Geoff Hall

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Geoff Hall  

Interviewer:  Liz Bloom

Date:  July 20th 2012

I was born in St Albans at St Olave’s Nursing Home in Ridgmont Road in January 1941.  The ancestors of our Hall family came from Ellenbrook and Sleepshyde.  The women were straw platters and my Grandfather worked at the brickworks in the Ashley Road area but before that I believe they were farm labourers.  We go back to the 1740s – all in the St Albans area; so we were definitely locals!  My parents, Percy and Elsie, lived in Elm Drive, off Beechwood Avenue near Fleetville..

In the mid-late 1940s I remember playing in the street with the children round the corner and the little hill outside our house where I learnt to ride my first bike; speeding down the hill straight out onto Beechwood Avenue - there was no need to worry about cars in those days!  I also remember the paving slabs being so hot in the summer that we couldn’t sit on them when we played fivestones; we would also play hopscotch.  The Hiscock family lived at no.1 Elm Drive; they had four or five sons.  Next door at no.3 were the Kellard’s; Mr Kellard was a director at the Ballito stocking factory.  He had a funny walk and all of us kids used to walk behind mimicking him like Donald Duck; he would turn round and we would run!  I think it was his cousin who had the florist’s shop in Hatfield Road.  Next door to Kellard’s, no.5, was Barbara Sawyer’s family.  Then there were the Coxall’s; Mr Coxall was a technical teacher at Beaumont School where he taught woodwork.  I knew him well because I was very interested in woodwork.  There was a chap called Stewart who lived on the corner of Elm Drive and Woodland Drive; he had a parrot in his front room.  He was an engineer and had a train going all the way round his garden; it went through the roses and into his shed.  We used to look through the holes in the fence and he would say, “Come on in, you lot!”  On the next corner was Ian Connacher; he became an accountant and went back home to Scotland.

On the other side of Elm Drive, in the second house (no.4), was Mrs Baldock and then there was Miss Hall (no relation), living next door to us at no.6 and we were at no.8.  Bob Calder lived at no.10; I think he was a superintendent in the police.  His daughter, Gillian, was the same age as me.  Then there were the Judges, the Pattersons and the French’s, who had a son called Chris. Then there were Richard and Peter Field who moved into no.10 after the Calder’s left in 1959.  John Beech lived round the corner in Beechwood Avenue.

Our grandmother lived with us all the time we were at Elm Drive and she had the back room. She came from Gateshead with my mother before my parents were married in the 1930s, I think this was just after my grandfather died.  I can remember my gran making truffles with chocolate bits all over.  My brother used to go up to her on one side to talk to her while I pinched chocolate from the other side.  

I started school at St John’s Preparatory School in Jennings Road at the age of four.  At the age of seven, I was taken away and sent to Fleetville School (now the Infants’ School).  I remember the toilets being down at the bottom of the playground; freezing!  I also remember playing on an ice slide which was diagonally across the full length of the playground; it was about three feet wide and at an angle so you really had to do some sliding to get all the way down!  If you fell over, you bounced and got up to do it all over again.  The teachers I remember were Mrs Wallace, Mrs Jackson and Mrs and Mr Blanks (nickname: Blanket!).  Mr Blanks used to spit as he talked so everybody wanted to sit at the back of the class.  The headmaster was Mr East he was of the ‘old school’ and very strict.  Then Mr Dawes took over from him.  Another teacher, Mr Belcher, lived in Marshal’s Drive – we all thought he must be very rich! He was a great teacher and I remember us building a canoe in one of the classrooms; all wood and canvas.  I had the honour of being the first to use in it in Cottonmill swimming pool and paddling it around.  I remember the milk (⅓ pint) we had at school because I was milk monitor.  I went home each lunchtime when we had a full meal and then a light snack in the evenings; we were fed very well.

When we walked to Fleetville School, we would go from Elm Drive, along Beechwood Avenue and then down the alleyway to the back of Arthur Road.  On the left there was a bombsite with ‘Danger - Keep Out’ notices which was like a magnet to us boys.  There were apple trees in the garden, so we would get in there to go scrumping.

I went to Beaumont School in 1952 and left in 1957.  I went straight away into the family hairdressing business at the age of fifteen.  I had a chance to stay on but because I had something to go to I was encouraged to leave; looking back, I should have stayed on.  There was no careers advice in those days.

My father started his own hairdressing business in 1933 together with my mother; my father in gents on one side and my mother in ladies on the other.  There were five salons in total - around the Camp and up as far as the Crown. They were all called Fleetville Saloons: the main one was at 195 Hatfield Road, which was for ladies and gents.  There was another one next to St Paul’s Church and another next to the Conservative Club near the Crown and one in Cambridge Road which was just for ladies; that’s been pulled down now.  There were about a dozen employees altogether.  Dad only ever did gents.  The chimney-breast used to have a door on it and all the hair was swept into it and at the end of the day it would put it into bins.  

Towards the end of the war, you couldn’t get Brylcreem – and all the men and boys used to use it – so my father decided to make it.  He would put the mixture into jars and write something on the label.  He sold loads of the stuff and business grew stronger and stronger; people would come from far and wide for his ‘Brylcreem’.  He wouldn’t say what he made it from and it wasn’t until years after the war that we found out that he obtained the ingredients from his friend the baker - it was some form of oil they used in cakes.  Another thing I remember; a few of us would sit round the table making boxes.  We would get cardboard and cut the corners out, score round with rulers, fold them up and put a little bit of tape round them.  My father would put talcum powder, soaps and other toiletries to sell at Christmas time.  I suppose boxes were in short supply towards the end of the war.

I began a three year apprenticeship like any other employee and joined the family business in 1956.  I was made to work the Crown branch (where Post Wash is now) to keep me away from my father, I think!  Father/son relationships don’t always work in business, so he started me off there.  Cyril and Daisy Dear, who ran the shop, lived upstairs at the back.  They also used to sell cigarettes and snuff.  I remember the snuff; it was horrible stuff!   I would sharpen the razors on a leather strop.  I started doing wet shaves with the razor, but it soon went out of fashion. I dabbled in both sides of the business, ladies and gents.  Still, even now, although I have been out of the business for thirty years, I look at somebody’s hair and say, “I’d love to get my hands on that!”

My father gave up hairdressing in the mid-60s and I then took over the management of the business.  I went to London and took a number of advanced hairdressing courses which were unavailable in St Albans.  I also went to Barcelona with the World Cup hairdressing team in 1972.

When my father retired he started repairing cigarette lighters and electric razors.  We had a shed out at the back of 195 Hatfield Road, and people would bring in cigarette lighters and he used to repair them and put them into little envelopes.  Customers used to come from miles around because no one else seemed to offer this service.

My father died in 1977 and I stayed on until the business was sold in 1978.  We were battling against the Beatles era for about ten years.  Instead of having a haircut once a fortnight, customers came once every six months and they just didn’t appreciate the amount of work involved.  Every time we put the prices up because of inflation, they stayed away for longer, so we could never catch up.  In hindsight, what I should have done was not to try and satisfy everyone from babies to pensioners, but concentrate on the group in the middle; the people who had the money.  We tried to do the fair thing for everybody but it didn’t work.  I decided to get out of the hairdressing business, as I now had a young family it made things very hard.  I joined the insurance industry and stayed with them for about five years and then started up my own brokerage, working from various offices in St Albans and from home.

I remember going to Sunday School, starting off at Trinity Church, Victoria Street, then on to St Paul’s in Hatfield Road.  I can remember walking to Sunday School with Jackie, my sister and my younger brother, Keith.  We were told to hold Jackie’s hand, which we did, but when we got to the end of the road, we would let go and pretend to leave her behind!

When we were a bit older all my friends went to the Fellowship at St Peter’s Church; we were about 100 strong.  We met on a Friday night and then three times on a Sunday at church, finishing up at Christopher’s coffee shop in French Row.  There was an old lady (probably not that old at the time) at the fellowship called Gracie, she was a spinster and said we were all her children.  She used to tell the boys and girls if they suited each other.  She was a right match-maker and a lovely lady we all respected.  Many of us did end up marrying each other!

I joined the Cubs at Waverly Road with a chap called Jim Adams who lived on Hatfield Road and about 4 or 5 others, including the Batstone brothers, John Emmet and Dave Ashman from Arthur Road.  We would walk to the Crown and catch the 391 bus, or sometimes we would walk all the way to town and catch it from there; this would save a penny so we could buy a bag of chips from Warwick’s on Catherine Street!  As the chips were hot, we would put them in our Cub caps and then sprinkle them with salt and vinegar.  Of course, some of it would leak onto the caps so they would really smell!

At the end of the war - I was 5 at the time – I can remember a fancy dress party to celebrate VE Day.  I remember, they stood me on this table and blackened my face with a burnt cork and pulled a glove on my head with bits of black wool sticking out of it.  I was dressed up as the golli from Robinson’s marmalade – this would not be allowed today.  All the children from Elm Drive sat at long tables and ate, what seemed to me at the time, loads of cakes and sandwiches.

My father was a member of The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes RAOB (known as the BUFFS) which, they say, is like a poor man’s Masons club.  I know they do a lot of good works and they now meet in Ashley Road. In my Father’s day they met at the Rat’s Castle in the bar and then they would go upstairs for their meetings.  I remember Bill Hook, Fred Presence(the Butcher) and Martins (the Baker).  In the 40s and 50s, they would put on Christmas parties for the members’ children.  They had a Father Christmas and a conjurer or something similar and we would sing songs like, ’She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes…’.  We used to come home with a bag of goodies; a bar of chocolate and an orange.  There would be about 100 children there at a time.

Opposite Golding’s on the Hatfield Road, next door but one to David Miles shop, there was Mr Snook the dentist, he was atrocious!  He made you put on a rubber mask and it stank; it made you feel sick with the lingering smell of gas.  I remember him squirting something in my mouth and the nurse saying, ‘That doesn’t hurt!’ and I thought, ‘How do you know?’  It was not good then - they were very vicious times at a dentist.

Next door to Fleetville Saloon there was a butcher and my father was very matey with him so we always had good meat.  Every Sunday we had a roast dinner and on Thursdays, we had steak and kidney pie.  The pastry my mother made was absolutely superb.  We would also have Spam fritters, corned beef hash and eggy bread.  In the front room, we would cook dampers and crumpets in front of the coal fire; we never went in there apart from Sundays or if my parents had their friends round to play cards.  

I remember all getting into the same bed with my brother and sister so we could all share someone’s chickenpox.  But otherwise, we were basically pretty healthy.

We always seemed to have a car.  I remember a V8 Pilot with a big running board; we would stand on the side, which was great fun.  All our cars were black until 1955 when my father turned up in a green Hillman Minx – the first time I had ever seen a green car.  I recall it coming up the road and saying, ‘Cor, look at this car!’  It was shiny - all chrome – and then I found out that it was dad in the driving seat!  He bought all his cars from his friend, Derek Grimaldi.  All these different businesses would help each other out.  Apart from Derek Grimaldi there was George Powell, Martin the baker, Fred Presence the butcher and Bill Hook.

When we were all working on a Saturday, when my sister Jackie was about 11, and too young to be left on her own she visited Mrs Beryl Robb, wife of Walter Robb (known as Robbie) who was the Manager of Grimaldi’s Garage. Beryl introduced her to yoghurt, melons, bananas and avocados, which we hadn’t seen before.  They must have been quite wealthy to afford these things.

There was a rifle range underneath the Ballito factory, right opposite the Castle Road end.  I went there with the Scouts for my rifle badge when I was about 15; that would have been about 1956.  It was a 25 yard range and we used 22 rifles.  We would lie on the carpet and a member of the Territorial Army instructed us. He would give each of us 5 bullets and we not dared to move a muscle until we fired our shots. I remember it being very dusty down there.

This has taken me back through my childhood and my early working life in Fleetville.  It has brought back happy memories of a time which seems so long ago.  To remember friends, some I still come into contact with, and others who have moved on. Some things have changed beyond recognition while others have remained the same.

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