Where We lived

In 1953 we moved to 7, Arthur Road in Rainham in Kent. It was a chalet bungalow with two bedrooms upstairs (I had the front one and my brother, the one at the back). My parent’s bedroom was downstairs at the front of the house and the other front room had a billiards table in it. At the back of the house, there was the living/dining room and kitchen. We also had on that level a bathroom/toilet. Over the bath was a multipoint water heater ( a geyser) which gave hot water, not only in the bathroom, but in the kitchen as well. Like most houses at that time, we did not have central heating, just fireplaces. Double glazing was not even thought of. In the winter, it was quite normal to find ice on the inside of the windows in the bedrooms when you woke up.

7, Arthur Road
Back Garden

We had a reasonable size back garden which had a mature cherry tree on the right hand side, a Conference pear tree in the centre and a damson tree at the bottom of the garden. Also at the bottom of the garden was a shed on the right hand side. I remember making camps by propping pieces of wood and polythene against the side of it. I never stayed in any of them after it got dark though.

It was uncommon back then to have wall to wall carpet. We had wooden floorboards, stained (varnished) of course, with a carpet in the centre and a rug in front of the fire. This was fine in the summer but in the winter keeping warm was much more of a challenge. Like many homes in the 1950s, we had a coal shed and the coalmen used to bring the sacks of coal from their lorry on their backs, round to the back of the house and tip them into the shed. I remember the coalmen being almost as black as the coal from the coal dust that leaked from the hessian sacks. Watching Mum or Dad light the fire was always fascinating. Once it was laid and a match applied, they then used a draw plate to get it going. This was a thin, flat piece of galvanised iron with a handle on the front of it that covered most of the fireplace. There was a gap at the top which they covered with paper to get an extra good draught. This made the fire roar as the flames shot up the chimney. On more than one occasion, the paper itself would catch light but was quickly extinguished.

Hard to imagine if you go back there now but at the end of Arthur Road, just past the top of Orchard Street, there was a small bit of waste land and on the other side of it, a path that went all the way down to the church in Rainham (St Margaret’s). Just the other side of the path were the woods.  On that bit of waste land was an old car, rusty, no windows or wheels but to me and my friends it could go anywhere. I would drive that car time and again.

Of course, looking back, it seems that it was always summer and me and several friends used to play forever in the woods. They were the normal games of course, soldiers or cowboys and indians. We only came home when we were tired or hungry and naturally in need of a good wash. The second world war had not been over that long and there were some bomb craters in the woods which made the games all the more exciting.

One of the things that doesn’t normally happen to children nowadays is being dressed in knitted swimming trucks!

It doesn’t take much imagination to know what happens when they get wet!

Knitted Trunks

Naturally, we all want to look our best on our first day in school. This was me in 1955 complete with satchel, cap and gaberdine mac.

First Day At School

Normal life in the 1950s was different than it is today. Many homes did not have fridges and food was bought almost daily. Milk was delivered to the door in the very early hours and there was a bread van that came round (though I can’t remember the how often). I do remember getting a lift in that van once from the shops in Maidstone Road. Another occasional visitor was the ‘rag and bone’ man who used to come up the road on his horse and cart shouting an abbreviated version of rag and bone, ‘nbone‘. People used to come out of their houses to put unwanted items on the cart such as old sheets and curtains, broken pans etc. I suppose that it was a form of recycling in many ways.

One other weekly caller was the Corona lorry selling bottles of pop! Every week Mum would buy two or three bottles of various flavours, Lemonade, Cherryade, Appleade and American Cream Soda. The last one was my favourite.

Local Shops
There were local shops just round the corner of the road in Maidstone Road. There were three of them in a row. On the left was a newsagent/tobacconist/sweetshop, in the middle was a Co-op and on the right was the greengrocer. I remember the Co-op for two things mainly. First, there were square tins on the floor in front of the counters with glass fronted lids. These contained all manner of stuff that were dispensed by the quarter, or half pound. My favourite of these was the one containing broken biscuits. They were mainly plain biscuits but occasionally there were creams or chocolate flavoured ones. My other memory is that when you finished your transaction, and paid the sales person, your money was put in a small container affixed to a cable system and was sent whizzing around the shop to the cashier who then put in your change and a receipt and sent it back. There was another shop at the end of Arthur Road, also in Maidstone Road, that sold wool, cottons etc. I think that was called ‘Filmers’.

When I was 5 or 6, I got sixpence (2 1/2p) a week pocket money. Sometimes I saved some of it, but mostly it was spent at the sweetshop in Maidstone Road. Blackjacks and Fruit Salads were 4 a penny (12 pennies made up to a shilling (5p). Flying Saucers were 2 a penny and, of course, you could always buy gobstoppers at various prices depending on their size! I believe I also spent a farthing at that time (48 farthings made a shilling, now 5p).
I remember being outside the Bredhurst Bell when I was perhaps 7 or 8, being given as well as a glass of lemonade, a packet of crisps. Nowadays, they are known as ‘Ready Salted’ but then they were just crisps as there were no other flavours. However, they were not salted and had a little blue paper bag in them which contained the salt. This paper bag had a twisted top to keep the salt in, unlike the sealed type of packs that are modern foods. The salt was always a bit lumpy though.

Ice Ceam

There was not much choice of ice cream in the 1950s. Basically, from the shop all you could buy was a block of vanilla or a block of Neopolitan ice cream. As you can see in the picture, the flavours were strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. This would be wrapped in newspaper to stop it melting on the way home.
Whichever one was chosen, it would be sliced into thin layers like in the picture or into bigger chunks. Very often oblong wafers would accompany it. These would go either side of a cut block to make a ‘sandwich’. Of course, there might be some arguments over who had what flavour.
Most homes did not have freezers, but had a small freezer compartment at the top of the fridge. THis was only good enough though, once a lot of the ice cream had been eaten!

Neopolitan Ice Cream

It was along Arthur Road that I learned to ride my first two wheeled bike (second hand, of course). Dad pushed me along and then let go. Everything was going well until I had to turn at Norreys Road – the obvious happened and off I came! A couple of days later, we tried again and this time was more sucessful.

Television
As I remember, we didn’t have a television set until 1958 or 1959. It wasn’t a wide screen one like today but was probably a 15″ or 17″ screen (diagonally measured). There was no such thing as a remote control and to change channels or volume, you had to get up and turn a knob on the top of the television which made a loud clonking noise. There were just two stations then, BBC and ITV. Sometimes the television would not come on and I remember Dad taking the back off the tv and tapping the tops of valves with the wooden end of a screwdriver to re-seat them – this normally worked! Of course, as many people will remember, when you switched it off, the pictue quickly shrunk to a small white dot that took a little while to completely disappear.
Like most people we did not buy our television but rented it, in our case from Radio Rentals who had a shop in Gillingham High Street. I think there were two other big name rental companies, Rediffusion and Granada.
The main programme I remember from my childhood was ‘Watch With Mother’ which came on every day. It featured on different days, Andy Pandy, The Woodentops, Bill and Ben, Picture Book and Rag, Tag and Bobtail.

Saturday Morning Flicks (Cinema).
When I was 8 or 9, this was a regular event. The cinema I used to go to was the Gaumont on Watling Street, Gillingham. It is currently a Camping and Outdoor Centre. It is just under 3 miles from where we used to live and the bus service was the No 8 (I think!). I was given a shilling (5p) to go to the pictures and that was 3d bus fare to the Gaumont, 6d to get in and 3d to get back. However, very often the 3d return bus fare was used in the chip shop opposite the cinema for a portion of chips and some crackling (the fried bits of batter left over from the fish). Then there followed a walk home.
At that time there were 4 cinemas in Gillingham, The Gaumont on the top road (A2), The Plaza (down Nelson Road, now an Aldi), The Odeon (in Green street) and one other just below the High Street called the Grand, I believe.

Prior to being called the Gaumont Cinema, it was the Palace

School
These are some of my school reports.

1958 Page 1
1958 Page 2
1959 Page 1
1959 Page 2
1960 Page 1
1960 Page 2

My first school was known as “The Camp School” in Maidstone Road, Rainham. It was called that as sometime in its past it had been an army camp. From memory, the buildings were all wooden and there was an old water tank/reservoir that had a high fence all round it. There was earth banked up to it and I remember running my Dinky racing cars down it with some of my friends.
In the late 1950s, a new school was constructed in Fairview Avenue and I moved to that one.

Fairview School c 1959/60 with Mr Palmer

First Love
While at Fairview School became enamoured with one girl in my class. Her name was Patricia Bishop who lived not far from me in Beacon Close, Rainham. I still remember the number of her house.
Anyway, me and my gang (consisted of two of my friends) used to chase Pat around the playground at breaks and hold her while I gave her a quick kiss (definitely not PC nowadays). She, in turn, used to chase me with a couple of her friends, grab hold of my hair and do her best to pull some out – that’s possibly why there is not much on my head nowadays.
I became really fond of her but was deeply saddened when her family moved away – I think it might have been to Mauritius. It wasn’t much after that when we moved away to Benghazi in 1961.
So that was the end of my first love – or so I thought! Strange things do happen and the rest of the story is told in “Growing Up in the 1960s”.