Charman's Reminiscences Of Epsom
The Plough and Harrow, East Street, Epsom
In the Spring of 1935, as the town of Epsom was being transformed by new development, a parcel arrived on the desk of James Wall
, reporter for the Epsom & Ewell Herald. It contained the reminiscences of a local resident who modestly signed himself 'an old Epsomian' from 86 Hook Road. Wall soon found who the author was: Edward Charman, born in 1870, who had just retired from his post as head storesman for Long Grove Hospital. Charman had evidently started writing these in the year of his retirement, for he refers at one point to the Literary Institute 'shortly to come down', which it did in 1935; and by March, Wall had began publishing extracts from the reminiscences. With astonishing powers of recall, Charman could follow in his mind's eye every business in the town as it was when he was growing up in the 1870s and early 1880s. To these he added short descriptions of Hook Road, the Sunday School in the Parade, and the Derby as it used to be, as well as accounts of two memorable events in the life of the town: the arrival of Lord Rosebery in 1878, and the diphtheria outbreak of 1882/3.
James Wall died in 1945, leaving several papers on the history of Epsom to his widow Iris. In the 1980s she gave these to Bourne Hall Museum, including the original notes from Edward Charman. They appear here for the first time, having been typed by Sheila Ross.
The reminiscences were written as a series of notes, with many interpolations and crossings-out. One piece ('Epsom Derby Carnival') was sub-edited by Wall before publication; another ('The Old Parade School') was copied for publication by John Beaumont in The Watchtower, journal of the Epsom Brotherhood. Generally this transcript has kept to the final version, though sometimes reinstating words that had been omitted for one reason or another - 'perhaps this might be objected to by the Council', Charman added after his account of the diphtheria epidemic. The longest piece, 'Epsom Traders of Over Fifty Years Ago', was originally written out three times, following a slightly different street order each time. These three versions have been collated here and put in what seems the most logical sequence, while Charman's more cursory notes have been written out in full.
Charman's recall turns out to be impressively accurate where he can be checked against such sources as the 1881 Census, the 1878 and 1882 Kelly's Directories, and Andrew's Directory of 1895, the first published street directory. He is most interesting, though, when he pauses in his list of names to give a short pen-picture of the owner or some hints of local gossip. Epsom was a small world in those days: people remained in business for many years, and their favourite catch-phrases - 'Why should Epsom wait?', 'Eat more salt, boys' - seem to have been as unchanging as their stock. 'There was not much amusement in those days', says Charman at one point, but his generation certainly made the most of what they had.
Jeremy Harte © 2012