Growing up in the shadow of St Nicholas

Expanding on Boyhood Country Style 09/15

As a 1 year old, I moved, along with Mum and Dad from Victoria Avenue, Langdon Hills to the bottom of St Nicholas Hill at the end of Pound Lane. This would have been 1948/9. While I titled this as “growing up”, I must point out that this is something I have never achieved, I only aged. There was much for a youngster to do, plenty of fun and adventure and mischief to get into if so inclined. What is now the sports field to the James Hornsby school used to be an Elm tree lined “playground” and a prolific source of mushrooms of which many were gathered and consumed. Between this field and Markhams Chase was a spinney where camps were built and many adventures had. There was also a pond on which we would “sail” an old tin bath with a bit of plank as a paddle. Many, no most times we would capsize and go home soaking wet and covered in stinking mud. We would be hosed down before the good hiding would take place.

The field between our back garden and the church was the venue for our enormous bonfire that was constructed for Guy Fawkes night each year. The Verger’s adult sons, John and Henry Wilson, were the main builders supplying and erecting a telegraph pole as the central core. We could cook jacket potatoes in the ashes for at least a week. At home we would eat rabbit 3 maybe 4 times a week, there was always 1 or 2 hanging just outside the back door. These were supplied by Albert who lived next door but one to us, he was a farm worker so the farmer was glad to see the rabbits go. Another neighbour was Fred, also a farmer, who lived next door but one to us, albeit in the other direction. Fred could be heard coming home from work from some considerable distance away as he came home on a tractor, a Field Marshal. We all knew it as a ” Pom Pom ” tractor because of its distinctive exhaust sound, boom boom, boom boom. A fascinating machine as it needed to be started with an explosive cartridge similar to a shotgun cartridge.

Another fascinating vehicle belonged to our next door neighbour “Mackie” he had a Bradford shooting brake, (Bradford was part of the Jowett car company). To start his car involved lifting the bonnet, then sticking one leg into the engine bay and proceeding to kick start it as you would a motorbike. To a young lad this was weird yet at the same time almost magical, as the few other cars I had seen used a handle stuck in the front to wind them up (?). Another of our neighbours, Mr Walker, had a D.U.K.W. in his back garden that he spent many years fitting out as a houseboat. Don’t know what happened to it. But how weird was that to a young boy, a boat with wheels ?  ”Mackie” next door was a market gardener whose back garden was full of rows of dahlias and sweet williams, he also had a small holding locally where he grew more flowers for cutting. He had stalls at the Halfway House, the Fortune of War and the Harrows public houses, where he would sell bunches of flowers to the trippers bound for Southend. He taught me how to lift and store dahlia tubers, how to start them into growth the next Spring and to take cuttings. This is likely where my interest in gardening began and is why I have a green finger, contrary to some peoples’ belief that it’s because my finger was so often inserted in my nostril for most of my youth. 

I once bought a homing pigeon from Freddie (no surname mentioned as I think he is still local) who also lived in Pound Lane (opposite Ken Porter). I kept it in one of our rabbit hutches for a period of time so that it would know where to come back to once released. You can probably see what happens next. Yes it went home—to Freddie. Apparently this same pigeon had been sold to a number of people on a number of occasions. Quite humorous but no refunds, another lesson learned. 

As properties in the unmade roads were vacated and subsequently demolished, very many “treasures” were found and carried home. Some of which I still have today. All the pleasure of going scrumping was now gone as, yes the trees and the fruit were still there but there were no longer any inhabitants to chase you off. How boring !

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