Friday, January 18, 2019

Coulsdon - a short Memoir

I was four years old when my family moved to Coulsdon. We lived there through most of the nineteen-fifties, the sixties and early seventies. In the seventies, I got married and moved away and, shortly after, my parents left Coulsdon for High Wycombe. Despite having no current links to Coulsdon, the memories and impressions formed growing up there, endure.
I know that wall!

Prompted by a post on the "Coulsdon History" Facebook page, I climbed into  Street View (I now live in New Zealand) to pay a visit. Street View dumped me in front of a wall - it was a wall I knew well and the young man running past could easily have been me from 1960 (his shoes are smarter than mine were). This is the town-end of Malcolm Road, where we lived. At the other end of Malcolm Road was what used to be Smitham Primary School. The buildings still stand, but one wonders for how much longer before developers get their hands on the site.

What used to be "Smitham Primary Scool"
Almost opposite the brick wall, on the corner, used to be the dairy (now a Waitrose). It was where we went for butter and cheese and was the depot from where milk was delivered to our front door. What is now a carpark, used to be full of milk floats (those slow-moving electric vehicles) coming and going with milk. I have an impression of the shop being a place of cool, white and blue, glazed tiles where little boys handed over a few coins in exchange for some cheddar cheese, which mum would be waiting for, back at home.

The Facebook post which prompted all this nostalgia, was a view from near the old station, asking whether anyone could recognise anything - so much had changed. And from that spot, a lot has changed, but I was surprised by how much had not changed in the last fifty-odd years. Businesses come and go, but Boots the chemist still sits on the main street (and I still have a working photographic light meter that I purchased there in the mid-sixties) and, further along, Coughlans Bakery. The bakery was a favourite, after-school drop-in, as the cakes that hadn't sold that day could be had for one penny, for a large paper-bag full ("a penny bag of 'stales' please") a real treat!

Woolworths, on the other hand, seems now to be a Tesco and my favourite electrical shop, Sparks - where I spent many a Saturday with my friend, Alan Wrigley, searching racks of records for new music - is nowhere to be found (it may have been on the corner of Victoria Road). But the layout of the town is largely intact and I can trace the routs I used to follow as a youngster. Perhaps the biggest travesty is the missing Red Lion - how did such a cultural icon, central to the town, get replaced by Aldi?

Around the corner in Chipstead Valley Road is Coulsdon Home Hardware. That was a later weekend job that had me pumping paraffine in a fume-filled room out the back. Needless to say, that job didn't last long! What did last a long time was my prior employment as a "newspaper boy". Unlike today's free advertising papers, these were the daily and weekly papers that customers paid to have delivered (yes, milk deliveries and newspaper deliveries really were a 'thing').

The newspaper shop was up Station Approach Road (I think, on the corner with Edward Road). Every day at 6:00 am us 'paper boys' would collect a shoulder bag full of newspapers and set out on our delivery round. After proving yourself for a few years, the older boys might be offered a weekend round, which paid better but involved much heavier loads (weekend papers were twice as thick). Also at the top of Station Approach Road, my father had his business "Surrey Sidecars" and, later, a hardware shop located (I think) somewhere where the new flats now stand.
Woodcote Secondary School (as it used to be known).

After a few years of living on the same street as my school, I got sent to Woodcote County Secondary School about a mile or so up the hill. It was certainly a better school than I was a pupil. My lack of academic potential was quickly acknowledged, and I was streamed into the 'D' stream (there was also an 'E' stream but that was reserved for the radically hopeless - their judgement, not mine). Later, in the fifth year, I got promoted to 'C' but that was because all the 'D' and 'E' pupils were expected to leave at the end of the fourth year. It turned out, long after school, that I love learning, just not the way the school system wants it to happen. C'est la vie.

Mr Johns, the principle at Woodcote, was just a name - I never recall meeting him. But there were three teachers that have stuck in my mind; Morris, Williams and Thompson. Morris was a bully. Rumour had it that he taught at borstal but, whatever the case, his reputation went before him and his math classes were something to be feared. Fortunately, I managed to keep out of his way for most of my secondary schooling.

Mr Williams was different. He had a strategy; put the fear of God into the first and second years and by years three, four and five you can begin to build a relationship. Williams taught history and was my form teacher in year five. He was a fine teacher and I ended up liking him a lot. Best of all the teachers though, was Thompson. Thompson took technical drawing and his philosophy was that he was there to help you succeed. I sat Royal Society of Arts at the end of year five, but Thompson encouraged me to step up and sit GCE in technical drawing. I got it and left school to start work in a draughtsman's office. It turned out to be a great start in life.
Up on Farthing Downs

Later, after I had left school, our family moved house, ending up in Fairdene Road. Though this had great access to Farthing Downs (and a girl that lived a little further out) I still think of Malcolm Road as our Coulsdon 'home'. Nevertheless, Farthing Downs was, and is, a treasure. It's not really big enough to get lost on but, for a young boy scout, in the dark, or when the cloud comes down, it is sufficiently wild to stir the imagination. I guess, like a lot of things, Farthing Downs would appear a lot smaller today than in my memories.
"Our house, in the middle of our street" (Malcolm Road)

There's more I remember (lots more) like trying to keep up with the fleet-of-foot Thompson on the way up the hill to school. Or coming off my bike on the way down and waking up in the hospital ("Is my bike ok, Dad?"). Scouts at the Methodist church (which seems to have lost a couple of wonderfully large trees) - I was there at scouts when JFK got shot and hoped like mad that it wasn't "the commies" and the start of another war (it wasn't, but such are the thoughts of a fifteen-year-old).

Will I go back? I doubt it. I have no family there now and good memories are best left as that; not sullied by current realities - I want Farthing Downs to be big and scary, to still find LPs in Sparks, and the newsagent on the corner where I turned up sharp at 6 am each day. Those are the things I remember, that was the Coulsdon I knew.

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