Mr. A. M. Apel Looks Back from 1936

From Historical Hastings

On the 12th of September 1936, the Hastings & St Leonards Observer ran the following retrospective[1]:


Mr. A. M. Apel 1936.png

Interesting Personalities of Long Ago

Interesting memories of business life in Hastings' principal shopping thoroughfare, in the days before even horse buses plied from the Memorial, are given in the article below, which has been contributed at the request of the "Observer" by Mr. A. M. Apel, the well-known newsagent and stationer, who is retiring from business after 60 years in Robertson street.

In response to many inquiries, Mr. Apel points out that he has no intention of leaving Hastings after his retirement.

"One cannot spend close upon 60 years of business life in the principal street of the town without seeing great number changes during that period. And when in June, 1877, I came into the street as an apprentice, Hastings was very different from what it is to-day.

The centre of municipal activity was still being carried on in the Old Town Hall in High-street. Here were held the Town Council meetings, Police Court and County Court, The Old Town Hall, erected 1823, was totally inadequate to the requirements the borough, just as the present Town Hall, erected 1881, is insufficient for our municipal requirements of to-day There must be many like myself who remember the stuffy room on the first floor of the old hall High-street, where the public business of the town was carried on. I well remember, when about the mature age 15, being sent by my employers to represent them at the County Court to recover an amount due from a long-winded debtor.

Speaking of the old Town Hall reminds me that those days the headquarters of the Hastings Permanent Building Society were Oak-passage at the bottom of High-street, where the whole business was conducted by Mr. Thomas Poole, with the assistance of a junior clerk. The business of the other society, the Hastings and East Sussex, was managed by Mr. William Hallaway in a small office at No. 5, Trinity-street. When one looks at the palatial offices these societies now occupy, it must be apparent that they have played an important part in the prosperity of the borough. What giant oaks from little acorns grow!


When I commenced work in Robertson-street there were no telephones, electric light, incandescent gas, or even a horse bus service. Public and private lighting was chiefly done by gas of the old flat flame type. Practically everyone had to walk to and from their residence and place of employment, and, physically speaking, believe they were all the better for it. The first attempt at a public bus service I remember was the three horse bus which ran (or rather walked from the Memorial to Hollington). This was started by a Mr. Stanley Kerridge. Some time after came the old bus company, with a number of two horse buses. Previous that, public conveyance for those who could afford it was done by the cabmen, the first class being the open or closed landau, the second class the open type known as the "basket trap." Most of the members the Police Force wore beards: others adopted side whiskers of the Dundreary type. Many of them had girth of proportions, which, though might have added to their dignity, entirely deprived them any chance of success the Olympic Games!

To confine my remarks more closely to Robertson-street. There was only one establishment remaining in the street, that to-day carried on by the descendants those who were in business there years ago. This the old-established house of Dobell. There are others where the names of the former owners are still kept up, but the proprietorship has been in other hands for years past.

Let us take stroll down the street was years ago. Quite likely one of the first persons of note we should meet would be Dr. Crosse, first vicar of Holy Trinity. Tall and dignified, attired in silk "topper" with long frock coat, his hands clasped behind his back, his umbrella tucked under his left arm, and thrown around him a long plaid scarf. His was perhaps one the best-known figures in the borough. Dr. Crosse was a very close of friend Earl Brassey, then Sir Thomas Brassey. It was to Dr. Crosse that Earl Brassey entrusted the furnishing of the books for the Reference Library at the Brassey Institute when he built the premises at Claremont as a gift to the town. Later on Dr. Crosse became a Canon of the diocese of Chichester.


Incidentally, I might mention that it has been my privilege, not only to have known personally, but to have served under every vicar Holy Trinity has had. There comes to mind another distinguished figure of a different type. At No. 41, Robertson Street, then a private house close to the south door of Holy Trinity Church, lived Dr. Underwood. He invariably rode round to see his outlying patients. There were no motors then to facilitate transport. The old doctor, dressed in riding habit, with white buckskin breeches, black top boots with spurs, and tall silk hat to which a hat-guard was attached, a flower in his coat and his silvery hair, presented a picture which Robertson-street cannot equal today. When he went indoors to get some medicine or other requisites for his patients, he tethered his sleek, well-groomed hunter to the lamp-post outside his house. Fancy one of our modern "bobbies" finding a hunter tethered to a lamp-post in Robertson-street today! Like the motorists he would be told to "move on". But in those days, the policeman more often stopped to give the doctor's horse a friendly pat or caress, for the doctor was highly respected and revered.

Space will not permit of singling out many who lived in the street in those days, but we must not omit Mr. Benjamin Wilkins, who had a well known tobacconist's shop at No. 47. "Benjamin" was a whimsical old fellow who had a considerable following of the better class of customer. In those days most of the tobacco was weighed out to each customer. The reserve stocks were placed in gigantic barrels with lift-off lids, and these, being placed round the shop, took the place of chairs. Here of an evening you woud generaly see two or three of Benjamin's regular clients sitting on these and puffing their cigars, of which commodity Ben was an acknowledgd connoisseur.


Nor must we omit the Dalgleish Brothers, who carried on a poulterer's and game dealer's business at No. 4 where the Midland Bank now is. Much alike in appearance, the brothers were the old Victorian type of trader.

Courteous to degree, it was a common sight in the morning to see private carriages draw up, when one of the brothers would step out to "my lady," find out her requirements and then back with the plump fowl or duckling in his hand for "my lady's" personal inspection. Nos, 7, 8 and 8 were occupied by three drapers next door to each other, the names being Cook, Francis and Bolingbroke.

But perhaps the best-known rendezvous the street in those days was "West's Cellars" now in the occupation of Bodega, Ltd. Here would gather together in the forenoon some of the leading business and professional men, and — "tell it not in Gath" — some of the Town Councillors and even one or two borough officials. Wild horses will not drag their names from me. Over the morning glass of wine or ale, many local problems were discussed.

In those days, the entertainments of the borough, with the exception of the Pier Pavilion, mostly took place at the Public Hall, then known as the Music Hall. The lessee that time was Mr. Charles Lockey, father of our well-known townsman, Mr. John Lockey. There was theatre then, but theatricals were provided by touring companies, one the best known of these being run by Messrs. Roberts and Archer. Noted artists frequently gave recitals, Charles Halle and Madame Norman Neruda paying regular visits. This was before Halle received his knighthood. In those days he was probably the best living exponent of Beethoven.


To show how the march of events alters popularity, many readers may remember that the great pianist Pachmann a few years ago paid his last visit to England, and received a gigantic fee for giving a farewell recital at the Albert Hall. But the critics, appreciating his ability as an exponent of Chopin, had to admit that his playing was but a shadow of his former brilliance. Yet Pachmann, when in his prime as a younger man, gave recitals at the Public Hall, which left him sometimes less than 20 guineas as his share, and went away perfectly satisfied. Then we had frequent visits from Samuel Brandram, the great Shakespearian reciter, and the well known German Reed Company, with the inimitable Corney Grain, drew crowded houses every time they came.

But I must draw these notes to close. Looking back over these years, the first thoughts are the enormous changes in life generally during this period. Science has worked wonders for mankind. Are we making the best uses of the gifts which science has bestowed? There lies before as I write a piece of parchment. It is my indenture of apprenticeship. In it I am forbidden "to play cards or dice tables or other unlawful games," and further on I am forbidden "to haunt taverns or playhouses." Excellent advice, and yet I venture to assert that the average tavern of 60 years ago was less harmful to the morals of the young than many of our picture houses of today.

For all the changes of the last 60 years, are we so much better than our forbears of the Victorian period? I leave the answer to others. But I must confess that with many of the older generations there was a sanity of outlook which does not seem so prominent among us to-day. And if one has any doubt on the point, let us look around the nations at the present time. Nation distrust nation, and even distrust themselves, Envy and hatred spread over the greater part of the world, with wars and rumours of wars on every side, which at least points to the fact that there is more madness in the world to-day than 60 years ago."

References & Notes