Nevill Memoirs > Carole Kirby
Carole Kirby (nee Richardson) remembers childhood on the Nevill Estate
I moved to Nevill, in 1949 at the age of six. My father was to be the bakery manager for Holloways, the restaurant and bakery in Lewes High Street. Our new home was a semi-detached house in Windover Crescent, which had a large air raid shelter in the back garden, with spindly brick supporting walls and a huge slab of concrete for a roof. Our next door neighbours said they used to hide in it during air raid warnings, and were more worried about being killed by the roof falling on top of them than a bomb!
To my surprise the whole estate was full of children, and on warm evenings the Mount Harry Green and Nevill Green were popular gathering spaces. The downs were open, and we were free to walk in any direction, even across the racecourse and beyond. There were lots of good blackberrying places, and wooded areas full of bluebells in the spring. The Fairy Ring, just below the first chalk pit, was a favourite haunt, a grassy space with a real fairy ring, where we would play dangerously near the cliff edge.
My father had an allotment on the open ground just off East Way, which has now become Downs Close. He would take a short cut through our friend’s garden in Mount Harry Road to reach it; and where I would occasionally go and watch him digging potatoes or help with harvesting vegetables.
At the junction with Highdown and Mount Harry Road were three shops. The grocer, who wrapped all his loose goods in a cone of blue sugar paper, and cut cheese and butter to requirement; the butcher, who hung large carcasses in his shop window, and the newsagents. My mother was able to buy most of her supplies from these shops. Rationing was still in place when we first arrived, but when it was removed Mr Puryer, the newsagent, put in a new counter with a bewildering array of sweets I had never seen before. Our milk was bought by ‘Jingles’, the milkman’s horse, who knew exactly where to stop in the road. He would drop his manure in the middle of the road, and it was a race for the neighbours to collect it for their flower beds. Mrs Bishop a few houses down from my parent’s house always won, and was out with her bucket and spade in no time. No wonder she had such beautiful roses in her front garden!
To get to school we had to catch a single decker green Southdown bus. First, it was to St Anne’s School, at the end of De Montfort Road; a dame school run by Miss Dumbrell. I cannot remember being taught anything, but I do remember we all played in the long grass in Baxter’s Field opposite the playground, and in May we danced round the maypole, which was great fun. Then we progressed to Western Road school, with two large classes run by Mr and Mrs Coles. It had outside toilets at the end of the playground that were very cold in winter. The only thing I remember was chanting tables, having table tests, and making igloos out of eggshells and cotton wool. When the Wallands School was almost completed we were moved to the junior section, the infant’s part was still being built. We were amazed at the size of the school and all the new equipment. It was a school dedicated to getting you through the 11+. I can still hear the high pitched Scottish voice of Mrs Inkster that echoed down the corridors and filled us with fear. We played shinty regularly, and bunny hops round the playground seemed to be a popular exercise with the teachers. One teacher I had, Mr Elliot, used to hit the boys with a plimsoll, and the girls with a ruler. I was hit on the hand with a ruler for having an ink blot on my work, which I thought was very unfair. I did not enjoy my time there, but we had a wonderful art teacher, Mr Chapel. We did a lot of exciting work with him, including painting murals on the walls of the canteen and the infants’ corridor. They are no longer there. He taught us how to mix and analyse colour, which has proved very useful to this day.
St Mary’s Church Hall was the hub for all social activities, clubs, and pantomimes etc. Every week there was a popular Sunday School run by Mr Morris. The hall was always full of children and our rendition of ‘All Things Bright a Beautiful’ would go on for ever. The highlight of the year was the Sunday School outing when we would all pile into a coach and descend on Littlehampton or Bognor Regis, and made a beeline for the fun fairs and sandy beaches. This was marred one year when there was an outbreak of polio and there were restrictions on where we could go, especially the swimming pools.
Another high spot of the year was Nevill Sports Day organised by Mr Breeze. My friend and I loved taking part, even though we never won. There were the egg and spoon races, sack races, and to practice for the three legged race we would walk round the estate with our legs tied together. At the end of the day Mr Breeze would stand on top of a large green electrical unit at the edge of the green and present the prizes.
After secondary school and college in Brighton, I moved to London in 1964, and then Kent, returning regularly to Nevill to visit my parents, who still lived on the estate. In 1983 my husband and I returned to Lewes, and moved into a house in Mount Harry Road with our two children. They were aged six and nine, about the same age I was when I first arrived in Nevill as a child. The most noticeable difference to then was the lack of children. There were far fewer children living on the estate. My daughters wanted to meet their friends after school, but no one was allowed out to play.
The large cherry trees that welcomed you at the entrance to Highdown and Mount Harry Road had disappeared. The grocer’s shop had taken over the butcher’s shop and become a small supermarket. Many of the houses were changing shape with people adding porches, drives and extensions. The character of the estate had changed. It continues to evolve.