Last month’s childhood memory from Tony Simpson, of living before and during World War II in the countryside of Devon, with no water or electricity mains and such, was a revelation to me and no doubt to many of our members of a similar age. I was luckier. This memory of my childhood tells of the differences between him and me.
I was born in 1927 and brought up in Enniskillen, just about as far west as one can be in the UK, in that part of Ireland that remained loyal to Great Britain after the 1921 revolution that split off the south of the island to form the Irish Free State. My parents were from the south, Dublin, but had moved north when Dad got a job as a schoolmaster teaching chemistry at Portora Royal School, one of five Royal Schools in the province founded four hundred years ago. He only intended the job to be temporary, but thank heavens he stayed on and so, probably with his connections, I was lucky to have had a public school education.
Enniskillen was a town of some four thousand people, roughly split 50/50 between loyalists (Protestants) and nationalists (Catholics) who lived in separate parts of town and rarely if ever mixed. Our maid Josie, paid 10/- a week, was a Catholic and I, aged about three, having been ‘warned’ by a neighbour’s son of this dreadful fact came home, walked into the kitchen and called out “Josie is a captain, a captain”. Mother heard me, came in and gave me a thrashing for being so rude, the only time I can recall her doing such a thing, she was so furious.
We had electricity generated in town, 220 volts DC, but I remember, aged five, when the AC 240 volts came to town on the grid; water – no shortage of that – was piped across town and the local gasworks enabled us to cook our food.
School started for me at the kindergarten of local girls’ school a short walk from home (for decades afterwards I would get begging letters from them addressed to ‘Dear Old Girl’). This led to Prep school and eventually to Portora.
When I was five, Dad bought a car for £5, a Morris Bullnose dating from 1926. I went with him when he bought it: he was driven two miles by the garage man – me on the bench seat between them – and they then swapped places and Dad drove us home, all the driving instruction he ever had and it showed. A few years later he bought a Ford 8, brand new, for £110 which saw us through the war.
During the war we were invaded by the USA army which at one time outnumbered us two to one and who taught me to smoke and chew gum. Dad, who commanded the OTC at school, was nearly shot by a doughboy when General Eisenhower came to visit his army and Dad was leading a creeping platoon of cadets unaware of who was inspecting the soldiers on the rugby pitches.
We had a splendid talk from Vivien Lovett about the history of Surrey Street market in Croydon, one of the finer things about the often cynically commented-on town handed down over the centuries.
The market started nearer where Grants’ shop is, but moved slightly further down the hill to where Scarbrook Road is now, to avoid paying rent to the Archbishop of Canterbury who owned the land right up to the High Street and it was then that it was granted its Charter – in 1276 – to trade. Little in the way of houses and shops then, just fields mostly [possibly full of crocuses for sale? The origin of the name ‘Croydon’ was ‘Crocus Dene’.-Ed].
As the town grew in the nineteenth century that area developed into a red-light district and the market ended up in Surrey Street as we know it now. There the business got so full that there were fights over sites, with static stalls which included a butchers’ row and in 1922 the area was licensed to sell alcohol.
Trading started each day with a blast from a policeman’s whistle. Middle and upper-class business was thriving with the new population brought in by the railways and Vivien’s great-grandfather was one stall holder that got rich on the trade, selling garden plants at 2/6d each.
Covent Garden was the wholesale source for most stalls, which meant getting there by 4 a.m. each day, so living close to the market was a must and Vivien’s grandparents lived just round the corner in Church Park, behind North End. Amongst the traders who didn’t need to go to Covent Garden were the French onion sellers who came regularly until just before World War II.
Vivien’s father went off to war, leaving her grandmother in charge of trade and she is remembered as having to make plant pots by melting old gramophone records and squeezing them into shape. She not only sold plants, but also spotted the market for second-hand saucepans and frying pans, both in short supply then. Another thing that was popular then – practically essential for men – was Brylcreem and she added this to her stall.
After the war the market was as busy as it ever had been, with some ninety stalls set up each day, but nowadays business has been hit by supermarkets and the like, so currently only some thirty-five are trading.
A lovely illustrated talk by a speaker with personal knowledge of the subject.
Helene Gillard tells us about the Soldiers, Sailors and Air Force Association
David Brown on Concorde
Peter Jones takes us on A Walk on the Wild Side
Glenda Law tells us about Street Furniture, something that raises hackles with many folk.
Today Reg Baker is going to the clinic to have the plaster removed from his broken ankle after six weeks of hobbling around. I told him he could have a really good scratch when it comes off. He sends his regards to us all and is sorry that the plaster-removing will prevent him from attending today’s lunch.
Ken Carter emailed me saying “Most members will remember Harry Cundell who left us when he moved to Saffron Walden to live nearer his daughter. Ken and Jean Carter paid him a visit recently and found Harry well but very busy caring for his wife Joan, who is unfortunately not now very mobile. Harry has however found time to join the local Probus Club and, of course, he is still much involved in photography. He sends his best wishes to all in Coulsdon Probus.”
We shall learn more about our Chairman’s Mystery Tour Outing today.
August 4th is the date and we shall meet the coach at the Tudor Rose at 9.00 a.m. Andrew Banfield has organised a great day out at a time of the year when our holidaying grandchildren can be invited to come along. Lunch will be a feature to fill their little tummies (and ours, of course). Proceeds will be sent to our charity for the year, Royal Marsden.
A local event of great importance as always is the Coulsdon Fair on July 2nd at the Grange Park as always. Of the half-dozen or so local village fairs, Coulsdon is the best, attended last year by some 7,000 visitors to more than a hundred stalls.
We shall be having our own stall of course and this year Jim Mulvey is organising a tombola for which we shall need lots of prizes, such as cakes, wine and (those grandchildren again), cuddly toys; anything, really that you think will encourage people to take part and pay up, especially since all proceeds raised will to go to the charity this year, Royal Marsden.
Jim Mulvey is re-organising our Website and will no doubt be in touch with those who can contribute, including your Editor for the Newsletter. This used to be a regular feature on the website but your Editor’s inability to email it to Jim caused it to be excluded. That ignorance is being attended to, so once again tens of thousands of Probeans across the world will get the chance to read what we are up to.
Wasn’t that a great wedding last weekend? Personally, I doubt if I missed a frame on TV. Good luck to William and Catherine.