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The Village Meads Eastbourne
East Sussex
John Arlott Author and Broadcaster
by Michael Partridge

Most readers will remember John Arlott who, with his distinctive Hampshire burr, was one of the best loved cricket commentators on radio from 1946 until his retirement in 1980. He was also a one-time policeman, a Liberal candidate in the 1955 General Election, a wine buff, and a widely respected author and columnist on the subject of his beloved cricket.

What is less well known is that his family antecedents go back to Meads in Eastbourne. Young Will Arlott, who was to become John's father, had served his apprenticeship in Basingstoke as a plumber. He then trained as a metalworker in Coventry and Wolverhampton before joining the hardware department of Harrods, where he worked as a demonstrator between 1906 and 1910. Then, in John Arlott's words: 'In 1910, one of Harrods' salesmen, one Harold Parker, decided to open an ironmonger's shop in Meads [at nos 2 and 3 Dalton Terrace], a suburb of Eastbourne'. Dalton Terrace was the then name of that small parade of shops between Dalton Road and Derwent Road. Parker's business is listed in Pike, the street directory, as 'Ironmonger and House Furnisher' between 1910 and 1915, although his business closed, most probably, in 1913.

Parker asked young Arlott to come down to Meads to do the servicing and sometimes help behind the counter in the shop, as he had at Harrods. So Will Arlott was behind the counter when a young woman, Nellie Clarke, of 16 The Village, that square of cottages with allotments in the middle, came in to buy a shovel. In due course the two began 'walking out'. Will (Jack to his family) was a smart young man with a spiky waxed moustache, an enthusiastic swimmer who patronised the Devonshire Park Baths where Jabez Wolfe, one of the earliest men to swim the Channel, was the swimming coach. Nellie was an attractive, fair-haired, rosy-cheeked young woman. They were a good looking couple. Nellie's father was Thomas Clarke, originally of Brockenhurst, who had been a foreman for a firm of builders but, contracting rheumatic fever, had retired to Eastbourne in 1902 and lived in Meads as an invalid until he died in 1917. Mrs Clarke lived on at 16 The Village until her death in 1929 or 1930.

In due course Will and Nellie became engaged and then were married, in April 1912, by the Meads curate, Theodore Woods, who later became Bishop of Winchester. Then one morning Will (it must have been in 1913) went to work at the shop and found the door locked. Mr Parker was 'bust' and was not seen again in Meads.

So the young couple moved to Basingstoke where Will's father, 'Old' John, was registrar at the cemetery. He helped them to lease the former cemetery lodge in Chapel Street and there they lived. Will had no trouble in finding a job with Thorneycroft, the motor manufacturers. Nellie was by now pregnant and, on the 25th of February 1914, ten months after the marriage, a son John was born. Thus was John Arlott born a man of Hampshire. Arguably, he was also a man of Eastbourne.

Sources : Pike's Directories
Basingstoke Boy by John Arlott

This article first appeared in the Summer 2004 edition of the Eastbourne Local History Society’s quarterly journal.

With thanks to Eastbourne Local History Society