Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.


[113] All Manner of Things Shall be Well

I am coming near to the end and I want to do a broad summary. It will be a bit rambling, without any pictures and full of sweeping generalizations. I have put in lots of links so you can find out more details.


I don’t want to give you pages and pages of Terms and Conditions as we seem to get nowadays but I just want to make it plain that these are my views. For the Fifties they are the memories of a young boy brought up in a large family in Ilford with no knowledge of life outside my family and school. Even in the Sixties I knew little outside my small world. News and information from television and newspapers was far more restricted than today


We had virtually nothing of modern technology. There were fixed line Telephones, which we hardly ever used – more or less just for occasional local calls. Our house had Electricity but we didn’t have many uses for it. We had an electric iron and very, very occasionally in winter an electric fire might be used. Basically electricity was for lights. All the things you now think of as automatic just didn’t happen. We survived without Computers.

If you wanted to write anything you used a pen or pencil. Offices used Typewriters, which were only used by typists and Newspapers were produced by a complex, cumbersome labour-intensive process taking several hours.

For Photographs we had cameras and photographic film. You might take 36 shots in a week’s holiday and then wait a week for a single tiny print of each one. We did have Cinemas producing films but people did not make their own moving pictures.

(Perhaps the most automation we ever had was in traffic lights. They were very simple with no fancy stuff like lanes or filter lights or pedestrian signals. Some of them were able to detect when traffic arrived to hasten on the next change.)

Standards and Authority

Attitudes were more Formal and Standards were different especially our views about women, children, ethnic minorities, animals and sexuality. (‘Ethnic minorities’ is a modern term. We didn’t have them. There was some open racism towards ‘black’ people – and Irish!)

We respected the Authorities even though we had no knowledge of how they worked. (There was no Internet!) We trusted and believed doctors, teachers, policeman and generally vicars. If we didn’t there was no way we could question what they said or did. If something went wrong we accepted it – we didn’t think of suing anyone for damages.

Most people more or less accepted the Church and there were many more believers and regular churchgoers. The Church played a significant part in our education and our attitudes to Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and Sundays. St. Andrews Church at Ilford played a significant part in my life.


The government and Civil Service covered much, much more than today – coal, gas, electricity, railways, telephones, television and national savings. Education, doctors and hospitals and local government services were more centrally controlled.


Families stayed together. Men and women stayed married. Men and women were different. The man of the house worked; women stayed at home and were housewives; children grew up with their parents. More complicated family situations were rare. Homosexuality did not exist. (I am talking about generalities and public perceptions. It was not openly acknowledged or accepted.)

Most married women were housewives and there were few opportunities for work for women. Women expected to get married and raise a family at home and were generally happy with the situation. Housework (making beds, shopping, preparing and cooking food, cleaning and laundry, together with looking after children) took most of the average housewife’s day – and a lot of the evenings and weekends! Men were expected to do little at home and probably did even less.

Children, particularly those below school age, were looked after by their mothers because there were no alternative arrangements. Growing Adolescents remained in the care of their parents and could not vote until twenty-one.

While the man of the house earned an income and paid for regular bills (gas and electricity, rates, telephone etc.), he would pay a housekeeping allowance to his wife to cover basic food, cleaning and probably children’s clothes. In general, this allowance did not include anything for the wife to buy clothes or cosmetics (although most generally saved enough to look after their basic needs).

There was still the attitude that men made the major decisions for the family without consulting their wives, and wives just followed their husbands. The marriage ceremony included the promise for wives to ‘… love, honour and obey…’

[A major difference that affected all aspects of family life was that Contraception was not easy and abortion was illegal. It was not considered ‘right’ for unmarried women to have children.]

Law and Order

My impression is that there was much less public disorder and crime, but this may be partly from the innocence of youth. Police mostly operated on foot. There were no police cars. All they had was a police whistle to call for assistance.

There were different standards but crime, like other aspects of life, was more local. We didn’t have fast cars or easy roads.

Food and drink

Families ate together at home eating simple foods cooked by the housewife of the family.

Restaurants were up-market, much rarer than today and for special occasions and the rich. Eating at a restaurant was a more formal occasion and a more formal process. Except when on holiday, ordinary people rarely ate in restaurants or hotels. (Restaurants in those days were limited to British or perhaps French Cuisine. Foreign restaurants started to emerge in the sixties with Indian and Chinese restaurants.)

The only ‘fast food’ in the fifties was fish and chips, and for most people this was the only experience of eating out. The fish and chips were usually taken home, wrapped in newspaper, but there were facilities to eat in the shops. This would have been a much more informal and cheaper experience than eating in a proper restaurant.

The first equivalent of the American revolution that was fast food hit England in the early sixties. It was the Wimpy Bar. This was a glorified coffee bar which served hamburgers in buns (‘Wimpy’) but not exactly in the Macdonald’s takeaway fashion. They were served, with chips, at tables and on plates, with knives and forks – a downmarket version of restaurant service. The real takeaways such as Macdonald’s did emerge, in their full American format, until the seventies. After that came Pizza and other culinary imports from the U.S.A.

Pubs were much more common. They were crowded with men (not women) who drank pints of bitter and smoked. Pubs did not mess around serving food. Alcohol at home was less prevalent.

By modern standards, cafes were non-existent. When shopping in Ilford Mum might have a cup of tea at a department store café. That was it.


Almost all early Television was live, not pre-recorded. (The only real exceptions were programmes repeated a day or two after their original broadcast.) Also, in a way which is not easy to define, there was a much narrower range of programmes, only what the middle class establishment of that time would consider to be in good taste. This consisted of news, information and entertainment based on ‘Variety’ (i.e. singing, dancing, comedy, magic, circus acts etc.) Sports broadcasting was virtually unknown as technological limitations made ‘outside broadcasts’ (anything not done from the central studios) both difficult and expensive. Back in 1950 there was no choice of viewing, no television advertisements no phone-in programmes, no Soaps, no reality television, no live football, no morning television.

We had one channel for a few hours each day with very poor quality black-and-white pictures on a nine-inch screen! My memories of Children’s Television date from these earlier days. By the late sixties we had three channels, still not broadcasting all day and still without the reliability and picture quality we expect today.

I have a whole series of blogs about particular stars of television – from David Attenborough and Doctor Who … to David Attenborough and Doctor Who!

Of course in the Fifties Radio was just as important with Mrs. Dale’s Diary and Two-Way Family Favourites.

General Entertainment.

At home, people spent some time watching television, listening to the radio, reading and perhaps making their own music. Pianos were nowhere near universal, but were far more popular than today. Cinema was more popular. If people went to the theatre, it was a far more special night out than now. People more often just went out walking together.

Pop Music hadn’t really started. Televised sport was almost non-existent – apart from the weekly football results.


I have said a lot in my blogs about Primary School, Secondary School and University life all of which were much more formal than today. I can only speak for Grammar School education, which may have some similarities with the few remaining Grammar Schools today – including my alma mater, Ilford County High School, which still exists. Teaching was based on chalk on blackboards, reading from textbooks and writing in exercise books. Our most sophisticated visual aids were – coloured chalk.

We had just the traditional subjects, formal homework, end-of-term examinations and hand-written reports.


We had simple local ShopsGrocers, Bakers, Butchers, Newsagents, Chemists, Hardware shops and Post Offices were common. Big towns had Department Stores but there were no Supermarkets. If I take an example, the baker might sell half a dozen types of loaf (only one of which would be sliced and packed,) white rolls or brown rolls and a few types of cakes. We were not burdened with Choice. There was, of course, no on-line shopping.


There were no motorways, just narrow roads going through the centres of towns so that long-distance travel was a series of traffic jams. For local shopping parking outside the shops was easy and free.



We used cash and coped with pounds, shillings and pence and it was all done by mental arithmetic. Shopkeepers gave us the right change. Credit was virtually non-existent. Banks managed all their calculations without automatic calculators or computers.

By way of a diversion, here are some typical prices from the Fifties (or perhaps early Sixties) from memory. I have converted pre-decimal money to approximate decimal equivalents.

  • 1p would have bought a cup of tea. (Coffee was 2p.)
  • A stamp for a letter was about 1½p. (There was no distinction then between First Class and Second Class post!)
  • A Mars bar was 1½p, a Kit-Kat 1p. (Most other chocolate bars did not exist then.)
  • A bus ride started at 1p and was unlikely to be more than 10p. (Buses were double-decker and had bus conductors.)
  • A small loaf of bread was about 4p.
  • A haircut (for men) was about 5p.
  • A pint of beer in a pub was about 5p.
  • A cheap plastic ball-point pen was about 10p (and probably still is).
  • Single records, when they started, were about 33p. LPs (33 rpm) were about £2 to £3.
  • A three-course meal in a restaurant would have come to between 50p and £1.
  • A gallon of petrol was about 25p. (That’s a gallon, a bit more than four litres!)
  • A black-and-white television set (9 inch) was about £60-70. (This figure has remained virtually unchanged for 50 years.)
  • A 4-bedroom semi-detached house in the suburbs of London was about £250.

(The Retail Price Index has risen by a factor of about 25 since the mid-fifties. Most of this inflation took place in the Sixties and Seventies.)



There were virtually no plastics so things now made of plastic would have been made from wood or metal.

Packaging, when it existed, was simple, perhaps a rectangular box. Bread, meat, fruit and vegetables were sold loose or perhaps wrapped in tissue paper.

We knew little of some modern health concerns and Health and Safety was not a major consideration. Substances like mercury, DDT and asbestos, now considered very dangerous, were uses routinely. The same can be said for lead in pipes, paint, toys and petrol. Smoking was common, ubiquitous and accepted.

Here are some of the evils of the modern world, which we did not have in the Fifties.

  • Consumerism and advertising were much less significant. There were no three-for-two or buy-one-get-one-free offers.
  • We had and no junk mail.
  • There was no cold calling on telephones.
  • Utilities – gas, electricity, water, telephones, television – were state controlled and there were no choices of tariffs.
  • Banks and building societies were similar to each other – offering few choices at identical rates.
  • Telephones did not have premium rate calls – but then all non-local calls were difficult, unreliable and expensive.


Something younger people find hard to understand is that we knew so little of the nastier side of life that we trusted people.

There were no school runs by the parents. Children as young as five walked to school on their own. When we were seven or eight we were sent to the shops at Beehive Lane on our own. Women with babies would leave them in prams outside the shops.

[I know. I said no pictures. I changed my mind.]

We played in the streets or spent the day at Wanstead Park Recreation ground – without mobile phones and without even watches. We came home when it was time for tea.



I have put in a lot of links but there is a lot more in the blogs including some about Christmas, my family, politics and some miscellaneous odds and ends … and language. I still think the best way to read then is to start at the beginning and work forward.

My last blog … in a week or two … will be about language.


The title of this blog comes from the quotation ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ from Revelations of Divine Love, the first book in the English Language known to be written (about 1395 AD) by a woman.

We know little about the authoress, Julian of Norwich. Even her name is uncertain. She lived in the second half of the Fourteenth Century as an anchoress in a cell joined to the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, which is probably the source of her name – although Julian was a common name for women at the time.



As this is almost my final post I want to acknowledge my sources. Apart from my own memory I have just two sources.

There may be an odd exception but almost all of the background information and most of the pictures come from Wikipedia.

The rest of the pictures – apart from a few of mine – come from Facebook, generally from the rapidly growing number of groups devoted to nostalgia about the Fifties and Sixties.



[109] Growing Up

In an attempt to get things finished I am sorting out what’s left into (probably) six more posts, which I will try to write at the same time. (But, of course, it may be five or seven before I end!) This one will look at some of the things that entertained me – from early childhood to late adolescence. It’s roughly (only roughly) in chronological order.

At Home

I will start with what I remember as a young child at home. Toys were very much what we would now call gender biased so boys played Cowboys and Indians and had cap guns. Girls had dolls.

The two things I remember liking most were jigsaw puzzles and colouring books. Jigsaws came in different sizes and levels of difficulty and I worked my way up. I still like them and generally do a 1000-piece one at Christmas.


I think I must have appreciated precise two-dimensional shapes in a way that combined these two interests. For colouring books I had Lakeland pencils in a set with far more colours than the picture above. I would fill the shapes precisely to their edges.

(I am not what you would call artistic. I can copy, not very well, and I can colour in precisely. I used to love the idea of Painting by Numbers but I never had a set – maybe one day I will buy myself one.)

I also remember Airfix models and it looks as if they are still available. They were models of aeroplanes made by assembling lots of tiny injection moulded plastic parts with glue. I have said so often that we did not have plastic – so Airfix were setting new standards in the late Fifties. Wikipedia makes it clear that as the range grew in the Sixties it included vintage and modern cars, motorcycles, figures, trains, model railway accessories, military vehicles, famous ships, rockets and spaceships, as well as an ever-increasing range of aircraft.

Early School Games


As a very young child the game I remember playing was what we called ‘Gobs.’ After years of failure to find them, the picture above has appeared at last on the Internet. It was a version of the game of ‘Fivestones’ and we used small cubes with toothed edges like these. Basically you had to pick them up from the floor with one hand and catch some of them on the back of the hand.

As we grew older I saw other groups using what we called ‘Jacks.’

1024px-jacks  jacks

These pictures are modern versions. Jacks were metal and there was a single ball, probably made of rubber. I never learned this more modern version.


We also played Hopscotch. Chalk was much more common. Teaching was done in chalk on a blackboard. You just needed a layout something like this chalked out on the pavement or playground at school. You hopped forwards and backwards – I can’t remember the details.

Mostly in the playground we ran around and played what I know now as ‘Tag.’ We just called it ‘It.’

conkersfruit  conkestrung

In the autumn we played ‘Conkers.’ You must know what conkers are – the fruit of the Horse-Chestnut tree. I suppose some of the fun was in finding and preparing you own. You had to drill a hole through them, after taking off the outer shell, using a long metal skewer and then thread a string into them. We knew and talked about methods of hardening conkers, either with vinegar or by baking in the oven, but I’m not sure that anyone actually did this. Modern ‘Health and Safety’ regulations seemed to have banned this game in many schools.


At home we used to have a dark wooden combined bureau and bookcase. Dark stained wood like mahogany used to be fashionable. I can’t remember a time before we had it and it is the only piece of furniture still in the family. The bookcase was always full of books that Dad must have acquired when he was quite young. They never changed.

There was a large chunky dictionary – Funk and Wagnells. I don’t think we used it much because it was American.

I remember a paperback book ‘One, Two, Three … Infinity’ by George Gamow about Mathematics and Science. Wikipedia says it was printed in 1947 aimed at intelligent laymen. There were others probably in the same series in astronomy and basic nuclear physics.

There were some large general books on anthropology and a five-part encyclopaedia. I can’t remember the name of the encyclopaedia but I remember its components. They were called: ‘A-Eng’, ’Eng-Hor’, ‘Hor-New’, ‘New-Sal’ and ‘Sal-Zyr.’

And there were the books Hoyle’s Card Games for One and Hoyle’s Card Games for Two.

[I remember these two books but we must have had a book with card games for four players. You will read further on about Solo Whist and Bridge.]

I probably read all of these, not all at once, but not all of the Encyclopaedia.

Early Card Games

As a family we grew up with cards. Mum must have taught us the early games. (I didn’t read the Hoyle’s books until much later.)

We started with Beggar-my-Neighbour but we didn’t call it that. I think we called it Beat my Neighbour. This is the sort of card game that depends entirely on luck – a two-player game that always finishes. (I remember this game from Great Expectations, where they called one of the cards the Knave. Even my memories don’t go far enough to remember when people used this word. It’s the Jack. But I do now know some older people who still call it a Knave!)

We also played Snap and we learned Patience. (As far as our family was concerned Patience meant the solitaire game known as Klondike. We never called it anything other than patience although later we sometimes played a type of Clock Patience.)

When we needed a game for more than two players we started playing Sevens and then simple versions of Rummy (not Canasta). These were games that had a bit more of a skill element and we learned about tactics. Sometimes going for what you want is not the best tactic. You have to prevent others from getting what they want.

bezique  beziquepair

Mum’s favourite game was Bezique, which she taught us. It’s a game for two players that came in a little box with its own set of cards.


Nan liked Cribbage, an older two person game that I think used to be the only card game that could legally be played in pubs. We had the scoring board that went with it.


At Boar Close we played outside because it was an open green without any traffic. I think we knew the other children but I can’t remember much from those days.

When we moved to the next house it was not practical to play in the street. (There was still virtually no traffic.) We were allowed to go to the park – Wanstead Recreation Ground next to Ilford Golf Club. The park is still there on the map and I don’t think it has changed much but the North Circular Road was not in the way then! Wanstead Park Road was a quiet road and we just walked to the park as we walked to school. We were unlikely to be troubled by any traffic. At the age of about eight I went there with my two brothers and sometimes stayed for hours. We went across the open grass, crossed the river and would just wander along the Roding in the woods.


Sometimes we took little fishing nets on bamboo poles fishing for tiddlers. I don’t remember ever catching anything. We didn’t have watches but were expected to be back in time for tea.

When we were older we went to Valentines Park, which is slightly more difficult to reach. We had to cross Cranbrook Road. This is a much larger park with ornamental lakes, a café and it even includes a cricket ground. I remember seeing squirrels there and we played at the children’s play area.


They just had swings and a rocking-horse and roundabout similar to the picture above. I suspect that modern Health and Safety regulations have seen the end of these!

Prior to 1967 Essex County Cricket did not have its own grounds. They used several cricket pitches in the county in rotation including the one at Valentines Park. [Yes, an early series of the Great British Bake Off was filmed at Valentines Mansion in the park.]


Here is something else Health and Safety would not have liked. When it snowed and we found somewhere where the snow had been trodden into ice we could make a slide. I am sure we used to have something like this outside Highlands School.

Board Games

As young children we played Ludo and Snakes and Ladders but I don’t think they were very popular. We also had Chess and Draughts [US: Chequers] sets but these didn’t get used much either.

The one we did like was Monopoly, which we must have acquired somewhere around 1960. It lasted a lot longer than the others and could cope with any number of players in our family. The family did also try Cluedo a bit later.

More Reading

I think I read quite a lot and I read some of the children’s classics like Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland, the Wind in the Willows, the Water Babies and Treasure Island. But there were some that escaped me.

Once I reached Ilford County High School I made use of their library and read a lot.

I liked Edgar Rice Burroughs, especially his Tarzan books but also read the Mars series starting with a Princess of Mars. I must have also liked Science Fiction from an early age. I found the C S Lewis trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Voyage to Venus and That Hideous Strength but somehow I was not aware of the Narnia series.

I won’t list all the Science Fiction I read but much of it dates from the Fifties and Sixties. I remember John Wyndham – The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Midwich Cuckoos, the Chrysalids and the Trouble with Lichen. The Death of Grass by John Christopher was another similar post-apocalyptic novel. I also read a lot by AE Van Vogt and Kurt Vonnegut of which the most famous is Slaughterhouse-Five. It was the era of Science Fiction, much of which in the form of collected short stories.

[Now some of what was Science Fiction has become science fact but much of it has been proved impossible or unlikely. We can no longer write about human-like civilizations on the Moon or Mars. We are left with endless Science Fantasy series set in semi-magical alternative realities.]

I read stories by Agatha Christie including And Then There were None. (I dare not give the original title, which is unacceptable now, but at the time I don’t think anyone considered it to be offensive.) I think my favourite author was PG Wodehouse, not only his Jeeves stories, also the Blandings Castle ones and Psmith. (I think I read some Bunter stories by Frank Smith but the character is much more linked in my mind to the television series.)

Later Books

I still have a lot of reading to consider from the late Sixties. Certainly from the Sixth Form and through University I aimed to read at least one paperback book every week.


Many of these were the black paperback Penguin Classics – The Canterbury Tales, Pilgrim’s Progress, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Gulliver’s Travels, Crime and Punishment, Revelations of Divine Love … and many more.

I particularly remember four blue paperback books that I read from cover to cover. Animals Without Backbones in two volumes introduced me to the science of animal life – and Man and the Vertebrates also in two volumes completed the elementary introduction. Both were written in the Thirties so my knowledge of taxonomy isn’t completely up-to-date.

More Cards

As we grew older we moved to the varieties of Whist games. For several players there was Knockout Whist – starting with seven cards each. You had to get at least one trick to go on to the next round and it went down each time – six cards down to one. Crazy Whist started with eight cards and again went down each round – but this game was scored. Before each round you said how many tricks you hoped to make. You scored one for each trick with a bonus of ten if your prediction was right.

We learned Solo Whist played with four players and using all 52 cards each round. You had to bid to make things like Abundance (nine or more tricks) or Misere (no tricks!)

There was also a game called Napoleon a bit like a five card version of Solo Whist.

Later as a family we learned to play Bridge, a game I now still play several times a week. Dad taught us and sometimes we played until one or two o’clock at night round the snooker table. With three brothers and two sisters we usually had enough to play. I think we started with Auction Bridge, learned from a book, but very soon changed to the more modern Contract Bridge. The game has changes a bit but I always enjoyed it.


I can’t complete this blog without a few words about films. The ones I remember from the cinema were the Carry On series but from earlier I still remember the old films that were shown on television on Sunday afternoons.

There were some that seemed to come up again and again.

I Remember Mama, from 1948, was a melodramatic film about bringing up a family in hard times, remembered for the scenes where Mama counted the pennies and announced, “We won’t have to go to the bank.” (We learn at the end that there is no bank. But they survived.)

Mr Blandings Dream House, also 1948, was a comedy starring Cary Grant.


My favourite was Bringing up Baby from 1938, described by Wikipedia as a screwball comedy, starred Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. I still class this as the second best film ever made (after It’s a Wonderful Life.) Just to give you an idea of it, you have to know that ‘Baby’ is someone else’s pet leopard, which at some time escapes and gets confused with a really wild escaped leopard. To recapture Baby Katherine Hepburn sings I Can’t Give You Anything But Love to it. And the film ends with the hero and heroine on top of the skeleton of a brontosaurus as it collapses.

I suppose I should mention Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers but I think this has been long enough already.



[102] 1066 and All That

I have talked about St Andrew’s Church in general and my memories of the Choir and Cubs and Scouts. So here are the rest of my memories from that church. It’s going to be a blog without many useful illustrative pictures.


I have to do a little diversion before I talk about Confirmation, to remind you of some of the practices of the Church. Of course, when we were young we knew all this – partly because everyone was at least nominally Christian but also because we went to Sunday School and religion played a significant part in school life and education.

In those days children were almost all ‘christened’ as babies. This refers to the service of ‘baptism’ when babies become members of the church and are officially named. They are taken in under the care of their parents and ‘godparents’, who (at least in theory) help to bring them up learning Christian virtues and the Christian way of life. When they are sufficiently mature, just after puberty, they take responsibility for their own lives in the service of Confirmation.

While christening used to be almost universal, not everyone chose to go on to be confirmed. Now christening is less common but t remains more popular than marriage!

This represents the Church of England (Anglican) perspective. Roman Catholic, Methodist and other churches had slightly different practices.


So Confirmation is a rite of passage with its own church service, which I will come to later. (It’s a bit like Bar Mitzvah to the Jewish community but I don’t claim enough knowledge to know how close the two are.) I will come to the actual service later but let me say how it affected me.

Male children traditionally have two godmothers and one godfather (with a complementary situation for girls.) One of my godmothers lived in Australia and I think it was suggested that I could be confirmed in a year when she was visiting. The Confirmation service only takes place once a year. I was about thirteen so it was around 1960. As a significant present for the occasion I was given a wristwatch. This was not something cheap that any child would have at an early age. (I think an older brother had a watch as a 21st birthday present!)

Confirmation Classes

There were about thirty of us and we had to prepare for the process by attending a series of weekly Confirmation classes, held in an informal way by the vicar at the vicarage. (Memories are a bit hazy but I think we were a group of boys with the girls having separate classes.) It was the only time I actually saw inside the vicarage, a very large house next to the church.

In theory we were being instructed in the doctrines of theology that were necessary for acceptance into the Church but almost all of it was a matter of talking through the services of Confirmation and Holy Communion. [I won’t go into what is meant by Holy Communion but it is a church service only for full members who have been confirmed.]

I remember two things about these classes. The vicar, Sam Erskine, was Irish and talked with an Irish accent. He pronounced the word ‘Wednesday’ as if it had three syllables (Weddensday) while to us it had just two (Wensday) and he explained its derivation from the Norse god Woden – as Woden’s Day.

He also pointed out that boys of our age might be beginning to have doubts about Christianity and its theology. He advised being confirmed first and leaving such doubts until later!



I won’t go into the service, where those confirmed effectively make vows to take responsibility for their lives back from the sponsors (parents and godparents,) except to note that, as for everything then it used the archaic language and style of the Book of Common Prayer. It was only held once a year because, unlike the ordinary weekly services, it needed a Bishop for the confirmation process.

It was a formal occasion. All the boys wore formal clothes and the girls had special white confirmation dresses. After the service, we met the Bishop and were each given a small prayer book signed by the Bishop.


[The book above is so familiar but, of course, mine was ‘for Men and Boys’. It’s from the right date. It must have been a red book with the light blue dust cover shown. I would never have taken the cover off. I don’t know why there were separate versions for boys and for girls. It is technically possible for an adult to be confirmed. I think there were two or three in our group of thirty or forty.]

Youth Club

So far in my musings about St Andrew’s, the church choir, cubs and scouts and confirmation have been roughly chronological. Later still, for the last part of my life at Ilford, in the mid-sixties, the church Youth Club was significant for my period of adolescence – from fifteen to eighteen. (Remember that until 1969 the age of majority was still 21.)

We met every Friday evening. It was a social gathering with coffee and table-tennis generally (perhaps always) with a visiting speaker.

I remember two speakers specifically. One talked about blood donation and I decided to volunteer for this as soon as possible. I was fairly convinced that in those days you had to be sixteen – but the limit is 17 now so perhaps it used to be 18. (Readers from the Ilford area may remember the King George Hospital, where I gave my first couple of donations.)

We also had a talk by a local headmaster, Ken Aston, who had refereed the FA Cup Final the year before. Of course we had amateur referees then!

Some of us went to co-educational (mixed) schools but many, like me went to schools for boys only or girls only. Youth Club was an opportunity for boys and girls to meet and for some there were the beginnings of what we now call relationships. (We used the words ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when we were ‘going out’ together. This did not imply sex in any way – but it obviously did not always exclude it.)

As part of the fraternisation, the church hall and the areas outside were sometimes used for some furtive smoking. Cigarettes were common and easily available to adolescents bold enough to ask in shops. It was so common that the smell of smoke was probably pervasive throughout the building. (Nobody would think of smoking in church but the church hall and other rooms were not no smoking areas.)

I think it was a good youth club and it consisted of much more than the weekly meetings. In the weeks before Christmas we had carol singing and on bank holiday Mondays there was always a youth club hike.


It was easy to have hikes in the countryside because the London Underground Central Line used to go as far as Ongar. So an easy cheap ride took us to the Essex Countryside. We would walk as a group with the Youth Club leaders probable only about six or eight miles. My memories are of sunny days with a stop at a country pub for lunch. We did not drink alcoholic drinks and we stayed outside in the sun.



I have to give a special mention to Battle Abbey. This is a partly ruined abbey near to the town of Battle, the area believed to mark the Battle of Hastings of 1066. I won’t go into its history but it used to be privately owned. (It was sold to the government in 1976 and it is now in the care of English Heritage.)

We used to visit it in the sixties with the Youth Club for a week every year, camping in its grounds. I think we used the Scout tents and it was a bit like a Scout camp. We did our own cooking on camp fires. But there were separate all-boys and all-girls tents.

I am not sure what the status of the Abbey was at the time. It must have had some Christian connection with the Church. I think it may have been used as a retreat. But we hardly ever saw the Abbey. The building and grounds needed a lot of maintenance and we were effectively a work party in the grounds. We did things like weed clearing and I can remember tackling areas of long grass with a scythe. (Health and Safety was not such a significant consideration then. We all survived the use of dangerous equipment.)


[1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates is a parody of the history of England, written by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman and illustrated by John Reynolds. It first appeared serially in Punch magazine, and was published in book form by Methuen & Co. Ltd. in 1930.]

Although it was attached to St Andrew’s I don’t remember any religious activities in the Youth Club. The boys and girls tended to go to Evensong every Sunday as an opportunity to meet each other.

Amateur Dramatics

There was a well-established amateur dramatics group with performances several times a year in the Church Hall. I think the hall was always full. Generally it was a farce like those done so well on television by Brian Rix but I remember the slightly controversial decision to do Bartholomew Fair by Ben Johnson with some dialogue that would not have been considered appropriate in a church.

Sale of Work

Once a year, about October or November, there was always a Sale of Work, one of the main sources of church income. It was something between a glorified jumble sale and a fair – with stalls round the Church Hall and tea in the Wilson Room. (People drank tea. Coffee was unusual.) Some of the stalls were provided by church groups such as the Mothers Union and the choir. I think they still have something like it but under a different name.

That’s about it for St Andrew’s …




[100] Long to Reign over us

There is a danger that this blog will be very long because it’s about a topic that has dominated my life for sixty years – just as it has dominated the lives of all the loyal subjects of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK).

Queen Elizabeth II
It will be about the royal family but mostly it’s about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She is also Queen of Canada, Australia and New Zealand; Head of the Commonwealth; and Queen of twelve countries that have become independent since her accession: Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. At ninety she intends to continue as our monarch as long as she can.

While I try to keep impartial and not to reveal my views about politics or religion, I make no apologies for being fiercely Royalist. Perhaps you will see why when you read what follows.

UKMap_1   UKMap_2


For those outside the United Kingdom, perhaps it’s time for a brief political summary. The UK is a sovereign state of the UN and it consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and sometimes our inhabitants refer to these as four separate countries with their own capitals. Their political status has changed over time and they now have significant independence – but they remain part of the UK. (It would be far too simplistic to compare these four parts to the fifty States that make up the USA.)

The geographical island of Great Britain consists of England, Wales and Scotland. The island of Ireland consists of the country of Ireland (also called Eire) and Northern Ireland. (Historically England used to include parts of France, and the word Britain is cognate with Brittany, a region in the North of France.)

Most of the smaller islands around our shores are part of the UK but the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey and some smaller islands) are dependencies of the UK with their own governments. While the UK is part of the EU, these islands are not!

[There are a few small overseas dependencies such as Gibraltar and the Falklands.]

Generally the word Briton is used for a member of the UK or these dependent islands.

[Don’t worry, even we get confused sometimes. In international sporting competitions GB and UK get confused. In Football – that’s Soccer, not American Football – England, Scotland and Wales maintain their separate status. Six Nations Rugby is a bit more complicated.]

Queen Elizabeth


Accession and Coronation

I was too young to be aware of the Queen’s accession in early 1952 and have no memories of her father (except as a head on coinage.) But her coronation on 2 June 1953 was a nationwide event of great significance. Many people bought their first television set to see the Coronation, which was broadcast live. Our television came a bit later. But I remember three things about the coronation.

In our area, every street seemed to have its own street party to celebrate. So just for the residents of Boar Close, we had our own marquee and party. To children in those days a party meant jelly and blancmange. We also had a mini sports day with the usual races – egg-and-spoon, three-legged and sack race.


I have to mention the book Royalty in Essex, which was given to every child at school in the county of Essex. (Ilford used to be part of Essex before the formation of Greater London, which moved it into part of London as part of the new borough of Redbridge.) The book only had a few pages and it just said a little about visits by royalty to places in the county but it was lavishly illustrated with many heraldic shields. Its magnificent colour was far beyond anything we had seen. I always regret somehow having thrown away my treasured copy.

Then there were the newspapers. Remember that in those days they were more or less our only source of news. They were black and white, using ink that almost smudged and came off on your fingers and all they could do was plain fixed text. Pictures were very rare.

As children we had one chest of drawers in our bedroom for clothes. I think the three of us had a drawer each. They were plain, fairly rough wood and to protect our clothes they were lined with sheets of newspaper. (They were all what we called broadsheets with larger pages.) The paper in our chest of drawers was a single double page spread of pictures from the coronation. I remember them as light brown so they may have faded from their original glory – but I often saw these pictures in later years even though I had not seen them at the time of the Coronation.

British_threepence_1967_obverse  Stamp_UK_1952_3p

Coins and Stamps

My earliest memories of the Queen must have come from the faces on our coins and stamps – even though I was too young to be writing letters and most coins would have been from earlier monarchs. To us she was like a young mother figure. (By age, HM is almost between me and my parents but I saw her more as their generation. Perhaps this is because of Prince Charles, of whom more a little later.)


Trooping of the Colour

After reading what I have said about the Church, you will not be surprised, to find out that I love ceremonial events and traditions. I have early memories of the Trooping of the Colour, always shown on television. The picture above is from 1956. Of course the television pictures were just poor quality black and white. I think it would have been narrated by Richard Dimbleby.

I was impressed from an early age to see the Queen riding a horse and using a side saddle.


The simultaneous movements of the troops are also impressive, all done on just one voice command.



I remember much from my early years of the Queen and the royal family and this certainly includes the Maundy Thursday ceremonies, part of Easter week (which used to be much more significant then.) It’s a long established tradition where the monarch offers alms to deserving citizens and distributes special ‘Maundy money’ – specially minted one, two, three and four 4 penny pieces. The number of men and women and the total value of the coins is always the age of the Queen. (Of course they used to be our old pennies before decimalization.)

Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament has always been a day of ceremonial with a grand procession in a royal horse-drawn coach and the Queen delivering her speech. It maintains the illusion of a real Monarchy, while the actual powers of the monarch gradually diminish. The speech is effectively written by the Prime Minister and it outlines government policies and plans for the year ahead.

Royal Occasions

There are so many occasions where the Queen (and other members of the Royal Family) make the news. She travels abroad on State Visits and receives other visiting heads of state, often with lavish banquets. She travels throughout the UK on visits and sporting occasions. Even when just with her family – such as Balmoral at Christmas – she is seen visiting church regularly.

As a general comment I would say that people are less monarchist than they used to be and royal visits and occasions receive less publicity than they used to. You will remember that the news used to reflect the Establishment view more than it does today.


Royal Yacht

I am getting to the stage where I will have to cut out a lot from my original plans. I need to get this blog out fairly quickly. But there are lots of things I can’t miss out. I have to mention the Royal Yacht Britannia, which used to play a major part in the travels of the Royal Family. She was commissioned in the fifties and used a lot for royal travels. The Queen could travel abroad and entertain her guests on this ship in the days when international communication was more difficult. Sadly, she came to the end of her useful life in the nineties and retired to the port of Leith near Edinburgh, where she is on display for the public to visit – well worth a visit and surprisingly small.

Royal1947   RoyalWedding

Prince Philip

I will have to be briefer for other members of the Royal Family but I can’t miss out Prince Philip, always a staunch supporter and companion of the Queen. He was born a member of the Greek and Danish royal families and only realised when he joined the British Navy that he didn’t have a surname. He gave up his royal titles, adopted the surname Mountbatten and married the Queen on 20 November 1947 when he became HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. (In 1957 he became a Prince. The Queen has chosen to continue the more English sounding name of Windsor and the royal family remains the House of Windsor. Non-royal descendants of the Queen are officially Mountbatten-Windsor.)

When they visit crowds they separate. The Queen goes one way and Prince Philip goes off to talk to others. He always seems to amuse and entertain those he talks to – but is occasionally supposed to have made inappropriate comments in his humour.

He has always been associated with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, which started in the mid-fifties. This scheme has grown to become an extended alternative to schemes such as the Cadet Force we had at school and Boy Scouts.

Another Diversion – American Pie

The song American Pie by Don McLean, released in the early seventies includes the lines: “And the three men I admire most – The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost – They caught the last train for the coast – The day the music died.” It was based on the death of Buddy Holly.

I always feel that there are four men I admire the most – all strangely linked by unusual naming conventions. One was a Galilean, born in Nazareth, or perhaps Bethlehem, but was known (as was his mother) by a Latin version of his name. One had perfectly reasonable first name Mohandas Karamchand, but was always referred to by a nickname. The other two, who you can guess from this blog, never quite had surnames. (I suppose Post number [73] is about another idol of mine not usually known by her real name.)

NS 2s6d _chas_   _08_ 6d Anne

Prince Charles and Princess Anne

I have early memories of both Prince Charles and his sister Princess Anne (now the Princess Royal) from savings stamps. The pictures would change as they grew up. I have a sort of affinity with Charles as we nearly share birthdays, with a difference of one day – and two years. I have watched him grow up as I grew up. His education at Gordonstoun was not quite the same as ICHS but we later went to the same University.

As a child I remember both Charles, the Duke of Cornwall and Anne as children, both quite near to my own age, and loosely followed their upbringing. (Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, came several years later.)

Princess Margaret

As a child you make certain assumptions. Just as I always assumed that Andy Pandy was a girl, I also assumed that Princess Margaret was the Queen’s older sister. She was, of course a few years younger.

I was not aware of her relationship with Peter Townsend in the early fifties but I do remember her marriage in 1960 to Antony Armstrong-Jones, later the Earl of Snowdon. He was seen as a bit of a rebel or perhaps just an innovator in fashion. In the days when many formal events were ‘black tie,’ which means a dinner jacket and suit, (‘tuxedo’ for those in the US,) men were expected to wear a formal white shirt and a black bow tie. Antony Armstrong Jones was once seen in a polo-necked jumper and since then various other styles have appeared – coloured bow ties and ties of differing shapes.


The Queen Mother

The mother of our present queen, always styled Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was probably as well-loved as the Queen. She continued to make royal engagements almost until her death at the age of 101.

Ceremonial Events

I have mentioned the coronation and the State Opening of Parliament but royalty gives the opportunities for ceremonial occasions, enjoyed by the public through the medium of television. I remember the weddings of Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Prince Charles and the funerals of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother. We also had the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales and the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Queen.

Other Royalty

The Royal Family has always had many of its members involved in public life in various ways. I will just list three of them here. The Duchess of Kent for many years always represented the Queen at Wimbledon in the Royal Box and all players used to bow or curtsey to the Royal Box.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor also came up in the news sometimes although they lived abroad. They were the former King Edward VIII and his wife, for whom he had abdicated the monarchy. He was HRH the Duke of Windsor and he died in the early seventies. The Duchess was never formally HRH – I think the Royal Family never forgave her influence on the former King at the time of his abdication.


It is particularly difficult to describe long-term traditions that extended from the fifties to the present because I am not sure how much my memories reflect the period of this blog. (See Christmas.) But all of the people listed above were evident in the fifties and sixties. One of two of the ceremonial events come from later years.

I want to end by trying to convey how much more important royalty used to be to us. Perhaps it was post-war patriotism or perhaps it was old traditions dying slowly but I am sure that royalty were more prominent in the news and more generally popular than now.

    Queen_Elizabeth_II_March_2015  Prince_Philip_March_2015

National Anthem

For example the National Anthem was much more commonly heard. It was played on the radio before it closed down and in cinemas and theatres at the end of performances. Everyone always stood in silence and respected the anthem.

Like so many things in British traditions it has no official status and no officially defined words. When used as a hymn in churches it generally has three verses and there are other suggested verses but it is rarely heard other than its first verse:

God save our gracious Queen!

Long live our noble Queen!

God save the Queen!

Send her victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign over us:

God save the Queen!




[95] Dyb, Dyb, Dyb

It’s time for more about St Andrew’s after Blog [81] which described the building and Blog [91] mostly about the choir.

In the last St Andrew’s blog I told you about how I started in the choir. I can also remember exactly how we started with Cubs and I can feel a diversion coming.


As you know, plastic was hardly ever used and domestic plumbing relied on metal pipes to carry water. I think they were iron or steel. (There may have been some lead pipes. I know we used to let cold water run for a while before taking a glass of tap-water to drink. I think this had something to do with traces of lead, which is poisonous.)

You also know that we did not have central heating. Houses were heated with coal fires. We didn’t have double glazing and kept windows open for fresh air. In winter we sometimes had frost on the inside of windows. (If you don’t know all this you should seriously consider reading properly from the start!)

Metal pipes were all right in general because flowing water did not freeze. But inside the house there were places where the water did not move overnight. Pipes under the floor were even colder than our cold houses. If the water froze it expanded to make ice and this sometimes led to burst pipes when the ice thawed.

One day we had a burst pipe. (To be honest it happened a few times.) There was water in our bedroom over the garage. I’m not sure of the details but in those days neighbours helped one another in emergencies. A man from two or three doors down the road came to help. I am not sure he actually did anything but he noticed three young boys and had one of a similar age. He suggested to Dad that he should send us to Cubs at the church like his little boy. So that’s what happened.

   British_Wolf_Cub_1960 Boy_Scouts_of_America_uniform_1974

Cubs and Scouts

Cubs and Scouts were in many ways similar to the same organisations today. Cubs were for boys up to age eleven and Scouts for boys from eleven to fifteen. (Girls went to Brownies and Guides although nowadays many Cub and Scout packs are mixed.)

I will treat them together because in places my memories are not precise. They were quite similar.


The uniform was important. Shown above are a British Wolf Cub of the sixties and a US Scout from the seventies so they are approximately right. Both uniforms included short khaki trousers and woollen socks held up by gaiters. (In those days all boys of Cub ages wore only short trousers.) Cubs had a thick, dark green woolly jumper that was rough and uncomfortable, a scarf with its woggle and a cap. Scouts had a khaki shirt with pockets and a similar scarf. I think the scout hat was different.


We met once a week in the Church Hall at 7:30 pm. Each Cub ‘pack’ was led by a leader called Akela with assistants named from other characters in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. All the Cub leaders were women. Cubs were divided into ‘sixes’ each led by a sixer.

(In the Scouts, leaders were men. Instead of sixes we had patrols with patrol leaders. Much of the structure and activities were similar for Cubs and Scouts.)

Meetings started with a sort of parade where we were inspected. We stood to attention and were asked to “Dyb, Dyb, Dyb,” to which the response was: “We’ll Dob, Dob, Dob.” [That’s Do Your Best and Do Our Best.] Scouts must have used different terminology. Although it was like military service in some ways, there was nothing related to combat or the use of rifles. There was a Cub Promise and a similar Scout Promise which amounted to: “I promise to do my best … to do my duty to God and the Queen … and to obey the Cub/ Scout Law.” Nowadays these has been modified to allow for more widespread political and religious opinions!


Scouting activities were based on the ideas of Robert Baden-Powell and his book Scouting for Boys. It was about fieldcraft and living outdoors so we learned about camping, cooking on camp fires, knots, using axes and the identification of different trees.

Sometimes it was more like playing games – such as British Bulldog. Occasionally in summer we went outside. I remember at least once being taken to Wanstead recreation ground, one of our local parks. (This was before they moved the North Circular Road and put it in the way.)

I am not sure how it ever happened but I have memories of sometimes taking the 3d subscription money to the fish and chip shop. It was just enough for a portion of chips – served in newspaper. (In modern money that’s about 1p.) I don’t remember actually playing truant from Scouts. Perhaps that forgot to collect it and we went on the way home.


To encourage us in our progress there were lots of tests leading to badges. All the badges had to be sewn on by hand by Mum. There was a series of tests leading to a Second Class Cub and more for First Class. I always knew I would never achieve First Class status because I couldn’t swim.

I can remember two tests for these awards. As a Cub there was something called ‘Cleanliness.’ It was a routine test and consisted of a chat with one of the leaders. (I think they assumed we would all pass so there was no preparation.) To me the tester was an older woman but she may have been quite young and easily embarrassed. We got almost to the end and she started fishing. She wanted me to say something to pass the test but – for me to pass – she could only hint. I didn’t know what she wanted me to say. In the end she came out with it – “Of course, you always wash your hands after going to the toilet.” This was something I had never heard of but presumably I agreed to pass the test. (I was very young.)


There was also a badge for ‘Hand Axe.’ Even as Cubs we were expected to be able to chop wood. We had to name the various bits of an axe and learn how to chop wood. I took the test at the home of one of the leaders. I was failed immediately for taking the axe out of its leather cover without carefully checking that no one was nearby! I got everything else right and passed the test later!



We went camping as Cubs and as Scouts. Sometimes it was the whole troop, sometimes just our patrol. I remember camping with our patrol at Haverering-atte-Bower, where we more or less camped in a field. In those days the Central Line Tube went out to Ongar so places in Essex were easily accessible. With the Scouts we usually went to Gilwell Park, which is still used by the Scouts.

Modern tents are framed and easy to assemble. The picture above shows a modern reproduction of our traditional Scout Tents, which took six occupants. We had wooden tent poles and lots of lines which were fixed to the ground with tent pegs. It was a difficult operation to erect it or take it down. If it came down in the rain – as it often did – we would have to unroll it in the Church Hall to get it dry and properly folded away. All the Scouting equipment went under the stage in the hall.

The tent did not have a fitted groundsheet. We each took our own individual one. We took sleeping bags and everything we needed in a rucksack or kitbag.

Camping was primitive. We used our skills to find and cut appropriate wood, light camp fires and cook over them. Water for drinking and washing up came from a large (possibly plastic) container filled from a cold tap somewhere. We dug holes in the field for latrines. We probably didn’t bother too much with keeping clean.

There were no Health and Safety concerns as we know them today. We used axes for chopping wood for the fire and knives to make little gadgets. Scouts routinely carried an open sheath knife in its sheath.

I can also remember a weekend camp with our Scout patrol, without adult supervision, where we spent most of the time smoking. I didn’t inhale and never learned to do it properly. I gave up smoking after that – at the age of fifteen.

Church Parade

It was a time when the military aspect of life was still more prominent with post-war patriotism. Conscription and National Service only ended in 1960. We had CCF (Combined Cadet Force) at school. Scouts were not military but they were patriotic.

Every month on the first Sunday of the month we had Church Parade. All the Cubs and Scouts (and Guides and Brownies) paraded in uniform and processed into the normal Church morning service of Matins. We were led by proudly carried national flags.

I tried to find suitable pictures but I don’t want Scouts in long trousers with their hands in their pockets. (We were never allowed to do that even at school.)

I think there is just enough left for one more about St Andrew’s …



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[91] Sing, Choirs of Angels …

It’s time for the next blog about St Andrew’s Church and I’m going to start with a look at typical services there in the sixties.


It won’t surprise you, after reading about Religion when I was younger, to find out that services always followed the Book of Common Prayer. In those days there was no alternative liturgy available. Every Sunday there were the two main services of Matins (at 11:00 am) and Evensong (at 6:30 pm) with everything according to the book. More details will come when I look at the Choir.

The only other services were Holy Communion and occasional Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals – all according to Common Prayer – and one or two special services through the Church Year. There were the same services every Easter (including Good Friday), Whitsun, Ascension Day and Christmas.


It also won’t surprise you that we always used the Authorized Version of the Bible and all or hymns were from Hymns Ancient and Modern.

(The first replacement to the Authorized Version came with the Good News Bible, available for the New Testament from the late sixties. The Alternative Service Book came in 1980, originally as an alternative to the Book of Common Prayer, but soon almost a complete replacement. There are many more even more modern versions of both now!)

I don’t think we actually went to these services. Mum and Dad were not churchgoers so I don’t know why we formed such a close link. We certainly always received the monthly Parish Magazine.

Mothers’ Union

The church then had several clubs and societies meeting regularly in the Church Hall. There was a Youth Club, Young Wives Fellowship, Mothers’ Union and S.A.M.S., the Men’s society.

The Mothers’ Union is an international Christian charity that seeks to support families worldwide. According to Wikipedia, its members are not all mothers or even all women, as there are many parents, men, widows, singles and grandparents involved in its work. I suspect that in the sixties it was mainly (if not all) women. It main aim is to support monogamous marriage and family life.

Mum joined the Mothers’ Union as soon as we moved to the parish. I can’t remember much about how this was managed – perhaps there were afternoon meetings when Nan could look after us. But she did make some very close friends through it. In those days just about the only thing they could do as friends was to meet at each other’s houses for a cup of tea and a biscuit. (There was no coffee shop culture and in any case Mum couldn’t drive anywhere.)

Sunday School

I am going to look at several activities associated with the church. I’m not sure I can remember the ages at which we were involved so these may not come in chronological order

We did go to Sunday School as young children – I think from when we first moved to our second house. This was from 3 to 4 in the afternoon in the Church Hall. I don’t know how or why this was arranged. Maybe it was to give Mum and Dad some time without us at home. We walked to the church.


At some stage when we still went to Highlands School there was a group for children that met every Thursday evening called Discoverers. This short for ‘Discoverers of the Way,’ and it was a bit like Sunday School, based on Bible stories – with art and craft activities.


I must have joined the church choir at about the age of nine and I can remember some of the details of how it happened. My younger brother somehow volunteered to join and he came home and told us something about it. They had been learning to sing the well-known anthem about ‘highly flavoured gravy,’ which was, of course the Christmas Carol, ‘The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came,’ recounting part of the Magnificat, and the actual words were, “Most Highly Favoured Lady.”

This very well-known anthem recounts how Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus:

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,

his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;

“All hail”, said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,

most highly favoured lady.” Gloria.

Within a matter of weeks I had joined, with my twin brother and the younger brother had left. I think have always enjoyed singing and I enjoyed everything about the choir. I stayed for a few years until my voice broke (at about twelve.)

The choir sang at the main services (Matins and Evensong) every Sunday and we filled the choir stalls of the church – two rows each side. They were not ‘left’ and ‘right.’ They were always Cantoris and Decani. The front rows were boy trebles and the back rows were men, mostly bass and tenor with about two altos each side. The men seemed to be permanent features – I don’t remember their membership ever changing. (And there were no women or girls. I suspect that this aspect has changed now.)

14 year old chorister Aled Jones at St Edmundsbury Cathedral today 25/4/85.

We wore robes – a long, plain blue cassock, white surplice and ruff, but for choir practice it was just a cassock. [Yes, it’s red in the picture but we had blue ones.] Our robes were in the Wilson Room in the Church Hall. We would move to the vestry for services and join the vicar to walk to the back of the church. We would process into the church as we sang the first verse of the first hymn.

The service followed a formal structure and the choir was part of that formality. For each hymn the organist would play an introduction and the choir stood en masse on the first note from the organ. There were notices (mostly banns of marriage) but apart from these the vicar never said a word that did not follow the standard liturgy. For the sermon, delivered from the pulpit, the choirboys sat in the front rows with the congregation – supposedly so that they could listen attentively.

(The liturgy is actually quite complex with wording changing within seven days of Easter, Christmas and other dates. It’s all in Common Prayer.)

In our weekly practice we learned how to sing properly, how to breathe properly for hymns and how to read the complex notation for Psalms. (The trouble with Psalms is that the words of each verse can be of any length with variations of stress and metre. The same music, which covered two verses, just repeated.) Everything was in four part harmony but some verses of some hymns were marked for unison. Just occasionally the trebles had a descant for one verse of a hymn – such as the well-known one for verse three of O Come All ye Faithful: ‘Sing, choirs of Angels …’

I don’t know how others coped but I had the advantage of being able to read music. In later life I came back to singing choral music and for a few years sang in a chapel choir as a bass.

We did actually get paid in the choir. Every quarter (thirteen weeks) we were each given a little brown envelope containing … about 7s 6d. (Yes, that’s 37½p in modern money for singing 26 times!) The amounts were variable and we all seemed to get different amounts. It must have depended on attendance and quality of singing but were never told how it was worked out. And, of course, we never asked.

Weddings were a bonus but there were only a few each year. They were nearly always on a Saturday morning and we were asked if we could attend. For each wedding we were paid two shillings. (That’s 10p! It was a lot to us then) Just occasionally the bridegroom must have felt generous and we would get 2s 6d. It will not surprise you that the service always followed the Book of Common Prayer rigidly.


The choir just about had enough time in the weekly practice to cover hymns and psalms for the next Sunday and we only occasionally sang an anthem. My of my favourite anthem was All in an April Evening, which I have listed in my first Music blog. We probably only sang it twice. (It’s about Easter but has to come in a year when Easter is late to fit the April setting.)

All in the April morning, April airs were abroad; The sheep with their little lambs – Pass’d me by on the road. The sheep with their little lambs – Pass’d me by on the road; All in an April evening – I thought on the Lamb of God. …



[89] Honour Thy father and Thy Mother

After [69] Elizabeth Martha about my grandmother, I was going to do one about Mum and one about Dad. But I have decided to do a combined one. I think they would both appreciate that.

With Nan, I ended up to some extent describing the typical old person of the time. Inevitably much of what I can say about Mum is as a typical housewife, and in many ways Dad was also typical of the time. Those who don’t know me can see it as a general description of a working man and a housewife in the fifties and sixties – but I will also cover their earlier and later lives as far as I can. It’s going to be a bit rambling.

Early Days

I think people used to say very little about themselves to their children so I know very little about either Mum or Dad before I grew up, almost nothing about Dad.

You have read how Nan had just one child, my mother. I am not giving full names, in order to remain fairly anonymous, but my Mother’s initials before she married were E. E. E. It was always said that Nan had chosen names so that she would have a life of ‘ease.’ I don’t think this policy worked. (Nan was always very superstitious about many things.)

You will have to bear with me as I call these two people by the only names we ever used – at least until Dad got much older. When Dad and Mum talked to each other or about each other they were always ‘Dad’ or ‘Mum.’ To us these were their names. We did know their real names but they were never used. (This is one reason why my children always call me Alan, not Dad. See [48] Nicknames)

Mum was brought up as an only child. She was about eight when her father died. Almost all I know of her early life came from an essay she wrote at school. I think it was two sheets of paper and she kept it pressed in a book. I read it several times. It was about the restorative effects of a cup of tea! It was based on two of her early memories. One of these was being told at school that her father had died – she was taken to the Headmistress’s office and was offered a cup of tea. The other was finding out that she had passed the scholarship exam which took her to a secondary school (long before the Grammar Schools of my day.) She was the first ever from her school to achieve this success. Another cup of tea.

Dad came from a family of seven children. One died in the flu epidemic of 1918, described by Wikipedia as one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. I remember just once seeing his mother and several relatives, when very young. It was a gathering at our house that I learned much later was a farewell to one of his brothers, who was just about to emigrate to Canada.

Apart from the people they grew up to be later, that’s all I know about my parents before the War.

The War (The Thirties and Forties)

I have done some research on our family tree. Both of my parents came from working class families from the densely populated areas of Mile End, Bethnal Green and Stepney (East London) and that’s the general area where they lived. Dad went to school at Raine’s Foundation in Bethnal Green.

I can add just a little from odd comments I have picked up about their early life – not amounting to much.


At one stage Mum worked for Ever Ready Batteries, presumably before they married. This may mean that she worked in a factory but I don’t know and I’m not sure if it’s where they met.

They married in 1937 in Stepney. I do know that under the feminist rules that existed then, she would automatically lose her job on marriage. So they chose to hide it from her colleagues and friends at work.

I think they continued to live in the East London area but I’m not sure. I do know that in the War, Mum worked for the London Fire Service. I presume that this was as a volunteer when bombs fell in the War.

My early memories of Dad were that he worked in some way in the process of buying vegetables, maybe from the central market in London. I have to assume that he had always worked in this area. I don’t know his actual job but in the War he was in a protected job and was not called up for National Service. He would have been 27 when the War started.

My elder brother, their first child, was born in 1942. After that, somehow they realized that although Dad had not been called up he could nevertheless volunteer. So he did.


He served in the Far East and the only place he ever mentioned was Burma (now Myanmar.) I think he was what GCHQ would have called a Radio Operator – intercepting Morse code. He mentioned once that Burmese had extra letters in Morse but had forgotten them after the War. I remember once seeing pictures of him but I don’t know what happened to them. There was one with him and another airman holding a flying fox between them.

I was born shortly after the end of the War in the population explosion of the Bulge.

My Early Memories (The Fifties and Sixties)

Dad was a typical working man of the time, whose wife stayed home and looked after the house and family. When I was very young I think he worked in London, presumably travelling in the Underground trains. He came home after our tea time, always carry an Evening Standard and Evening News.

He did nothing to help with the housework. Men didn’t do such things then. When he arrived home he would sit at the table and Mum would bring his evening meal, which had been kept warm in the oven.

In the evening he would read the papers and watch television. Our bookcase contained some interesting introductory books about astronomy and nuclear physics and other reference books – but I never saw my father read a book.

From my earliest memories, he used to polish his black leather shoes every evening. He wore a white shirt that lasted a week, with removable starched collars. Every week a box of dirty collars went to Collars Ltd and a box of clean ones came back.


He smoked almost constantly, Players Navy Cut, and would position himself often so that smoke went up the chimney with the coal fire. He knew it was bad for him and warned us against him. Often he said that every cigarette was a ‘nail in his coffin.’ (I’m not sure when he gave it up. I think I was about ten or twelve. As far as we noticed, he just stopped.)

From the time we moved to our second house, when I was about nine, he clearly saw it as his side of things to look after the house and garden. He spent much of his time, including weekends, decorating inside or gardening outside.

As well as wallpapering and decorating the rooms, he covered all the doors in hardwood and painted them to make flushed doors and enclosed the bannister in the same way. I remember being send to the hardware shop for hardboard. It was 7p per square foot if bought as a whole board (I think two by four feet) or 8p per square foot if cut to order.

What he did in the garden was perhaps more impressive. He put down a rectangular path made of cement panels in two colours. He had to make a framework of wood and mixed and prepared all the cement. (There was no cement mixer, just a bucket to measure the water and a spade to mix cement, sand and water.)

Then he put down a lawn using individual grass plants – not turf or seeds! It was a hot summer with a hosepipe ban in force and I can remember Mum taking a washing up bowl of water backwards and forwards to stop the grass dying from the heat.


Apart from his cigarettes I can’t remember him having any other luxuries. His preferred confectionery was Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts, but I often thought he would give them as a suggestion for birthday presents rather than saying nothing.


Mum was a typical housewife and did the things that housewives had to do – shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, child care and management.

Much has been covered or is yet to come in other posts.


As well as our day-to-day food, she made marmalade and baked cakes. For Christmas and birthdays she would cover cakes with marzipan, plain white icing and decorations include hand-written greetings. We had birthday candles on the cakes.

I have written about Mrs Dale (a very early predecessor of Eastenders!) and Mum’s tea breaks. She would stop for elevenses and a cup of Ty-Phoo. The dining room sideboard was nearly full of tea she bought an extra packet each week, presumably remembering the rationing of the War.

She had two other luxuries. A copy of Woman magazine every week was read from cover to cover – you can read a little about this in Blog [60], which is about my early life.


And I have to repeat from a very recent picture blog, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate, a very occasional luxury, broken into squares and shared with the children.


This is probably a generalization of the time but for most of her married life, Mum didn’t really have any money. It was largely a cash society and she certainly didn’t have a bank account. Dad would give her money each week for housekeeping to feed and clothe the children. Technically she had no money for her own use – for clothes or even make-up. (I suspect she didn’t wear much make-up.) It was all included in the one allowance. She used to take Dad with her to the shops to pick new dresses – as birthday or Christmas presents.

This sounds harsh but it was the way things were. I’m sure in their later life, when they were better off, things may have changed.


More about Mum and Dad

As I found when trying to remember Christmas, when you remember something repetitive from the past it’s hard to be precise as to when it happened. Some of the following random thoughts were definitely from the fifties or sixties, but some I’m not so sure about.

In the early days with so many children, Dad would shave downstairs in the kitchen with an old-fashioned razor blade and shaving soap. His large shaving mirror was always on the window sill.

Certainly from the fifties whenever Dad left for work, the last things he did before leaving were always the same. He would find Mum, ask her: “Anything else?” and give her a kiss. I think this always continued and I think there was another kiss on coming home (but somehow memory here is not quite so clear.) It was not a romantic kiss, it was a peck. It was the only sign of affection I ever saw between them.

I never doubted the love between them but it led me to believe that romance was not something to take place in public. Those who know me well will know that I don’t like watching people kiss properly in films or television – it feels like an invasion of privacy – I don’t do it.

You have heard me talk of Dad as being something in the greengrocery trade, probably in fairly central London. At some stage he left this job. (I think I was maybe about twelve.) He set up as a private business selling stainless steel cutlery – using his contacts in London Hotels. It was about the time that stainless steel was becoming fashionable and reasonably cheap. That lasted a couple of years and then he became a sales representative, supplying frozen foods to the catering trade.

That had two affects. Dad spent most of his work time travelling and so the household now had a car. And we may have had access to frozen foods before other people. We would always get to try new products so that Dad could give an honest opinion.

They were a couple who kept together with almost no individual hobbies. Mum had the Mothers Union, which we will come to in the next St Andrew’s blog, and Dad had the Freemasons. (When Dad had a Lodge meeting he would be late home, too late for a cooked meal so he had a plate of ham sandwiches prepared by Mum earlier.)

We were never well off, perhaps because there were so many children in the family. When ICHS announced in assembly a trip or school skiing holiday, we soon learned not to ask at home. The money required would not be available.

The only element of luxury in their lives came from the Freemasons. They had an annual Ladies Night dinner and dance with very formal black tie and long dresses. Mum even had a fur coat for this winter event (long before fur was seen in quite the way it is now.) I went with them to one or two such nights when we were older.

Some of their lives was regular routine. Mum used to have a weekly rota when laundry would take most of a day (twice a week with so many young children.) So clothes washing, ironing, house cleaning each took a regular daily slot.

Every day ended with some relaxation. It didn’t end with the last meal. There was dishwashing and clearing up. Eight o’clock on the dot was coffee time. For the sixties one of the children would do it for them. It was Nescafe instant coffee made entirely with warm milk, heated carefully on the gas stove. (You had to stop just as or before it started to boil over.) I can’t imagine drinking coffee like that now but we did then.

I have memories of them doing the crossword from the paper every evening. This is a memory so firmly attached to later life that I am not sure how or when it started. Both were good at cryptic clues, especially Dad, and they also did very well with General Knowledge. There was of course no Internet to help them.

Baths were scheduled carefully when all we had was an immersion heater. Dad had one every Saturday evening – a habit that continued until he died (well into his nineties.)

There are one or two memories – like Sunday Tea – that merit special attention and will come later.

I know this has been a bit rambling. With a few odds and ends to come I have to mention something Mum said when aged about seventy. For some reason Dad was staying away overnight at a hotel. Mum said she was apprehensive because she had never slept in a room on her own! (As a child she slept with her widowed mother, then she married. When Dad went to the War she had her first child, my older brother, with her.)

School Reports

The other thing I think we all remember about our early years is the reception of School Reports. With the best will in the World Dad knew how difficult life could be and wanted us all to do well – and he felt that good performance at school was very important. He wanted us to have good reports.

We would all have them on the same day, the last day of term and give them to him with some trepidation. He almost ignored the examination results and looked at ‘Conduct’ – and was not happy with ‘Fair.’ He wanted ‘Good’ or ‘Very good.’ (Reports rarely had more than just one word here.)

One bad report out of six sometimes seemed to put him in a bad mood.

But these were the only times he was ever anyway near angry. He was generally even-tempered and never used anything remotely like bad language.


Horse racing

When we were young Dad did the Football Pools but his real hobby was following and betting on horse racing. He had an account which enabled him to bet by telephone and he would follow the racing every Saturday afternoon on television. Between races he would go upstairs to phone in his bets. Apart from the story of our house deposit he never mentioned it but I would presume two things. Firstly, he would not waste money. I think he allowed himself a small amount and kept to it – maybe 2s 6d for each race. (That’s 12.5p) And secondly, he was very intelligent and studied form. I suspect he came out not far from being in profit. Perhaps he had several success stories!


They were, of course, the best parents anyone could ever want and I miss them both. Both worked hard for most of their lives and were devoted to looking after each other and their six children in times that were sometimes difficult. They tried to be scrupulously fair to us without having favourites.

So much of what I remember is typical of men and women of the time. I knew very little of Dad’s mum but they used to visit her every month and give her money. That was people did then – look after aging parents.

When Dad reached the age of 65 he retired and they moved away from London. Their roles changed with the times and Dad gradually mellowed and took on more housework. He was the focal point of a large family of children and grandchildren who would sometimes gather together.

It only became obvious after Mum died how much Dad had loved her and depended on her company.

I miss them both. In these blogs I have talked of three older people who were very important in my early life – Nan, Mum and Dad. I have to mention one other, just as fondly remembered, who came into my life in the sixties – but I will say no more about Ella.


For those who haven’t recognized it the title comes from the Ten Commandments – from the King James Bible:

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.