Rona Kennett and John Muir

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Grange Road history interview

Interviewer and date: Jan Hunter, 29.7.16

Interviewees: Rona Kennett and John Muir (twins)


  1. When did you live in Grange Road?

1940 – 1955

  1. At what address (es):

41 Grange Road

  1. What sort of tenancy did you have: owner; private tenant, council tenant?

At first they rented it then their mother bought it with a mortgage in 1955. A relative was Ivor Wycherley’s best man and that’s how they found the house originally. She had to get the mortgage with her brother as guarantor as a woman wasn’t allowed one.

  1. How many people lived in your house? (family structure)

The twins, their mother, their grandmother (slightly later) and up to three lodgers/ paying guests. It was like a family and the children found the lodgers very interesting. Some stayed for years and years. Their mother and Grandma shared a room.

  1. What was the job of the main earner in the house?

Their mother ran a boarding house. Other household members? A series of district nurses (including Nurse Gotobed) (had an early phone and number which Rona still has); soldiers during the war including at least one French Canadian – Marcel who married an English girl (photo of wedding and Rona a bridesmaid), some went on the Dieppe raid – left kit in the house and never came back. Also English soldiers – used to let the children play with their guns. A greedy travelling salesman for Parke Davis Pharmaceuticals. Brigadier Sutton post-war, managed visiting at Firle Place and Glynde Place. Left trunk behind in the basement with array of uniforms and ammunition from the first World War onwards which they gave to the Imperial War museum. Tom Wheeler the plain clothes policeman used to tell them exciting made-up stories about the police and had a wind-up record player. Senior man in the fire service. Miss Stal Schmit – teacher. A lovely, single gentleman farmer who owned Upper Clay Hill farm.

  1. Did anyone run a business from the house?

Just their mother.

  1. What about the neighbours?

None they knew of, road was residential.

  1. What was your house like (compared with today)? Garden?

Quite similar although the kitchen was at the front with a wooden strengthening structure like a four poster bed above the kitchen table as an air raid shelter. Not clear how well this would have worked. There was a public air-raid shelter outside on the triangle at the end of the road. This was much larger and raised. They never went into it though. On VE day they had a bonfire on top of the shelter, instigated by the policeman lodger. As they were at the bottom of the hill, the ARP man used to constantly call to tell them they had a chink of light, annoying their mum. The house had a copper in the kitchen, which they didn’t use, and a gas geyser in the bathroom which you lit, then swung into the boiler and rushed for cover. Coal hole and larder. Story of lodger grating horseradish with a gas mask on. No garage, low wall onto alley. Pear trees along the side wall. Cottages in place of St Pancras flats. Shop on corner opposite St Pancras stores where they got sweets. Recreation ground was there, way through as today. They used to crawl through the Winterbourne culvert. Soap factory where Knill James building is in Bell Lane, nice smell of perfume.

  1. Did you know many neighbours? (events, street parties etc)

Mr and Mrs Baker next door (he was a Mason). Family at 38/39, the Funnells. At no 1 there was a Glyndebourne singer – Dennis Wickes – who made a name for himself.

Miss Shearer the German teacher at the grammar school lived in a flat in the middle of Grange Road. Moira Shearer was her niece. Olive Martin, nos 5 and 6, was his piano teacher – not too deaf to hear all his mistakes. Her house very nice inside – Arts and Crafts. First floor music room across both houses at the back with a Bechstein grand piano and an upright. Piano now at All Saints. Very nice lady with Eton crop and rouged cheeks. Had a bicycle but never seemed to ride it as many other ladies did.

Visit of Princess Elizabeth in May 1951 they were at grammar school and had Union Jacks to wave. She planted a tulip tree which died and had to be re-planted. They were not at Grange Road on the day.

  1. What was it like living in Grange Road?

Not very exciting, dreary. Rona didn’t like the basement kitchens, used to commute to London and look down at these. Theirs was very dark.

  1. Where did you shop? (nearest stores?)

Roberts (then International) on High street opposite the Town Hall. Mother would walk up and sit on a cane stool while the manager with a stammer took the order and put together the shopping which was then delivered in a big cardboard box by van. Mother would check and there was always something missing. The children had to go back to the shop and say so – they hated doing it. They grew quite a lot of food in the garden too– runner beans, raspberries and apples. Time of wartime and rationing, ate well but simple food. Leg of lamb which lasted days. No memory of being in want.

  1. If you had/were children, where did they go to school?

They went to infants school at St Anne’s, then to Western Road school (on the triangular bit). Would normally have gone to Southover but had stayed in Neville Crescent when they first came to Lewes. Western Road school was much better than Southover at getting children into the grammar schools. Would walk up there alone, up the Twitten – there was a horse field where the County Hall car park was. Found an egg there during the war – very exciting. Both went to the Girls and Boys Grammar schools. Winterbourne was not underground then along the edge of the smaller playing field. Railing along the top of the field above, possible gate.

  1. Any events you remember particularly (floods, grape lorry overturning, etc)

Remembers a report of a former Grange Road resident being struck by lightning and killed in Grays, Essex, in the early 1950s. Used to see Leonard Woolf pushing a bicycle in Lewes. Didn’t have street celebrations in those days. Biggest thing was the Southover bonfire procession. Cottages in St Pancras Hill had projecting gardens, on at least one occasion a Bren gun carrier demolished their walls. Their mother was worried about a tank coming down the hill and demolishing their house. They went to London on VE day (had an aunt who lived there) and for the coronation. Don’t remember any events in town.

  1. Do you have any photos of the street or of events there?

Some photos of weddings etc and in garden.

  1. Did you own any other properties in the street?

Not then.

  1. Where did you move to when you left Grange Road and why?

To 54, St Anne’s Crescent to a larger house which their mother ran as a boarding house.