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ONCE THERE WERE GREEN FIELDS – LONG AGO
Memories of Wallington from Gwyneth Warnes (b.1917)

A FEW MEMORIES OF 1928 – 1939

My family and I moved to Wallington (in Surrey) on 1st November 1928: - My father an LCC Headmaster, my brother Vivian – born in 1913, my mother and me - born on 7th September 1917.

We arrived from Roehampton to Clapham Junction to change to a train to Waddon, and found dozens of youngsters with collection boxes and “Penny for the Guy” written on bits of cardboard sitting around in hope. It was near 5th November.

In 1928, an animal also had to have a ticket to travel, the cost was worked out in weight. Dad had Dinkie, our grey and white rabbit, in a basket in one hand and a goldfish bowl full of water in the other. He put the basket on the weighing machine – and many of the youngsters got on too. The chap at the booking office was surprised to see that he was supposed to give us a ticket for an eight stone rabbit, but being a sensible sort of employee, he gave a sensible priced ticket. The fish went free.

Paper Jack

We arrived at Waddon Station, which was then opposite the pub and not up the hill. There was not a soul about. There were trams then – no buses and very few cars. Suddenly, in the distance we saw a figure appear, trudging along the road dressed in sheets of paper, tyres on his feet and cans hanging all over him. Later, we found he was ‘Paper Jack’, Mum gasped “Goodness Me! Does everyone dress like that around here?”

The Chase, Highview

We got off the tram at the top of Highview Avenue and found The Chase at the bottom. Once the estate was called Highview Estate – now it is The Chase Estate for some reason. The road was unmade and very few houses were occupied. The object you will notice at the bottom left-hand corner of the street – not often seen these days, is a fire alarm used in those days when there were no telephones. If a fire occurred the glass would be broken and the handle pulled. Not wise today of course. I wonder how many hoax calls would there be?

It had been a very hot summer, our new house was already papered and it was dry enough for us to move in. We released Dinkie and he went exploring, and so did Vivien and I. We found Croydon airport at the top of The Chase.

Every night the mail planes skimmed over our roof. We soon got used to it, although mum never did. She was sure the pilots could see her in the bath, although the window had thick frosted glass in it.

My brother and I went our separate ways. He was nearly five years older than I, and neither of us wanted the other around.  I found groups around ‘Paper Jack’ as everyone called him; and I joined them as he told us tales of long ago. He was loved by all the children.

But, when we found a wonderful place to play cricket we all joined together and played a lot – just where Highview School is today. There were tall trees by our pitch where bats lived and they swooped down on us. There was also a convenient cut-through to Garden Close so that we could easily get to the trams in Stafford Road. When they closed that gap we had to walk much further to the road at the end of Plough Lane.

Wallington was then a delightful, countrified place with birds singing in the trees. My friend, Beryl, my (now 82 years of age) and I, so miss our birds. Now, we have a lot of Magpies and Pigeons, but not many small birds. Just a few, which Beryl tries to feed, and so do I, when I am sure there are no cats lurking about.  We also try to make our gardens ‘bird friendly’ – but I think it is a losing battle. So many people now prefer cars to birds, and I think that is a great pity.

The caves

I went exploring further afield and found the caves. I well remember them – opposite the Plough Pub – for it was one of our meeting places (not mentioned to mum of course.)

In 1928/9 we found we had to jump down into the caves. In the beginning the roof was very high – turn right and it got even higher, then turn left and it got lower, left again and the sharp right and it got so low that you had to wriggle in on your stomach. After a while the passage was blocked and when you came back   you had to wriggle out backwards. Very scary!  I only did it once when one of the boys dared me to have a go. Having a brother I always accepted a dare, but it was a bit unwise to say the least.  My friend, Beryl’s daughter, Zandra, went into those same caves in the 1950-60’s (although Beryl never knew). Zandra was born in 1954, so when the caves were eventually closed I do not know. I did hear that once they had been smuggler’s caves, for Beddington is a place of very ancient history.

Now back to 1928/29

Everyone had a great shock owing to the Wall Street Crash in 1929. All LCC employees had to accept a 10% cut in salary – no arguments – that was it. So what with that and the road charges imposed upon us in The Chase, which we had not been told about, no one was very happy. Some people had no option but to move. It was a sum of £30 – a great amount of money in 1929. And Benefits? There were NO benefits to be able to claim. It was hardly the best time to buy a house. However, we coped because we had to. If we could not afford it we just didn’t have it. In other words - to quote a saying in 2014 “End of Story”.

Gwyneth

I went everywhere on my bike and there were plenty of meeting places with my gradually increasing, circle of friends. The Grove in Carshalton and the lovely park. Woodmansterne – not far away and Roundshaw Spinney (adjoining the airport),

These were very popular places and where many a romance began. Our favourite Sunday walk was round the aerodrome – Up Purley Way nearly into Purley and down Foresters’ Drive.

Mum never came for she was cooking the Sunday roast with garden vegetables, and then apple or loganberry pie and rice pudding. Today, it would be scorned by the public and doctors alike no doubt. But, in those days we were always on the go and worked it off. Mum had an afternoon nap while Dad washed up – apart from the saucepans. That, the worst bit, he left for mum. I do hope I lent a hand, but that memory has disappeared I’m afraid – and I would not bet on it.

Dad took me to see the school he hoped I would go to – Wallington County School for Girls, which was then at the bottom of Stanley Park Road where Stafford Road ends. But, Miss Wallace, the Headmistress, said there were no vacancies until September 1929. So, on her suggestion, I went to Collingwood School for a year. This school was then at the crossroads of the High Street, opposite the Gas Company, now the Heart Foundation, and a large church opposite that. This is now Sainsburys.

I’m glad I did go to Collingwood for it prepared me for Wallington County School.

The school I had attended since the age of six was a Catholic Convent School run by nuns. Half the pupils were Catholic and the rest, like me, Protestant. We were taught all the usual subjects but, in addition, French, Greek Mythology, The Labours of Hercules and all the Fables of Aesop. And many more poems now forgotten – I expect. The way maths was taught too did not seem to be the way we were taught at Collingwood, for in my first lesson I was at a loss when I was asked to ‘put this into standard form’. ‘I’m sorry sister,’ I said, ‘but I don’t know what you mean’.  The whole class hooted with laughter and I felt very small. But, gradually I settled in and became almost ‘normal’ I suppose. But I have never, even now, forgotten the interesting subjects I learned at St Agnes’ school. Teachers should all be as good as those Catholic nuns, for they really were dedicated to their work.

In 1929 I went to Wallington County School. My best subjects were French, English and Maths, but there is not a lot I can say about my school years. Most people have certain lessons that interest them if they are taught differently. From my history teacher the many dates that I was taught have now escaped my memory – apart from 1066. Also the only king was the murdering Henry VIII.

I left school in 1934 and I celebrated my leaving at age 17 by going alone to the cinema in Carshalton High Street, by The Grove. I went by myself, as I wanted to see my favourite film star – Maurice Chevalier – in ‘The Merry Widow’ Any person sitting by my side might not have been so enthralled as I was and might make adverse comments. I couldn’t have that.

Dad asked me if I had any idea what I hoped to do for a career and I said ‘not really, but not as a teacher’. Mum agreed with me for she hated her years as a teacher. ‘Well’ replied Dad, ‘If you’ve still got ideas of going on the land, forget it. First, you’re not strong enough and second we can’t afford for you to go to an Agricultural College. Not many of my friends could afford to go to university either, but no doubt the more affluent ones in Wallington could. So often, really interesting careers have a dependence on finance.

There was much unemployment in the Thirties. But, eventually I got a job in the Prudential Assurance Company in Holborn. Most of my school friends got similar jobs in other firms. I was glad I was going to the ‘Pru’ because I liked the look of the imposing building which looked more like a Cathedral than an office. But, I was very disappointed when I was taken along a tunnel under the road in Brook Street to a small building, the Approved Society of the Pru dealing with health work. I went in the Dental Department. I would have been amazed then if I had known how this day in December 1934 would change the course of my life five years later.

Many of my friends travelled up to London on the same trains at the same time of the day and we never got a seat. So, in eighty years nothing has changed.

During the Thirties we were seldom bored. There was no television, no internet, but we were always doing something. Tennis in various parks, pictures in the many cinemas in Croydon – in inexpensive seats. Not quite the cheapest but almost. We walked from the fare stage at Waddon Bridge to save 1/2penny for all the way was 2 pence.

To avoid travelling to London each day. I tried to get a job in a dental surgery in a tall old house in Croydon. Luckily, I did not get it. I disliked the gloomy house and gloomier dentist, and he didn’t take to me. So I gave up the idea and plodded on up and down to London each day.

King George V died and his heir……..

Well, we all know what happened there. And, in the same year we all went up on the tram to see where the fire was, for the sky was a vivid red. We couldn’t get too near, but we found that the Crystal Palace was on fire. How sad to see that beautiful place was no more.

The Box Hill Ramble

One day, after paying for an hour of tennis in Mellows Park. Someone had a bright suggestion. “We should join a tennis club” he said. “Chance would be a find thing” we said. But he persisted “What if we formed our own?”

The Drive Tennis Club

We were lucky to find a builder who had two courts for hire and a small club house for hire. “And how can we pay for it” enquired the doubters. “Recruit potential members” was the answer. And, that’s what we did. Sometimes, a bit unusual I admit – like Cyril who agreed to join if we all made up the number of people he wanted to raise to join his Bank Holiday ramble to Box Hill and Friday Street from Bandon Hill Church Club. We did go, but Cyril, who did not play tennis, never came to the club. This, I think, was a poor exchange. In the end we amassed 30 players and the cost of the courts was divided by 30, so the yearly membership was 25 shillings.  My brother, who was training to be an accountant, was voted Secretary and Treasurer. We had the committee meetings in our house. These usually developed into parties later and mum provided the food. Dad did not join in. He’s had enough of the children all day by then. The club flourished and The Drive Tennis Club became very popular.

The National Insurance Office, Wallington

Very few members owned cars, but Eric, who worked for an estate agent, secretly borrowed his form’s car and some of us went skating at Purley Ice Rink. There was an hourly bus from Wallington, but we often missed the last one. If Eric was not there to give us a lift we would just have to walk home. I was often the furthest away, and sometimes walking alone very late at night, but no-one every worried about this. If there was anyone around all you got was “Good night Miss”, and that was it. Now, I never ever go out at night and usually don’t open the door after dark. How distressing it’s all become.

Later on in the winter we formed a badminton club too. In Belmont Road, Wallington, we found a very high hall for hire halfway between the little cinema and the old post office. Was that the cinema called “The Gaiety?” Someone might remember, for I don’t. When the new post office and Odeon were built in Ross Parade, I don’t know either. Maybe I had gone away by then.

The invitation.....
...and the bill!

There were quite a lot of 21st birthday parties (not 18th in those days) and mine was booked at Stuart’s Café in Woodcote Road for 7th September 1938 – but it was not to be. Suddenly the Munich crisis came and most of our friends, who were in the Territorial Army, were called up. But they were back in two weeks as war was not thought a certainty after all. Luckily, as it turned out, we had a chance to get another booking and my party was postponed until the 8th October 1938. Can you imagine getting a re-booking so easily now.

And then, in May 1939, my dear old Dad died suddenly at age 55 years. We were all very shocked. I stayed at home with my Mum as son as I returned from work of an evening and I don’t think I played tennis any more that year.

In August, 1939, we were told at the office that on the 26th August we would be going to Torquay. It was obvious that we would soon be at war. However, only the Approved Society would be going as we were doing important Health work. The rest of the firm stayed in London. So, my poor Mum lost two of her family in three months.

I came back from Devon now and then and in 1940 spent my nights with Mum in our Anderson shelter in the garden. The bombing around Croydon was very severe – In fact, one night I heard, in Torquay, that the Bourjois factory (Evening in Paris perfume) which was at the end of the Chase had been bombed. Many people were killed that night. No doubt, Croydon airport was the real target for the German bombers.

Later, in 1942, I went into the Women’s Land Army, as for a short while, the Pru had to release some of its staff. My ambition to go on the land had, after all, been achieved.

In 1946, I went back to Torquay, as there were rumours of a take-over by the Government to man the new Health Scheme. This rumour turned out to be true and after nine years I returned home to find a new office had been built on the exact spot where Collingwood School had been in 1928. Whilst I was away the school had been demolished. I felt like a homing pigeon!

That first evening, I walked home and met no-one I knew. All my friends in 1939 had gone – either moved away or were among the many who went to war and never came back.  I went to look at our little tennis club. The courts and club house were still there, but so much the worse for wear and dilapidated.

No doubt at all – my Wallington had vanished for ever.

I worked in a Wallington office for a year and then we were sent far and wide. I went to Canning Town, near the docks, for a year and then in 1950, came back to Wallington until 1966, when we joined up with Carshalton and Sutton and became a very large office of 107 people in Sutton. I retired from the Civil Service in 1977.

Looking back through these memoirs I thought I must add one other interesting fact.

In the thirties one of our meeting places was in Carshalton. There was a lovely field full of buttercups and daisies, birds singing and butterflies, a very good place to relax after school. Then, one day we heard a strange sound. We could see in the distance that a great deal of building was taking place. We realised later that we were witnessing the birth of a new hospital and a nearby estate. Soon after that our field was no longer there.

At times, I am asked to compare my young life with that of today. It cannot  be done. My world has disappeared into the distance. How can it not be otherwise? It was a time when Christmas began in December and not in September. When a chicken or turkey dinner was a once-a-year treat and, when students from colleges came by coach to deliver the post on Christmas Day.

So, I will end this far-too-long narrative - hoping that it’s not been too boring.

Gwyneth M.

Facilitator: Alan Hare

17/03/14

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