Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Growing up in Croxley Green

John Simpson, a friend of mine from Croxley Green and school days at Watford Grammar School in the sixties, recently kindly gave me a copy of "Out & About in Croxley Green" by John Pilgrim (published by Alpine Press in 2007; ISBN 978-0-9528631-8-2).  John Pilgrim is a writer and broadcaster (especially on Three Counties radio) who grew up in Croxley. His book is a wonderful blend of the general history of Croxley Green and his own personal experiences growing up there. Pilgrim is seven years older than me but much of what he has written resonates very strongly with my own upbringing in the village. But it turns out that his days and mine ran on slightly parallel lines. He went to school at Malvern Way and Rickmansworth Grammar - I went to Harvey Road and Watford Grammar.  He went to St Oswald's church - I went to All Saints.  He played at Baldwin's Lane recreation ground - I was at Barton Way. He used to like going down by the river Gade - I gravitated towards the river Chess.  So I thought I would put together a short blog to complement his book with a few of my own stories. Here goes!

I was born in Watford in 1949 and for the first couple of years my parents and I lived in a house called The Bungalow just off Vicarage Road.  My father's family were builders and the Bungalow was attached to the builders' yard which was at the back of the building. Later on I must spend some time researching them but not now as this blog is about Croxley Green.

When I was two my parents moved us to a house in Watford Road, Croxley Green - number 88, a semi-detached house on the corner of Harvey Road. They were able to afford it as my father's mother ("Grannie") also lived with us and she had obviously put some money into it too.

Like most people I have only vague memories of my very early years.  I do remember being taken for walks in a pram on the green (up past the Artichoke and Coach and Horses pubs).  I was told later by my mother that I had startled her friend Doris Hunt who was with us by making an observation one day that the street lights had been changed! Before I started school proper I went a couple of times a week to a nursery school on the Cassiobury Park estate where I can remember playing in a sandpit.

In 1953 I was joined by my little brother Andy. I well remember the day when my father and I went in a taxi to collect my mother and the new baby from the nursing home in North Watford.  Growing up with Andy was great. Although we are different in many ways (he has always been better than me at any sport you care to name!) it was lovely to have someone to play with. Of course we had a few differences from time to time - he was the naughty cheeky boy and I was the more serious "goody-goody" there were never any major problem between us and I think he shares many of the good times that we had together in Croxley.

My first real school was Yorke Road Infants school.  The school is no longer there, although I understand that recently it has been converted tastefully into new housing following protracted arguments about the future of the site.  Unlike John Pilgrim I always enjoyed my time at school. I met new friends, several of whom came with me first to Harvey Road Primary school and then on to Watford Grammar School - Alan Rawlinson and Graham Horwood particularly come to mind.  I have a class photo from Yorke Road - that is me third from the left in the front row with Graham second from the right in the front row. I can't be sure of the teacher's name - it might have been Mrs. Graver. And all those girls. 

Here are a few more pictures from my early years. First, an individual picture of me at Yorke Road, then one of Andy and me on a visit to see Father Christmas, I think in either Clements or Cawdells store in Watford.  Then a picure of me on the beach with a bucket and spade somewhere. We used to go on holiday every year, mainly to Sandbanks in Dorset or Bexhill in Sussex. 

 My parents said they always wanted us to have a holiday but if the truth be told I would rather have stayed in Croxley Green where I could play with my friends at the rec or in the woods or later, get out and about on my bike. This was probably partly because, in the fifties we would always have Grannie with us, and also family friend "Auntie" Edie (she was not related but a family friend from Denmark Street in Watford who came over on the 321 bus to visit us every Thursday). On several holidays we also had family friends the Boundys. Les Boundy was an international rugby referee but I always found him to be a bit of a gruff and intimidating character. His wife Mollie was warmer but their daughter Mary and I were expected to play together, something that neither of us fully appreciated!

Back in Croxley too I was expected to play with Mary Makinson who lived with her parents in the first house in Harvey Road which backed on to ours. I had nothing against girls, indeed when I got to Harvey Road school some of my closest friends were girls. It is just that you want to choose your friends, not have them forced upon you because your parents happen to be friends. Although it can sometimes be fine as you will see later in my story when the Sharps of Yorke Road come into the picture.

So after Yorke Road school I moved to Harvey Road County Primary School, as I believe it was called. Here I made many more new friends including Lee Harvey - and a few girls (Christine Wells, Paula Spring, Shirley Lester and Linda Warwick come to mind). The Head Teacher, Mr. Ford, was a very nice man and set the tone very well for the school. In my final year there he took a few of the boys on a Youth Hostelling trip to the Peak District in Derbyshire. I can still remember us gathering at Croxley met station at the beginning of the railway journey that took us up to Miller's Dale.  It was a steam train of course and it was brilliant as it took us over viaducts with such gorgeous views.  The walks were of course very carefully planned to get us from one Youth Hostel to the next but Mr. Ford also had us apparently spontaneously meeting very nice ladies along the way who would invite us into their gardens for tea and cake.

Harvey Road School was housed in what were supposed to be temporary buildings put up in the war.  I expect they have new buildings there by now but we got on OK with what we had. We had some good teachers. One who particularly inspired me was Mrs. Rosen. She was much less maternalistic than some of the other female teachers and really encouraged us to think for ourselves. I later discovered that she was the mother of Michael Rosen, the children's novelist, poet, and trenchant critic of Mr. Gove and all that he stands for. One of my heroes (Rosen, not Gove!).  I also remember Mr. Tidder who took us for football and his catch phrase "You Can't Kick a Ball Through a Boy!"  

As I have noted in another of my blogs about folk music it was at Harvey Road School that I first got interested in folk.  We used to listen as a class to William Appleby's programme on the radio - "Singing Together".   We also did a bit of Country Dancing - poor old Leila Hobbs always seemed to get stuck with me as her partner. And some of the boys, including me, did Morris Dancing which we demonstrated at the Croxley Revels in May.

When I was eight I joined the choir at All Saints church. There was choir practice on Wednesday and Friday evenings under the guidance of our choir master Lou Horton. And three services on Sunday – Holy Communion at 9.45, Matins at 11, and Evensong at 6.30.  And other services on special days such as Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  And for a number of Saturdays there were weddings. And a bit later I was invited to join the so-called Angel Choir who had an extra practice at Lou Horton’s house on Saturday evenings with Tizer and Jusoda to drink.  This all took up a lot of time, especially in the summer when we added in Choir cricket on a Thursday night.

Another highlight for me at this time was going to Watford to see the football. My first match with the first team was in November 1958 when I saw a 1-1 draw with Reading in the FA Cup but I had been to a few reserve games before that. And living in Croxley I got to see the team close up as they used to train at the John Dickinson sports ground just off the Green. Ron Burgess became the manager and big Cliff Holton also had a lot of input into team tactics I recall. My friend Lee Harvey and I (among others) acted as unofficial ball-boys. My heroes were Mick Benning who, because he came from Croxley,was especially nice to us young lads, Bobby Bell the hard-tackling right-back from Scotland and Vince McNeice who played centre-half. I have been a fanatical Watford fan ever since, a season ticket holder in the Rookery despite living down in Hampshire since 1972.

Around this time we moved down the road from number 88 to number 29 Watford Road. This is a big semi-detached property just up the road from the Duke of York pub with a very large garden adjoining the back part of the grounds of Yorke Road school. So having lived close to Harvey Road school when I attended Yorke Road school I was now living near Yorke Road school and going to Harvey Road school. Not that the distance between the two was very far anyway!

The new house was great for us boys. There were plenty of rooms so we now had a bedroom each. Grannie had her own bedroom and toilet downstairs and there was a third floor flat that my parents let out to a series of young couples.  Best of all was the garden where we could play football and cricket, and we rigged up a tennis game where the ball was attached to a frame by elastic and you could give it a good old whack! We also had a swing. Andy and I were both given a bit of the garden to look after for ourselves. I remember being overjoyed when I got some runner beans to grow.

We had a cat called “Chocolate” or “Chocky” for short. It was basically black but in the sun its soft fur underneath showed up dark brown. For a while my father kept chickens and we also had a pet rabbit called “Whiskas”

The joys of growing up in the fifties and sixties in Croxley Green meant that for a lot of the time we were allowed out to play on our own, on the Green, down in Croxley woods and by the river Chess, playing football and cricket at Barton Way rec and later venturing further afield on our bikes to places like Sarratt or Langleybury.

In 1960 I passed the eleven-plus and secured a place at Watford Grammar School for Boys. I really wanted to go to Rickmansworth Grammar – the girls I knew were going there – but my father had been to Watford and he very much wanted me to go there too. Later Andy would join me there. Grannie died in the summer of 1960. She knew I had a place at Watford but didn’t live long enough to see me start. I must admit that I found the first year at Watford quite challenging. Going from being one of the brightest pupils in the Primary school to just one of a cohort of about 120 clever boys was a shock. We were addressed by our surnames not our Christian names. Everything was very formal. We had to play rugby rather than football which I didn’t like – I was still quite small and lightweight in those days. It didn’t help that my father had been a good rugby player and had carried on playing for the Old Fullerians, as the old boys team was called, until his late forties and several of the teachers had been in the team with him. I just didn’t measure up. Here is a picture of some of our class in my first year at Watford Grammar school when I was in form 3B. I am second from the back in the middle row.

But gradually I settled down at the grammar school making new friends to go with those who travelled with me to school on the train from Croxley Met to Watford every day – Graham Horwood, Alan Rawlinson and Lee Harvey to be joined by John Simpson who lived close to the Station on Valley Walk. To begin with the trains were brown slam door rolling stock but were later replaced by the silver trains. That was good because the brown trains had windows and we would sometimes get set upon by local lads who thought it was amusing to steal the caps from the “grammar grubs” and throw them out of the windows.

Two of my new friends from Watford are still good mates and I see them regularly at Vicarage Road – Dave March and Chris Turner.  They both lived the other side of Watford in Oxhey so the bikes were handy for us to visit each other. Dave sat behind me in class and would occasionally taunt me by poking me in the back with his ruler. But we were good mates and we later became dinner monitors together.

My mother had started working in the Watford Registrar Office as assistant to Harry Barlow who lived in Langleybury and I would cycle over to his place from time to time and enjoy a shandy with him in his local pub. Later my mother took over from him as Registrar but before that she had another part-time job as a librarian at Wall Hall Teacher Training College. Chris’s mother worked there for a while so that helped to cement our friendship. I remember going over to the college library when I was revising for my A levels.

In the summer after my A levels Chris and I, together with a couple of others from the school, teacher Dave Spearman, and lots of visiting students from Europe, attended an educational camp at Cuffley. It was a wonderful experience and just great before going off to Warwick University in October. I have a picture from the local paper of some of the group meeting with the then local MP Shirley Williams. That’s me at the front clinking tea mugs with Mrs. Williams. Chris is second from the right at the front, the other side of Mrs. Williams.

Throughout the sixties, as well as being part of the choir at All Saints church, I went to the church youth club. There I became very friendly with Ann Williams and Pat Wright. Ann went to Watford Girls Grammar School and we also started to go into the St Mary’s church youth club on Saturday nights – by now my voice had broken and I was no longer in the Angel Choir! Pat went to Rickmansworth Grammar school and fairly soon she became my first real girl-friend. We went to the cinema together, for long walks in the countryside – she even came to the football with me!  The relationship never survived when I went to university but we continued to remain friends. Both Pat and Ann have become Church of England vicars while I have rather lost my faith.

I can’t complete an account of my childhood in Croxley Green without telling you about my good friend Ron Sharp. Ron’s grandmother, known to us only as Mrs. Sharpe, lived in Yorke Road with her daughter Daphne. Ron was the eldest of three brothers (the others being Stephen and Michael). Sadly at some point their mother had passed away and they went to boarding school in Essex close to where their father lived and worked. But in the school holidays they lived with their grandmother in Yorke Road, which of course was only just round the corner from us. Ron and I became great friends and, as I have recounted in another blog, we learned to play the guitar together and had lots of fun jamming sessions together in the downstairs front room at number 29 – what had been Grannie’s bedroom was now mine.  Before that the three brothers also joined the church choir and I vividly remember Ron coming to my rescue when one winter’s day I came under snowball attack from another member of the choir. I know who he was but it is a long time ago and I shall leave it at that!


  1. Grillo's Ice Cream story from the Watford Observer

  2. Dear Guy, we are currently halfway through creating a local history website for Croxley Green and would dearly like to add the information above to the "memories" section. Please can you let me know if you are willing to share your memories?
    With kind regards