Time and Tide: Oral Histories


Name: Elizabeth Bembridge
Year of birth: 1938
Place of birth: Place of residence: Kingsdown, near Deal, Kent

Elizabeth lives in the village where Up The Road Theatre is based, and we wanted to ask her about the great storms that have battered the village in the recent past.

The Storm of 1978

This storm was so severe that it resulted in the sea wall being built in Deal, it now stretches all the way to the north end of the town.

‘Yes, I remember it! We had a garage at the north end of Deal at the time. Water came over the top and flooded the hand-standing. Wrote half [the cars] off.’

Elizabeth remembers that all the basements on Wellington Parade flooded, ‘and the gardens of course’. (This road runs parallel to the sea, heading out of Kingsdown towards Deal.)

‘The beach has eroded a lot since then.’

The storm occurred ‘definitely during the night.’ It was a ‘bit grim for the people… swept down there and flooded their houses.’

1987 Hurricane

‘Terrific … Trees down everywhere’

Elizabeth recalls driving back from Canterbury, ‘I remember the car being moved around a lot and passing lorries that had been flipped over’.

Storm of 1993

‘Terrific waves splashing up over the beach.’

It was after this storm that Kingsdown beach took on the appearance it has today, when ‘huge great rocks came in by dredger type ships’.

Kingsdown beach

The Royal Marines used to use the far end of Kingsdown beach for firing practice: ‘We used to go down after the Royal Marines had finished and pick up the shell cases they’d left behind. If we found any live ones, we had to hand them in.’

Elizabeth says that the beach has ‘changed a lot, a huge amount since we moved here’. There used to be people out on the shore with prawning nets and small boats in the water, ‘and now you hardly ever see it’.

The village

The High Street looks very different, now it only has two shops and a hairdressers. But there used to be a Happy Shopper, run by a Mr and Mrs Saville: ‘she was very severe and he was deaf. There was no fridge in the shop so if you bought a packet of butter, it was running out of the packet!’

Across the road, next to what was until very recently the Post Office, was Mrs Griffin, who used to sell ‘wool and baby clothes’. ‘There used to be quite a lot of dead spiders in the windows!’

We asked Elizabeth where the focal point of the village used to be: ‘The church, it used to be much better attended. Hardly anybody goes anymore.’

‘It was all rather fun then.’

‘When we first came here, there was a footpath up through the trees to the field for Jewish Lads Brigade, huts left over from World War Two. They wore a blue uniform.’

Elizabeth and her husband moved to the village in 1977 from nearby Walmer. ‘We came to have a good look at Kingsdown, didn’t think we’d find anything we could afford. But we saw a house in – May, 1977 with a cherry tree in the front. It cost £14,100. We were dead lucky to get it when we did.’

She says that being in Kingsdown was lovely. ‘The best of both worlds, five minute walk to the bluebell woods and the sea at the bottom of the hill.’

One of Elizabeth’s favourite memories was standing on the beach watching the Castle Line cruise ships go past in the 1960s. ‘You could hear the orchestras and see people waving. It used to be very exciting! It was sad when they stopped.’