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Glasford Street, Tooting,
London, SW17.
(page 2 of 3)


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I  had been to three different schools in Tooting by time I left at the age of 14 in the summer of 1935. My last school was in Selincourt Road, a Senior Elementary School. I seem to remember being absent quite a lot due to illness, so consequently missed most of the examinations.

During our time at Selincourt Road School, both Fred and I joined the Third Tooting Scout Troop that was attached to the school; Fred was in the Wolf Cubs.

Every year the Troop would take part in the annual Scout Concert and Jamboree that was held at the Co-op hall at Upper Tooting. I think we were present for about two years, probably 1933 and 1934. It was a grand affair that involved several weeks of rehearsals at the school beforehand and the main theme of the show was always something topical. 1933 was the year that the so-called Loch Ness Monster caused a sensation in the newspapers, so it was chosen as our theme for the Scout Concert. Dozens of boys, covered in a canopy of painted canvas formed a winding snake-like creature and paraded around the hall with only our feet showing… yes, I was one of them… and I got into trouble with the Scout Master because I kept popping my head out from under the monster's "skirt".

Fred must have been better behaved than me, because in 1933 he was awarded a Silver Cup as Champion Cub for the year. During the latter part of my time in the Scouts I tried to learn to play the bugle and was allowed to march with it on Church Parades, even though I couldn't play properly. One Sunday the Standard Bearer was taken ill and couldn't turnout for the parade, so I was told to take his place with no prior warning or training for the job. It was fine while we were marching, but I got into trouble when we were dismissed at the end of the march. I saluted, along with the rest of the troop; that's something the Standard Bearer doesn't do!

In spite of his Champion Cub status, I believe Fred was more mischievous than me, except that he never got caught… There was the occasion one dark evening when Fred and I joined a group of our mates strolling the streets with nothing particular to do. Two of the lads decided to push open the door of a Snooker Club to look inside, all quite innocent! Some of the members decided to chase the lads to teach them a lesson, but we were too fast for them and disappeared into the night - all except me. I got caught because I hung behind and I was only there because mum had sent me out to look for Fred…

Epsom Races played a part in Tooting's History. The main road, Tooting High Street (now the A24) was the favourite place for school kids to congregate. They would stand and wait for the charabancs to return from Epsom taking the London punters back home. The kids would shout "throw out yer mouldies" and if they were lucky and the passengers had had a good day then the pennies would shower out from the coach windows and sprinkle over the pavement for the kids to fight over. Many times I walked the half mile from Glasford street, during Epsom week, to take my chance with the other kids and guess I may have picked up the odd coin or two sometimes, but it never made me rich.

Not many changes were made to Tooting Junction during the time we lived there, and the shops in Mitcham Road at the end of Glasford Street remained much the same. Mum belonged to the Co-op in Mitcham Road and collected the metal checks that she cashed in for her "divvy" whenever it was paid out. Next door to the Co-op was a large old house in its own grounds, which was the home and surgery of our family doctor. The house was demolished around 1934 to make way for a brand new police station; I well remember that being built. The old police station, a much smaller building at Amen Corner, is still there, I believe.

One of the neighbours living opposite us in Glasford Street was a widow; she was elderly and had a deformed hand. Aunt May was a friend of hers and I was given the task of going over to her house every day to peel her potatoes. I hated scraping the new potatoes because the old knife she gave me would tear into my fingers.

I also remember doing a milk round once I was old enough. The milkman, Ted, worked for a local private dairy, Davis of Tooting Junction. I would leave home at about 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning and have to walk about half a mile to join him on the round, where he had already started delivering. He wasn't always in the same place each morning but I could always find him because the streets were very quiet (no cars about in those days at that time of the morning) and the sound of the wooden wheels on his push-cart and rattle of milk bottles could be heard a long way off.

Ted apparently started work at about 4 o' clock each morning because he would have to wash and sterilise all the milk bottles in a shed at the back of the dairy before filling all the bottles by hand and putting the cardboard caps on. The bottles were in three sizes: quarts, pints, and half pints, but mostly we used the pint size on the delivery round because of the ease of handling. Even so, the bottles were thicker and heavier than nowadays and had a two-inch diameter neck. When it came to delivering to the more distant out of the way roads, Ted would load me with as many bottles as I could carry, sometimes about ten pints, one in each pocket, two under each arm, two in each hand, and send me off to deliver them on the way home while he would finish off his round and wend his way back to the cafe near the station to have his breakfast.

It took a lot of practice to carry all those bottles and I'm surprised I never dropped more than I did. However, I do remember one occasion when I dropped the lot and had to walk all the way back to the cafe to find him. I saw his cart parked outside in the curb and got this terrible feeling that I was about to lose my job when I tell him what happened, but he was very good about it, told me not to worry and gave me another ten pints.

Ted would start a second delivery about lunchtime every day after he had been back to the dairy to clean and fill the bottles again. I would help him again on Saturdays during the second delivery and have to knock on the doors for the money and shout out "Milko". I guess that I did that milk round for about a year, from the age of thirteen until I left school at fourteen, and then Fred took over the round.

I also remember doing a paper round for a shop at Tooting Junction, but I believe I had started work by then, so I obviously had to finish the round in time to get back home and travel to work. I always used my own bike, both for the paper round and for travelling to work.

At first I had a second-hand bike but in 1936 I bought a brand new BSA Sports Bicycle. The bike was very basic, it had no gears, just a freewheel and a fixed-wheel cog on the back wheel. There was a bell and a pump and mudguards; any other accessories would have been regarded as luxuries! The hire purchase price of the bike, £5/17/- (£5.85, €8.84), was a lot of money for a fifteen-year-old boy to pay out, so Aunt May, who lived next door to us, kindly offered to loan me the cash price of £4/10/- (£4.50, €6.80) and I paid her back in weekly instalments. That bike was the pride of my life and the envy of all the other boys in the street, but I wasn't to know just how well it was to serve me… after many years of continuous use, I finally sold it in 1984.

Picture of a 1936 Gents Light Roadster bicycle
A typical 1930's bike such as this 3-Spires Gents Light Roadster cost from £3/19/9 (£3.98, €6.03), including pump, pump clips, tool bag (behind saddle), a few tools, mudguards and rear reflector; note the lack of changeable gears or lights. This bike was, I believe, made in Coventry, but my dad's BSA Sports Bicycle probably came from Birmingham.

A "Sturmey-Archer" three-speed was my first luxury accessory to the bike after I had paid off my dues to Aunt May. The gear change lever was on the crossbar and of course it also involved having a new back wheel to accommodate the gear drum. Over the years, new items were added to the bike to up-date it, including different saddles, new handlebars, new brakes, tyres, mudguards, bell and lamps, etc.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Text by Alf Allen 1999. Edited and spell-checked by Mike Allen 2003.
Most photos taken by Alf and most illustrations drawn by him; scanned from his albums, etc., now in my possession and digitally edited 2003-2005.
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