Two places where I deposited some of my pocket money – the Post Office and, to the left, Wardle’s sweet shop.
When Dad thought I was more responsible, he started giving me pocket money. He was paid monthly and thought I would learn to manage my money better if he paid me monthly too and so it was that I got £1 a month. It was tricky to make sure the money didn’t run out before the month and there was plenty of temptation to spend it.
I always had to buy sweets to eat while watching Dr Who early Saturday evenings and, for some reason, I usually left it to the last minute before sprinting round to either Wardale’s in Golborne Road or Ada Smith’s in Kensal Place. The Wardales were usually in their back room watching their television, which was very high up and appeared to be on the top of a wardrobe facing the shop while they had their backs to the shop so they weren’t always that swift in coming into the shop to serve. Likewise Ada was the biggest woman I have ever seen and walked at a shuffling snail’s pace so either way, it was always a challenge to get back before Dr Who started.
My dad wanted me to save some pocket money and I usually managed to put a minimal amount into my savings book each month in the post office at the corner of Golborne Road and Edenham Street. Further down Golborne Road on the left over the iron bridge, however, there was a toy shop, where I went from time to time to add to my Corgi and Matchbox car collection. I always looked forward to the release of the new Corgi model catalogue and would pore over it deciding what to buy next, although, at fifteen shillings, the James Bond DB5 with ejector seat, machine guns and other impressive gadgets, was always out of reach.
I later spent more time in the record department in Harper’s, where I started my record collection. In the days before the introduction of prices ending with 99 (new) pence, I can remember singles cost six shillings and threepence before going up to six and eight so this was a major investment out of my pocket money. Woolworth’s sold cover versions of many hit singles on their own Embassy label and these were cheaper but they were almost as bad as the records I occasionally liberated from the boxes outside the factory in Kensal Road.
My records would be played at home on our grey and red Philips portable record player, which had a folding lid and carrying handle in the style of a lot of players at that time. The volume never bothered our neighbours, even when pushed up to maximum because it certainly wasn’t a match for the Cullen’s radiogram downstairs, which often boomed out the bassy sounds of Jim Reeves on Sunday mornings, not that I ever heard my parents complain about noise from our neighbours. Anyway, they were probably in no position to complain as I’m sure the Cullens could often hear me running around over their heads, not mention the Old Man’s Zorba like dancing on his occasional visits. I think everyone accepted the odd bit of noise as a natural consequence of living in close proximity with their neighbours.
I don’t recall dad actually liking any kind of music although he was quite happy to listen to music of the ‘Two Way Family Favourites’ kind on the radio. My mum, though, enthusiastically supported my new interest even though Duane Eddy, with his twangy guitar of course, and the Shadows were my early heroes when my mum preferred the likes of Russ Conway and Percy Faith and his Orchestra. For much anticipated new releases by the Beatles and the Stones, I ordered their new singles in advance so I could collect my copy on the day of release or usually it was my mum who collected them for me, to give me some bragging rights by being among the first to hear their new single in the days when pop music didn’t have the blanket media exposure it did later.
By the way, there was a pawnshop further along on the corner of Golborne and Bevington Roads and I mention it because it had the traditional pawnbrokers’ sign of three brass spheres hanging from an ornate bar high up the wall. Golborne and Portobello Road markets don’t seem to have changed much over the years.
There were probably more stalls selling fresh fruit, veg and other food then as street food hadn’t yet been invented, in England anyway, and second hand clothes stalls at the Golborne Road end of the Portobello market, which were a lot less salubrious than the vintage clothing on sale now. There was also usually a large van just before the railway bridge in Portobello Road piled high with towels, bedding and other household goods, which often drew a crowd while the seller put on a performance along the lines of ‘I’m not asking for a pound, I’m not even asking for ten bob, move closer madam, look at the quality, I’m giving them away, here, two for ten bob’.
Up the hill towards Westbourne Grove, as now, the stalls sold antiques and upmarket bric a brac. In the days before computer games, boys did a lot of collecting and collecting coins was quite popular. This was helped because, even in the 1960s, there were still halfpennies and pennies in circulation dating back to the 1860s so there was real history to be found in our change. A lot of the coins were almost worn flat but it meant that boys could start their own collection for not very much. Anyway, a boy came to school one Monday showing off a gold George III coin called a spade guinea, which he said he had found in the gutter after the stallholders at the top of the hill had cleared away. That was a lucky find or maybe it was more than luck.
Another boy I knew at school supplemented his pocket money by stealing Matchbox models to order from Woolworth’s in Harrow Road and selling them for half price.
While on the subject of collecting, I collected Brooke Bond tea cards, supervised by my mum, which always featured educational subjects like ‘Wild Flowers of Britain’ and ‘Wildlife in Danger’. I imagine we bought vast quantities of tea as I always got close to, but never quite, completing each set. They were free as my mum bought the tea of course but worth paying for was a series of trading cards in packets of bubblegum featuring the American Civil War. These were swapped enthusiastically by a lot of the boys in my class and featured gory scenes of soldiers being bayonetted, crushed, blown up, burned or, probably if they were lucky, merely shot.
Another draw on my money slightly later was football as we would sometimes get together in the playground on Friday and decide to go to a football match the next day. We would either meet at the number 28 bus stop opposite Westbourne Park station and take the bus to Stamford Bridge or meet at the station to take the train to Shepherds Bush for Loftus Road. Standing on the terraces at Stamford Bridge cost two shillings for boys and a programme was sixpence, the same cost as the bus fare, so football on Saturday was easily affordable from my pocket money and something we could decide to do almost on the spur of the moment, usually about once a month. As the turnstiles at Stamford Bridge stood on Fulham Road at that time, fans could move about freely once inside behind the stands and opposing sets of fans would often pass each other to change ends at half time without any trouble. One time, we set out at our usual time to watch Chelsea play Manchester United and the crowd at the turnstiles was immense. Adults were pressing in on our small gang from all sides, the crowd was barely moving and we could hardly breathe. As much as we wanted to see the match, we were in fear of injury more and decided to struggle, with difficulty, against the crowd to get out.
My income was supplemented slightly by being in the church choir at St Helen’s just off St Quintin Avenue. I got sixpence for attending Friday evening choir practice and Sunday services and two shillings and sixpence for a wedding and, once, we sang at two weddings in one day so that felt like a real pay day. It was an impressive choir comprising a large contingent of male and female choristers and equally large contingent of slight rebellious boys with angelic voices. One year, for weeks before Easter, we practiced singing the, for me anyway, very difficult Matthew Passion by Bach but we all had a great sense of achievement when we sung it on the day.
I would walk either with my friend Bob or on my own to and from choir practice in Barlby Road without any problem. However, I had a narrow escape when walking to choir practice one dark night when crossing the road at the zebra crossing at Ladbroke Grove as a speeding car came out of nowhere and caught me a glancing blow and sped off without even braking. Other than a badly cut leg, I was ok but, if I had taken just one more step forward, it would have been much more serious. Somehow, my parents thought it was my fault and they really didn’t want me to go again but they relented in the end.
A while later, I joined a Boy Scout troop, which met somewhere in Paddington. We wore traditional khaki uniforms with shorts of course and campaign style hats and probably looked like extras from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, although that was on television much later. The troop met on Friday evenings at the same time as choir practice but learning handicrafts and playing boisterous games was a lot more fun than singing hymns.
I didn’t have to buy my own comics as mum bought me the Beano and the Dandy, which I couldn’t wait to read each week, and dad bought me Look and Learn, which as the name suggests, was more educational, but I found harder going.
Birthdays and Christmases were always a treat. Our front room was always highly decorated for Christmas with paper chains and lanterns hanging from the ceiling and a real tree, which was decorated with glass baubles and lights of course. One year, our tree started to shed its needles early on and, as my parents carefully took the decorations off one by one when Christmas was over, there was a series of heavy downfalls of needles until it looked like it has been napalmed. They bought an artificial tree the following year.
I always got a very nice present for Christmas. Some of the presents that still stand out from that time were a Meccano set, a Hornby Dublo train set, a chemistry set, and a Kodak Brownie camera.
A trip to Bertram Mills circus at Olympia was a regular Christmas outing. A traditional circus may seem slightly outmoded and non-PC now but the clowns, acrobats and animals performing various tricks seemed an absolute spectacle then. Just before Christmas too, we would board a bus at Notting Hill Gate to see the Christmas lights in Oxford Street and Regent Street after what always seemed like a long and freezing wait at the bus stop. We would always try to get the seats at the front of the top deck if we could as the lights were really something to see at a time before almost every High Street had some form of Christmas lighting. The sight of the enormous Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square always capped a rare evening out in London.
I mentioned before that we would sometimes go to the cinema. Our usual venues were the Cartoon cinema in Baker Street or the Odeon in Westbourne Grove, where I remember seeing the X rated Forbidden Planet with my parents. They were keen to see the film and couldn’t find anyone to babysit their four year old so they took me along on the off chance. The usherette let us in anyway as she said it would all go over my head or words to that effect and it did but the futuristic music and Robby the robot made an immediate impression. The one cinema we never went to was what most people called the flea pit or or ‘bug’ole’ in Portobello Road although, how times change, it seems quite trendy now.
Other than the cinema and days out in central London or out to the ‘country’ like Richmond Park, entertainment was limited and eating out was something I only remember we did once. The closest we often got to that was a Friday night treat of fish and chips from the Greek Cypriot fish shop just over the iron bridge although mum sometimes took me to the Wimpy Bar in Westbourne Grove. My dad spent a long time in hospital after collapsing while cycling from work and, evidently, it was thought that I may have similar problems with my chest as my mum would take me to what we knew as the chest clinic just off Westbourne Grove for regular check ups. The large X ray machine, and the fact that the adults always left the room before switching it on, was always slightly frightening but not at all painful unlike the dentist so, for being good, I was usually taken for a Wimpy or two.
The canal and Kensal Road to the left, Edenham Street to the right, Golborne Road at the bottom. Our house is almost in the centre of the photo. Notice the children playing and lack of cars in Edenham Street
Only once, when I must have been only about five years old as my younger brother hadn’t yet been born, the three of us went out to dinner, and it must have been a special occasion because this was at the Ognisko in Exhibition Road, which seemed the absolute height of elegance even though the outside steps leading up to the restaurant was like the side of the mountain to me. I don’t know what the occasion was but I’m pleased to say the Ognisko is still going and still serving very good food.
Not only was the idea of dining out almost totally unknown to us, so was foreign food. Maybe as with most people at that time, my introduction to exotic tastes came with the introduction of Vesta chow mein, beef curry and spaghetti Bolognese in the early 60s. These were very basic kits in a box so the box for spaghetti Bolognese just contained spaghetti, Bolognese sauce and a small sachet of parmesan cheese, which always smelt like sick to me. The chow mein was a bit of favourite, though, as it included crispy noodles. It’s almost laughable now to look back on them but they were like food from another planet at the time.
Whatever the concern about my health, apart from the odd cold, I was never seriously ill, which my mum put down to making sure I caught measles as a baby more than the series of inoculations I queued up for with my classmates at St Andrew’s. The syringe always seemed enormous and like the kind that might be used for vaccinating horses. Mum was a firm believer that, if we caught measles when young, we would build up our immunity and my younger brother went through the same process as mum invited a suitable child with measles round to play with Chris. He spent, I think, a week in his cot and in the dark while I was instructed what seemed about every five minutes not to make a noise, which the Cullens might have been grateful for.
Because we were fairly close to the BBC television studios, the local roads were sometimes used to shoot on location. I’m sure that most people know the entrance to Steptoe’s yard was filmed in Adela Street off Kensal Road. At least one episode of Z Cars was filmed in the area between Bosworth and Golborne Roads, which drew a large crowd of curious children and Hazlewood Crescent was used as the location for a play shown one Sunday evening. The plot would have been hugely relevant as a play today as it featured a fictional country’s embassy in which someone had planted a nuclear warhead threatening to destroy London, which was being evacuated rapidly. You had to use your imagination for that as there was a lot of tooting of car horns in the background and lots of references to the evacuation in the script. Believe or not, most of the houses in the area were impressive architecturally as they were originally built for middle class families and Hazlewood Crescent must have contained houses that were less dilapidated than the majority so that one of them could pass for an embassy in one of the more upmarket parts of London. The street was full of glaring arc lights, trailing cables, impressive cameras and vans full of equipment and, of course, crowds of curious children.
The side streets between the canal and the railway line, where there was less traffic than on Kensal and Golborne Roads, were usually more or less full of children anyway playing, talking, arguing or fighting but usually just playing. Edenham Street was usually my destination of choice as it was closest.
Other, more disturbing, events took place in the area including the race riots of 1958, which I had heard about on the grapevine as a five year old and I remember asking my parents about it. I was easy to placate then as they said it was only a party and some people dancing in the street, inadvertently prophesying the Notting Hill carnival that, to an extent, came out of those riots. Also, in about the early 60s, the exploits of Peter Rachman, the notorious landlord in Notting Hill, were becoming widely known and Rachmanism became a common term for the exploitation and intimidation of tenants but my parents considered themselves fortunate to have the gentlemanly Mr Sohacki for a landlord who allowed my dad to chop up his old furniture and decorate our flat more or less as he pleased.
Even though the Rillington Place murders came to light in the early 50s and the street was renamed Ruston Close soon after, it was still a bit of a minor tourist attraction for years after and people walking past along Ladbroke Grove would sometimes slow down and look or point at the notorious number 10.
It’s been difficult to put the names of friends to these stories and only have a list of disconnected Christian or surnames in my head. I suppose this is a consequence of my having not given those North Kensington days much thought over the years until the last few weeks and I regret that my recollections aren’t as detailed as some of the posters on this site. Kevin Magill, Maurice Condon and Sandra King are about the only names of children I remember going to St Andrew’s school with and I remember three sisters in Edenham Street, one of who was Linda Murray who I may have gone to school with.
An Italian friend, Pompeo Pompeii, who lived along Kensal Road near the swimming baths and who went to St Andrew’s with, stands out for me as I remember being invited to his house and being offered a small glass of dry white wine and a small plate of biscuits, which I thought was a bit strange. I wasn’t sure I should be drinking alcohol although, at Pompeo’s mother’s instance I did even though I’m sure I would have preferred a glass of Tizer. My parents explained that this was just a tradition and I was right to accept.
I also remember Michael Hedges as a friend from primary school days. He lived in an upper storey flat somewhere off Kensal Road and his family were then moved to a prefab in the area. I was quite impressed with the prefab and the idea that a family could have a whole detached house surrounded by a garden all to themselves even though it was tiny.
Like a lot of parents in the area I imagine, mine wanted something better for themselves and their growing sons. Even before my brother was born, I recall my parents talking about emigrating to Australia as it was possible to go then on an assisted package for ten pounds. My mum’s uncle and aunt and their families had emigrated and settled in Melbourne after the war and my dad had already effectively, albeit forcefully emigrated from Poland so this was a realistic possibility. We went one day to Australia House in the Strand to get more information but, for whatever reason, they decided not to although their wish to move out of North Kensington continued to come up in conversation from time to time.
About a year before we moved, the Bird family, who referred to themselves as Anglo Indians, moved in next door having recently arrived from Calcutta. I was struck by how well they and their children spoke and how well behaved their children were, in contrast to most of the boys and girls I usually hung around with. However, it was Jackie with her long dark hair and who was thirteen, a year older than me, who made the biggest impression. It was more than fifty years ago and memory plays tricks but I think the feeling may have been a bit mutual because she would often come round and we would sometimes sit and talk and giggle on the sofa in an only semi innocent way.
About that time, dad had the option to relocate from his office in Carnwath Road to a new one in central Croydon and so it was that I turned thirteen and, three months later, one day in late May 1966, in a slightly less dramatic move than emigrating to Australia, we moved to Croydon.
Roger Rogowski 2015
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