Down the line ( 7 of 10)
Chapter 3 Life 'Down the Line'
From when I was about five years old, in 1935, ‘the bungalow’ was the focus of our family, it occupied pretty well all of my parents’ spare time and money. The bungalow was my father’s pride and joy; it was his tour de force, his cause celebre. Moreover, it was what I now consider the golden days of my childhood, between about 1935 and 1939 – quite a short period considering the impact it had on my memories. My Dad was always an early riser, literally at dawn. Sometimes I would also be up, and I remember how he enjoyed the damp silent peacefulness of dawn. He would smoke his Players Weights and drink cups of tea, and just sit and watch the sun come up. Sometimes he would take me mushroom gathering, we would go down the Avenue, cross the road into the Robinson Farm cow field, all wet with dew, no traffic or people at all. Sometimes the cows would be out and we might disturb a bird or two. We did not talk that much, but those chilly early morning mushroom forays are now a cherished memory.
The bungalow was marvellous for me. The open space, the country air, the sunshine, all the ingredients for a happy life. Looking back on the bungalow days I now realise how lucky I was to benefit from my Dad’s venture. It meant that for the whole summer school holiday, the bank holidays and summer weekends I was transported from the drab Stepney streets to the fresh air and green grass of the country. None of my street mates were so fortunate; some did go “oppin” (hop picking) in Kent, but most just rattled about the same streets. At school holiday time we went down the line the very evening school broke up, and did not come home to our Stepney house until the night before the new term started. At weekends we were ready to go down the line soon after Dad came home from the docks at Saturday mid-day, reaching the bungalow while there was enough of the day left for some useful work.
Travelling from our Stepney house to Dunton was quite a business. My parents, of necessity were always looking for the cheapest route to travel, and this meant third class train. We would walk to Stepney East Station then catch a steam train; we would change at Barking, for some reason, onto another train to Laindon. Since we always had much to carry, we would then wait for the City bus to complete the journey to 4th Avenue. If perchance it was a rare occasion when we had just (!) suitcases and shopping bags, we would walk over the hills to the bungalow (thus saving the bus fare). There were variations on this journey; I would guess my parents had found how to save a few pence. At one time we caught a train from Bromley by Bow station – we must have caught another train from Stepney East to Bromley by Bow. During the war and afterwards we when we lived at Mile End, we travelled by District line to either Barking or Upminster, then caught the steam train.
A common feature of this traveling to and fro was the enormous amount of luggage we would have to carry. Mum would have all the food she could carry, Dad would be burdened down with cartable building materials – paint, tools, ironmongery, garden implements, etc. Even myself, as small as I was, had something to carry. The return journey was just as fraught. We had bags full of vegetables and fruit, which we bought locally at Dunton, armfuls of flowers from the bungalow garden. The little brown ‘City’ buses from 4th Avenue back to Laindon Station were the most crowded I have ever experienced. Regulations or not, it was a challenge for the driver to see how many souls he could cram on. I cannot remember any passengers complaining – the overcrowding was all taken with good humour. We would wait at the bottom of the Avenue on the Lower Dunton Road and in the failing evening light would look for the bus lights twinkling through the flat Essex countryside; sometimes we would see two buses together and the cry would go up “Hooray, they’ve put on a relief! There were huge crowds at Laindon Station for the 8.38 pm train back to London. The steam train with its big locomotive would come into sight and we would reckon that we could see the carriages already bulging with returning Southend passengers crammed against the doors. You couldn’t get another person aboard the 8.38 pm train, what with all the Southend day trippers already on the train, and the weekenders’ suitcases and bags of fruit and vegetables. On one occasion when I was small my father put me on the luggage rack for fear of getting crushed. Those bus and train journeys ‘down the line’ are above all else etched in my memory.
There was at one time a rumour that a railway ‘halt’ was to be built to serve the Dunton Estate. Indeed, the Land Agent’s prospectus optimistically quotes ‘The railway crosses the main road close to the Estate, and there is every possibility of a station being erected at this point’. This never materialised – what a boon it would have been to the plot owners.
There were several of us children at the bungalow during those summer weeks; all around the same seven, eight, nine years old. With myself, there were often my two girl cousins Terry and Sylvia. In Tom Driscoll’s bungalow on the next plot was Flo Driscoll’s sister’s children Pam and brother Billy. There was Reggie Nash from Rosedene, the plot the other side. The odd thing I still remember about Reggie was how his ambition was to work in an office. He told me with wonder how from the top deck of a London bus you could actually see into offices with people sitting at desks, using typewriters and carrying about sheaves of papers. I wonder what happened to Reggie Nash? With all the visiting children there was always a gang of us in various groupings. We filled the long summer days without any trouble. I can’t remember having nothing to do. We played the usual ‘cowboy and Indian’ type games, involving much creeping about in the bushes. We knew of a crab apple tree in Central Avenue that was easy to climb. We took our little fishing nets and jam jars to the farmland ponds to catch tiddlers. We played ‘shops’ with acorns and grass seed. We played bat and ball games – rounders and hot rice, even tennis on the rough grass. We sunk cocoa tins in the grass and played putting with some old golf clubs. We had a small ridge tent, and a hammock – my parents, for all their lack of money seemed to magically provide us with these things. We hunted butterflies with our fishing nets and jam jars with punched out air holes in the lids and leaves in the bottom: we seldom caught anything. We went on blackberry picking expeditions with Mum and Auntie Flo. We collected all the pudding basins we could reasonably carry; we knew all the best picking hedges. One favourite place was the railway embankment, where the line crossed above the Lower Dunton Road. We would climb the wooden two-rail fence and pick from the bushes that grew on the embankment. It was exciting when a train came along – steam trains, all clatter and smoke. Sometimes the driver would give us a toot of warning and greeting.
We went to Hendersons, the only general store on the estate on errands or just to buy sweets. Hendersons had a bench table outside under the Cycling Touring Club sign, where we children sat and ate liquorice bootlaces and chocolate tobacco and sucked sherbet from a tube. If we had enough money or our parents were especially generous we would have ginger beer from stone bottles. What memories! Sometimes I think I can still feel, after all these years, the warmth of the sun, the smell of the cow parsley hedges and the feel of the baked clay and hot asphalt through my sandals as we children strolled to and from Hendersons – down Fourth Avenue and along the Lower Dunton Road, pricking the tar bubbles in the road as we went.
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