Living & Growing Up in Yapton

I was born in 1956 and spent the first three years of my life living in Foundry Road before my parents moved to Tack Lee Road, where I lived until my early twenties.

I attended Yapton Primary C of E School. One memory still makes me shiver as I remember learning how to swim in the cold outdoor pool and having to wear really horrible rubber hats. I also smile fondly when I remember school dinners which I mostly enjoyed, the highlight being on your birthday the cooks would make a blancmange rabbit on a bed of green jelly brought to you by the dinner ladies for you to share with your friends on your table.

At the age of six I joined the Yapton Wolf Cubs which at the time was located on Ford Airfield in one of the old barrack blocks. This was short lived as they wanted to build houses on the site; this is now known as Johnson Way. As luck would have it the scout group was given the chance to move into an old chicken barn in Drove Lane which is still being used. When Bernie Shaw, known to all as Royal, was given the keys, I remember going with him and my father to take a look, something I will never forget as when 'Royal' opened the door, the smell hit you like nothing I have ever known. Inside it was knee high with chicken droppings, but with the help of the scouts, cubs, parents and prisoners from HMP Ford, it was not long before we moved into our new scout hut, which was and still is a big part of the community.

Yapton Primary School Swimming Pool

The scout movement was a great part of my life up to the age of 18 and played a big part in the village. We would hold jumble sales in the old village hall (now the Co-Op) and in April we would hold our Bob-a-Job week. During the summer, the scout group would hold events on the Village Green inviting the Scout Group from Littlehampton for some inter-troop competitions. We held big jumble and car boot sale in August and attended a lot of parades for the Church and Village Carnivals. All events were well attended and had great support from the village. I grew up without mobile phones and game consoles so we made our own entertainment. We would walk over local fields and build camps, tree houses - during the nesting season, we would check all the nests and count the eggs without touching them. We kept records on when they hatched and fledged. In the winter, the canal that ran between the old bridge in Tack Lee Road and Canal Road would flood, so we would build rafts and row down the canal playing explorers and pirates.

The other main entertainment in the village was the Youth Club, which was a cool place to hang out as it was always busy. In the winter there was the Yapton and Bilsham Football Teams to watch or play for and in the summer we played cricket whilst the girls played Stool Ball.

Yapton Pram Race

Yapton Summer Fair Fund Raiser

On Saturday night it was bingo in the village hall, my Dad and Bob Rowe would be the callers and afterwards dad would take me to the Shoulder of Mutton and Cucumber where my parents would play darts whilst I would enjoy chicken and chips in a basket with my friends and a glass of cola as a treat. I always remember the pubs being busy, we had four pubs – the Maypole the only one left, The Black Dog, The Shoulder of Mutton and Cucumber, and the Lamb.

One year me and my mate Mick Myers dressing up as women to take part in the Yapton Pram race, racing around the village to each pub where would down a half pint of beer before running to the finishing line – we even managed to win it one year.

However the highlight of every year was the New Year’s Eve dance held at the old village hall. The place would be decorated, tabled stacked with Watneys Party 7 and there would be a live band and lots of food laid on by the ladies of the village. It was a fantastic evening with most of the local village people attending – those lucky enough to get tickets, as it always sold out.

I fondly remember, not so long ago, there used to be a country and western dance run by one of the older village members in the new village hall, she is now in her 90’s and I have always known her as Aunt Bette. She used to look after me when I was a baby, as my mother was the District Nurse and out and about a lot. It was one of those dance evenings after I returned to the village from living in Barnham, that I met my wife, also a village girl but from the other end of the village – North End. We married and now live only a few doors away from my childhood home; in fact our garden backs onto it!

Yapton New Year’s Eve Dance 1976

I am very fond of our village and have many happy memories but I fear for it as there is so much new building and traffic, I know times change and we must look ahead but we should also have regard to the past? There are some good things that we should hang onto and maybe even reintroduce. There seem to be too few big events that bring the sense of Community for local people and few new initiatives for our younger members. Our teenagers need to have that feeling of belonging to a Community and wanting to stay connected with the village, as I have throughout my life.

However, I still love living and working in Yapton, many of you know me as your postman – especially if you live in North End Road/Church Lane and Church Road where I have delivered letters for many years. I hope this has provided an insight into what it was like growing up in Yapton during the 1960’s and 70’s and provides a glimpse of the true community spirit of this village, something that no matter how big it becomes we should all try to hang on to. Maybe we should even get a New Year’s Eve Party going again!

Barry Smeeth
January 2020

(Originally published in Yapton News, January 2020)

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