Nevill Memoirs >Alan and Isabel Fennemore
I am Isabel Fennemore and I was born on the 1st of February 1939 in Tidworth in Hampshire and I am Alan Fennemore born 14th February 1937 in Wandsworth, London.
What brought you to this house in Lewes?
Alan: I was in the prison service and I was promoted and moved from Bexhill to Lewes. This was a house which was kept just for principal officers so it was actually a guaranteed house when I came here. At the time they put me in charge of the hospital and that gave me the right to have a house reserved for me. The house was part of our employment agreement so we did not actually pay money for it. Some time ago Mellor in Parliament quoted that the people in the coastguards in Scotland had been allowed to buy their own property and then of course we all wanted to. As a result of that he then said in Parliament that it would not apply to anybody else so, of course, it all fell flat. About two years later it emerged again that prison officers would be able to buy their own property at the going rate but they hinted we would be given preferential treatment. They then said it would be open to us to buy. We ummed and ahhed and then I said I didn’t want to. I was hesitant but Isabel said “we’ve got to: it’s the only way we’re going to have our own house.” So: we bought.
My friend who lives over the back here in the Nevill said, “Well you are a fool”. With your service and your rank you’ll get it virtually for nothing if you’d kept on for another six months. I said “well no I’m buying it anyway.” Six months later he bought and it was about £5,000 dearer so it was a good thing for us that we actually bought. A surveyor came in for the prison on behalf of the prison and us. He walked in the front door, he looked at the house and the garden and he said “it is not a pretty house, it will never fall down” and that was it! And the quote came as £23,500 with other houses going higher than that.
N0. 10 Conveyance. Click to enlarge
Alan and Isabel: This was in July 1983. Houses were actually going pretty high at that time. A number bought their houses, about four or five people did. Jack bought his. When they sold, they sold to other people, not prison officers you see so we got more people coming in who weren’t prison officers and I think we’ve only got two other prison officer living in the road now: Ben and next door. It was all prison officers when we came. A further advantage was, had we waited as my friend suggested, for better conditions we’d have been worse off because they had the conditions stamped on them. They couldn’t sell to anybody within three years and they had other stipulations – I’ve forgotten what they were now. It was to our advantage that we bought straight away. There were other prisoner officers in other parts of the estate who bought their own houses. A few are still living there. Bill Cook is still living there; Colin Pagnell and a couple of others are still there.
What was it like living in a street where everyone worked in the same place?
Alan: We were used to living in a place where everybody worked in the same place. I was born in prison quarters in Wandsworth where my father worked. Isabel’s father was in service too. We then moved to Goudhurst in Kent which was only forty houses on top of a hill. It was the same situation there. Northeye in Bexhill was identical, just 40 or 50 houses – all prison and identical. In fact I’d been promoted (from Goudhurst) and I was given Manchester (they laugh.) We went to look at it and on the way back I said “No way, I could not live here”.
Site of 10 Hawkenbury Way marked by arrow on plan. Click to enlarge
Isabel: That’s when Alan got the offer for Northeye. He’d wanted anywhere in the southeast because they asked you where you want to go and he said anywhere in the southeast. He was quite happy and then they offer him Manchester! Alan: Yes, I turned down Manchester – “I’m not going to go there!” Normally I would have forfeited promotion but when I got back to Goudhurst the Governor said “Well I think you should have another chance”. He said “Where would you like to go? You should give me a couple of hours and come back in again”. So I came back in a couple of hours and he said “You can have a borstal up in Leybourne or a borstal up in the midlands or Northeye Prison, Bexhill”. “Bexhill please!” and he said “Do you want to talk it over with your wife” and I said “No! Bexhill please.”
Isabel: Alan worked in Northeye prison for three years. Then he moved to Lewes. He was here in Lewes, we were still in Northeye and then we moved to Lewes. We’d come to have a look at it. The two older ones, we got those sorted with schools and then we were just waiting for the chance for the actual house to be finished. And then we moved in, I think it was in the June wasn’t it? June 1973? Alan came here almost a year earlier. I go by the dates of birth of babies – men can never remember. Yes we came in ’73. By this time the house was decorated and everything was ready for us just to move in. It’s always the same, he gets out of it! He doesn’t do anything of the packing and sorting out. He just arrives and says “Oh well, we’ve moved”. Alan; I had no option! I was working. Isabel : I know. (They laugh)
Isabel: We’d got two young children when we moved to Northeye. You want them to grow up in a sort of a safe environment. It was ideal there and then of course we realised we were expecting another one. The youngest one came along the same year. We think she was a consolation prize for Manchester – but that was it! Living in that sort of environment – the Goudhurst and Northeye – you were more enclosed. Here it wasn’t the same because you were on one road straight onto the Downs. It didn’t seem quite as if you were in that sort of ghetto effect . There were lots of other quarters dotted around in Lewes: some in Malling, some in Newhaven, but we still had that sort of quite friendly feeling. With one couple down the road we used to have a New Years’ Eve party, didn’t we, (Alan: That was Cliff) and everybody would join in and that was quite nice – gave you a feeling of, you know, you were of that group but not sort of you were in each other’s pockets as such. Alan: No, I think actually because of our life-style we didn’t mix in quite as much as some others. So we avoided all the gossip. Isabel: That can get a little bit tricky. Alan: After I left there I heard of things that happened there I didn’t even know was going on around me, people were telling me about it but…….
So you mentioned that these houses were the same design as the ones your father was in?
Alan: Exactly the same– we moved into a new one in Wandsworth where my father was prison officer. Isabel: It was like walking into an old home when we first walked in although the outside wasn’t quite the same. It’s like we were in Prison because we lived in the same house when I lived with my mother and father. Everything was the same. In fact our house was the same situation as Alan’s father’s. They were the end of the houses, the same orientation. Same mucky old boilers that we used to have in the kitchen, same crittall windows that we used to have right through, crittall doors at the back. I think they must have had a set plan for those type of houses. Probably you might see them all over the prison service. They might all be the same size and build. Alan: Oh there was. There was a porch here which broke down after a while and we took it down and replaced it. That fell down again when we replaced the windows. The only difference being that at Wandsworth they had a concrete slab at the back of the porch. You can see where it has been chiselled off the wall to put the new porch in here. And also the little garden, triangular garden out here made of brick. That’s gone. Isabel: Before we bought the house we did go and look at houses on the Nevill and we said, they are so small and we said we can’t get three girls in. We thought we had trouble getting three girls in two bedrooms here and I said I don’t think we could buy a house anywhere that’s as big as this. Really I think ours is quite roomy. These are built to specification and they have to be a specific size and room lay out.
Could you describe your house?
Isabel: It’s a semi-detached house. Upstairs, at the front there is a bedroom with two windows, and another smaller room with a single window. At the back is the main bedroom with a large single window. This floor also houses the bathroom and separate toilet. Downstairs is the main front room with a bay window and behind that, a dining room. The house originally had crittall metal framed windows which we have replaced with double grazing. In 2000 we added an extension to the rear of the house for my mother-in-law allowing her to have her own sitting/bedroom and a toilet/bathroom.
It’s brick and mortar; very hard walls and my husband says he’s broken drills trying to get through. It takes a lot of work putting any hole through a wall to put any pipe through. It will never fall down. It’s warm. We’ve now got it all double glazed. Alan put in central heating not long after we bought the house. We’ve re-done the bathroom twice, the kitchen twice. I think we’ve got it sorted the way we want it. We’re never going to move out of it. We’re not even going to think about clearing the loft. There’s so much in there. We said we’d leave it to the girls to clear it when we’ve gone. Alan: The lofts are massive. As you see from your house a number of them have put rooms into the loft. There’s lots of space with cross beams. The walls have been insulated with foam. If you knock a brick out powder comes out so it is disintegrating.
You told me you had found something interesting in the loft.
Alan: Yes! It must be 10 or 15 years ago when I got rid of the old tank because it was rusty. I put new tanks in, two double tanks. But then it was so bulky that I couldn’t get it out of the loft. I’d have had to cut it up to get rid of it. When I turned it round I saw this name and address. I left it but when you mentioned it I photographed it. It was written in chalk. It’s not scratched in. Isabel: It would have been so easy to just wipe it off. Alan: Yes, just chalk. Where the tank was turned around it was facing the outside wall, so we’d only have a gap of that much (shows a small gap between thumb and finger) and nobody would ever see it! Also they had a wooden surround with saw dust in it and they had it as insulation. So it kept it just perfectly.
Did you know that prisoners had worked on these houses?
Alan: Yes. I was told that prisoners of war had worked on them. Yes. Apparently, somebody told me they had billets down there just past the prison.
So they weren’t actually living in the prison then?
Alan: Oh no they weren’t prisoners; just prisoners of war. Isabel: It was ’47. So they were probably just getting ready to go back home to Germany or they were waiting to be re-patriated or whatever they did. I don’t know how they worked it with prisoners of war from that side – and I don’t know how they did it the opposite way round. Perhaps they did the same sort of thing but like you say, quite a lot of people stayed in England, people probably didn’t want to go back to Germany. Alan: Some didn’t.
Somebody told me that prisoners were used to decorate the houses? A friend of mine described watching them in the 60s being marched up to here
Alan: Oh, they decorated this one. There’d be an officer decorator with maybe two or three or four inmates. They’d come out here every day and have their lunch, sandwiches as well. I’ve never seen them march, but certainly saunter up. It wasn’t regimented. I don’t know about the 60s but certainly in the 70s they’d saunter up with the officer. Isabel: They did earn money from that didn’t they? Alan: They got their own wages that they got inside, yes: whatever the wage happened to be at the time.
Isabel: My father, he was an officer in charge of tailoring in Wandsworth Prison and he trained prisoners to do tailoring. They used to make the whites; in fact the whites that the prison staff wore. They would make these things on piece rate. They got money to spend on things that they wanted – chocolate, tobacco and things like that. One thing that my father would not do: he would not have prisoners working in the house for some reason. Decorating, he used to do himself. It’s nice when before you move into a house you have it absolutely done through for yourself isn’t it.
Alan: You could have the whole house decorated but only three rooms could be paper and so you chose the hallway straight away as one room because that is the most difficult to do and two other rooms. Isabel: and the rest you had the walls painted with whatever you wanted. Alan: You could choose your own paper within a range, obviously. But the paints, unless you chose your own type of paint, they would use prison paint which was pretty dire but still…. Isabel: It covered the walls and that was good – in those days we didn’t get money, did we. Alan: but knowing the decorator, when I told him which rooms I wanted decorating he said, “You want these rooms”. I said no. He said “You want these rooms as well decorating don’t you!” I said “why”. He said “If you said you want them papered I have to make sure the wall is perfect to go underneath it”. So it doesn’t show underneath so he did the best he could. He was quite a nice chap.
Do you have the Deeds to the house?
Isabel: Well they’re in the bank at the moment. I’ve got copies of them, just in case, just out of interest. That’s the land registry. We could always do a photocopy of that. And this is when they were selling it from the Government to us. I hadn’t really looked at them and it was only really when I was reading them that I realised how early it had been planned… Isn’t it strange….you look for your bits which is more important but never think about the history. That was quite interesting: the document about the Abergavenny estate and how it had come down the generations. The land itself- it was 1500 or something when it was given to the family – the beginning of the lineage I suppose you’d call it.
How have the street and the people who are living in the houses changed since you’ve lived here?
Alan: For the better. Isabel: Well, when they built those houses across the road here people were mutinying because it blocked their view. There were quite a lot of people saying: “Oh we don’t want that, we don’t want that!” We weren’t really bothered. Before that we used to sit out in the front garden. We had a lawn then. We’d sit out sometimes on a nice day and have tea. The girls would be playing out on the grass and you could look down to Newhaven. It was pleasant. People would come past and you would chat. But you get south-westerly winds and it really is horrendous. Is it apocryphal that the water used to get half way up the stairs? Alan: No, they said to us that before the porches were built water used to come through the front door over the steps and the water would come up and splash you because of the wind. Isabel: So I think when they put the porches on that helped a bit. But it is still much warmer with the houses across the road. But still it is a shame that people objected. People want houses, they need houses. We didn’t disagree with it. We said fair enough if they want to do it.
Alan: But to get back to your question; it’s nice to have some neighbours down here, very friendly, no problem. Unfortunately some are let houses and they don’t really want to know anybody else. Isabel: They come and go, come and go. Alan: But some of them are very pleasant, ordinary people who chat to us rather than talk about prison all the time. Isabel: That would be all you’d talk about before really unless you had children. There were quite a few children in the road when we first moved here.
Did all the children go to the same school?
Isabel: Some went to Wallands; some went to Western Rd – the little Western Road School as it used to be on the corner. Of course, the eldest one, she went to Priory and then the next ones went to Priory as well. It was nice; you could walk down to school, it was within distance for them. Yes it is quite nice. We’ve got neighbours; we’ve got a nice young family next door living in Jack’s house.
Is it mainly young families?
Alan: It’s a mixture; some have come and gone, some our age, some less. Not many youngsters are there? Isabel: Next door has youngsters but there are grandchildren. Alan: I was thinking about the new houses. There aren’t many children there. Isabel: It’s like everything else, they grow up so quickly. There’s a young laddy down the bottom of the road, I mean I used to see him when he was about seven years old. I wouldn’t recognize him now. He’s at University. They seem to grow up so quickly, you don’t realise until you bump into them. Yes, it’s young couples and a few oldies like us. Alan: We don’t tend to live in each other’s’ pockets. We say hello and we’re there if anybody wants us but we don’t dig into people like some.
What was on the Gallops?
Alan: We had the Sheep fair at the bottom of the road every year. I would cut through on the way from work. Looking back and reading about it from the Library they used to all come down from the Downs with shepherds. The sheep I saw all came by lorry and were put into pens – dozens of hurdles, hundreds of hurdles – they use to put them all in there and auction them all off. It was quite interesting. Isabel: A bit like the old cattle market that used to be down in town. This is where the sheep would have been brought from all over the place, wasn’t it. Alan: I think it was mainly for farmers to buy their stock in. I don’t know when it finished. Isabel: Well, I think it must have finished well before they started building the houses down on the Gallops.
But that picture that you’ve got has got the funfair on it hasn’t it? It’s got caravans.
Isabel: Yes, that used to be the funfair. It used to be right down at the bottom of the Downs there. Of course the children used to love that because it wasn’t too far to go. Now when they do have it? I think it’s down at Malling, down behind Tescos. It moved in ’83 when they were building the houses, I don’t think they had it after that. Alan: No, they had it three times after they built the houses. We could sit here and feel the thump of the music in the floor, coming through the chalk. Even when the Funfair was at Malling, we could still feel it through the ground here, through the chalk believe it or not. You could feel the rhythm as well and also, if it’s quiet you can feel the trains going under the tunnel going under the town. It’s unbelievable, I know…. Not things you think about normally.
So when you were working you used to come home for lunch?
Alan: Oh yes. The next door neighbour but one, I’d come out for dinner with him. He’d go into the pub on the corner. I’d come back from lunch, he’d come out of the pub: The Windmill – every day. Isabel: The only bug bear being married to a prison officer, especially a hospital prison officer who was in charge of all the men, was that at Christmas and Easter and times like that the family always had to take whatever was left because the other men always used to get the better deal. Alan: I used to let the people who had young children off to have their holiday. Some of them in Newhaven, some of them further away and of course that meant the whole day was taken up whereas I could pop home at least for a meal as well. Give and take.
What about Bonfire?
Isabel: The Nevill one comes here. They used to come down Hawkenbury Way, but they didn’t come with lighted torches for some reason. We would go up and stand up at the top, probably at the top of the race road to watch the bonfire and to watch the fireworks when the children were tiny. Alan: You didn’t get the massive explosion as you did when you were next to it. It was too much for the children.
Tell us about the garden.
Alan: You want to see what’s on the other side of your hedge don’t you! (To Ann who lives in the house at the back.) Well, we had a 90’ garden before we built the extension so now we’re down to about 43’. Isabel: We’ve got two ponds, a large one and a small one. It’s mostly gravel; we don’t have lawn, we gave that up quite a long time ago. Alan: A lawnmower takes up too much room in the shed. If you don’t need it for children, get rid of it. Isabel: But when we first came here it was just plain grass. He rotovated it and we had gorgeous vegetables the first year, absolutely marvellous, and we had loads of stuff. Second year, not too bad, third year he was feeding it, feeding it, feeding it, and we were getting nothing and we thought hmm, 6 inches of soil, so much chalk and we’re on a hill and everybody else was getting the benefit, so we gave up. Alan: Once you dig down it’s just smooth chalk so if you’re hitting it, it just runs off down the hill. Isabel: We’ve just gone to wild-life now; we just go for the birds and the bees, the pond, we’ve got fish. Alan: And my shed which is important to me. Isabel: We’ve got the resident fox that comes to sit at the top of the garden next door to your fence. I think they’ve been nesting in next door’s garden at the end. I haven’t seen them. There’s a mass of brambles grown up and the blue bells came up. Alan: I think the youngsters have gone now. Isabel: We did see the badger come into your garden a while ago. Evidently he roams round here and down the twitten. (Between Hawkenbury Way and the Gallops) Alan: I saw him run down. Isabel: You saw a muntjak deer run down the road didn’t you; so we get quite a lot of wild life in the road.
Alan: It’s a pretty good garden which is why they wanted to take a third of it off for garage spaces down there. They wanted to run the existing garages right the way down to the bottom and this was because two people at the bottom had said they wanted garages. Then I pointed out to them that the end house has a large gap of about 15 to 20 feet between it and the hospital wall and so the people there had their own gardens to build their garages in. They still haven’t built them. That happened just before I retired 25 years ago. The admin officer wrote to me and I went to see him and pointed it all out to him. I was a tenant then. Otherwise you’d have had a garage right at the back of your garden. Do you have the problem with the golf balls? We had about 4 or 5 on our pond.
You’re from the North Isabel?
Isabel: No, I was born in Hampshire but brought up in Yorkshire because I was taken up there. Father was taken prisoner of war at Dunkirk and he was missing, presumed dead, so my mother was told. She was living in married quarters –“sorry you’ll have to get out.” I think I was 18 months old. She had to pack everything up and luckily she went to her parents who lived in Yorkshire in Normanton, near Wakefield. We lived there for 16 years. My father came back from Germany. I was 5 by then when he came back and we lived in Wakefield. He joined the prison service when he came out of the army and we lived there until I was 16 and then we moved to Wandsworth. But the Yorkshire accent hasn’t disappeared. Alan: It gets worse. If we go up and visit Yorkshire when we come back it’s “ee by gum.” It’s quite broad for a while. Isabel: I do tend to slip back into the vernacular when I go up to visit my cousin. We haven’t got that many relatives living up there. We do go up occasionally. My middle daughter, Angela, likes to go up and see them for Christmas, just before Christmas, and take lots of presents but we haven’t done that for a couple of years. But we all come back talking a little bit Yorkshire by the time we come back. So that’s why my brogue is a bit more Yorkshire than it is Sussex or Hampshire. They did try to drum it out of you at school but it didn’t work. At High school they tried to say “Talk like a lady” but it didn’t always work.
Do your family live close by?
Our girls are only in a radius of us of about 8 miles. We’ve got one who lives at Ringmer- she used to live at Lewes. One lives at Newick and one lives at Burgess Hill so we’re in a sort of a triangle. We’re not far from them which is quite handy.
Do you know anybody else in the area that would know about the Nevill estate?
Alan: Unfortunately Mother’s friend Mrs Bosely in North Way, she knew everybody and everything – she died. She lived there for a long, long time. Alan: What about Brenda? Isabel: I don’t think she’s been on the Nevill that long. Alan: Do you remember that square building next to mother’s bungalow on Windover? I think the old boy still lives there; he’s lived there all his life. His father, who’d lived there when Mother was in the bungalow; he’d lived there all his life as well. Four Gables? He walks around town with a cloak on. Isabel: No, I think he’s gone. Alan: I haven’t seen him for a number of years. He was the son. I don’t know anybody else who has lived here long enough.
Alan and Isabel Fennemore talked about their life in 10 Hawkenbury Way with Sarah Hitchings and Ann Holmes on 14th June 2012.
Transcribed and edited by Ann Holmes June 2020