Memories of Kings Langley
The Drift and view of the valley
At the time there was open farmland at the top of our garden and beyond as far as one could see. On the right hand side there were big iron gates into the grounds of the Archer Colony, where flower shows were held. Going up the Drift there were no houses on the left hand side until you reached West Meon, where the solicitor Matthew Arnold lived. The house and its long garden are still there. Turning right above West Meon the path came out onto Langley Hill, and on the right lived the Payne family. One son was Jack - not the dance band leader of the time! You crossed the road and walked through the allotments to Vicarage Lane and the Common.
From the bungalow we had a good view over the valley and I recall the Ovaltine chimney being built, slowly getting taller and taller. Some people said it would be a great danger to aircraft. At a school Sports at Home Park everything stopped when the R101 airship flew over. In 1927 we went to the elm trees blown down across Watford Road, with a bus trapped between trunks just beyond Moat Farm. Walking along the footpath to the station you could still see at the Home Park millrace the old water wheel rotating, probably not driving anything.
I remember sitting on the bank outside our bungalow collecting registration numbers of cars going up and down Watford Road. ER and AR were local Hertfordshire registration letters. Father being a smoker, I had a good collection of cigarette cards. Making pea-shooters from cow parsley stems with unripe hawthorn berries as ammunition. Conkers were a popular pastime. We had six big chestnut trees, which are still there, between the Rose & Crown and the Great Park estate.
Dr Reginald Fisher in the High Street was our doctor. On one occasion Dr Harvey from Watford came to us. I caught impetigo and had to have my hair cropped, which the children found rather funny. During a diphtheria epidemic swabs were taken and I was found to be a carrier. I felt perfectly normal but was taken to the Isolation Hospital up St Albans Hill for two weeks. Two things I liked were banana sandwiches and shepherds pie with a nice crusty top.
I had my tonsils removed at West Herts hospital - in for four days and brought home by mother in one of the Rose & Crown’s taxis, driven by Bert Glover, one of the chauffeurs. I had only been on buses before; they were open-topped with a canvas apron you could pull back over you to keep the rain off. The bus would stop anywhere you wished, to pick up or put down.
The medicine cupboard had Aspirins, Germoline, Vaseline, Camphorated oil for rubbing on chest and back, eucalyptus for colds, iodine which father used generously if you had a cut or a scratch. When he had a sore throat my father put a sock around his throat - a sock that had been warn and had the perspiration from your feet in it - an old country remedy from Victorian times, father having been in a country village in 1886.
Musical entertainment before the wireless was from a gramophone. I remember ‘Shepherd of the Hills’ (Grandfather on mother’s side was a shepherd from Pitstone Green Farm), ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ and ‘In a Persian Market’. We had a piano which mother played, badly.
We got our first wireless from Sands, who took over from the Ellises, a shop near Keens the Butcher. In a little oak box with a trumpet-shaped speaker on top. It had to have an accumulator, which I had to take to McMillans garage down the footpath to be charged for a day or two and then collected. Also a high-tension battery, about 110 volts, and a grid-bias battery, about 10 volts. It needed a fairly high, long aerial. It was a bit of a novelty.
Mother played Whist. She won a prize of a Sunbeam bicycle, the Rolls Royce of bicycles. It served her well for many a year.
Shops in the High Street
Amos Young the tailor. My father had a suit made there. Spiegelhalter the watchmaker. He always wore his cap when he came in to wind the church clock - the only man who never took his hat off when he came into the church.
Harry and Mrs Burgin at the Rose & Crown advertised Watford Palace shows and often had complimentary tickets which were passed over to my mother. On Sundays we would go for walks. A favourite was to Boxmoor to hear the band. I went to a magic-lantern show about missionary work in Africa. This attracted a large audience, filling Church House. Church House often had dances. Father brought home a police helmet rescued from a rowdy group with a rude word chalked on it. We had a knife with which someone had tried to commit suicide. I considered going into the police force when demobbed after the war but decided against it.
The shops we used most were Watertons the grocers and Keens the butchers, but my mother often shopped in Watford for lower prices. She would buy half a pig’s head from Gibsons in lower High Street to make brawn, which I enjoyed. Late on Saturday she could get oranges and bananas cheaper than earlier in the day. Not much has changed in the High Street but opposite us, where the village garden is now, was Mr Toms’ orchard. Beyond a high fence you could see apple trees, mostly Russets. I don’t remember anyone scrumping apples, maybe because they were opposite the police bungalow.
Another shop was Godman’s Fish & Chip shop in Waterside. A threepenny piece of fish and two pennyworth of chips was quite a meal. We went to Mr Bullock’s shop, a wooden hut, for a shilling’s worth of creosote to treat the outside of the chicken-house. Splashes of creosote on my hands and face were removed with margarine or butter. I was not allowed to lime-wash the inside of the chicken-house. Characters I remember, from a small boy’s angle: Mr Holliman the Sweep; Sergeant Wade, a large man of the Mr Clymo build - actually a retired police sergeant, he was the truant-catcher; the Muffin Man, name unknown, with a tray on his head, walking along the High Street and ringing his bell.
Un 1931 unemployment had reached 2,900,000 and almost daily one would see a tramp walking along the main road. Although the Jarrow Marches were not until 1936, I recall in about 1931 a column of men marching from K.L. to Hunton Bridge and so on to London. About 80 men with my father at the head of them.
Published by kind permission of Peter Ward