Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Speaking Of Springhead Road
There was once a definite feeling that those living in Springhead Road were a Cut Above the rest of us, and it’s easy to see why because even these days the houses have retained an ambiance of solidity and permanence whereas many in the surrounding streets have gone for ever. Back in 1949 they seemed very nearly elegant though you have to understand that this particular opinion arose from a York Road perspective and in the mind of a nine year old. As far as I was concerned any home that was entered by a narrow entrance passage called The Hall was seen to be hurtling towards the Upper Middle Classes. A bath that did not have to be detached from an outside wall every Saturday night spoke volumes about lavish comfort to me and I think I would have found Coronation Street and its inhabitants verging on Upper Class but of course they were destined to remain in the future for decades to come. My mother firmly maintained that where you kept your bath, whether outside or inside, didn’t make you any cleaner than the next man but I think she missed the point because it wasn’t simply a matter of cleanliness. As a teenager I was impressed that my first boyfriend, Barrie Wallwork lived at No 10 Springhead Road in a solid looking flintstone house that I am certain had a Front Hall and a properly plumbed inside bathroom. I can’t be totally sure about this because I never got further than the kitchen and that was on one solitary occasion because Barrie’s mother was not particularly welcoming. My own mother was initially equally guarded about the relationship which was perhaps understandable as from memory I think we were only fifteen years old at the time of our Great Affair but she too admired the house and rapidly decided that I was unlikely to Do Better Than Him. Years later I discovered from Barrie himself that the Wallworks were not actually the proud owners of this impressive Flint Construction – it had merely come with his father’s job! The Scutts family lived at No 15 and I only remember Barbara who may well have been an only child. Several of the women in York Road regarded her as Old Fashioned, a state that seemed to apply only to female children and generally went with being either an only child or the youngest in the family. Barbara wore the kind of clothes that lesser mortals like myself, greatly admired – angora boleros, smocked dresses, white socks, patent shoes and of course the inevitable statement denoting the fashion conscious under twelve of the era – embroidered felt Dutch Bonnets. I both envied and disliked her but attempted to cultivate her friendship at the same time so that when we played Call In Skipping Rope games (Vote, Vote, Vote For Dear Old…….?) I always called Barbara into the rope and hoped she would remember the favour. She never did of course and in fact treated me with growing contempt. On one inauspicious day in a fit of showing off that wasn’t repeated for a long time, I had an argument with her mother who said I was a Cheeky Little Cow and quite unexpectedly smacked my face. It was all to do with me maintaining that I was not responsible for some misdemeanour concerning chalked drawings on their front steps and that I had witnesses to prove it. She took exception to me using the term Witnesses. As I recall, my own mother reacted badly to the slap and there were threats to call the local Police but that came to nothing and so the situation did not escalate further. After all the fuss it did not seem a good idea to admit that I had in fact actually been responsible for the drawings. Alice Gouge lived at No 24 and Mary Gouge who was presumably her daughter, went to St Botolph’s School and was treated with more respect than the rest of us because her uncle was Sir Arthur Gouge and famous. We were not entirely sure what he was famous for but it appeared to be something to do with flying. My father said I wasn’t to muddle him up with Landed Gentry because he was in fact Only A Life Peer. I had no idea whatsoever what either of these terms meant and it was to be a long time before I could see the dichotomy of Landed Gentry living at 24 Springhead Road no matter how upmarket I considered the house to be in 1949. Doris and Roy Snelling lived at No 40, relatives of Margaret Snelling who lived near the station at Northfleet and was to become a close friend when I transferred to Northfleet Secondary School For Girls. It was to Margaret’s house I was invited on the occasion of her cousin Philip’s fourth birthday and so attended my very first birthday party. Our family, large and diverse though it was, was definitely not big on celebrating rites of passage like birthdays. At Philip’s birthday we were served with both red and green jelly topped with Libby’s Milk and there was a birthday cake in the shape of a train made by his grandmother. I was most impressed knowing that my own grandmother, Old Nan Constant would have been both disinclined and incapable of producing such an exotic item. Shortly afterwards I went to the second birthday party of my life given by Jean Taylor’s family who lived in the hastily erected post-war Prefabs in Meadow Road at the bottom of Springhead Road. Jean was best friends with Wendy Selves who lived in the other Prefabs close by in Orchard Road. Both girls were well behaved and diligent as far as school work was concerned and had their hair put into painful curling rags each night so they arrived at school every morning sporting impressive ringlets. The ringlets were never quite as remarkable on rainy days of course. The Campbells lived at No 42 Springhead Road with three daughters in their twenties, each of them a little immature. They were called Iris, Phyllis and Kathleen and two of them eventually ran the newly established Brownie Pack at St Botolph’s Church that my mother, to my horror, suggested I might like to join. My experiences with Brownies were not happy ones but fortunately I managed to persuade her that it was not a good idea as I was rapidly becoming too old for Brownies. Fred and Ethel Finch lived at 79 where Ethel taught piano. Greatly admiring those children who entered her front door clutching their music cases, I took to sitting on the Finch front wall to listen whilst the students each belted out A Carnival In Paris mostly in a fairly pedestrian and unmusical manner. After a week or two Mrs Finch told me to move on. 83 Springhead Road was the site of Simms’ shop where we bought newspapers, sweets and ice cream because it was in fact the closest shop to us, though my mother maintained she had never had much time for Hilda Simms and couldn’t overlook her behaviour with coupons during the war. Further down Springhead Road on the left hand side before the railway overbridge and adjacent to the driveway into the Catholic School, a most unsavoury character lived with his wife and small daughters though in a house that would certainly have had an inside bathroom . At least when we curiously scrutinized the layout of the rear of the place there appeared to be no zinc bath hanging anywhere. This was a man whose name is long forgotten and maybe I never knew it. Some people said he had once been a schoolteacher in one of the Medway towns but that assertion may well have simply emerged from a desire to make a bad situation even worse. He was a large, untidy, gingery individual always wearing a grubby pale raincoat who used to follow small girls around the local alleyways, preferably as darkness was falling. Although he was renowned for this behaviour nobody had so far reported him to the local Police though we children were warned to hurry away if we found ourselves on the receiving end of this peculiar habit of his. This advice went unheeded a lot of the time because the excitement of leading him a merry dance around the local alleyways was intense. Once Molly and I managed to entice him into St Botolph’s churchyard and with baited breath waited to see what would happen next. When he came close and actually spoke about a kitten he had in his pocket we took to our heels and ran off through to Church Path at the back of the school and reached home breathless and elated. None of this detail was ever shared with our parents of course although this miscreant in our midst was frequently discussed between neighbours. Mrs Newberry from next door commented that it was his poor wife she felt sorry for but my mother was pitiless and said the woman seemed dozy to her and anyhow dozy or not she had made her bed and on it she would have to lie come what may even though there were little kiddies to be considered. The dozy wife and little kiddies were largely ignored in the neighbourhood and eyes were averted from all members of the family in Hilda Simms’ corner shop where the man bought his tobacco or at Penney Son & Parker, the grocer on The Hill where his wife shopped. There were of course no supermarkets at this time to add the slightest dimension of anonymity for those shoppers with a yen for it. The London trains went under the Springhead Road Bridge and in those days all of them seemed to be steam trains. I recall now with ever mounting horror the game of First Across The Line Is A Cissy and though this was a pastime largely confined to the older boys, foolhardy girls desperate for attention such as myself occasionally played it, presumably hoping to gain some kudos in the local child community. In my case I was rewarded with no esteem whatsoever and boys like Kenny Bardoe still looked disdainfully down upon me. Cat & Mouse games involving transport were, however, generally popular at the time and I clearly remember the exhilaration of tempting the 495 and the 496 buses to dare to hit me when I dashed out in front of them as they gathered speed on the hill leading down to The Old Rec. The alarm on the drivers’ faces was so gratifying and the rush of power so pleasing that this hazardous game was played again and again. Strangely the Recreation Ground was not considered to hold much worth as a place to play, except with boys who wanted to kick balls, but the cemetery alongside it held far more possibilities and organised sessions of old fashioned Hide & Seek were regularly held there and as we grew older, Kiss Chase also. Pat Turner lived somewhere at the bottom of Springhead Road and I think she was a pupil at the Catholic School but she came regularly to play with us on The Old Green and the back alleyways around York Road. Years later as a young teenager she became engaged to Colin, one of the Bardoe twins, and importantly communicated this information to us looking very slim and smart in a new red coat with a velvet collar. She said that Colin was a wonderful fiancé because he advised her which colours and styles looked best on her and she was anxious to always look well turned out. In those days what is now known as The Old Rectory was then called Gemmels’ Farm and those families who engaged in field work, such as ourselves, worked regularly for them picking peas and beans and digging potatoes. Years would pass before Christine, my brother’s first girlfriend and her family would occupy a cottage in the same area of Springhead Road as Gemmels’ and by that time I imagine her childhood experiences of the district would differ vastly from my own.