History Focus – Growing Up in Teddington Part 5

One thing I forgot to mention when talking about the Coronation was another world shattering event that took place about the same time and that was the conquest of Everest. The news was everywhere and Edmund (later Sir Edmund) Hillary and Sherpa “Tiger” Tenzing Norgay were international heroes. Anyone would think we had won the war ! Their final ascent was made on 29 May but communications being what they were at that time (no mobile ‘phones), word of the success only reached London on 2 June 1953, the morning of the Coronation.

A film of this achievement was made in record quick time and I clearly remember the whole school going to the Odeon Twickenham to watch the film for free. I can think of no such similar occasion where the school/cinema combination was used again but by then the advance of television and the growing number of sets available probably made an event like this redundant.

That was probably my first visit to a cinema. My dad’s shop had an advertising stand for the Odeon on the outside and for this, he received two complementary tickets a week. My mum and I were to make good use of these in the years to come. The local cinema was the Savoy which (I may have mentioned before, probably in conjunction with all other cinemas), held a Saturday morning programme for children. This consisted of a couple of cartoons – usually “Tom & Jerry”, a serial – very often “Flash Gordon” the first of the super heroes and finally a full length film – usually a Western, all for the princely sum of 6d (2.5p). I became one of the ABC Minors and spent many happy hours going to the Savoy until it was time to take my turn in helping out at my dad’s shop.

A lot of people have asked me what Teddington looked like just after the war. Were there bomb sites all over town? Were areas roped off as being unsafe for people to walk ? Not that that made any difference to us kids, we would get under the ropes and explore bomb craters and ruined buildings to look for pieces of shrapnel. What must be appreciated is that whilst the town of Teddington in itself was not a strategic target of enemy action but it was the home of the National Physical Laboratory which was carrying out some top secret work. Also from 1942 the USAF base in Bushy Park was high on the list of places to be destroyed. Added to this, Teddington stands on the banks of the River Thames and enemy bombers returning home after a raid would follow the course of the Thames from the air and unload their unused bombs over the riverside towns, like Teddington. Tough Bros marine works had been given over to the production of naval vessels and German intelligence would have known about that.

In the course of the war 654 houses were either destroyed or so badly damaged that they were pulled down. A further 762 house were in such a state that they had to evacuated before they could be repaired. 161 people were killed with 275 seriously injured. Teddington certainly had its fair share of these with areas like Little Queens Road and Argyle Road being obliterated. In peacetime there was a huge shortage of building materials and the rebuilding of many parts of the town was delayed. It was probably a good 10 years after peace was declared that this was completed.

The area around Little Queens Road was occupied by a few businesses in the motor trade with panel beating being to the fore. These were gradually cleared away and Queens House was constructed. The cross roads at Broad Street/Hampton Road and Queens Road/Stanley Road were badly hit. Honeys the grocers on the corner of Queens Road/Hampton Road was completely wrecked. Goulds the chemist opposite lost its top storey. The Wesleyan/Methodist Church was so severely damaged that it had to be pulled down. Of the four corners of the crossroads, only the Queen public house remained standing. There must be a moral in there somewhere !

I was working in my dad’s shop on Saturday mornings, doing the odd paper round and was at school at St James’ in Twickenham until by some fluke, I passed the 11+ (I don’t actually remember a specific examination) and went to Gunnersbury Grammar in Chiswick. The bus journey on the 27 went from the terminus in Adelaide Road to the flyover of the Great West Road and took 45 minutes. On the return journey, I would pop in at the shop and relieve my dad for his tea. This went on until I left school and went into full time employment.

My academic performance was not particularly brilliant and my parents toyed with the idea of me working at the shop permanently. Having watched my dad for all of my life doing long hours on a six and a half day week, I said “No thank you” pretty quickly. I then had to find something that looked like a career and I thought of teaching. An interview with the principal of Strawberry Hill Teachers College (it wasn’t to become a university until many years later) followed. I can see the Rev Kevin Cronin now saying “It doesn’t look if you’ve ever done much work at school; why should I think that you will start now?” End of teaching career. Whilst contemplating the next round, I went into the fashion world, working at a neighbour’s West End store as a cashier and stock controller. Amazingly this lasted a couple of years but although the money was good, it was a five and a half day week stretching into six days over Christmas. Nearly all of my friends had cushy 9 to 5 office jobs on a 5 day week. Hence I drifted into the world of insurance.

Leisure time was a bit of a problem – not much to do – nowhere to go – I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. Coffee bars seemed to spring up all over the place. My favourite was L’Auberge on Richmond Bridge next to the Odeon and another in Teddington Broad Street which is a Chinese take-away now.

Youth Clubs were very popular, most being spin-offs of various churches. I went to Hampton Hill and I’m pleased to say met one of my life- long friends there. It was held on a Sunday night between 7.00pm and 10.00pm. We used to bring our latest 45 rpm records to play and sometimes dance. The clubs were mixed and ours was about 50/50 boys to girls. There were table tennis tables and everyone had a turn on these. The club leaders were Mick Martin and Nelson Sullivan and occasionally they would bring in a colleague to give us a talk – loosely career based – for half an hour. By being a member here, you could go to the main Youth Centre at Heatham House any night of the week where the activities were much more numerous. Then came the music boom with the Rolling Stones playing at Eel Pie Island – another world !

I think by now I have hit adulthood and can consider myself grown up. I hope you have enjoyed the shared experience and perhaps this might make you think about writing up your own. In the time of the present coronavirus, there could be no better time to reflect on your own lives and record the stories for your families.

Ken Howe is a local historian and author of several books. howe64@btinternet.com 020 8943 1513