Snobbery & Transport
In the 30’s the middle class had aspirations of, if perhaps not ‘ectually’ moving up a class, perhaps being accepted as an appendage to the upper classes. This involved display, like a cock pheasant in the spring, only it was even more prevalent among the females who were the prime movers, having nothing else to think about through the day. In ’39 I was evacuated to Sussex along with 500+ other boys and masters from our school, I was 16, impressionable, in a totally strange milieu, amid total chaos. The poor recipients were caught on the hop and so were we. It was then I met everyone from the Lord of the Manor, to gypsy itinerants – country folk.
At that time, it seemed to me, the boundaries of class were more clearly defined and more stringent than in London – more like the Raj I knew in Africa, and, ignoring the plight of the poor Africans, the rest accepted it and didn’t, as today, rail against it. In Sussex, the gradation ran roughly like – Landed Gentry, Lord of the Manor (LOM) – Gentleman Farmers, the Professionals, the Cloth, and New Rich – Tenant Farmer, Trades People and Craftsmen – Labourers – Itinerants, Seasonal Workers and the Unemployed – the Evacuee. The nouveaux riches wouldn’t even say good morning to us, yet the LOM, with the marvellous name of Sir Amhurst Selby Bigge, not only made our path smoother, he entertained us to tennis parties in summer, on his lawn. The Farmers welcomed us as did the rest, and as we were thrust on all but the LOM, we went to the local secondary school with the locals, we gradually melded, but even then, we knew our place.
In the 30’s mostly only the pretty rich had a car and an offer of an outing was an occasion. As far as I can remember I only rode about ten times as a guest from 1930 – ’39 In the days of the two seater, with the Dickey seat at the back, the visitors sat cramped in the Dickey seat, open to the elements, and lucky to be there even if they could see little past the hood. Later, with saloon cars we were all together, although ridiculous ritual and absurd display had to play a part. The visitor, to show gratitude brought along a large bar of – would you believe – Motoring Chocolate, fruit and nut, milk chocolate. On the back of the better cars there was a cast iron, hinged carrier on which it was obligatory to display a huge cabin trunk, plastered with hotel labels to demonstrate you were a traveller of wide experience. Inside it there might be nothing, or a wicker picnic hamper. It was de rigueur to hoot when you passed a car of the same make; years later people touring on the Continent hooted when they saw another with a GB plate. There were a lot of other rituals, the most absurd and class ridden was the salute of the AA Man. The AA were dressed in WW1 army cast-offs, rode on a motorcycle/side-car combination and directed the traffic as and where required, or else stood at a crossroads waiting to be called. As you passed with your AA badge displayed, the AA Man jumped to attention and gave a very smart salute. The bit that took me to the fair was that if he failed to, some drivers reported him.