Grange Road history interview
Interviewer and date: Jan Hunter, 6.11.18
Interviewee – name: Julia Ramos
- When did you come to live in Grange Road?
They moved from Chelsea in London in 1957. Parents lived in St Martin’s lane and recommended the house as ‘a solid bargain’: late Victorian, empty, big rooms, tall ceilings, considered very ugly then. Husband said ‘we’ll have it!’ She already knew Lewes as she’d gone to a crazy progressive boarding school in Barcombe Mills: Barcombe House, Langford Grove lasted until 1962. In her last term at school half a dozen girls who were going to art school had art classes at Westgate house with one of the ladies from Millers. Disaster but funny.
- At what address (es):
52 Grange Road
- What sort of tenancy did you have: owner; private tenant, council tenant?
Owner, bought for £2050. The two had sold for £300 just after the war because they were rundown and had evacuees. Canadian soldiers had also lived there.
- How many people lived in your house? (family structure)
Husband, eldest son Julian; Adrian (or Tod), smallest son born 1956; third son Dominic not yet born.
- What was the job of the main earner in the house?
Husband was a Royal portrait painter, she was also a painter and taught in local schools as well as designing programmes for New Sussex Opera and doing murals (photo in a house in Southover High Street).
- Did anyone run a business from the house?
No, few businesses in Grange Road. Mr Bun the driving instructor lived next door (No. 53). Mrs Bun ran the Grange Stores.
- What about the neighbours?
Their house had been owned by Haywood – a builder and the mayor.
- What was your house like (compared with today)?
Nothing in the house, old geyser in the Victorian bathroom. Kitchen in little lean-to with outside toilet and china sink. Old gas cooker in main kitchen. (Maggie put Rayburn in our kitchen). No heating – just open fires. Living room and dark dining room opened up by them in 1963. They did Velux windows first – didn’t need planning permission. Knocked upstairs rooms into one with a studio in the back. Had a darkroom there. Whole family arty. Knew Mary Hart – their parents were friends.
- Did you know many neighbours? (events, street parties etc)
Victor Langley, a retired actor who lived in Grange Court. Lovely man who everyone knew. Had been in Hammer films and done bit parts with David Niven, Richard Burton.
No. 53 had a distant relative who kept a lodging house, she was rather elderly and the house was filthy. Her grand-daughter had been struck by lightning on a bicycle. She talked about it all the time, probably happened in the 50s.
Frank Williams and his mother at No. 1. Very interesting – he was an amateur bass singer and John Christie spotted him for the Glyndebourne chorus. His mother’s aunt was the first person to move into Grange Road.
The Fitches who lived at the Manse were a great family. The son Edmund lives in Mountfield Road, bearded and stern. Mary was a teacher, very left wing, used to go to Russia, serious about politics. Quite a left wing bias in Lewes then, CND.
- What was it like living in Grange Road?
An absolute backwater. Last Victorian census showed a completely different group of people who first bought houses in Grange Road – not artisans and small business people like elsewhere in Lewes but Town Clerks – the ‘new bureaucracy’ plus widows, shell-shocked first war victims. A change in the residents of Lewes – incomers. Better and newish houses. The houses at the St Pancras end of Grange Road were built for the brewery workers – Morris’s brewery by the Rec, brewery was pulled down in the mid-60s/early ‘70s. Then a spice factory was built – could smell the spices! Verrall’s brewery at the end of Southover High Street was much older. Verrall built Southover Manor and owned a lot of the houses in Southover High Street. Ecologically, there was about one car in the street and all the houses were rendered / painted in brown or dark-green paint. On Sunday mornings the smell of over-cooked cabbage and roast meat came from all the basements. But it was like the country as there were orchards on the North side of the street, behind the Rotten Row properties. There was one next to No. 52. Gardens with lovely greenhouses but abandoned and sold off as building plots. Could have bought the one next door for £200. Could see across through side window until they built so close.
Lizards, frogs, toads, mice, voles, rats, bats every evening, lots of owls. Came down in hordes from the Downs to get to the Ouse and Cockshut. In the trees beside the playing field – many were elms which were dying – there were rookeries. The rooks moved on because the girls grammar school had an outdoor performance of the 1812 overture and the cannon blasts disturbed the rooks.
Friends from Chelsea were horrified at their move but used to come and stay anyway – Soho characters. She had always loved Lewes, had never lived in a town before. Lewes was beautiful, they had just opened the Grange gardens. Children could do what they wanted, like living in the country.
Loads of people had been evacuated from London in the war. Disappearing Sussex accent because of them. Lewes was very much a country town – racing was a massive interest. The lads were put up all over the places (the Red White and Blue for example). Stables all over the place and Southover had Gosden, Winters, MacPherson in Bell Lane. John Gosden went to school with her sons – his father Tipper sold Lewes’ second Derby winner to another trainer and caused a rumpus in the early ‘60s. You would hear horse’s hooves going past all the time in groups of 4 up to the Gallops. Racecourse closed in 1962 – awful – one stable after another closed. Then racecourse bought by a gangster – Richardson’s enforcer – terrible torturer.
Beehives – St Pancras area was world famous for bees – where the flats now are. Used to feed in the Grange Road orchards. A local bee-keeper revolutionised the design for the honey combs – horizontal. Ghost bee-keeper in the St Pancras flats.
Livestock market was very important, sheep herded along and marshalling yards at the back where they were loaded onto rail trucks to go to Smithfield. Friars Walk considered a poor place to live because of the noise of shunting railcars.
Town much more hierarchical then. Townspeople wanted to know about new people then ‘goodbye’. Lots of arty people, Little Theatre, Cecil Heathfield started Paddock studios (Julia went there to do life drawing). Then the ladies of Millers: Mrs Byng-Stafford was lovely but Caroline Lucas rather fancied herself as an artist and teacher and would talk about her young days in Paris where she’d known all these great artists. Awful to their servants (Mrs Dudeney) but still an issue. Single ladies in Lewes. Miss Fowler-Tutt campaigned to allow working-class children to play on the Convent Field. Evie Davies a friend, beautifully dressed but a spinster as lost her fiancée in WW1 – did up houses beautifully and ran the music circle. Lived in Chantry cottage in Southover. Had been part of the secret service – MI 7b – worked with Lord Ivor at Kenwood, a FANNIE, did counter propaganda.
One old tile-hung farmhouse, by passageway to garages, was converted into two houses with new facades
- Where did you shop? (nearest stores?)
Could shop so conveniently in Southover: Mr Hyde the butcher next to Priory crescent; Mr Polly, small family -greengrocer in Priory Street; Southdown dairy down the road (dirty milk bottles); little shop next to the Kings Head sold sweets; Grange Stores in Priory Street, with Jumbelina bags with a ghastly present, sold everything, next to the butcher. People delivered. The best and most posh shop in the High Street was Flints the grocers. Leonard Woolf didn’t like going there because of all the posh county voices……
- If you had children, where did they go to school?
Southover primary school – old village school – awful teachers. Then to boarding school – Christ’s Hospital.
- Any events you remember particularly (floods, grape lorry overturning, etc)
Street party in Grange road for Queens Jubilee but it rained and everyone went to a show at the All Saints. Another story about a policeman arriving to search for a pistol thrown away by someone who had attempted to hold up St Pancras Stores. In 1982ish. Australians who came to visit because Edward Roper, an Australian graphic artist, had lived somewhere in the street in 1902. Did a picture of Bonfire celebrations. Widely travelled and retired to Grange Road.
- Do you have any photos of the street or of events there?
Just a few of the garden. Interesting scrap book – poem. Dominic painted a view from the front window.
- Where did you move to when you left Grange Road and why?
To Southover High Street, did a swop with the current owners of No. 52 when their sale fell through.
- Any other things to add about Grange Road?
Grange Road became fashionable as Victorian houses became desirable. Arrival of Sussex University changed the town enormously, including Grange Road. Young couples with new lectureships. Parties, liaisons, broken marriages, all kinds of things going on. Things began to sparkle. Professors were up in the Avenue. Kingston – red square.
School (she taught at Grammar school 1964-66) amalgamated in the 1970s. Boys grammar school was very good. Patrick O’Brian who wrote Master and Commander lived in Priory Crescent and went to LOGs. Refers to Lewes in his books. Story about asking Laurie Lee about an article which Nick Roe did about him. Laurie said ‘I thought it was a bloody Sunday afternoon snooze of an article’ which was then passed on the Nick.
Egg delivery man had fought at El Alamein, Mr Morton. Julia has lots of his letters – increases in prices.