More about pre Trellick Golborne Rd

To say North Kensington in the 1950s and 60s was a rough area would be a gross understatement. It was an out and out working class area and had been ever since it was turned from farmland to residential in the mid C19th. I believe the original plan was for quality housing for a rising, prosperous middle class but somehow this never materialised, at least not to the east of Ladbroke Grove where the large houses and accommodation over the shops on Golborne Road was rented out by the floor or room with shared conveniences for all tenants.
When we moved to Golborne Rd in 1952 I was six and knew nothing of its history or reputation.. It was only some sixty years later, when researching my family history, that I discovered my family’s links with Golborne Road went back far further than we knew.
I was born in St Albans in 1946. One of those curious quirks that resulted from expectant mothers being sent to makeshift maternity homes in the country as the main London hospitals were commandeered for returned servicemen. I was born in Diocesan House, once home of the Bishop of St Albans and my mother would wryly comment that the maternity home was in Folly Lane, a very suitable name considering how many of the occupants got to be there. My cousin Christine, some nine months my senior, was born at Shardeloes in Amersham, a similar grand old house although our parents both lived in the same street, Priory Grove, in Stockwell.
We lived with my maternal grandparents in a lovely old house, Montana Cottage. Grandad had been a master builder, from a long line of master builders who hailed from Hinckley in, what was then, Rutland. From the way Grandad spoke I assumed the family had come straight to Stockwell from Hinckley but in the 1871 census I found his father, Thomas Ireland, living at 3 Golborne Rd having moved there from Hinckley some time the previous decade. His marriage licence shows him marrying Elizabeth Hotter at St Martin in the Fields in 1858 and their first child, Thomas, was born in Kensington in 1860. My grandad was born in 1874 after the family had subsequently moved to Chiswick so would have been unlikely to have known and in any event died in 1948.
Doing further research I found Thomas Ireland not only lived on Golborne Road but built and owned a large number of properties the west side of the Iron Bridge (someohow it always seems to ask to be capitalised!) In 1869 he made application to the Kensington Vestry for leave to lay stone pipeware at numbers 51-55,66-72 and 74-78 being premises to the west side of the Mitre Tavern and St Ervans Rd respectively. He is named as property owner and laying the drainage at his own expense. He also, in 1872, is listed as a discharged bankrupt in The London Gazette so I can only wonder what turn of fate reduced him from property owner to bankrupt. Thomas’ original buildings still stand. One of them, “Clarkes” is owned by Reg Thackeray, a local identity, who has been very helpful and accommodating whenever I’ve turned up with questions and camera.
But I digress.
We were fortunate in only having one other family with which to share the above shop accommodation. Others were very cramped, often with a family per room. Water heating and bathrooms were non existent. “However did you keep clean”, my children asked. On Saturday night the galvanised bathtub would be lifted off the wall in the hallway and lugged into the kitchen where it would be filled from saucepans and kettles boiled on the gas stove. I had first, quick, bath then Mum with the addition of more hot water and finally Dad after some water had been ladled out and still more hot added. The rest of the week, in the words of my grandmother, one “Washed down as far as possible, up as far as possible and then washed one’s possible” It is not hard to imagine how the phrase “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” originated when large families were all using the same bath. After several children had washed it must have resembled People Soup and one small body easily overlooked.
Sometimes we would go, as a family, to Wedlake Baths where, as well as a swimming pool, there was a public baths. One section was for men and boys, the other for women, girls and infants. Each bath was in a partitioned area with just enough floor space for a slatted wooden bench hard against the wall and to stand and undress. Clothes were hung on a hook on the door. Towels could be hired but we brought our own as those supplied were harsh, thin and scratchy. The atmosphere was always steamy with a peculiar mixture of chlorine and body odours. The water supply was controlled from outside the cubicle by an irascible old woman. She’d fill the bath to a certain level and temperature by cranking the taps with a large lever. If the bath grew cold or we wanted the level topped up we’d have to call out our number and she’d come, muttering to herself, to open the tap. When she considered someone had been in long enough or had had their ration of water she’d refuse to give them any more. A real case of “come out number five, your time is up”
Clothing was similarly washed in a galvanised tub with a wooden scrubbing board and a bar of hard, yellow Sunlight soap. No such thing then as a daily change of clothes although knickers were probably changed a couple of times a week and the crotch rinsed out and hung up to dry overnight. At most clothing was washed weekly or taken to the bagwash on the corner of Golborne and Southam Street. Tony Roper’s play “The Steamie” about a group of Glasgow women using a communal washing facility gives an idea of what it was like although the bagwash took in your clothing and returned it to you later that day to be dried at home. Mum would load the bag on my pushchair and wheel it along the road then retrace her steps that afternoon. Frequently someone else’s odd sock or handkerchief would turn up amongst your wash or some item of yours would be missing which gave an element on anxiety to the proceeding. From inside the shop one could look out the back and see the vats of hot, soapy water where the laundry would be stewed into submission. Anything delicate was washed at home and hung on a clothes line that extended out the back window on a pulley system and was affixed at its far end to a pole rising up from the backyard. This worked well until the rope broke and everything tumbled down into the filthy yard and had to be retrieved and rewashed. But people kept themselves clean to the best of their abilities considering the apalling conditions in which they lived.
Along our side of Golborne Rd, just down from the corner with Kensal Rd was a stationers that sold all sorts of fascinating types of paper, Bond, Antique Laid, Kraft, Manilla and Vellum to name but a few. I loved the smell and would find any excuse to go in and buy a sheet of fine silver tissue or lace paper. Looking at aerial photos I think this must have been number 3 where the Irelands lived but I can’t be sure after so many years.
Next door was a sweetshop, Wardells, run by an old woman who was always knitting. A girl about my age, Gillian, lived with her but I’m not sure of their relationship. Sweets were displayed on an open counter for you to chose your own mixture. I’m ashamed to admit a friend and I would go in and ask the woman the time. To tell us she had to go out the back to see the clock and in her absence we’d stuff as many sweets as we could into our pockets. We were never caught but I’m sure she must have suspected.
Gillian was a plump child with golden ringlets and elaborate , hand-knitted, lacy dresses. For some reason she never fitted in with the other children on the street and we’d tease her by singing “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, so he wasn’t fuzzy wus ‘e?” and tugging her hair.
To fit in was crucial. When we lived in Stockwell Mum used to handmake my dresses with ruching, frills and smocking and my hair would be coaxed each night into ringlets with strips of rag. I attended tap dancing and ballet classes (and was useless at both due to a chronic lack of rhythm) I was so teased at Wornington Rd school because I looked and sounded different from the rag tag children who attended that Mum had my hair cut into a straight bob and ran me up some plain gingham dresses that washed into shapelessness. My accent was still South London but at least I didn’t look obviously different.
I only stayed less than a year at Wornington Rd. As well as the bullying the level of teaching left much to be desired. Mum tells me I went, at six, knowing my 6,7 and 8 times table and left having forgotten my 3x table. I was enrolled at St. Mary’s catholic school on Middle Row and flourished there. But more later on that.
On the corner of Golborne and Edenham was a post office, number 9 and across Edenham Street at lived Mrs Mabley with her children. There was also a family named Wilson who had children Dawn and Keith. I was friends for a short while with Ann Mabley and we would go to the Saturday morning Minors at the Prince of Wales cinema on Harrow Road. It was sixpence admission and I’d get another sixpence to buy sweets. Ann and her younger brother only ever got their admission money and an apple. I don’t recall there being a Mr Mabley.
Number 15 was a tobacconist and sweet shop run by the Whites who had two sons Gordon (?) and Raymond about my age. Raymond had a bit of a crush on me and would sneak sweets to me when his dad wasn’t looking. 17 Golborne was also a shop down below. Its function varied as no-one ever seemed to make a go of it. The only business I can recal being there for any length of time was a secondhand shop that sold reconditioned electrical goods among other things. Above the shop lived Mrs Edgar and her daughter Robin who was several years older than me and training to be a nurse. 19 was the premises of the shoe repairer Bert Cross and his wife Amy. They were unusual in that they were a childless couple and had the whole property to themselves.
The other side of us, number 23, held three families all of whom were immigrants. The Gonzalez and Ramayons were Spanish and the Christis were Greek Cypriot. The Christi’s daughter Yannoula was to become my best friend during those early years and partner in shoplifting. There was a dairy at 27 run by a Welshman Dai Francis. His daughter married Kenny Ball’s bassist Vic Pitt and on a couple of occasions gave us tickets for a Kenny Ball concert. There was a friendly agreement between Dai and my Dad that Dad wouldn’t sell fresh milk and Dai wouldn’t sell meat or bacon although Dad did sell sterilised milk, a horrible tasting liquid that came in tall, narrow bottles with a crimped top like a beer bottle. As many people didn’t have a refrigerator it had the advantage of lasting somewhat longer than regular milk.
Further along was a chemist run by an older man and his son. In my teenage years I had an after school job there filling bottles with some patent nostrum, iron tonic, which was a virulent red but much sought after. As I wrote previously the bagwash was on the corner of our block.
Across the road, at the Kensal Rd end were several shops. One was a fish and chip shop but the proprietors were very surly and expected you to bring your own newspaper in which to wrap the fish and chips. We always preferred the Greek shop the other side of the Iron Bridge. On the corner of Hazelwood Crescent was the Prince Arthur pub. During the week it was pretty quiet but Friday and Saturday night was regularly the scene of fights. It was not only men who indulged in fisticuffs but women, particularly the local “toms” who had fallen out over a client. They would strip off to the waist and bare knuckle box, pull hair and claw at each other until either other customers or the police broke them up. This was weekend entertainment from the balcony seats of our first floor lounge. Mum and Dad always said it was better offering than what was on our nine inch black and white tele.
At number 12, next to the Prince, lived the Howes and Higgs, a family named Fox and also Mr Fisher with his daughter Joan and teenage son David. Joan was to be come my Mum’s best friend despite a fifteen year gap in their ages. She worked as a cutter at Marks an Spencers in the days when British Made meant exactly that and they had their factory in Marylebone. The three Gs, Greens, Gethings and Gibsons were at 16 but I can recall nothing about them. (there did seem to be a curious alliterative chance as to who lived where on that side of the road!) Among others at 18 were the Digweeds, a established local family and the Doyles. Also the Healeys with a son John, a couple of years younger than me. We met up through Friendsreunited some years ago and it is to him that I owe a lot of this information.
Number 20 on the corner with Appleford Rd was a doctor’s surgery at ground level and lodgings for several single men on the upper floors. From their names they seem to have been Irish. The Powers who lived in the basement were Irish. Mrs Power was the doctors’ housekeeper and their daughter Kayleen was also one of my friends. The other side of Appleford was a closed shop that was used as a workshop by a bespoke tailor. Above it lived a Polish (I think) couple with a daughter Juleika. They were refugees or DPs. Juleika and I were friends until one day she refused to return a book I had lent her. It was a very old one about cats (Illustrated by Louis Wain from memory) and one of my favourites. I came home wailing and Dad went over to see her Mum but was told she wouldn’t make Juleika hand it back as “Gwen has so much and Juleika has so little” At a distance of sixty years I can see the logic in that but not at the time and I never spoke to her again.
Further down Golborne Road was a bridge across the railway line, always know as “The Iron Bridge” with capitals. It was frequently adorned with four letter words. I was a precocious reader and proud of my skill. On one occasion when walking across the bridge with Mum I saw letters F-U-C-K. Eager to show how clever I was I said loudly to Mum. “Look Mummy, F-U-C-K that spells f**k” The more she shhhd me the more I said it until well across the bridge. Not that my use of the word would have raised many eyebrows on Golborne Road. It was common parlance and children often addressed as “You little f**ker” as a term of endearment. The “C word” was also used as an everyday term and did not hold the same impact it does today, or even elsewhere at that time.
Just as you crossed the bridge, on the right hand side was the Greek fish and chip shop with a high counter with jars of gherkins and pickled eggs on it. Further down was Clarkes which, then, was a corn chandlers and sold bird seed to the many pigeon fanciers in the district and hay and oats to the totters whose ponies were stabled in Munro Mews or Hazelwood Crescent.
There was a butchers Hamperls, where I would be despatched to buy our Sunday roast. The first time I was sent there Mum had given me a ten shilling note to buy the meat and also fruit and veges from Prices the greengrocers. The butcher refused to believe that Mum had given me the money and wouldn’t serve me so I had to backtrack and get a note from Mum. After that they knew me and would often make suggestions about different cuts of meat that they thought we might like. Hamperls also sold faggots and pease pudding.There was always a queue for this cheap and tasty dish. You had to bring your own container and the pease pud was ladled into it from steaming vats. On that side there was also a Methodist chapel and a dress shop.
On the left hand side, by St Ervan’s Road was a newsagents. To access it you had to go down very steep iron steps to a little courtyard and the shop was tucked away under the bridge. It was known as Sliders but I don’t know if that was the name of the shop or the steps as a result of what people became in wet or frosty weather.
The next corner down was with Swinbrook Road. Here was my favourite shop, Holm’s, although the shop signs proclaimed it Harringtons. Mr Holm was either German or Austrian by descent and a superb baker. Our favourites were his appple turnovers and lemon cream puffs. Every Saturday part of my mission was to visit his shop and get three of each for our lunch. He also made wonderful bread and miniature Hovis loaves, just the right size to have for lunch with a bowl of soup. He had two daughters, Angela, with whom I had a casual friendship and an older girl Elaine?
Further down on that side was a double fronted music shop where one could buy all the latest 45s. Mum and I would listen to the radio during the week and on Saturday I would go in with a list of records to buy. Lita Roza singing “How much is that doggy in the window” was an early purchase as was the iconic “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley and The Comets, Tommy Steele’s “Little White Bull” (oh how I cried over that one)”Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford and many more. I’d buy three/four records at a time and by the end of my Saturday shop felt as if I was lugging home a full sixteen tons myself.
Golborne Road stretched all the way from Kensal Road, down across Portobello Road to Ladbroke Grove where it crossed to become Chesterton Road. The whole of this lower part of the road was shops at ground level with dwellings above them. Sadly I don’t remember many of the other shops as The Iron Bridge effectively divided the community in half.


Golborne Road 1953-9

We, myself and my parents Victor and Gerry (aka Vicky) Martin, moved to Golborne Road from Lambeth in 1952. After returning from being a POW in Stalag VIIIA, Lamsdorf and being demobbed Dad had never settled into a job working for a few weeks here and there as a spray painter, window cleaner, pretty much anything unskilled that was going. Mum always told of how Dad would come home, say he’d chucked in his job and hand her his final pay packet. She would go out,spend all of it and then tell him they had no money so he’d better find another job in a hurry.
In Lambeth we lived in a lovely late Georgian detached house with my grandparents Alice and Frederick Ireland. Grandad Ireland (more later about the Irelands)was a master builder and used want was originally the coach house and stables for his tools. Because we were a multi generational household Nana would look after me while Mum worked part time on the till at Lyons or ABC teahouses. Mum would also take in piecework sewing shirring elastic into children’s swimsuits at three farthings a garment.
Before the war Dad had worked as a bacon hand for Frosts, a protosupermarket group. One day he confessed to Mum that he’d like his own shop so that he could be his own boss and not work for someone else. With their small savings and some help from my grandparents they secured the lease on 21 Golborne Rd which had been run as a grocers by Vic Harrison who had apparently had little idea of shop management and pretty well run it into the ground. Our lease covered the shop and ground floor premises, the basement and back yards and the first floor rooms. Above us lived Vic harrison’s daughter Violet Peck and her daughter, Beryl, who was a couple of years older than me. Rumour had it that Violet was “on the game” and there were certainly a steady stream of gentlemen visitors going upstairs of an evening.
After the lovely house in Lambeth number 21 was a huge shock. It was run down, damp and rickety with monochrome brownish wall paper hanging in large loops all the way up the stairs. Vic Harrison’s idea of repairs was to hammer six inch nails into everything, including wallpaper that had come loose. The phrase “doing a Harrison” entered our family’s vocabulary for a poorly done job. The basement of the building consisted two rooms to the rear with a narrow passage that opened out onto a concrete yard. The inner of these rooms had no window and was quite literally dripping with green slime. Towards the street was the coal cellar. Coal was delivered by horse and cart and the street level manhole levered off and coal poured straight down into the cellar. All the rooms at this level had a fine layer of coal dust mingling with other adhesions.
At ground level there was the shop to the front and behind this a store-room with a coal fired oven where Mum would heat cornish pasties and meat pies to sell to the workmen. It was also very good for putting your feet in on a cold winter’s day. A passage ran alongside this with stairs down to the basement and up to the higher levels. It continued on to another room which was used as our kitchen and also a communal toilet for all inhabitants. It was one of Beryl’s ploys to sit in there for hours on end reading a comic and refuse to come out until Mum had words with her mum (and much effing and blinding from Mrs Peck) and made her get Beryl out. Beryl would also lay in wait for me on the landing and thump me and try to steal my toys or books until one day I filled a pint glass mug with water, hid it under my cardigan and then socked her with it nearly knocking her out. Mrs peck complained to Mum saying I was, “as strong as an ox” After that it was a Mexican standoff. Beryl would glare at me but never touched me again.
Halfway up to the first floor the stairs took a right angled bend. There was a very tall set of french doors that opened out onto the roof of the store room. This was one of my favourite spots for playing as I could look out over the “Feathers” boys club on Edenham Street. Also Golborne Rd, Edenham Street and Southam Street formed a triangle and it was possible to see everyone’s backyard. There were no fences around the perimeter and Mum always worried I’d get too near the edge and fall over.
Up on the first floor was a huge lounge that ran the length of the building loooking out onto the street. It had two windows with a 12 foot drop and a large fireplace that barely warmed the room. It was so large we had in it our three piece suite ,a large mahogany dining table that could be extended to the size of a table tennis table and a large sideboard with still lots of room to move. To the rear was Mum and Dad’s bedroom with a strip partitioned off by a blanket for me.
For a while Mum tried to use the basement rooms but the damp and dark defeated her and I used them as part of my enchanted kingdom to play my games and keep my growing collection of pets including a wild rabbit that had a broken back and a tortoise we thought had hibernated until a foul greenish liquid started to emanate from its shell. Among my other pets was a tabby and white cat named Bobby who was my best friend and confidante. He and I would share a bed and he’d cuddle up to me with both arms round my neck.
In those days, fortunately, Health and Safety were only individual words and not a dictatorial body so there was no-one to pontificate about the hygeine of having a cat on premises where food was sold. Bobby was a regular part of shop life and would sit on the doorstep to greet customers. In reality he was an essential part of the shop as it was overrun with mice and Dad regularly had to trim the chese to remove little teeth marks. One day, when he was cutting bacon with one of the old hand operated machines, a little mouse got trapped by the blade and before Dad could do anything he’d chopped off its little back leg. Said mouse was promptly despatched under the heel of Dad’s shoe.

Anyone who has watched “Open all hours” would have a pretty fair idea of what Dad’s shop looked like and Dad was not unlike Ronnie Barker in appearance complete with moustache and full length coat. The only difference being that Dad’s was white. It had removable buttons that were held in place with pegs that went through loops in the back of the buttons which were pushed through holes in the coat. It fell to me or Mum to put these in as Dad had been badly wounded during WW2 and had little use of his right hand. Although he had taught himself to write left handed anything that required fine manual dexterity defeated him.
The shop had a full front window with the door opening on the left as you faced the shop. Inside were tins of biscuits from which customers chose which they wanted. He also did a fine trade in broken biscuits and children regualrly asked for “fruppence werf ‘v broken ones mister” Tea was sold loose from large wooden chests, usually an ounce or two at a time and put into a paper bag. He also bought in rice in large chests and one of my after school jobs was to weigh it into pound bags for sale. A scoop and a quarter weighed a pound and it was amazing how easily one could gauge the amount after a few goes.
At right angles to the window was the counter with a chiller cabinet containing cheeses, salami and flitches of bacon. On top of the counter was a set of scales and display stands with packets of Lyons pudding mix, Kraft cheese, Burton’s Battenberg cake, and a brand calld Kut-a-kake that used to boast that each piece was “specially wrapped” On top of the chiller was another glass fronted display stand with 2d caramel wafers, Brand’s dressed crab dish paste and butter in 4ounce packs although these were often cut into halves or quarters for customers’ requirements as rationing was still in force when we moved to North Kensington and, in any case, people could often not afford to buy a whole packet.Behind the counter he had box shelves made from old packing cases with tinned food in them and plastic strips across them where prices were displayed.
This was long before the days of pre-packaging and Dad would cut bacon and ham to order. Bacon was bought by the leg or shoulder from Ivan, Kellets and Child and one year Dad negociated for my school class to have a trip to their smokehouse to see how bacon was made. I forget where it was but can remember the tall chimney with the joints hanging down on hooks,the interior walls of the chimney being stained with a thick, glossy brown substance and the aromatic smoky smell.
Any ends of meat that couldn’t be sold we ended up eating or Mum would mince and add to the heaps of potatoes she chopped with onions to go inside the pasties. When I read Noel Streatfields “White Boots” I immediately related to Harriet Johnson and her father’s shop although Dad was a far better businessman than Mr Johnson and the shop prospered.
The pasties were very popular with young working men as they were cheap and tasty. She also made steak and kidney pies and a peculiar mixture of baked beans, tinned peas, corned beef and Oxo cubes which she would ladle out into dishes the customers brought into the shop. It was surprisingly good and became one of my favourite childhood meals.
Dad had a very innovative approach and was constantly looking for ways to improve his stock. Up Kensal Road was a wholesalers run by either Czech or Polish people. It was from here Dad bought his salamis and wurst. I often used to walk up there with him and one Christmas the men gave me a musical box like a carousel that played “Silent Night”
When West Indian immigrants started to arrive in the late 1950s they complained that British bread wasn’t as good as the bread they got back home so Dad found a West Indian baker who would supply him in bulk.
Eggs were bought from a farmer who would sell them by the trayload, thirty eggs to a tray and also would supply Dad with chickens and geese at Christmas. In those days chicken was not the ubiquitous food it is today and these birds were delivered feathered and still with their interiors still intact. Mum and I sat of an evening after delivery plucking and disembowelling the wretched things. The trick to plucking is to dampen the feathers first so they don’t fly everywhere as you pull them out but it did mean a good wash oneself afterwards to remove them from ones person. Disembowelling was trickier as I was told to be careful of the gallbladder as its rupture would taint the flesh and make the bird unsaleable. Most of these birds were old layers and often one would find an egg inside them or, more spectacularly, a string of yolks before the shell had formed around them. I recall one time finding an egg encased in its membrane with the finest, transparent shell.
Although Dad had a till he refused to add up purchases on it as he could do it in his head quicker and often more accurately than punching the keys and pulling the handle (yes just like Arkwright’s devil machine) If a customer demurred he’d let them add up on the machine while he did it in his head and always he finished first and was correct. Eventually regulars accepted that what Vic Martin said was right.
Cigarettes were a large part of his sales.Packs of twenty were available but more often in this poor neighbourhood people bought packs of ten or even two. Popular brands were Kensitas for the coupons you collected and could exchange for gifts, Senior Service with the picture of an “old salt” smoking one, Dunhill, Craven A, Players and a brand especially for the ladies “Sweet Afton”. A very upmarket brand was Sobranie. You could buy strong smelling “Black Russian” or a milder one “Cocktail” with the cigarettes each a different pastel colour. No health warnings then and I can recall seeing an advertisement in a magazine recommending smoking for people with asthma. Like butter cigarette packets were also split and one cigarette would be bought at a time if the person didn’t roll their own. Tinned tobacco and cigarette papers were more common as very thin “fags” could be rolled and men would spend all day with a partially smoked “dogend” attached to their lower lip.
Customers were a mixed bunch. Many were very poor and had a real struggle to make ends meet. While Dad was far from a soft touch he was aware of genuine hardship, having had to leave home at twelve years old and become self supporting because of his father’s remarriage. He would allow people things “on tick” until their situation improved and often give away slightly smelly bacon or sausages that were past their best. With a rinse under the tap the bacon was edible if somewhat strong tasting.
Some of the best customers Dad had were the irish “navvies” who had come over as part of “MacAlpine’s men” after the war to work on the roads. These were young, husky men, well paid and hungry as a result of their hard labour. They would buy bacon by the poundload, eggs by the dozen and a whole loaf of bread and 4oz of butter and that just for the one meal. Dad’s mother, who had died young of throat cancer, was Irish and I suspect their soft Kerry and Limerick voices touched his sentimental streak.
At the other end of the scale were women with children and no man to support them. Illegitimacy rates were high around North Kensington and I suspect that a lot of women were, unwillingly, “on the game” to support their children. Alas, all too often, this resulted in yet another mouth to feed unless a trip to the local back street abortionist could be afforded. Rumour had it that she operated from one of the basements in Edenham Street using a pint of gin and a knitting needle, brine or a chemical abortifacient to perform the task although in the 1950s I was ignorant of such things being still of primary school age. Dad could always be relied on to find a little something for a woman who was trying to raise her children decently despite her circumstances.
In those days, before the internet, and in many cases before people had telephones the “traveller” was a regular weekly visitor to Dad’s shop. These men, often European Jews, were employed by warehouses to visit shops and persuade thm them to buy their goods. Looking back they seemed to have a curious sameness about them. Gaberdine coat, Homberg or Fedora hat and a thick accent. They were paid on commission so were persuasive salesmen.
Dad got on well with them and, having been a POW in Silesia, could sympathise with them as many were DPs (Displaced Persons) as a result of Hitler’s policies. Dad was always keen to get a bargain and pass it on to his customers so would negociate a special weekly deal on a particular line. I can recall one week it was Heinz Baked Beans and another tinned fruit salad, macedoine of fruit as it was called.
Next door to us at 19 were an elderly couple Bert and Amy Cross who were originally from Earl’s Barton in Northamptonshire. He had been an apprentice at Clark’s shoe makers as a young man and was operating as a “snob” as shoe makers were known in those days. In 1959 he decided to retire and the shop came up for lease. As I was now at grammar school and there was a limit to how much Mum could do in the shop my parents decided to lease number 19 and Mum was going to run it as drapers, ladies’ clothing and wool shop as the closest one was the other end of Golborne Road, over the iron bridge. Thus started another phase of my life on The Golborne.

Montana Cottage Lambeth

I was born in March 1946. My parents would joke that I was the result of repatriation although, in fact, Dad had been repatriated some time in 1944 from Lamsdorf (modern day Lambinowice) Stalag VIIIA because his wounds were sufficiently severe to prevent him becoming an active combatant again.
He had sustained severe damage to his lower right arm and a fractured right femur when the truck in which he was travelling went over a land mine near Thessalonika in Northern Greece. From Thessalonika he was transferred to Caserta military hospital and then to Lamsdorf. Despite his injuries and POW experiences Dad always held a very positive view of his captors and , when reminiscing, would say that if he met the camp guards again he’d shake them by the hand and say, “Fritz, you were only doing your job, the same as I was.”
Some of my earliest memories are of going to St Thomas’ hospital with Dad when he was having treatment to his arm. The treatment appeared to consist of him sitting, in his vest, with his arm immersed in a sink of hot wax. This must have been ongoing treatment for some years for me to remember it. He never fully recovered its usage as the surgeon who treated him at Caserta joined his radius to his ulna and vice versa depriving him of the ability to rotate his arm and also to hold a pen. He taught himself to use his left hand and even played cricket enthusiastically if not with any great talent.
At this time we lived in Priory Grove, South Lambeth with my mother’s parents. Mum’s older sister Maud (who preferred to be called Mick) and Uncle Frank lived a few doors up from Montana Cottage. Mick and Frank had remained childless by choice and Aunty Mick was a second mother to me.Further up again was Mum’s first cousin Molly and her husband Sid. They had a daughter Christine some eight months my senior who was the closest thing I had to a sister as I was destined to be an only child.
Mum’s younger sister Gwen had married a New Zealand serviceman with whom Dad had become friends in the stalag and emigrated to New Zealand in January 1946.I became christened Gwendolen at my Nana’s request, “So I’ll still have my three girls”. Much to my ongoing regret I wasn’t given a middle name and have always disliked what I considered an old fashioned , uneuphonious name which is always being misspelled. Aunt Gwen’s middle name of Stella would have been preferable.
Montana Cottage was, and still is, a beautiful Late Georgian two storeyed villa built around 1830. Unusually for London it stands in about a quarter acre of ground which, even to this day, has not been built upon or subdivided. The front garden was a formal one with a lawn and circular flower beds. Along the left hand side of the house was a narrow alley, reached through a wrought iron gate that led, past a door into the scullery, to the back garden. This had a large vegetable patch stretching the length of the back wall, a large, rickety old garden shed where Grandad had screwed a swing into the door lintel for me and where his push lawnmower and spades were stored. Following the path around the back of the house, it led to the remains of a greenhouse. The framework still intact but glass long since shattered during air raids and never replaced. There was a dispirited grapevine that straggled along it and occasionally produced a few blighted grapes and was eventually sawn down. I can recall the remains of an Anderson shelter and strict instructions from Nana not to go down there because it might collapse and I’d be buried alive. It must have been filled in towards the end of the 1950s.
Rumour had it that the house was built on the instruction of a maiden lady who had fallen out with her sister over a lover. To spite her, the sister had an identical house built in Larkhall Lane, the next street, with its back facing hers. Or was it vice versa? The two sisters are said to have never married nor spoken to each other again. Interestingly, when I visited with my children in 1993 the current owners, the Millners, had also heard this legend. It says much for the endurance of the Folk Process. Another rumour spoke of the existence of a subterranean passage, running from Lambeth Palace to Priory Grove, that had been constructed during the time of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries to enable the monks at Lambeth Priory to flee to safety .

Nana and Grandad had the ground floor of the house while we had the upper one. One could walk all the way around the ground floor from the entrance hall, along a passageway through the scullery , to the kitchen at the back and then through Grandad’s office and out into the hallway again.
At the front were two rooms, one used as my grandparents’ bedroom the other as the “best” parlour. This was a large room with sliding doors that could divide it in two, two large bay windows and an Adams fireplace. Here Nana had a large, velour covered horsehair stuffed sofa, a large bookcase and a display cabinet with Spode and Staffordshire figures in it. One of her relatives had been a photographer and travelled to Africa. There were leather bound albums of naked African women with some strange disease that caused tumors to grow out of their ears. They were an unending source of interest for Christine and myself but woe betide us if Nana caught us “looking at those dirty pictures”
Along the passageway was a toilet and a door leading to the cellar. The cellar was a double storey one with one area for keeping wine and the one beneath it, which extended out underneath the street, where coal was stored. The scullery walls, around the sink were lined with blue and white Delft tiles and there was a large copper where the weekly wash was done. The water would be heated up on Sunday evening in readiness for Monday’s wash. Nan would tie on a large, rubberised , brick coloured apron, load in the washing and use a corrugated scrubbing board and hard yellow soap on soiled clothes before adding them. A hand cranked mangle was screwed onto a large butler’s sink sink and dripping clothing fed through this into the sink to be rinsed before going on a reverse journey into a willow washing basket and out into the garden.
A tin bath hung on the wall and was taken down on Saturdays for the whole family to bathe. The copper was used to heat up the water which was ladled into the bath and topped up as need be from kettles boiling on the stove. I was bathed in the sink and entertained myself telling stories about the characters in the tiles.
Cooking was done in the scullery on a gas stove but the room we regarded as the kitchen ran the length of the rear of the house with tall French windows that could be opened onto the garden. In here was a large open fireplace which had a wetback water cylinder behind it and had a tap to supply hot water over the hearth. I don’t recall it ever being used so maybe it had been disconnected.
This room was where Grandad sat and had his breakfast. Always a boiled egg and “soldiers”. I would sit on his knee and be given the top which was sliced off his egg as my special treat. My memory of him is as a jovial, sandy haired man who was always ready to entertain me and would give me the farthings and halfpennies from his pocket but my mother told me that he was a heavy drinker who was prone to sudden rages and, hen in drink, would try to hit Nana. She apparently would give as good as she got and, backed up by her three daughters, made him learn to leave her alone.
The entrance hall was decorated with glass cages of stuffed fish that Grandad had caught. There was a pike from the upper reaches of the Thames, a prizewinning trout among others and, more curiously, a stuffed crocodile. Nana also had a marble plinth just inside the door with a bust of the young Queen Victoria on it and dried flower arrangements under tall glass domes.
A wide staircase with carved bannisters led from the hallway to the upper rooms. Half way up was a room built out over the back kitchen. This was my room and, like the rest of the house, was lit by gas. The mantles were very fragile and care had to be taken not to damage them when using a spill to light them. In common with the second storey this room also had a gas fire to heat it. It was a large room with a built in cupboard. Inside the cupboard the floor had a panel which could be removed. In her later years Mum told me she had hidden her diaries there from childhood onwards, but alas it was too late to retrieve them by then.
Upstairs were three more rooms. A bedroom, a lounge and a kitchen at the front. The kitchen had a small garden that was on top of the porch and Dad grew tomatoes here. Like the rest of the house these were large, well proportioned rooms with big windows and high ceilings.
Adjoining the house was a large building that had been stables and coach house but was now used by my grandfather to store his tools of trade as a builder. There was a hay loft above the coach shed and here Grandad kept a machine that was used to trim wall paper. In those days it was printed leaving a narrow margin of blank paper on either side that had to be removed before it was hung. The roll was fed into the machine, not unlike a mangle, and hand cranked through a set of blades that trimmed it. The trimming were curly and Christine and I would use then as hair when we were playing at being princesses.
Sadly little maintenance had been done to the house, which my grandparents rented the whole of their married life. Several times it had been offered to them to buy but my grandfather’s attitude was that “people of our class don’t own property” which was strange as his father had speculated as a builder and owned several properties in Golborne Road, North Kensington during the 1870s and Nana’s parents had also owned property in Lambeth. During our visit in 1993 we were told by the Millnersthey had saved the house from demolition by a speculator who planned to demolish it and put up flats. They had applied to English Heritage and , quite literally, saved it at the last moment. It is now a Grade II listed building so hopefully will remain for future generations to appreciate as much as I did.

Lambeth, Golborne,Ghastly Antipodes and home again