Tag Archives: Phyllis Willmott

Children’s Play in Lee Between the Wars

A while ago Running Past delved into the first volume of the autobiography of Phyllis Willmott who grew up in Lampmead Road in Lee, looking at the Sunday Constitutional that she and her siblings went on with the adult male members of her extended family. We return to ‘Growing Up in a London Village,’ to explore her recollections of play around 90 years ago.

Memoirs like this from the period are rare, as Willmott herself noted ‘(Working class) families seldom write letters; they do no keep diaries or publish books;’ traditions were oral (1).

The house at 49 Lampmead Road was overcrowded by modern standards, although as noted in the posts on Ardmere Road, for working class families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the area, this was not uncommon. It was rented by Phyllis grandparents who had the large front bedroom as well two uncles and a cousin who shared the rear living room. Phyllis mother and father, Harriet and Alec, shared the smaller second floor bedroom – with Phyllis and her brother and sister top to tail in a single bed (2). Unsurprisingly, unless weather prevented it, play was usually outside (or at least that’s what her memories were…)

Skipping games with old clothes lines were common and could often become the entire focus of play for weeks on end to the exclusion of almost everything else, but would then be quickly abandoned (3). Hopscotch would be marked out on the pavement, which was the venue for marbles too. There would be paper chases up and down Lampmead Road and into the road itself with cars a rarity (4).

Seasonal ‘standards’ included conkers in the autumn and a season later, winter warmer. The latter involved keeping lit rags smouldering in a pierced cocoa can (5) – it isn’t clear whether the children were able to purloin any methylated spirit or other accelerant to aid the burning.

In summer holidays the children of Lampmead, Brightfield and neighbouring streets would have a ‘fair’ against the wall of the end house which faced Brightfield Road (below); the house was occupied by the irritable Mrs French. They sold sweets made by mothers, posies of flowers from gardens, swapped possessions they no longer wanted – dolls clothes, toy soldiers and the like. It lasted about a week (6).

The wall was used for other games too – one involved cigarette cards being were propped up against it, others would attempt knock the cards down by flicking their own cards at them. Any card(s) knocked down were the spoils of victory for the flicker, but all cards standing would mean the loss of the the flicked card. Spirits rose and fell with the winning and loss of cards. (7)

Ball games were played against that long flank wall to the terrace too, it had enough length to support up to 4 games at once. The reverberations no doubt drove Mrs French to despair – often shooing the children away (8).

There were a couple of dozen children of a primary school age that played out in the street (9) so perhaps Mrs French’s interventions were not surprising. Street play was safe though, unlike now, cars were a rarity in the neighbourhood apart from those on Lee High Road. Much of the rest of traffic on the streets was horse drawn or the hand pulled barrow of the type that her father used for building work. The streets ‘belonged’ to the children and other pedestrians (10).

While the back garden was very much her grandfather’s domain, the children were allowed to play there too – a favourite was racing snails found in the lilac along the wooden benches he had made. The only condition was that he made Phyllis and her siblings clear up the trails from the seats. (11)

Source EBay Feb 2016 Source eBay Feb 2016

The children seemed to have a lot of freedom to wander from an early age and a frequent destination was Manor House Gardens, which had only been open for 25 years when Phyllis made her first forays there. There was then a shop in the park, the Old Road end of the cafe which sold sweets, tea and cakes. Next to it was a covered shelter (now part of the cafe, behind what is now the outside seating) – often where they ended up when weather was poor (12). The playground at Mountsfield Park was preferred to that in Manor House Gardens (it isn’t clear what existed in Manor House Gardens at that stage – large scale maps only note the tennis courts in front of the Manor House & where the football ‘cage’ currently is.)  However, there were gangs from neighbouring areas at Mountsfield Park so it was less popular (13).

As the children got older they were allowed to venture further afield, literally to a field – next to the Little Quaggy in Mottingham – ‘camping’ by the still clear stream – fishing and paddling there and on spring trips out there, jam jars would be filled with frogspawn (14). The Sidcup by-pass had just been built, and then it was home to Express Dairy cattle, now it is riding school land with lorries thundering past.

And finally… when her Dad was in work, trips to the Imperial Picture Palace were made on Saturday mornings, it was opposite where her grandmother had grown up near Lee Green (15).

Notes

  1. Phyllis Willmott (1979) Growing Up in a London Village p6
  2. ibid p12
  3. ibid p35
  4. ibid p36
  5. ibid p36
  6. ibid p37
  7. ibid p37
  8. ibid p37
  9. ibid p31
  10. ibid p177
  11. ibid p60
  12. ibid p106
  13. ibid p109
  14. ibid p110
  15. ibid p118

 

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The Sunday ‘Constitutional’ in Lee

For many working class men and often their children and sometimes their wives and girlfriends, the ‘Sunday Constitutional’ was a big part of the weekend.  The ‘Constitutional’ that we are about to follow is that of the Noble family from 49 Lampmead Road in Lee (below) in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Their life in Lee formed part of the memoirs of their second youngest child, Phyllis, who went on to become Phyllis Willmott, who trained as a Social Worker and later became a lecturer in Social Policy, frequently contributing to journals such as ‘New Society’. Running Past will return to her life and memoirs several times over the next few months.

The house was rented by Phyllis grandparents who had the large front bedroom as well two uncles and a cousin who shared the rear living room. Phyllis mother and father, Harriet and Alec, shared the smaller second floor bedroom – (based on the dimensions of rooms downstairs) it was probably 3.65 metres by  3.02 metres.  Phyllis and her brother and sister were top to tail in a single bed (1)

Sunday morning started with the smells of the night before – the chamber pot (2) containing her father’s urine from the Saturday night at one of the local pubs, often the Duke of Edinburgh (below – eBay Sept 2017). The toilet was downstairs and outside (3).

Phyllis and her her siblings were allowed briefly into her parents bed before going downstairs with her Mum whilst her Dad was allowed to sleep off some of Saturday night’s beer (4).  Whilst her grandmother cooked breakfast, the men folk gradually gathered and planned the route for the ‘Sunday Constitutional’ – there were generally two routes to the Hare and Billet – either via Lee Green and the Old and/or New Tigers Head– left and right respectively below (6).

Source eBay September 2016

While not mentioned, the route up the the penultimate watering-hole, the Hare and Billet, probably involved other stops in ‘the Village’

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The alternative route to the Heath and the Hare and Billet was via the Swan (currently Elements and before that Rambles Bar) and the Dacre Arms via what was still known then as Love Lane – now St Margaret’s Passage and Heath Lane – pictured as it would have been then (picture via Pub History)

As with the route via Lee Green, other possible stopping places were not mentioned but may well have included one of the pubs in or on the edge of the now gone old housing of Lee New Town, around Lee Church Street – on these only the Swan (top left) remains, the Greyhound (top right), the Woodman (bottom right) and the Royal Oak all having closed.

Whether the children noticed the early 18th century graffiti at their chest height en route is not known.At each of the stops, the children would have ‘liberal supplies of biscuits and lemonade’ (7). While her mother and father disapproved of other parents who left their children outside in the evenings, the Sunday morning ‘walks’ were regarded as an exception (8). However, it seems that the children were allowed to wander off from the Hare and Billet (above) and throw sticks for the the Cocker Spaniel (who also lived at 49) – if water levels are as they are now, this may have been at at Hare and Billet pond (9), rather than the suggested pond at Whitefield’s Mount (below).

The final drinking stop of the ‘Sunday Constitutional’ was described as an ex-servicemen’s club ‘beyond Whitefield’s Mount’ (22) – the most likely location was Point House Club at Point House on West Grove. The house dates from the 18th century and was once home to Grote family, responsible from Grotes Buildings, it became a hotel in Phyllis’ teens and was to become a nursing home for the Miller Hospital on Woolwich Road after World War Two. It is now flats. (11).

The were a couple of other options, both down the escarpment and off Lewisham Road – the probably linked Point House Club and Institute on the wonderfully named Mount Nod Square (roughly where Morden Mount School is). Also there was the nearby Bentley House Club and Institute on Orchard Hill.

Unlike the pubs, the children (and presumably the dog) were allowed in the club and they remained there until closing time but often had to avail themselves of other, closed, pubs toilets on the long walk back to Lampmead Road (12).

The Noble and, no doubt noble, women stayed at home to cook the Sunday roast, oddly this was done separately in the two parts of the household – Phyllis’ immediate family ate upstairs (13). After dinner, the children went to Sunday school at what was referred to as Boone’s chapel on Lee High Road at the far end of Lampmead Road (14), presumably whilst the menfolk slept off their drink and late lunch. Phyllis recalled her Dad having to be woken up with tea before the men again went to the pub when it reopened (15) – the final session of a ‘heavy’ weekend.

Notes

  1. Phyllis Willmott (1979) Growing Up in a London Village p12
  2. ibid p17
  3. ibid p18
  4. ibid p18
  5. ibid p20
  6. ibid p20
  7. ibid p20
  8. ibid p21
  9. ibid p21
  10. ibid p22
  11. Neil Rhind (1987) The Heath p71
  12. Willmott, op cit, p22
  13. ibid p23
  14. ibid p23
  15. ibid p25