Following on from her wonderful account of growing up in the Town Hall, we asked Betty Wright (nee Walton) to tell us more about what Palmers Green was like when she was growing up in the 30s and 40s.
Palmers Green was always known as a ‘high class area’ to live.
We had some lovely shops, one of my favourites being Evans and Davies, a large store at the beginning of Alderman’s Hill…it was a general store, selling furniture etc as well as a very good toy department. I remember looking at a china doll in the window for weeks and weeks and wishing I could have it, it cost 8s.11p. (43p) and I was hurt to find my younger sister had been given it for her 6th Birthday, but when I told my mother “I wanted that doll” she said “Oh Betty, you’re far too old for dolls.” (I was 9). It’s funny how things ‘stick’.
All our shops were good class shops, Sainsbury’s (no help service)…Woolworth…during the hot weather some of the workers in the Town Hall would ask me to go over to Woolworth and buy them ice cream cornets (one and a half pence each). I used to have to buy about six and run back before they melted. I never told anyone that I used to have a lick from each on the way back (despite being given one!). My Mother used to shop at the Home and Colonial, for groceries.
Then there was a shop called Grouts (in Green Lanes, opposite Hazelwood Lane)…this shop sold materials, underwear, school uniforms, elastic, ribbons, knitting woods etc. etc. I loved this shop because when you paid, the money was put in a little pot and then it was carried (I expect by electricity) to the top of the shop, where a lady sat in a little cubicle and she took the money and returned your change and receipt in the little pot.
Palmers Green had two cinemas. The Palmadium and the Queens. The Palmadium was the ‘best one’…the Queens never had the good films. There was also a Dance Hall above one of these cinemas, but I can’t remember which one.
We also had the Intimate Theatre which produced some brilliant plays with well known actors.
Then, of course, we were lucky enough to have Broomfield Park. I spent most of my childhood in this park. It was not only a park: it had a boating lake, a really good play area with several swings, slides and roundabouts; a place to be quiet…with a Remembrance Garden (where we children were only allowed to go on a Sunday with our parents); a full size running track and best of all the house, which held a museum as well as a restaurant to buy refreshments on special occasions!
Things changed when war was declared. Broomfield House was taken over by servicemen who had been wounded or suffering an illness. Air raid shelters were appearing everywhere, especially in Broomfield Park. We would still go to the cinema (we called ‘going to the pictures) but many the time the film would stop and the Manager would appear on stage and say “The Air Raid Warning has just sounded; you may leave the cinema if you wish”. Some people would leave but then the film would continue.
I remember running home from being out with my friend and the sirens sounded… I wanted to get home, I didn’t want to go into a shelter because I knew my mother would be worrying. However, the shrapnel from the ack ack guns was falling all around…and someone pulled me into a door way until it was safe to carry on running. It sounds so exaggerated, but believe me, every word is true.
Another amusing (??) story: I used to visit my friends Josephine and Mary Hulme (their Dad was a very famous footballer)…they lived in Riverway. When I left their house in the dark (it was really dark, because of the blackout), I borrowed a carving knife and ran all the way home ‘stabbing at the dark’ in case I met one of these ‘nasty men that my mother was always warning me about). I did this on more than one occasion and when one of my brothers came home on leave he was horrified to hear how I ‘travelled home’, because I could have murdered some poor innocent person. He warned me never to do it again (I was about 13 or 14).
Of course food was rationed, but Mum managed to feed us good meals, lots of steam puddings and she was very clever at making our rations go a long way. It took a long time for me to realise that she often went without to give us children a little more. I remember saying “Don’t you like eggs Mum?” (when we were lucky enough to get some) and she said “No, I never have liked them”. This, I discovered later, was completely untrue.
We then heard that the greengrocers had some bananas – this was towards the end of the war – and we had not had a banana for years. Each family could have four bananas by producing their ration books. We had, at that time, 9 ration books (my grandma was living with us) so Mum said, “Take four ration books to one grocers and get four bananas and then the other 5 books to the other greengrocer and get a further four bananas”. I thought this was cheating, so said to Mum “No, that’s cheating, each family can only have four bananas”. For the very first time that I can remember my Mother slapped me around the face, saying “I am doing for the chance to give you all some fruit, not for me but for YOU”. I could understand her thoughts: “Why should a family of two people get 4 bananas and only four, for a family of 9”.
I often think of this when I buy a bunch of bananas nearly every time I go to a supermarket…