Memoirs of Ron Bromley

1 Life on the Farm

My brother Frank not long before he died researched the family history. He got back to his great great great grandfather Ingram Bromley.

Ingram was born in the adjacent village Capel-le-Ferne in 1728 but he came to live in Hougham early in his life. This is evidenced by the fact that in 1745 the Churchwarden paid him two shillings for 2 fox's heads (for killing vermin) and in 1760 he owned land to the value of £28.

No doubt Frank could have gone back further with the family tree but decided against this to concentrate on the Bromley family in Hougham.

The family appear to have lived and farmed in about the same spot adjacent to the church right up to 1999 when my younger brother died and Church Farm was sold. Thus ended the Bromley connection in Hougham which had lasted over 250 years.

Hougham is a small village in two halves sitting on the top of two chalk ridges running parallel to and about half a mile from the chalk cliffs which extend from Dover to Folkestone.

Church Hougham naturally had the church and in my youth a school and two public houses. Now just the church and one pub - a Beefeater or something - remains. West Hougham had the village hall, a chapel, a smithy, a building business, Post Office, shops, a windmill and one pub. Now only the village hall and the pub remain.

In writing one's life story one cannot be completely authoritative. One has to rely on what one is told during early days and at the close someone has to write finis to all that has gone before.

pic of mother My mother, Flora Corine Bromley (née Golds)

My mother told me, and my birth certificate confirms that I was born at 6 Malmains Road, Dover on June 13th 1918. No 6 was the home of the local midwife. I presume my father could not look after the household and run his business so my brother Frank, all of 2 years and 7 months, was farmed out to his aunt (mother's sister) and mum went to the midwife instead of the midwife coming to her.

There was another event in Dover on June 13th of more importance to the inhabitants. It was the day of the last Zeppelin raid of the war over the town. What lasting effect, if any, this traumatic event had on me I leave others to judge.

pic of father My father, Arthur William Bromley

I would like to claim I was born a farmer's son but I cannot as it was my father who was the farmer's son and we lived in a tiny cottage built on the side of the big farm house where my grandfather held sway. He was a strong character. Two of Dad's brothers left home very young (about 16 I think) to farm in Canada, another became a civil servant starting as a telegraph boy, a fourth was around but it was never clear what he did. My father remained with his father but to have some measure of independence at the age of 17 started his own milk delivery business in the town. So from 5 o'clock in the morning he worked on his own business, in the afternoon he worked on the farm, and in the evening returned to his own business, round books, accounts, etc. He had little time for his three children Frank, me and Mary who was 15 months younger than me. A walk round the farm on a Sunday evening in summer, and in winter he would play his accordion and we would sing hymns. I recall he kept order at meal times and saw we went to bed on time.

The only toy I remember was a soap box made into a farm cart with two wooden horses, one bought second hand and another made up I think by my grandfather (Mother's father). I used to harness them with binder twine to the cart and drive in my imagination to the places I had heard Dad mention. One which captured my imagination was Little London, where I used to take uncles and aunts when they called. They always asked for Little London. I was teased about it as I could not pronounce my Ls so it always came out as Rittle Rundon. Indoors I had a Sunny Jim. Four "Force" tops and one shilling I think was the price. We could play anywhere around the house and cottage but not the farm which was on the other side of the road. Often I used to hide up in a farm cart in the cart shed with a girl a year older than me. I never knew quite why.

We seldom left the village. We were taken one at a time to Dover with Mother to do the shopping. She used to spend some time in a haberdasher's shop where she once worked - talking to her friend. If we were lucky we were given 2d to go to the ice cream shop to get an ice in a glass to eat in the shop. It had to be Grille's as he bought his milk from Dad to make the ice cream. We always got a large portion. Dad could spare no time for holidays.

Mum would take us on one day trip a year to both Margate and Dymchurch to play on the sands. Of the two I preferred Dymchurch as it entailed a trip on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway. Much better than making sand castles. On one occasion Dad did come to Dymchurch, and decided to have a swim. Having no costume he sought out a lifeguard and paraded in a swimsuit with "Romney Rural District Life Guard" emblazoned across the front (I think it was Romney). He looked the part as at that time he had a moustache and beard.

Some children never left the village and I heard tale of some who did not venture outside for the whole of their lives.

At the age of five it was time for school. No fuss, we just went. No mothers hanging around, you were just handed over to an elder brother or sister, or someone from next door and off you went. It must have been very dramatic for the kids who lived some distance from the school to be sent off early in the morning with just a jam or dripping sandwich to sustain them for the day. They had to walk 2 or 3 miles across fields not to return until late in the afternoon. We were lucky living near the school we were able to get home at midday. There was one event that marked the change for me was that I discarded my smock which I had worn up to then and donned short trousers and a pullover.

The school held about 60 pupils which seems an incredible number. Today a bus picks up about half a dozen to go elsewhere. There were two rooms, senior and infants with one teacher for each room. At the entrance to the infants room was a long narrow building with some 30 clothes pegs and an enamel bowl at one end which was the only supply of water. This was the boys cloakroom. Midday lunch was taken in the playground except when the weather was bad and then the boys sat on the floor with their meagre rations and cold tea. At the senior entrance was the girls' cloakroom similarly equipped. The girls had a small enclosed playground for their exclusive use. At one end was a two cubicle lavatory (earth privy I think). Just over the wall was the boys': one cubicle and a slab urinal which drained into the soil. It was a challenge for any boy to pee over the wall onto the girls. Only Tommy Appleton claimed to have achieved this, but there was a suspicion of lifting involved.

Looking back over the years one can only marvel at the achievements of the two teachers involved.

For example the junior teacher at the start of the year would receive 6 or 7 five-year-olds, break them in to school discipline, and start them off on their alphabet and numbers, whilst having at the same time up to 25 others in age from 6 to 8/9 to teach up to a good standard of reading and writing and at least addition and subtraction and tables up to 5 I recall. Plus a little religious instruction.

Perhaps it was even more difficult with the seniors as the curriculum was expanded to take in English, History, Geography and General Knowledge.

Taking History, I think the head teacher took periods of history. One period to be taught to the whole assembly for a whole year, and another period for the next year. So provided you stayed for the full five years you got a complete history but not necessarily in date order. Similarly, Geography was taught one continent for the year. The two must have been very gifted and hard-working. Miss Rowe who was head when I started must have had a degree as I remember her wearing a mortar board and gown in a school photograph. I cannot recall anyone leaving without being able to read or write.

As extra curriculum we entered the Bird and Tree Festival. Each pupil chose a bird and a tree to study for a whole year, and then wrote an essay on his (or her) observations. The papers were judged at school level and the best sent on to be judged nationally. We had some success.

We played football, cricket and netball - mostly for the girls, although I enjoyed playing. At cricket we played other schools, walking off after school up to 3 miles carrying our limited gear with us. Capel we could usually give a good game to, probably coming out on top, but Alkham which was larger with a male head was much harder to beat. Sometimes the village cricket club would give us some coaching and allow us to play on their ground. At school sport was only by courtesy of the local farmer who allowed us to use the adjacent field.

We had one bad patch when the head mistress who had a cottage attached to the school contracted TB and we had a number of supply teachers. They were awful and got progressively younger until it was suspected that one was having an affair with one of the senior boys. The school sunk into chaos, no lessons, absenteeism, etc. Then suddenly a Mrs Gardiner appeared. She must have been quite senior as she had a car - there were only 2 in the village - she also carried a brief case with a cane strapped to the side. She looked awfully forbidding, ample figure in "lion tamer" boots and heavy tweed suit. We were soon tamed. One lad wandering around outside put his head in the window to find out why it was so quiet. Asked what he was doing he said "I am left". To which Mrs Gardiner replied "Well, you have now - get out and never let me see you again". That was the last he saw of school.

My father was one of two "School Managers" and I always filled with pride when he came in to "Check the Register". This he said went back to his school days when he paid 1d or 2d a week for his schooling and it was a way of checking whether or not the head was fiddling the books.

We had an excellent attendance record and each morning and afternoon the numbers for the day were chalked up on a small wall board.

We paid no fees and in fact received 1/3 pint milk each day, supplied by A W Bromley at 1d a bottle.

I was always very attached to the farm and said I wanted to be a farmer. I was the only member of the family to ride a horse and had my own riding tack. Frank was never fond of the land except in holiday time. Even when we were quite young, 8 or 9, father paid us and several of our friends 2d per hour to work in the fields. A typical day would start at about 8 AM pulling weeds from the turnips and wertzels, while the sun was getting higher. Then we would turn the hay which had been cut with a mower and left in rows. This was to dry it through. Later if the sun had done its job the hay would be raked up and loaded into waggons; the boys on the waggons putting the hay in position. It was then carried to the barn or built into stacks. These were about 15 feet square and about 15 ft high. They were then thatched with straw to keep out the rain. The whole operation was very labour intensive. Wages were low. I do not know if overtime was paid but when we were haying or harvesting Frank and I were sent to the local pub to get beer in stone jars; never put them on the sunny side of the stack. Mother also had to provide some sort of tea for the men.

Later in the year it would be harvest time. Firstly men with scythes would cut round the outside of the field to make a path for the self binder. The self binder meant that it bound the corn into sheaves before throwing them out onto the ground. It was the boys' job to "draw in" the sheaves into groups of 8 or 10 and then the men would stand them up propped against each other to form shocks. This enabled them to dry and the corn which was on top to harden in the sun. When they were "fit", and they had to be quite dry otherwise the stack (or barn) would get overheated and spontaneous combustion would occur and a whole year's work would go up in flames. The boys' job was "loading", placing the sheaves in the correct position on the waggon. This was necessary otherwise the load would "slip" and fall off. There was only a pole (stipers) at each corner to retain the load which was piled up quite high. Sometimes when the field was some distance away from the farm the load was "roped" on. Quite a skill was required to throw the rope over the load.

If it rained we were put in the barn tying together the binder twine in lengths that had bound together the sheaves of the previous year. It seemed always a problem to Dad to get the bond cutter on the thresher to cut the bond at the knot. The knot was then cut off leaving full lengths of twine to be tied together to form lengths of string to tie up hay in "trusses" when it was cut from the stack. This seemed always to take place in winter when it was blowing a gale and Frank and I, who were always called upon to tie up the trusses. Dad always used to cut the hay from the stack, and we used to annoy him by hiding around the stack out of the wind. The trusses were box shaped about 3 ft by 2ft by 2ft and weighed half a hundredweight and needed to be secured by two bonds.

Other jobs that I did about the farm were feeding, grooming and "mucking out" the cows and horses. Helping with calving and lambing; pigs needed to be left alone as they had a tendency to eat their offspring if disturbed at the vital time.

Weed pulling was rather boring so to relieve the monotony we used to gamble a penny (1d) a time on which bus would be the next to pass the bus stops by the Plough PH on the main road between Dover and Folkestone. Part of the field overlooking the road was always planted with turnips. At the time there were no less than 5 bus companies plying for hire on this route. It was very cut-throat, buses racing past each other to get to the stops first.

The East Kent were the most orderly. Others were the Silver Queen which took its name from the hanger at Capel which housed the Silver Queen airship during the first world war, Pullman almost a one man band, the Co-op and the maverick Cambrian. The last started up in a blaze of publicity, one stunt being reduced fares, 3d all the way from Dover to Ashford (20 miles) was one. I cannot recall if anyone actually got to Ashford, or if indeed did any bus. The fare from the Plough Inn to Dover (1 stop) was 4d, but the East Kent charged 5d. We all avoided them but Grandad Golds would get on and offer 4d and said that's all you are getting. I don't think that he ever got thrown off.

Over time the East Kent bought Pullman, the Co-op combined with the Silver Queen to form the "South Coast". Cambrian fell to the East Kent and later South Coast worked in partnership with East Kent before being absorbed. East Kent then grew to cover the whole of East Kent up to the River Medway area. Later when Dover Corporation gave up the trams the East Kent took over and ran a town service.

To us children the trams were great. We just loved to ride that last mile on the branch line into town having walked about 2 miles from the Plough Inn on the Dover Folkestone road. The main line ran from the western end of the sea front (The Pier) through the main street and up the London Road to the borough boundary at River, passing through a field at one point, there being no road to travel over.

Dover Cricket week was a great event for us. Kent County Cricket Club played two other counties in 3-day matches on the Crabble Athletic Ground - almost at the tram terminus. The thrill being that the branch line offered "through trams" to the ground. It was of great interest watching the tram being transferred onto the main line - quite a performance. It seemed to us that if the pole carrying the electric cable was not transferred at the correct time the tram stopped and had to be towed round the curve.

Some of the tram drivers did not take to driving buses and were put on the country routes over minor roads. One route went through West Hougham. The service was twice weekly, so if you missed the bus on Tuesday you had to wait until Saturday.

It was not all work on the farm. We used to play cricket in the field next to the farmyard. Frank and I supplied most of the limited amount of gear and therefore had a strong say in all matters. I don't remember football, but hockey was played in the street as it was a better surface than the field and the hedge on either side made good side lines. Another popular game was nip-cat. The equipment was a stick about 2 inches in diameter and about 5 inches long pointed at each end and a stick with which to hit it. Two individuals or two sides could play. Firstly the nip-cat was thrown at a chalk circle in the road from a fixed distance. If the thrower managed to get it into the circle the striker was out. If not, the striker would hit one tip of the nip-cat which would spring into the air. The striker would then hit it as far as he could. He then estimated the number of strides from the circle to the nip-cat. If the opposition could not achieve this, this amount was added to the striker's score. If the opposition succeeded the striker was out. I cannot recall hearing of this game being played anywhere but in our area. Marbles was also played and it always seemed to me that the marbles season occurred when the ground was wet and muddy. Conkers was played in season.

About the age of 7 or 8 I was introduced to smoking by my friend Harry, later to be called Brickie when he was apprenticed to the trade. Both his father (before he became ill and committed suicide) and one uncle worked on the farm. Harry would be given sixpence and told to go to the pub (there were no shops in Church Hougham) and buy 3 packets of Woodbines (5 per packet). He was given a penny for his trouble and he would come to me for a second penny and then ask for 4 packets for either Dad or Uncle Peter. 3 would be handed over and we would retire to the fields to smoke the other packet. I never liked it. I did not like the taste and the smoke got in my eyes, and I dropped the habit when I ceased to play in the village after entering the County School in Dover.

Towards the end of the year that I was 7 I had a very bad spell. I was very ill but the doctor did not know what it was. I was in bed for some time gradually getting worse and I had reached the state of being unable to take solid food, and one day I could not take liquid. I remember Mum, Dad and the doctor around the bed. The doctor shook his head. Mother burst into tears and left the bedroom. Dad and the doctor followed and Dad being a careful sort of chap put out the light.

I lay in bed wondering what it was all about, and eventually the light dawned, they thought I was about to die. I resolved then and there that I was not going to die. How long I rested there I do not know, minutes or hours, but some time later Dad came and asked me how I felt. I replied that I felt OK and wanted something to eat. Realizing this was out of the question Dad prepared beef tea in a feeding cup. It could have been a small teapot as it had a spout. I struggled to swallow, much went over the bed but it did not matter because the sheets were always with discharge from my nose and mouth. Somehow it revived me and I slept.

The next morning the doctor came ready with the death certificate - I would not be surprised - only to find me alive and almost kicking.

He then pronounced that I had diphtheria and I was carried off to the isolation hospital on the outskirts of Dover. As he was not too sure I was put in a room on my own and had no contact with anyone apart from the Borough MO and the matron (who visited once each day), the nurse and a young girl. I saw the girl mostly and she spent some time reading my comics. Of the family I saw nothing, not even looking through the window.

It was very lonely. All I could hear was the boys playing in the next room. One day I struggled to sit up and look through a small window and I could see them playing with lots of toys. They looked at me as if I was a ghost or some other odd creature.

After a fortnight I began to peel, and it was said I had not diphtheria but scarlet fever. I was then transferred from the green corrugated iron building to the red one about 100 yards away. I was still isolated but with no young girl to keep me company. Once I was wrapped up and sent outside to get some air. Both girls and boys were also out but I was not allowed to mix. I walked up and down in front of the boys' dormitory while the others paraded in front of the girls' dormitory. Some told me that I had been moved to make room for a sailor from the port who had sleeping sickness. He recovered but my little girl friend caught the illness and died.

After a fortnight in the red block I was pronounced cured and taken to the matron's office in the administration block about another 100 yards away to await collection. Dad came, and on the way home I said the matron had given me one of my favourite sweets which was very kind of her as I had not had one for a month. This annoyed Dad as he had brought me sweets (my favourite amongst them) each time he came to enquire of me.

The rooms seemed very small and low after the vast empty space I had got used to, and in one corner of the living room in a basket I found a baby brother born almost as soon as I went into hospital. I remember saying to Mum, "So you could not do without me and had to have a replacement". What she must have suffered in those last weeks.

I remained at home, but after having my tonsils removed I resumed school for the start of the summer term. At the hospital they did the operations en masse, and when I was brought in there were no beds, so I was put in a cot on the other side of the ward. I was most annoyed as the boys opposite laughed, and I said to the nurse, "Don't put the sides up". Fortunately I was taken home the same day dripping blood down the outside of an open-top bus, or was that when I had a tooth out? I returned to school after Easter having missed almost two terms.

I think it was Mother rather than Dad who wished to see her children receive a better education than that which would be provided at Hougham. There were two lines of thought, either Dover College or Dover County. The College would have meant at least a couple of years at a Prep school before taking the Common Entrance. This was ruled out by Mother as a boy on the next farm had been expelled, not so much for getting a laundry girl pregnant, but by having the temerity to have his picture in the local paper in his school uniform hand in hand with the young lady over the caption "College boy to marry mother to be". How correct the reporters were in those days. Not "pregnant laundry girl". Laundry girls were considered to be well down the social scale.

The trouble was the County was Kent County Council and a scholarship job. Frank took the exam and failed. On a subsequent interview however he was granted a place providing Dad could pay 4 guineas a term. He considered this reasonable. The fee for a day boy at the College was at that time just 8 guineas a term.

As for me, I was not allowed to take the exam as it was said I would disgrace the school. How I could do this to a school that had never had a pupil pass anything in the whole of its existence. Dad however, was at this time not only a School Manager but also Chairman of the Parish Council, and as such was known to Dover officials including the Education Officer. I just about remember visiting an office in Dover and putting my name on some papers and I was passed fit to attend the County School subject again to Dad finding another 4 guineas a term. Thank goodness the next year Mary gained the first ever scholarship for the school to attend the girls' County School. Dad filled in all sorts of forms claiming dinner money, uniform allowance and bus fares. The Education Officer sent for him and told him from the financial statement Dad had submitted he (the Education Officer) could prove conclusively that Dad could not afford the fees for his two boys. I think they settled for a compromise and Mary had her bus fares paid. Dad did not submit a proper tax return until after the 39/45 war. Before I think they assessed him on land acreage, and with a thriving milk business he was doing well.

©2003 Ron Bromley