Woolwich & Districts
(nee Winnie English)
mine was a largely uneventful but a happy childhood. An only
child, I was born in Lewisham Hospital in 1951 and lived in
Armstrong Place from birth until the house was compulsorily
purchased as part of the area regeneration process in 1960.
at 19 months old
at 19 months in her pushchair
a terrace house purchased by my father when he left the Royal
Artillery in the late 1940’s. Upstairs there were three
bedrooms, all with open fireplaces. Fires were only ever lit
as a very special treat when the occupant of the bedroom was
ill and confined to bed. Another treat when ill as a child was
a bowl full of white bread pieces, sprinkled with sugar and
soaked in warm milk. But mostly the bedrooms remained unheated
and the windows on cold winter mornings would be covered in
marvellous opaque patterns formed by the frosty ice crystals.
The floors throughout the house were covered in linoleum.
was a parlour which was kept as the best room and very rarely
used. I only recall sitting in there at Christmas. In the parlour
was an upright piano, which no one I recall, not family or friends
could play, so why we had it I’ll never know. There was
also a heavily padded sofa and two armchairs which had been
purchased from Hanley’s the second hand furniture shop
nearby. The sofa was so big it couldn’t fit through the
front door and had to be carried in through the window. Unlike
most of our neighbours we did have electric lights; the other
houses were gas lit. Mostly we lived in the sitting room at
the back of the house and the kitchen cum scullery. The toilet
was outside and we used squares of old newspaper as toilet paper.
In the scullery was a coal fired copper boiler which had to
be filled with buckets of cold water from the tap in the kitchen
sink in order to heat water. Our bath was a ‘Bungalow
bath’, which was a large tin bath in the kitchen covered
by a lift up working surface when not in use. Water from the
copper had to be ladled by my father into and out of the bath,
an event which took place each Sunday with all three of us using
the same water and washing our hair with Lifebuoy soap.
of clothes was done by hand with the aid of a washboard and
a mangle in the yard used to wring out the water. Sheets and
pillowcases were sent to a laundry and returned tied into a
bundle with string. Strips of flypaper hung under the light
bulbs captured flies on the sticky surface and jars with small
amounts of jam and water attracted and captured troublesome
wasps. We bought Robinson’s jams so I could collect the
golliwog stickers to claim enamelled golliwog badges.
worked as a cable machinist at Harvey’s. They threw wonderful
Christmas parties for the children of the workers. Father supplemented
his pay and helped to keep us well fed by breeding rabbits in
stacks of hutches in the back garden. These we ate and sold
to neighbours for making rabbit stew. He also kept chickens,
which again were used for their meat and eggs for eating and
this livestock attracted were kept down by a mongrel dog we
called Spiv. She was a little mongrel stray who my father had
found scavenging around Beresford Market. Her name came from
the name Spiv (a police term for ‘suspected person involved
in vice’) a name which was given to men typically involved
in things during the war known as the black market. Spiv
was a character type immortalised in the television programme
Dad’s Army as portrayed by Private Walker played by James
Beck. Anyway Spiv our dog of uncertain origins and uncertain
age changed from living on what she could to becoming a lovable
family pet. She had several litters of pups and died of
old age in the early 1960s. Spiv however had another side
to her nature and was a gallant and brave rat chaser and catcher.
When we lived in Woolwich she and my father were frequently
requested by neighbours to catch rats especially those who set
up home in the outside lavatories!
I did not
belong to any clubs like the Brownies; I felt no need to do
so. My days were filled, when not at school, playing in the
street with all the other children. We played hockey with upturned
walking sticks, knock down ginger (knocking doors and running
away to hide and roar with laughter when the occupier came to
answer the door and look all around for the culprit). ‘He’,
a game of tag where when you wanted to call a truce you crossed
your fingers and called out “Fainights”. Hop scotch,
with squares chalked on the pavement and a piece of slate, cricket
with the wicket chalked on a convenient wall, a game of 'statues'
or just kicking a ball about.
a corner shop where I would buy loose sweets, poured or picked
out from jars, weighed out in 2oz bags of sweets. My favourites
were shaped like peas, potatoes and sausages, which I played
with my dolls using my tea set. The shop also sold comics. At
first I read Chicks Own, later progressing to Harold Hare and
later to Bunty and Judy. Bunty and Judy had cut out paper dolls
and clothes and I spent ours playing with these and making more
clothes for the dolls. I was also an avid reader of Enid Blyton
Rise School photo. Year??
we went to Saturday morning pictures, picking up a bag of broken
biscuits from Woolworth's on the way to eat during the show.
One day outside the pictures there was a splendidly dressed
cowboy on a horse. We all believed he was Roy Rogers and Trigger;
it was magical. We did not have a television but we did have
a wind up gramophone and played 78's on it. We also had a wireless
and tuned in to the BBC Light and the Home programmes. My favourite
programmes were Educating Archie (this incredibly was a ventriloquist
dummy called Archie Andrews), the Clitheroe Kid and Billy Cotton’s
I had to have a desert spoon of malt and cod liver oil, ‘to
build me up’ and on school days I would walk round to
Maxey Road to meet my three cousins and we would walk together
to Earl Rise School. Doing this in thick fog (The London Smogs)
was wonderfully exciting.
Jim, a former boxer, ran a taxi business from the house in Maxey
Road and was the only person I knew who owned a car; they also
had a television which was a large box with about an 8 inch
screen with a large magnifying screen in front.
with 2 cousins and uncle Jim's taxi car Maxey Road late
to the two school reports I still have I was in class 1A in
1959 and class 4 in 1960 and the head teacher was Mr Taylor.
At some point in my education we were taken to the local swimming
baths where I was pushed in the deep end by one of the boys
in the class. I nearly drowned in the incident and to this day
I cannot swim as I have panic attacks if water is splashed in
Rise School report 1959
mother took me shopping we would pass a fish shop with a tray
of live eels in the window and I would watch them slithering
up the glass; the butcher’s shop had sawdust on the floor
and a monkey in a cage, which of course made it the butcher
of choice for children, though my mother always maintained that
it was the most expensive butcher. Vegetables and fresh fish
were bought from Beresford Market. The big department store
was called Cuffs and when you made a purchase the shop assistant
would put the bill and your money into a capsule and then into
a tube which shot the capsule up and along the ceiling to the
cashier office, which would then put the receipt and change
in the capsule, and back down the tube it would come to the
shop assistant. When the shopping was done very occasionally
we would go to Lyons Coffee Shop and I would have a delicious
crème caramel pudding. If we needed to go further afield
then we took the trolley bus.
any meat purchased was put in the meat safe, which hung on a
hook on the wall in the back yard. (There were no fridges).
Daily the milkman delivered bottles of milk and sterilised milk;
also bottles of orange drink, which stained the inside of the
glass bottles, so goodness knows what it did to our insides.
photo of me at Earl Rise school
man and the rag and bone men used horse drawn carriages for
their deliveries and on Sundays a man would come round selling
pints of winkles, which we ate, by picking the winkles out of
their shells with a pin, along with bread and echo margarine
for our tea. Any horse droppings left behind were quickly scooped
up by my father and used as fertiliser in the garden. In our
street lived the local chimney sweep who came round to the house
with brushes on long poles and we had to cover the furniture
to stop it being covered in soot dust.
house was the Armstrong Gun public house, which I only recall
my parents going to at Christmas. My mother smoked Woodbine
cigarettes which she bought in packets of five and my father
smoked Senior Service.
of clothing which I wore and that have now disappeared are the
liberty bodice and black arm bands. A liberty bodice was worn
over a vest, and was a thick short-sleeved garment with a row
of rubber buttons up the front and designed to keep the cold
out. The rubber buttons were notoriously fiddly and difficult
for us children to undo and do up. Black armbands were worn
by bereaved families. We were soon destined to wear these.
In the summer
of 1960 our house at 27 Armstrong Place was compulsorily purchased
and we moved to a new council house in Bromholm Road, Abbey
Wood. I then transferred to class 3D at Alexander McLeod School.
late summer of 1961 my mother was taken ill and died at the
end of October in St Nicholas' Hospital. She is buried at Woolwich
Cemetery in Plumstead. When I returned to school a few days
after the funeral nothing was said to me by any of the staff;
no counselling offered, no recognition of what had happened
to me, I was simply expected to get on, which I did.
wearing the black armbands of mourning, was left to cope with
his grief and also to bring me up unaided. He worked nights
to be there for me during the day, seeing me off to school in
the morning, and was there to put me to bed before going to
work on the night shift. A neighbour reported this to the authorities
and one day soon after two suited men came to take me into care.
My father pleaded with them not to take me away right there
and then, and so, desperate to keep me, father moved us out
of the area into a new life where we were never to talk again
of the wife and mother we had lost or of our lives together
in Woolwich. My happy childhood ended right then.
years later in 1986 I buried my father with my mother... together