Dripping Yarns with David Arnold – Charles Sains: Dripping Pan referee who later led Lewes air raid defences

Dripping Yarns pic May 17
Dripping Yarns pic May 17
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It’s nice to end this season’s Yarns by revealing all (or almost all) of the story behind a mystery photograph of two teams lined up at the Dripping Pan I featured last month.

The image in question is reproduced again here inset into a wartime photograph (of which more later).

Readers may recall that on the evidence of the style of hats worn by the gentlemen flanking the teams, I surmised it to have been most likely to date from the 1920s. Beyond that I had no evidence of when the photograph was taken and what was the occasion.

It was very pleasing then to be contacted by long-time Lewes resident David Sains who told me that the referee (kneeling with the ball in the centre of the photograph) was his grandfather, Charles Gibson Sains, a fact also vouched for by David’s own father who is, of course, the son of Charles.

David was able to date the scene to very early in the 1920s (so my hat hunch was correct!). Further, it didn’t feature a Lewes side at all but was a friendly match played between a “Select England” side and Arsenal FC; the fixture drew a huge crowd to the Dripping Pan. Charles was asked to take the match because he was qualified to referee to international level.

David was able to add that his grandfather, though originally from Essex, regularly refereed at Brighton and Hove Albion games. He added that he thought his grandfather went on to manage Chelmsford and was apparently given a Daimler car in recognition of his services for the club.

I tried to get some background on the Chelmsford connection from Chelmsford City FC historian, David Selby. Unfortunately, Chelmsford City was not formed until 1938 and prior to this date there had been an amateur club, Chelmsford FC, about which very little was known.

David kindly did a bit of sleuthing and discovered that a Charles Gibson Sains had been Chairman of Burnham Urban Council (not far from Chelmsford) in 1937 and the fact that David can confirm that his grandfather most certainly lived in Burnham-on-Crouch must confirm that the gentleman in question is our referee Charles.

Talking to David Sains, he volunteered the information that Charles moved down to Lewes by the time of the Second World War and that he served as ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Chief in the Town Hall.

I went to see my friend Mick Larkin who works at the Town Hall; he knew immediately who I was talking about and promptly produced the photograph also displayed here. Dated 1942, it shows ARP personnel in a subterranean room under the Town Hall (adjacent the cell where the 16th century Sussex martyrs are believed to have been incarcerated prior to being burnt at the stake in the High Street). Mick told me the gentleman on the far right of the photo is Mr Sains; his helmet carries the letters ARPO – standing for Air Raid Precautions Officer. His identity was also confirmed by David Sains, who added that his grandfather was later awarded a “gong” at Buckingham Palace for his war work.

Mick then drew my attention to a book, Lewes at War 1939-1945, by R A Elliston. On page 53 of this 1995 publication it reads: “In August 1943, following the second attack with ‘Butterfly Anti-Personnel Bombs’ it was decided that the sounding of hunting horns to warn of incendiary attacks should cease and in future three blasts on the horns would signify the dropping of Butterfly Bombs. Mr Sains, Chief ARP Officer for the town, secured a further 15 antique hunting horns from Horace Jackson’s Music Shop.”

Amazingly, the same book has a Sussex Express photograph of the wedding of Sgt Neville Sains and Miss Alice Hope at St Thomas a Beckett church in the Cliffe on 3rd July 1943. Neville and Alice are the parents of David!

So quite a fascinating if at times convoluted story. A final irony is that on the day I was typing up this tale, I noticed a van parked a short distance from my St John Street home. Most striking was the name D Sains – Roofing Felt Specialist displayed on the side.

I walked over and asked the gentleman busily loading the van with roofing paraphernalia whether he was connected to the D Sains named on his transport and did he know of Charles Gibson Sains?

“That’s my great grandfather” he exclaimed. I swiftly recounted my quest. Dennis Sains was delighted with the story and as we parted company he said, “I’m really glad I went to work today.”