Tom King's Reminiscences

Shrimping in the canal

By Tom King

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Tom King's Reminiscences' page

I was born on Boxing Day 1927, the oldest of three... two brothers and one sister, we were. My sister was four years younger than me.

Our Household

Mum and Dad always had a lodger. They never ever owned their own house... the rent money helped them pay their own rent I suppose. Dad's money was low.


My Dad had a greengrocer's business. A barrow. He used to have that in Crown Road, where the flint walls still are. We used to go up to Steyning to get fruit and apples, and so on. He was doing very well.

But then one day two men came up and persuaded my Dad to put money on the horses. He soon got into debt, and the business suffered. He stopped doing it then. He went labouring at the gasworks after that.


My Mum was very highly strung. She wasn't well much of the time.
But when she was working, Mum used to do dressmaking. She made dresses for people.

I remember, at home, I did all the donkeywork round the house because Mum was sick much of the time. I did the housework and the shopping before I went to school. I was up at six, down to the shops every day.


I used to go to school at the top of South Street. St Nicholas' School. It was all uphill going to that school, I remember that! I was never really bothered much about school.

Brothers and Sisters

One of my brothers was very clever... he ended up going to university. The other was a right one! He used to sleep in the bread carts, started playing truant from school. Dad used to give him what for though... and that brother ended up in the Navy at 17.

My sister became a top Windmill star. She went off to Sadler's Wells and studied to become a ballerina. I remember I used to pick her up from Portslade Station at 12.00, and bring her home... I used to watch her taking her makeup off before she went to bed. Then she got digs in London in the end, and then she quit doing that job when she got married.

Childhood Memories: an accident

When I was about seven years old, I went shrimping in the canal, with my little brother. We took tins with holes in them, on string. Suddenly my brother pushed me into the canal. Funny... I saw masses of shrimps under the water, and I hadn't caught a single one in that tin.

I hung on to a rowing boat. Luckily, there was a rowing boar ferry coming over from the gasworks, with two lady passengers. The ferryman was a big man in a boiler suit. He jumped in to rescue me, pulled me out onto his boat.

But that experience led to me having a rheumatic hearty. The doctor said "When you are fourteen you'll grow out of it." But every year, I used to have to spend months in hospital. Sometimes six months. Sometimes, I was so ill over the winter I used to get given my Christmas presents at Easter! There were some tragic moments back then.

But the doctor was right. The thing lasted until I was fourteen.

Childhood Memories: a gift

We had a piano indoors, when I was a boy. The neighbours used to hear me playing. I think they liked it. Oh yes, I was good at playing the piano... I had lessons when I was a boy, with several different teachers.

One lived in St Andrew's Road, Portslade, one in St Leonard's Road, and then one woman in Brighton. I remember she had stubby little fingers, but I remember her playing Greig's Concerto. Wonderful. From the age of 7 to 11, I had another woman, a middle aged woman, and she told me I was good enough to become a concert pianist if I worked hard. But I had to give it up, as my mother couldn't afford the lessons any more after that.

This page was added by Helen Rowsell on 22/01/2008.

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