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My Uncle Arthur – a Colourful Bachelor of Bohemia

Arthur Booth with 'military' moustache at Fairlight in 1958 next lady friend's car; she took the photo.

Arthur Booth with ‘military’ moustache at Fairlight in 1958 next to lady friend’s car; she took the photo.

MY UNCLE ARTHUR – a Colourful Bachelor of Bohemia

As recalled by his nephew Derek Booth

Arthur Gerald Booth was born in St Leonards-on-Sea towards the end of Edward V11’s reign on 16th  August 1909.  Arthur’s parents (my paternal grandparents), Alfred and Flora, had emigrated from a humble rural background, growing up in the Wealden village of Sandhurst in Kent, about 16 miles from St Leonards-on-Sea. Alfred Booth after leaving school at the age of 12, delivered medicines on horseback for the village doctor.  This equine experience later led Alfred to volunteer, to fight in the Boer War as a corporal with the Prince of Wales 12th Lancers.  Flora Booth was a younger daughter of the village butcher George Newman.

At Park View about 1943. L-R: Arthur holding nephew Derek, grandfather Alfred, grandmother Flora, brother Bill (Derek's Father). Photo by Derek's mother Peggy.

At Park View about 1943. L-R: Arthur holding nephew Derek, grandfather Alfred, grandmother Flora, brother Bill (Derek’s Father). Photo by Derek’s mother Peggy.

By the time Arthur left school in the early 1920’s, he was living with his parents at 16 Landsview Terrace on The Ridge, before moving to a detached Victorian house ‘Park View’ in Upper Park  Road close to Park Road Methodist Church (where my parents were married in 1938), and opposite the Park gates.  ‘Park View’ was a clinic, and Arthur’s parents were the resident caretakers (I was born in 1940 and can remember receiving my bottles of cod liver oil, orange juice and jar of Virol from my grandmother Booth in the front room of the clinic).

 

 

 

 

 

 

DELIVERY

Arthur Booth's first van, Ruby Durrant, when he was 16 in 1925 outside E Walker, the butcher, in Bohemia Road

Arthur Booth’s first van, Ruby Durrant, when he was 16 in 1925 outside E Walker, the butcher, in Bohemia Road

Arthur, like his father was destined to be a conveyor of goods to the public – not on horseback, but from a van.  Arthur’s first job was with  the butcher, E. Walker who had a shop in Bohemia Road; Arthur worked here from 1922 – 1928.  It was during this time, that Arthur in 1925 at the age of 16, drove his first van, a Ruby Durrant, DY 2745 delivering meat for the Walker’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARMY LIFE

Arthur Booth and another young man on their first day with the Royal Army Service Corps, December 1940, in Cardiff

Arthur Booth and another young man on their first day with the Royal Army Service Corps, December 1940, in Cardiff

Van driving for other employers, continued until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when Arthur entered military service with the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), driving small military vehicles and being a chauffeur to army officers.  On leaving military service after the war in 1946, Arthur received a colourful, embroidered, framed tapestry of the badge of the RASC, as well as a most prized silver tankard (a hint that he liked a beer then?), from the officers of No.4 S.R.D., Swindon as a token of appreciation for Arthur’s devoted service.

Back in civilian life, Arthur was employed for the rest of his working days as a van driver for The Ridge Laundry, near Landsview Terrace where he lived as a child (the site of the now demolished laundry, is near the Conquest Hospital).

 

 

 

THE LADIES

Arthur Booth on South Downs in 1957, as chauffeur to his ladyfriend in her car. She took the photo.

Arthur Booth on South Downs in 1957, as chauffeur to his ladyfriend in her car. She took the photo.

I recall that before the end of the War, Arthur and my grandparents had moved further down Upper Park Road to a flat at number 22, one of a group of late Victorian red-brick houses opposite the Shornden Reservoir in Alexandra Park.  As Arthur’s eldest nephew born when Arthur was 31, I have little knowledge of my uncle’s seeding of a colourful life.  However, as a pre-adolescent, I became aware that my uncle Arthur had a succession of lady friends, but apparently in true bachelor style, had no desire to marry any of them, but some ladies wanted to marry this handsome, informally well-dressed man with a humble occupation!  Although Arthur had gained much driving experience through his job and time in the army, he never owned a car.

Therefore, in his leisure time, Arthur  took his lady friends out into the countryside i.e. to the South Downs or nearer to home at Fairlight,  either in his work van or became ‘the chauffeur’ in one of his ladies’ cars.  Arthur also combined business with pleasure with one of his lady friends sometimes accompanying him on his work rounds.

Although Arthur seems to have had many lady friends in 1986, he told The Sun “I’ve got all my own teeth and a good head of hair. I’ve never had sex and I’ve never wanted to. Staying single has saved me a fortune”.

But, on a more serious note: after collecting or delivering laundry to the home of Malcolm Muggeridge (once well-known radio, TV personality and writer on political and religious matters), Arthur would drive on from here at Salehurst, a few miles to  St Nicholas churchyard, Sandhurst to visit the grave of his parents.

BOXING

Arthur Booth at Silverhill 1953. Photo by Don Cockell, British Heavyweight & Brit Empire boxing champion

Arthur Booth at Silverhill 1953. Photo by Don Cockell, British Heavyweight & Brit Empire boxing champion

Back home and in his leisure time, later extended into retirement at 65, Arthur indulged in that other activity associated with bachelors, being with the lads.  One of Arthur’s interests, was boxing and in 1953 he got to know Don Cockell the then British heavyweight and British Empire boxing champion.  Arthur, now replacing his military moustache with a full beard and seemingly enjoying life, is seen in the accompanying photograph taken by Don Cockell at ‘The Duke’ public house in Silverhill at 2.00 am – the landlord was Ted Baker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIRTHDAY

Arthur Booth's 76th birthday celebration in 1985, with a 'nurse' to see he doesn't go over the limit.

Arthur Booth’s 76th birthday celebration in 1985, with a ‘nurse’ to see he doesn’t go over the limit.

By the time Arthur was 76, he was having a birthday photograph taken of him at The Clarence in Silverhill – in the presence of a young ‘nurse’ to ensure that there must be a limit on his intake!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALEXANDRA PARK

Arthur Booth with friend Ron on a park bench in 1984

Arthur Booth with friend Ron on a park bench in 1984

Late morning, Arthur would frequently take a walk around the winding, wooded paths of Alexandra Park opposite his flat in Upper Park Road, and would then rest on a park bench to meet a a male friend for a chat – Arthur could ‘talk a donkey’s hind leg off’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL YEARS

A contented Arthur Booth at his flat at 22 Upper Park Road in 1991, aged 82.

A contented Arthur Booth at his flat at 22 Upper Park Road in 1991, aged 82.

In Arthur’s final years, he  enjoyed telling me about the different species of birds he had seen at the bird table in his backyard.  Although born a town man, my uncle Arthur was not really ‘a man about town’.  It was not obvious at first sight that Arthur was really quite a shy, humble man – he was also a very kind person, fond of his nephews and nieces who would never leave a visit to his flat without a coin – mine used to be a half crown.  Arthur loved the countryside of his ancestors, an experience he could sustain in his working years driving his laundry van around the narrow country lanes of East Sussex and the border country of Kent.

In 1992, Arthur could no longer look after himself, he left 22 Upper Park Road and entered St David’s Nursing Home at West Hill, St Leonards-on-Sea with splendid views from his room looking out to sea.  Arthur sadly, died peacefully on 27th August 1993, just over a week after his 84th birthday.  In his own particular way, although never being a family man, Arthur had served and made many people happy from all walks of life. Bohemia can be proud to have had such a colourful resident. 

DEREK BOOTH

Derek Booth has been living near Cambridge with his family for nearly 50 years after attending Hastings Grammar School and Hull University before a research career in reproductive biology.  Three years ago, Derek published a semi-autobiography ‘Boy of the Wealden Shore’  reflecting his childhood in the 1940’s and ’50’s in the social context of Hastings. Stories reveal Derek’s interests in natural and local history, jazz and playing in the 1066 Skiffle Group, delivering newspapers to  the author Catherine Cookson (her husband Tom inspired Derek as a master at the Grammar School), and being a deck chair attendant in student vacations.  A few copies of the book are still available for £7.99 from Derek, e-mail: booth30@btinternet.com , Waterstones in Hastings, or can be read in the reference section or borrowed, from Hastings Town Library.

BOY OF THE WEALDEN SHORE

 

Cover of Boy of the Wealden Shore by Derek Booth

Cover of Boy of the Wealden Shore by Derek Booth

Boy of the Wealden Shore.  No. of pages: 180. No. of illustrations: 51. Date of publication: June 2011. Publisher and copyright: Derek Booth. Page size: 206mm x 147mm.  Summary: Reflections on childhood in the seaside resort of Hastings during and after the 2nd World War from the perspective of social and natural history, and education (autobiographical).

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