Eric Sinclair

Photo 1

Eric in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, September 1940.

Photo 2

The Half Moon at Northchapel, owned by the Guildford-based Friary Meux brewery.

Photo 2

Eric and Norah as many will have known them in the fifties and sixties - behind the counter at The Half Moon.

Photo 3

One of the carvings of Bruce Bairnsfather's "Old Bill", courtesy of Mark Warby.

Eric Sinclair joined the Regular Army in 1927 at the age of 22. He served more than 14 years as an NCO in the Royal Artillery, qualifying as an Instructor in India, where he spent six years. Soon after the Second World War began, he was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major in the 63rd Anti Tank Regiment in Northern Ireland. He was appointed to a commission in 1942, and was serving as a Captain when he resigned from the service at the end of the war, although he remained a member of the HAC for the rest of his life.

He and his wife Norah (the daughter of Albert Frederick Brown) and 7-year-old son Michael settled in Arundel, Sussex, where Eric's eldest brother, Harold, had set up a joinery factory. Peter was born in 1946, promptly becoming a member of the baby-boom generation. Eric joined Harold in his business, but for obvious reasons that didn't work out and for several years he could only find casual jobs. There were many hundreds of thousands of men looking for work after the war and, like Eric, very few had the relevant skills to start a new career in civvy street later in life.

This ended when Eric decided to become a pub landlord. In 1951 the family moved to Northchapel, near the Surrey/Sussex border, where he took on the task of making The Half Moon a going concern. It had been a coaching inn since the sixteenth century, and the old four-poster bed and feather mattress they found in the bedroom must have been there for at least 50 years. His father and brother burning the mattress in the garden is one of Peter's abiding memories of those early days in the pub.

Over the next few years, Eric with Norah's support changed The Half Moon into a very successful pub, frequented by travellers on their way to the South Coast. The Goodwood Races were a particularly busy period in the summer, when coaches stopped on their way down from London in the morning, and on their way back in the evening. But outside of the busy summer hours, the pub could be very quiet. Although there were regulars, they could be lost to the Swan, the other pub in the village, or to its working men's club.

During those quiet times, Eric took up wood carving, which he did at the bar counter. None of the family can explain why it was carving that interested him, but the ready supply of finished oak and other wood from his brother in Arundel must have had an influence. His self-taught skill was to cut away the wood leaving a relief of the subject. His first carvings were functional, like ashtrays with a simple carved back. These might have been produced at the suggestion of Bruce Bairnsfather, a well-known war artist whose cartoons of "Old Bill" had captured the spirit of the British soldier in the trenches during the First World War. Bruce had been living opposite The Half Moon when the family moved in, and Eric's army experiences must have given them a lot in common. Later carvings were deeper in relief and more finely executed. Examples include The Half Moon itself, which Eric can be seen working on in the British Pathe film about the pub in 1959.

Over the next few years, he made many wood carvings for his customers. Some were probably just gifts, but others were sold. These included four-foot wooden spoons (especially for "stirrers"), one-off house names for the more wealthy, and even the edges of oak tables, made up at his brother's factory. The tables, for example, featured oak leaves, and were finished by being brushed with dark tan shoe polish - the same as he used on his shoes!

Eric never promoted his work, nor did he have an overly high opinion about its worth. He carved because he enjoyed it, and when it became too demanding, he was quite able to put it aside. However, by the early 1960s he was trying to manage a pub where he had attracted many new customers - and occasionally lost a few. The bar food was a great draw - generous pork sausages made by Bill, the local butcher, fried behind the bar, wrapped in white bread and daubed with English mustard. Hundreds of them would be eaten at special Saturday night events like "Tramps' Nights", where customers came dressed as tramps, left the pub well over the drink-driving limit and the floor swimming in spilt beer. Eric and Norah also tried offering food in a more formal restaurant setting, but these attempts didn't really work. It was the informal approach Eric brought to the eating experience that customers really enjoyed, and Norah wasn't interested in cooking full time.

All this came to a sudden end in May 1965, hardly 15 years after taking over The Half Moon. Eric died from a heart attack at 59 years old, brought on by smoking at least 40 cigarettes a day, drinking far too much in the company of his customers, and virtually no exercise, other than lifting crates and cleaning the bar. The brewery allowed Norah to stay on for another year, but it was clear that the pub's success had been Eric's engaging personality and hard work. Norah retired to Worthing, Sussex, in 1966, and just five years later died of pancreatic cancer, aged 58.

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