The Joy of Cranleigh – A family living in the 1930’s

by Joy Horn

In 1933-4 a Cranleigh family produced fourteen issues of a weekly newspaper, intended to help keep the family together, as individuals were leaving home for work or training or to get married. This was the Cheesman family of number 6 Victoria Road, previously known as ‘Nethania’. Their journal was called the ‘Nethanian Weekly’. Besides being great fun, this gives a vivid impression of one family’s life and activities at that time.

The father, Christopher, was a son of the village wheelwright, and that business had suffered an abrupt decline since the turn of the century, because of the rise of the motor car. It had moved to the High Street and now offered car renovations, painting and repairs. Several of the young Cheesmans, with their uncles and cousins, were involved in it.

Advert in the local directory, mid-1930s

Ruth Cheesman, Christopher’s wife, was the youngest sister of David Mann, so there were close links with David Mann & Sons, the dominant store in Cranleigh, and several of the young boy Cheesmans worked there. The girls trained for jobs like nursing or typing, unlike previous generations of Cranleigh girls, many of whom went into domestic service.

Cheesman’s (now the Vape Shop) and Smallridge’s (now Rawling’s), 1932

There were ten children in the family, born between 1899 and 1916 (two further ones died in infancy). The house was described in 1913 as having only three bedrooms, but two more were built later in the roof. Even so, it must have been a squash, although people then were used to sharing bedrooms, even with three or more to a room.

The weekly newsletter was nothing pretentious. A normal issue was just six sides of quarto paper. The editor’s column filled the first page, followed by brief news items from the previous week. These might be family happenings, activities at Cranleigh Baptist Church (with which the family was deeply involved) and items of local news. Sometimes advertisements followed, and always the Daily Light (Bible verses) entry for the day of publication, with a devotional hymn.

Frank Cheesman, Harry Cheesman, J. Laker and Chris Cheesman 1928-1930

How much more easily this could be done now, with e-mail, photocopiers and scanners! Six copies of ‘The Nethanian Weekly’ were needed each week. The editor, Phil Cheesman, or ‘his secretary’, a younger sister, had to type it on a typewriter, using carbon paper (with all the problems if a mistake was made). Then the whole issue had to be typed a second time, as no more than two carbon copies were legible. Individual copies were then posted to family members living outside Cranleigh. At least the postage stamp cost only 1d, and the post office was close to Victoria Road, in the High Street at the top of Knowle Lane.

Post Office, 1930s, and the ‘telegram boys’ with their bicycles   

The first issue of the ‘Nethanian Weekly’ reports that ‘business is increasing at Messrs Cheesman & Sons establishment’. A later news item says that ‘Dad has in his workshop one of Pirie’s vans which they built in their old workshop twenty-one years ago’. (George Pirie was the baker on the Guildford Road: his house is now called ‘The Old Bakery’.) There were frequent reports of overtime work being needed because of ‘rush jobs’. At least there was no time spent in commuting. And shops were closed for a lunch-hour daily and for the afternoon on Wednesdays.

The bakery on the Guildford Road: was this the van made by Cheesman’s the wheelwright’s in 1912 and repaired in 1933?

As for their leisure time, they went for walks more than we do, and Pitch Hill was a favourite destination. In the blackberry season, there were regular expeditions to Smithwood Common. They made good use of their bicycles, too, and even Dad, Chris Cheesman, in his 60s, and his brother-in-law, in his 70s, cycled to Dunsfold.

Local fêtes, carnivals and sports days were big events. David Mann & Sons had a stand at the Holmbury Flower Show (we made ‘quite a smart show’), and in the Ewhurst carnival procession Mann’s Raleigh 3-wheel bicycle won a first prize. Cranleigh was thronged for the Cranleigh Pals sports. One of the Cheesman boys had to cart the gate money from the field and said ‘that it was as much as two men could lift. Motor cycles were still leaving the village at 12.45am’. One Sunday ‘Cranleigh was crowded with British Legionaries’ for the dedication of the branch standard. ‘There were 55 branches represented and over that number of banners displayed’. Attendance was estimated at four to five thousand. (Cranleigh’s population in 1931 was 3,700.)

Courts on the Common for the lawn tennis tournament

In August the annual tennis tournament took place on the Common, with matches described as ‘thrilling’ and ‘fine’. Two players of national standard were noted.

And people made their own entertainment. A new fire station had recently been built in Dewlands Lane, and one night at 11.30 the hooter sounded to summon the firemen. Two of the Cheesman boys ‘hurriedly put on some things and frantically fitted up bike lamps and then cycled out into the street. The street was filled with people. Every bedroom window was a grandstand. The brigade turned out like lightning. The fire was reported to be at Merrow Farm, Dunsfold. Ben shot off down the street behind the fire engine and kept up with it right to Merrow Farm. There were crowds of Cranleigh people there who went on bikes, motor bikes and cars.’ The fire turned out to be confined to a large mushroom shed. 

The fire engine, perhaps late 1920s

The very next day the fire hooter sounded again at 12.55pm. ‘Excitement ran high that a house was on fire near the gas works, but when the shop assistants left off at 1.00pm they were disappointed to find only the railway line fence alight’. The editor commented, ‘Cranleigh … what a jolly fine place we live in!’ With free fun like this, who needed television?

With grateful thanks to Tricia Young, daughter of one of the Cheesman children, for permission to use extracts from the ‘Nethanian Weekly’.

The Cranleigh History Society meets on the second Thursday of each month at 8pm in the Band Room. The next meeting is on Thursday July 11th, when Judith Grants will speak on ‘Armada to Abdication: items from a personal collection’.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Cranleigh Magazine