MEMORIES OF DENTON ISLAND 1914 to c1927

Notes of childhood in 5 Reeds Cottages by Florence Maud "Molly" Fowler.

By Teresa Fowler

Photo:Reeds Cottages, Denton Island (row of 7/8 cottages facing the river in foreground)

Reeds Cottages, Denton Island (row of 7/8 cottages facing the river in foreground)

Private Collection of J K Stonehouse

The following is a transcript of handwritten notes, made late in life by my Mother,  Florence Maud "Molly" Fowler nee Allen b. 30th June 1914   d. 1st May 1997.

I recall my mum ("Molly" Fowler) telling me she was born at East Chiltington Workhouse, I assumed because her mother was not married at the time. Confusingly, that seems not to be the case, as I now know that her mother (nee Elizabeth Piper) married her dad (Albert Edward Allen) on 30th April 1914, two months before my Mum's birth.

However, her mother (whom my sisters always knew as Nanny Allen) did already have two young illegitimate children, whose surname was Piper - my late Uncle "Bill" (William) and his younger sister, my late Aunt "Dolly" (Dorothy). It is they whom my mum mentions at the start of her childhood memories, which are as follows:-

I was brought to the island in July 1914. My mother, father, gran & grandad, my elder brother and sister, we all lived together in a two bedroomed house, which also had a living room, kitchen, scullery and outside lavatory.

My earliest recollection was at the age of three, when we had the flood. As well as us, my Aunt Lil had to join us, as she and others lived in huts and were washed out. I understand it was a cloudburst and very high tides that caused it. We were marooned there for six weeks, living in the two upstairs rooms & sleeping on the floor. My father was 'chucker out' at the old kinema, as it was then known. I can remember putting on his uniform and hat and dancing on the bed, and gran and grandad laughing at me. People from the town came in boats and brought us food and water. I can't remember what we did about toilets; probably used buckets! Dolly, my elder sister, nearly fell into the water, leaning out of the window to try to get a sweet from Midge Vaughan, who lived next door. Mum just saved her! When the flood waters went down and the furniture was no longer floating, downstairs, we all came downstairs and I remember the appalling smell and the dampness that never left. It also left a damp mark around the walls that never disappeared.

Daniel and Ebb King kept pigs, chicken and a donkey. They were all rescued by boat but I don't know if Mr Winter's horses were all saved from the field where they were.

Ebb and Daniel used to sell a pig, sometimes, and get drunk on the proceeds. When they'd had enough, they would get in the donkey cart and the donkey used to take them home! They were a great pair of characters, used to fight sometimes and chase each other round the field!

We were all poor. One or two men had regular jobs but not many. How we all survived, I don't know, but never remember going hungry. My mother was a wonderful manager and her cooking, under the conditions then, was amazing. There were seven of us children, eventually, all in that same little house and with gran and grandad.

In the summer of 1927, there was the most awful storm I can remember. There was a thunderbolt fell and the water in the pond in the field turned ? [transcribers note: perhaps she couldn't recall whatever word she'd been told, at the time] so that we weren't allowed to play there for a long time.

When I started school at 6 years old, I couldn't walk properly. I had rickets; also a TB gland taken out of my neck. I was taken to school in a pushchair, by my gran. I was given a glass of milk every day, by the headmistress, who took pity on me and others who were weakly. That, I'm sure, helped me to get stronger. A year later, I was much better.

The first boy I remember speaking to me was Hubert Osborne and he sat at the same desk. At 5 years old, he was in the girls school. At 7 yrs old, boys went to their own school, in Dacre Road.

As soon as I learned to read well, I read every book I could lay my hands on and finally read every book in the school library. It was the greatest joy to me, an escapism from the everyday, grinding poverty that existed. A lot of people think it was only in the north & midlands that people were so poor but it was a dreadful time, everywhere. So many men (and girls) walked down from Scotland and Durham, looking for work but not many found it. There were a good many suicides, in those days, too. After being through the 1914-18 war, it certainly was survival of the fittest.

I remember the first day I saw Jinny Ingram. We were 8 years old. She and her family had come from London. That, to us, was as though they were aliens from space! She was blonde and in a white dress and I was shy but she wasn't, so we became friends, also Steve Payne and Bob Saunders all stayed mates for years. Happy holidays we had, all going on the beach in summer, leaving home at 6.30am with bread & jam sandwiches and a drink of lemonade (made with 1d worth of powder) or orange peel drink, hot water and sugar added.

Postscript:

In a separate note, my mum also wrote: The devil came in through the Cuckmere Haven. He was as mad as could be, he strode across the downs in a terrible rage. People saw him and cried out, “Open the doors of your houses, back and front, so he can pass right through. So told to me by Gran Piper in 1926.

I also have some more handwritten notes and roughly drawn maps, showing her memory of the layout of the island's homes, shops etc and who lived in which. Comparing this with an old OS map, there are some discrepancies re the layout of the buildings, so I will attempt to create a something that might be reasonably accurate. In the meantime, if anyone else has any similar map or drawing, showing the layout of the buildings, I'd appreciate seeing a copy of it.

 

This page was added by Teresa Fowler on 12/02/2016.
Comments about this page

A few years ago, when I visited Newhaven Museum, I found a rough hand-drawn map showing the houses on Denton Island. It was on a page with photos of Catts Cottages c.1923 in an old photo album with a red cover. I don't know how accurate it would have been.

By Joan Crawley
On 02/03/2016

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