Arundel memories of Alfred Peckham '“ Part I

While looking through my library for some paperwork for the monthly meeting of the Arundel History forum, I came across a document I could not recall seeing before.

The Royal Sussex Regiment in Arundel Park, 1909
The Royal Sussex Regiment in Arundel Park, 1909

This contained random reminiscences of life in Arundel in the early part of the 1900s, written by Alfred Peckham.

Alfred was born in 1905 and put these memories to paper in 1985, four years before he died.

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I was so fascinated by some of his clear recollections of the town I thought I would share some of these with you all.

Soldiers in Arundel Park, 1909

Alfred’s father was landlord of the Queen’s Head pub in Old Woking where both he and his younger sister Margaret were born.

His mother died when he was about three years old and his father was left to bring up Alfred and his four siblings.

Alfred said: “I suppose in desperation, the lot of us were transported to Arundel and dumped on the grandparents then in their 60s.”

Alfred did not recall the journey to Arundel but noted: “It must have been something of a nightmare.”

The Black Rabbit Inn along Mill Road, with the old chalk pit behind and to the left

His father was called up during the first world war and killed in France in 1917, “…so you see we younger children hardly knew our parents.”

The children lived with their grandparents in King Street, towards the top of the hill on the right.

The rooms were small but there was a large garden to run around in.

Next door lived their great-aunt Elizabeth (Elizabeth Sturt who was the wife of their grandfather’s brother) who had a large apple tree in her garden which ‘we were not above scrumping now and again but her old eyes were always on the watch for us.’

We lived in King Street towards the top of the hill on the right.

Elizabeth was a ‘mysterious figure’ rarely seen but one incident remains in Alfred’s memory of her appearing in her garden one afternoon with a bowl of custard for the children.

“Quite what this unexpected deed of generosity was about I do not know but I had never tasted custard before.”

Rabbits were raised for food in the back garden and Alfred recalls his grandfather cleaning and gutting them by the shed door and over time became ‘…so familiar with the operation that he had done it himself.’

During his time in Arundel he remembers the policeman very well who would not put up with any nonsense on his patch.

Zebu cattle brought to graze in Arundel Park by the 15th Duke. Alfred must have seen the last survivor of this herd (Castle Archives)

He is described as a ‘very upright and military man named Mr Hyde who owned or was connected with a grocery shop in Ford Road’.

As far as crime was concerned, Alfred remembered Arundel as ‘…a quiet sleepy town where nothing very much ever happened.’

Living close to Arundel Park, Alfred recalled that a great bell-tent was pitched in the area where Duke Bernard and Duchess Lavinia would later build their house.

“Hundreds of Territorial soldiers arrived at Arundel station and then marched with bands and full kit all the way up the High Street to the summer camp. These young flowers of British manhood did not know that they would all be called up in August 1914 to face the whole might of the German army. I wonder how many survived?”

On the subject of the park, Alfred recalls a ‘strange beast’ referred to by the elders as the ‘Injun Bull’ which was permitted to roam around the area and the surrounding woodland.

This was a white animal with a hump on its back regarded by the children with a great degree of fear and awe.

Mr Able Peirce, wheelwright and blacksmith. Alfred would watch him crafting carriage wheels in his workshop down The Slipe

He wrote: “I now know that this was actually an Indian Ox or Zebu. I have no idea of how it ended up in the park but I always thought it was rather unkind not to provide it with a mate for company.”

The park was a natural playground for Alfred and his friends and he recalls the large red entrance gates that would only be opened by the lodge keeper when the Duke or his visitors required access for their carriages.

The children were all made aware that they needed to keep clear of the nearby firing range in the park when the red warning flag was flown from Hiorne Tower.

Mark adds: “I can recall the dangers of this being carefully explained to my elder brother and I in the 1960s if we planned to go playing in the park.”

Alfred also recalled watching the men at the Castle sawmill cutting planks by hand: “There was a deep sawpit with a man standing in it ankle deep in sawdust and another man at ground level. They used a long crosscut saw in an up and down motion sawing right along the trunk. They would repeat this until the whole trunk had been sawn into planks; it must have been real backbreaking work!”

Living so near to the park provided the family a convenient and very pleasant shortcut to the riverside pub at Offham: “Before they got too old, my grandfather and grandmother used to walk with my sister and I on summer Sunday evenings around the lake and down to the Black Rabbit pub. We were always given a penny each to get a bar of chocolate from the vending machine. While the old folk rested in the pub, we amused ourselves on the nearby seesaw.”

The abandoned chalk quarry behind the Black Rabbit is the scene of a ‘family yarn’: “The story is most likely apocryphal but apparently an Uncle Arthur of mine once fell from the top of this 100ft chalk cliff and his life was only saved because by sheer luck he landed on a haystack. I must perpetuate this yarn as I am very probably the only person living who is aware of it.”

True or not, I can confirm that I have a number of old images in my library showing haystacks at the base of this cliff.

At the end of Tarrant Street near the old primary school, now the library, is an area that has for hundreds of years been known as The Slipe.

Traditionally the word means an area where reeds and rushes were once gathered.

However, Alfred recalled it as being: “A most dangerous place for youngsters and a place where a boy once drowned in the fast flowing river. As children we were strictly forbidden to go down the Slipe; we did, but we would have been in terrible trouble if we were found out.

“I remember the wheelwrights workshop (Albert is referring to Abel Peirce’s business which is still remembered in the more recent development known as Wheelwrights Close) where we used to stand and watch him shape the long slim spikes with a spokeshave.

“Those were the days of carriages with their big dainty and seemingly fragile wheels, beautifully made, painted and lined with red, black and gold.”

• In Part II, next month, Alfred recalls local shops, traffic, Sunday school and local fairs.


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