Last December I featured a photograph dating back to 1958. In it Lewes resident John Cooper appeared as Santa Claus surrounded by youngsters at St Mary’s Church Hall in the town. A
little while later I was contacted by one of those youngsters, Peter Coley.
Subsequently, Peter supplied me with several other photographs from his Lewes schooldays plus copious notes on what he got up to as a youth and also where life has led him as an adult. Though Peter and I have never met it turns out that I did know many of the youngsters that he knew. This is because I met them when they were a little older and at Secondary School whereas Peter, obviously being a bit cleverer than I am, went on to Grammar School.
Anyway, I thought it best to simply edit Peter’s various communications into a continuous story using more or less his own words entirely:
“My name is Peter Coley and I was sent the article and photograph from the ‘Sussex Express’ of 19th December 2014. In the picture, I am the second boy from the right (the good looking one), standing next to Simon Blythe.
“I lived in Lewes at 10 Sheepfair from 1957 (when my parents bought the house new for £3,000) until 1973. Sheepfair was originally called Race Hill Close and is just up the road from St Mary’s Church Hall. I remember Timothy Cooper (and his sadly untimely death in a motorcycle accident in 1970) and recognised Philip Amy, Michael Ashton and some others in the same photo.
“I enclose a picture from the Wallands Primary School circa 1962 when our teacher was Mr Partridge. I was spanked at the Wallands as a seven-year-old by Headmistress Mrs Pershky (or was it Persky?). Anyway, it was for something I hadn’t done but I still had to go to her secretary’s office to ask for the slipper!
“I have many memories of Lewes. With bow and arrow I shot at molehills on the downs, while walking our dog.
“Sport was my forte. I was Captain of the Wallands Primary School at football and went on to play rugby for Lewes Grammar School and soccer for Lewes Athenian League Reserves who played in the Southern Combinations League.
“In 1968 I managed to leap five feet in the high jump competition during a popular sports day held at the Rec on Neville Estate and won five shillings.
“As an Under-16 I won the Sussex County Junior tennis title when the finals were held at the Southdown Club in the town. The same year I got to the semi final of the Junior County Golf Championships at Blatchington and lost to Marcus Urbye who played off a 10 handicap and had his mother caddying for him! At tennis, I also won the Boys and Mixed Doubles Sussex Under-18 titles in 1971 and was runner-up in the singles.
“I caddied for Ernie Goldring, the Golf Professional at Lewes Golf Club, and was a 14 Handicap at the age of 14 and won the Broadbent Junior Cup in 1967.
“While at the club, I became a ‘beater’ for a shoot at Ninfield and was driven there in a Rolls-Royce and paid £1 per day for my trouble by Colonel ‘Plum’ Warner. I have some very distinct memories of Dr Bodkin Adams who was a regular on the shoot!
“At the time I was part of a group of lads that would hit golf balls off the top of the hill with a 7-iron, trying to get them to splash down into the River Ouse. Doubtless we gave the ducks and swans a bit of a scare. We stopped this escapade when a ball bounced on the main road just in front of a car, near the foot of the cliffs!
“I remember how a friend, John Murray, and my brother Paul and I would always go to the meetings at Lewes Racecourse. We had duffle bags that we would stuff with discarded tote tickets to take home to check against the results in the hope there would be a winner or two amongst them. Once we found a correct forecast liable to pay out £21.10 shillings. My father took the ticket to a tote office in London to cash it in. This was about 1963 and it was a lot of money in those days. The cashier must have guessed it was a ‘lost’ ticket as he asked him where he’d picked it up. Ironically, my father owned a company of private investigators called Westminster Investigations.
“I got into Lewes Grammar but only after spending two years at Xaverian College, which was at the top of Elm Grove by the Pepper Pot in Brighton. I was taught by the notorious De La Salle Catholic Brothers; it was quite an experience and I witnessed some serious beatings. That establishment eventually became part of the Cardinal Newman Catholic School.
“My career took me into the hospitality business and I got my grounding at Eastbourne’s Grand Hotel. I later trained as a Hotel and Restaurant Inspector with the Michelin Guide. In 1975 I was working at the Hotel Claridge Paris when I checked in the famous jockey Scobie Breasley together with his wife. I was able to tell him how he had once signed his autograph for me when I was a boy at Lewes racecourse!
“Oddly enough, as a youngster I always wanted to be a jockey. In fact I paid a visit to Tom Masson’s stables in Lewes to enquire about taking up riding but they told me that my feet and hands were too big. Perhaps they were right as I did grow up to be six foot four inches tall.
“Another souvenir I still have is a BP badge that was only awarded to tennis players who had won an open tournament. BP was then a big sponsor of tennis and it was very prized in the day. I’ve got a photograph taken at Wimbledon of myself and Rupert Green both sporting BP badges. Rupert is four years my junior and he also went to Wallands and later to Lewes Priory School.
“These days I live in the New Forest but still have links to Lewes. I am in touch with Nigel Sears who is the father of Kim Sears who Andy Murray has quite recently got round to proposing to (at last!). Nigel lives in the Lewes area and was in charge of British women’s tennis at one time and coached some world-ranked players, including the current world No. 6 Ana Ivanovic.”