A Chingford Memoir

I was born in a nursing home in The Ridgeway, North Chingford, in 1938 and lived mostly in the area until I was twelve. Now I am 85, my childhood memories are fragmented and sometimes, I expect, augmented or transmuted by things heard or read in later life. I have set down here what I can still remember, things that Charles Dickens might have called written memories.

During the early years of the 19th century, one of my grandfathers, Charlie Roper1, sold his farm in the Laindon area of Essex and moved with his family to Inks Green Farm in the Highams Park area of Chingford where, it seems, he already had a relative Thomas Roper2. A few years later, my other grandfather Fred Butler3, a self-made businessman from Shoreditch, moved from his Bethnal Green home to a house in Selwyn Avenue, also in the Highams Park area of Chingford and then to The Green Walk overlooking Chingford Green. These two families had rather different stories until 1936, when my mother, Winifred May Butler, married my father, Charles Bernard Roper4. I was born in 1938, and the family connections with Chingford continued until around the 1970s when my aunt Doris5, who lived for many years in Heathcote Grove, died. Both families were part of a movement of people that was changing Chingford from rurality to suburbanity as nearby London grew (Dunhill, 2005).

My grandfather Roper, an Essex farmer, chose to move closer to London as he thought prices of land would rise faster there. He was right in a way, but after World War II, London County Council compulsorily purchased his land at agricultural rather than property development rates. Charlie Roper was a farmer through and through: he loved his cows, pigs, and horses and had all of these at Inks Green Farm6. He was renowned as a judge of dairy cows and would be hired by other farmers to go and buy cows on their behalf because he knew how to pick out animals with ‘a milky look’. Farming was still quite hard, and Inks Green Farm was not large enough to be hugely profitable. On one occasion, he shot an old sheepdog in front of my infant father, saying that animals that no longer made an economic contribution should be put down. Although he was a humane man with a love of animals he pointed out that farmers could not afford to be sentimental.

Sadly I had little direct knowledge of my grandfather Roper as he died in his mid-fifties when I was still a small child. He did, however, once take me out in his car to a pool where we saw some goldfish. I was sick on the way home, but he was very kind and practical about the matter. He also once took my father out on one of the farm horses and had to wait at the closed crossing gates in Highams Park. When the train came past, the horse bolted, and Charlie searched everywhere for child and horse. When he returned home empty-handed, he found the horse in its open stable and my four-year-old father asleep on its back.

With his wife Emmeline, Charlie Roper had four sons, Percy, Bernard, Roy and Robin and two daughters, Doris and Peggy. Peggy was a never-forgotten playmate of my father, who died of whooping cough when she was three. Her coffin had to be kept under the table until the funeral because there was nowhere else to put it. Percy emigrated to Australia with his family, but Robin, so far as I know, stayed in the wider district. Roy always lived locally. He was very deaf, but I was somewhat in awe of him as he wrote a regular wildlife column for The Children’s Newspaper. I went on several outings with him in Epping Forest, which reinforced what became my lifelong interest in natural history.

Generally, my father and his siblings had idyllic childhoods mixed with hard work on the farm. My father and his brother Percy attended the Larkswood Primary School in New Road, and although they left when they were 12, they received a good education. My father, for example, had a great love of poetry and had read all of Shakespeare’s works which he very much enjoyed. One of his grandmothers who lived at Inks Green Farm used to tell him to behave, or Old Boney would get him. Old Boney was, of course, Napoleon Bonaparte, who died in 1821, but his memory must have been still strong when my great-grandmother was a girl, and this takes the family memory back some 200 years. As well as his literary interests my father was, from his childhood, an enthusiastic ornithologist. I still have the two volumes of Archibald Thorburn’s Birds of the British Isles, which my mother gave him as a present when they were first married. Because of this interest, Bernard had explored Chingford and nearby places very widely on his birding expeditions and from an early age, I was able to go with him. This was an important factor in my later life when I worked as a consultant ecologist. One bird story I particularly remember was how he found a hawfinch’s nest in a wild service tree in Larks Wood. Both the bird and the tree are rather scarce. The wild service still grows in Larks Wood which was formerly owned by the Roper family. My father and his friends used to call the much sought-after edible brown berries of the wild service ‘sarvers’ or ‘sarvies’ both words deriving from ‘service’, which in turn comes from classical Latin Sorbus. My grandmother Emmeline Roper (née Cutmore) lived in the late 19th century at Sarf Cottage in Chingford Lane. The word ‘sarf’ might also relate to the wild service tree. Though I don’t remember any other dialect words, my father and some of his Chingford friends mostly had distinctive Essex accents, quite different from London or Thames Estuary English. After Inks Green Farm was sold the family bought Emmeline a small terraced house in Walthamstow, where she lived until her death.

From an early age, my father enjoyed many sporting activities, particularly cricket. What is now Roper’s Field was, before development, two fields, one used to graze cows and the other as a pitch for the Highams Park Cricket Club. The small size of the animal field and the incompatibility between cricket and grazing animals must have meant that the Roper family had access to other pastures or food sources for their stock. After Inks Green Farm was sold, Bernard played for Buckhurst Hill Cricket Club briefly. Before that, the family had a milk round serving the Highams Park housing estates near Inks Green. My father sometimes did this round using the family’s horse and cart. My grandmother Emmeline was a good pianist, and in summer, she used to play in the front room at Inks Green Farm with the window open, and people would gather on the lawn in front of the farmhouse to hear her play. Her daughter Doris inherited this ability, as did her son David who played in bands.

My grandfather Roper was an enthusiastic supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, an enthusiasm he shared with his sons and which has continued through me to my son, another Charlie Roper. When Grandfather Roper watched the games, the team was still in the Southern League and originally played on Tottenham Marshes, but they rapidly grew in popularity and moved fixtures to the White Hart Lane ground. Both the marshes and White Hart Lane were around a three-mile walk from Inks Green, and the Chingford supporters no doubt walked there and back together, pausing at various pubs for refreshment. What a wonderful Saturday afternoon – a six-mile walk with friends, a first-class football match and several pints of beer in convivial pubs.

The men of the Roper family were not directly involved in the First World War as they were either too young or exempt from military service as farmers. After the war, there was still a large family to support on what was a very small dairy farm. Their answer to this problem was to add more sporting facilities to Inks Green Farm and to create a sports and social club there. There seems to be very little record of this latter facility though there was a tea room at Inks Green Farm in the interwar years. A Mrs Roper used to work there, and this could have been my grandmother or my mother or both. The now-licensed club of the late 1940s, which I used to visit occasionally, was effectively a large room with a bar at one end and rather like a prefab or a converted container. There were also some of the club’s tennis courts and bowling greens close at hand. My father used to say that the grass on the latter was cut by hand with grass scythes, but I find this difficult to believe, having used a grass scythe myself. I like to think that the present greens, very close to the site of Inks Green Farm house and clearly visible on modern aerial photos, are the ones I knew in the mid-1940s, perhaps re-laid from time to time. They are currently used by the Silverthorn Bowling Club. The name Silverthorn (or Silverthorne) pops up in the medical centre, in Silverthorn Gardens and the old telephone exchange in The Ridgeway. Phone numbers were once prefixed by the name of the exchange so a local call would be made, via an operator, to “Silverthorn 123” or whatever. Throughout my childhood years, I heard the word spoken over and over again and imagined Silverthorn might be an undiscoverable magical place like Shangri La.

All the Roper boys and Doris were married between the two world wars. My father Bernard to Winifred May Butler. Initially, they could all afford small houses in the Chingford area, and I often visited them. To see Susan, Percy’s daughter, I would walk from The Green or Endlebury Road down Organ Lane and Heathcote Grove, past the cemetery to the Larkswood swimming pool then through Larks Wood to Inks Green Farm. I remember playing inside the farmhouse, which had two staircases shaped like an inverted V. This often indicates that a building was divided into two houses though I know of no record of this for Inks Green Farm

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, my father joined the army, remaining a private throughout the war. After some initial training, he served in the Middle East, particularly Egypt, and my mother and I did not see him again until 1945 when I was 7 except for one memorable event when he turned up in full uniform in an army lorry at The Green Walk for a quick visit having made a detour from a convoy that passed nearby.

With World War II, the death of Charlie Roper, and the sale of Inks Green Farm for housing, the Roper effect in and around Highams Park became a shadow of its former self, and a different kind of world emerged. My father lived with my mother and myself, an only child, in The Green Walk during much of this period. The house my parents owned at 109 Endlebury Road had been rented out to a famous actress called Josie Collins, and she was reluctant to leave. However, we did live there some of the time too. I spent many hours in the garage yard on the south side of our group of properties taking my bicycle to pieces and putting it together again. My aunt, Doris Carlé (née Roper), lived just round the corner in Heathcote Grove and I spent much time with her daughter, my cousin Pauline. Roller skating was popular at the time, and when we weren’t taking our skates to pieces and putting them together again, we used to skate on the traffic-free roads all over the neighbourhood. In summer, we frequently made trips to the Larkswood Swimming Pool, a large and beautifully blue open-air lido now replaced by Chingford Leisure Centre in New Road. I used to play water polo there and managed to break a finger though not to learn to swim. Ridgeway Park was only a few hundred yards away from our house on Endlebury Road, and I spent much time there with friends playing kick about football, climbing on the aluminium-coloured climbing frame or watching the model sailing boats on the pond.

During this period, my father, Bernard, was perhaps somewhat disorientated by events that had so radically changed the course of his life. When he had cleared up the very complicated details of the sale of Inks Green Farm to London County Council and got his small, black Hillman car out of storage he started looking for a new farm, and I travelled over much of southern and western England while he looked for suitable properties. For some time, he also worked as a gardener for a children’s home in the area. I think this must have been Gwynne House at Woodford Bridge, as he used to cycle there and teach the boys how to grow vegetables. I sometimes used to go with him. We also used to go on long walks in Epping Forest, often starting with an ascent of Pole Hill, then through Hawks Wood and across Chingford Plain and one or another of the golf courses. Once we got as far as The Owl pub in Lippit’s Hill, Loughton, where my father was keen to show me the “Water Otter” on a chain in a water-filled tank. It was, of course, a battered old kettle, and, like everyone else, I could not resist pulling up the chain. It was on one of our forest walks that I found a cast-off antler from a fallow deer stag. There is a quite complicated history of deer in Epping Forest, and when I found my antler in the late 1940s, they were probably quite common though I regarded it as a great trophy. We sometimes used to visit Connaught Water7 and hire a rowing boat. On one occasion, we walked right around the lake, and I tried rod and line fishing there but only caught a solitary gudgeon. In the arctic winter of 1947, the lake froze over, and I was fascinated by the brown-uniformed German prisoners of war from their camp on Chingford Plain creating a slide and talking to us young spectators in their unintelligible language.

My earliest memories are from our house and garden at 109 Endlebury Road and my grandparents’ home at 5 The Green Walk. But, when I was one-and-a-half, war with Germany was declared. Shortly before war broke out, my mother had taken me to Porth in south Wales to stay with the family of our Green Walk live-in maid Gwyneth. I believe many people in that period fled westward in case of a sudden German invasion so they could be out of range of any falling bombs or artillery. My mother recorded how she and others in the Porth household sat around the radio to hear the government announcement that we were now at war.

During the early years of the war, we moved about a lot, living either in The Green Walk or Endlebury Road. Sometimes we retreated to the countryside to join Doris and her family in Somerset or Cornwall. I was two-and-a-half and in Chingford during the Blitz period of intensive bombing over London and elsewhere. Although I can’t remember it my mother told me that I sometimes came running in from the garden at The Green Walk when no danger was at hand to hide under the tea trolley. My mother took me to the doctor, and he said she should take me to see the bomb-damaged areas in London. Whatever the psychology behind this, it seemed to work, and I cannot remember suffering from any particular anxiety during the rest of the war years. At the end of the road near Chingford police station, there were barrage balloons and searchlights and the air raid siren, which seemed to set off its wailing quite often. Part of the reason why we stayed in what was a quite high-risk area was that my grandfather continued to travel by train to his factories in Hoxton in London, where an important contract was to make paint for the British warships. With my father serving overseas, my mother preferred to stay with her remaining family.

In 1944 when I was six, the V1 rockets, or “doodlebugs”, added a new dimension to the conflict. The V1 was powered by a rather noisy engine (hence the name doodlebug) which cut out to allow the explosive-laden bomb to fall. This silence before the explosion gave people a short while to seek shelter. One night I was sound asleep in bed upstairs at The Green Walk when my mother came dashing into the room and scooped me up in her arms. She then hurried across the darkened landing, by which time I was awake (at six, I must have been quite a weight). We got halfway down the stairs when there was a brilliant flash of white light. My mother sat down on a stair and bent over me as an ear-splitting explosion went off. All the windows in the front part of the house which we were facing blew in, and the plaster ceiling above the stairs came down on top of us. Almost immediately, my mother (we were both unhurt) stood up and carried on with me in her arms to the air raid shelter. During the following day, I remember looking at the now-empty house behind ours on Mount View Road. The whole of the back wall had collapsed making the building look like a doll’s house with all the furniture and interior decoration clearly visible.

My later analysis of this episode is that my mother heard the engine of an approaching doodlebug cut out, perhaps after an earlier air raid siren warning. She knew she had only a short while before the bomb would land and rushed upstairs to get me. A German bomb, V1 or V2, is recorded from Mount View Road immediately behind The Green Walk (Young, 2016), and I think this must have been the one I remember so vividly.

Another encounter with a doodlebug was when we were travelling by train from Chingford to Liverpool Street. In the Hackney area, the train driver must have heard the engine of an approaching bomb cut out, signalling an imminent landing. He managed to increase the train’s speed, and we reached the safety of a tunnel, where he stopped until the all-clear.

During much of the war, we had the help of a cleaner, Mrs Lumley, who lived somewhere in Walthamstow. Her husband, a bus driver, was once she told us, blown out of his bus and thought dead. He was taken to a mortuary but regained consciousness there and walked home. When I visited the Lumley home, I was very struck by the fact that she kept a chicken in a coop under the kitchen sink. Eggs were scarce in those days.

Apart from his business in London, my grandfather Frederick Butler, was active in Chingford society both before and after the war. He was a freemason, he played golf and bowls, and when he was able to use his car – a big, black Daimler which he drove like a tank – he used to take us on rides to local beauty spots like High Beech and to the seaside. A little ritual which we both enjoyed was our regular Saturday morning trips to the local barbers, always for a short back and sides. There were all sorts of curious things in the barbers’ shop, and the menu on a large poster always included singeing. I couldn’t quite understand this but occasionally saw stray hairs being singed by a barber with a lit taper.

My grandmother Emily Butler (née Holroyd) was also active during the war, and I particularly remember going to the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) group with her. She wore a uniform for this, and I used to crawl about under the tables playing with the treadle machinery at their feet while they made clothes for the troops. She died not long after the war when we were living at Endlebury Road. My grandfather walked from The Green Walk, where she had died, down Organ Lane to give the news to my mother. I like to think this walk in a traffic-free country lane gave him a chance to reflect quietly on the life of a partner he had very much loved.

5 The Green Walk was (and is) a large, four-bedroomed house built at the beginning of the 20th century and overlooking Chingford Green (which has been designated a Conservation Area by Waltham Forest Council). Number 5 had a front garden bounded by a privet hedge with an almond tree as a central feature and a hedge of honeysuckle on its western side. As children, we used to pick the flowers and suck out tiny sweet drops of nectar. Along the pavement, there were mature lime trees that were pollarded every so often, and some of these remain. Sometimes I used to find large Lime Hawk Moth caterpillars on their trunks.

The rear garden was a beautifully kept plot, much of it due to the hard work and skill of our gardener Mr Richardson who lived in nearby Willow Street and used to come in on several days a week. He taught me much about horticulture during my never-ending chatter. He wore a waistcoat and shirts with narrow blue stripes and used sleeve holders, flexible rings closely wound with metallic wire with elastic inside that kept his rolled-up sleeves in place. He had lost a finger on one hand, which made him hold his teacup or piece of cake in a characteristic way. He wore a flat cap which he took off indoors.

The back garden at the Green Walk was my magic playground during the war years and afterwards. At the rear of the house, there was a large rectangle of carefully mown lawn bounded by crazy paving paths and colourful herbaceous borders with helianthemums, phlox and many other flowering plants. The fences on either side supported espaliered pear and apple trees, carefully pruned so that the horizontal branches stretched out like arms on either side of the trunk. Halfway down, there was a pergola for climbing roses and a rock garden dividing the ornamental from the vegetable area. Every spring, it was covered in mauve aubretia and later with dainty, white and pink flowered rock roses and yellow alyssum. The vegetable area had the usual successional crops of beans, carrots, potatoes and more. There was a rhubarb plant, a patch of mint and an area with red currants and gooseberries. At the very end of the garden was Mr Richardson’s special retreat, a shed full of tools with drawers of nails and hanks of straw-coloured bast. There was a bench to sit on and a strong smell of creosote. Next to the shed was a compost heap and a tall laburnum tree which I used to climb to see into the gardens behind belonging to the houses in Mount View Road. This back garden was exactly as Adam the Gardener would have had it in his horticultural books and cartoons that were very popular at the period.

Most days, the family would gather indoors with Mr Richardson and Mrs Lumley for morning or afternoon tea in the large kitchen with its scrubbed wooden table. There was a wooden drying frame of several horizontal poles for hanging up washing. It was pulled up to ceiling level on a rope. Next to the kitchen was a small scullery with a gas cooker, sink and other apparatus. It was rather dark and pokey, but my mother and grandmother used to spend much time there cooking and washing up. The tea break gatherings in the kitchen were warm and friendly but reflected the austerity and sometimes the danger of the times with resignation and, perhaps, apprehension. Two very common remarks were “After the War” and “Before the War”. Throughout the house, there were memories of the 20s and 30s. One reminder was a kind of box, rather like a picture, high up on the wall in the kitchen. It had six square windows, each about the size of a matchbox. If someone pressed the bell push in any of the rooms, a bell rang, and the “matchbox top” in the relevant square wobbled for a while so that the resident, uniformed maid, whose domain was the kitchen, would know in which room her services were required. In some of the cupboards and wardrobes, as well as our gas masks, there were the helmet hats of the 1920s, fox furs comprising almost the entire skin of the animal from nose to tail, and I once found a white silk Pierrot clown costume with black pompoms down the front, presumably for a fancy dress party in happier times.

Across the road opposite the row of houses in The Green Walk was a border of trees and shrubs along the northern edge of The Green. There were quite a number of wild plums here, maybe damsons or bullaces, and these could indicate this was once part of a hedge or a garden orchard. At the western tip of The Green was a multi-trunked bay tree, and I often scrambled about with friends among its fragrant leaves. About halfway along the tree border was a large horse chestnut, and several small boys would gather there in autumn to try and dislodge the fruit (conkers) by throwing sticks. Much time was spent not only gathering conkers but soaking them in vinegar and drying them to increase their hardness. We made the central hole with kitchen skewers. When I visited Chingford in May 2002, I was pleased and surprised to find both the bay tree and the horse chestnut still in place.

In the late 1940s, Chingford Green was a bit of a playground where young people and their parents played ball games and walked their dogs. As children, we used to go and watch the weddings (announced by bells) from just outside the western end of the churchyard at St Peter and St Paul’s Church on The Green (where my parents were married and I was christened). We particularly liked good confetti storms as the bride and groom departed and spent much time collecting the tiny coloured paper flakes, though I am not sure what we did with them. As well as conkers and confetti, a major boy’s activity was collecting shrapnel, shattered pieces of brass and other metals that had been blasted over the area from wartime bombs. None of us ever thought that a piece of this material before landing could have been deadly.

Although, on the face of it, a quiet, leafy suburban backwater, there was much street life in The Green Walk during the war and postwar years. There was the rag-and-bone man with his horse and cart who had a distinctive street cry to announce his presence, as did the knife grinder who would sharpen any metallic blades. A rousing marching band would appear from time to time, and everyone used to stand and watch them pass. We had deliveries of groceries, laundry, Corona fizzy drinks and coal carried in by men covered in black dust and with shoulder protectors to take some of the discomfort out of carrying the hundredweight sacks, and, of course, there were postmen and dustmen who emptied the traditional cylindrical bins of galvanised metal. The milkman and paper boys called daily, and I would look forward to my Dandy and Beano comics. There were also pig bins nearby for the collection of any food waste which was processed and distributed to pig farmers. I remember the often-used expression, “Put it in the pig bin”. Waste paper and other materials were also saved and collected assiduously as ‘salvage’ to help the war effort.

The community facility of Mornington Hall was (and still is) at the eastern end of The Green Walk. One of its main uses during the 1940s was as a British Restaurant, a government-sponsored initiative to give cheap and nutritious food, particularly to those who had lost their homes from bombing. We used to eat there sometimes, and my main memories are of its powerful smell of boiled cabbage and the huge white flakes of Iceland cod. Next door to Mornington Hall was Chingford Laundry, and one of the memories I have of this is when something inside must have broken or got stopped up, which caused a fast-flowing stream of soapy water to run out of the laundry entrance, down the road across the Green and into Station Road.

I used to visit Station Road, the main shopping area in North Chingford, practically every day in the 1940s, but now I only have kaleidoscopic, but often very vivid, memories of what I saw and did there. As Anton Chekhov once wrote, it is “a medley of images that floats away in confusion”. I particularly remember, for example, the fishmonger with his open-air display of fish on a shining white slab decorated with sprigs of parsley. Sometimes he had a box of live eels, and if a customer asked for one, he would pluck the victim out, chop its head off and wrap its body, still writhing in newspaper. As a child, I found this public execution peculiarly fascinating. Other shops I remember are Brimbles, the newsagents and bookshop, which was a treasure trove of things for children as well as for adults, the bakers where I once had to stand in a long queue for bread, and the Co-op emanating its rich smell of roasting coffee. Hanging up at the front of the greengrocers was a bright yellow bunch of plaster bananas. They looked peculiarly delicious, but it was many years before I saw a real banana. Once, my father procured some sticky brown dried bananas which, although they tasted nice, bore no resemblance to the bright yellow plaster kind at the local greengrocers. At the far end of Station Road was the Doric Cinema, where I watched many films, including the Walt Disney classics like Dumbo, Bambi and Snow White. I was particularly struck by a film called The Overlanders about an historic cattle drove across central Australia in World War Two. Twelve years later, I was working in Alice Springs, and I think my reason for going there was partly due to the film I had seen in The Doric.

My first school was Normanhurst in Station Road. I must have started there on their return from where they had been evacuated in Cornwall in 1945. I enjoyed my stay there and remember learning to write. I used to walk to school from The Green Walk, often meeting my grandmother coming home with her shopping carried in two heavy bags on either side. With no supermarkets and few cars, most people carried their shopping home like this and made frequent visits to the shops. The train station (which we called the railway station) was, and remains, close to the north-eastern end of Station Road, and I often used to travel from there alone or with my mother, usually to the London terminus at Liverpool Street. In those days, the bus terminus was about half a mile further east outside the Royal Forest Hotel. When I was nine I started school at St Aubyn’s in Woodford Green, which meant travelling on the 1458 bus. With some of my friends, I would usually take a bus ride in the mornings in the wrong direction to the Royal Forest Hotel terminus and then travel from there to Woodford Green. Bus riding and bus spotting were some of the more exciting diversions in our repertoire of boyhood activities. I frequently went on the 38 to Victoria and then on to the South Kensington museums once they had reopened. Occasionally a very old London bus with an outside staircase at the rear would be brought into service in Chingford, and we considered it somewhat of an achievement to ride on this. There was also a single-decker that went to a mysterious place called Hammond Street. Once a friend and I rode it to its final destination, which turned out to be a very dull country lane on the other side of the Lea Valley. Making unaccompanied journeys or journeys with friends, stopping out all day roaming Epping Forest, or playing on bomb sites was not something the adults in our lives seemed to worry about.

As children without television, mobile phones, the Internet and other modern innovations, a large ‘territory’ round our homes and schools contained our most used diversions. We climbed trees, fished for newts in various ponds and rode our bicycles or roller-skated round most of the roads in North Chingford. One regular destination was what we called the Cuckoo Pits, or The Pits, near the summit of Pole Hill. This was, I suspect, a quarry for the clay needed by the earlier brickworks in the area. We rode our bicycles up and down the steep slopes in an impromptu version of a modern BMX track. In winter, we would toboggan on Pole Hill when there was snow and the open area of Chingford Plain to the north of Forest View gave plenty of scope for adventures. Sometimes we would encounter cows that roamed there freely among the hawthorn bushes. Before the war, my mother used to go horse-riding there, and my grandfather Butler played golf on the Royal Epping Forest course. A little further east on the Plain was a traditional travelling fairground that used to delight us every so often for a couple of weeks.

Bus riding, as I have said, was a major activity and, as well as the routes from the Royal Forest Hotel, we would sometimes go to South Chingford to enjoy the electrically powered trolleybuses that terminated there. I also once went on a tram, a very noisy, bumpy ride accompanied by a clanging bell. I am not quite sure now where I was going by trolleybus or by tram, but a fondly remembered destination was a fish and chip shop in Walthamstow, probably the most easily accessible from Chingford in those days. We would buy six penn’orth of chips each (no fish) and eat them in the street out of their newspaper wrapping. On Saturday mornings, we went to the children’s film club in the magnificent Odeon cinema in South Chingford and cheered along with our cowboy heroes: Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and others. We would also sometimes go to the Walthamstow Dog Track in South Chingford, where my father showed me some of the ins and outs of greyhound racing and where, with a friend, we had a period of interest in motorcycle speedway.

We came home, of course, for food, and despite wartime rationing, I always had enough to eat and, among other delicacies, I consumed horse meat, whale meat, spam and snoek. We augmented the meagre sweet ration with lemonade powder and liquorice sticks. The first of these was sold in small paper bags, and we would lick a finger so that the powder stuck to it, then suck it off. The liquorice sticks were short lengths of wooden twig that were chewed to extract the sweetness from them. Sometimes we could also get tiger nuts, the dried tubers of a kind of sedge and my father used to dig up pignuts9 for me with a penknife, as he did when he was a child. The pignut plants grew wild in the forest. Ice cream was not available until after the war, apart from a kind of frozen custard my grandmother Butler used to make. As a child, I also had an allocation of concentrated orange juice and rose hip syrup which I seem to remember going with my mother to collect from the old town hall.

Many of my distant memories are of Chingford, and I often recall that small boy in short trousers with a cap and satchel hurrying across Chingford Green and along Station Road to Normanhurst school. The 1940s were difficult years, but nevertheless, I felt secure and happy.

I am 85 as I write this and, perhaps, some of my recollections are slightly confused though they seem clear to me. I will be happy to consider any comments and corrections to this memoir which can be updated if necessary.


1 Charles E. Roper
2 Farms in Chingford
3 Frederick W. Butler
4 Charles Bernard Roper often known as Bern
5 Doris Carlé, née Roper
6 Supposedly often called ‘Roper’s Farm’ but I always heard it referred to as Inks Green Farm
7 We always called the lake ‘Connaught Waters’, plural.
8 The bus numbers from the 1940s differ from those of today
9 The pignut is Conopodium majus, an umbelliferous plant.

ends