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

1930-1937


Mum married again on 25th August 1934, and we continued to live at 58 Glasford Street. Our new stepfather, Charlie Anderson, was a good dad to us and he took on a great responsibility with this ready-made family of three boys. He was very keen on sport and regularly took us to Figs Marsh at Mitcham to play around with a ball. In his youth he had played football with a club at Balham and had excelled at cycle racing.

Our sister Valerie was born on 27th July 1935.


My first job on leaving School in 1935, was in the Pharmacy Department of the RACS store in Garrett Lane, Earlsfield, probably about ten minutes bike ride from home. The job involved local deliveries on the firm's carrier bike and general cleaning and packaging in the shop. One of my tasks was to weigh-up bags of loose Sennapods for sale in the shop. A cellar below the shop was used as a storeroom and it was a tricky job climbing the steep ladder with heavy cardboard boxes. My wage would have been 13/- (£0.65, €0.98) a week, but I only stayed 3 days so I never received a full wage. I was pretty upset when they said I was not required any longer and my trial period was over.


My second job was at the grocers "International Stores" in the High Street at Streatham, near to St. Leonard's Church. Again I was a delivery boy, one of several boys and older staff working in this very busy branch. My job involved some menial cleaning tasks in the shop but most of my time was taken up with deliveries on a carrier bike.


A 1931 Speedwell delivery bike
A 1931 Speedwell delivery bike with wooden carrier, typical of the day.


This was virtually non-stop as the orders were mostly for well-to-do customers who insisted on having their groceries delivered at a certain time of day. The deep-cane basket of my carrier bike was often full to overflowing, sometimes just for one customer. On return to the shop the next delivery was loaded on to my bike - it took 2 men to lift the basket - and off I went again.

The delivery area wasn't very big, probably no more than half a mile from the shop, but the customers would telephone their orders or call in the shop with their list, but rarely carry anything themselves, and all the big weekly orders were delivered by carrier bike. On one occasion I had to deliver to a big house opposite the Church, no more than two hundred yards from the shop. The basket was so heavy that when I got off the saddle the back wheel tipped up and the bike toppled over outside the house where I was to deliver. The contents of the basket spilled across the busy road and I hurriedly scrambled to pick up the goods and carried them into the tradesmen's entrance to the house. There were several bottles of wines and spirits in the basket and laid on top were about 2 dozen eggs, most of which were broken. There appeared to be no other damage and the customer didn't complain because nothing was said about it in the shop. My wages in that shop were 12/- (£0.60, €0.91) a week and after one week I had had enough and moved on to my next job.

My third job, whilst still living at Glasford Street, was only a very short distance from my last job at the grocers. This time it was at a high-class confectioners, Fullers of Streatham High Street. Here again I was employed as a delivery boy but also helped in the kitchen, which was attached to the teashop. The main items I had to deliver were fresh cakes of all shapes and sizes, mostly creamy and always packed in smart cardboard boxes. The company was famous not only for it's fancy cakes but also for its chocolates and candies, and these were also part of my deliveries. My wages started at 12/6d (£0.63, €0.95) a week, a slight improvement to my last job, and by time I left the job several months later I was earning 15/- (£0.75, €1.13) a week plus tips. The clients of this shop, which was situated in an upper-class part of Streatham, were mostly people who took morning coffee or afternoon tea in the shop, where they would meet with friends to gossip and order their fancy cakes, etc., to be delivered so they wouldn't have to carry them home.

My delivery area covered several miles around south London, from Brixton, Clapham, Dulwich to the Crystal Palace area, Croydon, Norbury and Mitcham. Some of the nearest customers were in the big houses on north-side Streatham Common, who usually employed servants.


All my deliveries were done on a white carrier bike made especially by Halfords, a very impressive-looking bike with a small front wheel under a large white carrier box. One morning when returning from a delivery I got caught in a traffic jam at the crossroads by Streatham Hill Station; a Policeman was controlling the traffic by hand-signals. I stopped behind a horse and cart, but the horse decided to back-up and I got squashed between the cart and a motor van, which was behind me. I was temporarily knocked out but came to as the ambulance arrived. I was taken to Weir Hospital in Balham and treated for shock and bruises, whilst in the hospital I got a message from the shop to say I could have the afternoon off because of the accident, so I went home by tram to Tooting, where I lived.

The following day I returned to work to find the firm's carrier bike in the yard at the back of the shop, it was completely buckled in two at the crossbar. Eventually I got a new carrier bike but in the meantime I had to use my own bike for local deliveries, whilst the longer distance orders were dealt with by a man from Head Office in his car. I travelled with him at Christmas time when we were extra busy and I remember it was extremely foggy. I couldn't help noticing that he carefully selected the customers that he could rely on for good tips, while I was left in the car on these occasions.


Another thing I remember while still working at Fullers was that I needed a new lamp for the carrier bike and the manageress of the shop insisted that I bought the very latest model of Lucas oil lamp ("because it would last a long time"). This had to be cleaned and filled every week with paraffin, even though by then (winter 1935/36) battery lamps as we know them now were already in common use. I also noticed that in the cellar of the shop was a uniform and cap intended for a delivery boy, but as it didn't fit me I couldn't wear it, and no attempt was made to order a new one for me.


A Lucas cycle oil lamp, circa 1930's
A "Lucas" cycle oil lamp from the 1930's


Streatham High Road, like most main roads in London at that time, had tramlines running through the centre of the road. These were a hazard to cyclists even though we had learned to live with them. A quick manoeuvre of the front wheel was all that was needed to cross the lines without catching your wheel in the rut, but it was equally important to ensure you avoided collision with another bike or other vehicle when doing so.

One evening, when cycling home from work, it was raining and the road was very slippery. The junction to Mitcham Lane outside St. Leonard's Church was particularly busy with no policeman controlling the traffic, and I suddenly caught my front wheel in the tram line and ended up colliding with a Rolls Royce coming in the opposite direction. The bike was under the front wheel of the car and I was unceremoniously sprawled across the bonnet, having caught my knee on the car's bumper. The chauffeur got out of the car to make sure I wasn't too badly hurt, or that I hadn't damaged his precious car, and then proceeded to drive away. It wasn't until I had crossed to the pavement and tried to ride the bike that I discovered that the front wheel was buckled. I consequently had to push the bike all the way home.


Sometime in 1935 or 1936 my family persuaded me to take an evening class in geometry. I can't think why, because I had shown no particular flair for drawing of any kind until about 1939, when the war started. The course was in a school in Upper Tooting and was for one term only. Unfortunately, after the first week's lesson the course had to be abandoned because the teacher had died and a replacement couldn't be found. The students were split up among the other classes because we had paid for the whole term and couldn't get a refund. I think most of us spent the remaining weeks taking part in a Spelling Bee!


In was in about April 1936 that I decided to try my hand at factory work, and after applying to many factories in the area I eventually found a job at Venners Time Switches at New Malden, on the Kingston by-pass. This was my fourth job since leaving school. I was able to cycle there from Glasford Street, Tooting; the journey took about 45 minutes. My starting wage was about 15/- (£0.75, €1.13) a week and it was to rise to 17/- (£0.85, €1.28) in the two years I was there. I started in the Repairs Department as a tea boy. There were about thirty men and boys working in the department and my duties were to fetch and carry for them, collecting tea and cakes, chocolates, cigarettes, etc., from the canteen whenever they wanted it and helping the tea lady bring the heavy kettles up in the lift from the ground floor twice a day. Our department was situated on the first floor and the lift was hand-operated by rope. The mugs of tea were pint size, very strong and heavily sugared, filled to the brim with tea and the cost was one penny (1d).


A Venners Time Switch as used in a street lamp-post
A Venners Time Switch, used extensively to switch-on street lamp-posts

When I wasn't acting as tea boy, I was expected to sort the scrap, which proved to be useful initial training. I was soon promoted to shop boy which allowed me to run errands to other departments, take materials for treatment to the metal finishing department and collect parts and tools from the stores. I was eventually trained to use the lathes, drills and other machines. By the time I left the firm in 1938 I was a fully qualified Time Switch Adjuster.


A more modern Venners Time Switch
A more-modern Type P7S Venners Time Switch


While we were still living at Tooting our cousin, Gladys Flood, who lived next door to us at Glasford Street, celebrated her 21st birthday. Her mother, Aunt May, asked me if I knew of any small dance bands as she was planning a Dinner and Dance for family and friends to mark the occasion. I was able to help because a fellow work-mate of mine at Venners was always talking about his brother who played the saxophone. He could, he said, gather together a small group of musicians, and so I put him in touch with Aunt May.

The outcome was that a rather grand affair was arranged and held at the Bedford Hotel at Balham. My friend from work, Eric, introduced me to his brother and we helped to set up the band on the stage. The brother explained to me that he had booked a guest pianist who was blind and asked me to meet him at the back door of the hotel and guide him upstairs to the stage, as apparently the pianist wished to avoid being conspicuous; consequently the party guests didn't realise he was blind. The band were extremely good, especially the pianist, who was fairly unknown at the time, about 1937. His name was George Shearing…


A 1935 Silver Jubilee china Commemorative Mug
A point of history… we had street parties everywhere in May 1935, and our street was festooned with flags and bunting to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. All school children were given china beakers as a momento of the occasion.
King George V died in January 1936; the Prince of Wales became King Edward VIII but abdicated on 11th December 1936. He later married Mrs Simpson and became the Duke of Windsor. The Duke of York succeeded to the throne on December 11th 1936 and became King George VI.


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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.
Yes, yes, the photos and layout need updating - the website was first designed in "dial-up days", before any sort of broadband, and everything had to be small so it uploaded and downloaded fast. Work to do, I know.

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