Memories of family holidays on Felpham beach in the 1950s

In 1950s, travelling was an exciting adventure for a six-year-old boy. Our family holidayed on the Sussex coast, chosen partly for the relatively short drive and my tendency to travel sickness.

The excitement began in spring, visiting Mrs and Miss Brown to negotiate renting their house near Bognor Regis. This mother and daughter lived in an imposing Gothic property in the next village to us in Surrey. There was no Mr Brown and my memory is of two tallish, slender women, grey streaked hair drawn up in buns, wearing high-necked cream blouses with ankle-length brown woollen pencil skirts.

While negotiations went on over Earl Grey in china cups, my sister, Sarah, and I played in the large garden. Our thrill was nearing the horned but tethered billy goat, often depicted butting naughty children in the Beano or Dandy of the time. We would dare each other to go closer.

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Departure day arrived. Excited, Sarah and I would be dashing about, collecting unnecessary toys which would have to go back to our bedrooms. We travelled in two cars, enabling Dad’s return home to work for part of the month.

Charles with his dad Tommy rowing on the lake

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My sister and I sat in the back seat of mum’s pride – a fawn pre-war Morris 8 Drop Head, looking somewhat like Noddy’s fictional transport. Pillows, sheets and pets were packed around us. On one occasion, as well as two dogs, we took our cat. We would stop to picnic by a tranquil village green, surrounded by whitewashed Sussex cottages, a muddy duck pond and the grey-stone church.

Throughout, the prospect of steep Bury Hill loomed. As mum drove up, gradually dropping the gears and crashing into first, we worried. I didn’t know it then but there were only three gears and first had no synchromesh. That meant that, unless skilled in using a ‘crash’ gear box, it was often necessary to stop to put the car in first gear. Were we going to get to the top? If not, would the car slide back down?

The hill seemed to go on forever but we always made it – just. At the top of Bury Hill was an ice cream hut which my sister and I would gaze at with mournful longing as our mother drove purposefully on. Then the wonderful smell of salty south coast seaweed would indicate that we were nearing our destination – the sea, and the holiday began.

Charles Waterhouse and his sister Sarah loved their family holidays on the Sussex coast

Our large holiday home, in Felpham, accommodated two families. Friends would come and stay, especially Aunty Doe and Uncle Bunny with sons Ian and Paul. Ian was involved in the kite incident. It was a reasonable day on Felpham beach in August. Tide was out, exposing plenty of drying sand beyond the pebbles. Although we were in shorts, there was a brisk cool breeze necessitating pullovers. No fleeces then, just good old scratchy woollen home-knitted jumpers.

My dad, known to all as Tommy, prided himself on his kites. Although I thought the idea of kite flying was for me and Sarah, I knew that this ornate model was something special to him. It was a box shape, red and blue panels with a long tail balanced at its end by dad’s white handkerchief.

Dad and Ian, who was a lot older than me, launched the craft and were keeping it trim. The strong line holding the device was wound around a wooden H-shaped holder similar to the fishing line holders sold in the seaside tourist shops.

I couldn’t wait to have a go.

Charles' late mum Rene enjoying a family day on the beach

“No,” said Dad. “You’re too young and you won’t be able to hold onto the string.

“Of course I will,” was my overconfident and misplaced reply. “Ian is having a go.”

“Ian is much older and stronger than you,” was the reply.

The usual whining and please, please, please (they call it mithering in Yorkshire where I live now). Reluctantly, Dad asked Ian to let me have a go.

The first strong gust of wind pulled the kite from my little hands. The vision is of the kite, which was kept stable by the weight of the hand device and the white hanky, sailing across the beach with Dad chasing after it and shouting to the sunbathers and picnicking holidaymakers to grab the line as it went past them.

So many memories of the beaches of Felpham and Bognor – the Punch and Judy man, the pier and the fish shop with live lobsters. Like the rock, Bognor runs through me.