We children had our games in the street, Hopscotch, allies, skipping ropes and in the later 1950s the Hula Hoop and, indoors, books, board games, dolls and toy shops. But what of our parents and other adults? How was their leisure time spent?
At the back of Golborne Road, running between Edenham and Southam Streets was the Seventh Feathers. This was a youth club offering wholesome activities for both mental and physical stimulation. Alcohol was strictly forbidden but despite this it was very popular with the teenagers (a newly coined term in the 1950s) From our upstairs back windows we could watch the activities and listen to the music coming from the club. I often wondered why the “Seventh” but later learned it was one of a number of “Feathers” clubs founded in the 1930s by a friend of the Prince of Wales who was to, briefly, become Edward VIII. They took their name from his emblem of three feathers. There was also a Feathers on Ladbroke Grove, others in Marylebone, Earl’s Court, Fulham and Wembley but nowadays only the Fourth Feathers in Marylebone seems to be still active.
For adults there were several choices of where to go of an evening or on the weekend. In a comparatively small radius there were several cinemas from which to choose. Closest were the Prince of Wales on Harrow Road and the Imperial (latterly renamed the Electric Cinema) on Portobello Road, popularly known as the Bug(h)ole. The “h” was purely voluntary and frequently omitted.
The Prince of Wales was an impressive Art Deco building with cream tiles and three very tall windows facing the street. It had a large entrance foyer and people would queue for tickets. No pre-booking in those days. You just turned up, paid yer money and took yer chances! When all the seats had been taken a “Full” notice would be put up but some people were still admitted and stood at the back behind the seats waiting for a seat as one came empty. This happened quite frequently as films were shown on a continuous loop and often you’d arrive midway through the supporting picture or the Pathe News. People would get up and leave as the picture reached the part where they’d come in so there was a constant flux. The programme was usually good value and comprised a feature film, a supporting one and the news.
Films were categorised according to suitability by the British Board of Film Censors with ratings U for Universal which was suitable for all ages, A for Adult that ruled that children must be accompanied by an adult and X rated which were considered suitable for age 16 and over. However if you dressed up a bit, could inhale a cigarette without coughing and appeared to be over 16 it was unlikely you would be questioned. Smoking was permitted in the cinema and the screen viewed through a swirling haze.
There was always an intermission when advertisements by Pearl and Dean were shown on the screen. This was when the usherettes would sashay down the aisles with their trays of ice creams and ice lollies and stand with their backs to the screen as they served the patrons who queued for the semi thawed, waxed cardboard tubs with their little wooden spoons.
The Imperial, by contrast was a pretty shabby, do-it-yourself affair. Its façade was coated with, what were once, white tiles but were now cracked and stained and covered with faded posters advertising films shown weeks, if not months earlier. Inside was dilapidated with rows of hard wooden seats, frequently missing a vital part such as a seat or back. It was dark, damp and called the Bughole for the very practical reason that it was common to exit a performance covered in bites and scratching furiously. Management was minimal and one of the joys, particularly for the boys who went there was to throw rotten fruit and other items if the picture failed to hold their attention. Its position in Portobello Road facilitated the acquisition of rotten fruit left by the traders after they’d closed their stalls.
Further afield were the Coronet at Notting Hill and the Odeon at Westbourne Grove but I can only just remember being taken to them a couple of times.
There were pubs aplenty . Opposite us was the Prince Arthur and on the corner of Southam Street the Earl of Portobello while, over The Iron Bridge, was The Mitre. There were also several in Kensal Road, The Robin Hood and Little John and the Portobello Arms coming to mind. Although Dad rarely frequented “The Arfer” he was on good terms with the licensee as indeed he was with all the other shopkeepers on the block and they had an amicable arrangement about purchasing goods from each other. At Christmas Dad would be given a box of a dozen assorted bottles of spirits as a goodwill gesture. Unfortunately neither he nor my Mum drank a great deal as both had a very poor head for alcohol so most of it was given away as presents to relatives.
Living opposite the pub meant that weekends were very lively. As I mentioned earlier, it was a common sight to see the “toms” stripped of to the waist bare knuckle boxing over a client and men, fuelled to bravado by a few drinks, were equally as pugnacious. Most Fridays and Saturdays the Black Maria or Paddy Wagon would arrive and the miscreants bundled in and taken down to Harrow Road police station to cool off overnight. In the 1960s the Black Marias were replaced by Panda cars, so named because of their black and white paintwork.
From our upstairs lounge window we had a ringside view. One memorable evening in the late 1950s “Sanders of the River” was on the telly and there was a full on racial conflict raging outside the pub. During the race riots men would pull up the iron railings and charge each other. The same thing was happening on tv with assegais. As Dad said, ”On tv it was blacks chasing whites with spears and downstairs it was whites chasing blacks with spears!”
Most pubs had darts teams and competition was fierce .For a while in my late teens I was a member of the Robin Hood and Little John’s ladies team and can still throw a mean dart. This skill I must have inherited from my maternal grandfather whose medal as part of the 1938 SW London area league winners’ team I still have. It is sterling silver with a dart board in gold and blue enamel on the front. Bar billiards, shove ‘a’penny, cribbage were also played.
In Kensal Road was the Cobden Club or, to give it its full name, The Cobden Club and Working Men’s Institute which had opened in 1880. The Working Men’s Clubs Movement had been started in 1862 by a Unitarian minister Henry Solly as a means of enabling working class men to improve their minds and enjoy wholesome activities. Although not regulars, Mum and Dad would occasionally go along on a Saturday night if there was a good act on. Most Saturday nights there would be a featured artist at the Cobden. Usually one of the up and coming young singers or a semi-retired music hall act.
Dad closed the shop at six , would have a quick wash and change while Mum was cooking dinner and off they’d go leaving me with a big bag of sweets and the “telly” No such thing as a baby sitter. I assured them I’d be ok on my own and they said they’d be back by 10 and everyone was happy. I had to lock the lounge door so the “gentlemen visitors” for the tart upstairs couldn’t get in and they’d left a bucket in case I had to answer the call of nature so I didn’t have to risk going downstairs to the communal lavatory. There was only one occasion I was frightened and I dressed in my school uniform of grey pleated skirt, golden blouse and red cardigan and made my way, on a very cold, wet night, to the Cobden Club where I wailed my story to the door keeper. Mum and Dad were duly fetched and, in a less than happy frame of mind because their evening out had been brought to an abrupt close, they took me home and put me to bed.
Sundays were often taken up with sport. Dad was a member of the Kensal Cricket Club despite the infirmities he had as a result of war injuries. What he lacked in ability he made up for in enthusiasm and it was a standing joke in the club that he’d probably be out for a duck. The club’s home grounds were at Northolt which was some distance to travel but easy enough to access by Central Line. There were large playing fields there and a clubhouse. Much redevelopment took place in Northolt and many new housing areas were built during the 1960s and 70s but it’s nice to see there is an area there named Kensington Fields which commemorates the link between the two areas.
Many of the local lads were team members, Dave Fisher from Golborne Road, his friend Albert, Mike who lived locally, Dave Parsons from off Harrow Road, Bunny Miller who had been in the RAF and was now chauffeur for a Hatton Garden diamond merchant. In the late 1950s two West Indians, Roy and his friend whose name I forget, joined the team.
Most matches were played against other local teams, either home or away and wives, sisters and sweethearts would pack individual lunches. Everyone would make their own way to Northolt. Before the match deckchairs would be set up for the womenfolk who would either watch with interest or, more often, sit and knit and talk girl talk or organise the children’s activities to keep them from running onto the pitch or otherwise wandering off.
Usually the matches would only be half day ones and end up with both teams going off to the nearest pub after the match but there were also the matches against teams from Outer London. If a team was coming any distance the host team would provide food and drink for them. This was always good for Dad as supplies were bought from him. Mum and some of the other women would get together in our kitchen on Saturday evening and prepare sandwiches. This was accomplished via a production line. One person would open the waxed paper and shake out the sliced loaf, next in line would separate off paired slices which were handed to a third person to be smeared with margarine, a fourth would insert the filling and close up the sandwich, building a stack which would then be reinserted into the wrapper.
When all loaves had been filled they would be covered with damp tea towels to keep them fresh until the morning. Most refrigerators were only small, if indeed people actually had one, with most of the interior space taken up by the motor so no room in them for so much food hence the rather primitive method of keeping it fresh overnight. For a long time we had a device called a Kepcold which worked on the principal of evaporation to maintain a low temperature. It was a metal cube of about two foot high with a hole in the top into which cold water was poured and absorbed by a type of porous stone, possibly pumice, which slowly released it keeping the inside cool.
As well as sandwiches there were cakes, usually courtesy of Lyons Bakery, cream scones and veal, ham and egg pies. These were similar to pork pies, about the size of a loaf of bread with hard-boiled eggs running the length of the inside. They were packed whole and a large carving knife taken to cut them into individual portions when the time came. Very good with piccalilli or Branston pickles. Vacuum flasks were filled with dilute, fluorescent orange Kia Ora, crates of beer bought from the Prince Arthur and packets of tea brought. The Northolt club house had a decent kitchen and crockery so it only needed laying out when the time came.
One trip we all enjoyed was when Kensal was playing the team from Meopham on their home pitch. Meopham is a small village in Kent, on the North Downs, and cricket was played on the village green in front of two pubs, the King’s Arms and the Long Hop. Meopham was so very different from living conditions in North Kensington with its picture postcard houses and open spaces.
A char-a-banc was hired and everyone met outside the Cobden and piled in for the journey. On arrival there were cups of tea and scones provided and during half time trestle tables would be brought out from one of the pubs, laden with sandwiches, cakes and pitchers of drink. After the match there were drinks in the pub and much friendly banter until the char-a-banc returned and it was time for us to head home.
After a fun day out and several drinks everyone was in a good mood for a singalong. Dave Parsons had a fine voice and extensive repertoire of songs with rousing choruses. We’d have “Green grow the rushes O” which is said to be a way children were taught religion in past centuries, “One is one” standing for God, “Two,two the lilywhite boys” being Jesus and John the Baptist, “Three, three the Ri hi hi hi vals” being the three persons of the Trinity or possibly the Three Wise Men and so on right through to “Twelve for the twelve apostles”. “Ten Green Bottles”,and“Lily the Pink” were favourites and as more beer was consumed and inhibitions loosened “Knees up Mother Brown, yer drawers are falling down”, “The Ball of Kirriemuir”, “Eskimo Nell”, “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”, “Oh Sir Jasper do not touch me” in which the last word was dropped each verse and “She’ll be coming round the mountains” which had a revised chorus of “She’ll be all wet and sticky when she comes” which inevitably drew frowns and mutters of “Not in front of the children” from the women although I suspect most of us were too young to understand what it meant. One time Mum caught be singing those very words and gave me a good slap round the legs for “talking dirty” even though I had no idea what I was being punished for.
The char-a-banc would arrive back at the Cobden Club about 10pm and happy, tired, sunburnt (and quite frequently travel sick) people would tumble out, collect their belongings and head home to bed in preparation for another working week.