Next in my series of personal reminiscence is the house I lived in from 1955 until the end of the sixties. Until 1955, we had lived in a small council house in the North of Ilford as described in  Boars and Antelopes, Craneflies and Earwigs. Then we moved to a larger semi-detached house in the Cathedral Estate off The Drive.
With six children, we were not a rich family and we needed a financial deposit to buy a house. I will tell you the story of this deposit. Dad never talked to us about money but he volunteered this story about fifty years after the event.
Dad has always liked following horse racing on television. After the move he would often go upstairs between races to place bets on the next race. (The old house did not have a telephone. At the new house the phone in the hall was not private. We had an extension upstairs in our parents’ bedroom.) I think he always kept his stakes low, only betting on televised races. He followed form and may have made a small profit sometimes.
Betting shops only became legal in the UK in 1960. Before that, betting on horseracing was permitted at race-courses, and some postal or telephone betting was allowed. My father used to bet by post using a firm in Scotland, where legal restrictions were different.
I think Dad’s usual stake was half a crown, that’s 2s 6d (12.5p in modern money). On one occasion he put this on a five horse accumulator – if the first horse wins, the winnings go on the next race, and so on for five races. All five horses came in first! Understandably the odds on such a bet were high.
But the betting firm would not pay. They said that his bet with the money had been posted after the result of the first race. The status of betting always gave them the right not to pay out – gambling winnings were not enforceable. Envelopes were always stamped with a postmark showing where they were collected and at what time – but the postmark could not be guaranteed to show a precise time.
I cannot remember the details but he kept afterwards a wodge of correspondence involving him, the betting firm, the Post Office and the Racing Post, discussing the times of postal collections – and some visits to London to put his case.
After several months of unsuccessful negotiation, somehow Dad found the postman responsible for the relevant collection and persuaded him to write and sign a letter asserting that the time of collection had definitely been before the first race. This was accepted and Dad received the winnings, approximately £250, enough for the deposit for our new house. Without that money, perhaps my life would have been very different!
[I have to admit that a few years later I was talking to my grandmother about some things she wanted in her funeral. She hoped to be able to leave enough to pay for it. She said in passing that when we moved she had lent Dad £250 towards a deposit, which he had never mentioned again. Not such an interesting story – probably both were true. Back in 1955, £250 was a lot of money.]
I am always surprised to look back at what would have been major events in the life of my family, when I find that I remember nothing. I did not notice them.
I have moved house several times and each one gets more of an upheaval, with more clutter to pack, load and unpack. I remember almost nothing of the first move away from Boar Close.
I am told that it was the summer of 1955, which seems about right. That means that I would have been eight, nearly nine. In those days you were given tea chests – stout wooden boxes, about a metre cubes. Small items were packed into these, stuffed with crunched up newspaper. Everything – furniture and tea chests – went into a pantechnicon.
It was a short journey. Google maps now estimates it as about five miles, taking fifteen minutes – probably using major roads that were not there at the time. We could not all fit into the furniture lorry. I do not remember what happened but we may have had a taxi or hired car. (Perhaps the hired car we used for holidays. We knew the drive by name. His surname was the same as ours.)
When we arrived I remember that we children looked round what was a much larger house than we were used to. The new house had bay windows and a garage. I will describe it fully later.
There are three minor details about the move that I always remember.
Dad had always cherished two hydrangeas which stood by the front porch. Both flowered well and had deep blue flowers. I am told that the blue colour was part of the celebrations for the Coronation of 1953. They were put into large wooden flower pots and came with us. (They never did so well afterwards, and reverted to a more natural pink colour.)
One of us (who shall remain nameless,) managed to lock himself into the toilet. I have a vague memory of calling on the taxi/car driver for assistance. He did manage to work out the lock eventually.
I had a toy canoe, probably just about six inches long, made of hard, dark brown plastic. It must have been one of the first things we had made of plastic. I think it was left behind in the garden of the old house. I missed it!
The New House – Downstairs
Some of my readers still live in the area and they will recognize the following description. Housing estates used to be fairly uniform with rows of similar houses. The Cathedral Estate was like that – lots of almost identical semi-detached houses with similar gardens. The houses are still there and may be much as they were. (OK, they probably all have central heating now and double glazing. Garages may have been converted to extra rooms and they may have various extensions.)
Our new house was larger than the one at Boar Close. It had a garage but we did not have a car. (I am not sure when we did get a car – a few years later. I don’t think it ever lived in the garage.)
Downstairs we had a large hall – with a telephone. On the left, behind the garage, was the ‘morning room,’ a small reception room with a fire that heated the boiler for hot water, then a step down to the kitchen and a door out to the garden.
You could only get to the garage from outside – out through the back door and round the side. We used the garage for storage, including a relatively cool place to store cheese and meat.
From the hall to the right were two large rooms. The lounge at the back had French windows (US: French doors) to the garden. We had never seen French windows before. The dining room at the front was just as large. We soon acquired a quarter-size billiard table and Dad made some panels to go on top to convert it to a large dining table.
To the back of the hall were the stairs and a large walk-in cupboard under the stairs which acted as a cloakroom. Inside this cupboard, round and under the stairs was the electricity meter. We paid for electricity by putting a shilling (1s or 5p in modern money) into the meter. In those days a kilowatt-hour cost about a penny. (1d or about 0.5p) Every few months the man from the Electricity Board would come to read the meter and collect the money.
The stairs went forwards and turned back on themselves. The inside toilet and bathroom were on the bend, so the bathroom was over the kitchen. (In those days, toilets were generally in a separate small room. It was our only inside toilet. There was an outside toilet, underneath the indoor one, that only Dad ever used.)
At the top of the stairs the landing went round with four bedrooms coming off it. My parents had the largest one in the front, over the hall and dining room. Further round my two sisters had the room over the lounge. Over the garage was the bedroom for the three boys, and our elder brother had the smallest bedroom over the morning room. (Things changed when Nan came to live with us.)
I mustn’t forget the bay windows. They were at the front in the Dining room and the bedroom above it.
The garden was larger than our old house. I will leave its description to a later blog.
You know roughly where our house was located. It was a large dormitory estate built about 1930, housing many families whose breadwinner worked in London. We walked to Highlands School, to St Andrew’s Church and to the Beehive Lane shops. The children also walked to Wanstead Park and Recreation Ground, near the golf course – now shown on the map as the A406 North Circular Road!
The picture shows a very similar snooker table. Ours was E J Riley
You have to imagine it in a room not much larger than the table.
What was New?
Apart from the location, what were the difference in the new house? Basically it was larger.
So far I have dealt with fires and heating. We still lived without central heating. The new house still had an open coal fire for the lounge. The dining room had an electric fire – I think it was two or three bars. (Each bar was always one kilowatt.) The closed coke fire in the morning room generally gave us hot water through the day but it did nothing to heat the house. None of the upstairs rooms were heated in any way. (I think there were several open fireplaces upstairs but we did not use them.) In spite of this we always slept with a small window open in every room – for fresh air.
I will come to the kitchen later but for now I will just say that it was a still few more years before we acquired our first refrigerator.
We used the morning room for breakfast and tea with the dining room only coming into its own for Sunday lunch. In the evenings in winter we tended to keep to the lounge as the only heated room. Later the dining room gave a family of growing children a little more space. We had the snooker table. As we grew up the snooker room provided some privacy for entertaining girlfriends – not always playing snooker!