Life for a child in Laindon during the fifties has so far been mainly described on this website as idyllic, and so it was, with freedom and wide-open spaces, however it wasn’t without its darker side – but that’s real life and part of growing up.
Corporal punishment in school for instance, was allowed with discretion; therefore, a few teachers took up the option with gusto, keeping a cane by their desk, while others chose not to use it at all. Smacking and slapping were also accepted punishments.
My first experience was in the infants at Markham’s Chase school when a girl in my class had been rough with a book and had torn several of its pages. She was sent to see Miss Whitley and returned with a couple of red wheals on her arm. Miss Whitley, who I would like to add was a wonderful teacher, explained how she had reluctantly slapped our classmates’ arm, justifying her actions by explaining that it was the correct punishment in the circumstances, (generally accepted in those days).
The fear of getting the cane was intended to be a deterrent; however, it didn’t stop some pupils from misbehaving.
We girls had fall outs from time to time as all children do and when we patched things up and became friends again we went through a little ritual. We would link our little fingers together, shake our hands up and down while chanting:
Make up, make up, never do it again
If you do, you’ll get the cane.
That rhyme was often heard in the playground, it worked really well and ended many little tiffs quickly and restored harmony.
I wasn’t aware of anyone I knew getting the cane at that school, although I know it did happen to some.
My mother told me that when she moved to Laindon from Bethnal Green in 1923 when she was 8 years old, she was given the cane on her first day at Dunton School. It was quite a trek from Pendennis across the fields to Dunton School and mum also had to go home at lunch times, which meant running all the way there and back. When lunchtime arrived on her first day, there were no teachers around so she had the difficult choice of waiting for them and therefore not have time to go home for lunch or running home without seeing a teacher first. She decided on the latter. When she arrived back to school after lunch, she was given the cane for going home without telling a teacher first. Mum always held the Governess at Dunton School in very high regard and often sang her praises, even though she applied the school’s harsh rules rigidly.A few years later in 1928, my mum’s beloved youngest 8 year old brother Harry was taken ill at school with flu like symptoms. He worsened as the day went along and mum was told to take him home. He was very poorly indeed and started to collapse so mum took him home across the fields carrying him across her shoulder like a fireman’s lift. The doctor was called but he wasn’t sure what was wrong. Harry was taken to an isolation hospital in Billericay where he died the following day. The diagnosis was polio. The family were of course totally devastated.
When my parents were first married, there wasn’t much work available for dad apart from some occasional driving and his savings started to run out. My mum called at White House Farm, which used to be between Powell Road and King Edward Road and offered to do a morning’s housework for half a crown. The farmer’s wife agreed but when mum had completed the work; she would only part with two shillings. However, that enabled mum to go to the shops in the High Road and buy a loaf of bread, a jar of jam and a quarter of tea. The next few years they lived in Leytonstone, spending the weekends at Laindon. Dad eventually got a permanent job in 1937 with the GPO as a telephone operator at Faraday House near St Pauls. My parents moved to Laindon permanently in 1938 and lived in the bungalow “Spion Kop” which at that time consisted of just two rooms and a tram that was being used as a bedroom.
Nan told me there was one shop in the High Road she never used because the owner set his prices much higher than the others. In fact, in her Bethnal Green way, she gave him a rather unflattering nickname, which I would prefer not to repeat.
Another shopkeeper, who I won’t name, was prosecuted for having her scales set wrongly, therefore her customers hadn’t been getting all that they had paid for.
My mother told me that in the early forties, a fairly close neighbour of ours who lived on the unmade part of King Edward Road was charged with interfering with little girls but that his wife stood by him and took him back.
On the way home from school one afternoon in the late fifties, I encountered a ‘domestic’ in King Edward Road. A big burly husband was standing on the front doorstep ranting and raving in a furious temper at his wife and young daughter who had retreated to safety on the other side of the road. The wife was wearing an apron and holding a tea towel. Their young daughter was clinging on to her mother. It was very frightening and I had to edge my way through carefully to continue my walk home.
When I moved to Laindon High Road School, the same girl in my class had the same arm slapped by another teacher.
Mr Wood was a music teacher. He was a brilliant pianist but somewhat self-indulgent. During some lessons, without speaking to us, he would play a concerto from start to finish almost unaware that we were there (or so we thought). This was one of those occasions. I enjoyed the music but after a few minutes, the class became restless. We had our PE bags with us ready for the following lesson and they started to get thrown around. Things did get a bit out of hand and the girl, who happened to be sitting next to me in the front row, kept getting off her chair and running around retrieving the bags and throwing them again. As the music came to a finish we all settled down. Without speaking, Mr Wood stood up and walked towards us, held up her arm by her left hand with his left hand and with his right hand, slapped the top of her arm several times as hard as he could. The sound resounded around the room and again left red wheals. He said that from the corner of his eye, he had seen the whole class misbehaving but as she appeared to be the ‘ring leader’ she received the punishment.
On another occasion whilst in Mr Rosen’s class in the first year, a 4th year boy came into our class after being summoned. Mr Rosen asked “where’s your homework?”. “Haven’t done it”, replied the boy. “Ok” said Mr Rosen, “You can stay in after school to do it”. “Oh Sir”, appealed the boy “I was planning to play football after school, couldn’t you give me the slipper instead?” Astonishingly, Mr Rosen said “Okay if that’s what you would rather”. He made the boy bend over his chair and then gave him six of the best with a PE plimsoll, which made the dust fly and us first years wince as this was carried out in front of us. The boy stood up, gave a beaming smile and said “Gee, thanks Sir” and then left the classroom with a look of triumph on his face as he went off to play football.
“What sort of punishment was that?” I thought to myself. None at all, was my conclusion – he got away with it. The correct punishment would have been to bar him from football and insist that he stay behind to do the required homework. I shrugged by shoulders in disbelief.
In my 11 years at school, my overall experience of corporal punishment was that those who received it didn’t really deserve it, but the few who did deserve a good hiding, got away with it. Somehow the very bad kids, and there were a few, were wily enough to avoid it, one way or another.
As we know, corporal punishment was banned in 1986, the emphasis in future being placed on a psychological approach rather than physical, involving withdrawal of privileges for older pupils and the ‘naughty step’ for the little ones.
Out of school, most of us got along well. The group of friends who were in my class were, Linda Bartley and Betty Andrews (Devonshire Road), Valerie Theobald and Kathleen Roach (Powell Road), Brenda Holt (the prefabs at Victoria Road near Railway Approach), Janet Gipson (Dicken’s Drive), Ann Chapman, Geraldine Moore, Vivienne Bragg and Marion Buckland. Among the boys in my class were Fred Llewellyn (Devonshire Road), Alistair Reid (son of a policeman who lived in the police houses), Bill Lewis, Eddie Downs, Alfie Gannon, Georgie Knight and Colin Dobbs.
Georgie Knight had his own little poem that we used to chant while walking to the dinner canteen.
Georgie Knight had a fright
In the middle of the night
Saw a ghost, eating toast
Half way up a lamppost
However, as in any community there were one or two well-known unsavoury characters who we tried to avoid. I was bullied by a boy at school. I’m not sure if it was because he liked me or disliked me but he would single me out and hassle me. During art lessons, when we had to go to the cloakroom to wash our brushes in the sink, he would get me on the floor and sit astride me, pinning me to the ground. I hated it. He had been bothering me in the playground one day, pulling me around but I managed to get away and sat on the wall by the canteen. I saw Mr Wallace coming along and decided to tell him about it. Mr Wallace listened quietly and then said “Oh well, this is the girl’s playground so he won’t bother you any more”, then he turned and walked away. Nothing else was ever said or done about it, so when my tormentor left the school because his family was moving to another area, I couldn’t have been more relieved.
Another boy was a known bully and a particular trick of his concerned the field between King Edward Road and Powell Road before the flats were built there. It was a lovely playing field and many of us walked across it on our way home from school. The grass was cut every few weeks in summer but the cuttings were left lying around. This boy, (who will remain unnamed), would target one of the girls, wrestle her off her feet, roughly hold her down on the ground and then stuff her mouth full of grass cuttings. It was very traumatic for the girl but apparently gave this boy a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. He was quite strong, so the girls didn’t stand a change against him and usually ended up in floods of tears while he walked away laughing. I saw it happen several times and, oh boy, did it make me angry. I was determined he would never do that to me. However, my turn did come. I think we were about 13 at the time. As I walked across the field, he turned his attentions to me. I stood my ground, determined not to be knocked off my feet. I dug my feet in and fought back as he held my arms and tried to kick my feet from under me. We struggled for several minutes, I used all the strength I could muster against him, but as he was stronger than me, I eventually fell. I managed to avoid the mouthful of grass by turning my head and keeping my teeth tightly clenched. Although, he managed to get me down, the struggle had taken him by surprise and tired him out. As he walked away, I heard him mutter to a mate in a slightly deflated tone, “she was hard”. I felt I had scored a victory there, as he had almost met his match and now knew that he wouldn’t always get his way so easily.
I would add that it wasn’t just boys, there were one or two girls who could be quite unpleasant too.
Our friends in Laindon included the four-legged variety. Most families had a dog. The first one of ours I remember was a lovely sandy coloured mongrel called Peter. However, Peter came to a tragic end. Our garden was often used as a short cut by farm workers. Peter, would bark at them, and rightly so as it was his territory. However, one particular farm worker didn’t take too kindly to being barked at. Peter became very ill after one such occasion and for a day or two, it was touch and go whether he would survive. However, thankfully he did recover, but not long afterwards he barked at the same farm worker again and collapsed and died shortly afterwards. My parents were convinced he had been poisoned by something the farm worker had thrown to him. It hadn’t quite worked the first time, so had been given a second dose.
Life in the early fifties was good but it was also tough. There was not much money about and many people lived close to poverty. We children never went without, but I remember having just one pair of shoes to last through the winter and a pair of sandals to last the summer. When the winter shoes started to wear out and leak which they inevitably did, my dad would do some home repairs on a last. I also remember cutting out shoe shapes from cardboard cereal boxes to slip into our shoes when the soles wore thin.
There were no luxuries such as package holidays in the fifties; however, we did have lovely fields to play in. We had a homemade swing, seesaw and sandpit and a pond to amuse us. We played cricket, rounders and hide and seek. In bad weather, we played cards, did jigsaws, played hunt the thimble, or simply read comics.Occasionally my dad would take us on a mystery bike ride (which usually ended up at Hullbridge) or on a day trip to Southend-on-Sea to paddle in the sea, a favourite treat for a Laindon child. We walked all the way to Laindon station with our buckets and spades, which was quite a trek from our home. I didn’t much like the loud noise of the steam train as it come into the station but loved the smell of the carriages and the ride to Southend. As we went through the tunnels, we pretended it was night time and closed our eyes. We usually had a carriage to ourselves and I remember having fun when my Dad once put me up in the luggage rack.
As I didn’t have a swim suit, I could only paddle in the sea and had to tuck my dress up so as not to get the skirt wet.We would also spend a couple of hours playing in Peter Pan’s Playground. I have been back there recently with my grandchildren and notice that the old ‘Crooked House’ is still there with the mark on its wall showing the very high level of the sea during the 1953 flood. Upon arriving home at Laindon Station, I would try to run across the bridge before the train let off steam, which it usually did at that point. The noise and power behind it always caused me to jump and hold my hands over my ears. We then had a long walk home again, fell into our beds and slept like logs all night.
It was particularly difficult for young couples setting up home. I know of at least one bungalow that had been built using the wood from orange boxes. Orange boxes were made from strong sturdy wood and were very useful for many things including temporary furniture.My Nan (Jessica Devine) knew a woman in Laindon called Flo. Nan told me that at one time Flo and her husband Charlie had lived in a ditch within a hedge until they found somewhere to live with a roof over their heads.
Well, I have jumped about a bit in this article and although I am not trying to paint a negative picture here, but have simply tried to strike a balance concerning life in Laindon. The people of Laindon were good but a few were not so good. Sadness and hardship co-existed along with the fun and happy times. Life was good but not perfect and that is how it should be. How else would we have learned the realities and how to cope with them? The experiences we went through were a learning curve, helping to build our characters, turning us into the happy, well-adjusted adults we hopefully all are today.
Yes, Laindon was a good village in which to grow up.