The small shop with flat above where I was born (165 Forest Lane) has been demolished and the space where it stood incorporated into a Girls’ High School, but the rest of the row of little shops are still there at the time of writing. Amazingly, the shop next-door to my birthplace is still a café. Across the road, my father’s tiny lock-up jewellery and watch-repair shop remained a jeweller’s until quite recently but the 90s recession put paid to it – how sad. That shop held many memories for me, mainly but not wholly pleasant ones. More about the shop later.
Recall of features of my place of birth are somewhat dim, but I recollect a little shop selling cheap jewellery and knick knacks, and I particularly remember being allowed to serve someone with a penny whistle. The shop parlour was dark and pokey, with the stairs leading from it to two bedrooms above. Lighting and cooking were by gas (although electricity was quite common by then) and one lit oneself to bed by candlelight, there being no gas above ground floor level. I lived there until the age of three (1920). The most vivid memories are of the back yard, with the WC at the bottom of it. After dark, the twenty paces it took to reach this were a nightmare to me, especially as we occasionally had to run the gauntlet of a neighbour’s vicious cat springing out at one’s legs and hanging on. This may well have happened only once or twice and been multiplied in my imagination because of the fear.
The neighbouring café was owned by a very frightening lady – a Mrs Ridgewell. She was a large, buxom woman, fully capable of dealing with a Railway Café full of boisterous, noisy and sometimes “rough” railwaymen and other tough customers. She was certainly able to cower me, and I was not easily sat upon. Her backyard contained a covered chicken run, which I was forbidden to approach, but it held a fascination for me and it took more than her shouting to discourage my squeezing through the fence to get a closer look, until one day I returned to my own yard plentifully bespattered with tar from the newly tarred run. My mother had the job of trying to remove it from flesh and frock and was very cross. This certainly stopped all further such excursions, as I was always somewhat frightened of my mother, although nothing like as overawed as was my sister Kathleen (later called Kay), who was four years my senior. I should add here that neither of us ever received corporal punishment – my mother’s face as she made big, frightening eyes, plus her tone of voice and general demeanour were enough to check us.
The shop, with living rooms over, was a way of adding a shilling or two to the meagre allowance my mother received from the Royal Flying Corps, for which my father volunteered early in 1917, when family men were beginning to be called up for military service. He thought it better to go into the armed forces as an instrument maker than chance being put into the “poor bloody infantry” or something equally dangerous! In the event, he spent most of the war well behind the front line, as a violinist with the Zigzag Concert Party touring round France entertaining the troops, my mother having sent over his violin and mandolin at his request.
After the war, we left the Forest Lane shop and flat and moved to Sebert Road around 1920. After demobilisation my father re-opened the lock-up watch-repair and jewellery shop situated at 5 The Bridge, Woodgrange Road, which remained a jeweller’s shop until recently. This was on the railway bridge (a hill in Woodgrange Road) so he had to contend with the trains thundering underneath him all through the day, but I cannot recall any particular disturbance and the noise was not noticed, he was so used to it. An express train caused the shop to shake, but my father carried on imperturbably repairing the watches, with a steady hand, a magnifying glass almost permanently glued to his eye.