A Knight’s Tale (26: Town Halls, Trams, And Trolley Buses)

We were dependent in those days on trolley buses to take us to school or the first leg of the journey to Auntie Gwen’s. From Merton’s splendid Art Deco Town Hall we would take a tram to Latimer Road, and occasionally continue along Wimbledon Broadway by tram.

Years later I was to discover that the hand carved fitted furniture for the above-mentioned building had been removed when its inside was gutted to accommodate the current Tesco supermarket. Only the facade remains. The solid oak curved fittings were transferred to the mayor’s rooms in the ’60s tower block that now houses council offices. Needless to say they fitted in neither sense of the word.

It is perhaps no coincidence that I watched the removal of a splendid wood panelled staircase and its circular landing smashed up and removed from what had been my Social Services Area Office to make way for the aluminium and laminate structures of the Westminster Council Leader, Tesco heiress, Dame Shirley Porter’s “One Stop Shop” in the 1980s. This had been a Victorian Town Hall.

Now to return to the trolley buses.

(Photo: David Bradley Online)

Trolley buses were a post tram invention, utilising overhead wires providing the current which was fed to the buses through long connecting rods.  These were much longer than the links used by today’s Intercity trains.  Much delight was taken by all us children when the rods became dislodged.  It was a major undertaking to reposition them, which was an entertainment in itself, and, of course, if it happened at the right time and in the right direction, the bus couldn’t take us to school.  In modern football parlance I’d say that was a result.

These buses ran along Worple Road, providing a transport link between Wimbledon and Raynes Park.  Until the early 1950s Wimbledon sported both trolley buses and trams.

(Photo by Norman Hurford, 1950, scanned by Peter Brabham on Flickr.)

I am proud of a story featuring my paternal grandfather, John Francis Cecil Knight, who was walking alongside one of these open-topped vehicles during the early 20th century. A man on the upstairs deck gobbed overboard. The phlegm landed on Grandpa’s sleeve. He jumped on the tram, ran upstairs, and made the offender wipe off his deposit.

These were the days when you could freely board public transport on the move.

Trams have been widely reintroduced in England. Those between Wimbledon and Croydon make use in part of disused railway tracks.  They do not glide down Wimbledon Broadway as did the early trams of my boyhood.

In May 2012, whilst waiting on a red light at the ungated level crossing being approached by a tram in each direction I sensed that a young oriental jogger was going to continue on through the path of the trams.  She didn’t look from side to side and ignored the light.  I held up my hand indicating that she should stop. She took no apparent notice of me, glanced to her left, and ran on.  The tram that was the most dangerous missed her.  She was wearing specs with very thick lenses.  Maybe she couldn’t see.  Maybe she had confidence in her speed.

Wimbledon (Last Facebook Diary Entry)

Here is the last of my Facebook diary entries, from 8th May 2012. The following day I turned to WordPress:

Having broken not one but two cafetiere glasses last week I walked to Wimbledon and back in search of new ones. Wimbledon, land of Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero. Wimbledon, where, in my childhood, you could smell coffee roasted and being ground in a shop along the broadway where I rode the last of the original trams to run in London in the early 50s. Wimbledon, where Centre Court is a modern shopping mall sporting, among other outlets, Whittards (of Chelsea) where I bought the replacement glasses. Centre Court is alongside the grand 30s Town Hall of my youth which is now a Tescos.

Nothing stands still, said Heraclitus.

On the way there, in Mostyn Road, I exchanged ‘good morning’s with a man who looked so like Stan Laurel that I half expected him to scratch his head in the comedian’s idiosyncratic way.

After a fry-up in the Mica Cafe (Wimbledon’s best , if you don’t go up the hill to Wimbledon Village where a fry-up is a full English breakfast) I returned by a circuitous route involving Dorset Road, Circle Gardens, and Mostyn Road.

This evening Jackie and I ate at the Watch Me, our favourite Sri Lankan restaurant on Morden Road.

Full Marks To Globe Removals

Tomas and Roland

Phew!  The move from Sutherland Place has been completed.  Tomas and Roland, two very personable Lithuanian born young men did an amazing job and were excellent company.  How they managed to carry all the book-filled boxes up from the basement I could only marvel at.  My Dad was an excellent van-packer.  He would have been very proud of the way Tomas masterminded this process.  The original plan had been to work two trips, one to Michael’s Wimbledon House with the furniture, return to Sutherland Place, and then take the books to Minstead.  They wanted to do it in one.  This needed very tight work.  It was done.

I ran out of boxes.  Tomas brought two from the van.  I ran out of tape.  I bought some more in Westbourne Grove.  On the way I saw a three-legged cat deftly avoiding one of the multitude of doggie bags that litter the streets of W2.  These, you must understand, are not filled with food people couldn’t eat in restaurants.  They contain scooped up dog shit which local canine owners consider is acceptable to chuck in the gutter for roadsweepers to clear up.

With the van loaded and number 29 locked up I duly delivered the keys Roger Berwick had brought me on Saturday to Vera Williams in Talbot Street.  The men invited me to ride in the van, which was a great help to me and meant they didn’t have to wait in Minstead for my arrival.

The only hitch in all this process was caused by the cash machines.  I walked round to Sainsbury’s in Westbourne Grove.  Their ATM was out of order.  That didn’t particularly bother me, because there were lots of banks in Wimbledon.  Having introduced my removers to Michael and Matthew, I left them to unload, saying I would be back in a few minutes with the cash.  Santander was the nearest.  Intending to give these stalwarts a generous tip I needed £500.  Their machine showed a top figure of £400.  They also offered an additional transaction.  So I elected to follow the £400 withdrawal with one for £100.  It seemed logical.  I got £100 and a receipt which informed me I could have £200 more.  I went inside and reported this to the help desk.  I was told their machines only supplied £300.  ‘But there is an option for £400’, I said.  ‘That’s for special customers’, was the reply.

I then visited NatWest’s cash dispenser.  This one gave me a slip that bore the message that I could only have £200.  There was nothing for it but to join a lengthy queue.  No-one attaches themselves to the end of one of those unless they have a problem.  So it took a rather long time.  One exasperated young woman lost patience and left, so that moved me up one.  There was, of course, no problem at the counter.  The cashier offered to increase my ATM withdrawal limit to a ridiculously high sum.  He persisted in his offer, suggesting it would save me queueing.  He had a point so I reduced his proposed figure and accepted his generosity.  This also took more than a little time.

On the way back to the house a small boy dropped a letter.  His mother didn’t notice and seemed not to hear him telling her of this.  I bent to pick it up.  That is a very simple sentence.  The manoeuvre was not.  At the best of times getting down there is a somewhat painful business these days.  After a weekend spent packing it is less than easy.  And envelopes lie flat on the pavement so you have to get your fingers underneath them.  In Wimbledon Broadway this procedure has to be carried out while most of the world is streaming past you in haste, and is made more hazardous when you don’t have brake lights attached to your backside.  Anyway, I did it.  The boy was most grateful.  I’m not sure his mother was exactly delighted at its return.

I arrived back just in time to move on to Minstead.  Tomas completed the journey in an hour and a half, including stopping for petrol.  I thought that quite impressive.  They unloaded at admirable speed and were soon off back to where they had come from.

Globe Removals 11.12

Andy Bricks, of Globe Removals had moved us from Morden on 11th November last year.  It was on the strength of that experience I chose to use them again.  They are to be highly  recommended, as being punctual, efficient, reliable, and very reasonably priced.

Falling asleep at the end of the day, I just about managed this piece of work.  Jackie had driven us to Ringford where we had a look at the outside of a house.  Excellent curries were consumed.

As I staggered to bed I realised I hadn’t mentioned that we visited the Curry Garden, so I opened up the computer again to put that right.  The bit about the outside of a house is rubbish, as is Ringford – it should be Ringwood.  I must have been actually dreaming when I wrote that.  At least I got the curry bit right.  Well, I have been up for eighteen hours, and had quite a busy day, finished off with two pints of cobra with the meal. I’m going back to sleep now.

Auntie Gwen

As I set off in the drizzle to take a walk down the memory lane that is Wimbledon Broadway I thought that my insistence on wearing my summer sandals in this washout of a June was sheer stubbornnes.  (On re-reading this I realise it’s not June, it’s July.  But then you’d never know the difference).  Nevertheless I soon got very warm in my protective clothing and was sweating as I had done in the old YMCA in my thirties when I first took up weight training.  Along the Broadway I was to pass the modern replacement building.

The owner of the tortoise ( see Brendan, 26th. June) discovered in Maycross Avenue was still being sought.  Outside the Bowls and Croquet Club in Mostyn Road the clash of mallet on ball alerted me to the fact that a game of croquet was in progress.

We had played croquet on the lawn at Lindum House where, under Jessica’s tuition, I had learned what a vicious game this gentle-seeming English tradition can be.  This green wasn’t surrounded by the shrubbery into which she had delighted in sending her opponent’s ball.

On the pavement in Hartfield Road an African woman was standing calmly filing her nails.

Throughout my youth, Sir Cyril Black was Conservative MP for Wimbledon (in the days before it was subsumed into the London Borough of Merton.  The bus station is now situated in the street which bears his name, as is Morrisons supermarket which did not exist then, and once was a purely Northern chain.  The sign looked as if a bus had run into it.

Walking along the Broadway I could still hear the glide of the trams (see post of 17th. May) which were the last of the early ones to run in London.  I could smell the coffee roasting in the specialist shop, long since gone.  I passed Russel Road, with Wimbledon Theatre on one corner, where I had attended St. Mary’s primary school (see The Bees, 29th. May).

Hawes Estate agent, I think, is on the site of De Marco’s ice cream parlour and MoneyGram was once a shop selling holy pictures and other mementos.  A sign of changing priorities, no doubt.  Eventually I reached my goal, 9 Latimer Road, the upper floors of which, my godmother, Auntie Gwen shared with her friend Mary Jeffries for many years.

Apart from my parents, it is Auntie Gwen I have to thank for surviving my infancy.  One evening when she was babysitting Chris and me, I am told, we decided to play in an upright roll of lino.  Somehow or other I managed to get my head stuck in the top of it.  There was I, hanging by my chin, my body dangling in the tied up tube.  There was Chris, screaming his head off (he must have feared I was about to be decapitated).  Enter Gwen to the rescue.  She heaved the roll onto the floor and extracted the gasping child.  Apparently I had actually stopped breathing and gone all blue.

When we were very small she would cycle every Saturday to our home in Raynes Park bearing goodies.  I remember eagerly awaiting sets of transfers which could be applied to paper or skin.  They were very flimsy and had to be oh so carefully soaked off in water.  An example was a set of butterflies.

As we became old enough to travel alone we would visit her every Sunday morning for breakfast after Mass (see Miss Downs, 25th. May).  Maybe that’s where I get my penchant for fry-ups from.  After a full English we dunked so many digestive biscuits into our coffee that you could stand a spoon up in it.  When Gwen could no longer do the entertaining I visited her for a weekly chat well into my adulthood.  She kept every present I ever gave her.

Next door to the house in the right of the picture stands Wimbledon Public Baths which is now a leisure centre.  It was there in 1952 that I taught myself to swim.  I needed to do this in order to pass the scholarship.  This was a name applied to the eleven plus exam which would take us to grammar school.  I had no idea what it was, but I wondered how I would be able to pass it if I couldn’t swim.  With that daft conception in my head it is a wonder I did pass it.  Without getting wet.

On my route back, up Morden Road, I passed the industrial estate.  This took me back to my fifteenth summer, when, at the beginning of the school holidays I had tramped the burning streets between there and Raynes Park in search of a holiday job.  I landed one in a printing works where my task was to produce glossy brochures.  It was there that a beautiful girl told me that I looked like Tony Curtis.  Not sure whether that was a compliment or not, the gauche teenager I then was had no inkling of the opportunity I’d obviously missed out on.  Ah, well.  I’ve made up for it since.

Leaving the main road I went along Dorset Road and through Kendor Gardens.  As I entered this park, a man clearing up the grass said: ‘You ain’t from the Council are ya.’  ‘Not likely’, said I, ‘Not when I’m bursting for a pee and the Gents is like that.’

In the circumstances I considered that the word weed was rather unfortunate.  Sadly, most of these amenities are similarly boarded up.  Further into the park, as a little terrier cocked his leg, I reflected ‘It’s allright for them’.

The scent of privet on the footpath leading to the Civic Centre was stronger than the smell of urine.

This afternoon I completed the clueing of an Independent cryptic crossword and sent it off.  It will appear on 12th. July.

Becky sent me a picture of the repast she was to have this evening which would be Cow & Gate’s Grandpa’s Sunday Lunch, no doubt accompanied by flat Diet Coke.  We had roast duck (the first time I’ve done it) accompanied, in my case, by  the rest of last night’s rioja, in Jackie’s, the rest of her bottle of Hoegaarden (I do believe I’ve got the spelling right this time).