I was born in a house in New Windsor Street in October, 1920. The house was one of a terrace and had three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The bathroom had no hot water and the bath was so large that to get sufficient hot water for a bath would have meant carrying probably 10 to 15 buckets up the stairs. In any case there was no means of heating such a quantity. A tin bath in the kitchen was therefore used for bathing.


There were two reception rooms, a kitchen and scullery downstairs. The only WC was outside but actually built into the house abutting into the scullery. The weekly rent was ten shillings. Cooking was carried out on a cast-iron cooking range in the kitchen. As a schoolboy my job each Saturday was to black-lead the range and polish the fire irons with emery cloth. There was a brick-built boiler in the scullery which was used for the weekly wash, and outside the kitchen door was a very large wooden-rollered mangle to squeeze most of the water from the clothes.


From a childs play point of view one should remember that there was very little traffic on the roads and half of that was horse-drawn. Also, in those days there was not the danger from pedophiles and other bad types as abound now. It was quite safe for children to roam far and wide.  There was no television and only the lucky people had a wireless set and then mainly only a crystal set. This was just after the First World War; jobs were scarce and therefore so was money.


Radio was not as today; in 1920 it consisted of Marconi test transmissions and other amateurs testing. The first proper service was the British Broadcasting Company broadcasting from Savoy Hill in 1922. One heard “This is 2L0 calling” “from the BBC”. This was an almost National service but only transmitting between certain hours each day, mainly evenings. This service was gradually extended and became known as the National Service. Sometime later regional services started, giving people a choice.


Some of my earliest memories, probably before I was five years old, were of being taken to my Father’s allotment which was situated where the Fassnidge Memorial Ground is now. The allotment was approximately in the position of the bowling green. The whole of the memorial ground area was allotments in those days.


Most of the allotments had a well as it was only necessary to dig a hole about twice the diameter of a bucket and three to four feet deep. This would contain about a foot of water as the water table was not very far down in that area. As my Father was a keen fisherman, I was also taken fishing, mainly to the dock behind Fountain’s mill and occasionally to the canal near the Swan & Bottle.


I well remember being taken to start school when I was five. This was to Whitehall school in the infants class. Miss Harvey was the teacher. My Mother had taken me and when morning playtime came along I thought it was going home time, and so home I went. As my Mother had gone shopping on the way home, she found me on the doorstep when she returned. Needless to say I was returned after lunch.


In those days, of course, it was normal for children to go home for a meal at lunchtime, there was a two hour break from 12 until 2 o’clock. It should be remembered that most women did not work then and so were at home when the child arrived. Normally lunch would be the main meal of the day (we knew it as dinner) later was teatime, and then supper in the later evening. On special days we would have toasted crumpets or muffins for tea. These were bought from the Muffin and Crumpet man who walked the streets with a large tray of those things on his head; it was always covered with a green cloth. As he walked he rang a bell to let people know he was in the area.


While talking about delivery people e.g. dairies in this area mainly belonged to local farmers, the large combine dairies were not around at that time. Milk was taken round in two-wheel carts called milk floats. In the centre of the float was a very large milk churn and to obtain milk, people had to go out to the float with their jugs. The milkman had a half and a one pint measure which he used to dispense the milk. These measures had a long hooked handle and were hung on the side of the churns when not in use.


My great friends at that early age were Les Marsh, the youngest son of the Marsh family who ran the Hercies farm dairy (Les was well known after the war as the manager of Charrington’s coal depot. He had started with the company on leaving school). Also Tim Smith, who after the war became a teacher at St. Andrews school. He, unfortunately, died very young and Guy Pearce, Son of Cecil Pearce of fish shop fame.

Syd Wilson

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Mar 2016

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My Childhood – Part 1
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