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Transcript TitleWright, Laurence (O2011.12)
IntervieweeLawrence Wright (LW)
InterviewerGeoff Cordingley (GC)
Transcriber byAnn Judge


Hertford Oral History Group

Recording no: O2011.12

Interviewee: Lawrence Wright (LW)

Date: 28th November, 2011

Venue: 15, The Ridgeway

Interviewer: Geoff Cordingley (GC)

Transcriber: Ann Judge

Typed by: Ann Judge

************** unclear recording

[discussion] untranscribed material

italics editor’s notes

GC: This is Geoff Cordingley talking to Lawrie Wright on 28th November, 2011 at 15, The Ridgeway.

LW: Well I was born in 1940, May 1940, ah, which was perhaps not a very good time to be born in some respects. But, ah, born in Her'ford, in the County hospital. I was the only child in the family. Mum and Dad had moved into North Road Avenue when it was built in 1935, ah, and I think in 1940 they were still the only people in the house because very shortly afterwards we had evacuees, ah, sent to us from Leytonstone because of the bombing that was in London, ah, so we were sharing the house in some respects.

Now I was fortunate because Dad, who was a printer, working for Steven Austin's and I think that was one of those industries which, because they were putting out propaganda leaflets and things like this meant that he, he wasn’t, how can I say, he wasn’t an immediate call up person. In fact he never got called up so he was at home all the time and there was a wage coming in, so we were probably, financially, a lot better off than a lot of people who were actually in the services. On the other hand, ah, we didn’t have much money but I don’t think we were ever, in fact I’m sure ,we were never in a state where we could see where, how on earth we were ever going to pay the next bill. I think we just about made ends meet each week with a bit of careful management. Ah, and I suppose, indicating the shortage of money, ah, Mum certainly towards the end of the war and a few years afterwards, went out and did a bit of cleaning for a lady on the other side of the road in North Road Avenue which probably brought in, I would think, 7/6 a week or something like that. Not very much.

Money was tight, no doubt about it, but on the other hand, as I say, we were probably considerably better off than an awful lot of people, and as far as the food was concerned, we had an allotment which provided potatoes, cabbages, brussels sprouts, carrots and things like that. And probably the most beneficial thing of all was that Dad, on Sunday mornings, went to help out, I forget which Saddler it was now, but Saddler's Farm kept chickens, Albert Saddler, that’s the one, not the coal merchant. But he kept a chicken farm, and Dad would be paid in kind which usually meant, probably in the order of 30 eggs each week. There was a basket of eggs, ahm, they were the cracked ones, the misshapen ones, the soft shelled ones, the very largest ones and things like this. And that was, oh, I wouldn't say a life saver, but it was nearly a life-saver. It was very nearly a life saver as far as we were concerned. It meant for example that we had….actually for a family of 3 to use up 36 eggs a week takes some doing if you think about it. Um, even if you have eggs for breakfast on 5 or 6 days of the week, you’ve still only used up 21 of them, or less. So we had, sort of, eggs for breakfast, I can remember scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, and poached eggs and, occasionally we seemed to get bacon, but not very much. We’d sort of have fried eggs as well. So the food was always sort of there.

Ahm, I can’t remember very much, to be honest I can’t remember very much of the very early years. Ahm, not really very much at all. I can remember my first day at school, I don’t think that was the end of the war, er, I can remember one or two things about the war. I can remember one or two things about the war. Her'ford was of course not bombed at all, seriously. Um, I can remember, a, now was it a V1 or a V2 falling on top of the tunnel, Molewood, I happened to be over at a friend’s house at that stage. They faced north, and all the panes of glass in their French windows fell on top of us. There was a tremendous great crunch, oh there was a crunch, and all this glass flew in on top of us. Um, and that was sort of the, it wasn’t the nearest we came to, it was the most dramatic in some ways. But I know that Dad was saying, I can remember him saying he was shaving one morning when he heard one of the doodlebugs come over, and sort of, it was obviously very, very close, and sort of peered outside, it had come over from Bengeo, over the water, it had just missed the water tower, and it came absolutely straight up North Road Avenue. It actually clipped a tree at the top, I mean, it was that low. Now, I mean, whilst its jet is still working you’re not too worried, although when it’s down to the level of a tree, it’s sort of a bit of a problem, but in fact it hit this tree. Now whether that just changed the direction or not, or the elevation, I’m not sure. But it actually went on to Hatfield and fell on a primary school I think it was over there. But, of course, it was 7 o'clock, half past 6, 7 o’clock in the morning, and there was nobody killed from it at all. But that would have sort of flattened the whole of the road, I would imagine, if it had been, literally 30 foot lower.

But that apart, ahm, I can remember being, I can remember the sirens, and I can remember, it’s a very early memory this, being carried up to my grandparent’s house where the family had dug out an Anderson Shelter, and I can remember being carried up, and ah, yep, Mum and Dad commented on the glow you could see of London burning, at that particular time, so I guess it was ’42. ’43 maybe. But that is really all I can remember of the actual war years. And then, as I say, from then onwards it’s, it's mainly about just school and Her'ford. Um, I went to, I went to Port Vale School, which I guess is now Mill Mead. Um, and it was traumatic, I cried terribly. I remember my first day, or the first few minutes of the first day anyway, it was awful, ‘cos I’d never been there before. There was no nursery school getting you organised. One day I was at home, um well I suppose it was the weekend, but I mean one week I was at home, and the next week I was taken to school. And left. And it was as simple as that.

And there was Miss Kiddle, I remember Miss Kiddle, er, the school teacher, erm, had to grab me to stop me running out the class. Um, but um, I know that, and then again, I find it difficult, but Mum took me to school and collected me, and I would have been 6 I suppose, I think we started at 6 in those days, I’m not sure, it must have been 6, or 5 and a half. I can’t remember what time of year it was. If I was 6, I would have started after the Easter holidays, if it was 5 and a half, I would have started in September. But I wasn’t very old. But I honestly think that Mum came, sort of, with me for the first two or three weeks, and thereafter, she and the other Mums, sort of would realise we’d come home as a little group of kids together, and er, we would come home and go to school on our own. Um, it wasn’t a particularly dangerous route actually, because Port Vale was pretty well empty. Beane Road was, there was never any traffic on Beane Road, and er, I just had to cross North Road, um, at the bottom of North Road Avenue. And in those days, ahm, you, you, you really had to wait for cars to come, not for gaps to appear.

Um, so, er, yeh, we started school, um, there were no facilities for eating at lunchtime, so we came home at lunchtime, which is probably why Mum gave up coming to collect us, ‘cos if you think she’s got to do it 4 times, actually, in that case. Um, but um, yes, so we’d come home at lunchtime, and lunch was the main meal of the day because father worked at Stephen Austins as I say, in their office opposite the War Memorial. Ah, he finished at half past 12, um, him and his brother both worked there, they would clock-off almost on the dot obviously, er walk briskly home and you knew to within, almost 30 seconds how long it was going to take, I think he took 12 and a half minutes, and the meal had to be on the table, waiting, or at least, very occasionally, sort of on the top of a saucepan keeping hot. But the meal had to be sort of edible, um within minutes of him coming in.

He’d sort of wash his hands, put his coat behind the door, and er, sit down, and we always sat down in the kitchen to have our meal. Er, because in fact it was the only warm room in the house. That was where the little donkey boiler was that heated the water. Um, so that was where we spent pretty much all the time to be quite honest. But, he, he, he, he’d eat the meal, and then Dad had an hour’s break at lunchtime, so he had to leave at about 5 past 1, 10 past 1 probably. Um, so he was home probably for something short of half an hour. And we always had a main meal, um, and a pudding to eat in that sort of half hour spell. Um and then he, he, I’m not sure when we started school in the afternoon, I suspect, again was it 2 o’clock, or a quarter to 2 or something like that. I… certainly I didn’t have to leave quite so soon, because he never took me with him, otherwise that would have made sense to have gone half the way with him. But, um that I then went to school for the afternoon and, um, then we finished, I think at about 4 o’clock.

Um, I can’t remember very much about the school, there was one form entry, quite a big form, I think it was over, I did remember about 30 of the names at one point, and I, er, so it was one form, and six classes in the school. Ahm, the Headteacher, Miss Bradbear, had a desk in the top class on a raised dais, and er, she sat there whilst one of the other teachers, very often was giving the actual lesson. Um, I think there was a big coal fire in there as well, um, I don’t think there were fires in every room, I seem to remember radiators somewhere, but, er, there was, I’m pretty sure there was a big coal fire in this room which er, kept us reasonably, er reasonably warm. Um, and the feature of the top class was that the desks were pairs and you could ask to sit next to somebody, that was a special privilege to do that. Um, I don’t know that we were sat in any particular order at all, er. I seem to remember that we sat in the same desk each day, it’s true, but er, I don’t, don’t think that, er, that the best ones sat at the front, and the dim ones sat at the back or the naughty ones sat at the front or the good ones sat at the back. I think it was er, just a case of er, after the first day or so, they were our desks and that was it.

But, um, it’s very difficult to remember what we actually did at school. Um I mean it was just an ordinary little, Victorian building. As I said, the Headteacher didn’t have a room for herself. Am, there was, the rooms, the two rooms in the middle of the school, er, they had folding screens, which sort of you could fold back, and then the two rooms were joined up, er which made it big enough to, er, have er, bit of dancing, um, or even a bit of gym, but I mean, we didn’t really have any gym, I think, until the very last two years, which would have been ’49, ’50 sort of period. Er, so we weren’t very active at school at all. But on the other hand we did have an asphalt playground outside. Um, and we used to sort of play games of tag around that, both in the morning and the afternoon. Um, and because it was asphalt it was great, because as long as it wasn’t raining, you could go out. Er, er, it seemed, always seemed to be a very sensible thing to have an asphalt playground to be quite honest.

Um, the other thing about the school I do remember is the loos were outside as well. Er, now, if you know Mill Mead School, er, Port Vale is slightly higher than the land by the river, and the school is on the higher bit, the playground sloped down to a wall at the end of the asphalt, and then there was McMullen's field, where they played football, um, on the other side of the wall. Ah, the loos were down the bottom corner of that slope – with the girls loos down the very bottom, and the boys loos sort of, um, the other half of it sort of , taking up I suppose, I don’t know, 10 yards, something like that.

Um, now this was actually critical one year, because in 1947 when it was so cold, and there was snow, I can remember these snow, I mean it was feet high, it really was and it went on for weeks and weeks and weeks, and how many days did we lose school, none at all. It was, everybody trudged in, the teachers of course lived very locally so they could trudge in. Er, um, and er, he, he, he, I can’t remember being off as a consequence of actual snow but, wonders of wonders it melted very suddenly. It poured with rain, it got suddenly very warm.

There was a warm front came through, poured with rain, temperatures rose dramatically. The snow just vanished. And the river Beane was unable to cope with all this water, and it started to sort of overflow its banks. Well it overflowed its banks, came across the football field, and then of course it started to flow into the girls’ loos. And, at that point we got sent home, which was really rather, uh, we got sent home, um we couldn’t have anyone telephone, I mean we got sent home, I mean whether Mum and Dad were ever home or not, goodness only knows, we just got kicked out the school, and that’s it, you’re going.

Um, which was actually not quite as easy as it seems. Because we were sort of walking along, I’m going northwards along Port Vale, past Mill Stream, underneath the railway bridge, um which is of course a bit lower, and by that time the water had actually got to that low point. Now you could sort of, just about walk along on that path. It was, it was literally sort of inch deep I suppose on the path. And then as you got to the bottom of Nelson Street it was still about an inch deep. But at that time, um, the other side of, the beginning of Beane Road was a bit lower, and in fact the Sea Scouts had got their boat on this, it was just, it just deep enough for them to get their boat to ferry people from Port Vale over to, sort of a dry point on, on, on, on Beane Road. Um, I think it was for old ladies rather than for little boys, who sort of tended to just sort of wade through. Um, but that, that was, that water, I think it did keep us off sort of two or three days. Erm, but, um, you know, its one of those funny things you sort of see half an inch of snow these days and schools close. Er, we had, oh it was snow and ice for weeks on end, it was, we, we, we slogged in. Quite what we did when we got to school, I don’t know. I find that very difficult, because we didn’t do very much.

Um, sport, we had literally two games of football, um, in my year so that, it might have been, probably that year played two games every year. Um, we played two games of cricket against Abel Smiths, yes, I’m sure it was Abel Smiths. Um, we played on the brewery pitch, or at least they cut out a special little wicket for us. Um, and I remember, ‘cos I scored, I think I scored 59, I think it was. And I certainly took 6 or 7 wickets, um, which was, um, you know quite reasonable. But, then, having said that, the thing that I remember is that, sort of, even 11 boys and we could all bat a bit, and bowl reasonably straight, and there we were, sort of 10 year olds coming 11, I suppose at that stage, and er, um, you know I look after half the Cricket Club coach now in 2010, and um, you, you, boys that bowl now, and the number of wides people bowl is unbelievable. And the opposition weren’t any different from, um, from, from Port Vale. Um, I think we actually, I don’t know whether actually Port Vale got a win or not, or whether it was a draw, but er, you know, there was very limited sport. But, as I say, there was just two occasions in my last summer. Um, hardly any PE until the last year, that was only once a week I suppose.

Um, we did a bit of leather work. Again, sort of the top two classes perhaps. I can remember a, pieces of leather. We had a punch, which we made holes in the leather, and then sort of sewed it together with other bits of leather to make a purse, or, or, or something along these lines. We might, we certainly did some painting. Um, but, um, there was almost nothing else. We must have sat there, initially at least we sat there with our slates and did rows of letters, and we had lines on one side of the slate and squares on the other side, so that when we wanted to do numbers, we turned the slate over, and er, did our number work. Um, I thought it was a jolly good scheme actually, ‘cos, er, when you’d done a sum, you got to see whether it was correct, and er, when it was correct you rubbed it out and started again. And it was, all you needed was a piece of chalk. Um, but er, you know, I find it difficult to remember actually doing much writing with pen and ink. We must have done, we must have done. Um,

GC: Did Miss Bradbear teach? Your class?

LW: Very, very rarely. Very rarely indeed. When I was there, we had a, now then, Mr Howard I think his name was. Would that be right? I think it was Mr Howard. Um, it was, it was always, well I was, I think there was always one man there. It was Mr Johnson, came in, certainly in my third year he was there. So probably, he was probably there the year before. ‘Cos he taught arithmetic. Um I can remember him going, I can remember him, sort of, um, very neat writing on the board, and sort of getting us to add up sort of £2 13s tuppence halfpenny and sort of £1 4 and threepence farthing or something like this, which I suppose for a sort of an 8 year old was quite a complicated procedure. Um, but um, yes there was always one man on, on the staff. Um, but er, frankly I can’t remember Miss Bradbeer doing much teaching at all. Not at all. Not at all.

GC: She sat in the classroom?

LW: She was often, she was often sitting in the class, yes, yep, with her glasses on the end of her nose, a very, a very pointed nose it was actually. So, usually had a blue dress, she was very thin, extraordinarily thin. Um, which was probably why, if you’ve got a headmistress sitting in your classroom, you were probably, sort of fairly well behaved of course. But, er, er, er, er, the other thing I can, I can remember, sometimes we must have got up to mischief, I’m sure we must have done, but there wasn’t a lot of noise, we weren’t encouraged to talk very much. Um, we were told to do things, and, I guess we must have been asked to read and things like this, but er, I can’t remember very much, we certainly, we certainly never had any homework to do. No homework whatsoever, so that, er, I never carried anything to school.

Um, not even when we did PE, you simply took your shoes and socks off and that was it. You didn’t have PE shorts, and vests and things like this. Ahm, but when we played the, when we played football, I think we must have football boots on, yes I think we did have shorts for that. But for the cricket matches, er, I don’t think we had anything other than our usual school summer, summer shoes. Because most people in fact, and I certainly, er, thinking, thinking back, I had a pair of wellies for when it was very wet. I had a pair of winter shoes, and I had a pair of Clarke's sandals. And I wore those for school, and Saturdays, and Sundays and holidays and that was about the sum.

Um, it um, we just didn’t have any clothes, I mean that’s er, I mean we, the other thing is that we, oh well I suppose schools these days do have their uniforms don’t they. So um, Mill Mead is blue isn’t it? I think Mill Mead is blue and er, then there’s the red school isn’t there, Abel Smiths. Um, but, we were all grey, there wasn’t a uniform, um we were grey because trousers were grey. On or two of the boys had got longer, long trousers usually by that time, literally with the backsides hanging out because they were their brother’s been handed down. And er, shoes with sort of holes in, I mean there were a lot of kids who, who, who had got, really hardly two pennies to rub together. Um, you know I’m not sure quite where Port Vale drew its, drew its children from but, you know I think there were a lot of poor people around Dimsdale Street and places like that. Maybe George Street, and er, Baker Street and areas like that, that would have been um, and area where they would have come from.

But um, yeh, the um, i..i it was so grey, it was, it really was grey. Um, now what else do I, oh yes, then, of course I was of the era when we had the 11+. Now again, I can’t remember doing any preparation for it at all. I don’t think we had any special, we might have had one test beforehand. I don’t think we did. But I think we just turned up and one day, and we, we were sort of given these papers to actually do.

And I can remember making a terrible mistake, because I can remember, well, one question I can remember is “which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?” and I put a pound of feathers. I know I put a pound of feathers, and doomed, absolutely doomed I’m sure.

But, after we took the test, and I mean everybody took it I suppose, um, eventually a letter came home saying, er, you, please go up to the Grammar School for an interview at a certain time, which is, in fact, presumably what one did. Um, I, I wasn’t taken to school, I must have gone to school as normal and then, I, I, I guess bunches of us would have gone up, um, sort of, as a little group for a particular time, and I, I can remember again that, sort of, going up to the Grammar School. Now I had a slight advantage at that point because my father had been cricket coach up at the Grammar School so I at least knew where it was, and although I’d never been inside it, I’d been up to the top field and sort of, knew some of the cricket, well the cricket masters as they, well they were the Physics Master and the French Master in fact. But I did at least know, know that they existed as it were.

But on the day, we went up to the school, and two of us went in for the interview, together. Not, the other boy wasn’t from Port Vale, so I don’t know who he was, and again I can remember quite vividly, I was asked to read a passage from Winnie the Pooh. Which I did, and then, Mr Bunt, the Headmaster sort of asked the other young lad a couple of questions on Winnie the Pooh, about the bit I’d read. Now, I think he’d told the boy he was going to ask him questions on this. But the boy was obviously completely flummoxed. And, and, and just was, just couldn’t answer so, um, I don’t think I ever saw him again. I think that was about it, you know, um, and we, um we were asked a few questions, and er, then sent away. Um, and then in due course I was told that I had in fact passed.

Um, we had to buy the… because there was a uniform for Richard Hale. You had to have black shoes, socks with, I think it was grey socks, I think it might even have been ones with coloured bands at the top of them. Um, a blue jacket with the badge on it, and a cap. Must have a cap. Um, and er, yah, we went a, we started there and, in, in the September.

Again, never actually having set foot in the school, apart from that one, very brief meeting, erm, up the front steps, erm into the vestibule at the top of the steps, and then sort of hung around for a few minutes, and then hauled in to see, to see the headmaster. Um, there was none of this sort of gradual acclimatisation to a big school or anything….. I can remember how enormous these young men were, the prefects who were 16, 17, I suppose. Um, huge young men with, you know, again I suppose I had realized, because meeting some of them on the cricket field, um, that they were, the cricket field is different from being sort of in a corridor with them. I mean with lots of other kids, sort of, with everything in between. And so many children, so many children, compared, ‘cos there was at least a two form entry, and I think there might even have been a three form entry, certainly there was 33 in our class.

Um, I think, I was trying to think the other night, I mean there was, we started typically, confusing, for a little, for going into a new school, what year do you start in, what form do you start in? You don’t start in Year 1, no, no, you start in form 2, 2A, 2B, and I think there might have been a 2C. Um, then 3a, 3B, 3C, 4A, 4B. And of course they had the removes. Now we didn’t know that at the time, but that was why they had no ‘1’, because you had this funny thing called the ‘removes’.

Um, but um, yes, so that, that was um, it was a strange way of actually doing things in some ways. Um, boys of course coming from all over Her'ford, literally out of Buntingford, Puckeridge, because there weren’t very many secondary schools around at that time. Um, bus loads used to come in on the 331, I think it was, from Puckeridge. Um, there was a whole crocodile of boys coming off of the train at Her'ford North from Cuffley, one or two from Bayford, but it was mainly Cuffley. And then there were other boys coming in from Ware and Hoddesdon. ‘Cos I think, I think probably Cheshunt Grammar was the other secondary, main secondary school apart from the um, um the secondary modern schools.

Um, so but er, Richard Hale, I mean I liked school. Um, I did enjoy , I enjoyed school. I was a, a swot basically. A swot who actually used to play cricket very well. Er, and therefore, was sort of , not exactly looked up to, but I wasn’t sort of bullied or anything like this. School days were sort of, were, were good as far as I was concerned. Um, yeh, er, and um, no we just sort of progressed really rather automatically through school. Coasting, I think is the word they are using at the present moment. I’m not sure whether that’s quite, Um, coasting! I mean, they were, uh, were the lessons any good? I don’t know.

GC: At least there were different subject presumably? Considering, compared with the infant, the junior school?

LW: Yes, yes, I mean we started off, there was genuinely, you had a, um, different masters came in to do different subjects. So, somebody came in and taught history. We started off with the Ancient Brits. It’s logical. Your start with the Ancient Brits and by the time you got up to the ‘removes’, you’d gone through the Romans, the, um, Vikings, Anglo Saxons, Tudors, Stuarts, Hanoverians, so you’d got a, at least a picture of the, okay very British, but nonetheless, it was a picture of sort of, how things had developed.

And likewise with geography, which I always liked, it was Britain to start off with, the woollen industries, and the agriculture, and the towns and things like this. Britain in the first year, um, I think it was um, Europe probably in the second year, then the southern continents, and then um, North America, I think it was that way round, um but after 5 years you’d actually covered a good range of things rather than just plate tectonics, and er climatic change. Um, yes, you’d started doing genuine science as well. You actually had physics which I never understood. And Chemistry, which I quite liked because it was mixing things. You actually had Bunsen burners, and acids, and, er, no goggles of course or anything like this, oh no. It just didn’t work like that. So, there was, there was, we didn’t do biology to start off with. That came in about two years on. But then you had a regular Art class. You had regular PE, twice a week at least, PE. Even in the summer in that wretched swimming pool which was so cold. For reasons, I can never swim, even now. Oh it was cold.

Ah, we had one, one afternoon a week for sports. Rugby starting in September, um, then, probably about February time, go on a cross country running. Um, then a very short period of athletics. Um, then summer sports of cricket, and a little bit of tennis. Um, and that was it. No football. Um, occasionally Fred Harvey tried to get hockey going, but it sort of came and went, and never really progressed very far.

Um, so, yeh, the, ah, there was, there was much more to do there, there was much more to do. As I say, one progressed through it and, er, yes, because I enjoyed the classes and things like that I made progress. So I can read, I mean, I don’t know when I learned to read, um, always had books. I can remember books, sort of by the time I was six I had books and I think by the time I was seven or eight, I was probably reading things like Arthur Ransome’s er, Swallows and Amazons.

‘Cos one of the things that, er, we did at home, um, coming sort of, I mentioned this before, but sort of having got home after school, um, we spent most of the time listening to the radio, and there was a thing called Children’s Hour, from 5 until 5 to 6 or thereabouts, with Uncle Mac. Um, and they, that was regular listening as far as I was concerned. Then there was the News, and then there was Dick Barton, Special Agent afterwards. Um, er which, er, because it was tea time, we had this huge great big Murphy radio, which stood about, sort of, oh I don’t know, 4 foot high I should think. Um, valves, huge great big 6” valves in the back. Um, er a real sort of Art Deco piece I should think it was really. Um, but certainly that was, um, but, um yeh, I mean, school work, I used to come home, we didn’t have much homework. I mean you’d come home, I’d do the homework before tea, because I was nicely well organized. Um, and that was it. And I’d sort of probably read, or um, in summer go out and play cricket.

Um, I mean compared with what my children did, well certainly Eleanor at Presdales, um, I mean she spent hours and hours at homework, hours and hours and I mean, she had …. even from, even from junior school she had things to sort of do. Not very much its true, but sort of, um, from Presdales really perhaps she was just slow at doing it. I don’t think so, it was just simply that they do far more subjects now than we did. I remember , I mean basically I did seven, because I didn’t take science subjects, um I only took seven ‘O’ levels. Um, which might have been easy, I dunno. Dunno.

Um, but what did I do? I mean at school, um as I say I enjoyed really. Um what did I do in my spare time, um there was no television of course. Radio was quite an important thing, that, that was always on in the background, from, from time immemorial. My job was to light the fire in the, um, lounge, back room. Um, North Road Avenue houses had two rooms, front and back. Um, we would go into the best room, the front room twice a year, and that was it, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Partly because it was so cold, um but equally, um, that was the best room.

Um, I mean we didn’t have very many visitors, it just simply that it wasn’t used. Er, but the main room was the kitchen, which as I say was the warm place to be. And then when I came in, in the afternoon, from the age of about 7, I was in charge of actually lighting the fire. So, you know I would, it would be, er, yeh the paper would be there. Occasionally blue sugar bags we used, ‘cos that used to burn up quite nicely. Um, our newspaper was the News Chronicle and that was quite good, That hadn’t got too much kaolin on it, so it burnt quite nicely. The Times was, er didn’t burn very well at all. Um so there would be a layer of paper, crumpled paper, then a few sticks of kindling, probably about 8 sticks of kindling, and then lumps of coal on top of that. Ah, and then, sort of a match, let it go, and woe betide me if I sort of wasted a match. I mean it would go, it would go, I knew how to do it. I mean occasionally, very occasionally and usually in November there seemed to be no draw in the chimney at all. Um, and er we had to go and hold a newspaper in front of the fire to, sort of, get it sort of pull in. And then once it started to go it would sort of suck this piece of newspaper into the fire which would catch light and disappear up the chimney. (Laughter). One wondered whether it would set the whole place alight. Um, but no. So that, lighting the fire, that took sort of twenty minutes or so, at least, watching it, and er, then it was a case of what did I do.

Well, yeh, we had lots of, I was lucky with toys. Um, I wouldn’t say, I didn’t have anything new, but um, I did have a, a lot of hand-me-down jigsaws. I enjoyed jigsaws. I can remember I had some, er, that a Mr Levitt, who was a, he was a tailor I suppose. He lived down oh Villiers Street area. Er, I don’t know quite how we knew him, But anyway, he had some lovely big jigsaws that he, they would have been 400 piece jigsaws I should think. And they were pre-war. So I can remember one had got a, it was a Bentley racing car. And then there was a, a Flying Scots engine, and er, I can see another sort of bi-plane type of one. I mean there were others as well, but er they, they, they were good solid ones. ‘Cos when I had completed them, you could sort of lift them up and sort of pin them on the wall. Instead of …. And then somebody would come in and sort of, there’d be a draught, and they’re all shattered and the whole thing would collapse.

But er, yer, jigsaws, um reading, as I say, um, I have literally just got rid of about a, nine Arthur Ransome books I think it was, which I must have read at some time. Yes, books in those days were so dull, weren’t they. I mean there were two or three line drawings, um, and that was about the sum total. There’d be a frontispiece which might be a coloured one, but oh dear me, there were a lot of words in them, not many pictures.

Um, but, er yeh, there was, then there was the comics. Every, every week I’d get the Dandy and a Beano.

GC: Not the Eagle?

LW: Yes, well that came later. But not Hotspur and, there was another one, er that was, there was another one which was very much more reading, rather than cartoon type things. Um, but, but I, yeh, I enjoyed, I enjoyed particularly, the Eagle was a wonderful magazine, it really was. Er, it was informative, bright, cheerful, colourful, er, and Dan Dare, I’ve still got Dan Dare, sort of in a book over on the back there which I read from time to time. Laughs!

Um, yes, so there was the reading, er, we, my cousin who was 14 years older than me, sort of, he had a train set which I was given, a Hornby, not a double O, an O gauge train set, um which I suppose I would have got when I was 7, and at that time, by that time the evacuees had gone back to London and so there was now a spare room in the house upstairs, a spare bedroom, um, which, to be honest, we hadn’t got enough money to go a furnish in any way, so it was literally just bare boards, er which was actually quite good for just putting down this sort of, er, um track. ‘Cos it went all round the room.

Um, I think, looking back, it was the building of the track which was the important bit rather than the running of the trains, because I had these, er, they were wind-up clockwork trains which you wound them up, you put them on the line and they shot off, at such a, there was no regulator to let the spring go out gently, it just sort of shot off at a great, of course it hit the first corner and it fell off didn’t it. Um, so there was a lot of pushing trains around, rather than actually watching them, sort of go, ha, ha, er, by the clock. But it was a good set because there was a, there were a lot of um, smashing wagons, and er carriages, and there was a water tank, stations and things like this. As I say it filled up a fair bit of the room.

Um, so that took some …. and then the other thing was that the same cousin had a, a Meccano set and I spent hours on Meccano. I could do nuts and bolts, and flange plates, and girders, and cogs and, this was, this was wonderful. Oh dear me, far better than Lego, much more complicated than Lego. Um, um, it had one or two designs you know which you could follow, but it was mainly a case of making up your own windmill, or your own bridge, or, I don’t know, your own aeroplane, things like this. Um, then it was, it was a big, it was an accumulation rather than a particular set I think.

But um, yes, so that, that kept me very busy, in the winter time certainly, and um, and, and then in the summer it was a case of playing cricket. And playing cricket, um, we didn’t move very much. Boys, um, there were the North Road Avenue Boys, there were three of us, well two really. Um, played in North Road Avenue, and occasionally we went down to Greenways. Very rarely did we go up to Fordwich. Er, and almost never down to Hartham because if you went down to Hartham it took you 20 minutes to get there, or 15 minutes to get there and it was this huge open space, and 2 or 3 boys in a large open space, and you were fetching the ball all the time. Um, people would say, why don’t you go down to Hartham, oh, well you know, it’s much easier to play in the road, or indeed, with the cricket, playing between the two semi-detached houses. So, um, because the fence had been taken down so the neighbour could drive his car in.

Um, and um, this was ideal because a ….. it meant you had to learn to play straight, er, as a batsman. The bowler you’d got the guides of the sides, so the bowler could bowl straight as well and, um, although we were on a hill on North Road Avenue, um, there was a fence, not at the end, but going down the side, a paling fence, um which was most effective in actually stopping the ball. Occasionally it went down into the road, er, but very rarely. And er, oh we played hour after hour there. Sort of, um South Africans played the English, then the Australians would play the English and things like this. I did all the batting, I did all the batting. Well, the trouble was, my friend was a very good bowler, but he wasn’t a very good batter, and so when it was his turn to bat, I’d get him out sort of so quickly, that, even when I wasn’t trying to get him out, that was the thing.

It was, er, we did three, I suppose three years, at least three years, then we got, we started to grow of course, and er, when we started to grow, the ball goes in actually in a different position. And we found we were sort of hitting it, oh, it seemed to go in, too often, into the kitchen of the house up the road, on, on the left hand side, on the leg side of the wicket as it were. Er, there was a little fan light, um, you wouldn’t believe the ball could get through it, but, by golly it would go once a week, and of course it would go into, through the fanlight, not very hard, but it would then drop down inside the kitchen, sort of, rather taking the poor lady who lived there by surprise. It was the side where, opposite the boiler, so that was where her table was, so it would sort of come through the window and then sort of plop down, sort of, on, on onto to whatever she was preparing. Which I can see now would have been extremely annoying. Added to which of course we were always sort of, the thud of the ball, incessant thud of the ball, and the chatter all the time, it must have been, she was very, very tolerant of us, extremely tolerant of us.

But that was um, that, that was really what we spent our time doing. And then of course on Saturdays, I was actually, sort of going to the cricket matches with Dad who played cricket and er, I, I guess scoring. Did a bit of scoring, not a lot. But just sort of cricket grounds were and still are very safe places for young people to be. Um, er, you know he could always see me, I could always see him, and um, you know it was, I always took my kit and hope that one person wouldn’t turn up. And occasionally it happened, it occasionally happened. And so I first started playing for Her'ford when I was, I think it was eleven.

Um, yeh, er, I suppose the other thing I did was to, to actually go into the town. Um, it’s funny that, there I am living in North Road Avenue, err, it didn’t really matter when I was small, er, Mum would take us into the town. And we would always go. North Road Avenue, via the Sea Lions, well I mean not into the Sea Lions, past the Sea Lions, hospital, past the coal bath, the Ebenezer Chapel, into St Andrew's Street. And then down Maidenhead Street, um, occasionally down to the Arcade, as it was in those days, and then back, often coming back via Port Vale, because, I don’t know why, Mum shopped for her groceries at Mrs Romers, which was a little shop immediately opposite Port Vale School, I think it’s the ceramic shop now. How on earth anybody made a living in those days I don’t know. I mean there was, we, we, I can, she would sort of er, have this great bag of sugar and sort of carefully ladle it out in a scoop to a blue bag and short of weigh it on scales. And she’d have a large block of butter and again, sort of slice it off into whatever size you sort of wanted. Um, yes she had got a bacon slicer there so you could get bacon after the war, certainly. Um, I can remember that.

But, you know, there was, that shop, next door to it was Wren's the baker, one of Wren's shops, the bakers. Um, then you had the Two Brewers, then there was a launderette, a laundry rather than a launderette. Then there was the Greyhound, the next pub, I think it was Greyhound. Er, then there was Christ Church. Um, coming a bit further along, there was another shop, another general provisions sort of shop. Er, and then there was the Mill Stream and then you were into Beane Road. Um, you know, all these little shops, how they made a living, I don’t know, because you know, there were so many of these little shops in Her'ford.

Um, yeh, well, well when I think about it, I mean Stallybrass which was where we got our meat from regularly, um, oh not a very big shop, that’s where Boots the opticians are at the present moment. Um, the vegetables, well we didn’t need many vegetables because we had the allotment, but when we did need vegetables now then, was it, oh, I forget it’s now Guys and Dolls, the hairdressers, there was a, oh dear, not Young's was it? Young's the greengrocers, were they there? Certainly Young's the greengrocers were in the, um covered market on Saturdays. But er, you know, that was a small shop. And then there was, there were so many of these shops. There was Hugman's, the pork butchers, again, um, almost opposite the um The Woolpack. Um, there were dozens of butchers. There were dozens of little, um, grocers. They were grocers in those days, weren't they, yeh, they were.

Um, greengrocers, er, er again, there was this, this wonderful greengrocer, well I don’t know whether it was wonderful, it was very tatty little shop, down by the war memorial, who had got a hook instead of a hand. And it was sort of, this was sort of, I, I, I found this absolutely sort of terrifying really, sort of weigh out the brussels sprouts or the potatoes into the scales, and then very deftly sort of, er get the brown bag, flip his hook through one corner of it, put the potatoes in and whip the whole things round with his other hand and the hook and then give it to you. And er, um, this, there was that, and then there were the, you know, the shoe shops, the um, the men’s wear shops, things like this, there were dozens, and they weren’t very …. Coleman’s shoe shop for example on Mill Bridge, it was half the size of Stead and Simpson, but there was, there was lots of other little shops there. Er, Miss Richardson’s was another shoe shop down by the Mercury. Goodness me, she probably didn’t sell more than one pair of shoes a week. I can’t believe she would have done.

Er, and it was all so grey, dirty. No dirty, that’s probably was not quite true. Er but there was no, you know the lighting was always, um, a small bulb in the middle of the shop. Um, windows were very small. Um, if …. you know, there were usually sort of, sort of chest height type of thing. Not right down to the ground, so you couldn’t kick windows in in those days. You can do now of course quite easily. Um, and it was small panes of glass as well, so if you broke one pane of glass it was a small thing to replace rather than sort of huge £800 thing to replace.

Um, but as I say, it was always so dark and gloomy, it really was, even sort of the big, the really big stores like the International Stores, er, which is now the Woolwich. Which is not now the Woolwich, but is something else isn’t it? Coles, or something like …. but even, that was quite, that was really the biggest shop in the town. There was the International Shop, and there was the Co-op. Um, which is now the Co-op Pharmacy. That was quite a big shop. And there was Howard Roberts, that was another sort of, um, general grocery type store. But for the most part the others were small shops. And er, you know that’s, that’s the really the big change which has gone on. Um, but as I say, there were so, I mean they didn't entice one in, they really didn’t. Not that you had any money to sort of spend when you got there anyway.

But I remember sort of going down, as I say, that would be with Mum, going to school of course I cycled to school virtually from the word dot, to secondary school. Of course ………boys who passed the 11+ often got a bicycle as a present, and I got a green Raleigh. Er, a pre-war green Raleigh it is true, er, which cost Dad £5 but nonetheless, you know this was a very special bike. And it meant that I cycled in, I don’t think I walked in more than about two, twice or three times. I cycled in all the time. So I’d go again down, um, the um, the road past the hospital, er up to the Ebenezer Chapel, along North Road, which is there where it joined the Hertingfordbury Road and St Andrew's Street. And the, that particular, oh dear me, it was, I think there was Wacket's Cycle shop was on one side, on the far side of the road. Um, there were quite, I seem to remember quite tall buildings, sort of you know, three storey buildings, and they, ah, whether it was the grime of the smoke over the years, but, um they, they, there was hardly any lights in the windows, there were dark, dirty old bricks. Um, half of them didn’t seem to be open, and er, it, it was all, it was all thoroughly depressing, it really was. But er, and, er, um, I, as a lad I never really got used to the town. I mean, you know I’d cycle in and out, and that was it. If you, if you, some of the boys from Richard Hale would actually have to go through the town to catch a bus, or would go through the town to get home and they seemed to know all the shops and people in the shops and they’d sort of, er had many more tales of that sort of, um, events after school. But I, I, I was er, sort of whizzing along on me bike, and that was about it, I was home.

Um, the other thing of course, the other thing I was remembering was I should say the Saturday morning pictures which was really very good down at the, er the County cinema, which we went to, me and my friend went down there, I would guess for two, a couple of years. I would guess it was a couple of years. We had to walk all the way which from North Road Avenue down to the County cinema is quite a hike. And then a hike back as well. Er, I think it was 9d. I think it was 9d. Um, which is what, sort of five, no, no 4p is it or something like that these days. About that sort of amount.

Er, and, yer, that, that, that was a, you know, sort of er, characteristic …. there was a cartoon, there was a serial, either a cowboy or a batman and robin serial at the end there was always an improving film in the middle of it. Erm, and um, usually, as I say a cartoon and then also probably a, a comic, the Three Stooges were there. Er, and um, this, this this was, of course good, the County cinema was rather a grand building. It’s er, you know, got it’s er Art Deco sort of front to it. And there was a wonderful, er, pool for goldfish, when you went through the doors inside, near the ticket office, there was these, these big goldfish in this, this…. It was splendid sort of place to be. And it was, I mean, it was obviously the thing to do, I mean it wasn’t just a half a dozen boys in there, it was, there were an awful lot of boys. Er, and not always very well behaved boys either I have to say. The Manager had to come out and sort of stand in front of the curtains sometimes and sort of threaten us to send us all home. Um, but um, you, as I say for two years we did that.

Er, and then the other things that we did, was fairly regularly um, go to The Gang Shows, the annual Gang Show which we had. Um, not that I was ever in the Scouts or Cubs. Er, I was never a joiner, never a joiner really. Er, but yer, there was the Gang Shows, and then there was the um, Her'ford Dramatic Society. It was usually, nearly always Gilbert and Sullivan, nearly always. I think there was Edward German’s Merrie England on one year, but er, 9 times out of 10 it was, er, Gilbert and Sullivan. And then there was the pantomime as well. Um, and of course you knew the people in the pantomime, you knew the people, well at least Mum and Dad knew the people. Oh yes, and there’s old so-and-so. And er, this was, this was rather grand, because we didn’t really, as a family, go up to London very much at all. Er, you know we were very much centered on Her'ford. I think that er, well, I mean with the war on, so that put you off anyway. Um, but I know we, we went up to London twice maybe in lulls in the bombing, um, once to see my Mother’s family, um and once to shop in, well, was it Selfridges. It was certainly Oxford Street. Was there a Waring and Gillows as well, I think, no that was up at the City, wasn’t Waring and Gillows. C&A, that was the other shop that Mum used to go in. And then she’d sort of look round, and she never bought anything, and she’d come back and she’d go to Graveson's and find just…, I think it gave her the idea of what she wanted and Graveson's usually had it.

Um, but then we did that. We went up to Bertram Mills Circus on couple of, couple of year. Um, and …..

GC: Where was that?

LW: That was at Olympia.


LW: That was Olympia, and that was when you had elephants, lions, liberty horses and clowns, and trapeze artists and things like that. That, that, that, I can remember that very clearly. Um, and , um well in the summer we went up to watch cricket. Very rarely, very rarely. Um, but Dr. Gilmer was a member of the M.C.C. and he could get tickets occasionally. He gave, or at least, offered us tickets for um, there was the Gentlemen of England versus Australians. Um, there was a , did he have a, yes there must have been an England Australia Test that I went to see. And also the odd Middlesex game. ‘Cos that was 1947, and the Australians were ’48. Er, er, so that, you know you’re talking about twice a year, at the most twice a year.

So basically, sort of we stayed in and, in Her'ford. I mean we didn’t go, er oh, I mean, I used to go oh er, the bike I got for my 11+ wasn’t the first bike I had had. I had a little bike, um, 8 inch, 9 inch wheels I suppose to start off with. And then another one with about, sort of oh, I dunno, 12, 14 inch wheels something like that. And we used to go over to North, or Welwyn North to collect train numbers, and we’d cycle over to Welwyn North. Um, and once in a while we were invited into the, er, Signal Box there, which was a great event. A great event! Um, but er, you know, we, we did quite a lot of cycling, quite a lot of cycling. Mum and I, Mum was a very, I would say keen, she was a nice cyclist. I mean she had an ordinary, honest to goodness Raleigh bicycle, tourer probably, with a basket on the front. And in the afternoons on a summer’s day, um, she'd sort of say, “Let’s go out,” and we’d ride round to Dane End, or Bramfield or um, perhaps to sort of Tewin or somewhere like that, on a fairly regular, and go out for walks in the afternoon as well. Um, so I was used to cycling anyway.

Um, but, yer, I mean the , the, we’d go over, well, how old would I have been then, 8, 9 maybe? Yes, I suppose 8 or 9 sort of thing. Quite happy, sort of go off along the roads ‘cos there was hardly any traffic at all. Hardly any traffic at all.

Um, then after that, well I say, after that, um, probably, bit later on, sort of, Ian Allen who was the person who sort of produced the little book of train numbers, um, then produced a book of bus numbers as well, so we’d sort of start collecting bus numbers. And , yer, I couldn’t have been 11 I suppose and we would catch a Green Line from here. I can remember once we went to Staines, my friend and I. Only about 11, and got on the 715 up to Oxford Circus, and then on another Green Line out to Staines and sort of saw these, um, few remaining, um, I mean I say they were pre-war buses at that stage, and came back. And um, yer, I mean, I dunno whether, I don’t think it was extraordinary, I think, you know, it wasn’t, don’t think permission had to be given or anything like this. It was the sort of thing you could do in those days.

Um, but basically, basically you know we, we we didn’t sort of do all that much, we played football in the road, er because North Road Avenue had got a …. it, it was a cul-de-sac with a turning circle at the top. And the turning circle, um, there were never any cars. Um, so you could play football in the turning circle, which was ideal because it was a relatively confined space, um, nearly all the garden in those days had got hedges at the ends of their gardens, so if you, the ball rarely went into the, into the gardens, and, and er, you know, three people could play quite happily. Even two people could play quite happily up there, which we did.

Um, so that, that was it, and then um, as I say, um gradually getting older and older and er, suddenly sort of the 1960s things started to change dramatically, didn’t they? All round that, sort of shops started to sort of, small shops started to be, not pulled down but sort of go out of business, which is hardly surprising. Traffic started to build up. And um, you know, it was um, the town, the town got bigger. A lot bigger. Um, yer, so you’d hardly recognise, you’d go down Port Vale now I mean Christ Church has gone. Er, the brewery with its wonderful old shire horses that used to stick their heads out and er, look at us as we walked past, that’s gone.

GC: Which brewery was that?

LW: Macs.

GC: Macs.

LW: Macs! Yer, um, It was a, it was their storage yard really.

GC: What Port Vale?

LW: Along Port Vale, yeah. But they, they, they kept, I think they kept four shire horses down, great lovely grey horses with shaggy sort of feet. Um, and it was also where they kept their bottles because the houses that are now built behind where they are in, um, behind Port Vale on, on the river, flood plain, um, I think if you actually dug into the ground more than about 5 inches, you’d be digging into glass bottles. That’s where they, they just dumped them, rode the tractor, bulldozer over the top of them sort of thing. I’m sure, I’m sure the builders didn’t remove them when they put the houses up, went straight through them.

Um, so that, that’s, that’s about my memories I think, of er, Her'ford.

GC: Okay, thanks very much Lawrie.