|Doctor Poles was the Birch village Doctor for about 30 years. Gordon and Kathleen Poles were from the Medway area of Kent.
They married in the 1920s.
Anne Poles with her parents Kathleen née
Theobald and Henry Gordon Poles on the porch at her maternal grandparents house in Chatham
In the 1930s, Dr Poles
went into partnership with Dr Basil Cooke who lived and worked in Lexden. His son Anthony (Tony) Poles can remember that during the war
(when his father would have been away in the Army), Dr Cooke appeared every Thursday afternoon at "Byways" for tea and surgery/rounds.
The partnership continued for some years after the war. In those days, the Poles' house "Byways", was the first house on the north side as you go down
Mill Lane from Birch Street. The surgery was at the back of the house and had electricity but no running water. The practice covered Birch,
Layer Breton, Layer Marney, Layer de la Haye and Tiptree. In the years after WW2, food was in short supply, and grateful patients often arrived
at the surgery bearing rabbits, chickens, assorted vegetables.
During World War 2, Dr Poles was a Doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps, rising to the rank of Major and spending much time in Egypt.
Dr Henry Gordon Poles in Egypt during WW2
While in Egypt, Dr Poles met a young George Armstrong, probably a chaplain in the Army.
They must have been discussing life after the War, and George was not sure what he was going to do. Dr Poles suggested that George come to
Birch - a nice village in Essex. George Armstrong did come to Birch ...
In the 1950s, Dr Poles built a new house with a surgery, on Birch Street almost opposite the end of Mill Lane - "Fields End".
Dr Henry 'Gordon' Poles died in September 1965 and his role was taken over by Dr Linklater who used the surgery at "Fields End" as his headquarters.
Eventually, this house was sold to become a private residence and the surgery moved to a room in Eric Rootkin's farmhouse, just to the north.
Kathleen and Gordon Poles had a daughter and a son - (Barbara) Anne born in 1929, and Anthony born in 1938.
Anne became a Domestic Bursar at Framlingham College in Suffolk. She later married Alan Hickox from Sussex who was an RAF Officer and
travelled the world with him, living in Germany, Aden and numerous places in England.
They had four daughters, Marilyn (now Longden and a contributor to this article), Sheila (who died in 2012). Rosemary and Jenny. Anne died in 2013.
Anthony was known as Anthony in Birch, but after leaving Birch he was generally known as Tony.
From school Anthony went to spend a year at the Royal College of Music in London on the Horn before doing his National Service in the Royal Artillery Band at Woolwich. While in Woolwich he was also Organist and Choirmaster at St Luke's Church, Charlton. It was 1960 by the time Anthony got to university - at Durham doing Theology and Music with organ lessons in the cathedral.
Anthony became a teacher - at Aycliffe School, Halstead Secondary Modern, Desford Boys School (where he married the Deputy Head's daughter Pam), and finally at Thorparch Grange School, Wetherby 1971-1984. Tony and Pam settled in Boston Spa in Yorkshire and had 3 children, born 1974-79. In 1984 he started Boston Garden Service which expanded into a Limited Company - and he still keeps up his organ playing.
A Poles family gathering at Hove around 1949.
Back L-R 1. Flo, 2. Uncle Norman, 3. Auntie Mollie, 4. Kathleen Poles, 5. Henry 'Gordon' Poles, 6. Anne Poles
Front 1. Anthony Poles, 2. Grandpa Henry Poles, 3. Peter, 4. Grannie Alice Poles, 5. Eileen
Anthony Poles c1957
1957 British Imperial Military Band. They used to do summer Sunday concerts in the London Parks
Marilyn and Paul Longden February 2022
Doctor Henry Gordon Poles
Marilyn and Anthony help us build up a picture of their grandfather / father and of family life in Birch:
Marilyn knew her maternal grandfather Dr Henry Gordon Poles as 'Pop Pop'.
She says that when staying with her grandparents whilst she was at boarding school, she caught the train from school in Framlingham to
Colchester, followed by the bus to Birch and can recall overhearing someone on the bus who she didn't know saying how wonderful Dr Poles
was and that he'd delivered all their children. She felt very proud!
There are many fond memories of him as he was such a joker. When she went to stay for school holidays a huge knife, fork and spoon
appeared at her place setting. Apparently this was because she talked a great deal so needed them for her large mouth! Her grandfather
was also brilliant at tricks, frequently shopping at the "Joke Shop" for plastic flies etc to put in our drinks, fart cushions etc
and telling us that a helicopter was actually a "kelihopter" and denying that he'd got it wrong.
Marilyn says her grandfather used to look after several Romany Gypsies before (and probably after) the NHS began and they paid him in
rabbits or braces (pairs) of pheasants which Mum had to pluck etc. Yuk! He spoke fondly of the gypsies and they were well thought of.
Pre NHS, other patients paid him in eggs. She recalls the delicious NHS concentrated orange juice which was supposed to be for babies
but she was sometimes allowed to have a little of her sisters' allowance, and the dark blue tins of powdered baby milk on the surgery
Enid Blyton was a patient and her grandfather once revealed that she wasn't a very nice person!
The surgery was a wonderful hive of strange, nose wrinkling, antiseptic and worse smells, combined with metal instruments of torture
and Government posters exhorting the public to look after their health and hygiene. The waiting room had what looked like brown leather
benches and a long low table with old Womans Weeklys etc neatly piled on it. This was their playroom outside the surgery times.
That table magically transformed into a boat, a den, a palace etc with simply the addition of a blanket flung over it, combined with a
pinch of imagination.
In the surgery there was a large cream coloured metal measuring cum weighing machine which we were sometimes allowed to use
(with supervision) and many shiny metallic kidney dishes which were on the "do not touch" list. The walls were bedecked with glass
fronted locked cupboards, some labelled "Poison", which were filled with little brown or blue bottles adorned with mysterious labels.
On the walls were gory anatomical posters.
Doctor Poles also held a surgery at Tiptree (of jam and marmalade fame) and frequently took Marilyn with him in his lovely old car
(grey and green with leather seats) on his rounds there. This seemed to involve visiting numerous "old" ladies who made a great fuss
of her and fed her with all sorts of homemade cakes, scones and biscuits and was followed by a long visit to the pub where Marilyn
was not allowed to accompany him. She was very happy tho' as she was given a bottle of orangeade with a straw plus a coconut macaroon
pyramid with a cherry on the top (from the bakery) to keep her occupied.
Sometimes there was even a comic or two, or she kept herself amused watching or chatting to people or making up stories. And she
was even allowed to have the car radio on. Bliss!
Anthony says that like some others in the Poles family, his father was often called MARCO by his friends.
He did smoke a lot, no-one seemed to mind. He also gambled a lot, which sometimes caused some family friction.
Often on his day off, he and some friends would pile into a car and drive to a race meeting, sometimes as far away as Sandown,
Doncaster or Wetherby.
If, for example, a new carpet appeared for the house, they knew he'd had a good day! Marilyn can remember being taken to
donkey derbies and being give a Pound to bet with.
Kathleen Poles at "Byways", Mill Lane
Marilyn writes about her grandmother, Mrs Kathleen Hilda Poles.
Granny had a tabby cat called Sue who was very friendly and always having kittens. She provided most of the village with cats (mice and rats were common). I was amazed that the kittens were all different colours.
Sue and a friend in the middle of a quiet Mill Lane
Granny was a music and dance teacher. Unusually for women then she attended Manchester College of Music before her marriage. She must
have been exceptionally talented to get into the music school. It was also a long way to go from her home in Chatham, Kent. She taught
"Music and Movement" in Junior/Infant school for a while.
Marilyn says she loved "Music and Movement" on the radio where they wriggled around being worms on the floor in time to the music and
jumped around a great deal. At school they also had the great joy of playing metal triangles and tambourines.
Granny loved old English and Scottish folk songs. She played her piano daily (and beautifully) and was always humming, singing or
whistling. There were many a sing alongs and sometimes her grandchildren were allowed to play chopsticks on her Bechstein piano.
For some reason we sung "Oh Mother wash my dirty shirt, Oh Mother wash it clean, Oh Mother wash my dirty shirt and send it to the
A founder member of Birch Womens Institute (WI), Kathleen and a group of ladies began making and performing traditional country dances
in Elizabethan style dresses. She rode a wonderful old green Raleigh sit up and beg type bicycle with a wicker basket on the front to
Layer Breton church (just up the road) to play the harmonium organ as well as to Birch Church in the opposite direction.
She also volunteered to help deliver meals on wheels to the "old" ladies until she was well into her 80s. She
told Marilyn that she had driven when she was much younger (you didn't have to pass a driving test then) but no longer wanted to drive.
During the 2nd World War she was a member of the Womens Voluntary Aid Detachment (VADs), part of the Red Cross who were voluntary nurses
in hospitals in the UK (some also went to war zones but she didn't). Marilyn still has her uniform and badge.
Kathleen Poles in 1976
Marilyn goes on to say that after her husband's death in 1965, Granny moved from "Fields End" into an L shaped bungalow called Lyndale
which was in Straight Way - the lane leading up to the old Bakers shop from Birch Green. This had belonged to Marianne, a German lady who was a great friend but had
had to move away. The kitchen was a pretty primrose yellow and there was a conservatory where Granny stored her russet apples, all
individually wrapped in newspaper in boxes together with other garden produce in jars and bottles. Every year she made jams and
marmalades and Marilyn's mother Anne carried on this tradition.
Granny disliked cooking and Anne did most of the cooking. One of the few things Marilyn can remember Granny cooking was breadcrumbs! These
were made by putting stale bread in the oven (frugally at the same time as she was cooking something else) to crisp them up and then
crumble them up when they were cooled. After the deprivations of both wars she was very careful with food, sometimes having literally a
few peas on a saucer in the fridge and never wasting anything. Mondays and Tuesdays' meals were usually using up leftovers from the
weekend. Shepherds pie from a Sunday joint of lamb and the remains of any puddings eg trifles. Her round brown wooden chopping board
with a pattern around the outside was always in use for cutting/chopping bread vegetables and fruit. Her cooking style was plain,
nutritious and simple.
Granny had a fascinating medicine chest of her own although her husband was a doctor. This was an endless source of interest to the
grandchildren. It included such things as the beautiful blue glass eye bath which fitted around the eye and was used if they got something in
their eyes. It was filled with liquid which wasn't actually unpleasant but felt and smelt very strange. It was always cold and smelt
a bit like embrocation. Putting it up to the eye and not letting it leak out whilst the eye was bathed was quite a feat!
It was easy to get it down your front. She also had assorted bandages and safety pins to hold them together, pink Germolene in a
round metal tub to heal grazes, Vicks menthol chest rub, pale pink Calamine lotion (shaken and applied liberally to dry chicken
pox spots), Alka Seltzer to settle tummies, Epsoms bath salts, Friars Balsam to inhale for clearing blocked chests and smelly orange
stinging Iodine to put on cuts. Plasters were fabric and on a roll which had to be cut to size. No fancy paper on the back to peel off
in those days.
The first family home in Birch was "Byways" in Mill Lane. Marilyn says she
loved going there as it was such a contrast from her transient service life, moving every couple of years. "There was a long narrow room
at the back of the house where the hand operated water pump and scullery was. There was also a coal shed and some other outbuildings.
The surgery was in a separate building outside. Her grandfather's numerous budgerigars, mostly blue but some green and yellow, were in a
huge cage on the wall beside the surgery. There was always a jam jar of water with something sweet in it outside the kitchen window in
the summer to catch the wasps.
Off the kitchen of Byways behind a door, was a wooden, uncarpeted "back" staircase which had previously been the servants' staircase. This was another playroom for the grandchildren and where the poor kittens were dropped down the stairs a few times, amazingly without obvious injury. They sat their toys on the steps and pretended they were on a bus. These steps were also shelves
in the shop and different houses depending on the favourite game of the day.
Birch Mill c1951
Behind the surgery was a walled garden, on the other side of which was the old Mill which still had its massive sails providing a great
source of fascination. The people next door let Marilyn play in their enormous grounds which included the mill. There were so many
exciting nooks and crannies to explore in the grounds where she acted out her imaginary stories and ensured she was never bored. The actual
mill was out of bounds as it was apparently dangerous and a few years later it was sadly knocked down.
Anthony says that to the right of "Byways" was a downstairs privy with two seats (mains drainage came to Birch in the 1960s). He later adapted it for use as a dark room to process his photos.
"Fields End", Birch Street
"A new house "Fields End" was built in the 1950s, on Birch Street, almost opposite the end of Mill Road, and the family moved from
There was a pet shop/sweet shop on the Mill Lane side of Studleys. Whenever she visited, clutching her sixpence, she had a great time looking
at the animals and birds, being given free sweets and generally being made a fuss of! Studleys was a wonderful cornucopia with the
wooden floor boards and the delightful bell on the door which rang every time the door was opened. She suspects she spent far too long opening and closing it.
The Bakery at the end of the lane (which appears to be called Straightway) opposite the Hare and Hounds was wonderful. She used to be sent to collect flour and bread (made on the premises) when Granny lived at the bungalow Lyndale in the lane. The scent of freshly made bread permeated the lane and the common opposite where they loved picking blackberries.
There was also a hardware shop on The Street. This will be in the early 60s or possibly late 50s.
In 1960 when Mum (Anne Hickox née Poles) was having Marilyn's youngest sister, Jenny, Marilyn was 7 and went to live with Granny and Pop Pop for what seemed to her like ages but was probably only a few months. She remembers being given a daily lift down the road to the school by the milkman along with a few other children. It saved about a mile's walk on her own (there was barely any traffic in those days). They all held on very tightly to the float as it went down the hill. It was February 1960, very cold and she recalls snow and ice. The village school was exciting as it had a "turtle" stove in the middle of the room where the crate of schoolchildren's squat glass milk bottles (1/3 of a pint) were warmed up and hence tasted disgusting! Can you imagine the horror of "Elf & Safety" sorting that one out?! Needless to say there were never any exploding bottles. They were often disappointed when the frozen expanded milk melted and the wonderfully protruding silver foil bottle caps fell off or shrunk back down onto the top of the bottles. They hoped they'd reach the ceiling! There were little white waxed cardboard straws to drink the milk - they were poked through the foil.
Marilyn is sure she learned other things at Birch Village Church of England Primary School which she thoroughly enjoyed (she thinks the headmaster was Mr Millatt) but the only thing she actually remember learning was how to knit which she thought was fantastic. Endless grubby little scarves (with many a hole from dropped stitches) were knitted. These sported glaringly bright and horribly clashing coloured stripes, with wool from old jumpers which had been laboriously unpicked. She used to have to stand for what seemed like hours with her arms about a foot apart, at right angles to her body whilst the skeins of unpicked wool were wrapped around her hands (by Granny) to make it easier to manage when knitting with it. She remembers moaning about how much her arms ached but was even more frustrated about having to stand still!
With thanks to Marilyn Longden née Hickox and Anthony Poles