The rise and fall of a major local housebuilder

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Eldridge and Cruttenden, which started in 1876, was one of the longest established building firms in Hastings and St Leonards. They were founded on the principle that they would always handle the smaller jobs with as much attention as they gave to the larger contracts. Albert Card started as an apprentice with Eldridge and Cruttenden in 1938. He said, “They were good employers but I cannot remember the rates of pay. Eldridge and Cruttenden built a row of houses at Battle; I used to cycle out there with a toilet tank tied under my crossbar and a bag of tools on the handle bars. Between the wars they built the end pavilion on the pier” For many years Eldridge and Cruttenden’s most notable work vehicle was a large, custom-built van; this was for the men to sleep in when working away from home on large jobs. The van, which was towed from site to site, was divided into two compartments and equipped with bunk beds. A labourer acted as cook. The van, named “The Dreadnought”, because of its size, was still in use in 1946 as an electrical and explosives store.

During WWII Eldridge and Cruttenden carried out a huge number of repairs, and remedial work on bomb-damaged buildings all over Hastings and St Leonards and were in even greater demand from all sections of the community in peace time. During the war one of the employees kept chickens and pigs next to the builder’s yard, boiling up their swill in the plumber’s workshop, in a cauldron hanging over the fire. The firm played a major role in the reconstruction of the town; in 1945 Eldridge and Cruttenden were responsible for repairing St Leonard’s historic Masonic Hall, damaged in a raid in 1940, as well as making many war-ruined homes fit for habitation. They re-built the Jenny Lind pub, destroyed in a raid in 1943. As extensive house-building schemes got underway post-war, Eldridge and Cruttenden were directly involved in building houses in five different villages on the Romney Marsh, where Italian prisoners of war were part of their workforce.

In the 1950s Eldridge and Cruttenden secured a number of important contracts; they built Red Lake Girls School, The Grove School for Boys and an out-patients extension to the Royal East Sussex Hospital. They also erected many residential properties in sections of Upper and Lower Glen Road, Parker and Hoadswood Roads and built an extension to the Buchanan Hospital. They also helped to build some of the factories that make up the Pondswood Industrial Estate. It came as a shock to the town when in June 1996 it was announced that Eldridge and Cruttenden were about to become bankrupt. A household name in Hastings and St Leonards for 120 years passed into history; they had trained many apprentices in all trades associated with the building industry and over the years had employed thousands of local men, some of whom spent their entire working lives with Eldridge and Cruttenden. Further Reading: “Letters to a Part Time Barmaid” by Victoria Seymour. Available from Waterstones and Hastings Information Centre priced £9.99