My earliest memories are of the barrage
balloons tethered to cables and being pulled down by a huge
drum winch, situated in front of the Co-op buildings at the
Links. Also the underground public air raid shelter, situated
at the same site.
the winter of 1947 there were very heavy and deep snow falls.
My grandfather had to clear access to our house as the arrival
of my new sister was imminent. The snow proved to be more fun
though, than my new noisy baby sister!
I was then frequently shunted off to other adults after she
arrived. One such adult was Harry Finch, who had a shop in Waverley
Crescent and also a garage backing onto it, in Villas Road.
I spent many happy childhood hours here and acquired a lifelong
interest in the motor trade . Next door to the shop was a bakers,
owned by relatives of the Finches, who were of German/Austrian
extraction and had been refugees. Uncle Werner was an imposing
figure who always had superb cakes at hand! As Harry had one
of the very few usable cars available after the war, groceries
for special customers were delivered, usually while driving
Dr. Wise around on house calls.
One particularly grand house was Powis
Lodge, situated behind St.
Margaret's. It had a huge garden which was typically Victorian,
full of statues and was also abundant in wildlife. The occupants
were two spinsters and an artistic nephew, Jidge. The house
of Dr. Wise, in Burrage
Road also seemed huge. Quite often I was taken into the
consulting room to observe the patients. Then, at the mid morning
break, I had to recount to the Doctor what I had observed, while
sherry and biscuits were consumed before the house calls, which
could be fun!
Uncle Harry would drive Dr. Henry and
me around Plumstead. If the Doc lit up a cigarette before getting
out there was a good chance I would be invited in, "To
build up your resistance young man." Frequently, as we
were leaving one of the little terraced houses, one of the residents
would hover near the front door to see us out and after a short
muttered conversation Dr. Henry would explain that now, with
the new system, there was no need to worry about paying, although
often enough, something wrapped up (and dead) would be discreetly
handed over to him!
1947 was a memorable year for me. My
first visit to St. Nick's, was with a broken leg and the first
time I saw a television, which was in the Lord
Raglan pub, was to watch, I think, some Royal event.
Early Common memories were, an assortment
of old boys sitting near the bowling green in Waverley Crescent
with various limbs missing, they were probably WW1 veterans.
Opposite where they were sitting there was a large hill, possibly
another public air raid shelter I think. Heavitree
Road provided us kids with an adventure playground which
were large bombed out houses with only the cellars left which
had very ornate tiling.
At Conway Primary School my first classroom
was next to a room that had lots of mini beds. I never got to
have a siesta there though! Milk was dished out with cod liver
oil and malt, much better than the capsules, although if you
could get the top off the milk carefully and drop a capsule
in and replace the top it was fun watching who got it and whether
they started to drink it before the curdling had started! I
have remained in touch with my two 'minders' who were a couple
of years older than I. They prevented any problems for me and
it also meant that I was invited to play cricket and other games
with the big boys.
The first teacher I remember was Miss
Weekes [it must have been very early days of pointed bras] with
hindsight, all the teachers were probably very young. Others
I recall are, Mr Mockeridge, Mr Lovatt, Mr Jenkins, Mr Given,
Mr Ellison, Miss Hancock, Miss Carruthers.
Mr Given had a motor cycle combination
with a very pretty young lady passenger [Kings Warren uniform].
Somehow, he recognised me some 15 years later, when I had a
petrol station in Blackwall Lane!
Mr Jenkins, my last teacher, had an
autocycle, [a bicycle with a small motor] which was repaired
in class, my first lessons in small engines!
The Headmaster was Cyril Bull, who was
also a local JP. Cakes were always available at his house situated
in Grosmont Road, on Winn's
Common by a car breakers yard. Even if he found us caving
nearby, I think near to Grosmont or Purret Roads, in the very
sandy soil around those areas. The council later erected flats
on this same land.
The first time I remember the Tannoy
speaker system being used at Conway School was in 1952, when
we were called to the assembly hall to be told the King was
dead. I think we were then sent home.
The next year we all trooped along to
the cinema near Plumstead Police Station to see the film, 'The
Conquest of Everest.
Coronation celebrations included the
school giving out commemorative gifts and the street parties
had mums dressed in more colourful clothes than I could ever
War with St. Patrick's RC School, on
the corner of Griffin and Conway Roads, was a permanent war
in our junior school days. [the girls were, I thought, rather
attractive when dressed in white, on their confirmation day]
however, it was a radical change when these young ladies went
on to Ursuline Convent School in Blackheath.
School uniform was instigated during
our time at Conway. We were told how the castle motif on our
school badge was modelled on Conway Castle in North Wales.
I was usually the wicket keeper in the
school cricket team. Matches were played opposite The Brown
Warren ] in Old Mill Road. The end of the match was the
best bit, when teachers and enthusiastic parents adjourned to
the Woodman Pub or The Old Mill for post match celebrations.
During the thick London smogs we kids
actually looked forward to being out in them. Adults were often
completely lost while some of us developed the ability to recognise
where we were, by remembering the front walls and gateposts
of the neighborhood houses . On one occasion, during one of
these thick smogs, my mother and I helped to get some younger
kids safely over to the Links. Strangely, from Conway Road to
the top of Griffin Road we were all invisible in the smog. Yet,
when we got to the Common the taller adults heads were visible
above the smog while all us kids were still invisible, engulfed
in the acidic murk, the taste of which was horrible.
My last year at Conway was enlivened
by the school journey to the Isle of White. Memorable events
were a car rally along the sea front, also stressing teachers
out on the ferry crossings. It was great fun and the trips were
even better than our short trips on the Woolwich
I recall the reopening of the Ravine
pond pools just after the war, after they were cleaned up. The
pipe entering the top pond went up and branched off towards
Slade School and the other towards the Working Mens, as best
as I can remember. There were lots of bats up the pipe past
the intersection. At one time I saw snakes of some sort swim
across the top pond, (probably grass snakes) also plenty of
newts. Occasionally, slow worms could be found among the gorse
bushes. The jungle above St
Nick's (Hospital grounds) also was good for wildlife
nature hunting, if we didn't take noisy whinging kids with us!
The fence wasn't any better years later, when we needed to smuggle
young ladies back in after hours!
Boney's sweetshop, which smelt of battery
acid (used for recharging the radio battery accumulators) gave
us money for empty lemonade bottles which he stored in the alley
way at the side of shop, where they were liberated by kids and
resold back to him! They must have been recycled so many times!
Neighbours paid us to take their radio batteries, which were
big glass accumulators, for recharging. A scrap paper merchant
was based in the street opposite, Elmley or Robert Street.
Collecting horse manure was another
good earner. Gardeners were always willing to pay us for this
valuable commodity and their wives sometimes paid us with cake
or fruit tarts etc., all very desirable for growing lads! More
bonuses could be gained by following the Co-op or Beasley Brewery
dray horses. A food offering made to these horses when at rest
often produced quick results!
Most homes had a vegetable garden, especially
just after the war years when things were in short supply, many
folk were breeding chickens and rabbits for the table as well.
On one occasion I remember we were in a brand new Austin A90,
a company car, that was being used to transport some of my dad's
cricket team mates from Gillingham to Plumstead with a very
large and very noisy pig in the boot, liberated from somewhere
in Kent! I think it met its end in Burrage Road, because everyone
seemed to be eating pork all of a sudden!
Firework night left a lasting memory.
"Flash Bangs" (firecrackers to simulate live fire)
surplus from the Home Guard, were tied to the wood paling fence
in the garden and lit, the fence going up in flames was brilliant
I thought, and the war issue stirrup pump had to be deployed
to extinguish the fence. The next door neighbour was most upset
though, because his rabbits almost got roasted in their hutches!
The disused Anderson
shelters made brilliant dens for us boys to chat. They were
usually full of creepy crawlies that conveniently kept any nosey
we were allowed into the Beasley Brewery stables, the Shire
horses, which were huge, were really docile animals. But when
out working some appeared to be real handfuls, maybe it was
something to do with the use of those huge whips or, perhaps,
the liquid refreshment taken by their driver's at every delivery!
Those horses were seriously strong . I vividly remember the
carnage many years later when a dray and horses bolted into
a house, in the lower part of Ancona Road. Similarly, the milkman's
horse and float that went through the railway fence and down
the embankment on the up side of Plumstead station.
Builders sent to repair our house, on
war damage repair work some years after the war, failed to get
our front door and frame to line up, so they carefully cut a
pane of glass trapezium shaped to fill the gap, they said it
was to compensate for a bit of tilt!
Most days I was sent to get bread at
the bottom of Griffin Road, watching the chaos relieved the
monotony of queuing. Trolley buses and trams were often forced
to a stop when their conductor poles left the cables above,
causing delays while the huge pole was taken out and used to
try and lift the contacts back onto the power lines.
Practically all the Arsenal workers
rode bicycles and so would weave in and out. But whenever a
bike wheel got stuck in a tram rail groove, look out! Even cars
behaved strangely on the wet cobbles and these tram tracks if
they had bald tyres, (bald was quite normal until some politician
thought up 10 year tests.)
My grandfather worked in the Arsenal,
in Naval Ordnance, for some years after the war. He usually
took me to Woolwich when the huge 'Queen Mary' trailers, that
contained glider kits, tried to manoeuvre around Woolwich. Being
60 ft long without a tractor unit, some drivers got into a right
mess. (many drivers had passed armed forces driving tests, ie.
if you moved the vehicle you got a driver's license!) The exception
being Tiny and his mate who drove tank transporters, Diamond
T before the Mighty Antars came in, loaded with a tank from
the Arsenal to Artillery Place, the tanks often still in German
livery. As I remember, it seemed Saturday was the preferred
day to do this, I didn't know why, but it caused chaos through
the Square and up Greens End. The tanks often came into contact
with the overhanging first floor buildings, even with lots of
onlookers assisting, plus street fittings had to be removed
for extra clearance. Transporter and tank often sat on the Artillery
Parade Ground for days before they eventually drove off somewhere,
at a slow snails pace.
As a Cub I can remember being taught
various Scouting activities in the grounds of the East Plumstead
Baptist Church, with the 12th Woolwich Troop.
Visits to Plumstead Common were somewhat restricted, probably
because of our Akela not being able to control our pyromaniac
intentions on open land. We did visit a church near the ravine
on different occasions, during get togethers with other troops.
On these occasions there always appeared to be more adults around,
maybe, as I suspected, to stop our very youthful excesses of
exuberance. I'm fairly sure that the church was St. Mark's.
Camping trips were designed to get us unruly young creatures
as far as possible from our home territory. Our local expeditions
were to Meopham but our annual camp was much further away.
The annual trip I particularly remember
was to the farm belonging to Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister.
A few years before his election slogan was 'Back Mac'. We were
transported to Wiltshire in the back of a furniture pantechnicon
with large amounts of kit. The lorry didn't make it all the
way though. We had quite a few breakdowns and we were eventually
towed to our campsite in the finish. However, most trips in
those days were made a whole lot more interesting by the 'Gone
Most Sunday School trips were much
more fun when things went wrong, especially on one memorable
occasion when our coach had to park alongside a field which
contained a herd of cows. The adults encouraged us to watch
them to keep us occupied, that was until they realised we were
all being given a serious sex education lesson, courtesy of
the bull who was in the field to do his mating business! I still
remember the great glee of some of us and the huge embarrassment
shown on the faces of some of the rather more demure Sunday
School teachers (both male and female).
The class photo was our Induction Class photo, taken in the
playground of Conway Infants School, in 1950.
The photo of the Cub Parade was taken in Brewery Road at the
junction of Griffin Road in 1953, outside East Plumstead Baptist
I am the Standard Bearer. We marched to Woolwich on the annual
St. George's Day Parade.
This photo is the children and teachers on the Sandown, Isle
Of Wight school trip 1954/55. I am second row from back, 8th
This is a Conway School Class photo taken in 1954/55, top class
(1A). I am second left, second row from back.