In the last issue we looked at the first three generations of the White family who, from 1816, ran a grocers and drapery shop in the Market Square.
Paul Endersby explains for The Wealden Eye magazine…
John Josiah White, the third member of the dynasty, was followed by two of his five sons, Harry (born 1878) and Reginald (born 1883). Harry entered the business in 1893 and together with Reginald came into partnership with their father after the First World War. This continued until Josiah’s death in 1923. The brothers remained in partnership until 1931 when the arrangement was dissolved.
Harry retained the grocery side of the business in Sherriff’s House and Reg ran the drapery business in a newly created shop with smaller premises next door at the top of George Street. These new premises were on the site of what had been until then, a stable and large warehouse known as Wool-loft from its earlier use as a store for fleeces from Sussex sheep.
Harry White continued to develop the grocery business and local publicity stated, “Since George the Third was King.” It went on to declare, “Hailsham’s happy housewives have bought their Provisions & Groceries at Whites.” In “My memories of Hailsham,” written in 1991, Arthur Pettigrew said of Whites,” in that shop one could buy treacle loose (take your own jar), vinegar loose and dates cut from a box of 10 or 12lbs. Bacon was hung up in sides, a lovely golden brown rind and a wonderful smell of cheese pervaded through the shop. Very little was pre-packed in those days.”
For over a century, regular weekly or fortnightly journeys were made to surrounding villages. On alternate Tuesdays a representative would set out with a horse and cart to collect orders from households in Arlington, Wilmington, Berwick, Alfriston and Litlington. The goods were then delivered on Friday. The man with the horse and cart would set out at about 8.00 am and did not return to Hailsham until 10.00 pm or even later. In later years errand boys delivered the goods in baskets and in hand carts for heavier loads.
Throughout his life Harry White was involved in many local groups and organisations. As early as the 1890’s, when he was in his early 20’s he was giving lectures to the Mutual Improvement Society. Some of these are recorded in his notebook where the lectures are all hand written on plain paper with no lines, in beautiful copperplate writing. The lectures covered such varied subjects as “Alfred Lord Tennyson.” An overview of “Our Parish by a former resident of the town, Thomas Geering. (This book is still available and is well worth reading for anyone interested in life in Hailsham in the 19th century). Another lecture entitled “Sussex and its People” was a wide ranging overview of Sussex, both East and West, and covered the geography and history of the county plus bird life and fauna. He also commented on many of the towns and villages.
In addition to these lectures Harry White was at various times Chairman of the Hailsham Water Co; Hon. Treasurer of the Hailsham Brass Band; Hon. Treasurer of the Hailsham Nursing Association, and the Hon. Secretary and Treasurer of the Hailsham Orchestra. Minutes of the first meeting of the orchestra were recorded in another of Harry White’s notebooks. The meeting was held on Monday 20 February 1899 in Miss Bray’s schoolroom in Victoria Road. Nine people attended the meeting when officers were appointed and amongst other things it was agreed that practices would be held every Monday. A meeting on the following Monday agreed that entrance to the orchestra would be 1/- (5p) and subscriptions would be 6d (2½p) a month. It was later reported that the orchestra had 30 members plus 5 Hon. members namely Mr & Mrs J White (Harry White’s parents), Mr & Mrs J Green (James Green was the owner of Green Bros., rope makers and one of the leading firms in the town), and Mr William Strickland of Strickland the Corn Merchants. These honorary memberships doubtless reflected the due deference that was paid to the leading businessmen in the town, whether or not they were at all interested in the orchestra we will never know!
Despite this encouraging start this seems not to have continued. Harry White records a meeting held on 16 February 1903 when it was agreed that failure to attend practices would incur a fine of 2d and arriving late for practices a fine of 1d! A further meeting was held on 2 November 1903 when it was decided to make, “another attempt to carry on the Orchestra,” and it was agreed that the Secretary should make arrangements to hold the next practice on the following Monday, 9 November at Miss Kennett’s School whose premises were at Wellington House, London Road.
Harry White served in the First World War. He was aboard the “Transylvania” a passenger liner being used as a troop ship when it was torpedoed and sunk on May 4, 1917 by the German U-boat, with
the loss of 412 lives. Harry White was unhurt and, like many of the survivors, landed safely at Savona, Italy.
In 1920 Harry White became the Registrar for Marriages for Hailsham, a role he took over from his father. He continued in this role until his retirement in June 1948. During his 28 years of service he conducted hundreds of marriages both in the Registrar’s office in North Street and in certified places of religious worship.
Harry White continued running the grocery shop until 1946 when it was sold although the business continued under the new owners retaining the title of Daniel White & Son. Harry White continued to play a leading part in the life of the town. Thomas White, Harry’s great- grandfather lived and died at Hardwycke, a large house in North Street. In subsequent years this property had various occupiers. However by the 1950’s (and maybe sooner), it was owned by Harry White. Harry was concerned about the state and overcrowding in the village school at the top of North Street and the proposal to move the children to Grovelands with the extra distance this would involve for those children living in the south of the town. At a meeting of the County Council’s Education Committee in 1955 it was reported that Harry White had offered to give the Hardwycke site, comprising about 1.5 acres, to the County Council for the erection of a school. At that meeting it was proposed and agreed that the new school should be called White House School. The new school was subsequently opened on 3 March 1965. It was rebuilt and relocated to Marshfoot Lane in 2010 as part of the development of the Tesco’s site.
Harry White lived in Summerfields Avenue. He died on 5 December 1969 aged 91. His funeral service was held at Hailsham Parish Church on 11 December 1969.
By Paul Endersby.
Hardwycke House, North Street
Harry White conducting his last wedding as Registrar, 26 June 1948