In 1938 The Guinness Trust built a holiday home in the seaside town of South Heighton to provide affordable holiday accommodation for families living in our London housing estates.
The twelve acre site overlooked the sea and port of Newhaven – with four acres for growing fruits and vegetables to be used in the kitchens. The building had seventeen double bedrooms, two large sun rooms and boys’ and girls’ dormitories.
I’m Terrie Hounsome, I was Terrie Holmes. My parents were Jack and Bridget and they took over the running of the home in approximately 1948.
How they used to pay for it was; they used to, I think, take the money in every week and if they were good tenants and they’d sort of met their criteria of their rents and what have you, they used to take, buy, stamps every week from the Superintendent.
They used to go to Victoria coach station where there would be a Southdown bus waiting; two buses usually. And they’d all climb in the bus with all their cases and everything, and they’d come down the home and they would arrive on the Sunday night and go home on the Sunday morning, so they had the full week.
I don’t think anybody really stayed around the home. They used to get all their belongings and the kids and all the paddling bits and what have you and go down to the beach. They’d probably get down there, I don’t know, about 10 o’clock and then they’d come back for lunch. It was always, even on a sweltering hot day, steak and kidney pie, steak and kidney pudding, and all the big meaty meals. And they used to love it, you know; always there for their lunch. Then they’d go away again; might go to Tide Mills or Seaford or somewhere, and then they would come back for their cooked tea. Then it would be childrens’ supper at 7 o’clock and grown-ups’ supper at 8 o’clock.
My Dad used to open the bar at nights; I think it was three nights a week. He had a little bar and they used to have sing-songs and Dad used to arrange that, and I can always remember the sing-songs. So many memories of Mr Morano singing Who’s Sorry Now and everybody used to sing and dance. They used to play “Housey Housey” which is now bingo, and put all the money into a pot for the kids at the end of the week.
There would always be, on each table, somebody in charge to delegate the washing up of the crockery, and it used to be really funny because you could hear them talking and laughing. It wasn’t a chore; it was just something that they all did. They were part of their own holiday in a big way.
If residents had paid their rent on time and bought stamps from the superintendent to pay for the holiday, they were eligible to spend a week or two at the home.
Charges for holidaymakers were kept to an absolute minimum. In return, visitors would lend a hand with serving meals and helping the superintendent and his wife to run the home.
While the visitors would head off for seaside trips and excursion to nearby towns, they’d be sure to return for their hot, home-cooked meals at lunch and supper time every day without fail.
“One of the main considerations has been to ensure a scheme whereby the mother of the family may have a week’s complete rest from her daily household round”
House rules included:
Even with these rules in place, the visitors knew how to entertain themselves, with songs around the piano and games of Housie-Housie (or bingo as it’s now known) most nights once the children were in bed. The winnings from these games would often be used to buy presents for the children staying that week.
When visitors wanted to stay closer to home, the children could use the on-site playground, equipped with swings, a slide, a roundabout, sand pit and paddling pool.
1,032 children from our London estates visited the holiday home in the summer season of 1948 alone.
The holiday home saw visitors throughout the spring and summer and at Easter and Christmas, with some tenants making sure they had a regular spot for their favourite weeks.
Christmas at the home was a fairly magical time because the dining room was about 20 foot high. The visitors would come down, they’d all have their presents for the kids and, you know, they’d all get off the bus laughing and joking. There’d always be hot punch and hot wines and things like that. I’ve never smelt anything after, you know, quite like Christmas again because it was just fabulous.
Dad used to take a lot of trouble to make it all really nice and all the decorations and a massive Christmas tree. I think the Christmas tree was about 20 foot high and it used to stand very regal in the corner, and it was just a really lovely time. The kids would get so excited ‘cause Father Christmas was walking up the home and he’d come in and my Dad, bit naughty, used to stoke the fire up really hot and Father Christmas used to be really sweating giving out the presents. It would just be funny; and he’d stand on chairs for the tall people. I can always remember him getting a chair, standing on the chair to give my mother her present.
They ate well, they jollied well, they lived really, really well for that time.
In 1948 fifty-two residents stayed at South Heighton over the Christmas period. The central dining hall – which could accommodate one hundred guests – was perfect for such occasions, and children would be treated to visits from Father Christmas and presents around the log fire. The village children would be invited up to the house to watch firework displays on New Year’s Eve and on Bonfire Night.
During World War Two, and very soon after it was built, the holiday home was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to provide accommodation for the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, and then later for the Royal Naval Headquarters as the Newhaven sub-command.
A tunnel was excavated in great secrecy, twenty-two metres below ground to store communications equipment needed for intelligence gathering. The South Heighton Tunnels have become part of Britain’s war history, and you can find out more about them on the BBC History site.
“The entrance to the tunnels of South Heighton was in the girls’ dorm, concreted over but everyone knew it was there, and sometime us children went exploring in the tunnels.”
When the war was over, the holiday home re-opened to Guinness tenants and continued to be a popular destination for London residents until the 1960s, when the fashion for foreign holidays began.
In 1968 the holiday home was leased out to the Royal Voluntary Service for 21 years while we built bungalows for the elderly and young families on the surrounding land. The site was later demolished in 1996 to make room for 32 new homes.