Early memories of our home – 39 Worsley Bridge Road.
My parents bought the ground floor maisonette in 1943. Quite a surprising thing to do in the middle of the war and with very little money, but considering the bomb threat maybe the houses were cheaper than they might have been? Worsley Bridge Road was one of a few roads of private housing on the south side of the estate squeezed in between the gasworks and the Kent Boundary line and indeed the road continued across a bridge over the River Ravensbourne into Beckenham. Our address was Lower Sydenham with the post code SE26 and not SE6 (Bellingham). Until 1953 or so, around the time that sweets came off the ration (which memorable day I remember going with my brother to the newsagents halfway up Southend Lane to buy sweets for the first time without a ration-book), the road was ‘unadopted’, which meant just a loose stone roadway with grass verges. Horse and carts were still around in those days and I remember going out to shovel up the horse dung from the stony road to put around the rhubarb as fertiliser.
My Father was working as an engineer maintaining the printing presses at the Amalgamated Press in Summner Street and would get the train from Lower Sydenham Station to London Bridge. Sometimes when he was working overtime at the weekend he would take us with him to work. Very often he had little to do and so we would get to go on a tour of the printing works before going home leaving the doorkeeper/watchman to clock my Father out on the time machine some hours later. ‘The Print’ was rife with such practices in the 1950s and indeed until Fleet Street itself was effectively destroyed in the Murdoch era.
The maisonette consisted of a small hallway leading onto one living room, two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a combined bathroom/lavatory. My Brother and I shared the slightly larger bedroom at the back of the house with two single beds and a single bar electric fire built into one corner. There was no central heating of course and our bedclothes, long before the days of duvets, were layers of heavy blankets which pinned you to the bed once you were tucked-in for the night! In the winter frost would form on the inside of the windows. Mum and Dad had a double bed in the slightly smaller bedroom along with a range of wartime ‘Utility’ furniture which seemed to be built out of veneered cardboard. The garden was a good size accessed from the Kitchen. There was a lawn and flower beds immediately behind the house and then at the end of the garden there was a plot where Mum grew runner beans, tomatoes, cabbages, and other vegetables as well as loganberries and blackberries – the latter trained over the Anderson Shelter at the far end of the garden where the garden tools were stored along with the mangle for washdays. In the beginning we kept some chickens for eggs and also for meat. I remember granddad coming round to dispatch a chicken with a sharp penknife to cut its throat.
The one item of luxury that we had was a large Ferranti radio which stood in the corner of the living room with short wave, medium wave and long wave bands, each with evocative names on the tuning panel Hamburg, London, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Odessa, Paris, Moscow, Hilversum and so on. Not that I had any idea where many of those places were in those days. Years later Eileen and I were to live very close to Hilversum, and it was not until then that I understood that in the Netherlands all of the Radio, and by then Television Broadcasting, was provided from a central facility in Hilversum with different broadcasters effectively renting facilities – very Dutch. A very crowded Hilversum shopping centre also featured as the venue for the trauma of losing our son Thomas when he was just three years old: Fortunately he came to no harm – just wandered off by himself rather than having been abducted – but we were temporarily traumatised.
On the opposite side of the road to the Maisonette was the Baird Television Company Factory and further down just before crossing into Kent was Lower Sydenham Station, and around it further small factories, a technical college and a Science Museum store. As a consequence quite a lot of cars would park on the road and so I learnt, anorak style, to identify almost every pre- and post-war car at a distance – although we did not have a car ourselves until 1953 when my Dad bought a 1935 Standard 10. Dad demolished part of the front wall so that the car could be parked in the front garden where to protect it from the weather it was covered by a heavy tarpaulin. It was a pig of car, very difficult to start, the starter motor was fairly useless and mostly dad had to resort to multiple efforts with the starting handle. On one memorable occasion Dad and a friend from work, with my brother and I in the back seat, were driving up Sydenham Hill when a hot exhaust pipe set fire to the wooden floorboards and Dad had to run into the nearest shop to get jugs of water to put the fire out. Eventually the Standard 10 was part exchanged for a super car which I regret we did not keep. Today, if you could find one it would cost a fortune. It was a 1936 Vauxhall 16 horse power convertible. A beautiful car that saw a lot of mileage on Family holidays from Worsley Bridge Road to Weston super-mare following those linear page by page AA route maps. These were the days when AA patrolmen standing by their motorbikes with toolkit sidecars would salute members as they passed by AA telephone boxes.