Page Updated:- Sunday, 07 March, 2021.

Published 17 January 2002


READERS continue to contact me about wartime shelling of Folkestone. Mrs J Robinson, of Stanbury Crescent, took the trouble to send me a photocopy of part of a Herald report about Saffron's Place published on October 7, 1944. It told how more flags and streamers were flying from No. 2 Rosemary Villas, Saffron's Place, the previous Saturday, than from any other house in the district, to celebrate the end of shelling. The defiant gesture was because it was the only house then left inhabited among the ruins of the old street.
MEMORIES reader Derrick Lawson, of Lynwood, Folkestone, has been telling me how his late father, Ernest Lawson, who was an engine driver, 'smuggled' the late Poet Laureate John Betjeman onto the footplate of his steam locomotive several times.

This could have cost him his job, had his bosses known. But John, he said, who was quite a "steam nut" could be very persuasive and often "cadged a lift on the footplate!"

"This was highly illegal and the signalmen were always watching to see if anyone who was not a railwayman was on board. If there was they would jolly soon report the matter," said Derrick.

One day in the thirties, about 1937, Derrick, while only a boy, was to join John Betjeman and his father on a run, on the footplate, to Southampton.
JUST graduated to a railway fireman, Ernest Lawson, left, on one of the railway steamers in 1926.
"My father said; 'You keep an eye out for the signalmen, and when we get to each signal box cover Mr Betjeman with a coal sack'!"

When they finally arrived at Southampton, he said, John Betjeman was covered with coal dust! "And he asked my father where the toilet was. Dad told him to hurry as we had a half hour before we went back to Portsmouth.

"When Mr Betjeman re-appeared he told my father when he went into the toilet quite a few persons pointed to his face - until one wag quipped: 'I didn't know Al Jolson was in England!'

"Dad and Mr Betjeman had quite a giggle about this — as did I! They were wonderful carefree days -nothing like today's railways!"

Derrick's father was born in Harvey Street, but soon moved to Dover Street (now Harbour Way), Folkestone and began work on the railway at Dover Priory. For some time he was the only wage earner in the house.

Under enemy fire

His first job was cleaning the steam locomotives - and he would go home looking like a chimney sweep!

Sadly the only photo Derrick has of his father dates from 1926, the year he graduated from cleaner to railway fireman. It was taken on board a boat in Dover harbour. "That year my parents married and I was born in 1927, in Dover.

"In 1932 Dad put in for an driver's job at Portsmouth where we remained until 1942. In 1941 he was driving ammunition trains to various parts of the South Coast and was machine-gunned and bombed, but luckily sustained no injuries until one evening they arrived at Fratton, which was their depot.
"The offices had been set alight by German incendiary bombs and he and his mate fought the fire with a stirrup pump, but one of the bombs exploded and my father was temporarily blinded."

But the next day, says Derrick, his father was visited in hospital by a railway official from Waterloo who told him off. But, he said, the official beat a hasty retreat when his father told him 'I'll let the bloody place burn down next time!"

When he recovered he was told he was being taken off driving and put on fire-watching at Waterloo. But he told his bosses he was a driver and, if they did not put him back in his job driving he would contact the daily papers about it.

Two days later he was told to carry on driving, on munition trains, and worked long hours until sickness forced him to apply for a transfer and he finished up driving "The Winkle Express" on the Great Western Railway, later learning to drive electric locomotives at Epsom Downs, in Surrey.

"Father drove main line trains until his untimely death in 1953, at just under 50 years of age, when he was given a great send-off by his mates," said Derrick who used to work at Ashford Railway Works.

•LOCAL historian Alan Taylor, of Folkestone Local History Society came in to the Herald office soon after it opened on Thursday, January 10, after reading my Memories feature on the ice trade with Norway, to show me this fine photograph, right, showing ice being unloaded onto a flat-back cart at the inner harbour quayside.

Later in the day Brian Swaffer, a retired local trader, phoned to tell me he recalled seeing ice being unloaded and taken to a depot in Tram Road near Radnor Bridge, now the site of a block of flats. This store was soon made redundant by ice-making works opened in Cheriton Road - the site today of a car tyre warehouse, he said.
A SAILING ship discharges a cargo of ice from Norway close to the Royal Pavilion Hotel, now site of the Burstin. The postcard view dates from about 1912.
Steam buff poet


New radio experiments make steamers safer

f QrtQIT WAS rumoured the Boulogne steam--L7V/^t!rs would soon be fitted with radio transmitters. Important experiments in wireless telegraphy had recently been carricd out at the pier extension at Folkestone. "Delicate instruments arc contained in a shed over which a bamboo mast is fixed for the purpose of sending and receiving electric sparks," reported the Herald at the time and “Talks" had taken place between the port and Dungeness. Earlier attempts to transmit between the Admiralty Pier, Dover and Dungeness had been unsatisfactory, possibly, it was thought, due to the attraction of the iron and ‘electricity’ of Folkestone's pier extension. Plans for a new road, or ''carriage drive," 100ft wide, along the base of the hills to the north of town, taking in Cherry Garden Avenue, was welcomed by the Herald. The editor said the Earl of Radnor's proposal would be a “boon of considerable magnitude" to the resort. At the same time it would open up land at the foot of the Downs, leading to the building of welcome new homes. This could lend to extensive development on the north side of town and attract more wealthy and influential people to the area.
Pullman coaches join fleet of East Kent Road Car Company

if Q<J*yJANUARY was a momentous month for a I Cheriton business, the 27-strong fleet of familiar “Pullman" coaches of Mr E.V. Wills being transferred to the East Kent Road Car Co on the sale of his business built up over many years. Most of the staff were found jobs with the bigger company and the services run by Mr Wills, it was stated, would continue to operate under new ownership. Some of the older cars were expected to be disposed of. to be replaced with new on -s iibim; the same PSV licences. Our staff writer Felix called for controls to regulate the type of homes going up around Folkestone, saying some were mere “shacks," which were "anything but attractive." A whole neighbourhood could be spoilt by the actions of a "selfish" individual unless there was proper town planning, he warned. The Cheerful Sparrows charity group entertained 1.500 local children with a New Year party at the Shellons Street Drill Hall, which, said the Herald, was converted into a "veritable fairy land" for the event. Each child went home with a bag of 'goodies’ to eat later as they revelled in cherished memories of a wonderful day. A letter writer urged abolition of Lower Sandgate Road tollgate and opening up this road as an alternative free route to Sandgate for all to use.

'Lady Godiva rides Again’ in local cinema premiere

| QCO* GALA Film Ball or premiere was held .L/9^at the Leas Cliff Hall for the popular film “Lady Godiva Rides Again," sequonccs of which were filmed in Folkestone the previous summer. The film starred Diana Dors. John McCallum, Kay Kendall and Bernadette O’Farrell. Among those at the premiere were five of the 20 beauty queens who appear in the film. Dorothy Hocking. Maureen O'Neill, Jean Marsh. Ann Hanslip and Pat Goddard. They also made personal appearances on stage at the Central Cinema before the last showing of the film for the day. Folkestone became “Westbourne-on-Sea'’ for the film, with picture sequences taken at Shorncliffe Station of the arrival of the beauty queens, a procession of decorated vehicles. Engineers were coping with a broken sewer pipe damaged in a storm below Radnor Cliff and. with the advice of a Ministry inspector, contractors were instructed to begin work straight away on beefing up sea defences by driving steel-sheet piling in front the seawall and Thrift Cottages at Sandgate, and in filling in cavities undermining the breached seawall and threatening Durnford House. They were also contracted to build five new groynes between Riviera Road and Palm Beach, Radnor Cliff, Folkestone.
New Year honour for hero -and 30,000 jackpot win
•< Q77AMID economic and political gloom in the I / New Year came an honour for sea here Roman Cascino, of Cambridge G.ndi'iis He was commended by the Kent Fire Chu t fur n-scuin^, a non-swim mer trapped in a car which plunged into Dover Harbour: Saltwood nurse Florence 'Topsy' Mayling, 60 on New Year's day, got t if MBE: Hythe customs officer John Noel White was awarded the Imperial Service Order. And. on top of that, two local women won a 30,000 spot-tho bell j.ii'kput. A local man was very interested in newt sub-aqua divers of Folkestone Yacht and Motorboat Clut were o dive on the wreck of the ill-fated immigrant ship Northfleet. run down off Dungeness in 1873 at the cos1 of nearly 300 lives. Capt Thomas Oates, who had beer master of the full-rigged ship was a great uncle of Gurth Waller uf Hjtliu. But. just prior to her voyage, he was called as a witness in a criminal trial, and former chief officer Edward Knowles was given command and was drowned. The 895 ton Northfleet had 345 passengers mostly emigrants, and 34 crew when she was sunk b) the Spanish steamer "Murillo" while at anchor, in one ol the worst ever disasters in the Channel. The steamei failed to stop and the crew was widely condemned foi failing to join in the rescue operations. Casualties wort 269 passengers and 23 crew. Mr Waller's son Duncar was a skipper with a shipping company in Singapore.

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