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Old Manor Cafe
A Memory of Blackwater.
My memory of Blackwater started when I was 14, for those of you who don't know what the Old Manor was, it was a transport cafe, which stood on what is now a supermarket site, on the right, at the junction with Rosemary Lane. In the late 1950s it consisted of coach seats to sit on, and single light bulbs, but in the early 1960s a man called Don Lewis spent a lot of money improving things, and brought it up to date. Back to when I was 14, at that age it was something new so we started going up there, my father found out and banned me from going in there, but I still did. After a couple of years I left school (good old Fernhill) and started work and my mate Colin and myself brought ourselves a scooter each and started going up the Old Manor. Then we saw nobody up there had scooters, it was motor bikes, so not to be looked down on we used to hide them around the back. So we got ourselves a motorbike each (250cc Royal Enfield Crusader Sports), then we were the bees knees and could join in with the rest of them. Next to the Manor was a car sales called Charlton Motors, I worked there. Beyond that used to stand this deserted old house, so in the evenings sometimes we used to go up there (in the dark) with some of the young girls from the Manor, unbeknown to them we planned to hide from them, then we used to creep up and very lighty touch the back of their legs and make some sort of noise, it scared the hell out of them.
Like so many others, I remember the winter of 1962-63, at the time I was working at the trading estate over Blackwater bridge, it was so bad they rationed coal and coke, one bag each per day, so I spent all my time going over Blackwater gas works getting bags of coke for all the office people, so I was getting paid and getting tips on top.
Do you remember where you were when President Kennedy got shot? I do, top of Blackwater bridge in a lorry,, I heard it on my transister radio.
One night some mates and me from the Manor were walking up to Camberley, we were all messing about on top of the bridge and in went Phil! And the river was in full flood! Anyway, we found him and took him over to the gas works (my dad was shift foreman there) and dried him off, he was OK thank God. Another time we were walking back from Camberley after all buying some paddy wax (liquid shoeshine) so we kept looking at Phil who had very tight wiry hair, so we decided to paint his face with this black shoeshine! Which we did, I will let you draw your own conclutions what he looked like! He was a good sport about it. Stella from the Manor cleaned him up, but for days after he had a different colour than us! I was courting this young lady from where I was working on Blackwater trading estate, after work on Blackwater bridge (it was dark) I said to her to look for swans which I duly fed, next day (daylight) together again we looked over the bridge,and there were two white oil drums! That's what I had been feeding! She never let me forget that, and over the years sent me a Valentine's card saying 'Fed any oil drums lately?'!.
Now back to the Manor, do you know the Old Manor was known from London to the south coast, on a Saturday night there would be upwards of 100 to 150 motor bikes, don't forget this was the 1960s, the Old Manor used to heave with so many bikers in there. I read a local history book about Blackwater, and I quote: 'the Old Manor which was to become the infamous Old Manor Cafe', I think that was a bit unfair!! Yes, we used the A30 from the Old Manor to the top of the bridge as a race track, it was flat out first to the top to demonsrate your riding skills and show your bike of, yes, the Old Manor was noisy, jukebox etc, but we as far as I'm aware committed no crime, painted or destroyed Blackwater or lacked any respect for our elders, it was the 1960s, it buzzed. It was the time to be in, we all worked hard and you could say we played hard. Don Lewis even started a club up in the Manor, pin ball machines, bar billiaeds, TV for 6d per half hour, membership was 2/6 each which went to charity. Don used to close the manor at 11-1130pm, and as for drugs, we did not have a clue about them. One time I was courting a nurse and she brought in a black bomber and purple heart for us to see, we just wanted to see what they looked like because nobody had seen them before, as for alcohol up the Manor, no, just our good old cup of tea, eggs, bacon, fried bread, beans etc lovely grub.
So that's some of my memories of the Old Manor at Blackwater, and I tell you now, will I forget it? Never. I'm glad I went there, you bet. I remember the laughter, the friends I made, and the sheer magic of the 1960s, and I have only good memories of Don and Stella Lewis who gave us somewhere to go. Did I tell you about a friend of mine getting married, stag night, all drunk end of night, wrong house (his mother in law to be), key in door, big scream, he got into bed with her (Rosemary Lane, Blackwater), Hawley church, stag night, my fag on best man's suit, hole in trousers (big one), walking funny on wedding day to hide hole, someone asking if the best man had a wooden leg. Thank you Blackwater ,thankyou the good Old Manor. How does the song go? Thanks for the memory.