Suburban Hearth and Home/A Way of Life

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Chapter II: A Way of Life

The most noticeable social change between the start of WWI and the end of WWII was the employment of women. Prior to WWI it was housework, in all its variations, followed by shop work, teaching and nursing. Between the wars light factory work and offices can be added to the list... previously, these positions had been the preserves of men. Early during WWII 'all out war' saw women taking over the jobs of the young men who were fighting… the older men promoted to become overseers, managers, and senior clerks. The use of women in factories, offices, and shops escalated as the years went by. By the time, the Second World War was well underway women were finally accepted as being ‘essential for the country’s economic survival’. Thereafter, the employment of women continued apace. It took another fifty years for girls to be considered suitable for technical work and given suitable training in-house and at Further Education Colleges. In the printing industry, for instance, there were no women employed in any of the craft sections until the 1980s. In graphic reproduction studios, the training of girls began for film planners, but even so, there were no indentured apprentices. Industry stepped back from long periods of training for girls - believing that in many cases it would be a wasted effort.

The country's investments during the inter-war years, technical innovations particularly towards the latter half, and the improvement of managing mass labour, joined with new skills training, improved capital investment services, housing and leisure services... these all contributed to the affluence of the suburban worker. The increasing use of women in work initially competed with men but by the time rearmament was well underway women were a force to be reckoned with.

Girls leaving school in the 1950s were expected to work up to the time they were to have children. This was the first time girls in mass had these expectations – it was the beginnings of an understanding of female ‘self-worth’. This lead to sexual liberation and the concept of ‘the modern marriage’. Within fifty years, the ridged social structure was transformed. ‘Flower power’, nuclear disarmament, hippies, rockers, trial marriages, television watching, lost innocence, drug taking, contraception, part-time working, job sharing, single parenthood, increased alcohol addiction, and divorce, played their part in the social changes that took place. These new social changes were the preserves of the mainly young; they had more money available to spend. The extended school leaving age, increased university places, grants and allowances, all allowed a greater freedom of expression. This was demonstrably obvious as freedom marches began, Amnesty International flourished, and support soared to help and encourage Left Wing industrial disputes.If previously it could be said to be 'the age of women's freedom, then this was 'the age of youth culture'.

The local town farm, a mile from the town's centre, with it's fields lining either side of the dual-carriageway, gave good grass for the cows…, which in turn provided milk for the dairy - bottled for the town and surrounding area. [During the war, these fields held a local searchlight battery]. The milking parlour, built next to the bottling factory stood opposite the stables and sheds - housing the milk carts painted in red and white livery… The horses, harnessed to all delivery carts, remembered their round as well as the milkman… never needed to be told to ‘walk on’. These horses provided the necessary manure for tomatoes and roses. The farm’s original estate had been a deer park of over two hundred acres - the first recorded building on that site was in 1560. The present farmhouse, which boasts Farm Produce painted in large letters on the side, was built in the 1750s. Gypsy caravans travelled along the main road sometimes in convoy. Many of them were richly painted - with floral designs, with beautifully carved furniture and antique porcelain. They told fortunes at fairs and sold pegs and rattraps door to door. The women brought round baskets of ‘lucky heather’ leaving special chalk marks outside the house, where sales were made.

Four main churches served the town’s citizens. The Roman Catholic Church, which was, positioned half way down The Drive, The Church of England created the parish in 1930 - graced the cross roads near Village Way. The Baptists eventually found their home in The Avenue... The Methodist’s Chapel behind railings and privet hedge stationed at the corner, and The Christian Science Hall not far away from the Noncomformist Chapel. These places of worship were stationed at the boundaries of the town and gave shelter to their own school and choir, plus sundry other associations and groups… the largest congregation attending the Roman Catholic Church whose congregation spilled out onto the car-park and pavement after the service, showing bonhomie and goodwill. Church going was undoubtably for the few. Religion had suffered at the hands or two world wars that threatened life and limb for millions, questioning the love of god which allows all such suffering. Eventually this falling off affected all those things associated with a religious upbringing including attached youth clubs.

Every national club and association celebrated Saint George’s Day, The Sovereign’s Birthday, Empire Day and other special events associated with the club. The National Flag of St. George was raised on those special national days. The majority of boys in every town were members of national youth associations like the Boy Scouts, Church Lads, or Boys Brigade. Older youths joined Army, Navy, and Air Force Cadet Corps. Girls too had their organisations, which they usually finished when they reached school-leaving age - at fifteen or sixteen. Monthly church parades saw the various organizations march behind each other following the Boys Brigade band. Flags held at the slope before the church door as the signatories filed in… lead by The Mayor. This show of convention and conformity was looked on seriously by all concerned not as an embarrassment but as a local gathering of solidarity.

Other than perhaps the architecture and town planning this was a society that had changed little from that lived for the last twenty-five years. Patterns of life and expectancy were set before that period. Most residents upbringing went back to the turn of the century codes of late Victorian life - maintaining behaviour learnt when children were inbuded with standards acknowledging shame, honour, duty, integrity and honesty expected and not only talked about by parents but also emphasised at school, church and youth club. Sundays were a day of rest. No games allowed, no card playing, and ‘no going to the pictures’. Church attendance, reading, going for walks, picking blackberries in the summer, filling a stamp album in the winter, listening to the radio… all these were allowed and encouraged.

General heating in all homes was by coal fire and the cooking by gas. Lead pipes continued to be laid and no loft or window insulation installed. Cavity walls were not thought of, concrete or breezeblocks unknown and pipe work inside the house exposed. Damp courses laid in slate and all wood joints nailed, not bolted or screwed. In the winter ice formed on the insides of the windows and there was always the danger of pipes freezing up. Plugs were kept in the sink to stop the dripping tap freezing the outflow pipe - becoming blocked.

Terms of endearment were never used, love - not mentioned, affection never exhibited. Hand holding, kissing and arms round shoulders not countenanced. Boys followed a Kiplinesque character raised to serve the nation, and girls nursed those that were injured. Sexual thoughts words and deeds never spoken of. This was not only a source of guilty daydreaming but total embarrassment. Procreation, it seems, was a mystery to the nation. All this may suggest frustration - being lonely and unloved, but that would be wrong. If society proceeded along these lines and no questions asked, who was going to change or challenge it? 'Ignorance is Bliss' declares the popular radio programme. Perhaps society was downtrodden, or could it have been reasonably happy... I believe it was the latter. There were still many craft skills that needed filling... what father did still controlled many children’s choice of a job. What was shown at the cinema - mostly made in America, and what was printed in glossy magazines, became the latest craze, which had a knock-on effect - to be copied here. Even though the country had gone through two world wars compared to today's world it was an age of innocence.

The chairman of the Great Central Railway, which had joint running rights over the Metropolitan line, decided the correct place to build the new stations. The fields, between where the Edwardian houses finished and the Arts and Crafts Houses, close to the golf club at Moor Park, would be extensively developed, with three-hundred roads created. The existing railways stations could no longer cope with the influx of passengers. The station opened on the 22nd March 1915 just where a farm access road passed under the existing line. The Metropolitan Railway Line affected the character of north-west Middlesex. The peak year for new-builds was 1934. The houses were built for white-collar workers and highly paid manual workers. Average weekly wage was then £2.15s.0d.

The new station, opened in 1915, nestled in a hollow under the railway bridge… spanning Station Road, was recognisable by the telephone boxes - at the entrance to the booking hall… The architectural style looked to the age of art deco rather than art nouveau - observed in the letterform, tile, and paintwork’s colour scheme. It declared the age of the Metropolitan Railway Line… a line that ran between Bakers Street and Amersham, Aldersgate and Aylesbury. The train company’s brown livery decorated the carriages. All the Aylesbury line locomotives were steam driven, as were a number on the Metropolitan - the majority however were powered by electric motors. It was not until some years after the war that the line was completely electrified.

The carriages held ten people sitting - five on either side. In the rush hour, a further six stood… swaying, while adjusting their stance - attempting to keep their feet. Clasping hold of the luggage rack, each tried to read. Smokers, who were the majority, relied on the nearest person to open the window, to suffer the draughts, occasional drops of rain, and smoke… The interior sprung seats bounced the occupants to the tune of the joints in the rail, as the train swayed and lurched along the track… The seated, appreciating their luck, began to nod off… It was only the first and last compartments that banned smoking, all the others smelt strongly of tobacco. On cold and wet days, the carriage windows soon streamed with condensation - areas cleared of mist, made by the person sitting next to the window, gave a clue to the whereabouts of the train on the line. The dripping raincoats, flapping umbrellas, and sneezing passengers heaved a concerted sigh as the train moves off… conversation again stilled as newspapers reopened… At eye level, underneath the netted luggage racks, brass-framed prints advertised seaside resorts… A London underground map took up the centre frame, frequently hidden when the carriage was crowded, causing panic for passengers unfamiliar with the line - not knowing where they were. Platforms and waiting rooms were made mainly of wood emblazoned with hearts and arrows carved by the younger passengers, who, on the walls, proclaiming their hearts desire… more pungent cartoonists, criticised the punctuality of trains – which they often, ‘died waiting for…!’

At night, looking out the front bedroom windows, could be seen the orange glow of opened fireboxes, as the firemen shovelled in another load of coal. The shunting tank engines, coupling-up their wagons in the sidings, gave cheery toots, as their flashy cousins - the express trains, thundered on their way giving - warnings more urgent – a shriek, that gradually fell away, as they disappeared up the line. The nightly routine of coal delivery into the pens continued supervised by the siding's controller, as the nightlong process resumed...

As with all large towns several bus routes serviced the citizens, some ran to the nearest main town and beyond. They were mostly single deckers and all had their conductors - who issued punched tickets. They ran at ten-minute intervals servicing a growing queue as the time-approached rush hour. A bus ride was a community affair: getting on and off, lurching from hand bar to strap… up the bus; the favoured seat, ringing the bell, standing in packed togetherness, listening to each other’s conversations; wiping the condensation off the windows… It was not often that someone was turned away even if the bus was overloaded… The conductor stood at the door taking the fares of all the unpaid passengers - those he was unable to reach when he forced his way up the aisle… piling up the spent ticket underfoot. He was an expert at issuing out loose change, having a pile of pennies in his hand ready, as he punched the green cards.

Horses and liveried carts made local deliveries. Housewives took in a delivery of milk - in quart, pint, and half-pint bottles; quite often the milkman he would leave a crate for collection - the next time he called. The rag-and-bone man came round in his cart calling out ‘any-old-iron’ or ‘rag-a-bones’ in a sing-song voice and the knife-sharpener echoed with ‘scissors-to-grind’. The newspaper seller, on the corner of the high road, stood by his upturned orange box outside United Dairies, his newspapers folded under his arm, calling out, through clenched rolled cigarette, ‘star, news or standard’.

Coal and coke was delivered in hundred weight sacks by the coalman wearing his leather hood and shoulder apron. At least four times a year a gypsy woman called to sell pegs and a posy of heather. Children played in the streets and called at each other’s houses. Roller-skaters held onto the backs of passing carts… The chalked stumps, still visible on the garage doors from the match the day before… stayed - all through the war. Front doors remained open in the summer behind sun blinds as the breeze ruffled the material... There was no fear of intruders!

The jolliest annual attraction - attended by the majority of children, was the local fair… the license granted by King Edward III in 1336. Their parents, needing little encouragement, attended in the evening. The fair took up the whole of the High Street being within arms length of the houses on either side of the road. Stalls and merry-go-rounds, helter-skelter, ghost house and candyfloss, roll-a-penny and toss a ring, all vied for attention… the stall owners shouting out in encouragement. The streamers, strung lights and colourful bunting all contributed to the colourful occasion whilst the steam organs piped-out the old pre-war tunes... The fair, held on one day only - the first Wednesday-after-Whit… [Its Charter awarded by Edward I], was always well attended, even during the war years. There were never any disturbances needing the authority of a policeman although they were very evident.

As there was no town industry, it was unusual to see any heavy traffic. The one exception was the brewer’s dray drawn by four huge shire horses, with jingling harness and tiny brass bells on their heads, driven by the drayman with his bowler hat, sitting on a high seat at the front of the dray. The heavy open sided wagon clattered along the road making for the town's Hotel. Its ironclad wheels appeared to us boys as massive. The drayman had a waterproof sheet drawn over his knees in all weathers, at his side a long whip stood in its holder. The carrier’s van would be seen most days. The only large motor wagon belonged to the local removers, its green painted sides proclaimed its purpose guaranteeing ‘same day service’.

As the prosperity of the townspeople improved some of the fathers acquired motor bikes whilst others added a sidecar. The wife sat on the pillion seat and the children sat in the sidecar. It was a popular way for families to meet up – having a day out at the seaside. As there were few cars, the motorcycle assumed an important part of family life. The A. A. patrolman was available for their owners assistance if they became members. The brown uniformed patrolman had a regular route to patrol and their motorbike and sidecar painted a bright yellow was often to be seen. The sidecar carried all his equipment necessary for basic repairs. His brown uniform jacket, jodhpurs, calf high leather boots and leather gauntlets were accompanied by polished brass buttons, peaked hat and A. A. badge If he passed a car or motorbike bearing an association badge he saluted whether he was attending to a repair or not. His route took him past the yellow boxes decorated with a little garden which carried a telephone which either he could use of any member of the association.

The nearest box was in Station Road close to The British Restaurant. The British Restaurant chain was a government institution organized in 1942 to cater for people who could not for one reason or another cook their own meals. There was one at Bennett’s Park, Station Road, and behind the cinema. For a shilling, you could buy a three-course meal when they first opened. They were cheaply built, as prefabrications on a concrete slab and seen in most large towns. Others situated in suitable halls or galleries. In effect they were soup kitchens but on a far larger scale and served a variety of meals. After the war they still existed but soon operated on a different footing having to make a profit - hired out for jumble sales and evening classes – in effect became community centres. By 1943, they served 700,000 meals per day charging an increased fee of 1 shilling and tuppence [about 6p] for a two-course meal.

Sharing the same site, at the back of The British Restaurant, was the Home Guard Hut. It served also as Number 21, Air Raid Precautions [ARP], and Wardens’ post. Just up Station Road almost on the corner of the crossroads was the cinema. The Associated British Cinema [ABC] group owned the classically styled Embassy Cinema, which opened in October 1929. The frontage, decorated with linked railings, bordered oblong gardens decorating the ‘notice boards’ giving the current and future film previews. The large, wooden, double doors at the side of the cinema, lead to the deserted car park - marked out at the back. Beyond… the towns wood yard – opposite the British Restaurant.

The ‘pictures’ or ‘flicks’ – was the main form of public entertainment; from the earliest, silent, black and white films to cinemascope and Technicolor, upto the age of television it performed its role for fifty years. The sound, delivered from a single, central source behind the square screen - had to wait until after the war to be improved - not a patch on Technicolor and stereophonic sound, of later times. The majority of cinema audiences participated at least once a week… watching films from Hollywood – a life very different - made the entertainment romantic and exciting. Every night queues formed outside the cinema behind price boards – the queues stretched right round the cinema. Patrons slowly shuffled in during, but mainly after, each three-hour performance; if there were no seats left then there was standing room only, which you might have to put up with for the whole length of the film.

A thick, grey, smoky haze greeted the ticket holder as the usherette’s torch sent a beam of projected light into the black interior… penetrating the fog… lighting-up the rows of seats. The rustle of sweet papers and the rasp of matches punctuated the film’s performance. Courting couples filled the back row, with those standing, unable to have seats, leaning over the rail. The main event – ‘A’ film, was the public draw - enticed the audience in. A newsreel followed the advertisements and trailers… before the second featured, ‘B’ film. Larger cinemas, particularly on a Saturday evening, would put on a talent contest, band, or organ recital… with the audience singing along - following the words shown on the screen. The nearest large cinema was the Granada, which also accommodated the Herga cinema and the rather grand Coliseum theatre. It was an enormous treat to sit in its plush, red seats - particularly in the circle, and see the occasional West End Shows. The Langham in Bridge Street, was part of a small chain called the Modern Cinema Company opening in 1936. The Grosvenor became part of the Odeon chain opened the same year.

The area Police Station was two miles down the Road. You would always see a police officer on duty walking along the main street of all towns - at least twice a day, and again during the night… checking all the shop’s doors and windows, the alleyways and side roads. The patrolling sergeant, who would phone into the police station - using the blue call boxes found at most main-road junctions. If, as a child, or even adult, told to ‘abide by the law’ you did as instructed. Police officers were very much-respected citizens, perhaps, even feared… They saw to it that there was no cycling on the pavements and bikes had efficient brakes and a bell.

All parks, recreation grounds and sports areas monitored by their Keepers – who acted very much like police officers in their duties. The Yeading Walk Gardens or Streamside Walk, and Park Way, as all the other parks in the Borough, had carefully designed flowerbeds arranged in floral decoration – to give a fantastic riot of colour all summer season. Their beauty replicated those gardens at the seaside and London parks. The grass beautifully manicured and the edges trimmed. No cycling or roller-skating - no walking on the grass or running about. The garden’s facilities were built for recreational walking and it good maintenance, considered important to the town’s standing. Bands played every weekend at the larger parks… fountains worked, paving regularly levelled and autumn leaves gathered… Cricket pitches, bowling greens and tennis courts all carefully manicured and maintained. Competitions organised by the local authorities, between each other – award certificates to the best Head Gardner… who - vied to outdo each other… The workers used their winning certificates to obtain better jobs. Councils produced their own seedlings, trees, and plants at the town’s nursery. The local park was Streamside Walk - its paths wandered over stones bridges… alongside the river.

Streets had their own sweepers, who swept into the gutters the dust and waste - made up into piles, to be loaded onto their carts and taken back to the Council depot. Dustmen called once a week in the corporation dustcart, which had curved sliding-lids to half a dozen compartments. Each house had their own dustbin… there being no limit to the amount collected or type… just size - which could be picked up later if it could not be thrown up onto the roof of the wagon. A great deal of waste was thrown onto the kitchen fire or onto the garden bonfire - along with the garden clippings. There was little or no packaging… most meat or dairy produce was wrapped in greaseproof paper. Gas lampposts had small wire-caged boxes attached to take cigarette boxes or sweet paper, there being no large receptacles. Sand boxes were conveniently placed at main street corners, hills and level crossing - to give grip for horses and cars - in icy conditions.