December 2001

Living in Old Coulsdon now

Marlpit 2We are almost all incomers to Old Coulsdon these days, a fact that is regularly proved when, at the beginning of a lecture on local history I ask ‘Who was born and bred here?’  Out of say 40 people present just a couple of hands will rise and they are usually teenagers there with the parents.  How different it all was less than a hundred years ago, when our parents were growing up and marrying – that recent. That was when the squires sold the land for development – in 1924 – and roads and houses and shops started to be built.

IMG_5309Until then, for some thousand years and more, Old Coulsdon was just a farming community with perhaps some seven hundred people living and working for the squire and he was living somewhere else, perhaps London, so his interest was solely in the rents he received from his tenant farmers.  It wasn’t until the Byron family bought the manor some two hundred years ago and moved to live here that we had a live-in squire who took a more active part of lives and built what is now the Coulsdon Court hotel in 1854.

IMG_5391The older part of St.John’s church was completed in the year 1260, when the Benedictine monks from Chertsey Abbey extended their hundreds-of-years-old building in order to be able to have room for a choir when they arrived to collect the taxes perhaps twice a year, which they had been doing since AD 675.  They travelled  all the way perhaps twice a year from Chertsey, collecting the oats and pigs to the value of £7 p.a., then back home via a good number of other manors including Merstham, Banstead and Chipstead locally, then handing over the tax to the king of Surrey but keeping 10% for their Abbey.

The bit at the bottom of the hill that we call Coulsdon today was just part of the road from Purley to Hooley, running along the valley called Smitham Bottom; just one building there, the Red Lion coaching inn, but that all changed with the coming of the London & Brighton railway in 1830, followed by the building of Cane Hill asylum in the 1880s and the need for hundreds of houses for the thousand staff.

So, living in Old Coulsdon now would hardly be recognised by people living elsewhere prior to our parents.  I prefer it as it is, with dozens of friends and wonderful neighbours to meet, talk with and be friendly to back.

shapeimage_1Speedway Motorcycling, it was listed as in our programme of speakers.  Great Scott, what on earth is that? I asked myself, having lived so far with only a couple of  years of motorcycling in all that time; some 65 years ago I bought (for £5) an old 1927 BSA 250cc job which saw me up to Warlingham Rugby Club and back and occasionally to Purley Way to the office.  I was glad to get rid of it before leaving for Nigeria and it certainly was not capable of racing in any form.

Alan Barwick, though, has led a life of not only racing the things but collecting a vast amount of information on the sport and he came to tell us more about it all.

It was all started in 1922 in New Zealand by one enthusiast Johnny Hoskins, followed by Australian enthusiasts and was popular enough to spread across the world to the USA, Europe and in 1927 the first Club in the UK was founded with the financial support of W D & H O Wills, the tobacco company, racing in Epping Forest when some 30,000 turned up to watch, rather more than the three thousand expected..  Today there are some twenty-four Club race tracks here, mostly using dog tracks for their meetings, though the Wembley Centre is the best known.  These clubs meet across England, north to south, a dozen in each.

Until 1928 the races were limited to to-wheelers, but then they introduced races for side-car equipped cycles.  Midget car races were started shortly afterwards and even half a dozen ladies entered their cars, though they were eventually banned!

So what kind of cycles were they using?  Better than my Bezzer, I’ll bet, which managed 50 m.p.h. flat out.  Well, yes:  Remember the JAP cycles with their superb engines?  They tended to take over as the referred power source from the early 1930s onwards and were kept even after World War II.  The engines were mounted in light-weight frames and as a further way of keeping the weight down the cycles were not fitted with brakes.

Inevitably there were Test Matches to follow and in 1934 the first of these were held between Australia and England.  Also inevitably, one must accept, some 110 racers have lost their lives in these tests so far.

The sport has suffered somewhat since the 1950s when Entertainment Tax was introduced, but it still entertains many enthusiasts; unlike many other sports it seems not to attract hooliganism, Alan told us proudly.

An excellent talk by an excellent speaker, backed up with many photographs from the years past.


Today:        The Rev. Malcolm Newman starting our Christmas

        Season early, and very welcome as always.

January 5th:            Mary Moore telling us about Hidden London.

February 2nd:Frank Paine on The history of Shirley windmill.

March 1st:AGM and Our Chairman’s Charity

Club News

Sadly, Edward Myers is suffering from a form of dementia and continues to reside in a care home, so we shall be unlikely to have his company in future.  His wife Felicity would like to continue to keep in touch with us.

We welcomed as a new member Dave Garner at our last meeting, a member young enough to list tennis and badminton as his sports.  Keep it up, Dave, along with gardening which you also list.  When he isn’t tiring himself out with these, he makes his own wine and enjoys wine tasting, too.

Dennis Evans writes to tell us about the general knowledge quiz he organised a couple of weeks ago.  It was well supported – for which he thanks all who came – and he gave us an interesting explanation of some of the questions which you can share on the back page of this Newsletter.

Yet again the two Rogers, Roger & Christine Udall and Roger & Anne Brunton won the team prize with 99 points out of a possible 144.

It’s Quiz Time

For those of us who didn’t take part in Dennis Evans’ quiz last month, it is worth mentioning – and explaining the answers to – some of the questions.

For example:

What did the ‘S’ stand for in the US dollar sign?

There was a large silver coin, the Thaler, used in Europe, giving rise to the word ‘Dollar’.  At the time the US was emerging in the 18th century the most wide-spread currency in the New World was Spanish and they had a Spanish Silver coin commonly known as a Pillar Dollar, from the S for the Silver Thaler and the two vertical lines for the Pillars of Hercules (these last being the exit from the Mediterranean to the New World.  It was worth 8 Spanish Reales and was often cut into ‘pieces of eight’ as smaller-worth coins all over the Caribbean and the Americas, so the ‘S’ is either a corrupted ‘8’ (pieces) or an S for ‘Silver’ or ‘Spain.’.

How many countries lie on the Greenwich Meridian

Eight:  UK, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo.

[The French still feel upset about this question, for they were furious when Greenwich was accepted instead of their 0-degrees ‘Paris’ line was rejected in the 19th century. Your Editor has a map of Africa dated 1809 which shows their  line in use].

Who was the last British Prime Minister not to have a wife?  Well, Margaret Thatcher of course.  The last PM not have been married was Edward Heath and anyway he preceded Margaret.

What is the origin of the word Wog?  Well, according to Dennis it originates from the use of Arabic Egyptian workers in the 19th century, known as ‘Ghuls’, all of whom were ‘Workers on Government’ service.  Fair enough, but your Editor always (nearly eighty years of always) knew it spelled out as Westernised Oriental Gentlemen.  Somebody is wrong.

Our more elderly Probeans may have used some of the following acronyms in their service days, written on envelopes with letters to back home to wives or sweethearts:

MALAYA:   My anxious lips await your arrival.

HOLLAND: Hope our love lasts and never dies.

ITALY:   I trust and love you.

BURMA:   Be undressed and ready, my angel.

POLAND:   Please open letter (lovingly?) and never destroy.

EGYPT:   Eager to grab your pretty toes (or somethings).

There are others, but they are not suitable for this Gentlemen’s Newsletter.

What stage show takes its name from the French phrase ‘O quel cul tu as?’  There is no need to translate the French; the answer is ‘Oh Calcutta’.

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