Charles (and Sheila) Curran
Interviewer: Liz Bloom
Date: November 11th 2009
C: I’m Charles Curran. I am 80 years old. I came to St Albans when I was about 3 years old so it goes (back) a long way. We came from South Wales where I was born in the Rhonda Valley. First of all, my elder brother came up to find work because in the early 1930s there was not very much work in South Wales; miners were on strike etc.. He found a job up here and very shortly the whole family followed. We lived round the Crescent, Willow Crescent, to start off with, then we moved to Burleigh Road and then into Castle Road. And that’s where we are now and that’s when we got married and we’re still living in that house in Castle Road. Since then, of course, we’ve extended it quite a bit.
You were saying about the question of VE Day….On that VE Day, people were lighting fires in the road and there was a huge bonfire at the crossroads, well in front of what was the Ballito stocking factory at that time, and after that it was used for war itself. What exactly was happening there, I’m not quite sure.
I eventually came to Fleetville School here and we would also go to South Wales for our holidays. And when war broke out we were down in South Wales; my mother came back to St Albans and we stayed with our auntie and went to school there for just over a year and then came back to St Albans.
You had both your parents living with you? What sort of work did your father find?
C: He was a paint sprayer at Handley Page’s.
Where was Handley Page?
C: That was at Park Street, actually. My father, unfortunately, while he was painting, he fell off and he lost one of his eyes. Off scaffolding while he was painting, he lost one of his eyes, so he had a glass eye for a long time. Of course, particularly when we were children, we used to go and visit him, he used to have it out and say the eye was keeping an eye on (him/us?).
S: He’d keep it on the mantelpiece.
C: When I came back from South Wales, I couldn’t get into Fleetville School, so I went to Camp School. During the wartime, of course, there were times when we had to go out into the playground and practise with stirrup pumps in case there was a fire.
Was there a lot of rivalry between the two schools?
C: I don’t think so; not that I’m aware of anyway.
Which shops do you remember?
S: Well Spendwise was one of them that sold vegetables and then he would give you a little book and every so often he would get some fruit in. You could have one lot a week so you could take your book there and get it stamped to save as your weekly ration of the fruit (?).
How much would your fruit ration be? How many pieces of fruit do you think you got?
S: About a pound, I suppose.
S: For a whole family.
Just a pound of fruit for per family?
C: Talking about Spendwise; that was the first job I had. I worked at Spendwise. The owner actually taught me to drive. I used to drive down to Tiptree to collect strawberries and bring them back.
Where was Spendwise exactly?
S: Next door to the Rats Castle really. There was Spendwise and there was a cobblers……
Where the Indian restaurants are now?
C: Yes, there was a bakers there as well. I can’t remember his name but he used to drive round and he used to deliver to the houses when we first came here to St Albans. On the opposite side there was Turners which was a grocery store and Blackstaffs which was a Do It Yourself, handyman shop, you know, nails and …everything….there was a laundry there as well.
So there was a lot here, wasn’t there, on Hatfield Road!
S: I mean, you could do all your shopping because there was a butchers, a fishmongers and everything else there.
S: On the corner of Woodstock Road there was Benningtons which was another grocery shop. On the opposite side was the post office.
Were you often sent out to do the shopping, Sheila?
S: I was, yes. My mum would often send somebody up the road to meet me with a basin because I would often have broken the eggs by the time I got home!
S: When I left school, I went to ICI and did a secretarial course. They had a school at ICI to teach short hand typing and to be secretaries. That was in Welwyn Garden City. I often used to cycle there.
I suppose it wouldn’t have been so busy.
S: Not in those days, no. No, when we were small, we could all play in the road; meet all our friends outside in the road. There were no cars around….or not many.
S: Well I stayed there (at ICI) for quite a while and then I came to St Albans to Eversheds that were printers. The offices were on Holywell Hill or St Stephens Hill really I suppose. The printing was behind Alma Road where they’re wanting to build Tescos.
Did you enjoy your work?
S: Well, I didn’t mind it, yes. I stayed there until I got married.
So had you known Charlie a long time?
S: We met at youth club at the church.
How old were you?
S: Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, something like that.
Did you decide to get married when you’d got enough money to do it?
S: Oh no! We didn’t have any money in those days. You earned about two pounds a week!
C: We got married at Ashley Hall and at that time it was a small building with a big garage at the side which Mr Pollard of Spendwise used as a storeroom. He opened up the church at Ashley Hall and we got actually married in the garage and to do that I had to paint all the inside of the garage..
S: Well my dad helped as well.
C: Fortunately it was in July time so we could have the garage doors wide open…
…and there were a lot of people out in the yard as well, you know.
S: 1950 we got married. We just had rooms with Charles’ mother for a while ‘til we could afford to buy something and then the house that we were living in, she was renting and then the people that owned it wanted to sell it so Mr Pollard stood surety for us to buy the house which we did. We’ve been there ever since; added to it, of course, in space.
C: Big difference in price then; it was £650.
C: For a time….I worked with Spendwise and then I went to a bakery down Holywell Hill where they baked the bread and I used to go on a bike to deliver it.
S: Well they were local too because the owner of the bakery lived in Elm Drive.
C: This was Wilsons down Holywell Hill.
How long were you there?
C: ‘Til I went into the forces; National Service….in 1947.
How long was National Service?
C: Two years.
How did you feel about that?
C: Well, I actually quite enjoyed it. I eventually went to Germany and had quite a nice time there. Actually I was a batman with a brigade major. It was what one might say a holiday.
S: A cushy job.
Did he give you a hard time?
C: Not at all.
When you came back, what did you do then?
C: I went to work at DeHavilland as a progress chaser, in other words, collecting all the necessary parts to be put together, you know. In 1967 I left and joined Hoovers as a service engineer and eventually after 5 years, they (stopped) employing repair men and I went off on my own.
S: Self employed.
Self employed as a Hoover repair man. They gave us the tools and also when we first started we could…when people phoned up the office or the electricity board, we could go in and get all the calls from there.
S: They would refer us to them.
C: So it was a good start. Of course you had a load of clientele anyway because people used to call every six months to service their machines.
Was it just the vacuum cleaners….?
C: It was washing machines, tumble dryers, spin dryers, irons, all sorts.
Sheila (and Charles)Curran
S: I am Sheila Curran (nee King) and I am 79 years old. I came to St Albans when I was 8 in 1938, the year before war started. My father and mother wanted to live nearer my grandparents who lived at Dunstable so we moved here because it had a good line up to London on the trains. We came to a ‘new build’ estate; Woodland Drive was where I lived in those days. And so at the age of 8 I started Fleetville School in the Juniors. I used to walk from home; there was an alleyway at the end of Beaumont Avenue that took you through to Woodstock Road and I used to walk along there in those days….I don’t think I would today.
What was it like at school, Sheila?
S: All right. I was not terribly academic. In the end I did pass a scholarship to go to the Grammar School which is where Fleetville Junior School is now.
What was it like in terms of your food, your clothes and the way you lived your day-
S: My mother used to make most of our clothes which were all right. Food; basic food but good food that fed us well and filled us up.
So you didn’t starve?
S: We didn’t starve!
During the war, were you able to get sweets at all?
S: Well we had a sweet ration which was basic, limited but I can’t remember how many ounces it was; not very many but….
Can you remember any air raids?
S: We had a few but not really very many. There were some bombs dropped.
What time of day did this happen? Can you remember where you were?
S: Night time I think mainly.
C: We had one sort of late evening and they dropped a series of bombs. In fact, one dropped in Hatfield Road which was right opposite where Charles lived in Castle Road and instead of caving in, the windows came out (with) the suction after the explosion and it damaged half the house in Hatfield Road. That (was ) the middle part of the war really.
S: We had evacuees living with us. They were from Parliament Hill School in London.
They were sort of my age-
C: We actually shared the Grammar School with them.
S: We did half a day and then the Parliament Hill had it the other half a day.
Was there any conflict at home when the evacuees arrived?
S: Not really, no. We got on quite well with them really. They came from London and we’d originally come from London so we were quite used to it. We got on quite well with them really.
When you were at the Junior School here (now the Infants), did you use these air raid shelters here (Royal Road)at all?
S: Only for practice, I think. I don’t think we had to leave school any time because of a raid.
Did you use the underground shelter?
S: No, the one that’s in the road.
You never used this big one.
S: At the girls Grammar School (now Fleetville Juniors) they had some under the playing fields, so we could go there which we did for practice but not for an actual raid.
Can you remember any special occasions during WW such as the D Day landings?
S: Well, we saw lots of planes coming over, getting ready, towing the gliders; they came across this way. And down at the bottom of Hazelwood Drive they’d got trenches dug out for some of the troops to practise in. It’s where the top of Hazelwood Drive is on Sandpit Lane end.
C: There’s a large field there.