Mrs Gladys Muchamore's Memories of
Archway in the 1950s
The Feel of the Area
Everyone shopped locally and mothers had prams with nice big bassinets underneath and would leave them outside with the babies in – all lined up outside Woolworth’s - would you believe it?
Our lives were all local. Couples used to go to dance at the Irish and St Joseph’s centres. And we would pass the mothers on the street taking their children to their school some from down here going to St Joseph’s, some from up there coming down to St John’s.
We used to leave the milkman’s money on the table or say that the insurance man was coming and leave the money for him. He would come in and take it and sign the book. No-one stole but there was nothing much to steal.
You were a community you all looked out for each other. Mrs Hyatt used to sit on the door and watch the children walk past, so she would spot if one was missing. If one mother was having a baby upstairs one of the others would feed her children with bread and jam. Now we have the welfare system.
We didn’t travel very far but worked locally in small factories slotted in between other things. There were wakes weeks – holiday weeks with no wages. People mostly jogged along but some had it harder. Next to my house in a run of just seven houses were three WW1 War widows for example, and they had hard lives.
The Memorial in Whittington Park was paid for with their own money which local people collected to remember the 21 people who lost their lives. It used to be on the side wall of a shop. The Council took the memorial and never did put it back as they promised and now we don’t know where it is.
The Style of the Times
The War was the greatest educator ever. The men went abroad and learned about the world and people started to read and go to school. While the boss used to be the boss, that changed.
Before that, when his father was dying from emphysema, even though just a boy my husband was out milking the cows as otherwise they would have lost the tied cottage. If you couldn’t work it was almshouses and the poorhouse.
Everyone took out life insurance policies to cover the cost of their funeral because they were terrified of being buried in a pauper’s grave.
Before marrying I worked in Cole Bros on the Holloway Road, later Jones Bros. There was a beautiful stone staircase and lift like Selfridges – they have to keep that because it’s listed.
I worked in the cash office and earned 2s 6d more than anyone else because I worked with the cash – being the wages and custom clerk. In theory it was a partnership but I ran the invoice dept for 2 years but was never ‘gazetted’. The Chronicle was the local paper and the Gazette the other one. To become a partner you had to be Gazetted - it had to be notified in the paper. Instead a Miss Austin Keates came along to be trained by me though because every product came from a different company – Oxo from Oxo, Bovril from Bovril – with a different code for each one – it was too much to remember all the codes unless you had been there doing it. Then I was told she would be my manager. Turned out she was a niece of the chairman.
That sort of thing went on all the time. John Lewis wouldn’t have a union and on the chairman’s son’s 21st birthday the message came round that all seniors were to donate 2s 6d and juniors 1s.
Day to Day Life
Most houses didn’t have bathrooms in ‘50s and the houses in what is now the Girdlestone were demolished not so much because they were run down as because a lot of them didn’t have much. They were two up two downs but without any bathroom, just an outside toilet in garden.
The lovely houses in Poynings Road were going to come down for GLC redevelopment, and then they realised that for £1200 they could refurbish them with little box rooms made into bathrooms. But when they did demolish they took down whole massive areas.
Some of the houses on the other side of Archway were pretty run down - in Rupert Road with dry rot and things. There was a lot of rented accommodation and landlords didn’t put money into the property.
Everywhere there were mostly scullery type kitchens with freestanding cooker, not a fitted sink draining board, and some of them still had a copper for washing into the ‘50s and a mangle. The cookers were gas cooker with very few electric at that time, with fuel supplied by the Gas Light and Coke Company.
The Clear Air Act meant much better air but when I married in 1955 we still had to register for fire supplies. Charrington’s coal merchant office was next to Upper Holloway tube in two little shops where now there is a minicab office. (The biggest coal yard was where Arsenal stadium is now and Hornsey yard. Trains used to come in and unload there. Horses would come up to deliver 1cwt coal per month for 10 years after the war, but gradually they all moved.)
I think we have the last family house on Junction Road – the rest have all been split up. The house was built in 1861 and we have shutters that close over the windows. The back extensions were built in 1910 and before that there was just one tap at the bottom of the house where the servants would have been. We’ve still got the crank for the service bell which you rang to fetch water – up all 51 steps.
For cleaning you used vinegar, lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda, and Vim used to be just a chalk powder for cleaning pans because fine chalk doesn’t scratch. Now they’ve turned it into a cream.
Until the mid ‘60s there was still horses here – Prices the Bakers and some of the private coal people were still using horses though they gradually moved to motor in the early ‘60s. But Weston’s laundry with its big factory had lorries to collect and deliver laundry.
My husband was a milkman and left the Express dairy because they went with electric floats in the early ‘50s. They still had horses at the Co-op and he preferred working with horses – delivering all up Tufnell Park and to Holloway Prison in mornings.
All the horses had different characters – one of the female horses liked 10 Woodbines a day. Jim was a massive white horse. Ken would get him loaded up and bring him down and come and have a cup of tea. If Ken was off work for any reason, whatever the other driver tried, the horse would still come and stop here because the horses knew all the routes and every stop.
On the Hampstead route Ken delivered to the Beverly Sisters. They had a young trumpeter staying with them and if he heard him playing the horse would rear up. Ken told the Sisters and they said they didn’t want to stop him, he was a very up and coming player – that was Humphrey Lyttleton.
All these horses needed to be shoed and one of the last farriers in London was Bill Rice, on the lefthand side of Elthorne Road on the left of the factory block. When he died about six years ago there was a massive following to the cemetery. He didn’t have a guard dog but he did have geese, and you could never get into the yard if the geese were there.
That was saved for the community. It used to be a Baptist Hall and there was a huge galvanised tank for baptisms under the stage now taken out. The council were going to pull it down in the ‘70s/‘80s but there was no community space up here so it was kept to be used by local people.
Most of the committee and the people using the hall were from the Peabody estate and there was a council co-ordinator on the committee as well, and we used to get a grant from the council to run it.
The Hall was very popular. It was used for keep fit, pensioners club – no lunches but used to have outings – and a junior club. You were very friendly and sociable. When the hall was saved we physically went round there and scrubbed the hall floor. Sylvie Collins who started writing up some of the history of the hall was one of the people I knew, but we were all friends and knew each other.
There was a sewing class and knitting class Monday – run by Emily with lovely cakes and cup of tea. Thursday there was a bingo club. There was a play group, junior club dances, jumble sales, Christmas show.
And very popular outings on the coach to places like Hastings or Eastbourne or Littlehampton, or Southend or Clacton. They were organised by one of the ladies Jan may remember she was one of the Peabody ones. We would get the coach at 8.30am or 9am.
Big Owners in the Area
All the houses in St Johns Grove were bought from the Sons of the Clergy by Peabody ‘60s and in ‘70s made massive alterations. They bought in ‘63.
Sons of the Clergy were a charity – all property owned and rented out was the money to pay for vicar’s children to go to boarding school – because vicars moved from parish to parish.
Originally Lord Palmerston owned almost everything in the area – hence the Lord Palmerston pub on Dartmouth Park Hill.
Junction Road used to be famous for its stalls but there were also lots and lots of small independent shops, plus the Co-op department store.
There were much clearer divisions between shops, not like now. So a newsgent’s wouldn’t sell fruit and veg, and you never sold pork in a lamb butchers and vice versa.
Just on the south side of Junction Road there were:
2 wet fish shops
2 fish and chips shops
4 linen shops
And the Co-op was a big department store like John Lewis – furniture, clothes, linens, men’s, and ladies’ wear.
One of most interesting grocers was David Greggs with a shop in Junction Road selling sausages, cooked meats, butter and cheese selection, and another on Holloway where one side sold meat and the other dried groceries. Others were Steven’s and Steeds’ and Home and Colonial who were big importers of things like dried fruit, sago, tea, and all the things you got from the Commonwealth.
Dewhurst – now the Marie Curie - was originally a good independent butchers with another closer to the Lion pub not so nice, and next door a wet fish shop. Other butchers were Matthews, and Benfields on corner of St John’s Grove – now the MAP shop. They did the rendering for the dripping and the smell was horrible.
35 Junction Road – the corner shop - was at one time Boots the chemist which moved from there to the precinct. The shop then became a linens shop owned by Mrs Harvey who extended to the double premises next door as Harvey’s linens, which extended to more shops and became Harvey’s Furnishings.
De Marco’s has always been a café. ?Was it also an ice cream shop? What is now Nisa was Owen Owens, a large draperies shop. Mrs Philips linens shop was down there as well.
There were two Welsh dairies - one next door to Laundrette and other on Monnery Road – now Mr Stonehouse the estate agent’s.
We had three laundry shops where you took things to take for washing at the company’s central laundry. There was one near Stagnells and under the sign for the African shop next to the Tiffin Tin there is still a blue Western’s Laundry sign. The laundry – almost art deco - still stands in Drayton Park now a Greek dried foods business. But once you got laundrettes, the laundry service went down.
Near the letterbox by MAP was Paynes coffee shop where they had all the coffees in all the containers – in the morning you walked up the road and it was a lovely smell – all ground fresh. Paynes and Dells were the two chains of coffee shops where they roast and ground their own coffee.
In the shops further down Junction Road the sign on the corner of Poynings Road belonged to what used to be Auction Rooms - all hand painted.
One of the shops there was called St James – a watchmakers and jewellers with that name because Mr Canham used to go to St James once a month to set and wind the clocks. The others were the Smith family just round the corner by the letterbox where mum and dad, son and daughter all qualified watchmakers and jewellers.
We also had four shoe shops would you believe, including Herbert’s on Holloway Road.
Down past Goodwoods were wholesalers – soap and soda and so on that the other shops would buy their stuff from. Not everybody had a car and a local shop keeper would go to local wholesaler.
And there was a furriers where they used to clean all the pelts and make all the fur collars for trimmings and buttons for coats.
On corner of Francis terrace was a secondhand furniture shop. After the war you had to have points to get furniture and most people didn’t have big wages anyway, so most bought second hand.
There were also shops on the Holloway road in what’s now Whittington Park. That included a bakery. And just next to Upper Holloway station was Bond & White the builders merchants.
Eating places included Andrew’s restaurant – now 500, and also on Holloway Road Manzi’s Eel and Pie shop.
There used to be as many as 30 pubs in the area, but gradually most have closed, many converted to housing. They included the Prince of Denmark on the corner of Francis Terrace. And on Holloway road the Landseer pub, but there are houses there now.
There were three cinemas – one on Lower Highgate Hill, one on Holloway Road which was converted to the Gresham Ballroom - now the site of the Sainsbury’s Local, and one on Junction Road, behind the wall of the red brick block. It wasn’t finished before the war and the half finished building was used as a food store including for meat. But there was no refrigeration and all the food went rotten. It went so mouldy that when they cleared it out they told all the people to stay in their houses. After the war it opened as cinema in late 1955, but by that time television was beginning to come in. It had a very short life and was very briefly a bingo hall but then was demolished and the flats built on part of the site. You can still see the picture frames for the posters, and the emergency door in the original cinema wall.
Horses for the trams used to be stabled in a cobbled yard in what are now gated mews in Francis Terrace. There used to be an archway at the bottom of the terrace, now blocked up, leading into Pemberton terrace. The horses were led through that and into the tram garage – now the bus garage.
From being a horse tram garage it became a tram garage, then trolley bus garage and now bus garage.
When they introduced the one-way round-about system at Archway they strengthened all the roads and did the same in St John’s Grove – put about one foot of concrete above the granite cobbles to take all the heavy traffic.
Where they tried to take up the tram lines and cobbles, for example in Monnery Road, it was too difficult so just built over them. So there are cobbles still under there, including on Junction Road.
As well as the main garage, there was another tram garage behind Holloway Road next to Thomas Bros – you can still see the tram tracks in the archway next to the shop there.
The Co-op stables were in the middle of Flowers Mews on what’s now the Archway island. Look at the side of the building and will see the hay and feed loft. They had 16 horses because the horses had to have rest days. Ken knew them and used to drive the horses – main horse was Jim. There were 12 routes maybe more. Right over to Hampstead but you weren’t allowed to take the horses up Cathcart Hill because it was too steep. There used to be Metropolitan Water Co. drinking fountains for both people and horses. In Wyndham Crescent for example was a horse trough.
There was a great Archway campaign to stop the lorries going up through Highgate village but what we got was a roundabout and muggers’ paradise underground tunnel.
Today they’ve reinstalled some glancing bells/stones on Junction Road and Holloway Road – like the ones for example on the Thames embankment – called glancing because they caught the wheels of coaches going round corner so the wheels would rise – giving them a glancing blow
The houses in Junction Road are all in the conservation area so we can’t change our railings, doors, sash windows. Shops with railings, for example on the corner of Francis Terrace, used them to display stock inside - brooms and buckets. But in the war lots of railings were cut for scrap. We didn’t lose our railings because we had an area and steps – walk along here and can see where the original railings were on some of the houses.
Employment and Industry
Most people worked locally. Behind the tube station, on what is now Bovingdon Close, and along Elthorne Road was light industrial with a lot of small factories. In Elthorne Road was Crossfields Engineering in what is now the Byam Shaw building. Set up by two engineers, Crossfields used to build printing machines – part of DelaRue which supplied printers to the Bank of England.
On the corner of Fairbridge, in what is now Chesneys the fireplace shop, was a factory producing Christmas novelties – things for kids stockings and punched out sequins. We used to nick all the leftover bits like punched out foil for kids to make things with.
Hanley Road was all tiny industries and on the original roads where the Gridlestone estate now is there were lots of little factories and things like small printers and so on – not all great massive factories like we have now.
Some had signs outside. The mews behind Francis Terrace had a transfer on side of wall advertising the hairdressers wholesaler, on top of the stables, which made all shampoos and pomades. The sign was scrubbed off when they cleaned the yellow bricks – which removed their patina which is very bad for them. The last thing that building was before they built the new housing was a kite factory. It made the kites for all the kite shops – George was the manager there.
In Giesbach we had a postal sorting office so we just popped over to collect parcels.
The library when at last we got it was a tiny library in just one of the little shops in Archway Place. Then they built a proper library in Giesbach Road but when the precinct came they knocked down so much stuff it was unbelieveable and put in a library in the basement of one of the offices. That’s when the old library became the Chinese Community centre
There was Hargrave Park, St John’s, Eleanor Palmer and Archway School on the Highgate Hill – now converted to housing. The building beside St John’s church used to be the St John’s School. But that was compulsory purchased by the Council – there was a stage when every single thing that came up for sale the Council bought. The new school was built in the ‘70s on what had been a bomb site between St John’s Grove and Pemberton Gardens.
When the comprehensives were built, the Catholics took over old schools. Mount Carmel for example had been a small school in Eden Grove.
I would have left school at 14 but they added another year to compulsory schooling to protect jobs for returning men. I had passed the 11+ but was evacuated in Wales so I missed my opportunity for the grammar and when I came back I went to what was called a secondary modern in Blackstock Road. If I hadn’t done that at 13 you could do a trade exam and go to technical school to study woodwork and carpentry. But those were closed down when got the comprehensives: Highbury Hill, Parliament Hill, Archway and Acland Burley.
Although we live right by Acland Burghley that was in Camden so the children all went on the bus all the way to Highbury Hill High School.
There were four doctor’s practices on Junction road – one where Kings was – which moved out and further down Junction Road
Dr Frazer – used to be next to Stonehouse estate agents.
Dr Inwald – originally Dartmouth Park Hill – father and son practice, the son moving to form part of the St John’s Way practice.
It used to cost 5s every time you went to the doctor and on £5 wages a week you wouldn’t go unless you really had to.
Instead you had a range of remedies and solutions from the chemist which they would mix up for you from their jars. Onion soup for cold, sulphur ointment for rashes, yellow basellican for drawing if you got boils, weejebds?? Children got a Friday night dose of senna pods, milk of magnesia for indigestion, calamine lotion for bites and rashes, Germolene was a dark pink antiseptic and smelt nice, and there was camphorated oil for ears, vapour rub for the chest etc.
As a girl when I was in London during the war I slept down the Arsenal under the West stand – our house was bombed out.
In Archway the biggest bombing was on what is now Sycamore court – I think a land mine came down. A speech therapist had a big family villa there.
Alexander Road was damaged by a land mine – where has all street gone. There was a big clear up in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
In Bughley Road, just behind Acland Burghley School when they started building a new block of flats they discovered an unexploded bomb. The building is called Hambook House after the officer who defused it.
The original Marie Stopes clinic was in Manor Gardens and from the ‘60s you could go there to get the pill – but first they gave you a form you had to get your husband to sign.
You even had the problem with commercial companies. Going to the Gas and Coke company in the Seven Sisters Road to pay the bill I asked for the cooker to be moved. The woman said I couldn’t do that because the bill was in my husband’s name and she couldn’t do anything until husband came down to visit – which was difficult as they only opened office hours and he had a job.
Women weren’t considered responsible 55 years ago – they couldn’t even get a mortgage.
20th May 2010
Notes taken by Kate Calvert