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-
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 -
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 -
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 -
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-
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-
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 -
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 -
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 -
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.