DAVID ARNOLD - Christmas time travel all the way back to december 1958

Taken in 1958 and the Santa in the centre is still with us aged 91! I think a lot of the kids will still live in Lewes.
Taken in 1958 and the Santa in the centre is still with us aged 91! I think a lot of the kids will still live in Lewes.

I wonder how many of the Lewes children pictured here with Santa at Christmas 1958 still live in the town? I know for certain that the Santa in question does. He is John Cooper, a long-time resident who will reach 92 years of age next March.

John gave me some background to the photograph: “It was the annual Christmas party for local children held at St Mary’s Church Hall. Confusingly, St Mary’s Hall is affiliated to St Anne’s Church!

“The party organiser was ‘Trix’ who was the wife of the then Sussex Express editor Les Lacey. Trix asked me if I could be Santa that year and I agreed. I must have made a good Father Christmas because I did it quite a few more times over the years and also did a stint as Santa at Wyevale in support of the National Kidney Foundation.”

John’s own son, Timothy John Cooper, is in the picture, fourth from the left. Sadly Timothy is no longer with us having been killed along with another rider in a motorcycling accident near Battle in 1970.

John has a spritely mind and keeps himself busy. He also has no less than eight grandchildren. His niece Brenda and her husband John Noakes live a short distance from him in central Lewes. The three of them often go out for a meal in the town.

On a recent foray to Pizza Express on School Hill he noticed something that puzzled him and he wonders if a reader of this column might have the answer.

John’s late wife, Evelyn Joy, had the maiden name Baldock. As a young girl growing up in Lewes she went to Broughton House, a private school situated on the aptly-name School Hill. If you were going up the hill, John always understood from Evelyn that the school was on the right and recalled Evelyn pointing this out to him many years ago. However, upon exiting Pizza Express, John happened to look up and saw the name Broughton House School carved onto a stone on the front of the building next door. This was the first time he’d ever noticed it. The puzzling thing is that this building is on the left as you go up the hill.

I suggested that perhaps the school had other classrooms across the road from the main building. Can anyone confirm this was the case?

John has lived in Lewes all his life. Excluded admission to the armed forces in World War II on health grounds, he joined the Home Guard. He recalls going on exercise up on Lewes Racecourse, sometimes alongside Canadian soldiers who were stationed around the town. He also undertook “Fire Watch” duties on a rota system. This entailed a night spent on a rooftop alert for any stray incendiary bombs that might be dropped by an enemy aircraft.

For space reasons this week’s column is a short one but there should just about be enough room left for me to wish all readers a very Merry Christmas.