Charlie Gasson – a Hooley Legend - Charles Albert Gasson was a true man of Hooley and a true countryman. He was born in 1906 at No. 3, Star Cottages, next to the Star Inn (all now demolished) on the Brighton Road. He died in 2003 at East Surrey Hospital, aged 96.
Charlie went to Chipstead school for 10 years from the age of 4, and became a member of St. Margaret’s Church choir and a bell ringer before retiring after 70 years! Continuing his association with the church, Charlie married Edith Crouch, the daughter of the Verger and Sexton, and their only child Peter was born in 1933.
Charlie’s great interests were football and cricket, and he played both for Chipstead from the early 1920s. Latterly, he took up green bowling until he was 88 years old.
Charlie had a great knowledge of Hooley and Chipstead and anyone who was writing about the two villages would refer to him for information and advice.
Here is his story.
As one who has lived here all my life, I am often asked what Hooley was like some sixty odd years ago. Flanked, as now, by chalk banks and railway cuttings on one side and faced by corn fields, meadows and woods on the other, Hooley was indeed a most pleasant place in which to live.
Sixty odd years ago there were but forty semi and three detached dwellings in Hooley village. From Hooley Lodge (by far the largest house) beside the Star Inn, the village stretched up the railway side of the road as far as the bakery, there being but six houses on what is now the village side. The old bakery building, now a small factory, can still be seen (beside the petrol filling station) opposite Stepney's Yard.
Print of an anonymous picture of The Star Inn and Hooley Lodge ( both demolished in1977) in 1885 from the Star railway bridge which was then the only road across the cuttings.
The Lodge, the skittle alley by the Star, Myrtle Cottage and eight other cottages on the railway side have all, in recent years, been demolished. The paddock and the lower allotments, once opposite my parents' home, have also gone.
A map of Hooley in 1914, showing the locations of St. Margaret’s Church, Court Lodge Farm, Shurman’s Forge, the Star Inn and Hooley Lodge. Note the complete absence of residential roads off Church lane and Star Lane, all constructed after WW1 and WW2.
The cottage in which my parents lived was rented from Mr Ernest Bennett, landlord of the Star Inn. The rent was then just three shillings per week and how much I appreciated the penny Mrs Bennett gave me when paid in my parents' rent, at the Star back door.
In my younger days, the Star had a skittle alley and, without today's heavy traffic, stood in a much more rural setting. At midday, the carters used to meet and drink their beer, leaving their wagons beside the road, whilst truly free-range chicken ran about the road, feeding on the chaff and oats as it fell from the horses' nose-bags.
A tranquil scene outside the Star Inn in 1905. The Star dated from the 1770s when the Brighton Road was just a muddy track. Business increased with the opening of the Surrey Iron Railway in 1804, then the Brighton steam railway in 1837, and the subsequent development of Hooley village. It was demolished in 1977 with the widening of the A23 Brighton Road. A great loss to the village of Hooley.
Most of the families who lived here then kept rabbits and chickens which they used for food and all but a very few were accomplished gardeners. The seeds of my own life-long interest in gardening were sown when I was a pupil at Chipstead School. 16 boys each had a plot and grew a variety of vegetables and would compete at the Annual Flower Show.
At the top of the road, as we used to say, the Franks family had a three-fold business; a shop from which grocery, sweets, soft drinks and stamps could be bought, plus many other everyday needs.
The ladies of the Franks family who ran the Hooley General Store, which closed in the 1960’s.
On Saturday mornings, female patients accompanied by nurses walked from Netherne Hospital to shop, and stayed for at least an hour until all were served and ready to return. The shop was always closed on Sundays, but in summer, after Sunday school or church, children who tapped on the window round the side would, on payment of a penny, be served with a bottle of their favourite drink. In the yard beside the shop, children would watch old Mr Franks, the wheelwright, making or repairing a four foot cartwheel, the farrier shoeing a horse or the blacksmith hammering a piece of white hot iron or making a horse-shoe.
Sometimes, as a special treat, we children were allowed to blow the fire. The house and shed with pigeon loft can still be seen opposite to what is now the Star Lane Garage but alas, the forge and the smithy, are no longer there. The main road of my youth was much less than half the width it is today and there was hardly any traffic to speak of. One solitary gas lamp lit the Star Lane crossing. The village 'Bobby' would flip you round the ear with his gloves for kicking a football along the road; for riding a cycle on the pavement or without a light, one would, if charged, be fined five shillings at Reigate Magistrates Court.
Construction workers outside the Star Inn in 1909 during the celebrations for the completion and opening of the Netherne Asylum. The Star was out of bounds for the asylum inmates.
Opposite Franks' shop a five barred gate stood where the garage forecourt is today and beyond the gate a track led up to a double row of allotments, hidden from view by high hawthorn bushes on top of the bank. At this point on moonlight nights we would play "Tin Can Copper" using an old bucket placed in the middle of the main Brighton Road or other long forgotten games like "Mike, Mike, show your Light".
The sound of the horn showed that the Worcester Park and Buckland Beagles(from the kennels at Mugswell) were hunting over the fields. Boys and girls with hand trucks collected wood for the fire and horse dung from the roads to manure the family allotments or garden.
There was, of course, no public transport, telephone or television, and mothers with prams walked to and from Coulsdon to fetch their weekly shopping. We children collected the families' milk from Court Lodge Farm, leaving the can there in the morning on our way to school, and picking it up on our way home in the afternoon. For fetching the cows from the fields beyond the Star and carrying the first pail of milk to the dairy, one was sure to be first away.
Court Lodge Farm (currently owned by Peter and Katherine Goldsmith) from where Charles Gasson used to get his families’ milk each day, as well as the odd bare back horse ride!
During the First World War, most of the men were called up to fight and the older boys from Chipstead School were asked to help with the harvest. For several weeks during late summer I worked a 12-hour day at Court Lodge Farm. Starting work at 7am, I earned 9d per day (6d for the first eight hours plus 3d overtime). One day whilst working alongside the thresher, my nose began to bleed and Mr Denyer, the farmer, told me to take a break. Instead of working in the field, he said I could take a horse to be shod at Shurman's Forge (destroyed by fire in 1936). I had not ridden a horse before, but Mr Denyer said the horse knew its way and he helped me up and gave the horse an almighty slap and off it galloped up the road, past the church and on up Hogscross Lane at a terrific pace, without reins, saddle or stirrup. I held on tight to the horse's mane and only just managed to save myself from falling off. After the horse had been shod, I remounted and thoroughly enjoyed the canter back.
The Chipstead village forge in Hogscross Lane. It was burnt down in 1937, shortly after the death of the last blacksmith, William Shurman (1849-1936). He was a great local character as Charles Gasson indicates. He started work in the forge at 10 and also played cricket for Chipstead, being the last living player to have played on Church Green. He enjoyed a glass or two of home-made wine and always had a cheery word for the children of Hooley as they walked to and from school.
There are so many things that one could tell, which many living in Hooley today will find hard to credit. A boy, a human scarecrow, who stood in the cornfield above my home, clapped two pieces of board together and often chanted his own vocal warning: "Rooks a rooks away, you eat too much, you drink too much, you carry too much away”. Women gathering stones from the fields by Broadwalk, loading them into large wicker baskets and carrying them up the hill to the tip by Noke Farm, later to be broken up by hand and steamrollered into the road. Gypsies, their multicoloured wagons parked in Church Lane, the men sitting beside the road, making clothes pegs, the women collecting and binding primroses and violets into bunches for future sale in Coulsdon, Purley or Croydon.
A man with a barrel organ complete with performing monkey, playing olden day tunes beside the Star Inn. Mr Darvil, with a horse-drawn cart, coming up the road from Coulsdon selling shrimps and winkles for our Sunday teas. A muffin man walking in the middle of the road, ringing his bell to draw our attentions, turning this way and that, all the while balancing a tray of muffins on his head in perfect poise, all these are people of the Hooley of Yesteryear
Once a year, a fair was held in Quality Street, Merstham, and to this we all had to go. The sight of swing-boats pitched on the verge opposite the Feathers, swinging out and up above the road, remains for me especially vivid. A large hot baked potato or a bag of roasted chestnuts were, I recall, most popular buys for a penny. Each year on Derby Day, villagers used to walk in groups all the way from Hooley to Epsom Downs. How many who live in Hooley now could stay that kind of distance?
Another annual event was the passage of Sanger's Circus on route to their Winter quarters at Horley. How well I remember seeing elephants walking past my house and seeing a trunk reach over a neighbour's hedge and uproot a succulent cabbage.
During the First World War there was much excitement at seeing a Zeppelin overhead, but most of all I remember one hot summer's day when I ran and ran, chasing a lighter-than-air balloon up Star Lane hill and on beyond the church, until I collapsed exhausted. I was at the time off from school, having not fully recovered from the measles and I was convinced that the balloon which was not more than fifty foot above the valley and would not make the top of the hill. As it grazed the tree tops up Star Lane, the excited occupants (in the basket) were frantically off-loading ballast and I think it must have been, for them, a heaven sent breath of wind which eventually lifted them up, up and away into the clear blue sky towards Kingswood. On a later occasion, I did get the chance to see a balloon close at hand, when one came down in the fields behind the chalk banks, and I imagine that even today the boys of the village would get quite a kick out of such an unusual happening.
Off to war! The Star Inn in 1914 with a gathering of soldiers and policemen.
There have also been many other unusual events; such as when the suffragettes marched through Hooley and made their way up to Chipstead Church. There they placed hot cake tins on the long seats near the vestry and so attracted others' attention by filling the church with smoke.
St Margaret’s Church 2005 – A view from Nokes Farm Field
My formal education was obtained at Chipstead School, which in those days had six standards and catered for both boys and girls up to the age of fourteen. There was also a thriving Sunday School to which I belonged and I joined the church choir over sixty years ago, when I was nine. I also learned to ring the bells and have, apart from the war years, chimed the Church bells most Sundays ever since. My father-in-law, Mr Ernest Crouch, was verger at Chipstead Church from 1919-1957 and he was succeeded by his widow, Mrs Edith Crouch, until my own wife succeeded her mother in 1963, they have collectively served six rectors over a period of almost sixty years!
The common ties between Hooley and Chipstead
Chipstead Football, Cricket, Bowls Clubs, Scouts and Guides were all shared facilities. Likewise whist and billiards at the Reading Room; dances, concerts, whist and jumble sales at the Peter Aubertin Hall and the Annual Flower Show, are all activities in which Hooley villagers have always shared.
The ties between Chipstead and Hooley have always been close; the more so as Chipstead School and Chipstead Church being sited as they are, closer to Hooley than they are to the outlying parts of Chipstead. The only time in my life-time that Hooley and Chipstead have been briefly parted was a day or so in 1927, when after heavy snow and hedge-high drifting, blocked all the lanes to Chipstead, until a single path was cleared. The winters in those days seemed more severe and ponds like Elmore and Noke (the latter was then the larger) were frozen for weeks and whole families went skating. Gatton Park Lake would also be opened to the public whenever the ice measured six inches thick
The buses come to Hooley.
After the 1914-1918 War, the buses of the East Surrey Traction Company buses came from Redhill, passing through Hooley and terminated at East Croydon in 1919. Later, Thomas Tilling and the London and General Omnibus Company ran a service through from Camden Town to Reigate. All the early buses were double-deckers with open tops and all had solid tyres. At that time, one could walk along the road until a bus came along and by the simple and civilised process of raising one's hand, the bus would stop and pick one up!
The shops along Hooley Parade, Brighton Road, 1937. A refreshing absence of heavy traffic!
When I started work in London in 1921, six of us used to walk to Coulsdon to catch the 7.30 train (the first bus did not come through until after 9am). The return fare from Coulsdon to London Bridge was then one shilling per day, at the workman's rate. For five-and-a-half days work in London I earned twelve shillings a week, exactly half of which I spent on fares.
The fare to East Croydon was six old pence each way, and for another sixpence one could sit in the gods and watch a variety show at the Croydon Empire. We also used to go to the silent films in Malcolm Road, Coulsdon, where all necessary sound effects were provided by a local lady who played the piano or violin. Many of the silent films were, in those days, shown in instalments, so that one simply had to go every week.
By the early twenties, my parents owned a crystal (wireless) set that had just enough power to allow three of the family to listen in with head-phones. Later on, plans and kits became available and enterprising lads built their own "cat's whisker" sets. The way we had to don head-phones and huddle round to listen must surely astound the colour television and transistor generation.
The Village Expands
During the twenties, more houses were built along the main road and others began to spring up in Star Lane. The lane was also widened and a footpath added. In Church Lane, Church Lane Avenue and Church Lane Drive, houses were mostly built in the early thirties and the large oak at the head of the green is all that remains of what was once the lower limb of the “Tee Wood”.
During the Second World War, Canadian soldiers were billeted in the village and the large houses on the Broad Walk estate were requisitioned for their use. Two VI flying bombs destroyed several houses in Church Lane Avenue and Church Lane Drive but these were soon rebuilt. The Council Estate, built in the early fifties, has a Maple Way, which to those who were here in the early forties is ever a reminder of the Canadians' visit. Long before Maple Way, however, before the cornfields of yesteryear, there was a settlement there on the hill which dates back to Roman times. Items of pottery found on the site at the time the Council Estate was built are, I believe, now in Guildford Museum.
The village today has ten times the number of houses it had in my youth, and at the time of writing, January 1978, there are to the best of my own recollection, fifteen families who have resided (as families) in Hooley for at least the past sixty-five years. Of the individuals who lived here in 1914, there are a dozen who live here still.
Charlie's grave in St.Margaret's churchyard
From local history records Vol. XVIII- 1979 published by the Bourne Society.