When I was born, my parents lived at Polegate, but my mother was from Hailsham and went to school there, where she was looked after by her adopted parents (who were actually her aunt and uncle).
I didn’t really know my grandfather, John Clarke, who died when I was two years old when he was working on the railway line at Leap Cross, Hellingly.
He had been a Special Constable with the East Sussex Constabulary in the 1920s and a member of the Home Guard during the Second World War.
Every Wednesday, my Mum would take me over to Hailsham on the train to see my Nan and we would spend much of the morning at the Cattle Market. Although there were various market stalls, I loved to see the animals. The sights and smells of Hailsham Market form my earliest memories. I can remember trying to get closer to the cows and sheep but being tugged back as I was attached to a powder blue harness and reigns. I guess I was about two years old.
On the way back to my Nan’s house (which was coincidentally in Gordon Road) I used to love to go to the Common Pond. I can still remember toddling around the edge.
There has been a pond here for hundreds of years, named from the Common on which it once stood (although it is now surrounded by housing); it was shown on the 1778 map made by Yeakell & Gardner but I am sure there has always been a pond there.
In 1828, no less than 5,000 carp and tench were fished out of the Common Pond in just a few days.
The Hailsham Fire Brigade used the pond as a source of water. (Hopefully the fish didn’t block their hoses).
The superintendent of the brigade was Mr J Thompson and, in February 1895, he took part in a remarkable sporting event. Due to a heavy fall of snow, football was out of the question, so it was decided to hold a cricket match - on the ice of the frozen Common Pond! Several hundred people turned up to see the two teams who played the game on ice-skates. Mr Thompson made catch of the day when he shot across the ice to catch the ball with one hand low down off his own bowling.
As it was so cold, the game was kept short by a rule that made each batsman retire when he had reached a score of twenty. Batting and bowling must have been difficult on ice but immensely fun to watch.
In 1900 Hailsham Council complained that road workers were depositing refuse into the pond. As early as 1875, the Public Health Inspector Mr Manoah Martin complained that he had visited over 2,000 houses in the Hailsham and had found ‘serious evils detrimental to health’ which had arisen from badly constructed drains, privies and cesspools.
The Common Pond however was not a source of drinking water, which was obtained from Wannock on the other side of Polegate. It took over ten years for a better source of water to be obtained with the construction of a well and pumping station to the east of the town at Amberstone.
My Nan’s house was tiny and old-fashoined (a ‘two-up, two down’ with an outside loo and no bathroom). In the afternoon I would play in Hailsham rec’ and in the late afternoon Mum and I would return to Polegate, either by train or catching the bus outside the Bricklayers Arms. I can’t remember too much of the journey home - I must have been sleepy with all the excitement!