Growing up in Herstmonceux


I moved to Herstmonceux, a small village in East Sussex between Bexhill and Hailsham in 1928 when I was five years old.  I lived in ‘North Lodge’, the little gatehouse cottage on the Lime Park Estate at the Gardner Street/Hailsham Road end of the long drive to the big house.  My father, William (Ernie) Green had gone to London when he left school to do an engineering apprenticeship at the Clement Talbot Car Factory.  It was there he met my mother, Doris, (actually Millicent Doris) who lived in Wembley and was a tailoress, trained by a Jewish gentleman in the City of London.  Because of the industrial unrest of the 1920’s they returned to Sussex to get married, and lived with his parents at Hodges Farm in Bodle Street. (This was where I was born)


He did various labouring jobs before becoming chauffeur to Mr William Matthey, a diamond merchant, who lived at Bucksteep Manor.  When Mr Matthey died, Captain Gardiner, whose wife Mum had met through the Women’s Institute, gave my father a reference for the position of chauffeur to Mrs de Roemer of Lime Park.  He was accepted for the position and this was his job for the next twenty years or more.   




William Green at the Clement Talbot factory, London



Dad drove the large Armstrong Siddeley car, registration BXP 153, which was garaged in the old stable block near to the house.  It was quite luxurious with silky tassels on the blinds over the rear windows and wide running boards.  His duties were to take Mrs de Roemer to visit friends at some of the large country houses around the locality, also shopping in Bexhill or Eastbourne. He always looked smart in his chauffeurs uniform and cap.  When Miss Benita, Mrs de Roemer’s granddaughter, came to stay he would drive her to the Opera at Glyndebourne, and to parties with friends.  One wet evening he had to carry her over the puddles, to prevent her spoiling her gown.  He also had to drive Mrs de Roemer to London every year where she stayed for two weeks at the Carlton Club with her lady friends.  When she was away Mum and Dad stayed at the house. On one occasion Mum was waiting in the hall of Lime Park to see the lights of the car coming down the drive.  Something landed on her head.  When Dad got in after parking the car he had to extricate a small bat that had attached itself to her head!


At that time the de Roemer household had its full complement of staff, with a butler, Mr Marshall; a head housemaid, Miss Hicks who was always dressed in a long black dress and white frilly cap; a cook, Mrs Philips; Myrtle the scullery maid etc.  There was a large walled garden that was looked after by the head gardener, Mr Stapeley, and the under-gardeners, Ron Simmons, Billy Medhurst, Albert Ransom and others. The garden provided fresh produce and flowers for the house. 


Mum also worked at the house, mainly helping in the kitchen, especially preparing meals for guests who visited, such as Lady Gage from Firle Place, Lady Shawcross, or Lady Hailsham, Lord Hailsham’s first wife. Quite often they would come in the kitchen and shake hands with the staff.  Mum herself was quite refined, and always claimed that her mother, Melinda Caroline Ross, was the daughter of a Lord Ross who had a castle somewhere in Scotland, but she was cut off from the family when she eloped with her working class husband, John Preston Oates.  Whether this is true or just a bit of family folklore, we have never been able to establish, but she did have me christened Margaret Joyce Ross Green.  They went on to have ten children, five boys and five girls, and my uncles and aunts and cousins used to come and stay with us at the cottage.


My dad’s mum was Annie Springett, a descendent of the Springett family who owned a large Elizabethan manor house, Broyle Place, near Ringmer.  Her ancestor was Herbert Springett, the twin brother of Sir William Springett who died of his wounds at Arundel Castle in 1643 while fighting for the Parliamentarians in the Civil War.  His pregnant wife reached his bedside just before he died.  When the little girl was born she was called Gulielma Maria Posthumous Springett and grew up to marry William Penn.  Sadly, she and all her children died.  He then remarried and went off to the Americas and founded Pennsylvania.  Some American cousins, Grace and Eldon Springett, the children of Annie’s brother Rowland, who emigrated from England to California in 1889, researched all this.


Major de Roemer had died during the 1914-18 war (I am not sure of the date, or where he is buried).  He had come from Germany in the 19th Century as Baron von Roemes.  They had one son, Charlie, who lived in Wimbledon with his wife Audrey (who my mother liked very much) and their four children, Benita, Martin, Anthony and Boyce. The boys all went to Somerfields School, a private boarding school in Bohemia, Hastings.  When the children came to visit their grandmother I played with them, especially Martin, as we were about the same age and both loved collecting butterflies.  He would come up the drive to the cottage gate to show me his latest acquisitions.


The little cottage was very picturesque with clipped box hedges all around and pretty latticed windows.  It was small and cosy with a range in the kitchen, and a big copper for the washing.  The water was pumped straight from a well in the garden and was lovely and fresh.  At the bottom of the garden was the ‘privvy’.  In the distance we could just see the South Downs beyond Eastbourne.  




William, Peggy and Doris Green



Life was very happy for a little girl.  I went to the local school in the village.  Mr Bridgen was the headmaster and he lived up West End.  He had two daughters, Rita who I went to school with, and Monica, and one son (who was lost at sea in the war).  I belonged to the Brownies, which was run by Verily Bruce, the vicar’s daughter. I attended the little tin church (long since demolished) up the path to the recreation ground with my friend Barbara Snatt whose dad was a butcher.  Later on I was confirmed in Wartling Church, and then went once a month to the early morning service at All Saints Church.  Mum and Dad took me on bike rides, going swimming at the beach at Pevensey Bay, and even cycling as far as Brighton, where I once got my wheels stuck in the tram-tracks, much to my Dad’s frustration!  We used to cycle to Arlington to watch Speedway - I loved that!


Evenings were spent in simple entertainment.  Card games were favourite, and we often cycled over to Bodle Street to play with my grandparents at the farm.  It was wonderful cycling home along the lanes in the small hours of the morning hearing the nightingales singing and seeing the glow-worms in the banks and the stars shining overhead. 


My mum continued in the WI and used to win prizes for her home-made jams and preserves.  She continued to use her tailoring skills in making dresses and coats, thus keeping us up with the fashion without spending a fortune.  Dad grew vegetables in the garden as well as raspberries and sweet peas.


When I got older I went to the secondary school in Hailsham, where I enjoyed playing netball.  We also liked playing tennis, and had some wonderful times on the tennis courts that Charlie de Roemer laid out, and which are still there on the recreation field today.  (Charlie was known for first introducing electricity to the village, which was produced on the estate and supplied by cable to several of the houses.  He was quite a benefactor to the village).  I really adored playing tennis. Mr Davis Gilbert allowed us to play on the hard court at his house up West End. The tennis club had a thriving membership including Mr Percy Phipps, the local chemist, and many others. I was never short of partners!


When I was fifteen my dad thought I should learn to drive, and decided I could have a ‘go’ in the Armstrong Siddeley!  He was scheduled to pick up Mrs de Roemer from Polegate station that afternoon and had to take the car up to the cottage from the stables.  He let me drive it and all went well as we proceeded up the long drive.  The bend at the top proved a little more difficult and I unfortunately hit the accelerator instead of the brake!  My dear mother, who was waiting for us outside the cottage, had the presence of mind to leap out of the way as we careered into the fence!  Well, a quick dash to Herbie Harris’s garage, a borrowed limousine, a mysterious mechanical fault and a vow to secrecy got dad out of a dreadful fix!  It was over thirty-five years before I had another go at driving.




North Lodge, Gardner Street, Herstmonceux


Work and The War


I left school at fourteen and went to work in one of the village grocery shops, run by Jack and Ethel Snatt.  The village, as now, had a busy centre with plenty of shops and small businesses.  One of the most notable was the Trug factory run by the Smith family in the big barn nearly opposite the cinema.  Mrs Angears, from the Woolpack, made homemade chocolates and her two sons, Roy and Jeff, followed in her footsteps with a very successful boiled sweet business, which carried on for many years.  Mr Honeysett was the baker, and the butchers was run by another Mr Snatt, Cecil.  Mr Seymour had a gift shop, and the Ponts had a grocers and drapers.  Johnny and Pat Allcorn lived near the junction with West End.  Pat ran a cycle business and was always in his boiler suit.  Johnny was always smartly turned out in a city suit and bowler hat.  Old Mr Wissam had his boot repair workshop opposite the shop where I worked.  Up West End Mr Crouch distributed the daily papers from his home. The post office was run by Mr and Mrs Beal, and Mrs Beal was an extremely efficient postmistress.


Next to the gift shop was a lovely house with a spreading cotoneaster across the front that had been trained into the words ‘Praise the Lord’.  Two elderly ladies who were sisters lived in the house, and I believe they were Methodists. It was quite a famous landmark and coach parties would be driven out from Hastings on summer evenings to see it, on their tours of the Sussex countryside.


There was another butchers shop further along the road owned by Edgar Curtis.  He was quite a character, and I think he had helped to build the cinema in the village.  Mr Curtis also kept a herd of cattle in the field opposite our cottage before the houses were there.  One summer’s evening we were leaning on the fence outside the cottage watching him get the cows in.  The last one was being a bit obstinate.  “Get up there, S**  ya!” he yelled as he walloped her with his stick.  “Sonya?  That’s a funny name for a cow,” said Mum!


I was nearly sixteen when war broke out.  Soldiers were billeted at Herstmonceux Place, and they were allowed to come up to the village hall in the evenings for refreshments and entertainment.  The ladies of the village would serve them with tea and biscuits.  I was expected  to help them with this, but I was having much more fun playing table tennis with the lads!


On one occasion I was at my grandparents’ farm in Bodle Street with my cousin, Jeff Green.  We got a bit bored and decided to go off on our bikes.  We ended up back at North Lodge where Jeff suggested I play a few tunes on the piano.  (I had learned to play when I was younger, reaching Grade V, so I wasn’t too bad).  We returned to the farm later on, where we stayed the night.  The next day when we all went back to the cottage my dad had a visit from Mr Boon, the Air-Raid Warden.  Jeff and I had carelessly left a light on in the sitting room.  This was a very serious offence and Mr Boon said it would have to go to court.  My dad duly had to attend the magistrate’s court in Hailsham a few weeks later and was fined the sum of ten shillings.  He was not very pleased with me for a few days after that!


One day we heard that there had been an air raid at Crowborough.  I jumped in the van with Jack Snatt and we rushed off to see the damage. A plane had been shot down and we arrived just as they were burying two German airmen in a makeshift grave. On another occasion the air raid siren went off while the Stewarts traveller, Mr Fisher, was in the shop.  We all dived down behind the counter and waited for the danger to pass.  “I don’t think you’ll be needing to order any All Bran this week, my dear,” said the salesman!


I enjoyed my work at the shop. I used to take the nets off the big round cheeses, help slice up the bacon, as well as place orders with the travelling salesmen who called, such as the Hollands Flour rep.  We also served paraffin from a little shed out the back near the builder’s yard.  Jack used to go off in the van in the morning and bring back orders from his various customers.  While he was having his lunch, I would start to make up the orders and pack them into the large wooden crates that the eggs were supplied to us in.  Then he went back out in the afternoon to deliver.  Sometimes we had to order things in specially, like a ‘bladder of lard’ for Lord and Lady Hailsham who lived at Cowbeech.  Their housekeeper, a rotund little lady in a black dress, would come in from time to time to order this.  One of our customers, Mrs Johnson, would ring up early in the morning and order some bacon, cut on number 3 (very thin), and I would go down to Flowers Green on my bike to deliver it to Edith the cook to fry for Mrs Johnson’s breakfast.


It was at the shop that I met my husband, Bill.  He came every week in his lorry from Stewarts, the wholesale grocers in St Leonards, to deliver stock.  He would come whistling along with the parcels, or a side of bacon on his shoulder and take them to the storeroom off the little passage opposite the shop.  It wasn’t long before romance blossomed and we were engaged!




William Green and the Armstrong Siddeley limousine


My Wedding and the Years Following


We got married on the 28th November 1942, when I was 19.  It was wartime, so there were no big white weddings, but it was a very happy day, none the less.  Bill had to get off the bus on the main road and walk down the long lane to the church.  I think his best man got him some dutch courage along the way in the Kicking Donkey (run by a jolly cockney couple Cissy and Stan Sinden)!  The Revd Rosslyn Bruce married us.  He was quite well known for his sermons, but also for rather more eccentric behaviour – did he really try to breed green mice? The vicarage was on Buckwell Hill where he lived with his wife, three daughters, and one son who he sadly lost in the war.  We sang ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven’ and ‘Love Divine all Loves Excelling’ then all proceeded back to the cottage for the reception.


What a lovely meal we had!  Mr Honeysett had baked the rolls for us, Mr Snatt provided the cold meats – ham and tongue – and The Huntley and Palmers rep that I had talked to in the shop had a wedding cake made especially.  He said they wouldn’t be able to do white sugar icing, but it would be covered in white card and decorated to look like the real thing.  How we got round the wartime rationing!   The ladies who I served in the shop had given me their clothing coupons so I was able to have a wedding dress and matching bolero jacket, and a pretty hat, plus a ‘going-away outfit’ as well.  Mrs de Roemer and her friend, Mrs Cook, walked up from the big house and had a celebratory drink with us.  It was a wonderful day!


Our first home was in a flat in Bexhill Road, St Leonards and I continued to travel back by bus to work in the shop until I gave up to have my son, Donald. By that time we had moved to Bexleigh Avenue where our two daughters, Doreen and Heather were also born. We sometimes went back to Herstmonceux to stay with Mum and Dad, and one day, before the children were born, we were waiting on the main road for the bus to Hailsham.  A beautiful Rolls Royce drew up and the driver, a tall, fair-haired gentleman, enquired where we were going.  When we told him he said “Jump in, I’ll give you a lift”.  When we reached Hailsham, Bill whispered to me “Shall I give him a tip?” “Don’t do that” I whispered back. “That’s Sir Paul Latham, he owns Herstmonceux Castle!”


We used to enjoy taking our first two children back to the cottage.  Dad would take his little grandson fishing in the small lake near East Lodge, and we would pick up the huge fir cones on the lawn underneath the big fir tree, just as I had done as a child.  We were invited to the wedding of Monica Isted.  She was the daughter of Emmie and Frisby Isted, Mum and Dad’s friends, and also Doreen’s godparents.  Doreen was a bridesmaid and Don a pageboy.  The reception was held at the Monkey Puzzle.


I also used to go back occasionally and visit Jack and Ethel in their house next to the shop.  They had two daughters, Doreen and Gillian.  Ethel’s sister, Evie, was married to Herbie Harris who had the garage at Boreham Street with his brother Albert.  When they retired Jack and Ethel moved to a lovely new house at the top of the hill, and I visited them there as well.  They had a person who did gardening work for them, Fred Honeysett, and I remembered him and his sister, Audrey, from my schooldays.


The End of an Era


In 1951 Mrs de Roemer died, (the same year as my Granny from Bodle Street).  By that time nearly all the other servants had died or left, and nurses were brought in to look after her.  My mother was with her to the end, preparing her simple meals as her health deteriorated.  Everything was put up for sale and Lime Park House was divided up in to four separate dwellings.  Charlie dearly wanted Mum and Dad to move up to Wimbledon to be their chauffeur and house-keeper but, with the four grown-up children, Dad could envisage a lot of late nights driving them to parties etc. and anyway, they didn’t want to move far away from their own family. They moved out of the little cottage and after a brief spell with us, moved into a lovely new council flat in Archery Walk in Hailsham.  We often wondered what happened to the Armstrong Siddeley.  Did it end up at a funeral directors in Eastbourne?  Mr and Mrs Stapeley stayed on in East Lodge for many years.  He was quite reserved, and she was very tiny and timid.  I remember Mr Stapely giving me a thre’penny piece every Christmas.  Their only daughter, Kate, died of a brain tumour just six weeks after she got married to Gilbert Walters from the village, which was very sad.  John Walters, Gilbert’s brother, worked for J W Barnes, agricultural engineers at Bodle Street.  




 Armstrong Siddeley parked outside the stables - now The Old Rectory, Lime Park



Dad got a job at Bourne and Burgess’s garage on the main street in Hailsham, where he worked on the petrol pumps and forecourt until he died.  (He had known the two partners since his younger days).  He actually died at the garage of a very sudden heart attack when he was just 65.  Mum had gone to work for Colonel and Mrs Johnson who moved to Merley Hall on Kings Drive in Eastbourne.  They had lived at Flowers Green, and Mrs de Roemer had let her exercise her red-setter dogs across Lime Park.  Their son, Colin, who was the same age as me, but went to Radley College for his education, was tragically killed in an accident on his racing bike while following his father’s army vehicle through the village.


Visitors to Merley Hall included Colonel Bowser who had a very early 1913, bright yellow, vintage Bullnose Morris car, and Captain and Mrs Vorsboys from Folkington Manor.  One of their sons, Rufus would sometimes give Mum a lift back to Hailsham in his car, which saved her the long walk up Hampden Park Road to the bus stop. Mum continued to work there until she was eighty, when Mrs Johnson died.  She spent her last four years with us and died in 1983, just before her eighty-fourth birthday.


My cousin Jeff had plaques made several years later, for my Mum and Dad, and also his parents, and they are on the graves of my grandparents who are buried in the churchyard of Herstmonceux church.


The Later Years


I continued to exchange Christmas cards and brief items of family news with Martin de Roemer for many years. His grandmother had left him the bulk of her money and he had been a Lloyds Underwriter, but his fortunes had suffered with those of that famous company.  He had remained a bachelor.  Around the year 2000 I stopped hearing from him and a little while later I had a letter from Benita, who told me that, sadly, Martin had died of bone cancer.  As she was by then on her own, he had moved in with her when he became ill and after he died she had found my address among his papers.  Benita said she still  remembered me, sailing down the drive at Lime Park on the handlebars of Dad’s bike - my ringlets, which Mum had tied up with rags the night before, blowing in the wind.


Of the other children I have no information, except that one of the boys, probably Boyce, died at an early age and Anthony also stayed single.    Benita married Mr Oliver Moxon, they didn’t have any family, and she later remarried after Oliver’s death.  (My son-in-law found a reference on the Internet to a restaurant called Moxons in St Mary’s, Jamaica, run by an Oliver and Benita Moxon.  Could it have been the same ones?). 


I lost my dear husband, Bill on 3rd June 2002, the day of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, when he was eighty-four.  We had shared a very happy life together for nearly sixty years, with our three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren (now five).  In April 2005 my daughter and son-in-law, Doreen and Alan Bourne, took me back to have a look around Herstmonceux; North Lodge, the recreation field and the tennis courts and across the field to Lime Park to peep through the gates.  We walked from the cottage to the centre of the village, and I could remember all the people who lived along the street. We went back in to the shop where I used to work, which is still in the same building, and I learned from the lady there that there was a planning application for six starter homes in the garden of North Lodge.  (I do hope they are not going to knock the cottage down).


Following this visit, Alan looked up Herstmonceux on the Internet and came across Nelson’s Solarnavigator web site and the information about the old Steam House, where he has his workshop.  He contacted Nelson, who invited us to visit him there.  We had a wonderful afternoon talking about the old days, and one of the residents of Lime Park, Claire, kindly invited us into her part of the house and showed us round, which was really lovely.  And so the story has come full circle.



Transcribed by Doreen Bourne from conversations, May 2005





Margaret and Nelson in Lime Park






Herstmonceux Electricity Generating Works Circa. 1900 - 1936   Links:



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Memories of Herstmonceux by Margaret Pollard







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