Some notes on the Olby family of Elmside, 30 Charles Road

I have often admired Elmside, the house at the corner of Charles Road and Brittany Road. Here are some notes on the history of this 1920s house. As we shall see, its first owner met with a horrific death.

The Keep, the archives for East Sussex at Falmer, has three planning application documents. The first is DH/C/6/1/9577, dated 5 June 1925, with the catalogue entry reading “30 Charles Road, house, Note — not built”. Well, it certainly was built at some point ! The other catalogue entries for the house are a garage, dated 18 August 1933, which is DH/C/6/1/851, and “addition to for form [sic] cool store”, DH/C/6/2/2364, dated 11 May 1948. I have not been able to get to Falmer to look at these.

Elmside, 30 Charles Road


Maybe the construction was indeed delayed, as it is only in the 1928 Pike’s Directory that the street listing gives the first entry for the house, with the householder as Alfred Olby. The Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 30 August 1930, tells us that the house got a telephone. Hastings number 2333 was registered to Mrs F.A. Olby. This was Frances Alexandrina Olby, Alfred’s second wife.

In the 1901 census Alfred Olby was living at Ramsgate, Kent. He was 55, a window glass factor, born St Marylebone. He was married to Lucy, 57, born West Bromwich, Staffordshire, and they had three sons and three daughters, all except the eldest born in Ramsgate. With such an unusual name he is easy to trace in the newspapers. Alfred Olby Ltd. advertised widely, and was clearly running a retail business selling among other things metals, especially lead, and glass. The newspapers show that his business was the victim of thefts on at least three occasions. In the 1920s a branch was opened at Folkestone.

Lucy died in February 1906 at Ramsgate. In the 1911 census Alfred was in Wallington, Surrey, a builder’s merchant, with wife Frances Alexandrina, 45, born Kensington, and a niece. Alfred and Frances had married in 1907 in the Ramsgate area. We are lucky enough to have shipping records which tell us that the couple sailed to New York in August 1908 on the “Caronia”. Also in the 1911 census, oldest son John, director of a builder’s merchant, was a boarder with his wife in the Ramsgate area.

Frances died on the 26 December 1936 at 30 Charles Road.

The 1938 electoral register gives the voters as Alfred Olby, Bernard George Olby, Augusta Greenland, and Clara Freer. Bernard was the youngest son, born in 1889, and in September 1939, in the Register compiled for rationing purposes, was a patient at a mental hospital in Hailsham. Greenland was the housekeeper, as shown in the newspapers in 1939. Freer was probably the housemaid.

As I intimated, Alfred met with a horrible end, aged 93. The East Kent Times, 29 April 1939, reported on his inquest. It also had a photo of him, given below.

On the 23 April, a Sunday, he had attended a service in a hall at the back of Norman Road (probably a Methodist service). Afterwards he went walking on Grand Parade to take a bus home. He was hit by a car, and died in the Royal Sussex Hospital an hour and a half later without regaining consciousness. House surgeon Elizabeth Laura Taylor-Jones said that Olby had a fractured skull and scalp wounds.

The account mentioned that the company, of which he was chairman, had branches at Margate, Folkestone, Ashford and Canterbury as well as the main premises at Ramsgate. John, the eldest son, identified the body, and was reported as saying that “for his age he had excellent health, and had not had a doctor for 55 years. His sight and hearing were good and he was extremely active.”

Augusta Elizabeth Greenland, the housekeeper, gave evidence. She said that “He was very erratic when he was out and would dart across the road suddenly without making sure it was clear of traffic.”

A bus driver also gave evidence. His bus was stationary at London Road bus stop when “he saw Mr Olby step quickly from the kerb in a diagonal direction and cross right in front on an incoming car. The driver had no chance of avoiding him. The car pulled up in about ten yards.”

The car driver did not appear to give evidence, but then the foreman of the jury felt that his evidence was not needed. The verdict was “Death by misadventure.” The funeral was at Hastings Cemetery following “a service at a Divine meeting-house.”

As often happens, the reporter for the Observer, also 29 April 1939, gave a slightly different account. Greenland had accompanied Olby to the service and she waited for him outside, but he had gone on ahead. Referring to his impulsive behaviour as a pedestrian, “She and his friends had warned him, but he was very independent.” The bus driver said that he was at the Grand Parade stop, about to go up London Road.

On the 3 June the Observer had an advert for the sale of the house and its furniture and other items by auction on the 20 June. It was described as “the exceptionally attractive detached modern FREEHOLD RESIDENCE.” It had three parquet floored reception rooms and five bedrooms. The auction date was later altered to the 30 June and among the items described was a Brinsmead pianoforte, an electric refrigerator, a “Hoover” carpet sweeper, an “Electrolux” floor polisher, and a “New World” gas cooker. Nothing but the best for Mr Olby, it seems.

The house was unoccupied in the already mentioned September 1939 Register. I have not traced the history of the house further.



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