By Anthony Harris
I was born in 1948 in Edith Road Tottenham Hale. It’s long been demolished and good job too. The homes in Edith Road were really rather primitive and were divided in two, with an upstairs flat and a ground floor flat, both served by a single front door. The upstairs flat had access to the garden – if you can call it that, by an outside wooden staircase. My memories of those staircases were that they were in pretty bad shape and in truth pretty dangerous. But then times were different. Each flat had a scullery kitchen right at the back, a sitting room in the centre and two small bedrooms. In fact it is fair to say all the rooms were small. The garden was small and at the back was a high wall which belonged to Gestetner’s the duplicator manufacturers factory. We lived in the upstairs flat and below I think lived a lady called Mrs Goss. It was not uncommon in the 1950’s for the families to keep chickens and rabbits in these tiny gardens. Not as pets you understand. Although my family moved away from Edith Road in about 1950, we visited often, as my Aunt Ethel and uncle Bill Webb lived there with their children Eileen, Barbara and Sally. All girls, with Sally the youngest and about my age. Living in the flat above was my Uncle Doug and Aunt Ivy Harris. They had no children. It was common in those days for children to pay in the street, even very young children, as to be fair, they were much less dangerous days as far as predators were concerned and of course a lot less cars around.
There were an inordinate amount of factories and industry in Tottenham Hale in the 1950s. I can certainly remember the Milk Vessel Recovery depot (milk bottles) being in the road next to Edith Road and a lot more factories besides. At the bottom of the road was the railway line to Liverpool Street. My memory was that this was fenced off by either a wall or wooden fence, so access would be denied to playful children. Few people in Edith Road had a car, but my uncle certainly did and had Austins and Vauxhalls. Harris Lebus was only a short walk away and was a huge site. I had little to do with it except that my uncle took me there for a while to learn boxing. Lebus provided incredible sports and social facilities for its workers and had a fantastic club house area with all sorts of things on offer. After boxing training we would go into the sports club for a drink and I would have a hot blackcurrant cordial along with my pal. I gave up boxing as I only ever seemed to get rather beaten up!
In those days there were corner shops everywhere, I can distinctly remember going to the small shop for my auntie in Ferry Lane, which meant I had to cross the main road. I was a bout 6 or seven years old at the time and there was a zebra crossing which I used. I looked both ways and saw that a car was approaching, but turning left into the road that led to Edith Road. So off I stepped when there was a loud screech of brakes. The car had come to a stop literally inches in front of me and was not turning left at all. The lady passenger wound down her window (no electric ones in those days) and was about to tell me off, when I pointed to the “trafficator signal” (an illuminated flag type arm that popped up from the car door pillar to show which direction you intended to travel) which was still showing. She immediately apologised to me and was quite kind in her comments. Road accidents like this were relatively common in those days, most with devastating consequences.
We lived in Chalgrove Road, which is just off Park Lane for many years and when I went to “Senior School” I went to Down Lane Central in Park View Road. Not a Grammar school, but not a secondary modern either. I hated every minute of my time there, apart from lessons with Mr Johnston the metalwork teacher, who was just great. I learned so much from him. The school had a large playground where fights amongst the boys were common. It also had a large playing field with cricket nets and a long-jump area with a sand filled pit. Woodwork and metalwork classes were held in long workshops adjacent to the playground. At the back of the playground was the Ever Ready factory. They used to dump literally thousands of faulty bicycle bulbs up against the school fence, so many of the boys would rummage through them, via a hole in the fence in the hope of finding a working one. Yes, with our hands through a hole in the fence, sorting through broken light bulbs – not hot on the environment or health and safety in those days. The school was located right next to Down Lane Park. Our PE teacher, a Mr Higgins (a former Olympic athlete), made us run round this park for three laps. It was a long way for a small boys with little legs and really boring for someone like me who has always disliked sports. These running sessions went on despite whatever the weather, including snow. At the end of each PE session all the boys would go back to the small changing room on the first floor, be forced to strip naked and line up to use the single shower available. It certainly helped diminish any bashfulness you might have. To be fair it was pretty brutal. Talking of which, any bad behaviour was punished by the use of the “cane.” Minor offences were dealt with by one stroke on the hand. But more severe punishments were six strokes, three on each hand or all six on the buttocks. Let me tell you it was agony, but being boys, you were not expected to cry.
My journeys to and from school were on foot at first. It was quite a slog in the bad weather. Later for a Christmas present I was given my first bicycle and what freedom that gave me. The journey to school took me along the length of Park View Road. At the far end was the “Tottenham Dust Destructor Depot.” Nowadays we would call it a recycling centre. In those days each house had a single galvanised metal dustbin and the dustmen would call once per week to empty it. Dustbins were rarely full, as we didn’t throw away much in those days, no one wasted things. If they could be repaired or handed down, they were. The dustcarts were by todays standards really small and had two curved lift up lids on each side of the lorry into which the refuse was tipped. A dustman’s status in those days was right at the bottom of the social spectrum and we were warned if we didn’t pay attention at school, that is what we would end up becoming. Because of the distance, I took school dinners in the early years at Down Lane. However, in the fourth and fifth years I used to keep my dinner money and spend it in “Sid’s Cafe” just down the road towards the Hale. Lots of kids used to do that, I always enjoyed a fried egg sandwich there and still do today.
Tottenham Hale station in those days was nothing like it is now. Trains were steam of course, later becoming diesel powered. But there was no underground connection as I remember. In fact Tottenham Hale station was no different to all the others on the line from Liverpool Street to Broxbourne. Most of the streets around Tottenham Hale, were playing-out streets, apart from what was considered the main roads. All the children would play football, cricket and run-outs etc in the street. To be fair it was quite safe and parents would think nothing of letting their children out to play first thing in the morning and not seeing them again until it either tea time, or it was getting too dark to see each other! My bicycle meant I could travel independently at last. I would often at weekends cycle to Epping Forest and spend hours there. I loved the countryside in comparison to the factories, noise and so on of Tottenham. I can remember riding alone from Chalgrove Road, via Tottenham Hale, along Ferry Lane all the way to Southend-on-Sea, having an ice cream and cycling back. Thought nothing of it! Make no mistake, there was plenty of traffic on the main roads, but cyclists kept close to the kerb to ensure the traffic could pass easily (unlike the idiots of today) and vehicles were much smaller.
I had a long telephone conversation with Paul Downes the other day. He knows more about some of my family members than I do! Paul kindly submitted two of the photographs below:
“I (Paul Downes) am playing the waiter in these photos with my Hawaiian shirt on hence the girls doing the hula hula. It was taken in the garden of Sally Walters, with I think Johnny Farrow, Jimmy Jennings and Janet Walters. The backdrop is the huge brick wall we all had at the bottom of our garden separating us from the Gestetner Factory. You will see we are sitting on Jaffa orange boxes, and the wooden staircase led to the upper flat.”
The photo below shows my class of pupils at Down Lane Central school in the early 1960’s. I am the second boy from the left in the front row of boys. I can’t remember all the names of those in the photo, but they include as I remember: John Hendry, David English, David Cohen, Roy Warner, Ray Staples, Janice Hambleton, Janice Hamilton (how confusing is that in one class!) and Christine Nicholson.