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Archbishop Tenison's

Church of England High School

Archbishop Tenison's CE High School
Selborne Road

Chapter 3 - Crowborough - Country Town

Situated at the junction of the A26 and B2100 roads, Crowborough occupies a position on the highest point of The Weald in East Sussex. (During the war, it was just "Sussex". The "East" designation was added later.) The geophysical characteristics of the place gave it prominence in a neo-military sense. During the Napoleonic wars, a tallish wooden tower was constructed on what is now the A26 going south out of the town toward Newhaven on the coast. The tower was originally surmounted by a brazier, which would have been lit as a signalling beacon if a French invasion force had been spotted from the top of the tower. The coast itself was not visible, but any military activity approaching over the South Downs would have been.

The tower was known locally as "The Beacon" and a hotel and section of road bear its name to this day. It was preserved as a local landmark for historical reasons and its heavily tarred wooden structure was clearly visible from the A26. Unfortunately however, its prominence must have provided a landmark of the wrong sort during the war, when, in the days of dead-reckoning navigation, the Luftwaffe would have found it to be a useful ground reference marker. One night, in a final, defiant and glorious gesture of its purpose, The Beacon mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground.

As a country town, Crowborough was somewhat unusual. In addition to the normal farming community, it supported a substantial proportion of retired people and some of the more affluent components of society. The lifestyles of the older and the richer required commensurate support services, the performance of which, in those days, provided a livelihood for many other trades and professions in the locality. As the war developed and many of the young men and women headed off to the armed forces, adjustments to the social system were required whereby many who were accustomed to being waited on had to fend for themselves. And they did so very successfully. Not only did self-help become the order of the day, helping others was considered a patriotic duty. A network of volunteer organizations sprang up to provide direct support for the community as well as major contributions to the war effort in general. The war was undoubtedly a catalyst for social homogenization. The ‘Colonel Blimp’ syndrome would never recover and Charles Dickens would have been ecstatic. Tenison’s played its part in the overall plan, both actively and passively.

At various points in time, Crowborough has been well known for such disparate features as its golf course and fringe religious organizations. The latter are probably better known today than they would have been during the war when the Anglican Church was the unchallengeable spiritual authority in the country. The golf club, on the other hand, located at the southern limits of the town, was a prominent civic entity and remained reasonably well patronized during the war. Attrition of the staff inevitably had its effect upon maintenance of facilities and the availability of caddies. This provided opportunities for local youths, including Tenisonians, to step in as substitute caddies on Saturday mornings. A reasonable degree of stamina was required to complete the 18 holes with the player’s golf bag slung over one shoulder. (There were virtually no carts in use at that time.) A full circuit was approximately 4 miles - more if the player could not drive straight down the fairways. Some of the players were not too easy to get along with but the majority were fine people and a pleasure to work for. It was a great way to learn the mechanics of the game, plus extensions to our vocabularies, and to earn a few shillings into the bargain.

On Hurtis Hill, near to the clubhouse and at the junction with High Broom Road, was Windlesham Manor, the house in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived and wrote his famous ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories. We were told that when he died, he was buried in the garden of his property, and although that proved to be the case, some of us were quite skeptical about it at the time. It transpires that when his widow moved away some time later, she took his remains with her to the New Forest. What we evidently did not realize was that Sir Arthur had been a doctor living in Croydon prior to his re-muster as a novelist. As we now head into the next millennium, Windlesham Manor is a retirement home.

Opposite the clubhouse, but also on the east side of the A26, The Royal Observer Corps had an observation post. This location provided an uninterrupted view for many miles across the area south of the town. In the early stages of the war, before radar had become a viable adjunct to the air defense system, visual observations by the Corps provided an invaluable contribution to the control of anti-aircraft operations. Armed with binoculars, an optical range-finder and telecommunications equipment, the Corps members manned their heavily sand-bagged emplacement to watch over the safety of the community. As an Air Cadet, in the latter part of my stay in Crowborough, I visited the post as part of our training program. There was not a great deal to be learned there, other than the emphasis on accurate aircraft recognition.

The centre of the town was at the intersection of the A26 and the B2100. The spot rejoiced in the title of ‘Crowborough Cross’ and was the focus of the community’s commerce, such as it was. Most of the town was located south of the intersection. During the war, the area west of The Cross blended into the fringes of the Ashdown Forest, the side roads actually degenerating into pathways into the woods. There appears to have been a substantial amount of development in the area since then.

It did not take the pupils of Tenison’s very long to discover the delights of being able to roam freely through the fields, woods and forest that were so easily accessible. Shortly after I joined the Adams household, the other two Tenisonians allowed me to accompany them to Pilmer Woods and to The Millpond in the forest. In the spring, the Pilmer Woods were awash with colour from the bluebells and other seasonal wild flowers. Later on, foxgloves raised their spikes above the underbrush to enliven the scene. I doubt that we realized at the time that we were acquiring a valuable appreciation of nature that we would be able to look back on and enjoy in later life.

The Millpond, west of Beacon Road, was not far distant from the outskirts of the town. Nestling at the bottom of a saucer-shaped indentation in the forest, it had obviously been a man-made feature of the landscape as the ruins of an old mill’s foundations at one end would suggest. The place held a strange fascination for the students at the school and we would go there either in small groups, or alone to enjoy the quietness and solitude. The hillside was covered in ferns and beneath the trees around the top of the basin, the ground was soft with beds of long decayed undergrowth and bracken. It was a place of discovery, as we shall see later.

Heading west from The Cross, toward Jarvis Brook, Crowborough Hill dipped down toward Chapel Green and Church Road, where All Saints Church was located. Tenison’s was virtually affiliated with All Saints, it being the nearest Anglican Church to the school at Craigmore Hall. For a time, attendance at matins on Sunday was more or less obligatory and failure to do so could invoke the wrath of God or Henderson, there not being much to chose between the two. We also attended bible classes there and were issued with wartime-quality bibles by the Curate, Rev. A.T. Bolton on the 10th of March, 1940. I note from the remnants of a 1941 diary that Church on Sunday mornings was still the order of things at that time. We were usually accompanied to the services by one or other of the masters, presumably to ensure that we prayed in advance for forgiveness of the sins that we were bound to commit during the rest of the week.

Opposite The Green was Mr. Perry’s farm, about where Chequers Close is now located. Tenisonians were much in evidence there on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons. Mr. and Mrs. Perry were a young farming couple with two small children. The farm was mixed dairy and arable. Mrs. Perry looked after the chickens and the children, while farmer Perry devoted his time to the herd and the crops. We liked to go there to help with whatever chores needed to be done, including mucking out the cowshed and keeping the barnyard clean and tidy. No doubt Mr. Perry appreciated getting free help at the weekends when his farmhands were not always there. He was very tolerant of our mistakes and had a natural way of communicating with us in an educational manner. In an informal style, without interrupting what he was doing, he would explain the rudiments of animal husbandry, crop management and many other aspects of farming that would otherwise have remained another of life’s mysteries. Our time spent on the Perry’s farm was a rewarding experience that we would certainly not have enjoyed had the school not been evacuated into the country.

On one corner of Crowborough Hill and Church Road, facing the Perry’s farm, was a little cottage known locally as "spy cottage". It had indeed been the home of a German spy in the first World War. The person had been caught and duly rewarded according to the customs of the time.

Except for local undulations in the terrain, practically every direction away from the centre of Crowborough was downhill. Therefore, continuing toward Jarvis Brook from The Green was a relatively easy walk and soon brought one to Craigmore Hall on the south side of the road. Most of that side of the B2100 was farmland or otherwise agricultural during World War II. On the opposite side was a residential area where many Tenisonians were billeted. For those of us living there, it was a conveniently short walk to and from school. Also opposite our school, between North Beeches Road and a local school, was an extensive area of allotments. The area was developed soon after the war and now includes the Beacon Community College.

At the bottom of the hill, about half a mile beyond Craimore Hall, was Jarvis Brook, boasting the local railway station and area garbage dump in close proximity to one another. Farningham Road runs along the northwest side of the railway tracks, behind which ran an unsurfaced public footpath, giving access to the dump, and all of the treasures it contained. Progress has overtaken the dump, which is now the general location of the Jarvis Brook Industrial Estate.

For those with adventurous minds, the garbage dump at Jarvis Brook could be an interesting place to visit if one could stand the smells and other revolting aspects of the place. It was tended by hand as there were no mechanical contrivances such as bulldozers available at the time. Also, in country areas, the inhabitants either burned or buried much of their household refuse, so the contents of the dump were primarily hardware and similar things that could not otherwise be disposed of. Strange discarded items could be found there. On one occasion, Mickey Gower (who suffered an untimely death after leaving Tenison’s) proudly displayed his discovery of a German steel helmet from World War I. The place was destined to be the delight of any future archeologist who may by chance conduct a dig there.

By virtue of its proximity to the railway station, the garbage dump was in a somewhat strategic location. One warm day, we were dozing through our lessons when we became aware of the sound of unfamiliar aircraft engines. Those of us who had become able to identify most allied aircraft by engine noise, woke up to the fact that the machine we could hear was probably not one of ours. The matter no longer remained one for conjecture when the lessons were interrupted by the whistle of falling bombs, an unfamiliar sound in our country refuge. But the technical competence of the German bomb aimer did not equal the crew's bravado in making an unescorted low-level daylight raid. He missed the railway, the railway station and the garbage dump. The bombs landed amongst some cottages some way back from the tracks and on the opposite side from Farningham Road. If I remember correctly, the air raid warning went off some time after the bombs did.

Students being what they are, a group of us decided to go gawking at the damage after school and to try to determine exactly where the bombs had fallen. We came to a fork in the road to discover an armed guard standing at the junction of the two ways. We asked him which way we couldn’t go, whereupon he asked us in return which way we wanted to go. We arbitrarily picked a direction and he agreed that we could go that way. We knew then where the bombs were.

The railway was virtually the only practical way to travel to and from Crowborough in those times. The small steam trains delivered us to East Croydon station for weekend and holiday trips to home. The reliability of the service depended largely upon air raids, troop movements and a host of other unpredictable factors. Invariably, if we were lucky enough to get on the train at all, we sat on our cases in the corridor or, if it was not corridor-equipped rolling stock, stood uncomfortably wedged between the knees of seated occupants of the carriage.

The return trip to Crowborough after a weekend in Croydon was usually made early Monday morning. For me, this generally involved walking to East Croydon station from Waddon as the buses were not running that early in the day. Alternatively, it was possible to walk to the old Waddon Station and there to catch the first 654 trolleybus of the morning to West Croydon Station. From West Croydon it was necessary to walk again to East Croydon, lugging whatever baggage happened to be required for that particular journey. In the winter months, the short walk from home along the dimly lit streets to Waddon Station provided a powerful impression that it is indeed, darkest just before dawn. From East Croydon Station, the punctuality of the train was unpredictable and I notice from a diary entry on Monday the 6th of January 1941 that I did not make it into school until 11:30 am. The school staff were generally quite lenient about lack of punctuality under those circumstances but I see from other entries that there was trouble about it on other occasions.

© Archbishop Tenison's CE High School