Kindly supplied by Richard Mann
It’s when the voice on the bus says, “Next stop Westmoreland Road.” that I want to shout, “No it’s not, it’s Camberwell Gate!” and then I’m back sometime between 1945 and 1965. From when I was born until I left home at the age of 20.
Camberwell Gate Walworth Road 1955
World War Two left me and my friends with better playgrounds than those devised or created by any local planning department, and a bombed ruin, a selection of our fathers’ WW2 cast-offs, including tin helmets, berets, military webbing, discarded gas masks plus a good imagination were all we needed. In and out of bombed rooms and basements, up stairs and through doors that led nowhere we re-enacted the battles of our fathers, grandfathers and uncles. Sometimes ‘Blackie’ the Labrador joined in, complete with tin helmet, but I’ve no idea who he belonged to. The bombed remains of St Mark’s at the top of East Street brought a reverence that was disregarded when we scrambled over and through the ruins of Lytham Street, Arnside Street and Albany Road, but best of all was the network of air-raid shelters at the Elephant & Castle. In almost pitch darkness we played in and out of these catacombs, and ran for our lives when we roused a tramp from his drunken stupor. Grazed knees followed by a hot Kaolin poultice was a price worth paying. Floor boards, floor joists and roofing timbers from bombed buildings went on the bonfire on Guy Fawkes night, and the proceeds of our ‘penny for the guy’ efforts went on the fireworks for our local celebrations on the cleared bombsite at the Merrow Street end of Saltwood Grove.
Local cats and dogs showed their appreciation for post-war re-building by using the piles of builders’ sand as roadside toilets, while we treated them as unofficial sandpits. Impetigo was the consequence, and for a short period, a small race of purple spotted children advertised the liberal use of ‘Gentian Violet.’ Further pleasure came with cold winter weather, short trousers, chapped legs and Vaseline. Winter coal fires turned the fog to ‘smog.’ made worse by the use of ‘tarry blocks.’ With trams being taken out of service and tramlines taken up, piles of the tarred wooden blocks, in which the tramlines had been laid, were left by the side of the road. These blocks were taken to supplement a family’s coal supply, but they produced a thick dense smoke which seriously affected the old and frail. My resistance to these potential hazards was enhanced sun-ray treatment at the clinic in Larcom Street, orange juice and cod liver oil from the Welfare Centre in Villa Street, a dessert spoonful of malt and a small bottle of milk served by Mrs Sevenoaks, the milk lady at St. Peter’s School. As I got older these nutrients were replaced by regular portions of pie and mash from Arments, which had recently moved from the Walworth Road to Westmoreland Road.
I lived on ‘the Estate.’ With its mock Tudor gables it was that little bit of the countryside that the social reformer and founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill, had included in her design for the ‘respectable poor’ of London. “They’ve got a place on the Estate” was a sign of recognition and achievement. The journey to total fulfilment led from a flat to a half-cottage and finally, a full cottage. Until 1947, when my father returned from service in Palestine, I lived with my mum and nan in a small flat on the corner of Merrow Street and Portland Street, but when he was de-mobbed we were given a 3 room top floor flat in Portland Street, almost opposite Faraday Park. We shared a toilet and scullery cum laundry room with the other family on the top floor and our tin bath hung on its wall, ready for our weekly bath! Firewood, at 3d a bundle, from Woodall’s the greengrocers in Trafalgar Street, and yesterday’s ‘Daily Mirror’ or evening ‘Star’ got the fire going, before the coal was added. A horse drawn coal wagon brought the coal from the coal wharf behind the Walworth Road and Crampton Street, and mum made sure the hundredweight sacks of coal were carefully counted as the coalman tipped them into the coal bunker in the back-yard. At the heart of ‘the Estate’ was the grocer’s shop on the corner of Villa Street and Merrow Street which I remember being run by Fred Balcomb, who later became the licensee of the ‘Duke of Wellington’ pub in the Old Kent Road. It was later re-named the ‘Henry Cooper.’ As a teenager I cleaned the shop’s windows on a Friday for half-a-crown. Local shops, the Walworth Road and East Lane met most of our shopping requirements while St. Peter’s School, Faraday Park and St. Peter’s Church were there to sustain our minds, our bodies and our souls.
Faraday Park was our sports arena where we followed the sporting calendar. At the beginning of the football season the wooden goalposts were taken from behind the park-keepers hut and erected. On Saturday mornings I made sure that I made an early start on my mum’s errands from the Co-op in the Walworth Road (Divi. No. 266680), Woodall’s, the dairy on the corner of Trafalgar Street and Gilfords the bakers on the opposite corner. It was important get to the park before we ‘picked up’ teams. One of my early shopping trips to Gilfords was marked by a trail of sliced bread. Instead of our usual ‘Vienna’ loaf mum sent me for a loaf of the ‘new’ sliced bread which came wrapped in waxed paper with envelope ends. I tucked the loaf under my arm, but one end came undone and I arrived home with half a loaf and a trail of slices leading back to the shop.
Back at the park a game of stone-paper-scissors decided which captain made the first choice of the players available, and then players were chosen alternately until everybody had been selected. There was no limit to the number on each side and the match was decided with the first team to score 10 goals. Then the whole routine was repeated. On some occasions we were ‘refereed’ by David, a fully grown man but with the mental age of 4 or 5. Harmless, but powerful and strong he enjoyed being part of the game. There were few disputes, with the most common being who would fetch the ball when it was kicked over the crossbar and halfway up Wooler Street? David was always happy to bring it back. Refreshment between matches often came in the shape of a 4d ‘Jubbly’ from West’s sweet shop in Trafalgar Street, and half-time entertainment might sometimes be provided by someone deciding to break the fire alarm which stood on the corner of Trafalgar Street outside Gilfords the bakers. The subsequent arrival of the Fire Engines with firemen hanging on the side and bells ringing would be witnessed by a motley crew of innocent looking schoolboys. The beginning of the cricket season saw the removal of the goal-posts with empty orange box serving as a wicket. We selected teams in the same way as for football and we used either a tennis or ‘sorbo’ rubber ball. The boy who provided the bat always got a few runs in case he took his bat home. Caught or bowled were the usual dismissals, but hitting the ball over the fence into the rear gardens of Trafalgar Street or Liverpool Grove resulted in ‘6 and out.’ We each supported our favourite football and county cricket teams and followed their fortunes.
Wimbledon fortnight brought a brief interlude from the cricket when old and warped wooden tennis rackets were given their annual outing. My usual opponent was the side wall of the flats on the corner of Merrow Street and Portland Street. For some reason the Boat Race divided loyalties and we bought our little tin boat shaped badges with a dark or light blue ribbon from Nicholls’s toy shop in Blackwood Street. The 1950s were not a good time to support Oxford with Cambridge winning about seven on the trot and in 1951 Oxford sank! Summer also meant roller skating, which was popular with both the boys and girls, and I was one of the lucky ones to who got a pair of the new rubber wheeled skates which were so much smoother and quieter than the metal wheeled ones. We raced, practiced fancy manoeuvres and played roller hockey with walking sticks and a tennis ball. I often kept my skates on for the whole day, even when I went back home for something to eat or drink, and almost had to re-learn how to walk after taking them off. Less frequent were the cart races with one boy pushing, and another steering the home-made wooden carts on a circuit of the park. Scooter racing was saved for the streets, which were almost completely empty of parked cars, and while we encountered the occasional bike, coalman with his horse drawn wagon, rag-and-bone man with his horse and cart or the milkman with his hand-drawn electric float, fast moving traffic was rare. Our racing circuit started opposite the rent office in Merrow Street and took in Villa Street, Burton Grove and Portland Street. The classic design of these home-made wooden scooters involved two lengths of wood, a wooden block with metal screw eyes and a bolt joining the two together, with a top mounted handle bar made from a short piece of wood or broomstick. A pair of metal ball-bearing wheels completed the construction and some scooters were personalised with numerals, letters or beer bottle tops nailed to the front. Other street games included ‘cannon sticks’, ‘hopscotch’, ‘outs’, ‘tin-tan tommy’ and one that was less popular with grown-ups was ‘knock-down-ginger.’ “I’ll take you over Carter Street” was the familiar call as a posse of short trousered ruffians disappeared into the distance.
Any concerns for our ‘Road-Safety’ were met by the annual visit of the local police to Faraday Park. Street markings and a Zebra crossing were chalked on the tarmac. The railings at the Portland Street entrance were removed, and the gates opened to allow a police car and motorbikes in. We were taken from St. Peter’s School into the park where we watched as policemen, some in plain clothes showed us how to and how not to behave when crossing the road. 1950s maroon police Triumph motorbikes skidded and Wolseley 6/80 police cars rang their bells and flashed their blue lights. Men fell off their bikes and 6ft plus policemen dressed as women fell over and spilled their groceries as we roared with laughter. It was probably less effective than the ‘Green Cross Code’ but it was certainly funnier.
Just after my fifth birthday and at the beginning of the summer term 1950 I joined class 6, as it was known, at St. Peter’s School. I think I was the only one who started on that day and I was sat with a small wooden framed slate and a piece of chalk to amuse myself. I quickly made friends but my choices weren’t always wise. My first teacher was Miss Macdonald who was probably close to retirement when I started, and it is likely that I hastened that decision when I was encouraged to join in a rendition of ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ as she made her way along the alley into Liverpool Grove at the end of the school day. This episode gave me an early opportunity to meet Mr Hardingham, the Headmaster. He was a tall man with glasses, a small clipped moustache, a military bearing and always smartly dressed in a suit. Once a year he would bring his own ‘Magic Lantern’ to school for the two youngest classes to enjoy fairy tales and nursery rhymes with their accompanying images projected onto a screen in a darkened classroom. He came from Peckham, which we thought was ‘posh’ and he had a conker tree in his garden from where, each autumn, he would bring enough conkers to school to supply the senior boys with 3 or 4 each. Broken and smashed conkers littered the playground until the conker champion emerged, and I was never convinced that cooking them in the oven or soaking them in vinegar brought an advantage.
For the first two years of school, the boys in classes 6 and then 5 shared the playground, closest to St. Peter’s Park, with the girls. From then on the boys had their own playground; the one next to Faraday Park. There we played football, ‘he’ or ‘chain he.’ British bulldog, ‘alley gobs,’ ‘fag cards,’ marbles and also had the occasional fight. With even the slightest covering of frost or snow we would make an ice slide by continuously sliding and skidding over the same patch of playground, until it became like a sheet of glass 20 or 30 feet long. With a run up we took turns to see who could skid or slide the furthest. In the corner of the boys’ playground was a huge pile of coal or coke from where Mr Hutt, the school-keeper supplied the boiler. I remember all my teachers. After Miss MacDonald there was Miss Cummings; kind and gentle who taught me to read, Miss Wilton who took class 4 was tall and slim with a hint of severity, and who reminded me that in earlier times I would have been made to write with my right hand. I recall the day she told us that the famous singer Kathleen Ferrier had died. The Saturday wireless programme ‘Children’s’ Choice’ with ‘Uncle Mac always finished with a more serious or classical piece of music and most of us would have heard Kathleen Ferrier sing ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ in that wonderful contralto voice. The matronly Miss Reading taught class 3 and there was something Edwardian about her, with her long flowing skirts and rows of necklaces. From the piano she led us in assembly, and during music lessons we sang ‘The British Grenadiers,’ The Happy Wanderer,’ and my family regrets her decision to teach us the words to the verse of the ‘Dambusters’ March,’ and the ‘Toreador Song’ from Carmen, in English. She also taught handwriting and this is where my left-handedness was a real problem as I tried to push a steel tipped dipping pen across cheap post-war writing paper. Small explosions of ink highlighted where my pen had collided with a sliver of wood that was masquerading as paper. Mr Hastie took class 2. He was a smallish sandy-haired Scot, and as well as teaching history he was the sports master. From a cupboard in his room he issued the football shirts; Red or Yellow, long sleeved, snug fitting with a lace at the neck. They had probably been used since the 1920’s.The only school matches we played were against St. John’s in Faraday Park. In the top class I missed having the legendary ‘Dolly’ Sturton by one year. Mrs Hubble was my teacher and for a while she was helped by a young teacher from Wagga Wagga in Australia.
As well as celebrating Empire Day and Battle of Britain Day, when we watched a fly-past of WWII fighter planes from the playground, the highlights of the school year were sports day in ‘Bedlam Park’ and most importantly May Day. Practice for the celebrations begun after some time before the main event, when the partition that divided the two downstairs classrooms was pulled aside. A recess in the floor accommodated the May Pole and here we practiced the dances that created the different ribbon patterns. We also polished up our square dancing and one girl’s speciality was a Scottish sword dance complete with swords, and dressed in full Highland dress. The May Day procession, with the May Queen and her attendants, led from the school playground into Liverpool Grove and then St. Peter’s park to where the church garden now is, and where Father Oakes, the teachers, most of the mums and some of the dads sat waiting. The Maypole took centre stage as mums held their breath, and we fixed nervous grins as all our hard work and practice came to fruition. Apart from the annual events I remember one sunny day when we were led into the playground, all clutching a small piece of cardboard with a pin-hole in it. With this scientifically designed piece of hi-tech wizardry we were able view an eclipse of the sun.
Our interest in nature was further cultivated when, after weeks of careful nurturing, we would bring our flower pots containing a single daffodil, or blaze of nasturtium to school to be judged. Our efforts were rewarded with either a first class certificate, in full colour, or a black and white one to denote a valiant effort. We were encouraged to save, and to buy 6d savings stamps from our teacher, which we stuck in our savings books. School dinners were served in the church hall in Villa Street, and when I was in class 5 (age 6-7) I used to race one of my friends from school to the hall. Across Liverpool Grove, through Saltwood or Worth Grove, up Merrow Street, across Portland Street and then right into Villa Street where we would arrive in happy anticipation of the two choices on offer. Take it or leave it! On February 6, 1952, as I raced down the school drive, my concentration was diverted when I heard one of the mums at the gate say “The King’s dead.” I slowed down, and that day I came a poor second.
1953 was a momentous year and during the build up to the Coronation my dad took me to Hyde Park where troops from across the Empire were billeted in tents and I particularly remember seeing Sikh soldiers rolling the cloth for their turbans. Southwark Council gave us all a blue commemorative brochure and a blue propelling pencil, but Coronation Day was rainy day and I went to a party in The Nelson School in Trafalgar Street. The same year saw the re-dedication of St. Peter’s Church following its renovation after the bomb damage. In 1953 two sporting legends, the jockey Sir Gordon Richards and the footballer Sir Stanley Matthews fulfilled their ambitions by winning the Derby and the FA cup, and it was also the year that Mt. Everest was first conquered. The school took us to the ‘Troc’. (Trocadero Cinema) at the Elephant and Castle to see a film of Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing reach the summit. I sat, with my sandwiches, just outside the boundary ropes at the Oval when England played Australia in the final test, but unfortunately it wasn’t on the day that Denis Compton scored the runs won the Ashes. But I remember 1953 for another reason. Like most children I shared that resilience that enables them to put sad events quickly behind them. The King had died a year earlier, but that was more of an historical event. My nan had died shortly afterwards, but she was an old lady and had been ill, but in January 1953 at 9 o’clock on one particular morning I knew that someone was going to die. He was Derek Bentley, and his photograph and story had been in all the newspapers and on the news everyday for the previous month or so. It had been a topic of conversation in most households because he was 19 years old and he had been sentenced to be hanged for his involvement in the murder of a policeman. I remember that unnatural stillness in the playground before school, and the morbid fascination of the countdown to that fateful hour. Derek Bentley, along with Ruth Ellis in 1955 were probably the most infamous cases during my schooldays and capital punishment was a regular topic of discussion amongst all generations until it was finally abolished in the late 1960s.
After I was born my mum’s first trip from our flat, with me, was to St. Peter’s Church where she was ‘churched.’ This was an old fashioned religious ceremony that celebrated a mother’s safe delivery of her child. I was subsequently Christened at St. Peter’s, attended Sunday School, served as boat-boy to the Thurifer, joined the choir and was confirmed on my 10th birthday. My first memories of St. Peter’s were of the bomb-damaged church where services were conducted in the Lady Chapel because most of the building was unsafe. Father Oakes, with his fierce countenance and heavy brow, was very much in charge. He lived in the Rectory next to the church and two of the curates during his time were Father Wood, who went on to missionary work in Africa, and another young curate whose name I forget, but I do remember the game of cricket he described from his university days. Apparently a barrel of beer was kept at square leg and a boundary scored or wicket taken was celebrated by drinking a pint. Scores of 30 ‘retired’, and instances of a successful bowler being helped from the field of play were not unusual. Grace, who lived in one of the Groves, was Father Oakes’ housekeeper. On August 15,1954, when I was 9, me and my 6 year old brother spent some of the day at the Rectory, and Grace took us for a drive in her little Austin 7. After tea we were taken back home - which was now in Burton Grove - where I met my baby sister.
Once a year Father Oakes, and later Father Hinds, threw a summer tea party in the rectory garden where we enjoyed cakes and sandwiches and, on a hot day, sheltered from the sun beneath the large weeping willow tree. Easter was the first festival in the church calendar and Palm Sunday with the procession from the church hall in Villa Street began Holy Week. Our palm crosses stayed over our beds until they were replaced by new ones the following year and Holy Week included the continuous vigil that was kept in the Lady Chapel at half-hourly intervals from Good Friday until Easter Day. Holy Communion was at 8am on Sundays and it was the practice to avoid food before the service. Being tall and growing quickly I often felt quite giddy after rising quite early and leaving the house without food. The main Sunday service was the 11 o’clock mass.
Father Oakes was a large man and he could appear quite intimidating leaning over the edge of the raised pulpit, delivering his sermon in his Scottish brogue, but he wasn’t a well man. His intake of ‘Gold Flake’ full strength cigarettes didn’t help his condition and he would keep a rubber asthma pump hidden at the back of the alter, and when I was a Server I often saw him reach for this pump and, hidden from the congregation, take a number of deep breaths before resuming the service. For the choir - 12 of us, all boys - Friday evening saw us crowd around the piano as Michael Brown, the organist, conducted choir practice. He insisted on proper pronunciation, and would get mad at those who sung ‘allelulia’ instead of alleluia. Singing at weddings meant the opportunity to earn half-a-crown and a four-wedding Saturday made us rich. When one of the church wardens married the sister of one of the choir, the occasion concluded with the groom throwing pennies from their wedding carriage for the choirboys, still in their cassocks, to scramble for. Weddings were also a cheap form of entertainment for local women as they waited at the church gates to ‘blacken their noses’ as the wedding party lined up for their photos. A large harvest loaf was the centre-piece of the annual harvest while the traditional carol service heralded all the excitement of Christmas. Christmas at home was the rule for most families, but my mum was one of 14 and with most of them being local we all crowded in her eldest brother’s cottage in Brettell Street. One of two of my uncles and one aunt who could play would be on the piano while another uncle would be on the accordion. Cold turkey and mustard and pickle sandwiches, lemonade and beer for the grown-ups sustained us through hours of singsongs and party games.
I joined the St Peter’s branch of the Junior Training Corps (JTC) which was the junior section of the Church Lads Brigade and in our navy blue shorts and battle dress tops and RAF style forage caps we accompanied church parades and the May Day celebrations. Our meetings were held in the church hall in Villa Street where we practiced drill as well as playing ‘British bulldog,’ ‘hand-ball’ or ‘shinty.’ This is a primitive form of hockey which originated in Scotland and introduced to us by Father Oakes. Sometime in the mid 1950s I was chosen to dress-up and play the role of Goliath for a large Church Lads Brigade pageant that was held in Wandsworth. The parade, accompanied by a brass marching band, took us to a large green next to Wandsworth Prison where I had no opportunity to use the red tipped spear and the shield, that my dad had made me, before I was slain by the slingshot of my friend who was playing David.
Each year Father Oakes organised a fortnight’s annual camp for the boys of the church, and during the school summer holiday we piled into the back of a local greengrocer’s lorry that took us to a site near the village of Milton-under-Wychwood in the Cotswolds. We pitched our bell tents and erected a marquee in a field near the grounds of Bruern Abbey, which was the home of the Hon Michael Astor, a member of the famous Astor family, and a Conservative MP. After unpacking our clothes etc. from our dads’ old kit-bags, which had served as a seat for the journey, we set about assembling our home-made sleeping bags from a pair of blankets and any number of large kilt pins. A little way from the living quarters the bigger boys would dig the latrine, a 6’x2’ deep trench with ‘X’ shaped cross-members at each end connected by long pole for sitting on. A canvas screen gave privacy and a dusting of quick-lime was applied each day. Washing and drinking water was drawn in canvas buckets from a cold tap that supplied a nearby cattle trough. The early morning wash was with cold water in a small enamel bowl. A large camp fire was at the centre of the camp and where each evening we enjoyed cocoa, biscuits and a sing-song. My favourite song was ‘Heart of my Heart’ which I’ve never heard since. I believe that Father Oakes must have been a friend of the Astor family because we were allowed to use the Abbey’s swimming pool and play croquet. One day the Astor children threw stones at us and in retaliation I threw one back and hit the owner’s son, Jamie Astor, on the head. I’ve managed to avoid the Tower - so far! From our camp we could walk to a local river and catch small fish called ‘Millers Thumbs.’ and nearby there was a level crossing where we placed pennies on the railway line for the steam trains to flatten as they drove over them. During the middle weekend a coach brought our parents who would visit us for the day. We took day trips to Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water and Chipping Norton where we bought family presents, all out of the £2 pocket money we had brought with us.
London is often described as a number of villages and I suppose that I considered the boundaries of my village to be the Walworth Road, East Street, Albany Road and The Old Kent Road. Apart from going further afield with my parents, my own excursions took me to The Regal at Camberwell for Saturday morning pictures to see Flash Gordon, Roy Rogers, Hoppalong Cassidy, Tex Ritter, The Three Stooges and my favourites, The Bowery Boys. Sometimes we’d roller skate to the War Museum or take a 1d bus ride to Ruskin Park with its paddling pool and swing park with a ‘witch’s hat,’ double swing boats and other rides. For three-ha’pence we could take the 68 or 196 to Brockwell Park and as the bus passed ‘Joggi Villa,’ a house on Denmark Hill, we would look out for Freddie Mills, the former world light-heavyweight champion. Sometimes we saw him in the Walworth Road in his light blue futuristic Citroen DS 19, and he always responded with a wave and a smile when we called after him.
Manor Place Baths became a regular Saturday morning venue where we went for up to three hours swimming, diving, jumping and ‘bombing’ whilst working up an appetite for the one penn’orth of stale cakes from a baker’s near East Street, or a thick slice of bread and dripping, for the same price, from the cafe opposite. My dad, who was a member of the Lynn boxing club, which used the church hall for training, often took part in boxing tournaments at Manor Place Baths. On other occasions and when the weather was fine we would visit the open air lidos at Bedlam Park, Kennington Park or Brockwell Park.
East Street market itself brought was a regular source of entertainment with the calls of the fruit and veg. sellers, the china and crockery salesman managing to display a whole dinner service up one extended arm, the fishmongers and jellied eels stalls, puppies and kittens for sale on Sunday mornings and the A1 Stores where we could exchange comic books and, in our teens, listen to and buy the latest records. As a blind accordionist serenaded his way through the shoppers the former boxer Tommy Noble sold embrocation from the carrier on the front of his bike. Prince Monolulu in his brightly coloured costume and feathered head-dress appeared occasionally, drawing in the crowds with his promise of instant wealth, and selling racing tips with his familiar call of ‘I gotta horse.’
On Sunday morning at the junction with Dawes Street the Salvation Army band played, and further along where Dawes Street met Sandford Row there were second-hand bikes for sale. In the flea market next to it, anything that had a little bit of usefulness left was being sold. Pensioners might be seen trying on reading glasses from a mixed tray of men’s and women glasses. Personal vanity was less important than being able to see and read. Lengths of cycle tyre were sold for sticking to the soles of shoes as a cheap repair, and I bought an alto saxophone which I later swapped for an open back five string fretless minstrel’s banjo, neither of which I learnt to play. You could pose for a photo with a small monkey at the Walworth Road end of the Lane, where you might also catch a tap dance from a busker or listen to a one man band with his bass drum and cymbal on his back. There might be group circling an upturned orange box as punters were drawn in to play ‘the three card trick’ or ‘crown and anchor’ gambling dice while the dealer’s accomplice kept and eye out for the police or a market warden. It was not unusual to see a man walking home with a large roll of lino on his shoulder, bought from the stall opposite the Baptist Chapel and he might have been lucky enough to have been accompanied by the Boys’ Brigade from the East Street Baptist’s Chapel on one of their church parades. Yet in the midst of this happy chaos Remembrance Sunday was still respected and many years later I wrote a poem of my memories:
Remembrance Sunday in East Lane about 1958
As darkness turns to light
Beneath those same November skies
That had seen the dark crossed harbingers of fear,
The unbent and undefeated,
A generation later,
Enjoy the remnants of their slumber
While busy costers heave their ancient barrows from the yard.
Later, line upon line of locals
Weave and wander through the market
Till a distant bugle marks the given hour.
Then with respect and heartfelt gratitude
Mammon bows to remembrance
And chest-high poppies show their winter bloom,
Just the swirl of rising breath
Intrudes the ragged stillness of
Coster, busker, children, man and wife,
And the writhing silver eels in the fishmongers’ boxes
Endure two extra minutes more of life.
I didn’t get regular pocket money but a few coppers could be made by collecting waste-paper and taking it to Bullivant’s in Etherdon Street, or by collecting the small pieces of lead covered cable that were left by the British Relay Wireless engineers, when they were installing cable radio. We sold the lead to the scrap metal dealer next to the church hall. For regular pocket money it was important to get a paper-round, so when I was 13, and after being a stand-in for the Sunday rounds, I managed to get a regular round with Albert Ellison from his shop at the Walworth Road end of Trafalgar Street and later when he moved to East Street. This probably began my insatiable appetite for newspapers. Many of the newspapers I delivered had gone through the hands of ‘one careful user’ before being dropped through the letter box. While we had the Daily Mirror at home I became familiar with newspapers no longer published like the Daily Herald, Daily Sketch, News Chronicle and the Daily Worker, and on Sunday, The Sunday Pictorial, The Sunday Dispatch and The Reynolds News. My round took in Liverpool Grove, Worth Grove, Saltwood Grove and Merrow Street. From Monday to Friday I also delivered the evening papers, The Star, The Evening News and The Evening Standard. We also delivered The South London Press a range of magazines and children’s comics; seven mornings and five evenings for 14 shillings (70p) a week. I was now able to buy my first bike; a Raleigh ‘Trent Tourist’ with 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub gears, from Edwardes cycle shop at Camberwell Green. It cost £11 and I paid it off at 2/6d a week.
I could now cycle to visit my cousins in Enfield and St. Mary’s Cray and during the 6 week bus strike in May and June of 1958 I cycled to school at the top of Brixton Hill. My paper-round money meant I was also able to go to football matches at Millwall, Charlton, Fulham or Chelsea where, even for a big match it wasn’t necessary to book in advance. On most occasions we would only decide on the Saturday morning and I regret the day that one of my friends asked me to go to Charlton to see them play Huddersfield and I declined. Charlton won 7-6 after being 5-1 down at half-time. But I did see the British Army play the German Army at Dulwich Hamlet. The German left-winger had scored the winning goal in the 1954 World Cup, and the British Army fielded English internationals. My first trips to a football match with my dad were to Dulwich Hamlet where their pink, single sheet folded programme and team-sheet showed; Right Back (No.2) The Rev. Cowley, and I also saw a Ugandan team play in bare feet. Kennington Oval was the home ground of Corinthian Casuals and I saw the great amateur team, Pegasus, play there. They were a combination of Oxford and Cambridge University players. When I was about 15, along with some other friends from church I joined South London Athletic, a local football team run by one of the congregation. The first X1 were older, but they wanted to run a second X1. The pre-game meetings in a backroom of the Hour Glass pub near Thurlow Street and most of the matches were played on Blackheath. Being tall I played at No. 5 or centre-half as it was then called, and heading that heavy mud clogged ball ruined any prospects I might have had of becoming a rocket scientist.
As well as some of us joining the football club, some of the lads from the club joined the congregation and came to the youth club. This was run by Betty Simpson and was one night a week in the church hall. There was small bar billiard table in the cloakroom by the front door and the main hall was slightly bigger than a badminton court with a kitchen at the far end of the hall. During the winter the whole building was heated by a large coal or coke burning caste-iron stove. After billiards, table tennis, or chatting over soft drinks the evening always finished with dancing. We took our latest 45’s to play on the record player and jived, did the twist or saved our energy for the last dance which was always a slow smooch to the sounds of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, Johnny Tillotson or one of the many other pre-Beatles pop stars. But most exciting of all was the chance to get close to a girl for the last record, which was always a slow one, and the gentle waft of hair lacquer. The church hall was also the venue for local dances and some of us younger ones looked after the cloakroom or helped with refreshments during the interval. Friday evening whist drives were also popular with some of the older folk. The youth club also helped organise the annual summer fete which was held in the same place as the May Day festivities.
My football career lasted only for one season because I left the paper-round to work on a stall in East Lane - 8-6pm on Saturday and 8-2pm on Sunday, for £2. The stall was run by Burnards the hardware shop at the top of the Lane and the stall was at the other end opposite The Mason’s Arms. We set the stall like a shop window with all the teapots, kettles, saucepans, frying-pans, chip-fryers, colanders etc. carefully displayed. When the customer chose an item I would race to the lorry, parked about 50 yards away, in Blendon Row, and fetch one back before they changed their mind.
Teenage brought us greater personal freedom and on a summer’s Sunday a group of us would go to Hyde Park. Splitting into two groups we’d hire a couple of rowing boats and race up and down the Serpentine. After half an hour’s rigorous rowing we would go to Speakers Corner to enjoy the political speeches, eccentric monologues and discussions. Donald Soper the famous Methodist minister was a regular, speaking with passion and authority and also giving as good as he got from any heckler. Another was a character called Jacobus Van Dyne. He was tattooed from head to toe and claimed to have been Al Capone’s driver. He would speak of his time in Sing-Sing prison in America. In the late afternoon we’d set off home walking along Oxford Street, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Westminster Bridge, the Elephant and then the Walworth Road.
I started work at 16 and after giving mum £2 I was left with £4 a week. I had a suit made at Levy’s Tailors at the Elephant and Castle, saved for a holiday and was able to spread my wings a little further socially. Southwark Library loaned LPs for a shilling a week and I developed a love of Jazz by borrowing records by Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington, Django Reinhardt and many others. I became a regular at the Ken Colyer Jazz Club off Charing Cross Road where I also saw the young and raw Rolling Stones pay homage to their ‘blues’ heroes - for 6 shillings!
In May 1965 when I had just turned 20, I left home and left Walworth. Shortly afterwards my Walworth began to change and much of ‘my village’ was lost in the development of the Aylesbury Estate. However, I was still a regular visitor when my parents were alive, and still make the occasional visit. After quietly shouting ‘it’s Camberwell Gate’ and getting off the bus I turn into ‘the Estate’, see the church, walk through to St. Peter’s Park and then Faraday Park and I’m reminded of a programme I was listening to on Radio 4. I can’t remember exactly what it was about but I recall someone saying that in Gaelic a person is not asked ‘where are you from?’ but ‘where do you belong?’ A considerable part of me belongs to Walworth.
This excellent article was written by Richard Mann who has given us permission to publish it in its entirety. December 2013
This excellent article was written by Richard Mann who has given us permission to publish it in its entirety. December 2013