Tony Austin: “Thong Lane all my life”

I have lived in three of the four Cheney’s Cottages in Thong Lane all my life, they were originally built for Darnley Estate workers and later rented to workers at Cheney’s Farm. I originally lived in one of the cottages with my mum and dad. Dad moved away for about a year and when he came back we moved into one of the other cottages. When I got married in the 1950’s I was working at Cheney’s Farm and Mr Davies, who owned the cottages, gave me the biggest surprise of my life when he gave me one of the other cottages and so I started married life in my third one.

World War II

I was seven when war broke out but don’t have many memories of that time with regard to the woods as I wasn’t allowed out which is not a surprise with the war going on. One thing I do remember is that to go down Thong Lane, a pass was needed perhaps this was not just for security reasons but also for safety as one of the runways crossed Thong Lane. We had to go along the Shorne-Ifield Road, to go to school but no passes were needed for that road, nor were there any soldiers guarding the road.

The woods were full of military personnel, Army, Navy and Air Force living in Nissan Huts. They used to give us children food, including loaves of bread. I think they must have been in Thong as well or else I don’t know how I would have met them. One day a soldier picked me up and rubbed his prickly face on mine. I don’t know why he would have picked me up but it has always stuck in my mind.

My father was first of all joined the Home Guard and then the Auxillary Fire Service, which later became the National Fire Service. The uniform was dark blue with red piping. He used to go on fire watch, I don’t really know where but for some reason Higham comes to mind.

My then future wife to be was evacuated to Wales but I don’t remember any children being evacuated to Shorne. Of the Thong residents of that time only myself and Peter Beech are still there, we were childhood friends and joined the Shorne Scout Troop who had their hut on The Scammells.

We went into the woods (and still do) via the track that runs from almost opposite where I live in Thong Lane and comes out to ‘The Heath’ and this is where I remember The Crows Nest being.  On the way, there is a pond which we used to call Hayles pond as this was the farmers name.

Clay extraction

The only thing I really know about the clay extraction in the woods is that it was really noisy and was a 24 hours a day operation and that the clay was taken, by lorry, to Snodland. We used to walk around the edge of  the clay workings as there was no fence to keep us we would get a bit too close, and one day I got stuck up to my knees in the wet clay and as much as I struggled, I couldn’t get out, the suction was much to strong. I can remember as clear as anything crying ‘Butler (Barry Butler now lives in Cliffe) do you think I’ll ever get out’. In the end he had to go and get somebody to pull me out. I know that Reg Rootes father worked in the Clay Works but IU don’t know what his job was.

I went to Shorne School until I was 11 and then to the Technical College in Victoria Building in Gravesend. There were only 2 classes at Shorne School, one up to the age of 8 or 9 and the other up to the age of 11. The teachers were Miss Dyball and Miss Wise. The school had it’s own air raid shelter which had a concrete slab on top that was several inches thick.

I have always believed that the house Ben Parish lived in (The house is called Vanesta and is in Woodlands Lane) was a WW1 wooden hut but it has never been confirmed.

A couple of other things that come to mind, Mrs Waterman lived in the gate house to Laughing Waters (now The Inn on the Lake). My father was verger at Shorne church for 22 years. Mr Stickings who lived in the Gamekeepers house  was a relative of the landlord of The Rose and Crown. Shorne was a good place for tanning leather due to the springs that ran through the village and Tanyards Hill is so named because of this.

(As told to Trevor Bent in August 2010. )

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