I hold many happy memories and give thanks for the existence of the village of East Studdal. The reason being that my father had a small business in Dover during WW2 and each week dad took me with him to visit East Studdal. Taking advantage of the Wednesday half day closing in Dover at the time we would travel by van to visit dad's good friend and fellow businessman Charles Foat who lived in the village and ran a General Store and wholesale business.
Dad had known 'Charley' a good number of years and they enjoyed each others company.
Charles and his wife lived in a charming and rather splendid family house named 'The Homestead' that was situated in the heart of the village.
The detached property was set in a large walled garden. There were also a number of outbuildings set in a paddock and a well maintained kitchen garden.
Two ground floor rooms at the rear of the house overlooked a neatly laid out formal garden with miniature privet, they were used for the village shop that sold groceries and household provisions.
The shop was relatively small but crammed with a wide range of goods.
There was insufficient space for customers to enter either of the two rooms and they were obliged to stand in the passageway between the rooms whilst being served.
The larger of the two rooms was on a lower level and had to be entered by way of several steps down.
Once inside the shop 'Charley' had to look up to his customers who were served over a stable type door. It seemed likely that the room had once been a cellar.
A huge bacon slicing machine dominated the larger of the two rooms and always attracted my attention. Painted vivid red it had a stainless steel blade and held large succulent cuts of home cured ham dressed in yellow breadcrumbs.
I would have given anything to have had a go at turning the handle of that monster machine but had to settle for a visual appreciation from the other side of that stable door.
The delightful aromas of bacon, cooked meats, savoury pies and pickles; to mention but a few of the many gastronomic delights on display was simply wonderful and have lived with me ever since.
I used to eagerly anticipate the wonderful atmosphere and aromas of Charles’ shop when we were still some distance short of our arrival at ’The Homestead’ and never once disappointed upon our arrival.
A number of the outbuildings were walk-in refrigerated storerooms in which bacon and other meats were kept. Charlie occasionally allowed me to accompany him when he visited the storerooms. I used to ponder how long it would take for me to become frosted like the meat strung up on large metal hooks whilst keeping a sharp watchful eye on the massive door handle. I never had cause for alarm nor suffered anything more that a slight chilling.
Whilst at ‘The Homestead’ and time permitting, an exploration of the extensive grounds was not to be missed, especially if as on occasions I would have a school chum with me.
Charlie enjoyed a good yarn about the progress of the war and dad was able to give him the latest news of what had been happening in Dover, all of which afforded us to forage around the wonderful leafy grounds.
Unlike the strife torn streets of Tower Hamlets, here we could escape momentarily from the images of war, uninhibited, exploring and enjoying the fresh country air.
I remember the house had large well furnished rooms and a substantial country style kitchen
A large white stoneware sink dominated the kitchen and a variety of cooking implements were suspended on a rack above a huge oak centre table..
There was always activity in the kitchen with Mrs Foat supervising a number of household staff. I expect many of the cooked meats sold in the shop were prepared and cooked on the premises.
Mrs Foat was a good natured somewhat quiet lady given to dressing in black, she appeared to be
permanently busy despite the assistance of her housemaids.
Charlie orchestrated his business from the well equipped comfort of his study. He possessed an ivory white telephone that looked expensive and was the only one I had ever seen. Not many folk had a telephone at home and those that did mostly had the standard black Bakelite version.
Charlie was a gentleman of generous proportions who sat in a large leather swivel chair and surrounded himself with a range of interesting gadgets.
A distinguishing characteristic of Charlie was his weekly newsletter and price list of special offers.
He used this publication to indulge his keen sense of humour by printing little snippets and jokes and useful household tips.
His ‘Little gems’ were to be found jotted in the margin of the newsletter and were a clear indication of the jolly nature of the man.
Once drafted and satisfied with the content of his newsletter he would reproduce copies on a Roneo stencil copying machine. Had Charlie have been around today he would have had enormous fun with a computer and printer.
He also enjoyed storytelling and was a bit of a practical joker, I suspect he enjoyed the opportunity our visits afforded him to ‘pull my leg!’
Charlie’s jolly manner and rosy complexion would have fitted comfortably between the covers of a Dickens novel. His florid features and auburn hair contrasted vividly with his dazzling white apron.
He was for all intent and purpose a typical example of the English country gentleman come grocer.
I always looked forward to accompanying dad on those Wednesday afternoon visits and fortunately my schooling was at the time restricted to half day attendances due to the shortage of teaching staff.
A visit to ’The Homestead’ was not to be missed.
Compared to the predictable shelling and bombardment of Dover, the rural serenity of East Studdal was very agreeable.
Here just a short distance from home the birds still sang and wild flowers grew in abundance.
The enjoyment of a visit to ‘The Homestead’ was further enhanced by Charlie’s larger than life character, good humour and supreme optimism.
Had we not been visiting Charlie that fateful afternoon in November 1940 when a land mine exploded at the back of our shop, we might all have been buried under tons of chalk that was blown out of the railway embankment and fell onto our back yard.
On our return to Dover we had to stop at the junction of Bridge Street and London Road and were quickly surrounded by a crowd of onlookers peering towards Tower Hamlets Road.
We could see that there had been some sort of incident and policemen were on duty.
Excited residents were milling around and one approached our van and stuck his head in the window solemnly informing dad “Blimey mate I think your place as ‘ad it!”
Fortunately his pessimism was not fully warranted and whilst the back yard was covered in chalk our house and storerooms were still intact.
My Grandmother who lived two doors away from our shop also had a lucky escape.
She would often sweep the large back yard to help dad and could easily have been doing so that afternoon when the land mine was dropped and exploded.
Fortunately she had been indoors and had suffered nothing worse than considerable shock and trauma.