Some people have lived in Harrietsham for a very long time. They often have the most wonderful recollections of the history of our village and some of its characters. Indeed, I've shared many a pot of tea and a fascinating chat about Harrietsham in years gone by with some of its longer term residents. Some even shared some marvellous photographs - some of which you can see below.
I've only just found out we used to have 4 pubs in the village. This was 60-70 years ago when census data indicates there were only about 338 houses. East Street had two - The Bell Inn and The Cherry Tree. I've since discovered that The Bell was where 25 East Street is now. Opposite The Bell used to be a workshop for a coffin maker called Mr Bottle and then I'm told just across the road was the Doctor's house and village surgery. It seems subtlety wasn't a strong point in those days having a coffin-maker and surgery so close together.
Crossing to West Street on the site where Mace is now, there was a corner shop called O'Nashes which sold sweets, tobacco, cigarette papers and snuff. Next door, two ladies ran a little shop doing alterations to clothes and further along was a saddler’s. Lots of people recall the saddler had a wooden leg.
The Roebuck didn't have a conservatory then. However, local residents remember it being a very busy pub, especially on Sundays when the old (much larger) car park was always packed with coaches that stopped-off for a break on their way to and from Margate and perhaps other Kent coast destinations. Apparently, it was not unknown for outbreaks of fisticuffs needing to be broken-up by the police. Thankfully, there are no such shenanigans at the pub these days and it's pleasing to see it has remained a hub of the community.
Mrs Sutton’s grocer's shop was immediately opposite where the Post Office is now. I'm told it was quite upmarket and sold such splendid provisions as butter, cold meats and cheeses but apparently it was unusual in those days for most people to be able to afford even a slice of ham (I can see this is likely to trouble me in the future when I discard such things from my fridge which have barely exceeded the use-by-date). Groceries were also sold by a small shop on the site that is now an Indian restaurant. One resident informed me that the original premises were bombed in the war.
Next to Mrs Sutton's shop was the bakers on the land adjacent to 49 West Street where the new-builds are. The baker baked bread and cakes to supply other shops. They had vans that went around the local villages also delivering to peoples' homes. Of course, it's difficult nowadays to find freshly baked bread without having to venture further afield. There's progress for you!
The village also had its own sweet shop (below) on West Street at the bottom of Station Road called 'Hampshire's', although in those days only the more wealthy could afford to buy sweets
Further along West Street, neither Ivens or Quested Way existed in those days. This entire area was occupied by Harrison's Nursery. This was huge and supplied not only the shops with plants but many parks and gardens. Just passed Harrison's was another pub called The Bankhouse, and then Tong's the Butcher. One local resident remembered Arthur Tong very well. She said if she had reason to complain about the meat he always said the fault must be in the way she'd cooked it! Charming.
The village school used to be on a site at the corner of Church Road and the A20. I am told school life then was very different to what it is now. Boys always wore a tie and would never have been allowed to wear their shirts outside their trousers. The children would have known the National Anthem by heart and at morning break would have been treated to the customary third-of-a-pint bottle of un-chilled (sometimes very much so) milk.
Tong's the village Butcher, supplied the school with the meat for school dinners. Rather macabrely some might say, the meat from the butcher's had previously lived in the field nearby, where from time to time animals would be selected for slaughter, led across the road into the abattoir then via Tong's to the school. I bet those children really looked forward to lunch time with such fresh meat.
A typical school meal would consist of lumpy mashed potato, peas, beans or cabbage with a slice of minced beef pie, cottage pie or stew. For pudding, there would be such delights such as tapioca (nicknamed 'frog spawn') or prunes and custard. These days most people would turn up their noses at such a far-from-luxurious menu. However, it has to be said that such a diet ensured low quantities of fats and sugars and it is widely acknowledged that children's nutrition was generally better then than it is now.
Another thing people told me about was that children were much fitter then. You would not have had a lift from mum or dad for 'the school run'. In fact, most families didn't even have a car then and children were expected to walk to and from school by themselves, often for miles and in all weathers. Today's pressurised parents may care to relate this to their young ones next time they demand mum's taxi service!
Of course, all these recollections only touch the surface of the history of Harrietsham and if this has wetted your appetite I'm pleased to say the village has its own history society.
By James Hailes
with thanks to Elsie Hampshire, John Morgan, Jean Tabrett, Ella Kyte and Colin from The Alms Houses for all your memories (and the cups of tea)