Colourful characters from Littlehampton

A sketch from Mrs Blackbourne's book
A sketch from Mrs Blackbourne's book

Littlehampton has been home to some fascinating characters over the past 150 years, from pioneering businessmen to family friendly entertainers, and all have helped make the town what it is today.

Littlehampton Museum is taking a special look at some of their favourites in a special exhibition, which runs until March 14.

Molly King

Molly King

Here is our second instalment revealing some of the characters on show.

Molly Grey lived in Littlehampton in the late 19th century and was famous throughout the town for her marvellous array of homemade sweets and lollipops.

The window of her cottage, at the top of Arundel Road, was said to be full of different types of sweets, which she sold to adults and children alike.

The best way to describe Molly is through the words of one of her devoted customers.

Mrs Blackbourne's self-portrait

Mrs Blackbourne's self-portrait

These extracts come from the memoirs of Arthur Robinson who, in the 1930s, looked back upon his childhood in Littlehampton and recounted these fond memories.

“Why! It’s old Molly Grey. One instantly recognizes the clear, strong featured old lady, with her white curls and peculiarly distinctive garb. A curtain covering the vanished years that the locust has eaten is swept aside, as it were, by a mere glimpse of the portrait...

“Down the halls of memory we traipse to Molly’s trim, little cottage with its window display of bottled homemade “chews”; we called them chews because, I suspect, we boys liked to imagine ourselves grown up men with tobacco quids in our mouths. This must have been the reason, for surely they were too good to require much mastication.

“There was no need to linger at the window, the various lollipops were all so well known. How delicious they were too, ‘Eights’ and ‘Fourteens’, that is to say eight or fourteen for a penny, and what a fine selection.

Another sketch from Mrs Blackbourne's book

Another sketch from Mrs Blackbourne's book

“Clear lemons of amber-like tint and translucency, dark lemons with perhaps a slight tang of ginger, just the right flavour, rich brown in colour, hard as a rock but brittle as a brandy snap, melting like butter in one’s mouth.

“Luscious cloves displaying the pinks and whites of carnations, peppermints branded with dark and golden stripes like a zebra, others resembling stiff putty in all but their palatable properties.

“Certainly no better sweets were ever made; none so good are to be had nowadays. Perhaps modern sugar is at fault. Everybody, even the grown-ups, liked a ‘Molly’. Many revered friends of our youth habitually carried them about, so much for their own satisfaction as for the pleasure derived from distributing their favours amongst expectant, ever grateful kiddies.

“Molly was a stately old dame indeed, wearing a kind of fichu rig-out about the neck, and other indescribables of attire and adornment with gracious dignity.

“Her tiny shop window was too crowded with her confections to admit much light but enough entered by the doorway to clearly reveal a painting of the Barque ‘Sussex’ of Littlehampton, depicting her under storm canvas.

“I wonder how many boys’ desire to go to sea was further stimulated by this picture?”

Molly Grey’s cottage was demolished in 1905 when Clun Road was built.

Sometime in the 1890s, one particular woman became a regular visitor to Littlehampton; her name was Mrs Blackbourne.

All we know about her comes from one informant, and an album of watercolours which was donated to the museum in 1992.

The donor was a relative of Mrs Blackbourne’s landlady, and could just remember her from about 1917.

The album had been given to the landlady about that time, and remained in her family until it was given to the museum.

The album itself is a rather tattered, well-used book, bound in leather.

Pasted into its pages are over 140 watercolour and other comical sketches relating to Littlehampton people and life at the beginning of the 20th century.

When in Littlehampton, Mrs Blackbourne stayed at 131 Victoria Terrace, which is in Bayford Road.

The boarding house was run by a Miss Hayward, and Miss Hayward and Mrs Blackbourne became great friends.

To judge from her one self-portrait, Mrs Blackbourne was not more than 40 years old, and perhaps considerably younger.

The album tells us that Mrs Blackbourne was a talented amateur cartoonist, that she was middle-class, educated and read Punch magazine.

At least some of the cartoons and caricatures in the album seem to have been inspired by stories that were told to her by other people, a couple of cartoons appeal for stories to be donated.

A lot of her images seem to portray local characters she met during her stay in Littlehampton, and looking through her sketchbook paints quite a picture of the town over 100 years ago.

Forgotten Faces will be in the Community Gallery until the March 14.

For more information please contact Littlehampton Museum on 01903 738100 or email: museum@littlehampton-tc.gov.uk