The Reminiscences of Mrs. Kathleen Knight

The Inter-war Years in Redhill
1918 - 1939

As related in 2000

I was born Kathleen Bean in Cecil Road, Redhill in November 1914. My parents were from Sussex. My father worked on the railway as a guard and had moved to Redhill when transferred there from Snodland. I never knew my two older sisters who sadly had died from ‘purple measles’ within a week of each other before I was born. The family used to return to its Sussex roots from time to time, especially at hop picking time when grandmother would put out a large, open, upside-down umbrella and tell the children that once they had filled it with the hops they had picked they could go to play. They usually would stay hop picking for a month and, such are childhood memories when one remembers only the good times, I cannot remember it ever raining. My memories of Redhill related here are my earliest ones from close to the end of WW1 to 1939 when I married.
Joe Chandler’s vegetable, fruit and fish shop on the south east side of Redhill High Street. The lady with the pram is my mother, and the two girls with her, one in the pram, are Annie and Lily, the two elder sisters I never knew
    My father was exempt from First World War military service by virtue of his job on the railways and was involved in the bringing back of wounded from Dover. As a guard he was normally to be found in the guard’s van but, as fortune would have it, was walking through the middle section of one train when its rear section was hit by a German bomb.

     My earliest memory is of German soldiers marching up and down Cecil Road, Redhill. Chigwell House in London Road, once a doctor’s house, later headquarters of the Royal Ordinance, now the site of the DSS office building, is where German prisoners of war were interned locally and they were exercised by marching up and down Cecil Road. Exits, such as the entrances to side roads and alleys, were guarded to prevent escape attempts and I remember my mother getting the children in and bolting the front door. Even inside the house the sound of their hobnailed boots could still be heard. My only other wartime memory is that of going onto Redhill common at the end of the war and, carried high on my father’s shoulders, having a good view when a giant bonfire with a dummy Kaiser on top was set fire to as part of the celebrations. People with burning torches came up all the paths to the common and I, then still only four years old, thought a real man was being burnt.

     When I was seven the family moved from Cecil Road to Grovehill Road. I remember the gasworks and the daily hooter that signaled the beginning and end of the day’s work for the men there. The entrance was opposite Grovehill Road, its hill too often the site of the demise of horses whose over-laden carts were beyond their strength to hold back on the steep gradient. Sometimes, in spite of wooden wedges under carts' wheels they were puId off their feet and down the hill to their deaths at the gasworks entrance. To this day I am unable to understand why carters and delivery men would risk their valuable horses on the steep hill. The carts were also frequently badly broken as the result of such an accident, with the goods carried also damaged.

     Due to ill health I did not start at St Matthew’s Infants School until I was six. Two classes were taught by Miss Burr and Miss Smallfield but my time in the infants was short and I soon was in Standard 1, which was taught by another Miss Smallfield, the sister of the infants' teacher. Uniform was a white pinafore but as the school’s boiler emitted soot into the classroom when stoked by the caretaker it was usually a light shade of grey by the end of the school day.
     Miss Izzard was the mistress who taught needlework and dressmaking to Standard 3 at St Matthew’s. More able pupils in this subject were allowed to use the school sewing machine to make school dresses for sale to aid school funds. These were plain pink with white collars. In winter gymslips and white blouses were worn, with SM (for St Matthew’s) embroidered by the children themselves on the collars.
     I was one of the St Matthew’s girls who received a prize for poems written about the siting of the war memorial at Shaws Corner in 1923. Unfortunately I have lost the poem and do not have a copy.

     Another early memory is of my first visit to the cinema. A family friend offered to take me to the Picture House in Station Road and with my mother’s permission off we went. The film, however, was the Hunchback of Notre Dame, a rather frightening film and not the sort for a child. It put me off going to the pictures for a long time after that.

This is me in January 2000 holding my school photo. I am the girl in the centre leaning forward slightly.

   I left school aged 14 in 1929. My mother wanted me to work in Jones but I saw an advertisement for a junior at Shepherd's, the newsagents and toy shop across the other side of the High Street from Jones, applied for the job and was taken on.  My starting pay was four shillings for a six-day week. I got a rise to 7/6d when I was sixteen. Each day I started at 6 a.m. and worked until 7 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. I worked until 1 p.m. on Wednesday half-day, 8 p.m. on Friday, and to 9 p.m. on Saturday, making a standard working week of 74 hours. Jennings’ shop was across the High Street and at Christmas Mr. Shepherd would often stand at the door and watch to see if Jennings stayed open late. If it did Shepherd's would also stay open and the girls were not allowed to leave until both shops closed, sometimes as late as 10 p.m.     Mr. Shepherd, a single man, lived in Ladbroke Road with his sister. When he died his brother came from the USA to live with him. He lived near enough to go home for lunch, something his shop assistants were not allowed to do. His lunch break was the only time they could relax a little. We were able to keep a look-out for his return by watching the reflection on our side of the High Street in Johnsons’ wine shop window.

    Other than sweeping the floors and cleaning the windows my jobs included looking after the paper and magazine department with another employee, Miss Miles, who I called ‘Milo’. Miss Crisp and Miss Partridge worked in the toy department. National papers were delivered to the shop and one of my jobs was getting up six newspaper rounds per day, four day rounds and two evening rounds that were done by boys. If one of the boys did not turn up for his round I would do it and get paid 5d extra. Surrey Mirrors had to be collected from Ladbroke Road and this was also my job. With a trolley I would take the back route through the Market Field to avoid meeting anyone I knew.
     As well as filling in for absent paper round boys I also had one or two special deliveries to make. I took the Morning Post to Mr. Arthur Trower at Wiggie where there would always be a cup of hot chocolate awaiting me, an evening paper to Mr. Pringle in Upper Bridge Road, where I had to knock because he did not like his paper folded and put through the letter box, and a newspaper to Joe Chandler at his High Street shop. Joe could not read and I would get an apple for reading the headlines to him. His wife read the news items to him later.

Rego and Dolcis can be seen in this1930s picture of the High Street
     If anyone were to walk the east side of the High Street with their eyes closed they would recognise most of the shops they were passing by smell alone, as each had its own distinct aroma. Starting from the centre of the town there was Nicols, which sold ladies clothes and home furnishings. Nicols had a disastrous fire in 1901 but it had at least one other fire as well, as I remember fire damaged goods being sold off in the 1930’s. The shop became Burtons in 1935. Then there was Finlays tobacconist, Boots The Chemist, Rego clothiers, Smith’s Popular Stores, Rigden draper (later became Dolcis shoes), MacFisheries and then Hepworths outfitters, which was the last shop before the entrance to the Market Field. The cattle market was held in the Market Field every Monday. The ordinary market was on a Saturday and my favourite stalls were the sweet, toffee and honeycomb makers.
Grice's bakers shop at 11 High Street as Kathleen Knight would have known it.
    The next shop was Foster Brothers clothiers, then came Allman, fruiterer and florist, next door to which was Grice, bakers (delicious cream buns). Next were Home and Colonial Tea Stores; Walton, fruiterers; Askew, saddle and harness makers; Chas. Spearing, pork butcher, which I remember sold lovely sausages. I also delivered papers there and would be given chitterlings (pig’s innards) as a reward, which were lovely fried at tea-time but are not available now. Then came Lewis’ tobacco and confectionery; British and Argentine Meat Co.; Greenwood & Sons, run by brothers George and Fred, leather sellers; Shepherds, stationery, toys and newsagents (where I worked) and the Singer Sewing Machine Co., which was the last shop before the entrance to Marketfield Road and also another entrance to the Market Field.
Redhill High Street in 1927 when I was 13 years old. The Singer sowing machine shop is far right and Shepherds’ shop, where I went to work, is next to it with its blind out over the pavement.
    Next was Burton & Sons, butchers, which in the days before refrigeration sold cheap meat on a Saturday night, with a shoulder of lamb costing 1/6d and a joint of beef 2/-. Then came Chalmers, coach builders and motor engineers, Reids coats and gowns, Chandler, fish fruit and vegetables – here was the alley to the railway station – Crittall, tobacco and confectionery, Wright, boot-maker, Quinton, guns, cycles and sports goods, and St Matthew’s Parish Rooms.

     Two well-known people that I remember coming to Shepherd's shop were novelists. One was Mr. Athol Harcourt Burrage, son of novelist father E. Harcourt Burrage. Athol wrote ‘Three Chums’ novels plus many other boys’ adventure titles. I remember that he was a short man mindful of Ronnie Corbett, and at the time lived in Wiggie Lane with his mother. He would buy the shop girls sweets for selling his books.
     The other novelist was Capt. W.E.Johns, author of the “Biggles’ and ‘Worral’ books, among others. He lived at Lingfield in the 1930s and at Reigate from 1938-44. He would bring fruit or chocolates when the girls put displays of his books up.

Shepherd's shop on the east side of Redhill High Street, where I worked from 1929 to 1939. Mr Shepherd gave up the business in September 1945. He had learnt his trade at a London warehouse before coming into the family business and eventually becoming its principal. The business was acquired by Mr Jolliffe who had been connected with the news agency business in Redhill for some time. Mr Shepherd lived at ‘Hoton’, The Chase, and died, aged 76, on Good Friday, April 4th 1947, collapsing in London Road while on his way to the Memorial Sports Ground.
    I remember the town as having a good atmosphere and being a friendly place where everyone knew everyone else. I met my husband-to-be, Len, in Shepherd’s shop, as he used to come in regularly for magazines. Len worked as a carpenter at Bushby’s in Reigate. Courting was something done at the weekends as there was no time during the week. We married in 1939 and this was the end of my days at Shepherds. It was also the end of the inter-war period that had begun in 1918 and lasted an all too short twenty-one years.
 Kathleen Knight
Kathleen Knight died a few years after relating the above
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