Gaby Hardwicke 1940-1972 by Brenda Haddon

Brenda Haddon outside our 2 Eversley Road office.Brenda Haddon (née Scrivener) was born in Woburn Sands, Buckinghamshire in September 1912 and moved to Hastings with her family in 1923, as it was hoped the milder climate would prolong the life of her father, who had suffered severe injuries while serving in the First World War (the idea seemingly worked, as he lived until 1961). 

In 1941 Brenda married Henry Haddon, a staff sergeant in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps (RAOC), but sadly he was killed in 1945 and she never remarried. She was a founder member of the Hastings branch of the Business and Professional Women’s Club, and later regional treasurer. In this role she travelled the world and attended numerous international conferences.

Brenda spent the majority of her working life at Gaby Hardwicke, retiring at age 60 in 1972. She began her legal career, however, with Bexhill solicitor D’Esney Harrison, whose firm ultimately gave rise to Yearwood & Griffiths, which eventually merged with Gaby Hardwicke.

Brenda passed away on 11 October 2014, aged 102. Shortly after her 100th birthday she spoke to us at length and gave the following account of her time at Gaby Hardwicke.

I was working for a one-man band firm under D’Esney Harrison over the Midland Bank [now HSBC] on the corner of Western Road. My office was on the corner, on the second floor, so I could look out over Devonshire Square and down Western Road.

I used to see old Mr Hardwicke at lunchtimes. He’d walk down from his office to the building society, which had its office in the square. On a cold day he’d have his long overcoat on and his hands in his pockets, and I used to think: I’d hate to work for you!

Well, anyway, at that time a lot of D’Esney Harrison’s work came from a firm of speculative builders, Draper Brothers, who developed Downlands Avenue and up that way. But at the outbreak of war, of course, the building industry flopped and Mr Harrison couldn’t afford to keep me. He said, “I won’t give you the sack, but I’d like you to find another job.” It just so happened that a fortnight after that Gaby’s was advertising, so I spoke to Mr Harrison about the vacancy. He said, “Normally I wouldn’t like you to go to another firm in the town, but under the circumstances it’s all right.” So I applied for the job and got it.

At the time I was earning a whole £2 per week – old money – and I was interviewed by Mr Bob Cole, who knocked me down half a crown for the first month while I was on trial. Anyway, they decided I was all right, I was kept on and I stayed there until I retired – and in the end I became quite fond of old Mr Hardwicke.

When I started, the firm’s name was ‘Gaby, Hardwicke, Evans-Vaughan and Bubear’. Reggie Vaughan had disappeared at the beginning of the war, but Bubear was there and I worked for him for a short time. But then he decided, with the bombing, to go back to the west country, where he had two or three maiden aunts. So I was left with just Mr Hardwicke, Bob Cole, an office boy and an older girl, a Miss Satchford, who lived out at Pevensey. But after a time she decided she didn’t want to come in to Bexhill and left.

Wartime

At the time of the bombings I was living at the top end of Magdalen Road in St Leonards and catching the train to Bexhill each day. I would leave home in the morning wondering whether the trains would be running, as often you’d reach the station and be told you had to wait for a bus because of something suspicious on the line. You couldn’t be certain the office would be there when you arrived, and you’d leave the office at night wondering whether you’d have a home to go to when you got back to St Leonards!

We were told the safest place at the office was in the cupboard under the stairs, where there was a wash basin and a hot water tap; so when the air raid siren sounded Miss Satchford and I went into the cupboard. She would sit in the corner where the stairs were narrower and I had the spot beneath the hot water tap, which was very useful. We’d stay there until the all clear went, then go back and get on with our work. It was frightening but it was something you lived with – you got used to it.

One problem for Mr Hardwicke was that I was still in my twenties so was liable to be called up, and he fought very dearly to keep me. He’d already lost a typist, Miss Mavis Watts, who joined the ATS and became quite famous when her photograph was used on one of their recruiting posters – she was a good-looking girl – and Herbert Simmons, his cashier, had also been called up.

By that time I was already volunteering at an emergency first aid post that had been set up in the underground car park at Carlisle Parade in Hastings. I used to walk along Cambridge Road, down Claremont Steps and in through one of the entrances, which was down the steps of the gents’ loos by where the rowing club used to be (I don’t know if it’s there now). I slept down there four nights a week on duty.

So Mr Hardwicke put up that I was already doing war work and that he’d already lost Herbert Simmons and Miss Watts, and he was able to hang on to me. Otherwise I’d have had to join up.

Hastings office bombed

Our Hastings office was on the ground floor of 2 Cambridge Road, which was the first of those terraced houses. I think the top part was let off as flats and somebody else was in the basement. When the office was bombed it was blast damage mostly. The bomb actually hit the parapet of the cinema, which was next door to the Bodega pub, and damaged everything around it. All the ceilings were down and it was just a mass of rubble and plaster.

Bob Cole and I went over to see if we could rescue anything from the Hastings office, but it was in such a mess that all I can remember finding was a green glass ashtray, which we took back to Bexhill. Mr H. E. Thomas, who was the managing clerk at Hastings, took all the ledgers and all the current files into his home at Sedlescombe Road North and ran the office from there. Anything that wasn’t current was taken to Bexhill.

After a time, Thomas decided he’d had enough and got a job with a firm at East Grinstead or somewhere out that way. So Bob and I went over to his place and collected all the files and moved them to Bexhill. We ran the Hastings office, which we kept as a separate entity, from the front attic at 2 Eversley Road [now Partner Jonathan Midgley’s office]. I kept the books and typed any letters for Hastings office from there. 

Before we leave the war years behind, I might add that if it hadn’t been for Bob Cole there wouldn’t be any Gaby Hardwicke today. Mr Hardwicke’s wife was the sister of Sir Robert Gower, who was MP for Tunbridge Wells, and he wanted to close the firm and move to Tunbridge Wells to get away from the bombing. I don’t know why because I would have thought Tunbridge Wells was just as vulnerable, being on the way to London. But Bob persuaded Mr Hardwicke to stay. He said, “You owe a duty to people like Baldry to have something to come back to when the war ends.” So Bob saved the day. Mind you, I think Bob wanted to keep his job as well!

After the war, when Jack Baldry came out the navy he resumed as a partner and then George Herbert and Jethro Arscott joined about the same time. George had been in the navy and Jeth in the army and they were very senior articled clerks, as it were. As soon as they were qualified they were made junior partners. 

At that time Bob Cole started sending me out in my little Morris Minor to do completions (you did personal completions in those days), including if they were up in London, and I got to know my way around London. I got £2 expenses, which covered the train fair, the tube and some lunch.

For one particular completion I had to go to Cambridge. I drove up and spent the night at the Garden Hotel, and Mr Hardwicke was very concerned about it and rang my mother to make sure she didn’t mind me going. You see at the time it wasn’t a job women did; it was always one of the junior clerks, or the articled clerks, who went on these jaunts. I can remember they were terribly surprised at the first one or two I did in London – “a woman!” But of course by the time I’d finished plenty of women were doing it.

Brenda Haddon retirement lunch in 1972.

Partners George Herbert, Jethro Arscott and John Midgley with Brenda Haddon at her retirement lunch, 15 September 1972.

Post-war alterations

After the war there were several alterations made to Gaby Hardwicke’s Bexhill office. The first was when we took over number four Eversley Road and chopped a bit off Mr Hardwicke’s room to make the passageway.

Then we created the driveway through to the car park. The buildings – number two and number four – were joined at the back by the loos, so we had to give up the loos. The men had always had the loo at the top of the stairs at number two, and the girls had always had the loo that was almost an outside one – you went through the waiting room, through the very deceptive iron door, out to the lady’s loo. And I can remember Mr Arscott being very annoyed because the gents weren’t going to have the inside loo any more; they had to use the back one. 

Modernisation

I remember when photocopying first came out – it was a terrible mess because the print used to turn brown and after a time you couldn’t read it. Photocopying was in the back attic at number two. And I can also remember when we had our first franking machine; prior to that we had a stamp book which had to be balanced up every morning. 

When I left we had two electric typewriters in the office: Mr Cole’s secretary had one and Mr Arscott’s secretary had the other. We also had an adding machine, which sat on a big cupboard in the first-floor passageway, and everybody had to go and stand there to use it. Prior to that you had to work out all your interest (we used to collect mortgage interest) and the proportions of rates and insurance on property completions by hand. Mr Arscott always brought it for me to do.

We changed over to decimal currency the year before I retired, and we had to convert three great ledgers. Bob Cole, Mr Simmons and I did it between us overnight, and when we’d finished the three ledgers we were only a ha’penny out!

You can listen to Brenda Haddon's reminiscences on our YouTube channel.

Jonathan Midgley, Brenda Haddon and Peter Taylor in 2012.Jonathan Midgley (left) and Peter Taylor with Brenda Haddon shortly after her 100th birthday in 2012.

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