Woolwich & Districts
Sullivan (nee Chappell) Remembers
I was born
in Kentmere Road Plumstead in 1940. I was one of nine, seven
girls and two boys. I went to Conway Road School when I was
five. We would have a sleep in the afternoon on little canvas
beds, in the playground in the summer, and the hall in the winter. As
well as a bottle of milk we had a spoonful of cod-liver oil
and malt. When I was in the big class Mr Hedges was my
teacher. There was a teacher who used to boot the boys in the
backside, but I can not remember his name. Mum used to
work in the Arsenal during the war, it would be nice if anyone
remembers her; her name is Grace Chappell. My sister, Veronica,
was evacuated during all of the war. When she came home she
had a lovely green velvet suit on and her blonde hair was in
ringlets. She would not go to bed without her 'rags' in her
hair. Mum went round all the neighbours until she found
someone who knew how to put the rags in.
so much fun on the Woolwich Ferry in the school holidays, going
back and forth many times until you got chucked off. It was
all outside then, and you could sit on deck and sun yourself
or you could go down to the engine room that was all highly
polished brass. The engineers were very proud of it! However,
sadly due to ‘Health & Safety’ they have all
been closed in now, so all you can do is sit and look at each
other, even though I never heard of anyone ever falling accidentally
would take us to Victoria Gardens, North Woolwich, and it was
like going abroad when the sun shone. It had lots more to do
than our local park and was about three times bigger, with a
large paddling pool and sand pit. Then we would go home, going
through the foot tunnel running and shouting to hear the echo,
but then we would have a mile to walk home, so this event only
happened on special occasions.
We had some
good neighbours in Plumstead. They all kept an eye on each other’s
children and helped out when necessary. We would have to run
errands for them. There was no ‘I’m doing something’
or ‘later’: when they wanted an errand they got
an errand straight away.
We had two
big families at the bottom of the road, the Bethals and the
Turners. They lived in the road running along the bottom of
Kentmere Road, in Hartville Road.
was pregnant the same time as mum many times, so we would pair
up to play. Veronica and Glynnis mostly, who remained friends
until sadly, Glynne’s death in recent years. They had
aunts and grans in the road as well as us, so we were always
looked out for.
and Uncle Sid, who were very stern, (I did not like them) and
our cousins Iris, Bill and Pat lived next door. Iris was always
in our house as she was a good friend of mum’s. She was
tall and would often break the gas mantle when she forgot to
duck! We hated it when she brought her scissors in, as we knew
it was time for haircuts, known as the basin cut, especially
if ‘Nitty Nora’ had been at the school and had given
one of us a ‘nit’ card. Off would come the hair
(a shorter cut) and out came the dreaded steel nit comb; with
your head over the newspaper, that steel comb was dragged through
your head, and it hurt!
old Nan. (She had 14 children, the youngest at the age of 52.
No IVF was needed for her. She was a big cuddly lady with a
big heart. The older generation had such a hard time going through
two wars and a depression!)
She lived in a little three up, three down, terraced house in
Plumstead, at 19 Kentmere Road. In the little kitchen was a
stone copper in the corner that you lit a fire under for all
the hot water and the boiling of clothes on washdays, making
the whole house fill with steam. Her fridge was a wooden box
with a chicken wire door, covered by a tea towel held in place
by two flat irons. There was also a large table, two forms and
a rocking chair. The front room, which was known as the parlour,
was only used on special occasions. Eventually it became my
brother Ron’s bedroom when he was home on leave in later
years, but meanwhile it housed the aspidistra plant!
granddad with all his children taken in Tewson Road about
1928. He was my dads dad.' Photo credit; Barbara Sullivan.
was still alive for the first nine years of my life! The latter
part of his life was confined to a wheelchair. We spent a great
deal of time sitting by the fire looking at how many things
we could make in the flames and shadows on the wall. I would
sit with him and make spills to light his pipe. He was a very
tall and thin man, with a bushy moustache and stiff white collar.
When he went out he wore a black hat. I remember he used to
give me a saucer of his tea; I wish I had known him better!
Mum and the children moved in when the war started in September
1939 as dad worked away. It was only supposed to be a temporary
arrangement but we stayed 19 years, until she moved out. (Later,
when I was married, I took mum's rooms over, and bought the
house and lived with Nan till she died; then I had all of the
Nan had a parlour, one bedroom and a large kitchen downstairs,
whilst mum and family had two bedrooms and a kitchen/living-room
upstairs, there was an outside ‘loo’ for everyone
in the house and a large tin bath. I was born in the next July
(1940); Ron and Veronica were evacuated. Veronica was fortunate
that were she was placed she was with people who cared for her,
so much so, that they kept her for a year after the war and
really wanted to keep her permanently. But of course Mum and
Dad wouldn’t hear of it. Ron wasn’t so lucky. Having
been sent to Wales, he was ill treated, and after six months
Mum went and fetched him home! As the schools were shut, only
opening for one day a week, Ron was quite happy to play on the
bombsites, collecting shrapnel, and watch the planes which were
frequently flying overhead at that time.
We were scared to go to the ‘loo’ which was outside,
in the night-time. Mum would not allow us to have candles, so
we had to get used to feeling our way about the house, but to
go out into the garden was another thing! The outside loo had
a foot sized gap at the top and bottom of the door. You didn’t
stay in there long in the winter, with the snow and the wind
and rain coming in.In the summer it wasn’t to good either
as you had the geese from next door pecking at your ankles!
near The Royal Arsenal was handy for Mum as she worked in the
munitions factory there, which was an important part of the
war effort. The downside was that it was a constant target for
the German bombing raids that blighted London. We were very
lucky to have survived these attacks, especially mum.
had a holiday, but enjoyed long hot summers at the park, which
had a large paddling pool, football pitch and an area of lawn.
We would take a bag of jam sandwiches, a bottle of sherbet water
and stay all day. We rarely went out of our area as we didn’t
really think about doing so, but on Bank holidays, we would
go over the ferry to Victoria Park. There would be music from
the bandstand; this was always a special day. In the evenings,
we would play in the street with marbles, jacks, halfpenny and
up the wall, fag (cigarette) cards etc. Some of the other children
had trek bikes, but they had no brakes. Fortunately there were
no hills to speak of in the area, so it wasn’t too hard
to cycle around as I would be sitting on the cross bar.
a go-cart from a wooden soapbox, fitted with a set of pram wheels,
a plank of wood attached to a crosspiece and a piece of string
as reins to steer.
Although we did not have holidays, the highlight of the year
was the 'Maybloom Outing' which was the local social club. There
was also the Conservative club and nearly every family in the
area belonged to one or the other. Once a year they had an outing
to the seaside. The Maybloom went to Margate by coach and the
Conservatives went to Southend by train.
It was in July that we got a new pair of plimsolls and were
all smartened up and ready to go on our trip. We would meet
at the club at 8am. There would be about 30 coaches to take
us. Not many of the Mums and Dads could go, so we were trusted
to behave ourselves, which we did, because if we didn't, there
were plenty of adults to report on us and we didn't get to go
next year as Mum wouldn't have forgotten if we had misbehaved.
The highlight of the day was when we were issued with our lunch
boxes and a half-crown; wow!! When we got to Margate, we went
to 'Dreamland' first, a big fun fair. You paid so much, and
could then go on as many rides and as many times that you wanted.
We went on everything until we were exhausted. We then went
to the beach, ate our lunch, then tucked our dresses into our
knickers, went paddling and of course, we got soaking wet. On
the way back to the coach we would buy Mum a little present
then spend the last of our money in the penny slot machines.
All to soon, it was time to go home, but even on the way home
in the coach we would have a sing song and games before arriving
back at the club about 8pm where we would have lemonade and
all decide that it was the best outing ever, until next year!
Then a short walk home and into bed, no messing about, head
down and sleep!!
was really something! Dad usually painted the kitchen on Christmas
Eve after being nagged by Mum for months beforehand. But he
always left it to the last moment. Dad was a builder but Mum
always had trouble getting him to do anything about the house,
so on Christmas Eve the place was in an uproar. However, on
Christmas day when we woke up, it was all done, walls were distempered
and coloured rings made on the walls with the dabbing of a sponge!
Christmas Eve was a busy one for us all, Mum doing last minute
shopping and us kids plucking the chicken, chasing the little
ones with the feet of the chicken and pulling the ligaments
of the feet to open and shut the claws, licking and sticking
the paper chains and making lanterns ready to hang up on Christmas
morning. We also decorated Nan's room. Everyone was happy; we
could hardly sleep when we went to bed. It was so exciting,
we would chat and make wishes and try to guess what we would
get. But when I look back, things never changed much over those
years; we hung up one of Mum's laddered stockings she had been
saving, and to get an apple, orange, a handful of nuts and half
a dozen Roses chocolates, was very exciting to us all. Most
of the stocking leg was taken up with a rolled up painting book,
a little tin of paints and one of us would get the game Snakes
and Ladders or Ludo. We were frightened to put our stockings
down in case one of the others said it was theirs, so we looked
like the seven dwarfs walking around with our stockings over
our shoulders all day!
After dinner, we all stood up for the King’s speech on
the radio. Then we would play charades; all relatives that had
popped in and out during the day were now gone, our stockings
were now empty and eventually we would go to bed exhausted but
looking forward to Boxing Day.
big day was ‘Co-Op’ day! The High Street would be
buzzing. All the tin and brass cheques were counted before in
readiness for the day. The thin tin cheques were the equivalent
to a pound, the brass ones were over that amount; you got them
when you spent so much money in the Co-Op and saved them and
then on ‘the day’ you were able to exchange them
for cash; we kids loved counting them. We then went with Nan
to the Co-Op hall near the corner of Lakedale and Conway Roads
and queued for what seemed like forever, but it was fun; everyone
was saying, “I wonder how much the dividend would be this
year” No-one minded waiting, all were chatting and laughing,
knowing we would get something at the end of it.
‘good’ day was when the meter was emptied. The gasman
would arrive and empty the meter, count the money out, and we
all watched him, but he was so fast we could hardly see his
fingers move. He would stack the pennies high in a row, putting
the round pieces of lino that were used when we did not have
a penny for the gas to one side, then, he would put his quota
of the money into his bag, leaving Nan with the residue.
Mum would visit the Plumstead public baths to do the washing!
There were boilers alongside two sinks, a partition, shoulder
high in between in a long row. All the women would stand in
a line chatting while they scrubbed away on their wash boards,
using a large bar of ‘Sunlight’ soap. The big dryers
were from floor to ceiling; to use them you had to pull them
out of the wall; fortunately, they were on wheels which made
it easier to pull as they were about twenty feet long. They
had many dryers with rows of bars which you hung your washing
on, then you pushed the dryer back into the wall to dry the
clothes. The best bit was the ironing room. After all the washing
and drying, it was more relaxing, and we only had flat irons
at home, whereas at the baths they had electric ones. Mum would
be at the baths for about five hours, having first put the wash
into the tin bath, and two of us had to take turns to take it
and fetch it from the baths; we hated this in case any of our
friends saw us.
was bath night! Two of us got the bath from the garden and carried
it upstairs; pots of hot water from the stove were poured in,
then the youngest got in, one at each end. By the time it was
the eldest one’s turn, you can imagine that the water
was not nice to get into: cold, dirty water. The side of the
bath that was nearest to the fire was hot and the side away
from the fire was cold: there was no happy medium. When all
was done, the bath had to be carried back down the stairs to
be emptied; the unlucky pair who had to do this task usually
got soaked. To this day, I don’t know why the bath wasn’t
emptied upstairs: it would have saved many a soaking.
As we got
older, we would go to the Plumstead Public Baths with a rolled
up towel and a bar of sunlight soap under our arm (there were
no nice bubble baths or shampoo in those days). The baths were
partitioned off all in a row. The walls were about seven foot
high, which was handy to throw the soap over to the next person.
The attendant operated the flow of the water from outside the
room with a mobile handle. She would stand at the door while
the water ran into the bath to a level of about 14 inches, then
she would say to us, “Try it”, meaning, ‘How
hot is it’, so you tried it with your hand, but it’s
your bum that you should have tried it with because when you
got in and found that it was too hot and rang the bell for some
cold water to be put in, she got very angry! “Are you
messing me about, do not ring again or you’re out,”
was her reply.
Kentmere was a nice homely road to live in and very handy for
the hospital and Fire Station at the top of the High Street.
The phone box, and the undertaker’s shop was on the corner
of our road; next door to them was a shop where we would take
a pudding basin for faggots and pease pudding with lovely gravy.
Next to them was, the hairdressers, who Mum went to for sixty
years. Next to the hairdressers, was the dress shop! This, along
with two other shops, was owned by Jean and Brian; they became
friends when later Sue and Brenda worked for them on Saturdays
whilst still at school, then full time when they had left school.
the shops in the High Street were family run businesses. Bradshaws,
Heads and two others for fruit and vegetables, Morgan’s
had three shops for dairy etc; Williams for broken biscuits,
David Gregs for cold meats. We had two fish and chip shops plus
the Co-Op where you could buy a ¼ of butter or two Oxo’s,
five Woodbines and two rashers of bacon or one egg, because
with no fridge or freezers to keep things fresh, you only bought
as and when you needed it.
We did not
throw anything away, such as potato peelings: they went into
a ‘pig bin’ that had to be chained to a lamppost
half way down the street because the horses or kids would knock
it over. The dustbin was mostly used for ashes, which the dustmen
would collect on a Monday, having had to walk through the house
to collect it. They would have to wear several sacks on their
backs as sometimes the ashes were still hot in the bins.
not a homely person, but she was good fun! Just a plain cook
of lovely roasts, steak and kidney puddings and stews; on rare
occasions, we had sweet (desert), usually suet pudding or boiled
rice that had to be solid as we turned our dinner plates over
and had it on the other side. (So if you hadn’t eaten
all the main meal, you didn’t get a sweet.) We had bread
and jam or dripping for tea, the Health & Safety officer
would be after her today with the way she cut the bread, holding
it to her breast and slicing it towards her heart, then dealing
it like a pack of cards!!
Sunday was special! The shrimp man came round to sell us cockles
and winkles; we would take the pin out of our knickers and use
it to get the winkles out; we only had six each and I put one
in each corner of my bread and two in the middle to make a lovely
sandwich. We always had jelly and custard. The jelly would be
put on the window sill to set; I have known Mum to make as many
as three jellies in one day, as on many occasion the one on
the sill would be knocked, or blown off (many times by Mum when
she was calling us from the window to come in); sometimes in
the summer it wouldn’t set, but I never knew why she was
bothered when it didn’t set, as she poured hot custard
on it anyway!! The dried eggs helped, it was lovely. Mum would
sell the sweet rations to Aunt Doll. She only had the one son,
David, lucky him to get the sweets. She did really well juggling
the rations, which lasted all of my childhood.
When I was
ten, Roy, a friend of my brother Ron’s, was playing in
our hallway with a catapult. I was sitting at the top of the
stairs when a stone was fired up the stairs and hit me in the
eye. I was rushed to St. Nicholas Hospital and later transferred
to Moorefield Eye Hospital in the City of London. I was there
for a very long time and not allowed visitors. I thought nobody
wanted me because I could not see. Then one day, I heard someone
coughing, and I knew it was my Nan; I went to the fire escape
and there she was, bless her! She had walked up the five flights
of stairs and told me no one was allowed to visit me as it would
probably upset me; I felt better then, knowing I had not been
When I eventually
came home, it was winter. I had to start my new secondary school
at Church Manorway wearing dark glasses; didn’t I just
have the Mickey taken out of me. I was standing in the dinner
queue when a girl asked me why I was wearing sunglasses in the
winter. I was just telling her about it all when a teacher called
me out of the queue, told me off for talking and then made me
stand on the stage until everyone had finished their lunch.
I knew then that I wasn’t going to like this school, and
I did play truant on many occasions.
his eleven plus exam and went onto St Olives Grammar School
(London Bridge) one of the very few in the area. Colleges and
University were hard to get into then, especially if you were
poor. Mum was fit to burst with pride, even with the extra pressures,
expense and worry of trying to keep up with the uniforms of
a fast growing lad: these had to be bought from a ‘posh’
extravagant shop. It was grey, silver and purple; if he was
seen without his cap on, he was put on detention and had to
go to school on Saturdays; of course he was fair game for the
taunting from the local boys. The loan club and Provident (another
type of loan club) was a great help to keep up with the added
expenses, as was the Pawnshop. Mum was used to ducking and diving,
paying Peter to pay Paul. She never had any money but always
seemed to manage to make ends meet and still enjoy life.
in the Woolwich Arsenal during the war and had various jobs
afterwards, some of which are the ‘Jam’ and also
the ‘Biscuit’ factory, which provided nice things
for our tea, and the rope factory, but what was good was when
she worked as an usherette in the cinema. She would run down
the isle with her gold cape flowing behind her and the kids
would shout out, “da da da bat-woman oo oo”!! We
were so proud of her. We always knew when dad was in the cinema;
he would sit in the back row asleep, snoring very loudly. He
could be in there for hours, as the film would run continually
all night without a break. These were some of her jobs.
took me to the Empire Cinema! We would sit up in the ‘gods’;
it was like climbing a mountain. In the interval a light would
shine round and stop on someone. It stopped on Nan one-night
and she won a glass biscuit barrel, and another time, ‘Jack
and the Beanstalk’ was on, and when Jack sold the cow
I cried so much that Nan had to take me home
I had two
‘best’ friends at school, Sylvia and June: they
made going to school bearable. In the lunchtime, we would visit
the local park during the summer months to torment the park
keeper. You were supposed to be accompanied by an adult as half
the park was fenced off and it had lovely flowerbeds, crab apple
trees and a large fish-pond. We would not have destroyed anything
but he would always chase us out. It was different in the winter;
he would be in his warm hut and wasn’t inclined to come
out just to chase us toe rags, so we were able to skate on the
pond in peace!
we went over the railway lines and onto the marshes, which we
were often chased out of by the Gypsies. If they caught us they
would cover us in mud and warn us not to trespass on their terrain!
We would then make our way back to school.
Opposite Church Manorway School was St Nicholas’ Church
and cemetery. The church has a history dating back to the Norman
times. In the winter, when it was dark, on our way home from
school, we would dare one another to run through the churchyard.
To get into the cemetery I would climb the wall which had no
railings as they had been removed during the war. It contained
a disused graveyard, which after dark was very spooky to us
children. It had many old and broken gravestones, but you couldn’t
let your mates see that you were scared, so you moved as fast
as possible through the thick undergrowth. The large trees would
block out any fading light that was left, and therefore you
couldn’t always see the entrances to the vaults, so if
you weren’t careful you could fall into them. Shapes and
sounds loomed out of the darkness and it seemed to take forever
to get to the other side. We were very brave! However, I was
always thinking about a man in a funny hat when I ran through
there. He used to come around the houses selling things such
as silk ties. He was a black man and wore a turban. Nan would
always call us when he was coming up the road. “Quick,
here comes the black man with the funny hat”, she would
say, and we would all look at him but stand back out of the
has now been landscaped, and is quite picturesque. Lush grass
has now replaced the old graveyard which has been transformed
into a lovely place with neat paths which wind their way between
the few trees that are remaining. The headstones are now arranged
around and lean against the boundary wall. The church also has
been cleaned and looks lovely.
we didn’t have electricity, so there was no TV, gramophone,
phones etc. to pay out for. We did have a wireless that had
to have a battery and an accumulator to make it work. The accumulator
had to be charged up at least once a week.
Two of us
would take it to the shop to exchange it for one that had been
charged. One would carry it and the other to guard it, as we
had been told that if we dropped it, it would ‘Blow Up’.
Of course, I was the first to drop it!! We ran to the nearest
wall and stayed there for nearly two hours, waiting for the
bang that never came. We were still scared of the sulphuric
was due to be charged, we would leave it to the last possible
minute and had to sit on the dresser to hear how Dick Barton
(a favourite programme of the time) ended before taking it to
be exchanged. The large HT battery that was also in the wireless
lasted a long time, and when it was really on its last legs,
we put it in the oven, (not to be recommended now) which seemed
to give it a bit of a boost for a short while, we then got another
battery on tick!
wedding in St Margaret's Church, Plumstead Common, on the 26/10/1957.'
Photo: Barbara Sullivan.