Memories of early life in Watford, the Coronation and circus

‘The only constant in life is change’ declared the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Change is something with which we all grapple on a daily basis; embracing particular aspects whilst less enthusiastic about others. An inability to return to our past other than in our minds or on film means an ever-increasing accumulation of memories. This is when nostalgia permits us to indulge in the relative safety of the past and, being selective, the pleasures of what went before. Some things we learn from, others we don’t. But that’s life!

I entered this world feet first in Stanboroughs Nursing and Maternity Home, Garston, with the umbilical cord tied fast around my neck. Dr. Colwill apparently saved me. I was brought to 62 Talbot Avenue, Oxhey, where my parents lived with my paternal grandparents whilst saving for a house.

Stanborough’s, The Aerial Photographic Coy, 1933

A move to 45 Hillingdon Road, Kingswood gave my parents independence, though the duration proved shorter than expected. My first memory is sitting crossed-legged on the floor in the front room, watching the Gold State Coach bearing the future Queen Elizabeth II in its dignified progress to Westminster Abbey. Neither the tiny glass screen dwarfed by the polished wood cabinet surround nor the doubtful quality of the grey images failed to dampen my amazement at the incredible spectacle. I was given a small replica Coronation coach and horses, but over the years it sadly disappeared.

Watford Observer:

45 Hillingdon Road, Kingswood; Lesley’s father’s Austin 7 parked outside, 1951

I remember the parade of shops at North Approach, by the top of Greenwood Drive, where Alf and Joan Smith ran a hairdressing business and lived in the flat above, in which I enjoyed an occasional sleep-over with their daughter of similar age. She and I used to play on our tricycles in the garden at Hillingdon Road. We remain in contact.

‘The Lone Ranger’ television series, though grown-up for my very tender years, proved strangely absorbing, as did its mesmerising theme music: Rossini’s William Tell Overture. Memories of ‘Hi Ho Silver’ and ‘Tonto’ remain firmly engrained in my mind. I still see images of the Lone Ranger on his rearing horse whenever I hear the overture on Classic FM!

Another memory of Hillingdon Road was the grand arrival of the circus. What seemed an enormous field extended alongside the A405 to the Leavesden Green junction. Seeing the ‘big top’ going up and the accompanying vehicles, caravans, animals and performers on what was used as a dog walking area was beyond exciting.

As for the circus performance itself, well, it was the biggest event in my life; the first time I had seen a ringmaster, performers with animals, clowns and candy floss. The clowns’ startling make-up and mischievous antics proved a little scary though! Ever since, whenever I have driven past the now-built up area alongside the A405, I recall the anticipation of that circus performance. The road is so much busier with traffic than it was in those peaceful, indeed leisurely days.

Watford Observer:

Lesley at Mater Salvatoris School

Whilst living in Kingswood, I spent a couple of terms at a pre-school class at Mater Salvatoris in Kitters Green, Abbots Langley which later burnt down. All I really remember is a sense of kindness and strictness in equal measure and having a handkerchief knotted around my waistband so I wouldn’t lose it.

After my beloved grandfather collapsed in the pathway at the top of Wilcot and Talbot Avenues and later died, my grandmother found widowed life increasingly challenging. At my parents’ suggestion, she and they sold up and we all moved into 27 Wilcot Avenue, Oxhey, across from her Talbot Avenue home.

Watford Observer:

27 Wilcot Avenue, Oxhey, soon after moving in, 1953

My upbringing there was stable, despite my parents’ on-going highly active involvement in many local groups and societies and trips away. My Victorian Methodist grandmother was always there; like a best friend, she instilled in me in her solid Gloucestershire values; the words and melodies of World War One-era folk, military and patriotic songs, amazingly still fresh in her mind; and old, meaningful proverbs. I still try to adhere to her favourite ones – Waste Not Want Not and A Stitch in Time Saves Nine amongst them – timeless, eminently wise and particularly relevant in today’s uncertain world.

My early life presented change in the form of three houses, but the same could not be said of the kindly neighbours in Wilcot Avenue and Talbot Avenue. Many had arrived in the pre-World War Two era and remained there for decades; in fact, until after I was married.

Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at www.pastdayspublishing.com and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.

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