Having written one post which featured a brick wall as its focal object, I reckon I’d be pushing my luck if I did it again. But my recent visit to Barnes threw up lots of memories from these childhood streets, so here’s a post about them anyway, featuring some more walls.
The photograph above shows the left hand corner of the fence in front of Barnes Primary School on Railwayside. Look closely and you can see that some of the bricks in the wall are newer than those around them. That’s because back in the 1960s, this was a side entrance of Westfields Primary, a hulking great red brick Victorian building built in 1903. It was demolished in the 1970s and rebuilt in a more child-friendly modern style; here are the front steps now:
On the back of this photo my Mum has written “M., First day at Westfields.” It’s Brother 1 in his crisp new dark green blazer and cap, running out of there as fast as his little legs will carry him.
All 3 of us went to Westfields, my 2 brothers ahead of me. I have vivid, happy memories of my pre-school years, when Mum and I would go to collect the boys each day and pay a visit to her mother, my Grannie Lane, on the way. At this time Grannie lived in the Westfields council estate opposite the school. Even now I can hear her reading to me from my favourite books, about Dinah the Deer and Frisk and Frolic the ponies, in her lovely gentle Hebridean lilt. Grannie died around this time so these are almost the only memories I have of her.
This wall, on Railwayside between the flats and the school, loomed large for me in those days. I can remember insisting on walking along it, Mum hoisting me up and holding my hand as I conquered the towering heights all the way to the end. As you can see by the adjacent bike stands now, the sense of epic scale was purely relative to a 3-year old’s eye.
The house at the far end of this wall, Park View (it overlooks the school playing fields at the front, but perhaps the Orchard playground at the rear provided the name) also holds a significant memory for me, though I have never been inside it. It’s a lovely building that I passed by every day on my way to primary school, and even before that on the aforementioned daily walks with my Mum.
I was always animal mad, and at that uninhibited pre-school age would rush up to any dog or cat and attempt to shower it with affection. Our lovely cat Frisky put up with this with such patience that I assumed all animals would be as keen, until I learned otherwise. A black and white English Springer spaniel lived at this house and sat outside the front door every day. On one memorable occasion I ran over to this dog and threw my arms around its neck with with my usual enthusiasm. The poor dog was not so keen, and growled his displeasure to tell me so. I ran away screaming and never rushed up to any dog again. I had learned my lesson, in the most gentle way possible.
“We moved to Barnes in 1934 or 35 to 42 Carmichael Court, then a newly-built block of maisonettes… I attended Barnes Central Girls School in Lonsdale Road.. It was a friendly school and I was quite happy there.” (In the 1970s I attended the same school, by then a short-lived comprehensive, which closed in 1977).
Not long after the family moved to Carmichael Court, my grandfather left them, never giving any further financial support. Grannie went to work as a cook to pay the rent, and both my Mum and her brother left school early to find work. It seems astonishing now to think that this exclusive gated block near the river was once affordable for a single mother with 2 teenage children, who earned her living as a domestic cook, to rent.
These photos were taken on the landing outside their flat. On the right is my Mum’s brother Murray in his wartime navy uniform, with Grannie; the one on the left is a mystery, inscribed on the back “Mr Lemon, Carmichael Court.”
Barnes is a place that has changed relatively little over the years compared to much of London, and although it is now mostly populated by the very rich, some of the old village charm remains. Most of the high street that I remember for its classic post office, hardware shop, greengrocers, toy shops and sweet shops has been given over to the usual chain cafes and supermarkets, but I was glad to see that 2 recognisable shops remain: the Parrish bakers and J. Seal, the butchers.
Having been a vegetarian since 1973 this shop would never have had my custom, but I do have a clear memory of going there with my Mum, in those idyllic pre-school days. I loved it because there was sawdust on the floor that I could play with, and I passed many a happy while sitting on those rough wooden floorboards piling it up into sculptures, completely oblivious to the blood and guts above counter level, while my happy housewife Mum chatted to the butcher.
Later, when I started at Westfields, Mum worked part-time as a secretary for a local firm of architects in the same high street. Essex Lodge, the ancient building in which she worked, is still an architects’ practice:
For most of my primary school years I ate lunch at the school canteen, which was in a similar Victorian former school building just around the corner in Cross Street; we would line up in a crocodile each lunchtime to walk around there for our dinner. (“Dinner”, “lunch,” “tea,” the terminology was always interchangeable in our “mixed class” family). I remember hating the food but dutifully forcing it down anyway: lumpy mashed potato, gristly mince, soggy sponge puddings with bland grey sauce. Later, I preferred a packed lunch of sandwiches that I ate at a special table with a few other kids of the same persuasion.
Later still, in my last year or two at Westfields, I would come home to eat the sandwiches Mum would leave out for me when she left for her job at the architects, along with a little note. I got into the habit of writing a note back, for her to find when she got home in the afternoon, before school was out. These notes developed into a special correspondence connecting the two of us, spinning little stories to each other every day.
After Mum’s death I found one of these scrappy little notes amongst her papers, a particularly sweet one I had written to her that she had treasured enough to keep. This discovery unleashed a flood of memories of this precious, brief time, when our mother-daughter relationship was uncomplicated and tender, before the walls went up. But that’s another story, for another post.