A Chiswick Childhood – Elizabeth Wilcockson

Last year, Shirley Seaton, a member of this Society was in contact with Elizabeth Wilcockson, who had lived in Shirley’s house facing Stamford Brook Common in the 1930s. Elizabeth sent Shirley some memories of her time there. We reprint a few of them below.

Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal No 10 (2001)

The years between 1932 and 1939 were the years of a happy childhood for a little girl living in Stamford Brook. Life was ordered and settled. The quiet streets were ideal for bowling hoops, legging “round the block” on a scooter, or taking first hesitant rides on a bicycle. We loved living opposite the Green and were often first in after the keeper had unlocked the big gates. The spiked railings kept people out at night and by day the keeper and his assistant kept law and order. They had a hut inside the tennis court enclosure and made cups of tea there. They also kept the tennis courts tidy and mowed the grass on the rest of the Green regularly. The grass on the north side was quite different to the main plot – it was the caterpillar grass which one could make to walk up the hairs on the arm with a jolly jumping action.

Bath Road in the 1920s after heavy rain had raised the wood blocks from which the road was constructed.

During the 1930s quite an excitement was caused by the digging up of the old woodblock roads, to be replaced by something modern – tarmac, I suppose. Bath Road and Goldhawk Road and Chiswick High Road and all the main roads in and out of London. The wooden blocks were sold around the houses for firewood. They were tarred and smelt lovely when they were burning. They sold for 1/- (5p) for a load of about 50.

The horses and carts which had delivered everything were gradually being replaced by motor transport. Trolley buses came in to replace the trams, but the little buses kept going, although now they had roofs on the upstairs deck. Cars were increasing in number on the roads – the cheap car arrived for £100 and suddenly holidays got more affordable and weekend excursions to Burnham Beeches were undertaken. The main roads out of London were very bumpy, with hump-backed bridges abounding. We had days at the seaside and discovered Brighton.

Another big change was street lighting. The old gas lamps were replaced by sodium lighting on the main roads – a very harsh greeny-blue colour which made us all look half dead! We hated them. Electric light was standard in most houses although some of the older ones had gas lamps, and everyone had the odd oil lamp in reserve “just in case … “. Crystal sets were all the rage in 1931; we had sets wired up to the mattress with earphones which hurt our ears. Telephones were also coming in. On Saturday evenings all the shops were open until 9-10 p.m. and meat and vegetables were sold very cheaply. The streets were thronged with people.

In 1935 King George V and Queen Mary came to open the new Royal Masonic Hospital. We watched from the pavement. The Queen wore her famous toque and I had a good look at her feet – I was always reading about her beautiful feet – but they looked like ordinary feet to me, though there were a lot of buttons on the shoes, and her stockings had embossed ‘clocks’ up the side. She carried a long umbrella. Later on the new Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital was opened. A lot of houses had been pulled down to make way for the new hospitals.

In 1938 Munich caught us unawares. The schools were recalled in August and we got ready to be evacuated. We sat on the school field for four days, then Mr Chamberlain came back with his wonderful piece of paper – Peace in Our Time. One more year of freedom and then we were caught up in the machinery of war. Everything changed. Our whole way of life, lived in such a carefree manner was gone, never to return. This time we went off to unknown destinations, labelled like parcels. A whole new era began, and we were swept along with it.


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