Tribute to Patcham’s Muriel Elms
3 May 2014: Brighton Argus

We would like to pay tribute to Muriel Elms, who sadly passed away recently aged 100. Muriel was a remarkable woman who made an enormous contribution to the community of Patcham, near Brighton, as did her late husband Graham…. read more

Words taken from a talk given by Muriel Elms to local community groups, supported by her collection of photographs.

I was born in 1913 in a house in Bates Road in north Brighton. My father, Herbert William Watts, moved to Brighton in 1910. He worked as a charge hand fitter for the railways and during the First World War worked in munitions.He later worked on the Bluebell Railway as a railway engineer”.

Our house in Bates Road had three bedrooms, two living rooms, a kitchen and a scullery.

There were two toilets, one outside and one upstairs, but no bathroom. There was a medium-sized garden where we kept chickens. In the kitchen was a range for cooking, an oven for baking at the side, saucepans could be heated on the top. In the corner of the kitchen was a copper. The fire underneath was usually lit on Mondays to boil water to wash the clothes. Then the clothes were carried to the sink and rubbed on a wooden wash-board (later replaced with a glass one) – knuckles did get sore.

After rinsing in the sink they were put through a mangle with wooden rollers. The washing was then hung out on the line in the garden to dry. The next day the clothes were ironed with flat irons, which were heated on the range.

As there was no bathroom we were bathed in front of the fire in the range in a metal bath using water from the copper which had to be lifted out in buckets – very laborious.

Although there were fireplaces in all the bedrooms they were only lit when someone was ill. In winter the fire downstairs was lit every day in one room for one week, and in the other room the next week, to keep them aired.

On Sundays the muffin man used to walk around ringing his bell to sell his muffins and crumpets from a long tray he carried on his head. We also had a man selling winkles.

My grandparents lived in Redhill and on Sunday my grandfather used to get up early and ride his bike down to Brighton to meet us for breakfast.

Then he and my father went to the beach to buy fresh crabs and fish from the local fishermen selling their catches from their boats. My grandfather would then cycle back to Redhill.

When I passed the scholarship to the Grammar School I had to walk from Preston into the town, or go by tram, to the York Place school, which was in Richmond Buildings, near the Level, and backed onto the Phoenix Brewery. I shall never forget the smell of the brewery on a hot summer’s day.

At the tram terminus I used to watch the arm being changed from one line of wires to the other, for the return journey.

The school was moved into a new building in Balfour Road in 1926 and was then called Varndean High School.

In 1926 my father bought a plot of land in Ladies Mile Road in Patcham, from the Abergavenny Estate. It was called Drove Road on the original deeds, because cattle use dbe driven up it and across the Downs to Lewes Market.

We moved in 1927 and had a lovely bathroom, with hot and cold water in both the kitchen and bathroom What a luxury!

We had a marvellous view of the Downs and the farmland opposite our house. I was fifteen then and used to walk to school across the fields at the back of our house and through smallholdings, up a footpath (now Braybon Avneue), past the farm (Sinden’s) and over to Varndean.

When I left school I had a job at the Public Library and Museum and biked into Brighton. At weekends we used to enjoy walking over the Downs to Standean and talking to the cottagers.

In the 1930s the farmland opposite where we lived was sold for development and a Mr Ferguson built the Ladies Mile Estate and advertised as houses at £499.

In 1938 I was married at Patcham church and we bought one of Mr Ferguson’s houses – with all mod cons.

In the war when I was expecting my first child, we had to take in two evacuees from London. My husband was in a reserved occupation supplying meat to the forces and worked all sorts of hours, as well as being in the Home Guard.

We were no longer able to walk on the Downs as there were great rolls of barbed wire stopping any access. There was great excitement once when a German bomber was brought down on the way up to the Chattri. By the time my daughter was eight years old we were able to wander again.

In 1952 my daughter went to Varndean Girls school where I used to go, and by 1955 my son was at Varndean Boys where he later became head prefect and won a scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge.