Growing up in Fleetvilloe

Jackie Aldridge

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Jackie Aldridge   2012

Daughter of Elsie and Percy Hall who owned Fleetville Saloons at 195 Hatfield Road.

1932: Percy was living with his father Walter Hall in Wellington Road, The Camp. Percy was the 8th child of 10 children whose Mother died when Percy was 8 years old so they were all brought up by their older sister Hilda whilst Walter worked in the Brick Works.

1935: Kelly’s Directory shows Elsie as living at 11 Roland St, The Camp.

1937: Elsie and Percy were married at St Paul’s Church, Hatfield Road

1938 Kelly’s Directory shows Percy as being at Fleetville Saloons in 1938

1939 Elsie and Percy were renting a house at 8 Elm Drive.

(There were no Kelly’s Directories in 1936 or 37.)

Their first son Geoffrey was born 1941, second son Keith in 1946 and I (Jackie/ Jacqueline) was the youngest born1948. We stayed at Elm Drive until 1959. My Nanna (My Mum’s Mother) Margaret Cherry always lived with us; she slept in the back room downstairs. Soon after we moved to Hazelmere Road in Marshalswick in 1959, she was admitted to Hill End Hospital aged 71 and died in December.

The house in Hazelmere Road was the only house that my parents ever bought. They paid £4000 for it. Marshalswick Secondary School was a newly opened school and my Brother Keith gained a place there at the age of 13. It was a boys’ only school so I went to Sandfield Girls School in Hatfield Road at 11.

As children living in Elm Drive, we all used to play in each other’s gardens and out in the street, as there wasn’t much traffic and no-one seemed to worry about strangers. I’m sure there must have been some undesirables around, except that, in those days, people with mental problems were kept locked away in mental hospitals.

In Coronation Year, I was only 4 years old and we had a lovely street party. There was bunting and we all dressed up. There were fancy dress competitions. My brother Geoff was dressed as a Gollywog. I can’t imagine what that had to do with the Jubilee and it certainly wouldn’t be allowed today.

Whenever I tried to walk anywhere with my Dad I had to skip because he was so tall and I couldn’t keep up with him. As my parents were both working in the hairdressers, sometimes I would walk to school with Mr French who lived up the road and I would chat away to him. There was never anything sinister about it and nobody thought of it as a problem.

When I was 4 I started ballet lessons at Marguerita Hoar’s Ballet School. The lessons were in Mrs Hoar’s house in Marshalswick Lane. She had a small dance studio at the back of her house with mirrors and a barre. My Mum used to walk me all the way from Elm Drive up Beechwood Avenue and along Marshalswick Lane every week and by the time I was 7 I was going 3 times a week to do Ballet - National and Greek - and taking part in Festivals. At that time Marshalswick Lane was literally a lane with bushes and trees separating the narrow rough path from the road, which was just a narrow lane.

At the age of 9 or 10 in Elm Drive, I would go across the road to my friend Barbara Sawyer’s house opposite and we’d make up songs and dances to songs like “Walking My Baby Back Home” with all the actions, or in the Summer do handstands and cartwheels in the garden.

In the kitchen was a “Modern” washing machine, which replaced the old washboard. The “new’ machine had a steel drum with gas burners underneath and it had to be filled by hand with hot water, and of course the Gas kept the water hot. The same water would be used for all the washing. The first load being the least dirty whites, like sheets and pillowcases, then shirts and white underwear, followed by coloureds, and lastly darks. As there was no electricity involved, the clothes were agitated in the water by a handle on top of the lid, connected to a paddle in the middle of the water. This handle had to be worked by hand, backwards and forwards. It was really hard work and I would try to take my turn but as I was only about 6 years old I couldn’t reach well enough to do it !! Once washed the clothes had to be put through the mangle, which was also worked by a handle on the side. The mangle was made up of 2 rollers under tension that squeezed the water out of the clothes. Mum was able to turn the mangle at right angles so that it could sit over the sink and the water could drain into the sink.  The washing was always done on Monday morning, it took quite a few hours and was exhausting. On Tuesday the ironing had to be done.

In our garden we had a disused air raid shelter with a corrugated roof. This made a good place to camp out and have secret meetings. Also at the bottom of our garden we had a pile of pieces of slate, which were left over from the billiard table that my Dad and 2 brothers broke up. I don’t know why they decided to get rid of it. I remember it used to stand in the middle of the front room with the upright piano tucked in the corner, and between them they took up most of the room. The pieces of slate were fantastic for playing hopscotch because when we threw them onto a square they didn’t bounce or roll away like stones from the garden would, so my brother Keith and I were champion hop-scotchers. Only our very best friends were allowed to have a piece of slate.

We were also the proud owners of roller skates, which we strapped to our shoes. Our favourite place to roller skate was up to the end of Elm Drive and we would whiz round the corner from Beechwood Avenue because it was a good hill on which to gather speed. We were frequently told off for going too fast.

On Saturday mornings my brothers and I would go to “Saturday morning pictures” at the Odeon in London Road and sit in the 9 penny (9d) seats. These sessions were especially for children. The films were all “very suitable” although I can’t remember what the films were, mostly cartoons I think. It’s sad to see the old cinema falling into disrepair, but hopefully it will be revived soon. We had 3 cinemas in St Albans then, The Gaumont in Stanhope Road, The Chequers in Chequers St where the Maltings shops are now and the Odeon in London Road, but now we have none.

Every Sunday we were sent off to Sunday School in our Sunday best clothes to St Paul’s Church on Hatfield Road. This was the church in which my parents were married and we were all christened. We would say prayers and sing hymns all together in the hall and then we would be split into ages and sent to side rooms for Bible stories and lessons. We would always walk there, my 2 brothers and I (Keith 2 years older and Geoff 7 years older than me). “Now make sure you hold your Sister’s hand,” my Mum would say, watching us walk up the road. One of them would hold my hand until we were out of sight and then they’d let go and run, just to tease me. They would never have left me behind, but just enjoyed upsetting me.

On Sunday afternoons I remember sitting by a real fire watching the television. We were one of the few families who had a television. It was bought in time for the Coronation.  We used to toast bread on the fire on a long handled toasting fork and then put fresh butter and jam on it. Yummy! Sometimes I’d help my brothers make “dampers’ and toast them too. These were made with flour and water and rolled around the poker, then held over the flames. My brothers had learnt how to make them at camp with the Scouts. When I watched TV I’d always sit at the foot of my Dad’s armchair and if there was anything scary I’d cling on to his knee. One time I actually bit his knee, because I was so scared! Lassie would always make me cry and my favourite programme on a Sunday afternoon was “All Your Very Own” presented by Hugh Weldon because it had lots of interesting items on it; a bit like Blue Peter without the craft-making bits. In the autumn we would go and collect conkers and then go home and count them and string up the best ones for a conker fight. During the winter months my brother’s and I would play hide and seek around the house. Sometimes I’d just play on my own with 5 stones or jacks, two balls against the wall, or skipping. I would practise for hours to perfect the skills.

In the playground we would play group games like, The Big Ship Sails on the Alley-alley-oh, Chinese Puzzles, Knives-forks-spoons-cut it, Stone-paper-scissors, French Skipping, Tag, and Two Balls. We had metal bars by the gate, which were intended to stop us running into the road. We used to do forward circles and hang upside down from our knees from the bar.  I’m not sure how I came to do it but one day I got my head stuck in the railings at school and some one had to go and get my dad from the shop. All I remember is that he had to turn me upside down to get me out!

When it came to Guy Fawkes Night. My Dad would always have bought a box of fireworks with lots of pretty ones; Roman Candles, Golden Rain and Catherine Wheels and a couple of rockets.  We always used to put them in a biscuit tin for safety but I remember while I waited for my Dad to come home from work I would sit on the carpet in the dining room and count them, lining up the fireworks and deciding in what order we would light them!!! No one seemed to care that they were dangerous and leaking a bit of gunpowder here and there! I was never allowed to light them, but when my brothers were old enough they would help my Dad. We used to have some that could be held in the hand and we were always made to wear gloves when we held them. Also Sparklers were very popular because they made patterns of light when you whirled them around in a circle.  

My brothers and I all went to Fleetville Infant and Junior School in Woodstock Road. I remember my first teacher, Mrs Day, when I was 5. Our classroom was a wooden hut in the playground. We used small slates and white chalk to do our writing.  After school every day, when I was at Fleetville Primary School I would go around to my Father’s Hairdresser’s Shop on Hatfield Road where both my Mum and Dad worked. It was called Fleetville Saloons. It was still a hairdresser’s called Riboudo until about 2010 when they sold up and moved next door to smaller premises, so it’s now a World Food Shop. After school I would do little jobs in the shop, like sweep the cut hair from under the chairs and put it in a little cupboard, which was converted from the old fireplace under the chimney; passing rollers to my Mum when she was doing a ”Shampoo & Set”. Eventually I would get bored and go and ask my Dad for sixpence for sweets. He would hate me doing this because he didn’t feel that he could say “No” in front of the customers and I knew it! Then I’d run down to Gracie’s sweetshop and stand and gaze at the rows of large glass jars of sweets taking ages to decide what to have. Gobstoppers, Pineapple Chunks, Sherbet Lemons, Liquorice sticks and Humbugs, to name but a few. Then there were all the pick ‘n mix type sweets like penny chews and others that were 4 for a penny; oh so much choice!! Mr Gracie would get cross in the end, telling me to hurry up and make up my mind. In the Summer I would go around the corner to the park in Royal Road. I used to love swinging high on the swings and jumping off at the front of the swing. Many a time I landed badly and got a nosebleed, so I’d run back to the shop with blood all over the place! I can remember having a pale yellow dress, oh what a mess the blood made of that!!

The shops I remember near Fleetville Saloons were Harpers Car Sales next door and the Post Office on the corner with a Newsagents next door, which was owned by the Smith Family. The wet Fishmonger with a large open window with all the fish displayed on the slate. Kendall’s the florist, Fleetville Café and Presence the Butchers. Further up the road on the other side of the recreation ground was Andrews the Greengrocers and opposite, on the other side of the road, Golding the Tailors. Most of these shops are still there.

When I was older, and allowed to walk to school on my own, I would take the path from the end of Beechwood Avenue along the back of the flats and shops on Hatfield Road. The path eventually came out on Woodstock Road, right opposite my primary school, Fleetville School. The path is still there today and the school in Woodstock Road is now only an Infants School, the Junior section having moved to the larger premises on Hatfield Road in 1975. In my day in the 60’s it was my Secondary School, Sandfield School for girls. This path went past the flats called Queens Court on Hatfield Rd. where Beryl and Walter Robb (known to me as Robbie) lived; they were good friends of my Father. They had no children of their own. Auntie Beryl, as I came to call her, didn’t go out to work so she used to watch for me passing and wave to me, and if I wasn’t too late for school I would stop and talk to her. When I was about 9 my Mum wanted to work on Saturdays. My eldest Brother Geoff had left school and was working with my father in the Hairdressers, and my other brother would only have been 11, so not old enough to look after me. I’m not sure what he did on Saturdays, perhaps he was playing some sport. So Auntie Beryl offered to look after me. She said that I had told my Mum that I thought she was lonely because she hadn’t got any children of her own. I enjoyed spending my Saturdays with her. By then she and her husband Robbie were living in a flat above the offices of a Garage called Grimaldi’s on Hatfield Road. It was built in Art Deco Style with rounded windows. The flat overlooked Sandfield School’s, now Fleetville Junior School, playing fields and netball courts. So when I went to school there I was, once again, able to talk to Auntie Beryl over the wall.  It stood where the newer shops of the Tile Shop and PWP the Tennis shop now stand. Auntie Beryl would teach me how to embroider and sew. She had been a tailoress by trade. She also used to do a little bit of painting with me. She liked to spoil me with special food that my Mum would never have bought in those days. Rationing was over and she introduced me to things like melons, bananas and yoghurt. When Robbie retired as Manager at Grimaldi’s Garage in Hatfield Road, they moved to Bonar Bridge in Scotland to run a Guest House. I always kept in touch with them and visited regularly until they died.

During the school holidays when I was about 12 or 13 I’d go to Cottonmill Swimming pool with a friend. It’s still there now, but it’s just used by the Sub Aqua Diving Club now. It’s an open-air pool so it was always freezing and it had wooden changing cubicles all around the edge. Apart from the wooden door, open top and bottom, they were open to the elements. We’d always walk home and on the way would buy a bag of chips at the Crown Chippy, or a big cream loaf at Simmonds Bakers at the top of Victoria Street. This was the size of a malt loaf and made of something like choux pastry and it was filled with cream. I remember it as being fresh cream but maybe I wouldn’t have known the difference at that age.

Sport at school and College of Further Education

I played netball at Junior School and at Sandfield Secondary School with great enthusiasm. At the age of 14 I had a group of 5 friends who shared my enthusiasm. Gym consisted of floor routines and dynamic vaulting, In the winter we also played netball, practising every lunch-time always late for afternoon register. The practice paid off, because, trained and encouraged by our young teachers, Ann Daniels and Julie Sleep, we were School County Champions 2 years running. In the Summer I enjoyed working towards the annual  School Sports Days and the District Sports Day. Running the 100 metres and Long Jump were my disciplines and I joined the Athletics Club at Clarence Park. I also played tennis but had to be satisfied with being runner-up to my friend as the School Champion. At 15 we started going to The College of Further Education (which became Oaklands City Campus) in the evenings for basketball and trampolining, neither of which were offered at school. We would get there on our bikes. My Dad would get really cross if I was late home (curfew 9.30!)  I think he was worried I was out with boys but these were all female activities, so boys didn’t feature in our lives, we were far too busy. It was more often than not that I had been at my friend’s house having girlie chats and just lost track of the time. All this sport meant that my school work suffered so I only managed a couple of “O” Levels in Biology and Needlework. The teachers never gave me any encouragement and I wasn’t considered good enough to take Maths, so had to be content with a CSE in Maths. I think my friend Jenny did a bit better than I did, but as we both wanted to be PE Teachers, for some unknown reason we were both given the chance to re-do our Fifth Year (Year 11) at St Albans Girls Grammar School. Here we continued our sport adding lacrosse to our skills, a sport I enjoyed very much. I landed up with 5 “O” levels in the end which was enough to gain me a place at Teacher Training College at St Mary’s in Cheltenham. Having re-done my 5th Year I entered college at the end of the Lower Sixth, being old enough at 18.

All in all my childhood recollections are happy ones. We were well fed. Our parents worked hard and took us on holiday to the seaside. When we had a car we even had days out to Southend or Clacton. Fleetville was a great place to be brought up.