A local working-class heroine

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 a mothers group ‘commandeered’ a local vicar and started a playgroup in the vestry of a local church … The booklet to commemorate Pat McDonald’s life tells through reminiscences how this became Powis Playgroup in All Saints Church Hall, which gained a grant for equipment from the Pre-school Playgroups Association.” (www.academia.edu/28663809/Activism_and_organisation_Creating_a_community_nursery_in_1970s_Notting_Hill).

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.

What have we come to?

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.

BLOG PUT 3

Mutton Brook

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:

“Security”.

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?

If you think you have seen the light, think again…

Hoop

 

My earliest memories of Hoop Lane (in Golders Green, northwest London) date back to when I was three or four years old, and therefore are rather vague. At that age, I attended a kindergarten in Hoop Lane. This was in the hall attached to Golders Green’s Unitarian Church (see photograph above), which was designed in the ‘Byzantine revival’ style by the architect Reginald Farrow (opened in 1925). It contains interesting artworks including a mural by Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979), which I have not yet seen.

The kindergarten was under the direction of Miss Schreuer, who lived a few doors away in Hoop Lane. My only lasting memory from my time there was when my father appeared at the school with a white beard and a red outfit, dressed as Father Christmas. A few years later, my sister and my cousins attended Miss Schreuer’s. One day while my sister was attending, I was allowed to return to the school to act as an older helper. One of my fellow pupils was the late Micaela Comberti (1952-2003), who was later to become an accomplished violinist. Her German mother and Italian father were friends of my parents.

I am not sure what became of Miss Schreuer, but I heard rumours that the end of her life was unhappy. Today, the hall, where her school flourished, is now a Montessori kindergarten. When I lived in the area (I left finally when I was aged thirty), I often walked past the school and the Unitarian Church. The latter had a panel facing the road, upon which posters with pious messages were posted. One that I will always remember said:

If you think you have seen the light, think again”.

 

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. If you wish to read the whole article, please visit:

https://londonadam.travellerspoint.com/48/