THE GRANVILLE PARKERS - POST WAR SE LONDON
I was born in 1950, in Lewisham Hospital, London SE13. It had been a workhouse, then a military hospital for the returning wounded of WW1. Mum and Dad, Louis and Rose (nee Cherry) Wigzell, were living with my Grandparents, Lou and Lilian (nee Marsh) Wigzell at 34 Overdown Road, on the Bellingham estate in SE6. They shared the house with Dad’s sister Ann and her husband Len, all having been bombed out of their homes in Bermondsey several times during WW2. Dad only returned from his service with the RAF in Burma in 1946, and didn’t know where Mum lived. He went to his Mum-in-law at 354 St James Road, near the Canal Bridge, and his brother-in-law John Wigley took him by bus to his new home, where the flags had been out for his return for months, as no-one knew when the Far East ‘forgotten army’ would return.
Dad was very ill with various tropical diseases, and spent many months in Brooke Fever Hospital on Shooters Hill on his return, so it was not until 1950 that I made my appearance. They had been married 8 years by then. During the period from the end of the war to the late 40s/early 50s, two US servicemen were billeted on our family. Recently having found Grandad’s US ID card, I think this was because, having worked in the Whitehall War Room during the war, he had later been seconded to work for the US Military. One was Hank (Charles) Kaufmann, who became a lifelong friends. They always called my Nan and Grandad Ma and Pop, and would bring my Mum special food from their stores when she was expecting me – things not available to us Brits still on ration. I remember him going home – he had a big kit bag and said he was going to put me in it and take me home with him as he would miss me so much. I didn’t want him to go and remember hiding under the stairs and refusing to kiss him. He married a French girl in London, with my Nan and Grandad as witnesses, and named his first daughter Linda after me.
Eventually Ann and Len moved to Crawley New Town, and I had a room of my own at last. Mum and Dad put their names down for a Council house. It was a long wait, and it wasn’t until 1954 when my sister Patricia arrived, that they had hope of a move. Friends nearby had exactly the same family set-up, Grandparents, Mum and Dad and two small boys, the same ages as me and my sister. Mum never forgot how they were re-housed before us. Her anger was multiplied as the returning soldier had brought back a German wife, yet my parents were not offered anything until Mum literally camped at the council office and threatened to go to the papers. Even then, we were offered only a maisonette. We moved to 51a Granville Park in in 1955. I was 5, and my sister Patricia under a year old.
We had a small fitted kitchen, with a large larder. No central heating, just open fires with a coal cupboard under the stairs. Water was heated in a little copper boiler under the kitchen sink, supplemented later by an ‘ascot’ gas water heater. Until 20 years later when immersion heaters were installed, it fell to Dad’s lot to carry buckets of hot water up the stairs for baths. Mum was very upset decades later when central heating was installed and her larder became the boiler cupboard, replaced by a small wall unit, which didn’t even match the rest of the kitchen.
There were 16 flats in the block, which was built on the site of 4 large elegant houses (judging by the surrounding Victorian ones), numbers 47, 49, 51 and 53 which had been destroyed during World War 2. High explosive, incendiary and parachute bombs, had fallen nearby, the most destructive being a V1 rocket in 1944. Granville Park runs parallel with the railway, a coal yard at the bottom and access to Lewisham railway Station and yard, with Blackheath station over the heath at the top making the area a prime target for German bombers. There were still several bomb sites in Granville Park itself for us kids to play on in the 1950s and 60s
The block was divided into 4 entrances, up flights of 4 steps. The maisonettes were arranged like small houses having sitting room and kitchen downstairs, and 2 bedrooms upstairs, though the C flats had 3 bedrooms, for larger families. A and B were ground floor, C and D up several steep flights of stone steps. No lifts then, nor indeed now - difficult with prams and small children, and hard for older residents. They were completely self-contained, each having their own front door, approached through a communal ‘swing door’ which cost my little sister the top of one of her fingers. We kids always messed about with these doors and one day she caught her hand in it. The doors were eventually, decades later, replaced with posh modern wooden ones with toughened glass panels, and equipped with entryphones.
Each had a concrete balcony at the back through the living room, just big enough to put a small chair on, or, as most people did, put up a small washing line, and grow flowers and tomatoes in pots. Concrete window boxes ran below the back bedroom and the kitchen windows; great for all those people who had been bombed out of houses with gardens, and relocated many miles away from home. As demonstrated by the original large houses remaining each side of the block, there had been long gardens to each original house, running down to the railway line. Some still retained their Victorian summerhouses and pergolas.
The land around the ‘field’, a large square of grass behind the block, great for us kids to play on, was divided into garden plots like wartime allotments, one allocated to each dwelling. Our gardens were at first a blank canvas of stony earth, divided by wire fences, with a shingle path all round the field for access. Although he was cycling all the way from Lewisham to work in Birkbeck College in London’s West End every day, leaving early and getting home late, my Dad, always a keen gardener, immediately set about preparing his patch, digging the hard soil and sieving the earth. It was a very difficult task, with rubble and debris from the bombing still very much in evidence. Us kids thought it fun to find bits of broken china and glass, sometimes a bent spoon or toy. Oh the innocence of youth, not thinking of these items belonging to families who had lost everything, or indeed, been killed.
At weekends most of the menfolk were out there digging, and some, including Dad and his mate Gerry Rogers, built a greenhouse to raise plants and provide cover from the rain, as ‘the shelter’ under the flats was a fair way up, our garden being the central one at the bottom by the railway line. There was great rejoicing some ten years later when the council installed a communal tap under the shelter for the gardeners to use, (at extra cost on the weekly rent).
For Mum, Rose Cherry, Dad planted a cherry tree near the greenhouse, transplanted from his parents’ garden in Bellingham, and many varieties of rose. Both were still there when we cleared his home in 2012; a cherry cutting still flourishes in my sister’s garden in Buckinghamshire. In Spring my garden in Croydon is a mass of bluebells, transplanted from our Nan and Grandad’s garden via Dad’s garden.
Washing lines were hung in rows beneath the building, and most put one up in their own gardens. Of course, on rainy days ‘the shelter’, as we called it, was handy not only for laundry, but also for kids to play in. Roy, from 53d, now the writer and poet known as ‘The Royster’, recently reminded me of the sound our metal roller skate wheels made as we skated over a large crack in the concrete floor!
There was a communal ‘bike shed’ at each end, and separate lockable ‘pram sheds’ costing extra on the rent to hire. Dad kept his for storage until a year or so before his death, when he cleared everything out to make it easier for us girls. Individual dustbins were arranged at each end of the block in open ‘bin sheds’, with a ledge above, which kids loved to walk along. Highly dangerous and forbidden!
Naturally, these ‘sheds’ provided yet another area of interest for children, of which there could be 20-30 at any given time; all sorts of naughtiness went on in them; as young teens a group of us set up a ‘club’ in one, with a snooker table (thanks to our mate Roy), darts and a portable wind-up record player mainly playing 78s early on… I always think of this time when I hear ‘Here Comes Summer’ released in 1959 by the largely forgotten Jerry Keller.
Bonfire nights were great; we would collect any wood, sticks, anything we could gather, and make a huge bonfire in the middle of the field. Home-made ‘Guys’ were loaded on top of the massive pile. All the families would join in; on the night there were hundreds of fireworks; nobody was left out. My carpenter Dad put up posts by the fence and nailed on Catherine Wheels. Sparklers abounded, and bangers were thrown willy-nilly. No Health & Safety in those days! Just good fun, and I only remember one accident in all that time, when Trevor, a lad old enough to know better re-lit a failed Roman Candle in the remains of the bonfire still smouldering the morning after. He lived to tell the tale!
All the usual games were played: ‘Two balls up the wall’ was a particular favourite of the girls, though irritating for tenants on the other side of said walls. I still remember some of the rhymes we chanted as we played. And there was always ‘tag’, or as us Londoners called it ‘He’. We would ‘dip’ to decide who was to be ‘IT’; which also involved rhymes; actually, sometimes we ‘dipped’ longer than we played. ‘Dip dip sky blue who’s IT not YOU’ and ‘Dipadipadation my operation how many people at the station? The one who comes to number three will surely not be he…1.-2-3 You’re out!’ And many more. We would run round like loonies for ages, ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’?’ hiding behind trees and making loads of noise. At least our Mums knew where we were. Skipping was popular, with one or often two ropes turned simultaneously in opposite directions, with yet more rhymes. Many a twisted ankle ensued from that. And there were always several hopscotch grids chalked on the paving stones in front of the flats, chalk being in good supply in the war-scarred area. In retrospect I hope what we were using was in fact chalk and not something more sinister.
Plenty of fun off-site too.
In our younger days we would sneak over to one of the several bomb sites near us. We would add to our broken china or stone collections, play kiss-chase, climbing over the bombed ruins of houses, and generally muck about. Until an irate Mum came looking ‘ollering for us to get ourselves back ‘ome.
As we grew, and became the proud possessors of two-wheeled bikes, we would ride up the steep hill towards Blackheath, where we could explore the various large ponds. This appealed more to the older boys, who practised fishing and were largely unsupervised. Us girls were usually under the gaze of eagle-eyed mums, so it was an achievement to pedal up the hill and freewheel down until discovered and banned.
Beyond Blackheath, Greenwich Park was great, with its deer, squirrels and duck ponds, playgrounds and open spaces, and the Maritime museum and Royal Observatory within its boundaries. The Cutty Sark arrived in Greenwich soon after we moved to Lewisham, so we saw it in all stages of restoration. It was virtually destroyed by fire recently, though it is a brilliant site to visit now, under cover in its dry dock and with better security.
Growing up in the Swinging Sixties, music and fashion figured large in our teenage years. Us mods swaggered about on decked-out scooters, and danced at the Golden Slipper at weekends. In 1965, as a classics scholar, I was picked to go on a school trip to Greece, travelling on the Orient Express. I took a Saturday job with Martin Fords, a High Street ladies fashion shop. I got about a pound for the day, and a perk of 25% staff discount on ‘one garment and one hosiery item’ per week, which was handy for clothes for the trip. My friends Helen and Brenda were able to take advantage of the discount when there was nothing I needed. It was useful too when in 1967 I had a scholarship to France, and 1969 work experience in Milan! I continued to work there Saturdays and holidays until after my marriage in 1970.
Our love of music was fed by shows at the local Gaumont, later Odeon, as neighbours John and Ann’s Mum was working there; she got us free tickets, and over the years we saw many popular groups (sadly not the Stones or Beatles) and greats such as Adam Faith, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and Cliff Richard, thus ensuring my lifelong attachment to him.
The Granville Park Meeting Hall was a large tin hut, built on another bomb site, where Plymouth Brethren ran a Sunday school. It occupied our Sunday afternoons for many years. We went to see Billy Graham in 1966 at Earls Court, when Cliff was appearing. A fond memory of these good Christian folk was the teenage contingent’s ramble around Sevenoaks, open country to us townies! Little did I know then many of my Wigzell ancestors were buried in nearby Kemsing churchyard! Around 1967 we joined the coach trip to Chessington with the younger kids - Jam sandwiches jelly and cake provided in a marquee with many other parties of excited children. Then Chessington was still mainly a zoo, though there were plenty of attractions: playgrounds, an open-air swimming pool and a miniature railway ride around the site.
We all gradually went our own ways, but kept in touch. I left in 1970, but my parents spent the rest of their lives there, so I was a regular visitor, especially in later years, as my parents grew olde.
So Life goes on. But 51a Granville Park will always be home to me and my sister.