During the late 1990s, our then young daughter had a baby-sitter called Bridie. Although Bridie was already well into her eighties when we first met her, she was a remarkably sprightly lady. Born in a rural part of the west of Ireland, she came to England in her late teens. On arrival in England, she and her husband were cared for by the Salvation Army in exchange for taking a pledge never to drink alcohol again. Bridie never reneged on this promise. To earn a living in London, where she settled, she became a domestic servant. Hearing that I had been brought up in northwest London’s Golders Green, she told me the following story.
Sometime before WW2, Bridie was employed as a maid in a Jewish household in Golders Green. She looked after the family’s children and carried out many household duties. Even though it was not a particularly wealthy family, Bridie recalled that she wore uniforms when on duty. There was one outfit that she wore in daytime and in the evening, she changed into another. As she did with our daughter, Bridie became fond of the family’s two young sons.
Many years later, when Bridie had become a grandmother and our daughter’s baby-sitter, she used to spend her spare time travelling around London by bus (making use of her old age free bus pass). One day, she was waiting for a bus at the stop closest to Golders Green’s Sainsbury’s (on the site of the Ionic cinema), when a well-dressed late middle-aged man in the queue said to her:
“Goodness! Is it you, Bridie? We have not seen each other for so many years.”
After a moment, Bridie realised that she was being addressed by one of the two boys, whom she had looked after in the house in Golders Green before the War. Just then, a bus arrived, and as her former charge was about to embark, he shouted:
“This is my bus. Are you taking it, Bridie?”
Bridie misheard what he had said, and by the time she realised, the bus had pulled away, leaving her at the bus stop. She told me that if she had known he was taking that bus, she would have joined him. As far as I know, she has never seen him again.
ON SUNNY EASTER Sunday (2022), we took a morning walk along the Thames Path from the Black Lion pub (and the excellent Elderpress Café facing it) to Dukes Meadows, upstream from the pub. Dodging the endless stream of mostly courteous joggers and less polite cyclists, we enjoyed splendid views of the River Thames and the many old buildings lining Chiswick Mall. Several of the buildings were covered with flowering wisteria.
The river was well-populated with waterfowl including swans; geese of various kinds; ducks; a pair of cormorants resting on a buoy; and several herons. The latter were either standing on the sand and mud at the waterside or in the water close to the bank. Eventually, we reached Dukes Meadows, which consists of fields formerly part of the estate of nearby Chiswick House.
Near the Hammersmith end of the Meadows, we saw a metal sculpture, ‘The Fantastic Herons’, on top of a tall pole. Created by the artist Kevin Herlihy (born 1962) along with pupils from Cavendish Primary School and unveiled in 2004, it depicts three herons standing on a nest. Like most of Herlihy’s creations which often depict animal life, it is made from recycled waste materials. Funded by Singapore Airlines, who held a series of art workshops in the school, it is an appropriate sculpture for the area as herons can often be standing by, or in, the Thames flowing past the Meadows.
LONG MELFORD IN Suffolk is a village that I have passed through several times. It was only during our most recent visit in August 2021, when we stopped there to see its church and Melford Hall that I realised that the place has a connection with Highgate School (in north London), which I attended between 1965 and 1970.
Melford Hall sits on land that was once owned by the abbots of St Edmundsbury. As with all monastic property, it passed into the hands of King Henry VIII when he ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. The king with an eye to profit rather than the prophets sold the properties he had confiscated to wealthy buyers (nobles, merchants, and lawyers). Melford Hall and its lands were sold to a local lawyer, William Cordell (1522-1581). His father was a personal assistant (‘steward’) to Sir William Clopton, a lawyer and owner of Kentwell Hall at Long Melford. Young Cordell was sent to study law at Lincolns Inn and was called to the Bar at the early age of 22. An active politician during the reigns of Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I and a founder of the Russia Company, William Cordell acquired great wealth. It was he that bought the estate at Long Melford along with its stately home, Melford Hall. In addition, he married Sir William Clopton’s granddaughter, heiress to estates in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.
Cordell did not build Melford Hall, but he did modify it in various ways. However, he did build the nearby Hospital of the Holy and Blessed Trinity in 1573. Situated across from the cathedral-like parish church, this was an almshouse for 12 aged men and women. The Great Church of The Holy Trinity stands behind and above the almshouse. It is a superb example of 15th century gothic architecture and is distinguished by having a separate Lady Chapel, which cannot be entered from the church, at its east end. It is one of the only parish churches in the country, which was never part of an abbey, to have such a feature. Within this fine church, Sir William Cordell’s elaborate sculpted tomb can be found in the chancel to the right (south) of the high altar. He died childless.
Amongst other important roles, William Cordell became Recorder of London. He succeeded his acquaintance, another lawyer from Lincolns Inn, Sir Roger Cholmeley (c1485-1565). Sir Roger was the founder of Highgate School during the final months of his life. This is the school I attended many years later.
Thomas Hinde, author of “Highgate School. A History” wrote that after Cholmeley, William Cordell was the school’s greatest early benefactor. Connected with two other educational establishments, St Johns College in Cambridge and Merchants Taylors’ School, Cordell became a Governor of Highgate School in 1576.
When I was at Highgate, it only admitted boys. Some pupils, including me, were day boys, and others were boarders. The boarders lived in one of four houses: School House, The Lodge, Grindal House, and Cordell House. Grindal was named to commemorate Bishop Edmund Grindal (c1519-1583), who helped establish Highgate School and Cordell was named to honour William Cordell. Until We visited Long Melford, I had no idea about the reason for giving Cordell House its name.
Returning to Melford Hall, once the home of William Cordell, it has passed through many generations of the Hyde Parker family, who acquired the hall and its grounds in 1786 from a descendant of both William’s sister and his cousin, Thomas Cordell. In 1890. The Reverend Sir William Hyde Parker (1863-1931) married Ethel Leech (1861-1941) in 1890. Ethel had a cousin, who has become extremely well-known, the children’s author Beatrix Potter (1866-1943). She used to visit the Hyde Parkers at Melford Hall, where she stayed occasionally. She used to draw and sketch many features of the hall and its grounds. We were shown one of the bedrooms in which she used to sleep. Nearby in a glass-fronted display cabinet, you can see a toy duck, wearing the outfit that Beatrix had created for it. This duck was the inspiration for her book “The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck”, which was first published in July 1908.
I had seen photographs of Melford Hall, which made me want to visit it, and I was not disappointed. However, I had not expected to learn that the Hall and the village have connections with both Beatrix Potter and one of the earliest benefactors and governors of the secondary school I attended in Highgate. Our visit to Long Melford certainly broadened our minds, as the popular saying goes. I will leave you with how GK Chesterton, who attended St Paul’s School rather than Highgate, expressed this idea in his “The Shadow of the Shark”:
“They say travel broadens the mind, but you must have the mind.”
WEST HAMPSTEAD, FORMERLY known as ‘West End’ in the time, before the 20th century, that Hampstead was a small town separated from London. Now, yet another of London’s numerous suburbs, West Hampstead has several churches as well as a synagogue. One of these places of worship, St James Church, is worth entering because it is not what it seems from its external appearance.
On entering the church through its electrically operated glass sliding doors, you will be surprised by what you find beneath its fine hammer beam timber ceiling. The west end of the nave is occupied by a post office, the first main-branch of a UK post office ever to be housed within a church. The north aisle of the church contains a children’s ‘soft play’ area, appropriately named ‘Hullabaloo’. The floor of the nave is filled with tables and chairs occupied by people of all ages, some enjoying refreshments from the church’s Sanctuary Café. All these things that you would not normally expect to find inside a church are part of The Sherriff Centre, a community organisation that began operating in 2014 (https://thesherriffcentre.co.uk/). The Centre’s activities also include a stationery store, a free food bank, live music as well as other events, free wi-fi, debt advice, and more.
Jesus is said to have thrown the moneychangers and others involved in commercial activity from the Temple in Jerusalem (“The Holy Bible”, John, Ch 2, v 13-16). However, he might have approved of the commercial activities within St James because profits from the sales outlets in the Centre are used to help finance charitable work. In addition to everything that I have already described about what goes on within St James, there is one more thing to mention. Despite the activities that you might not expect to find inside a church, regular religious Church of England services are held there. It is wonderful that St James, instead of becoming yet one more barely used Victorian church in London, has become a vibrant and beneficial part of a local community, catering to more than only just its by now small congregation.
PADDINGTON RECREATION GROUND, located between West Kilburn and St John’s Wood, was formally established in 1893. It was London’s first public athletic ground. From 1860 to 1893, it was a parish cricket ground. In 1888, a cricket pavilion was constructed. It is now named after Richard Beachcroft who was Secretary of the cricket club in the 1880s. Also in 1888, the grounds were opened to public access and a cycle track was laid out, which remained in existence until 1987 when the position of the cricket pitch was moved. In 1893, the Paddington Recreation Act was passed, authorising:
In 2006, the grounds were completely refurbished by Westminster City Council. The centrally located cricket pitch and its Victorian pavilion are now surrounded by a children’s playground; tennis courts; an outdoor gymnasium; a running track; hockey pitches; a bandstand; a bowling green; and various fenced off enclosures containing gardens and an ‘environmental area’. The pleasant park with its café and other facilities covers 27 acres and is well used by locals.
The Paddington Recreation Ground was a place where two world famous sportsmen trained. One was the professional road and track cyclist Sir Bradley Marc Wiggins (born 1980), who won the Tour de France in 2009. He learned to ride a bicycle in the grounds. He attended the St Augustines Church of England School nearby. The other sportsman was a medical student at the nearby St Marys Hospital when he trained on a running track at the Recreation Grounds, and on the 6th of May 1954, he became the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. This man was Sir Roger Bannister (1929-2018).
The Recreation Ground has several entrances. One of these is a short path leading from Carlton Vale. It runs past a pub called ‘The Carlton Tavern’, which has a curious recent history. In 1918, a German bomb destroyed a pub that stood on this site. In 1921, this was replaced for the Charrington Brewery by a newer building designed by Frank J Potter (1871-1948), who also designed the observatory in Hampstead. During WW2, the pub was the only building in the street not to have been destroyed during The Blitz. This plucky little pub’s luck ran out in 2015.
In 2015, developers bought the Tavern with a view to demolishing it to create space to build luxury flats. A week before the pub was due to become a protected historical edifice, the developers, no doubt having learned what was in the offing, reduced it to rubble. They hoped that they would get away with being fined an amount, which they could easily recoup when they sold the luxury accommodation they were planning to build. Things did not work out in their favour. Local action groups fought for the pub’s reconstruction and won. The courts ordered the developers to reconstruct the pub brick-by-brick (www.standard.co.uk/news/london/developer-told-to-rebuild-maida-vale-pub-brick-by-brick-after-site-torn-down-without-notice-10211892.html). They did a good job, and today it looks much as it did before it was hurriedly demolished.
Both the pub and the Recreation Ground stand in the shadow of the tall tower of the Anglo-Catholic Church of St Augustin. Known as ‘the cathedral of north London’, the church was designed in the gothic revival style by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897), who also designed Truro Cathedral in Cornwall. St Augustin was consecrated in 1880, but the tower and spire were not completed until 1897-98. I have never been inside this building, but I have seen photographs of its interior, which looks superb.
The places described above are almost all that remains of an area which has been subject to much rebuilding since WW2. Visiting these places can make an interesting detour when walking near Little Venice along the Paddington Arm (branch) of The Grand Union Canal. I doubt that I would have visited the Recreation Grounds had I not been alerted to it and encouraged to pay it a visit by two sets of friends, to whom I am grateful.
COLVILLE SQUARE GARDEN in North Kensington is seventy-two yards east of a section of Portobello Road, where stalls with various foods do business most days of the week. The square was laid out in the1870s by the local developer George Frederick John Tippett (1828 – 1899). By the 1950s, the area around Colville had a large proportion of the local ‘black’ community, numbering about 7,000 (https://citylivinglocallife.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/colville-community-history-newsletter-issue-18.pdf), living there. Conditions in the locality became particularly bad not least because of the activities (www.rbkc.gov.uk/vmpeople/infamous/peterrachman.asp) of the notoriously unscrupulous local Polish-born landlord Peter Rachman (1919-1962). Unfortunately, in addition t0 Rachman’s poor behaviour with his mostly impecunious tenants, the area became seedy and crime ridden. Since those days, things have looked up and the area has become a far more pleasant place to live and visit.
Colville Square Gardens is a typical London square surrounded by residential buildings. Long and thin. it runs parallel to Portobello Road between Colville Terrace and Talbot Road. Much of the garden is used for recreational activity and includes a play area for young children. At the south-eastern corner of the square, there is a decorative iron gate leading to a nursery and pre-school. The gates bear the words:
“In memory of Pat McDonald”, and her dates:
“1940 – 1986”
A small, rather indistinct plaque next to the gate records:
“Pat McDonald. Working-class heroine. Lived and worked in North Kensington from the 1960s until her death in 1986. She was the driving force behind the campaigns for better housing, more play-space, and new nurseries. May her fighting spirit live on.”
There is no mention of who placed this memorial.
Pat’s endeavours to improve the care of children under the age of five began in about 1967 when she:
And this is almost all that I have managed to discover about North Kensington’s local heroine. It seems that the poor lady’s life ended tragically. Two websites allude to her tragic, premature end. From one of them (www.theundergroundmap.com/article.html?id=34069), we learn:
“The Colville Nursery Pat McDonald gates are dedicated to the People’s Association community activist play worker, who was murdered by her husband.”
The association was most likely the ‘Notting Hill People’s Association’, which was set up in 1966 to:
“… to widen access topeople with grievances and problems and to resolve them with legal advice – to resolve the individual problems but also to campaign on more general issues.” (www.unionhistory.info/britainatwork/emuweb/objects/common/webmedia.php%3Firn%3D1618+&cd=8&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk).
Once again, whilst walking along a street which I have used hundreds of times, I came across something I had never noticed before. This time it was the quite conspicuous gate in memory of a social reformer and the far less conspicuous memorial plaque close to it. I pride myself on being reasonably observant, but clearly, I have not been nearly as aware of my surroundings as I believed.
I FIRST MET MY FRIENDS, the brothers, ‘A’ and ‘B’, at the birthday party of another friend ‘C’. This meeting would have been in March 1965. I know this because the celebrations included watching a matinee performance of the film “Goldfinger”, which had been released in the UK a few months before (in September 1964). We saw the film in the now long-since demolished Odeon Cinema in Temple Fortune, which is on the edge of Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’), where we all lived. Sadly, one of the brothers died a few years ago, but the other two friends are still thriving.
Since the major London ‘lockdown’ ended and we have become more mobile, having acquired a motor car, we have made several visits to HGS to see ‘old haunts’. One of these places is the series of public gardens (Northway Gardens and Littleton Playing Fields) that run along either side of a stream called Mutton Brook (it is a tributary of the River Brent that flows into the Thames at Brentford in Middlesex). The Brook runs parallel to Falloden Way, a stretch of the A1 road. Flanking the road that separates HGS into two sections, there is a shopping area appropriately and unimaginatively called the Market Place. During my childhood, the section of HGS north of Falloden Way was affectionately known as ‘Across the Jordan’ because many Jewish people live(d) there. I suspect that today, there is a fairly equal distribution of Jewish households in both sections of HGS separated by the A1.
My friends, A, B, and C, and I used to visit the gardens alongside Mutton Brook in our spare time. In those days, but not now, the water in Mutton Brook had a rather unpleasant smell (sewage or something rotting). One of the attractions in the gardens was a putting green open to the public. For a small fee it was possible to hire a putting implement (a putter) and a golf ball. The brothers, A and B, were very competitive, and C was less so. The three of them managed to complete the course in a respectably low number of well-aimed shots. By the time I had reached the second hole, the others had putted their balls into all 18 of the holes on the course. What I have never been able to understand is why when my ball was within inches of a hole, instead of falling into the hole, it spun around the circumference of the mouth of the hole without falling into the target area. Well, I was never skilled at any ball games, but I enjoyed the company of my friends.
Back in the 1960s, I believe that there were no refreshment areas in either Northway Gardens or Littleton Playing Fields. This has changed. There is a charming Café Toulous near one entrance to Northway Gardens and the Café Gaya in Littleton Playing Fields. Today, we sat at a table under trees near the latter and enjoyed drinking coffee in the shade. The ambient temperature was 31 degrees Celsius. In one direction, we could see the spire of Lutyen’s St Jude on The Hill Church in the heart of HGS and in the other, a nursery school that shares the same building as houses the Gaya.
There were about twenty children’s push chairs (buggies) parked in front of the two-storey nursery. This came as no surprise because the school was in use. What was remarkable was the presence of three hefty looking security men, two in uniform and one in ‘mufti’. Each of these fellows had walkie-talkies and the two in uniform seemed to be wearing protective (bullet-proof?) vests over their jackets. They were keeping a very close watch on the kindergarten and unlocked its front door when ever there was something to be delivered.
After enjoying our drinks, we asked the Eastern-European lady working in the café about the security guards. In not brilliant English with a marked accent, she replied:
Flippantly, I asked:
“Are the kids dangerous?”
Not seeing the joke, she explained:
“Private Jewish school”,
And then added:
“All private Jewish schools have security.”
How sad it is that nowadays, even kindergartens filled with tiny tots are considered to be at risk from attack. This was never the case when my friends and I knocked golf balls around the now non-existent putting green on the bank of Mutton Brook. What have we come to?
MY MOTHER WAS ALWAYS CONCERNED that my sister and I had good shoes when we were children. We used to go to a shoe shop in the Market Place, which is in the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we lived. It was a store that sold the Start-Rite brand of footwear. What none of us knew in those far-off days was that the company was established in 1792 by James Smith in Norwich. His grandson, James Southall, gave the firm its name.
Start-Rite shoes had a good reputation for making sure that shoes it sold fitted the wearers well. I remember having my feet measured both for length and width. The shoes were available in several different widths for each length. For example, a size four shoe could be obtained in any of five widths, ranging from ‘a’ to e’. Thus, the shop assistant could ‘fine tune’ selecting the correct size shoe to fit a child’s feet. Also, the shoes were durable.
The shop in the Market Place had a machine that I was always dying to try. It was a tall box with two holes at its base and a viewing window at its top. The idea was that a child put on a pair of shoes, and then inserted his or her feet into the two holes. The shop assistant would then push a switch and look into the observation windoe at the top of the box. The machine produced x-rays which passed through the child’s shod feet and onto a fluorescing screen. By observing the image created by the radiation, the assistant could assess how well the shoes fitted. ‘Quel horreur’, you might be thinking if your mind operates in French.
Well, that is what my mother thought. Although not a scientist and having had little education in science, my mother knew very well that radiation was dangerous. After all, she knew all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What she might not have known is that the bone marrow cells in children’s skeletons are very sensitive to ionising radiation but being a cautious caring mother, she took no chances. Therefore, I was never able to see the bones of my feet in the device in that or any other shoe shop.
I outgrew Start-Rite shoes long ago. The shoe shop in the Market Place no longer exists, nor are those foot x-ray machines still in use. However, one thing endures. That is my memory of posters advertising Start-Rite shoes, which were pasted on the walls and hoardings of London’s Underground stations. They showed a couple of small children with arms interlinked walking towards infinity along a straight road bordered by fences and rows of trees. I still think that this is one of the most depressing adverts I have ever seen. The captions on the poster are “Children’s shoes have far to go” and “Start-Rite and they’ll walk happily ever after.”
I started ‘rite’ and since then, I have been walking happily ever after, but cannot erase the depressing image on the poster from my mind.
When I was very young, I had a best friend called Rick (not his real name!). He lived within a short walking distance from my family home. During weekends, we spent a great deal of time in each others houses.
Both Rick and I had large collections of toy model vehicles made mainly by the Dinky Toy and Corgi Toy companies. I kept my collection in a wooden box in no particular order. In time, the model vehicles looked used, battered, and scratched.
In contrast, Rick and his younger sibling kept their vehicles much more carefully than me. Each vehicle was kept in the box in which the manufacturer supplied the toy. When we wanted to play with these toys, each vehicle was removed from its box and then we handled them very carefully. Rick’s collection was in superb condition. When we had finished playing with the vehicles, which included a fine model of a mobile rocket launcher complete with a detachable rocket, we packed each of them into their own boxes.
I lost touch with Rick when we reached our early twenties. Many years later when the Internet became commonly used, I tried to re-eastablish contact with him, but in vain. He never appeared on internet searches. Eventually, I decided to ring his parents’ telephone number, which had remained etched in my brain. To my great surprise, Rick’s mother, by now over 90 years old, replied. I asked her about Rick. She replied:
“You have just missed him, dear. He died a few months ago.”
Some time later, we visited Rick’s widow, whom I had never ever met. After feeding us lunch, I mentioned the model cars and other vehicles. Without saying anything about them, she beckoned me to follow her into another room. It was, she explained, Rick’s study while he was alive. Arranged neatly around the room on shelves was Rick’s collection of Dinky and Corgi toys, including the rocket launcher. And to my great surprise and delight, each of the toys, still in pristine condition, was sitting on top of its own box.