Dangerous piece of domestic ‘machinery’ for small children in the 1940-50s home of Anthony Sargeant

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In 1940-50s South-London there were few washing machines. The mother of Anthony Sargeant did not have one but she did have a cast-iron mangle such as this which was housed in the shed at the bottom of the garden. The shed was in fact a re-purposed corrugated iron from a WW2 Anderson bomb shelter. All laundry was done in a large heated copper boiler in the kitchen using a thick wooden pole to stir it around (the thick pole rather like a metre long broom handle also had another use – it was sometimes used to whack Tony when his Mother deemed him to have misbehaved). Heavily soiled pieces of laundry were additionally rubbed on a washing board at the large ceramic sink in the kitchen. After rinsing out the soapy water in the sink the wet laundry was carried up the garden and put through the the wooden rollers of the mangle to squeeze out as much water as possible. The washing was then pegged out along the clothes line which ran the length of the garden. This was not advisable if the wind was coming from the direction of the local gasworks which was less than half a mile away, because at certain stages of the manufacture of Town Gas the coking ovens door would be opened and the wind would carry sooty smuts across the neighbourhood.

via Mangle used to wring out water from laundry on wash-day – which was usually Monday — Anthony J Sargeant in 1966

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Excalibur Estate – ‘Prefabs’ in South London

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Anthony J Sargeant took this photograph in July 2016 on a nostalgic trip to the place of his birth and childhood with his re-discovered friend from that time. We lived on part of a 1930s development of semi-detached housing by the Builders ‘Wates’ in Allerford Road and Watermead Road but we knew the prefabs well. They were put up immediately after WW2 to replace the loss of houses from the German bombing of British Cities and were meant as a temporary solution to the shortage of housing in the immediate post-war years. They were prefabricated in panels and erected on site very quickly. They were designed and intended to last for 10 years but lived on and were liked by those who lived in them well into the 1960s and beyond.

Treadle operated Singer Sewing Machine

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Singer Sewing Machine

The mother of Anthony Sargeant had one of these when the family lived in Lower Sydenham just on the edge of the Bellingham Council Estate in South London. In the 1950s it was not used for ‘creative’ work or ‘craft’ activities but to sew the essential everyday things for clothing and furnishing a home – from bed linen to frocks. The machine itself was hinged at the back and when this was pushed back the front wooden panel which was also hinged at the very front edge and on which it rested could then be raised and the whole of the sewing machine would then fold down into the compartment underneath. The metamorphosis was completed by the hinged wooden flap on the left hand side being folded back across the top concealing the compartment. The structure was based on a cast iron frame and the machine was treadle operated with the large wheel on the right of the treadle driving a thin leather belt up to the machine itself.

There was a small shallow drawer across the front used for pins and needles and such like then two deeper longer drawers on each side. In one knitting needles were stored, all shapes and sizes and colours. In another buttons, it was just post-war remember, and many things were in short supply so any buttons on worn-out clothing were saved for possible re-use in the future. The button drawer provided great delight for Tony as a small child, who arranged the buttons on the floor making patterns with different colours and shapes – a happy memory. When at some time in the 1950s the leather belt broke and was replaced with a new one the broken belt was left lying around and put to use as an implement for punishing Tony when he was deemed to be naughty – not such a happy memory.

Bellingham Council Estate in South London

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Houses in Moremead Road on the Bellingham Council Estate in South London where Tony grew up (1944-1964) and went to primary school. (This photograph believed to have been taken in the 1990s).  The estate was a wonderful example of municipal housing built by the London County Council in the 1920s following The First World War. A manifestation of David Lloyd George’s pledge to build “Homes fit for Heroes”. Regretfully the integrity and social purpose of the estate was largely destroyed by the Thatcher Government’s right-to-buy initiative of the 1980s.

Bellingham Council Estate in South London

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Anthony J Sargeant grew up on the Bellingham Council Estate in South London in the 1940-50s. Although born and living just off the southern edge of the estate in a Maisonette in Worsley Bridge Road which was SE26 (not SE6) his paternal grandparents still lived in the very heart of the estate in King Alfred Avenue close to Elfrida Primary School where Tony went to school. (His maternal grandparents also lived on the estate in Broadmead but were both killed by a bomb on the last night of the London Blitz – 25th May 1941. This photograph shows the corner of Randlesdown Road and the Green which is at the heart of the estate. On the right of the picture is St Dunstans Parish Church built to serve the new estate in the 1920s in a vaguely byzantine style.