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The Clothes Brush

Velma’s grandmother c1917

When I was growing up, a clothes brush used to sit on a small shelf underneath the mirror of a coat rack in our hall. In my mind, it was just a normal everyday item and I really took no notice of it.

It wasn’t until I started researching my family and I got in contact with my father’s first cousin, that he asked me if we still had the clothes brush. I rang my mum and she said that it actually was my paternal grandmother’s, which had been passed down to my father upon her death. On closer inspection we realised that the year ‘1917’ had been formed within the hairs of the brush, and it was then that we realised its significance.My grandmother, Hilda White, was born in 1898 in East Hoathly, Sussex, and was one of the four children of Charles Thomas White and his wife Anne Eliza (née Dennett).

She had two older brothers, Stanley (born 1893) and Albert (born 1896), and a younger one, Reginald (born 1903).

When the First World War started, both Stanley and Albert joined up, while Reginald, being too young to fight, stayed at home with his parents. By this time, Hilda was working in service in Eastbourne, so by 1917 the family were spread far and wide.

Charles Thomas White was born in 1867 in East Hoathly, and by the time of WW1 was working as the coachman/groom at the Heatherden Estate in Cross-in-Hand and living in the cottage attached to the stable block.

1917 saw some of the bloodiest fighting of WW1. The USA had joined the war in the April, and the Battle of Passchendaele, fought in Belgium’s muddy marshlands, raged from the July until the November. It was also the year of the Russian Revolution, the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the rise of socialism.

I can imagine how world events and the fate of his family weighed heavily on Charles’s mind. To keep himself occupied, he must have sat down, in what little spare time that he had, and made these clothes brushes, for his beloved children, from the hair of the horses he tended.

Thankfully both of my great uncles returned safely from the war, and my grandmother continued in service until her marriage in 1927. However each kept their clothes brushes from a time when the future wasn’t so certain.

Charles died in 1947, Hilda in 1976, and my father in 2003. I am the present custodian of this particular family treasure and I will endeavour to ensure that it’s not looked on as an everyday household object again.

Velma Dinkley

© Velma Dinkley 2010