me only that day because when shed turned her desk out someone had seen all the photos in there and asked about one of them whos that boy? and Miss Stevenson had said Thats Jimmy, he was here during the war.
Mr Tanner, who had the jewellers in Station Road, Redhill, I remember quite well. He had a big American Chrysler saloon and also had a garage in Rees Road. At closing time, if I went and opened the garage doors, I could stand on the running board and get a ride up to Jersey Dairies, just for fun.
One of Redhill's slaughter houses was behind my shop. Cattle were brought across the road from the market to be slaughtered. One day one of them got into Woolworths. Other slaughter houses were in Cromwell Road and Garlands Road but the main one was the one off Rees Road behind our shop.
The Cattle market was every Monday and the ordinary market was every Saturday. People didn't always shop in Redhill; sometimes they went to Croydon to get their vegetables in Surrey Street. This meant fewer people spending money in Redhill, of course. We used to hope it would get out foggy so they'd stay in Redhill.
Sangers Circus used to walk animals from the railway station through Redhill to the common. Sometimes they'd be kept overnight at Pickfords on Brighton Road. I was driving down Brighton Road going to the shop one foggy morning and I could see someone waving a red light at me. I wondered what on earth it was. I got a bit closer and there was an elephant.
In about 1936 Edwards' Circus wintered on the spare ground off Rees Road. I think the circus only had six records. If you went in the chairoplanes you were virtually in the bedrooms over the shops. This ground had never been built on and belonged to Chalmers the coach builders in the High Street. They keep wood and other materials there and there were also some old broken down cars. It was just a rough piece of ground; the blacksmith that used to shoe all the Jersey Dairy horses was there. He had coke pits there. There was an alley behind the shops. The slaughter house I mentioned earlier was behind Liptons. Going South from Rees Road the first shop was Weller's the butchers, then our shop, Latty's, then Maypole Dairy.
This picture of Weller's shop, on the corner of Rees Road and the High Street, dates from c1920 but next to it on the left can just be seen the shop that my mother later took over.
I lived at Salfords when I was single and there were heavy guns at Redhill Aerodrome. But the worst thing was the machine guns; they were tested - or ammunition was being tested - by the Monotype and you could hear them all day. The Monotype was one of the largest employers around here. I lived in a house that backed on to the railway and the German 'planes used to follow the railway to London. There were times when you could see the glow in the sky from the fires in London.
Ted Ayres, local policeman, had two bombs in his place at Warren Road, Reigate, one that exploded and one that didn't. Ted was a police Inspector and when he retired became a runner for a solicitor, Pringle I think. Ted Ayres was connected with the first smash and grab raid from a car in the country; I think it was from Tanners jewellers in Station Road, Redhill. Whether he gave chase or was just involved in the investigation I can't remember.
| I was a police messenger at the town hall, Reigate, during the war - you had to join something then - with Ted Ayres. Mr Solomons from Reigate Tailors was also a police messenger. They had a canteen there and Ted would often get me and the other boys a jacket potato. I wasn't in the home guard; I was a messenger boy for the police. The uniforms badges say 'PAMS' - Police Auxiliary Messenger Service. It was run by Captain Sutton who lived in a house called 'Elmsfield' in Clarendon Road, Redhill. I used to be on the switchboard.|
Our action post for the police messengers was at the top of Redstone hill in a lodge about where Chanctonbury Chase is. I was on duty with Walter Pendered when an air raid was on. Walter and I walked out the back and were standing by Redstone Hollow - there are houses in it now - and we saw a doodlebug coming. It was night and we could hear it and see the red glow from its exhaust. We wondered where it was going when suddenly it spun round - someone said it hit a Barrage balloon cable but I don't know whether it did or not. Down it went; it nearly knocked us off our feet up there, it was a hell of a bang. The phone was going and I was told to report to the action post in Earlswood Road. I jumped on my bike and sped down Redstone Hollow. I saw an air raid warden coming along and asked where the action post was. He said it was by the waxworks. I told him he was joking. I didn't mind biking a little way but I wasn't going to London. I didn't know there was a waxworks in Earlswood where they made wax for various uses. Anyway, once I realised where the action post was I was one of the first messengers there.
As a messenger I went all over the place, to Redhill police station, Reigate police station - there were very few phones in those days, people just didn't have them in their homes. Look at the Redhill 'phone numbers, mine at Latty's was 955, Linters was 950, John Roberts shop was 90, they were all under two thousand, and the telephone area was quite large. So I would get given messages and I would take them wherever was necessary. Several times I went to St. John's School, I never knew why I had to go there.
|Me aged fifteen as a police messenger.|
Left - A cutting I kept from the Surrey Mirror about the tragedy at Earlswood.
Above - A letter from the Superintendent of the Reigate Borough police, Willian beacher, thanking me for my part in the following operation.
(Both documents courtesy Jimmy Bridger)
| Walter Pendered was in the police. Lots of local trades people joined the police. There were WRs (war reserves), TCs (temporary constables) and PCs, (police constables). I think Walter was a WR. All were like extra policeman. Each had his own job to do and all had to do nights as well. Many of the local trades people joined. It was easier than the Home Guard. I could have gone into the air cadets, army cadets or sea cadets, but as Captain Sutton was a customer in our shop I thought I'd join the police service as a messenger. A bonus was that it had a smarter uniform. |
Reigate 2211 was the 'phone number for Reigate Joint Police Force on the switchboard at Reigate. Of course it was all disbanded at the end of the war. I've got a letter thanking me for my service and saying that I would be welcome back to continue with my duties, unpaid of course, any time you feel like it. I've a good mind to take the letter down to the police station now and say that I've come back to have a go at the switchboard.
|The Police Auxiliary Messenger Service in 1940.|
Captain Sutton is seated centre front.
(photo courtesy Jimmy Bridger)
|My letter of thanks for my service in the Police Messenger Service signed by the Home Secretary of the time Sir Donald Somerwell.|
I joined the RAF in November 1945, a month after the war ended, and came out February 1949. I chose the RAF because my brother had been in for five years. This was national service, of course, and a form of conscription. I was an armourer stationed in Cambridgeshire where we were sending materials to Germany as part of the in the Berlin Airlift. I got a demob suit when I came out.
Being an armourer I got the opportunity to shoot at Wisley. We were told that four armourers would have a day out shooting at a range just outside Cambridge. On the first day we were in the butts putting the targets up and down while others did the shooting. After that they said that we could have a go. There were about twenty-five people there altogether, mostly officers. There were going to form a team and we shot over a couple of weeks or more. At that time we were down to twelve, eight for the team and four reserves and I was still in it. On the strength of that I had a fortnight at Bisley and was the only NCO in the team, the rest were officers. I wasnt treated like an erk, theyd say Good morning Bridger, and in the pub wouldnt let me buy a drink. On the day My Love won the derby (1948) I won an egg shoot. At 600 yards they draw a pencilled egg on the target, its a shilling a round and you cant see the egg. You dont concentrate too much you just aim more or less for the target. Firing a .303 you fire rapid, snap etc and I won. There were a hundred targets with two people to a target so it was a lot of money. Remembering that my pay was £2.10s a fortnight you got paid fortnightly in the RAF - I won £17.10s, so it was worth having. We had quite a party and spent the lot. What a night that was, I could hardly see the targets the next morning
As I said, Id become one of the boys. On the last Sunday Squadron Leader Hattersley asked me how I was getting back to camp. I said that if I could get home Id go back in my car. He asked why I didnt go and get it and I told him that no-one was allowed out of the camp. He asked me where I lived and I told him Redhill and he drove me there in his Humber. He even stayed and had Sunday lunch with us. When we got back to Bisley I had to drive in close behind him so I could get back into camp.
There was a Sergeant Brown at the camp who had a Ford 8. Petrol was hard to come by and one night I went out with him to pinch petrol from stationary lorries. (The Ford 8 was generally known as a rep's car and at the time you could get a reconditioned engine fitted in one by Chalmers of Redhill for £8 in the lunchtime)
| I enjoyed every minute I was in the RAF. Mind you square bashing was tough, and it was in that winter of 1946/7. All the other RAF camps closed down because there was no fuel and the weather was so cold. The only reason our camp didnt close was because there was meningitis in the camp and were in quarantine. As I say it was tough square bashing in that. I had a 1907 Lee Enfield rifle and an 18 bayonet that hit you in the back of the legs like a dress sword when you sat down. It was so cold we went into an empty billet and used our bayonets to chop up the wardrobes and burnt them in our stove. We only had one at each end of our billet and one toilet for nearly a hundred blokes. We had no hot water so I took back a cup of tea to shave with. |
Because it was so cold and we were scraping round with cold water we broke out in sores so had to go sick. To report sick you had to sign on the day before. Youd go down every night for treatment with your best blue on and your kitbag with everything packed in case you had to go to hospital and this was just for facial sores. There was a new thing out, penicillin, and thats what was dabbed on these sores.
I came home on leave once and Liptons in Redhill High Street gave me ten shillings to go out delivering for them in their Austin Seven van because, believe it or not, drivers were very scarce then.
|Me in RAF uniform|
|Lattys, the Redhill Shop|
I don't think there is a photo of the front of our shop, certainly I don't have one, but in this 1930s picture looking north along Redhill High Street it was on the left just about in line with the car overtaking the cyclist. Unfortunately the sunblind is down so there's not much of it to see.
| My brother and I took over the shop after the war, our mother taking a back seat. The shop was originally quite small but was extended in the 1950s to include a cafe in what had originally been the stock room in the back. |
I used to make ice cream and at one time went out selling it in a van. This was in the late 1940s. I remember that our rent then was £365 a year - a pound a day - and that was dear. Long after, when Boots went into their shop, which was built where our shop and Wellers the butchers was, they paid £4,000 a year, something we thought was impossible.
When you work at a newsagents you rarely get a whole newspaper. You get the one at the bottom of the bundle that's been delivered to you after its been dragged across the ground and is torn and soggy. All the customers take the second paper down because they think the top one might be damaged, so if it is we always used to put it under the top one. We used to beg borrow and steal to get the shop going. During the war we had coupons the same as the public did but we only had the same as anyone else. I used to have dealings with a man who lived up Croydon Road - he was a Jew - and if I paid him out say a hundred pounds he count it but would never count the last note. He said 'what do you want to count the last note for? You can see it's there and there might be another one underneath it, or even more than one'. I had to get married on a Wednesday. Mum wouldn't shut the shop on a Saturday, no way. She said she didn't mind once in a lifetime on a Wednesday. After we were married we lived over the shop for eight years
|My Brother John and I in the Redhill shop||Just me in the shop in this photo.|
|The café in the rear of the Redhill shop. We converted it from a storeroom. The view is through the café and shop to the open front door out into the High Street.||In the Redhill shop in the 60s|
| Mum died around 1960 and my brother John and I continued to run the shop. I remember one of the jobs I did was to go to Friths in Raglan Road and buy a couple of dozen postcards to sell in the Redhill shop. We finally had to get out of our Redhill shop in 1966 as it was part of the town redevelopment. My brother bought a shop in Sheerness and I had already bought another shop in Reigate in 1964. My wife and a manageress ran the Reigate shop for the first two years. |
Our first Reigate shop was in the premises right of picture on the corner of Bancroft Road and Bell Street with a window in each road.
|Then history repeated its and that shop too became part of a redevelopment in 1971. So I moved a little further up the same side of Bell Street into a shop that was a florists but not long before had been the Red Rose Cleaners. In the above photo it was in the second of the two tall white buildings. The first one, which was also part of the redevelopment, was the Hippodrome Cinema. People used to buy their sweets from us before going to the pictures either at the Hippodrome or at the Majestic, which was also nearby in Bancroft Road.. |
In the photo on the left the shop is on the right.
I ran the Bell Street shop until I handed it over to my son in 2000. I finally retired in 2002.
This photo, taken in January 2011, shows that the Bridger name goes on
Mrs Bridger kindly allowed these photos of her stepfather to be added to her husband's memoirs. Her mother married her stepfather, Rubin Grist, when she was aged three. He was in the navy in his early life but spent the majority of his life working for Faulkners, the road and haulage contractors.
Rubin Grist, presumably part of a road gang, is second from left in this photo. His employment with Faulkners extended either side of WW2 so this photo could date from the 1930s, 40s or 50s.
Here Rubin is on the right. The lorry is well down on its rear springs under the weight of this extra-ordinary load.