Celebration as Cannon’s (Ramsgate ) Motor Spares and Accessories founder marks 100th birthday

Derrick Cannon will celebrate his 100th birthday with family today

By Susan Davies

Twenty-three family members will gather St Mildred’s Bistro and  Café in Westgate to celebrate the 100th birthday of Derrick Cannon today (May 15).

Derrick is the first in the Cannon family to celebrate the milestone birthday.

Derrick and family

Derrick Benjamin Cannon was born in 1924 in Mitcham, Surrey to parents Mabel and Frederick Cannon.   One of ten children, his siblings were Fred, Edna, Roy, Stanley, Dennis, Maurice, Donald, Lydia, and Marjorie.

Nine of the ten children survived childhood, but sadly his brother Donald succumbed to serious illness and died young of pneumonia.

Derricks’ father Fred opened a cycle sales and repair shop in Mitcham in 1907 which quickly incorporated car spare parts.  As the demand for car parts grew, Fred moved the business and family to premises in Wandsworth Road, Clapham and Cannon’s Motor Spares and Accessories was born.  The large Cannon family then moved into a bigger house.

Fred purchased two Lanchester cars  and on Sundays they would be driven to Cane Hill in Coulsden where Stanley and Maurice would ferry passengers visiting their relatives up the long drive to and from the Cane Hill Mental Health Hospital.   Derrick remembers standing on the running board so he could open and close the doors at both ends of the trip for this invaluable taxi service.

At weekends the two cars would often be loaded up with family and fishing tackle for a day out at Newhaven.   On one trip the two cars were returning home at the end of the day and stopping halfway, they discovered that Derrick was in neither car!  They turned back, and Derrick was still fishing on the jetty where they had left him.

Derrick with Tracey Cannon, late son Andy Cannon’s wife

Derrick was one of the youngest in the family and rather spoilt by his three older sisters Edna, Lydia, and Marjorie.   They gave him the nickname of ‘Daisy’ which was shortened to ‘Daise’.  He was a bit of a rebel when he was young and used to bunk off school which clearly never got back to his mum.

He used to go to the cinema and let his pals in via the back door for a ‘free of charge’ film viewing. He also remembers being in a Jowett Javelin van owned by brother Roy (who was a singer in a band) and spraying the cinema queue with water from a fire extinguisher in a ‘drive by!’

He was a lad for the girls too, and brother Maurice said  girls would often call at the house saying Derrick had arranged to meet them and not turned up. He was, in fact, out with another girl.

During the war the Cannon household at Union Road was close enough to the railway sidings at Nine Elms to be vulnerable to bomb attacks and on one air raid the house next door took a direct hit from a bomb and was razed to the ground.  A block of flats is now on the site.

The family were all evacuated to Malt House in Watersfield Sussex, an unoccupied and rat-invested house with a ‘privy’ at the bottom of the garden. There was no furniture, so they all slept on the floor and slowly the rats were eventually   ‘dispatched‘ from the living quarters.  Maurice returned to Clapham to help his father Fred with the business, and the rest of the family stayed at Malt House until the end of the war.

Derrick always wanted to return to Malt House, so a visit was arranged 10 years ago, and the owners were very welcoming and provided a slap-up afternoon tea in the garden to which they also invited their neighbours!

Derrick and daughter Susan on the dancefloor

Fred Cannon sadly died in 1945 of an asthmatic attack, and Mabel died in the early 1960s, so Derrick‘s elder sister Edna took over the role of looking after the family.

Derrick’s older brother  Roy was a Spitfire Liberator Pilot in the RAF during the war and sadly lost his life when he and his co-pilot hitched a night flight ride on an American B24-Liberator Bomber ‘Beautiful Betsy’ with six American Air Force crew who were flying to Brisbane from Darwin on 21st February 1945.  The aircraft crashed into a high escarpment during a blinding thunderstorm and was not found until nearly 50 years later.

Derrick was invited as a guest of the America Air Force to a posthumous burial of  Roy along with the other airmen in Arlington Cemetery in Washington U.S.A., which he attended.

Derrick joined the Army in 1944 and while he was collecting a vehicle from the REME workshops in Ashford he met Joan Hollands, who was a mechanic and working under the truck he was collecting at the time.

They married in 1945 and Derrick left the army and moved to Broadstairs and Joan’s parents’ house with her, where their first child Ann was born in 1945.

Derrick joined the railway in Ramsgate as a fireman and they then rented a small flat in Osborne Road Broadstairs, where Susan was born.

Joan became pregnant again and they moved to a three bed house in Northdown Hill St Peters Broadstairs where Jan, followed by Steve and Andy, were born, before finally ending up in a four-bed house in Hugin Avenue  St Peter’s.

Joan brought up their five children virtually on her own as Derrick worked seven days a week to feed his large family.

Derrick had three jobs.  He was a fireman on the footplate, a self-employed part time chimney sweep and also ordered spare parts from the London Branch of ‘Cannon’s Motor Spares and Accessories’ for friends and acquaintances.

Derrick (right) and engine driver Len Sackett

Derrick loved his job as a fireman on the railway.  He has many tales to tell, one of which was that he and his driver would only clean one side of the engine, and when the public complained about the filthy steam engine, Derrick and driver Len would point out the clean side to their ‘Guvner’.

Derrick also recalls that as the early morning train approached London and slowed down at a particular point, they would blow the whistle and two girls who lived in a house on one side of the track would take off their nighties for a ‘display’ at the window!

The demand for spare parts for vehicles increased and Derrick and Joan’s home, then at Northdown Hill in St Peters, had dynamos in the bathroom, starter motors under the bed, and evil smelling tyres in the hallway.  Joan eventually got her house back when Derrick took on a small warehouse for storage in Newlands Road, Ramsgate.

‘Special Order’ spares were collected from the London Branch by his brother Dennis who took them to Victoria Station, put them on the train, and Derrick would collect them from Ramsgate station.

Eventually Derrick got a Reliant 3-wheeler van and used to drive to London after a day’s work and fill up with spare parts that Dennis had ready for him. It was a single carriageway road in those days and took many hours, but he thought nothing of it.

Derrick tried to teach Joan to drive in the Reliant and her first lesson was on the Dane Valley rough track near ‘The Cabin’ in Northdown Hill, St Peters.   The children were in the back and Joan was reluctantly in the driving seat. Joan found the only manhole on the track, and the three wheeler very nearly tipped over!  Joan got out, gathered up the children, and the matter was never spoken of again.

Derrick at Ocean Swell, Westgate, today with his birthday cards

On 6th December 1952 Derrick drove to London with the family to attend his brother Stanley’s wedding to fiancée Maureen. Unfortunately the weather was horrendous and that day was the worst day of a five day London ‘ Pea Souper’ dense fog, called a ‘smog’.   It was so bad the visibility was in inches rather than feet.

Derrick got to Chelsea Bridge and Susan, aged 6, had the door open her side to try to find the kerb and Derrick had his door open being violently sick the other side.   In the end he gave up and drove the short distance back to Clapham.   The dense smog was legendary, and on that day £4,000 Londoners lost their lives to the horrendous thick, yellow, sulphurous smog.  However, it still took four more years to bring in the ‘clean air’ act!

Derrick (left) and Dennis

Derrick and his brother Dennis went into partnership to open up the Kent Branch of ‘Cannon’s (Ramsgate) Motor Spares and Accessories’ in Belmont Road Ramsgate.

His daughter Jan was poached from her current job to run the office, and soon further premises were opened in Ramsgate with an ‘Accessories’ department in an extended Belmont Road premises run by son, the late Andy, and then came a branch in Margate which was run by son Stephen, and then a branch in Folkestone was opened and run by daughter Susan, who came down from London to set up the Denmark Street Branch.

Dennis managed the accounts from an office in Clapham with his wife Frances, and continued to send down ‘special orders’ by train from the extensive stocks in the London branch.

Derrick sold the Reliant and bought an A40 van which was painted in red oxide primer on account it was extra to have a ‘full paint job’. The vehicle stood out as it was one of the very few vehicles on the whole council estate.

Derrick and Dennis finally got all the Ramsgate and Margate branches under one roof ending up in a large warehouse at 67-69 Hereson Road Ramsgate, a former Da Costa Toy Warehouse.  Derrick’s lack of education was significant but it never held him back as his work ethic was such that he worked seven days a week most of his life, and in partnership with his brother Dennis, built a business that was successful and big enough to employ most of his family.

Derrick did a ‘DIY’ job on a tile that had slipped on the slate roof of the original Hereson Road building at the back. A neighbour said Derrick got a plank of wood, put it across the gap, eased himself out over the 15-20ft drop, and repaired it with a number plate, which may still be there today!

Cannon’s (Ramsgate ) Motor Spares and Accessories was a very well respected and highly regarded business in Thanet, if not the whole of Kent.

Their customer service was second to none as Derrick and his staff pulled out all the stops.  Derrick would turn out and open up the store for the AA at all hours if a driver was really in trouble.

Derrick and Dennis eventually sold the business, and retired when Derrick was 74.

Derrick at Morelli’s

Derrick’s retirement was spent doing the things he liked most, which was going out and about and meeting up with people. He used to walk round Broadstairs daily visiting the coffee shops and spending time with pals and acquaintances.

His wife Joan was never interested in these forays, preferring to stay at home.  Joan was quite shy and reserved, the exact opposite of Derrick.

He would go out quite late at night for a ‘beer and a bag of crisps’ to the Tartare Frigate, coming home by torchlight and walking in the middle of the road as he said the pavements were ‘too uneven’.   He was also a really good dancer and always first on the floor.   He would get up and start dancing at any opportunity and often without a partner.

Derrick with companion Marie, front L to R Susan Davies (middle daughter), the late Andy Cannon (son), Tracey Cannon (Andy’s wife), Steve Cannon (son)

Derrick sadly lost Joan in 2010, and eventually started a friendship with a mutual friend of theirs, Marie. They went out and about together and were great companions.   Sadly Marie passed away in December 2021 and Derrick became very lonely again.   Eventually he went into a residential home in Margate, which he enjoyed.

He then moved to the ‘Ocean Swell’ residential home in Sea Road Westgate, where he currently resides.   He is happy there and still likes to get ‘out and about’.

Derrick’s immediate family is very large and continues to grow, the latest addition being a great- granddaughter.

3 Comments

  1. Happy 100th birthday Derrick – what a character.
    Anything you needed Cannons would have it or could get it, I had loads of old bangers in my early years and would be in there once or twice a week for something 🙂

  2. Congratulations. I frequented the Folkestone branch and knew Sue who was lovely and it was the best spare’s place around. David

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