Recollections of growing up in North Watford in the 1920s
I was born [in 1921] at 22 Lowestoft Road, Watford in Hertfordshire, in the house where my father had been born in 1894. The houses in Lowestoft Road, Watford, were first occupied in 1892. Number 22 was slightly larger than the others in the terrace because the upstairs area went over the alley on one side of the house.
Lighting was by coal gas, and quite a good light came from the mantles in glass globes. The light was controlled by chains from the ceiling fitting. In the scullery the only light was from a naked flame from a "fish tail" burner. Cooking was done on a coal fire range in the living room and this stove was the main source of heating too, and it seemed to me that it was constantly being cleaned to keep the bright parts burnished and the rest rubbed with Zebo blacking. The front room was always kept clean but only used for when we had visitors. There was no bathroom and the only lavatory was a closet with an entrance from the yard.
At that time there were still street traders. Milk was delivered from a churn on a handcart, and the milkman filled his customer's jug using a dipper to measure the amount. A cart of red painted wicker was used by the postman. There was still a muffin-man with a handbell, and a man who we called "Old Cods Head" who may have been a fishmonger, but it is more likely that the "cods' heads" he shouted about were cat food.
Some evenings, Mum would take me to Watford Junction railway station to meet Dad returning from work. I would stand with my hands gripped to the sooty railings, alongside the Bridle Path, and through them I would watch the trains. After dark the express locomotives would roar by, trailing a shower of burning cinders and with the glare of the firebox lighting up the smoke and steam.
Unemployed servicemen, many of them crippled in the recent war, 'sold' matches in the streets. On one occasion I was given money to hand to one such man and I took a box of matches from his tray. I didn't know that the matches were just for show and I was very embarrassed when people laughed at me.
I started school in September 1926, at Callow Land Mixed Infants School in Leavesden Road, Watford. It was between Lowestoft Road and St Albans Road, just a short walk from home. All I can remember of the school is the assembly hall with, at one end, a large carved wooden rocking horse. There I learned to read and write. My arithmetic was rather basic, and consisted mainly of learning the "times table" by rote.
The Jones family's link with our rural past was broken when my grandfather died. No longer did we have the horse and trap (Nobbler, an unbroken stallion would end his days in a field at Warlingham) and gone was the small holding in North Watford. But at 22 Lowestoft Road there were chickens to be fed and eggs collected, and I called the fan-tailed pigeons mine and ate their eggs.
I progressed from Mixed Infants and started at Callowland Boys School, which was also in Leavesden Road and still only a short walking distance from home. It was between Shakespeare Street and Acme Road. I did fairly well in most subjects and enjoyed art and woodwork. Woodwork classes were held in a large wooden building in the school yard. In my imagination I can still smell the odour of hoof and horn glue, which was kept hot in a double boiler on the stove. The heady whiff of French polish I remember too.
In 1929 we moved to a new house. 74 Bushey Mill Crescent, Watford, had just been built and cost us a little over £700. For the first time we had electric light in our home, and by putting an adaptor into the bulb socket Mum could now have an electric iron. Connected the same way was a transformer, called an ECKO Eliminator, which replaced the high tension battery for the wireless. This house also had a bath with a gas geyser to heat the water. We also had the luxury of an inside lavatory.
When time came to sit the examination for secondary school education, the Eleven Plus, I failed. Most children were able to try again but I was 12 years old before the next examinations, which disqualified me. So next I attended Alexandra School which is between Ridge Street and Judge Street in North Watford. Unlike my previous school, Callow Land, it was for both boys and girls. Most of the time there I was in Mr Camburn's class and he was a good teacher who expected hard work, but it was the happiest of my school days. I should have left school at 14 years of age but due to high unemployment I was advised to remain at school.
Author: Bob Jones (selected extracts from his memoirs)
- Jones, Bob; Bob's Memoirs — 1920s
[Added by Glen: 11:43pm 13 Apr 2009]