This post has been prompted, in part be a conversation with a friend here in Beeston, Nottingham, where I have lived since the end of 2014. We were having a conversation about 'sense of place' and how important it has been to both of us throughout our lives.
Richard used to live in Lenton and we met through my Lenton based blog, Parkviews. Susan and I bought our Lenton house at 1979, but did not move in until 1980 and stayed there until we left in 2014.
We were active in the community for all those years and when I look back at the places where I have lived being involved in the community has been a common factor: Wembley until I was 22 and from 15 I was active in Wembley South Young Socialists and the Labour Party; then Harrow 1966–69; Birmingham 1969–78; Mansfield 1976–1979; Lenton, Nottingham 1980–2014 and Beeston, where my involvement began in 2011 when I joined the WEA Beeston Branch writing class.
The common thread has been the Labour Party and local history, the former I trace back to my Uncle Dave and Auntie Nannie, who I used to stay with in Harlow New Town, as it was then, throughout the 1950s. They were Party activists and Uncle Dave was Secretary of then Plumbers' Trade Union Harlow branch, so there was a steady stream of visitors. The latter, local history, came through my grandfather, Ernie Howard, who I called 'Pop'. He had been born above the family shop on Totnes Terrace (part of Wembley High Road between Ealing Road and Wembley Central Station) in 1896 and was living at 36 Swinderby Road in 1976, the year he died in Harlow whilst staying with Uncle dave and Auntie Nannie. He lived on Swinderby Road for fifty-four years. My Nanna, Anne Starr, grew up in Ickleton on the Essex/Cambridgeshire border and they met during the First World War and every day I see and use things which they used every day and I love that sense of continuity.
I can never remember sitting down and listening to Pop talk about his Wembley, it kind of seeped out over the years during chance conversations or when I heard him reminiscing with old Wembley friends, many from his childhood days, perhaps in a shop when buying shoes, groceries, fish or with family. In the 1940s and 1950s Wembley, despite it rapid growth during the inter-war years, especailly the 1930s, still had a solid core of pre-First World War families, of which the Howards were part.
My Wembley was, by today's standards, quite constrained, yet I was happy with it as it was and the legacy of that happiness has been an ability to be happy in all the places I have lived. I could probably create a similar photographic record for Lenton and Beeston (and in a sense I have since 2007, thanks to blogging), but right now I want to share with you My Wembley as captured on a few chance postcards in my possession. At some point I will give them all their own posts as memories are triggered.
Swinderby Road looking north towards Wembley High Road. No.36 is on the right-hand side of the road, with the handcart outside the semis with the angled front bays (the one furthest from the camera). From the open windows, despite, the clouds, it may have been a warm day, although wanting to keep the air inside the house 'clean' was something I grew up with and, with the benefit of hindsight and a better understanding of history, I suspect that my Nanna, born in 1892, was Victorian enough to believe that ill health and stale air went together. Fresh air equated with healthy.
Ealing Road from Wembley Brook looking north towards Wembley High Road. Uncle Joe's tobacco shop and newsagents is in the parade of shops on the left and from when I was seven until I was eleven he paid me 5/- (25p) to deliver afternoon newspapers every day except Sunday to about seventy houses.
Just out of view on the left-hand side of the road, the first house beside the brook was a dentist, where I used to go until I moved to Harrow. The fact that I still have most of my own teeth and do not need dentures I put down to my dentist. My mother used to tell me that she took me there the day after the National Health Service (NHS) started and that I never needed to see the school dentist.
Further up the road on the left-hand side, nearer the High Road, opposite the Regal Cinema was Cut & Quality (grocers) and DeMarcos ice cream parlour and coffee bar.
On the right-hand side you can just glimpse the entrance to Union Road, where I went to Sunday school at The Church of God in the British Legion Hall (which was on the south-side) every Sunday. I went there from about six until I was eighteen.
On the other side of Union Road the Labour Party built its New Hall in the late-1950s, where we held Young Socialist meetings and where my first wife, Tricia, and I had our wedding reception in 1965.
Just beyond that and before the Regal Cinema was St Andrew's Presbyterian Church where I went to the 1st Wembley Cubs. I didn't join the Scouts because by the time I was eleven I didn't like uniforms or the discipline!
The Regal Cinema came next (bottom left-hand), where I went to the pictures most weeks, including the Saturday Club and was a member of the 'ABC Monitors'. It cost 6d (2½d) to get in.
In the parade of shops facing Ealing Road which were part of the Regal were Radio Rentals, from where we rented our radio for 1/- (5p) a week. We didn't have electricity in our house until 1958, so I had the job of lugging the acid battery to and from the shop on a trolley every few weeks, where I got a replacement.
Close by was the fish & chip shop on Station Grove, at the far end of which was the Toc H hut.
A view of Wembley High Road looking east from its junction with Ealing Road, about which I could probably write a book. I will return to it in future posts. I went there most days for something. Just beyond the Station Hotel was Sharvil's the fishmongers. Reg Sharvil was one of Pop's closest friends and they played snooker most nights in the Fairview Club. I would go the shop for fish every other day or so it now seems. I grew up on a diet of fish, cheese, beetroot, runner beans and apples and only cheese has fallen by the wayside in recent years because too much now upsets my bowels!
Barham Park along with One Tree Hill were my childhood playgrounds if you discount Swinderby Road. In the house they did tea and cake in the summer, but it was demolished sometime in the late-1950s if I remember correctly, by which time I was visiting Barham Park Library more often.
An 83 bus across from Alperton Station on its way to Ealing Broadway. For most of the 1950s there was a Sunday extension renumbered 83A to Kew Green (later changed to London Airport). The 83 took me everywhere in my then known world, well not quite, it took me to family in Kingsbury and on days out to Kew, Hampstead Heath and Gunnersbury Park.
The 18 and 79 buses, and the 662 trolleybus also played a big part in extending my childhood boundaries, as did the Piccadilly line (see previous blog). Trips from Wembley Central Station were in the company of family, every couple of months to Broad Street on a Sunday morning to visit the Petticoat Lane market. My love of buses and public transport began in Wembley as a child.
As a child my world was Wembley and the trips I made to Harlow and Grantown-on-Spey, with visits to Glasgow as well, gave me a sense of being part of something beyond Wembley, but it was home and it was where I always returned to. I read Anne of Green Gables when I was about twelve and remember a male teacher reproving me for 'reading a 'girl's book'. It is a book about place and its importance.
Life has taught me that townscapes change over time, as they should, not always for the best, but sometimes, but individuals endure and they are what I want to remember and celebrate. Wembley may be different in many respects, but what I see and hear I still love.
That is the memoir and legacy I want to pass on to my grandchildren and the families I will never know, that we carry the past with us and we decide, as ourselves, what to do with it, no one else.