In recent years Maxilla Walk (previously Maxilla Gardens) has been familiar to the local community as a small patch of green that hugs the motorway. For many years it was used annually for the much loved Westway fireworks display (sadly no longer) and for Maxilla Nursery School, also now closed. There seem to be few pictures of the small road that ran from Cambridge Gardens, curving round to come out on St Mark’s Road. These houses were of generous proportions with front gardens and basement, all demolished to make way for Westway, so it was good to hear from Brian who sent in both photos and stories of the original Maxilla Gardens.
Growing up in Maxilla Gardens –An account by Dr Brian Wybrow Ph.D. (London)
My parents, and my brother and sister, moved to 11a Maxilla Gardens from Cornwall Crescent W11, before WWII. The houses had a first, second, and third floor, with a basement flat below, presumably originally for the servants. This was in the times when the street had (from my mother Edith’s memory) top hatted men on duty at the gates to Maxilla Gardens, at the entrances from St Mark’s Road and Cambridge Gardens. The houses in Cambridge Gardens were similar, with a basement flat, but tended to be semi-detached, with a side-passage between each pair of houses. We, of course, in our basement flat had the advantage of the garden, and this was essential for my father’s building business. My father, Harold Wybrow, was a Master Builder before, and after WWII, living in Maxilla Gardens until 1957, and then moving to Clarendon Road, W11. He worked for a Mr Crump, an Edwardian gentleman who owned lots of houses in North Kensington. Harold worked with my brother, Clive, and the building business was based at 11a Maxilla Gardens, North Kensington, W10, with the ladders, etc., in the back garden. They maintained houses all over North Ken. and would have been very well known to those who lived in the associated houses.
The surrounding streets, e.g. Cambridge Gardens, Oxford Gardens, and St Marks Road, were all about of the same standard, but Rillington Place (famous for the Christie Murders) was rather older looking, and more primitive, with quite short, sometimes concreted, front gardens, and narrow, cramped rear gardens. There was thus rather a contrast between our side of the railway to the North, and the other, to the South!
During my early years, after WWII, from about 1947 onwards, I remember that Maxilla Gardens was a peaceful street, due to its “U” shape, with little traffic. We children had the street to ourselves, playing cricket (at the other end, where Maxilla Gardens joined Cambridge Gardens; my stretch was from the St Marks Road end, down to the bend) and many games were played, including, Rounders, Hopscotch (marked on the pavement with chalk, outside 11a) and of course, hide and seek; plus stone throwing (no doubt getting on the nerves of neighbours!). I used to help the Express Dairy milkman deliver milk from his horse-drawn milk cart, and I remember the street being re-laid a number of times. They used wooden blocks; covered them with tar, and then spread sand on that. They then rolled over that with a steam roller.
When living in Maxilla, I attended Lancaster Road Infants School, which was situated in the continuation of St Marks Road past the junction with Lancaster Road, on the left, and near the corner; it had large green gates for access in Camelford Road, and I used to like the gates being open, because of the connection with “the outside world”! I attended Oxford Gardens School from the age of 7 years, to 11. Following this, I attended Haverstock School, Chalk Farm, and I then attended Holland Park School, from 1959 to 1961.
Our basement flat had an internal staircase up to the first floor, which was presumably originally used by the servants. In our time, there was a brown curtain draped across the bottom of these stairs, and I often felt rather scared when I was in the house on my own, which was quite often! For instance, in the winter, I would get home from school before my mother came home from her work as a cleaner/housekeeper for some wealthy people around Kensington, and the house would be rather spooky. We only had lino on the floors, and, because the coal fire had “died out”, the house would be cold when I came home from school. The solitary feeling, coupled with the dark winter atmosphere, led me to put on the wireless as soon as I got in (to listen to Children’s Hour) and as many lights as possible; whilst the cellar, just to the right of the front door, added to the drama. As one walked down the passageway to the kitchen, with a narrow, partitioned off bathroom to the right, one passed that curtain, and the stairs to the first floor flat. It always scared me!
One entered the basement flat via the front door, which was on the right, at the bottom of a set of steps, which were to the left of the steps which led up to the first floor flat. The region to the left of the basement steps, and in front of the basement bay window, was known as “The Area”, and there was a gap of about two and a half feet between the front of the bay, and the wall holding back the front garden. I had a pedal-driven jeep, which I am amazed to remember that I threw down the steps when I wanted to come in! I also used to play “buck and four stones” at the top of our steps.
Pat Friend (the friend of my sister, Shirley) who lived next door to us, at number 9, in the first floor flat, moved to Maxilla at the age of about 8 in about 1936, and Pat has told me that she did have electricity, but that she remembered the man coming to “light the gas lamps in the street, with a long pole”. We had electricity, but I do remember my mother
plugging the electric iron into the lighting socket, which was presumably because the, I believe, only two-pin, mains socket in the room, was being used for something else, probably the radio. We had a second-hand radiogram, at one stage, and a radio that could receive all wavelengths (Short, Medium, and Long). The aerial for the radio was strung-up into the Poplar tree at the end of the back garden. My brother Clive used to climb the tree, with me following him. We must have got higher than the railway line!
We did not have a television until we moved to Clarendon Road, but I used to go to a neighbour’s house around the corner, to watch children’s’ television with other children. We watched “Muffin the Mule”.
In the right-hand corner of the kitchen, at number 11a, and built against the wall overlooking the back garden, there had been a “copper”, which was originally used as a boiler for water, but this was not used in my time. The kitchen sink was a large white one, of rectangular shape; now popular as the “in thing”. It was located against the back wall, and just below the kitchen window, which overlooked the garden. The sink had just one cold-water tap.
My father used to boil a bucket of water on the gas cooker, which was just beyond the entrance to the bathroom, and was located against the party wall with number 13a, Maxilla Gardens. Many of these “buckets full of hot water” were tipped into the adjacent bath. Alternatively, I would have a “bath”, in front of the coal fire, in the front room of the house, standing up, in a so-called tin bath, which was probably made from galvanised iron. Clothes washing was either done in the bath or sink (neither, very often) or at the “Bagwash” (very often, and particularly the bed sheets) which was located at the bottom of Lancaster Road, opposite the swimming baths. I believe that one would go to collect it when it was ready, but I also believe that it was delivered to us. We cleaned our teeth with, I believe, toothpaste from a small round, low profile, metal container; and shampoo was in a sachet.
Washing was hung out on a conventional clothes line, with a pole to support it, in the garden, but others, living in the first floor flats of some of the houses, used a continuous clothes line that had a pulley wheel fixed to one of the poplar trees at the end of the garden, so that they could put out, and then retrieve, their washing.
The coal fire needed the ash emptying almost every day, and it was rather messy. It also had to be lit every day, unless it had been “kept alive”. My father used to frighten me and my mother by placing a newspaper across the front of the fire, in order to draw the air into the fire place, via the grill, below. This paper would often catch fire, but my father would quickly screw it up into a ball, and throw it up the chimney! Although it did not happen to us, this could well have been the cause of some chimney fires, or even house fires!
Sometimes some paraffin would be added from a paraffin lamp (used for my father’s plumbing work) to “get the fire going”! Chimneys often caught fire, due to the build-up of soot on the internal brickwork up to the chimney pot on the roof. The Chimney Sweep, with his collection of interconnecting wooden “rods”, having threaded metal ends (male threads at one end, and female threads at the other) connected at the end with the “brush”, used to come every few years to clean out the soot which had built up in the chimney.
Since we lived in the basement flat, we had our coal delivered by so-called “shooting it” down the “coal hole”; a hole in the roughly horizontal concrete path, leading to the steps which rose to the front door of No. 11. The hole was covered by a metal cover, which thieves would try to lift out, in order to get into the house via the cellar! This was countered by having a lock inside, or having a lock on the cellar door, inside the house. The gas meter, which was in the cellar, was a prime target! One could hear the roar and tumble of the coal as it entered the coal cellar, and, since we had no light in our cellar, it was dark, and spooky, and had that characteristic smell of coal dust. The coal came in a horse-drawn cart, operated by I believe, Earlies Coal (spelling may be wrong) which I believe had a depot at West Drayton.
The stairs to the first floor from our flat, were generally unused, except in WWII, when the people on the first floor (“the Proctors”) would come down and shelter in our flat. One place to “hide” from the “bombing”, was the cupboard under the internal stairs to the first floor flat. I had one of those WWII babies’ gas masks but would not go into it. However, I did play with it and with the family gas masks, after WWII. I also used to play with my father’s bits of electrical equipment, such as wires, transformers, a meter, and other junk, and all of this (which was a great inspiration for a future scientist and inventor) was in an old Bluebird Toffee tin! My father also used to make me toy soldiers, from lead (poisonous!) moulded in a special moulding block, into which he would pour the molten lead which had been melted in a pot on the gas stove. He would then wait for it to cool down, so that the toy soldiers would solidify.
There were two cupboards in the hallway. One cupboard was on the left, just beyond the entrance to the front room, and the other, was also on the left, and was located just before the entrance to the kitchen and after the entrance to the back room. Both cupboards were full of my father’s tools, general “junk” (including shrapnel which was collected by my brother and sister; after the bombing) and paint tins; although many of these tins were stored outside. During WWII, there were thus just two rooms; for two adults and three children!
We only had an outside toilet (those upstairs must have had internal toilets). Outside, at the rear, immediately outside the back door, the area was covered by the floor of the first floor flat, from the outside of the rear bedroom wall, to a line about three or four feet back from the front of the kitchen wall. After exiting via the back door of the kitchen, you would see the outside toilet, under cover, in the left corner of the intersection of the continuation outwards, of the rear bedroom wall, with the wall dividing 11a Maxilla from number 9a, next door. Mr Waites and Family, lived at number 9a; he was an electrician, and above him, on the first and second floors, lived Pat Friend (my sister Shirley’s friend) and her mother, Doris. Mr Waites would often sit in a hammock, in his rear garden. Pat has told me that, roughly opposite 11a, a famous Band Leader, named Sydney Lipton, and his daughter, Celia Lipton, who was a famous actor and singer, lived for a period.
My mother used to collect her groceries from a small grocers shop on the left side of St Marks Road, in its stretch which continued on the other side of Lancaster Road, beyond Lancaster Road Infants School, and she used an open-topped, single-handled, wickerwork shopping basket to get her daily shopping. Other shopping was done in Ladbroke Grove, Portobello Road, Shepherds Bush (particularly the market) and in Hammersmith; which latter two, were travelled to by Metropolitan Line train from Ladbroke Grove. There were also trips to Edgware Road (where my grandparents on my mother’s side, lived) by train from Ladbroke Grove Station. My grandparents on my father’s side, died before I was born, and although my grandmother died before WWII, my grandfather was alive during WWII, but was “bombed out ” of the family’s “second hand-come builders’ supplies shop” in Westbourne Grove. A frequently bought meal, was fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper in the early days, and bought either in Ladbroke Grove or at the bottom of Lancaster Road, opposite the swimming baths.
I remember that the lady in the top flat of the house opposite number 9, in which Mrs Reynolds lived (first floor flat) often used to throw down her door key, plus money, wrapped in paper or a cloth, so that I could go round to the newsagents (named Maslin’s and later Thomas’s; or the reverse!). I got just threepence for that! I always used to be going into the newsagents to ask if my “Beano” and “Dandy” comics were in. Later, I also had “The Eagle” comic, which was quite instructive.
I remember the winter of 1947, during which the gutters of the houses had icicles about 18 inches long hanging from them, and that it was always very cold and snowing.
A boy named Terry (no surname known) who lived above Mrs Reynolds, once went to the White City Stadium with me and my parents, and we spoke to Gordon Pirie, the long distance runner, in the region underneath the stadium seats. My parents often went to the White City, more often, greyhound racing, and I was always dropping used tickets through the gaps, in the concrete seating/standing area, for the supporting pillars for the roof, to see if I could get them to land on mens’ trilby hats! There was not much else to do! I also used to collect “Turf” cigarette cards, which were part of the packaging for the cigarettes.
We finally moved to Clarendon Road in about 1957, and the house was in complete contrast with the basement flat in Maxilla, which we had rented. We owned the whole house in Clarendon Road, and we occupied the basement flat because of my father’s building business.
Dr Brian Wybrow Ph.D. (Lond.) 30-04-16
Postcript: For more on Maxilla Gardens, see https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/dreams-of-the-westway-2-desolation-row/
Maxilla Nursery Archive http://maxillaarchive.com/