Spurgeons was contacted recently by Martin Kelly, one of our Old Scholars. With his 80th Birthday just around the corner, it would be an understatement to say Martin has lived a full and interesting life.
Born on the Lancashire coast during the Second World War, Martin spent his boyhood in a number of orphanages before becoming a Royal Marine, a senior banker and spending six years of retirement volunteering to work with street children in Cape Town townships.
In his unfinished autobiography Martin, always a keen sportsman looks back very fondly on the time he lived at the Spurgeons orphanages in Reigate – which he describes as “a true place of refuge, peace and lack of fear” – and Birchington, in Kent…
“Sport was very much a part of my life in my childhood as it was inspired by the sports facilities and encouragement whilst at Spurgeons’ orphanage in Reigate, before moving to Birchington Kent. The cricket pitch was superb and we had a classical wooden cricket pavilion overlooked by the main building and a number of cedar trees.
These were my introduction to the wonderful sounds of leather on willow. Our umpire was also the groundsman and cricket and football coach and to him, I give grateful thanks for the way he coached many of us. So much so that we had good results against the teams we played.
At the age of eleven, at my second orphanage, we dressed in donated full cricket whites and the excitement of walking across to the wicket with leg pads on gave me memories I’ll never forget. I found out that I had an ‘eye for the ball.’ When we were fielding I was encouraged to be a bowler and I remember how I could bowl as a medium pace bowler, and also could spin the cricket ball in two directions, on and off.
When we moved to Birchington and had to attend the local state school, King Ethelbert’s, how good it was that we also had good sports facilities. One memorable aspect, because we played well, was that our experienced skills took over the established school cricket and football teams. This caused a certain amount of jealousy. We were nicknamed by the other pupils as ‘outsiders’ as we came from the orphanage approximately one mile away. We boys in Spurgeons’ orphanage also had our own football fixtures on Saturdays and I played in goal.
Until the move to Birchington, we were educated by the then orphanage school which must have been good because when we moved and were assessed at King Ethelbert state school we were all well ahead of the other pupils in our tests. We had to attend state school due to changes brought in by the Education Act 1953.
My teacher at Spurgeons in Reigate was super. Her name was Mrs Warren, who lived in a largish house named Derrygyle in Wray Park Road, Reigate, whose garden backed on to the orphanage border. We could visit her after school hours via a small gate and walked in through the long grass in the orchard. Her home backed the orphanage grounds and the orphanage cobbler, Mr Alma, who had a little workshop for mending and looking after all the boys’ and girls’ shoes. I used to be fascinated when I crept up to his window to see him at work. I even thought that I might want to be a cobbler when I grew up.
As well as being a super teacher Mrs Warren offered additional pocket money to two boys each week when invited to her garden and used the grass roller on her large lawn. It was fun. Afterwards she invited us into her lounge and we had an English tea with bone china prepared for us and gave us sixpence each. This was my introduction to English social behaviour and manners, learning how to eat and drink correctly at afternoon tea!
Her husband had an up-market grocery shop in Buckingham Palace Road with the Royal Warrant to supply groceries to Buckingham Royal Palace. He too was a kind person and showed us around the shop when I visited him with Mrs Warren after we had taken traditional afternoon tea at the Strand Palace hotel.
During the summer athletics at King Ethelberts I found out I was no good in the 100 yards race, yet when it came to the one-mile race I had more success. As a result, I volunteered to do cross country, which I really enjoyed and when I was fourteen represented my school in the East Kent cross country competition. My training and keenness for this sport, building up stamina, continued for a number of years, which would be good experience and preparation for the future when I eventually joined the Royal Marines, at nineteen years old. This would help me through my future intense training to eventually pass out as a Royal Marine Commando. It certainly made me stronger and I was always encouraged by my housemaster Mr Willicome.”
If you would like to read more of Martin Kelly’s memoirs, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org