MARY ELIZABETH WARNES - 1900-1973

'M.E. Warnes General Stores'

By Mark Tovey

This page was inspired by finding mention of my Nan and her shop, 'M.E. Warnes General Stores' on the Our Newhaven site, posted by Carol Walton & Andy Gilbert [search 'Mrs Warnes' Shop and the Ship Hotel']. She had the shop from the mid 1930s until around 1963.

She was born Mary Elizabeth Allen in Bethnal Green, London in 1900; then as now, an economically deprived area. In her childhood she was friendly with a certain local lad, Jack Cohen, who had a market stall in the area. He later upscaled to a few shops, which he named Tesco's. Mary's business empire was to be somewhat modest in comparison.

She moved to Sussex when she took up a job as matron of a school in the Uckfield area, sometime in the early 1920s. It was at this time she met Harold Stapley. They married at Mayfield Parish Church in July 1926 and sometime later moved to a tithe cottage at Palehouse Common, with Mary becoming the house keeper of the beautiful Arches Manor at Framfield [which still exists]. Their first daughter, Marcia [my Mother] was born in 1927 and Honor, their 2nd daughter, in 1931. By this time Harold was a postman but was to die of tuberculosis in 1933; although I don't recall mention of him when I was a boy, he must have remained important to Mary as all her life she kept a letter from their courting days, along with his wire framed glasses, and his WW1 Army and Post Office cap badges.

Around 1935, with financial support from an older brother, she purchased the shop and home at 1 High Street, Newhaven. From what I can establish, the premises was formerly the 'Newhaven Dairy & Teashop'. She later met Albert Warnes, who worked on the boats at Newhaven and was originally from County Durham. They married in 1937 and had 2 children: Edwin, born in 1940, and Lionel, in 1941.

Mary continued running the shop throughout the war years into the 1950s and early 1960s. Being centrally located, it remained a thriving business and she was at the heart of the local community and privy to most of its gossip. Some of Newhaven's best known characters were frequent visitors: Bert Lilywhite, the coal man, had a 'special' chair out the back of the shop where he perched to drink his mug of tea and where he sat to avoid spreading coal dust everywhere. As I wasn't born until after she sold the shop my memories are limited to her years in retirement. She was ever the matriarch, and could be stern and stubborn, with strong opinions. My brother and I mostly experienced her warm side, unlike Albert, her husband, who could easily arouse her wrath for a transgression of domestic protocols.

Sometime in the 1950s Mary purchased a bungalow at Links Avenue, behind Newhaven Golf Course, on the Peacehaven border, with a view to retiring there. However, this was sold to my parents in 1959 when they moved back down from a brief time living in London, following the birth of my brother.

Mary was forced to sell the shop in the early 1960s when the road network through Newhaven was reconfigured and the shop was earmarked for demolition. No longer having a business, she retired and moved briefly out to Heathfield, before buying two derelict cottages at Whitesmiths [near Ringmer] which were replaced with a bungalow where she lived out her last years.

Mary fell ill with cancer in the early months of 1973, and was nursed by my Mother. Mary died in May 1973 at Links Avenue, Newhaven. Her husband, Albert, moved briefly to Peacehaven after her death, before moving back to the North East; he died in 1976. Her first daughter, Marcia, died in 1974 but her other children, Honor, Edwin and Lionel are still living. 

After Nan's death my brother and I came across an old box of stock from her shop containing several bars of Cadbury's milk chocolate. Our delight quickly dissipated after we tasted a bar and found it had rather exceeded its 'best before' date.

Back in the 1980s I made a trip to Newhaven and visited the Museum when it was located adjacent to the car park on the sea front. I chatted with a chap there [whom I'm guessing was likely Peter Bailey] who remembered Mrs Warnes well and showed me the photo of her outside her shop from the museum archive [the same photo as featured below]. It was only a brief conversation and I was not inclined to follow it up and make contact with people who knew Nan. Now I'm older and of a mind for such an undertaking, those people have sadly long since passed away...

Thanks to Honor Roberts & Edwin Warnes for filling in some details.

Photo:Mrs Warnes outside 'M.E. Warnes General Stores', 1 High Street. Telephone: Newhaven 299. Early 1950s

Mrs Warnes outside 'M.E. Warnes General Stores', 1 High Street. Telephone: Newhaven 299. Early 1950s

Photo:Mary "Dollie" Elizabeth Allen, Hackney, London, September 1924

Mary "Dollie" Elizabeth Allen, Hackney, London, September 1924

Photo:Mary Stapley with her daughters, Honor & Marcia, Palehouse Common, circa 1933

Mary Stapley with her daughters, Honor & Marcia, Palehouse Common, circa 1933

Photo:Mary with her first husband, Harold Stapley, Uckfield, late 1920s

Mary with her first husband, Harold Stapley, Uckfield, late 1920s

Photo:Outside the shop at 1 High Street, Newhaven, circa 1937. L-R: unknown man, Mary Stapley [later Warnes], daughters Marcia & Honor, unknown woman. The iron railings were removed during WWII and never replaced

Outside the shop at 1 High Street, Newhaven, circa 1937. L-R: unknown man, Mary Stapley [later Warnes], daughters Marcia & Honor, unknown woman. The iron railings were removed during WWII and never replaced

Photo:Mary Warnes & 2nd husband, Albert Warnes, October 1950

Mary Warnes & 2nd husband, Albert Warnes, October 1950

Photo:3 of Mary's 4 children: Edwin Warnes, Marcia Stapley & Lionel Warnes, taken 23 December 1952

3 of Mary's 4 children: Edwin Warnes, Marcia Stapley & Lionel Warnes, taken 23 December 1952

Photo:Denton Island Bridge, circa 1948: some headless & unidentified folks but includes: Marcia Stapley & Mary Warnes [left, rear], Edwin Warnes [kneeling & scowling, front], Barry Wilkinson [wearing white shirt & tie] with his Nan & Mum, Lionel Warnes [in front of Barry]. If anyone can identify any others, please let me know

Denton Island Bridge, circa 1948: some headless & unidentified folks but includes: Marcia Stapley & Mary Warnes [left, rear], Edwin Warnes [kneeling & scowling, front], Barry Wilkinson [wearing white shirt & tie] with his Nan & Mum, Lionel Warnes [in front of Barry]. If anyone can identify any others, please let me know

Photo:Shandy, Mrs Warnes' first Irish Setter. Portrait taken by Raymond Austen, Seaford, 1950s

Shandy, Mrs Warnes' first Irish Setter. Portrait taken by Raymond Austen, Seaford, 1950s

Photo:Rear view of Mrs Warnes home & shop [centre, rear] with Denton Island bridge to left. Taken circa 1960

Rear view of Mrs Warnes home & shop [centre, rear] with Denton Island bridge to left. Taken circa 1960

Photo:Mary Warnes in retirement, with her beloved roses, Whitesmiths [near Ringmer] summer 1972

Mary Warnes in retirement, with her beloved roses, Whitesmiths [near Ringmer] summer 1972

This page was added by Mark Tovey on 07/07/2019.
Comments about this page

Lovely to see all the old photos. I believe I am the little girl in the front of the group. My mums family were good friends with Mrs Warnes for many years as they lived in Riverside and were neighbours. They all bring back such happy memories. My brother Barry is still a resident of the town.

Carole Knott ( nee Wilkinson )

By Carole Knott
On 08/07/2019

My mother used to take my brother and I down to this shop for sweets which as far as I can remember were gobstoppers. We lived in a flat just up the road almost above Funnells bakery. We lived there until we moved to 5 Northdown Road, can't remember when that was must have been early 50s, but it was new when we moved in. Perhaps one of the editors will know?

By Terry Howard
On 08/07/2019

Its funny how life throws up coincidences. I had a few dealings with people in Whitesmith ( I am pretty sure it is Whitesmith and not Whitesmiths, happy to be corrected) there is a Land Rover dealer there, I did some work for. Then there is a wood yard we used to get solid and laminate flooring from, they are now preparing the sweet chestnut cladding for the new visitor centre at Rye Harbour Nature reserve where my wife and I volunteer. It was coppiced from Maplehurst wood in St Leonards-on-sea which is right opposite where I lived for 43years. It is the first time its been coppiced for 30 years. We spent many happy hours walking around the wood  and picking up chestnuts with our children.

By Terry Howard
On 09/07/2019

Hi Terry, thanks for posting your reminiscences. Yes, you are correct, it is Whitesmith! In the family, we referred to Nan's home as 'Whitesmiths' so it become embedded in my memory as such. Just beyond the home my Nan had at Whitesmiths is a pine forest. I remember it being a wonderful place to walk as a kid, with the lovely, pungent aroma of fresh pine - better than any air freshener!

Regards, Mark

By Mark Tovey
On 12/07/2019

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