NOSTALGIA: Eastbourne memories of ice cream, the pier and deckchairs

Hundreds of people enjoying the sunshine on the beach in the 1950s

Hundreds of people enjoying the sunshine on the beach in the 1950s

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I am a regular visitor to Eastbourne, writes Don Townshend. My wife and I often stay there a couple of times a year. I know the resort has a reputation for being the retirement place of choice but the resort has much to offer and I fend off jibes from people who tell me it is only full of “oldies”.

My love of Eastbourne can be traced back to my childhood in the 1950s. I lived in the east end of London and my grandfather had an Austin Ten, which looking back, was not exactly spacious. We would start out early on a Sunday morning for a day trip to Eastbourne.

My grandparents would sit in the front and I was crammed into the back with my brother and parents. The car had leather seats which gave off an antique shop smell when they warmed up. Unfortunately I suffered from car sickness which was terrible for me and unpleasant for everyone else. My parents would have a seaside bucket in the back with us to avoid the possibility of a change of clothes.

We would start out from Hackney but by the time we reached Tower Bridge, the smell of leather, cramped conditions and mandatory boiled sweet which was supposed to stop me feeling sick, all conspired to produce the inevitable. Thank goodness for the bucket.

After this regular crisis, I would be fine for the rest of the journey and would wait for the adults to say, “Can you see the sea yet?”.

In those days you could drive straight up to the seafront along Terminus Road which in modern Eastbourne is partly designated as a pedestrian area. We would go onto the beach and look for a sandy area between the pebbles to place our deckchairs and begin the digging of sandcastles.

The handy seaside bucket was cleaned with seawater and our metal spades shifted lots of sand.

It must be said the spades were potentially lethal for young toes and would not meet today’s safety standards. My grandfather would snore in a deckchair, resplendent in a three piece suit with the trouser legs rolled up and the obligatory handkerchief on his head.

While the day trips were all about sandcastles and ice cream, my real love of Eastbourne was the annual week’s holiday. We sometimes travelled by coach, with the accompanying seaside bucket or by train which never troubled me. We would stay in a guesthouse at 3 Ivy Cottages in Ivy Terrace nearly opposite the railway station.

The front garden seemed to contain quite a lot of the beach with pebbles and sea shells. Sadly Ivy Cottages were demolished at the end of the 1950s to make way for a “brutal” office block.

Our holidays were enhanced by the open top seafront buses. They were painted mainly in white and had names on the front. White Rabbit, White King and White Knight, to name but a few. We always sat in the top deck and my mother would complain about the wind a put a scarf around her head. Sadly, the white open top buses are long gone. Some other open top buses, which bore the green and cream of the famous South Down company, ran to the top of Beachy Head. We used to get off and walk (or in the case of me and my brother, slide and roll) back down to the foot of Beachy Head. What fun!

There are still open top excursion buses today, that do a round trip over the South Downs and back to the pier on the seafront.

The pier was a magical place and had penny slot machines which depicted scenes of hanging and graveyards with skeletons coming out of the ground. This obviously passed for entertainment in the 1950s but owed much to Victorian horror, I now suspect.

There was a machine with a sailor which looked like the famous Archie Andrews ventriloquist dummy but with a sailor suit. I would put a coin in the slot and walk away before this sailor started to laugh loudly and attract lots of attention.

More next week.

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