Friday, 16 August 2013

Swinderby Road my home port

As children we all want to explore and mark territory if we have the chance. Some less fortunate never leave home unless part of a convoy. They are anchored to their home and garden. Someone from my Swinderby Road childhood, who I am getting to know again and met last week for the first time in fifty-four years was one of the latter. Our conversations were at her front gate and I have this memory of her behind her front gate whilst other children, like myself, clustered round.

I know this memory of her is 'reliable' because I told her of where we used to stand and talk before she said as much herself. I thought her very grown-up and whilst she claims she was shy, it isn't how I remember her. She was much more outgoing than the more free roaming Swinderby kids like myself and her memories are beginning to confirm my view.

She moved on, school wise, before the likes of me, going off to Ealing Art School at thirteen after two years at Alperton and what all too few conversations we had afterwards were all at either her front gate or at her aunt's house a few doors down.

We were in the same years at Barham and Alperton, but I cannot remember being in the same class. I was a slow learner back then and didn't really like the constraints school placed on me. I always had things to do away from school and people to see, papers to deliver, bottles to collect and errands to run.

My friend was bright and on the few occasions I thought of Swinderby Road and Wembley as a grown-up in faraway Birmingham and Nottingham, and reminisced with family, or my two teenage friends from my days as a Wembley South Young Socialist, she was always there.

My friend did have 'voyages' away from Swinderby; going to Barham and Alperton schools and Sunday school (which I think she did). I must ask if she went to Barham School on her own, or whether her mother took her and collected her?

I, on the other hand, was taken to Barham School for the first time one morning in 1949. I then made my way home in the afternoon as part of a huge wave of children which rolled down Danethorpe Road every afternoon. Now it may have been the case that a neighbour had me in her sights, perhaps Mrs Matthews, who lived next door. Her daughter Eileen was a few weeks younger than me and we played together a lot in those days.

I suspect I  was the only child at Barham School aged five who already travelled on buses alone, albeit seen onto an 83 outside DeMarco's on Ealing Road, opposite the Regal Cinema, into the care of the conductor, then met at the top of Townsend Lane in Kingsbury by my Auntie Wi'en. In the evening, the process would be reversed. In between time, I enjoyed the company of cousins Fiona and Derek, whose prefab home backed onto open fields leading down to The Welsh Harp.

A blessed 83, Ealing bound, outside Alperton Station in 1952.
By coincidence (yet another one), the 83 was to play an important part in the life of my Swinderby Road friend. Like me, she likes buses. As children they liberated us. Before this blog is done with, there will be fair bit about Wembley buses and where they took us. Image from London Transport Buses and Coaches 1952 by John A S Hambley (1993), which can still be bought on the Amazon website. This is a great series of 'year' books, which capture on page after page how the world looked at the time — with a bus or two in every pic!

On days when I stayed at home, some of us Swinderby kids would wander off to One Tree Hill, a nearby open space, on our own and play, often on the swings and slide by the Piccadilly Line. Most of time we did this without asking or telling and, usually, our absence from Swinderby went unnoticed. If it was, someone would come and find us and sternly tell us not to do it again. We did of course.

At first that was as far as we went. To the top of Swinderby, right along Eagle Road until it met Norton Road, and across to the left was the open entrance to One Tree Hill. There were no fences then and very few cars, if any.

Another day we might go and play beside 'The Brook', which ran between the lower part of Swinderby Road and the length of Ranlagh Road on the west side, which was bordered by back gardens. On the east side all you saw was the bacsk of the sshops which fronted onto Ealing Road. In those days it was open and, most of the time, no more than six to eight inches deep, with an open bridge which carried The Brook under Chaplin Road.

This was where we would lay low on summer evenings waiting for the DeMarco's ice cream vans to return, then as the driver took in their takings, we would dash across to the open van and scoop out as much ice cream as our hands could carry, before dashing back to hide in the bushes again and consume the ice cream as quickly as we could, covering our hands and faces in melting ice cream before washing our hands and faces in The Brook.

I saw other lads steal boxes of tins and other provisions from unloading lorries on the same unmade road behind the shops, but I was never that brave. What I did was akin to scrumping. What grown-ups like my grandfather ('Pop') would call poaching. There was a line and I didn't cross it.

As we got older, perhaps six or seven, and had a year of Barham School under our belt, we would go further afield, in the footsteps of the adults who took us to Barham Park to play or visit the Library. If grown-ups could do it, so could we, and no group I was with ever got lost, for I had an anchor point, where we could hove to and, if lucky, get a free glass of pop of squash or pop, with a biscuit too.

My port of call was the Fair View Club on the Harrow Road, between Wembley and Sudbury, beside Wembley Fire Station. I could get to 'The Club', as I knew it, from Swinderby Road blind-folded. It was a kind of second home. Parked in the 'ladies' room by my Pop, with its leatherette chairs and sofas, I would consume glasses of lemonade and eat Smith's crisps or large penny Arrowroot biscuits with a lump of cheese. I would watch the men come and go and, if it wasn't busy out the back, I would be let loose on a table in a corner and ball the coloured balls into the pockets or make them bounce off one another in the hope that one would go into a pocket on its own. Sometimes we all got lucky and go no further, some raquets would be found and we would end up playing on the already neglected tennis courts, with glasses of squash or pop and food to keep us going. On my own, I would go there with a barrow and collect grass cuttings for Pop's runner beans, but that's another story for a another day. I wonder what occupies them now?

My route to Barham Park was one which allowed me to show off; down Chaplin, into Dagmar, where the Venture Coaches went from, and round the back towards Wembley Hospital, then off to the right, across the tennis courts, through the hall full of green covered tables and a quick dash through the bar of The Club.

Always someone on a stool propping up the bar and my arrival would be greeted with someone saying 'Where's Ernie?' (my Pop's name) and someone else saying 'Not far behind'. By then we would already be in the hallway on the other side heading for the large front door. On my own,  I would have lingered, sure of a free glass of lemonade and an Arrowroot, always my favourite.

Across the Harrow Road, between the then endless stream of trolleybuses and buses, and a few yards up in the direction of Sudbury was Barham Park, like One Tree Hill, fenceless, only separated from the pavement by a ditch of sorts. Then it was off into the dells and sunken gardens, where we would play and hide and, on occasions, visit the Library as well. At the beginning of the 1950s, the large house at the centre of what had once been a private estate was still standing and I have vague memories of a large ground floor room, with windows which opened onto a terrace, serving tea and cake.

I might not have been good at school, but I was encouraged to borrow books from the Library, which I did most weeks and took out picture books, mainly about history and places, and read about Lord Nelson and North Sea fishermen, or other parts of Britain. These were not things we learnt about at Barham School, but there was a young teacher at Barham, Jean Conrad was her name, who took an interest in me and other children too — like the girl I have met again. Miss Conrad will get her posting.

If there is one thing I do not want to lose from my life, it is amazement. You may call it wonder, but I never cease to be amazed in wonderous ways and meeting another Swinderby child again of my own age is a case in point. After so many years, over fifty, there are still so many shared interests and passions.

We are on a voyage of re-discovery together, this time she is free to sail and we are bringing different qualities to our journey. It's very exciting and we have even picked up another 'Swinderberbian' (if that is what we are), a few years younger, but she knows many the same names and has sent me information as well.

At some point, my writing will have to be given some order. For now, I am letting a long forgotten world come to life again before me, as words come tumbling out and many more go untyped. For now they remain scribblings in notebooks.


  1. My name is Brian Mellish and my sister's name is Pamela Mellish, we lived at No 26 Swinderby Road. If you are interested in further memories please blog back.

  2. Hello Brian

    The answer to your question is 'yes'. I remember Pamela and that you lived at no.26. Seeing 'Brian', it is coming back, albeit vaguely. I have an idea in my head that you are older. Pamela is my age, or very close (I was 70 on 16 May).

    I am in regular contact with Audrey (Aude) Watson, who lived at no.48 and had an aunt living at no.28, where other Mellishes lived. I used to think Aude was your cousin, because we used to talk outside no.28.

    Aude and I spent several hours at Brent Archives together last October checking our memories out, looking at the electoral rolls. I grew up in no.36 with my grandparents. The house always had lodgers. My mother was married when I was born and by the time she did get married (I was eight), I did not want to leave my grandparents.

    I am planning a visit this autumn to the British Library Newspaper Collection in Wetherby to trawl through back issues of the Wembley News to confirm some of my memories (and to discover new ones).

    Look forward to hearing from you again.


    1. Hello Robert
      Thank you for your reply, perhaps a small potted history will help you remember me, you are right I am older than you, I was born in February 1939, Pam will be 70 in September, I lived at 26 Swinderby Road until I married in 1961.
      My wife and I moved to Hertfordshire and we are now living near the sea in West Sussex, I have three daughters and six grandchildren, my wife was local to Wembley and lived in Kenmere Gardens near Lyon Park Avenue. Unfortunately I now have very limited sight, your blog was brought to my attention by one of my daughters as she was doing research into family history.
      Mrs Watson was not my Aunt, and lived at No 24, my cousin Carol Mellish Lived on the top floor of No 28 and her cousin Michael Holloway lived on the ground floor of No 28.

      I have made my sister aware of your Blog and we are planning to visit her at the end of July, we will put together our memories and send you our first Blog, if I find any old photos I will try to attach them, I definitely have one of Jonnie Hicks in his cricket gear that his Dad had bought for him (he was my best friend).

      Look forward to hearing from you soon


  3. Hello my name is greewood i lived with my family at 111 chaplin road from 53 to 68 when my father moved the 9 of us out to Berkshire. I along with my brothers and 1 sister all went to Barham school then ether Alperton or copland school's. I remember Keith moon seeing him quite a lot going to his mum and dads just up the road ' always said hi . The Hands family. Linsay barsdale . Henry cooper in his greengrocer shop . I remember those days with a smile, pity today is not quite the same. Rob

  4. Thanks Unknown for sharing the memories. The next phase of this blog is on hold until I have trawled the Wembley News archive in Wetherby next year. Moved from Lenton in Nottingham to the neighbouring parish of Beeston eighteen months ago after 35 years in the city and still playing catch-up - hence the inactivity on this blog. I only remember the Stretton from No.1 Chaplain Road, the house next to the brook, opposite the electricity sub-station, and I promptly prompt a memory of my nanna's best friend, Mrs Salmon and her son Tony, who went on to work in TV as a cameraman. They lived in the electricty company house opposite the Strettons.

    As I say somewhere already I went to Barham in 1949 when I was five and still have one friend who lived four doors up at No.44 Swinderby Road, the same age as me. Aude now lives in Totnes.