Childhood memories

Memories of Hemel Hempstead 1938-1949

By Wendy Godfrey

St Mary's Church, Hemel Hempstead
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Me on a swing
Me in paddling pool

I was born on the 15th March 1938 in the Marnham Ward at Hemel Hempstead General Hospital (then known as West Herts Hospital), and christened at St Mary’s Parish Church, Wendy Jean Stacey.

When I was a small child evacuees came to live with us at 11 Church Street in the old town, a Mrs Norman and her two children, Margaret who was 15 and Geoffrey who was 11. Margaret I loved, but Geoffrey I hated!! I cannot remember how long they stayed with us, and unfortunately we never kept in contact.

I began school in 1942 aged four years. My first school was Queen Street Infants, which was opposite the garage in Queensway. I can still see that classroom with pictures all round the painted brick walls of numbers and letters of the alphabet. One that stands out in my memory is of five bright orange carrots on a black background with the number five at the end. We had little slates to write on with slate pencils. The first song I ever learnt at school was ‘Bless this House’. My teacher’s name was Miss Pallitt and I remember her as being a very kind person. We used to walk to school through the alleys, as they were known, and on the way had to pass the iron foundry, which was at the back of the High Street behind the Rose and Crown. Standing at the doorway looking in you could feel the heat of the molten metal. The men all worked with bare chests, summer and winter. Opposite the iron foundry between George Street School and Queen Street School the ground stretched up to Alandale (then the Redbourn Road) and was full of heaps of metal and iron scraps. Also on this piece of ground were the air raid shelters for the two schools.

In 1944 I moved up to George Street Junior School, a red brick building, which is now used by the National Heath Service, a new school having been built next door. Our headmistress was Miss Parkins who was very strict; she actually lived at the school. My class teacher in my first year was Mrs Gidner, who was the opposite of Miss Parkins. On a Friday afternoon she always read stories to us as well as bringing cakes and jam tarts, which she had baked. I remember a large picture of Jesus surrounded by children with the words ‘Suffer little children to come unto me’. After I left George Street I attended Corner Hall Girls School in Crabtree Lane, which was right at the top of the hill. This school was demolished a long time ago.

On Sundays I attended Sunday school, which was held in St Mary’s Hall in George Street just below the school. The main hall was painted all round with pictures of the United States e.g. ‘The Statue of Liberty’, ‘The Golden Gate Bridge’ etc. These were painted by the American service men who used the hall. I cannot remember when this was demolished, but it was still there in 1957 as I held my wedding reception there. On the first Sunday of every month we had to attend morning service at St Mary’s Church. It always fascinated me to see the boys from Gadebridge School walking through the town to church with their straw boaters on.

Early in 1943 I was taken ill with scarlet fever and was admitted to the Isolation Hospital. This was at the top of Saint Alban’s Hill opposite the town sewage farm, where the Ski Slope now is. I was in there for about six weeks and had my 5th birthday there. We were not allowed any visitors.

A place we were often taken to was the children’s playground and paddling pool, where the Kodak building now stands. We always had great fun there. As the train went by the engine driver would wave to the children. This was the ‘Nicky Line’, although to us it was always called ‘Puffing Annie’. When I was about 10 years old I remember paying one or two pennies for a ride from Heath Park Halt to Midland Road Station.

When the war ended we had a wonderful street party with fancy dress and a huge bonfire was built in Randalls Park.

 

I lived in Church Street, which was only a small road then, and backed onto Randalls Park. We used to walk across the fields at the top of Church Street to Piccotts End, to play by the river Gade. At the back of the Marchmont was a piece of ground where the Gade divided into two for a short distance, and this was ‘our island’. There was no road running through the park then. We also played on the area where I now live: ‘Cattsdell’. This was called Mimsfield and backed onto St Paul’s Hospital. There was a children’s home next to the hospital called Cattsdells hence the street name. Sometimes we were allowed into the home to play with the other children. In Alexandra Road there was another children’s home for Jewish children, this was called ‘The Chestnuts’. Another couple of places we used to play were along by the Nicky Line and also the gravel pits, which were between the roundabout at the top of Queensway and the roundabout at Cupid Green on the side where the car scrap yard is.

On a Saturday morning my friend and I went shopping for our mothers in the High Street. These are some of the shops we visited:

  1. The watercress beds in Alma Road where for 6 old pennies you got a large bunch of watercress.
  2. Ptle and Thomsons where we took the accumulators to be recharged. This shop was in Alexandra Road.
  3. Woolworths, which was opposite Burton’s the Tailors (now the Pine Shop). Over Burton’s was a billiard hall, later The Betty Bousten Dancing School.
  4. Goodworths, one of the many grocer’s shops in the High Street, this was next Woolworths.
  5. Boots the chemist was on the corner of George Street.
  6. The market, which was in the High Street then. On the corner of the market was the town library. Now the Volunteer Bureau.
  7. Rolphs, the Ladies and Gents outfitters, was further up the High Street on the right hand side. This was a rather large shop with a basement. This was later Wagoners the Art Shop and now Alberto’s the Italian restaurant.
  8. A little further on was a small bakers, I have forgotten the name. Here we purchased a dozen bread rolls.
  9. At the top of the High Street on the left hand side was a butchers shop called Pearmans. This now is a private house. Here my friend collected her mother’s ration of corned beef. Walking up Cherry Bounce at the end of our shopping, a slice of this corned beef in one of the rolls always went down very well.
  10. One other shop to mention was a fish and chip shop just past the old market. Where for a threepenny bit you could buy two pennyworth of chips and one pennyworth of scrumps (delicious).

Every year the Statty Fair visited Hemel Hempstead. This was held at Hand Post Farm in Old Queen Street where the Garage in Queensway now stands. Occasionally a circus would visit also at Hand Post Farm.

The buses in those days came along Marlowes, turned left into Alma Road, along by the watercress beds and right into Bury Road. The buses all lined up outside the Bury ready to start on their return journeys. Alma Road was where the Dacorum College is now.

Having no bathroom at home, every Friday evening (women’s night) we used to visit the public baths for our weekly scrub. These baths were opposite the Baptist Church. Next to the baths was a garage called County Garage. Next to this was the Methodist Church. Over the garage was a small factory called the Toy Studios, where they used to make and paint toy farms and forts etc. On the corner of Alma Road was a public house called the Sebright Arms, next to this was a children’s clothing factory called Polly Flinders. We were taken on a school trip to see the dresses etc being made.

Where the funny roundabout is now the three roads Lawn Lane, Two Waters Road and Station Road all merged into one road, Marlowes. No roundabout then. There was a café between Lawn Lane and Two Waters Road. This was called The Triangle Café; also here were public toilets.

When we were about nine years old we were taken from school to the Old Town Hall in the High Street to see a model of the New Town. To us as children this all seemed pretty wonderful. A new shopping centre, Marlowes, was full of dingy old shops, the largest and only one with an upstairs called ‘Hendersons’. A new cinema to replace our two very old cinemas, the Princess and the Luxor, water gardens and a grand pavilion!!  Which has now been pulled down.

These are just a few memories of my childhood.

 

This page was added on 07/04/2010.

Comments about this page

  • Hi Sue (nee) Black. The name does ring a bell,- did you go to Halsey School ? My family moved to Warners End in 1957 when I was six. After my father got the job managing Warners End Garage as it was completing construction. After having started school where I was born in Marylebone, I went to Pixies Hill, then Micklem, then Martindale, then Rossgate, then Cavendish and then Halsey schools in that order as we moved around the town, and left to start work before I was 15 a little tired of schools. At 15 I’d already worked for 4 years starting at 5.00 and working all day saturdays on the market. I saw the Marlowes develop and used to go to the Odeon on Saturday mornings. Does anyone remember the little sweetshop in Coterells just on the corner of the back street opposite the colllege ?

    A bit different now for me. I left the UK in 1981 to live in Mallorca. Still there, and now have grandchildren born there.

    By Steve Bicknell Sr (11/03/2018)
  • Lovely memories! Could you please tell me what Corner Hall refers to? I have an ancestor who was a shoemaker and lived in Corner Hall in 1839? Many thanks
    Keith Wilson

    By Keith Wilson (14/01/2018)
  • My family moved to hemel when I was nearly 2yrs old, in 1956. We lived in St Albans Hill. I started Corner Hall infants school, when I was 4yrs old. At 11. I attended Corner Hall Girls school. From. Sept 1965. And left at the end of my 3rd year, as we moved away. My last form teacher, was Mr Mead. He had a ginger beard. I was known as Bonnie (my nickname) Simpson. I would love to hear from any girls that remember me. Can anyone tell me why the school was demolished?

    By Julia Robinson (Bonnie Simpson.) (19/12/2017)
  • It was interesting to read all the memories about old Hemel Hempstead. I was born in 1945 in Ashridge House and lived in Chapel St and Tensing Rd. One memory I have was a grand historical pageant in about 1949/50. It was held in Gadebridge Park and I think it was to commemorate the Royal Charter being given by Henry V111.
    I was in the pageant (aged about 4) . My sister June Carpenter played an archer going to the crusades and I was her child.
    Needless to say I cried my eyes out when she went off (bit of method acting on my part) The man who played the part of Henry V111 was very much like him, and Mary 1 was played by a lady who was identical. I tried to get some information about this event from the Gazette but according to them it never happened. Apparently there was smaller version a few years later to commemorate something else which I definitely wasn’t in, the Gazette has a few photographs of that but Henry V111 is being played by a man who looks nothing like him. If anyone has any memories of original pageant I would be interested to hear them.

    By Kathleen Carpenter (03/06/2017)
  • Congratulations Wendy on your childhood memories. There is so much misinformation on various websites these days written by people who know nothing whatsover about Hemel Hempstead that it was a pleasure to read.

    By John Newberry (10/07/2016)
  • hi Bernard my late wife Janet worked at the Chestnuts from about 1953-1957 the children used to call her MISS JAMJAR she also worked with her friend Barbara.The matron was a Miss Blooman [MATIE] and her assistant Miss Unsworth {UNSIE}I also have 5 photographs of the staff and children taken about 1956

    By BOB OWEN (06/03/2016)
  • This is a message for Rose Russell. My wife has been looking for information about the Chestnuts home for years and now she has found it on this website. In fact it is now 60 years since she was there.

    By warren Bernhaut (15/01/2016)
  • Wendy I remember it all so well, you see we moved into Union St  No. 15 around 1943. That is my mum and sister Jean Graves moving from Cupid Green, by a coincidence Jeans birthday was also 15 March, 1948 unfortunately she passed away Feb 2015. She also went to Queens St Infants, followed by George St. and finally Corner Hall.

    Lennie Graves 10.12.2015

      

    By lennie graves (10/12/2015)
  • Hello steve .

     Yes i remember the threepenny bit house . Because i was born there

    My grandfather looked after the rivergade. You my remember my family you might have gone to school with them

    By sue townsend

    By sue townsend .nee sue black (14/01/2015)
  • I am writing for my Dad who too has memories of his first school being Queen street infants around 1943-44 and passing the iron foundry, also the heaps of metal and iron scraps.  He lived in the cottages in Queens street No. 89? which backed onto the metal and iron scraps with his mother’s sister known to him as Ruby & Jack. His mother Grace Joyce died in 1941.  Does anyone remember Ruby & Jack or have any information about them.  He has memories that Jack died in a motor bike accident??

    By Julie (27/09/2014)
  • To John West who commented on 06/08/14  I hope you find Stephanie. She was my friend at Cattsdells. I left in 1956. My name then was Jackie Kitchen.

    By jackie ellis (20/09/2014)
  • In 1953 my family moved from london to ritcroft st.In 1955 my dad died in london.My mum allways whated a girl so in 1957 we went to cattsdells childer home.We fund a 9 year old girl called stephanie ratcliffe.In 1961 i went into the army and my mum said stephnie had to go back to the home.at the age 13.Icame out of the army in 1967 and i have been looking for her all this time.the fish and chip shop old part of town was called jack-mary.And st pauls hospital was old army came.

    By john west (02/08/2014)
  • Wonderful to read. My Grandma lived in Church St at this time.Emily Norris. My brother Doug and sisters Valerie and Christine attended Queen st school. They must have known Wendy. The surname was Quarman.

    By Sandra Kirk (23/11/2013)
  • Thank you Wendy for your interesting memories. My story almost runs tandem with yours. I was born in January of the same year as you and lived at The Sun inn, old High Street. I had Scarlet Fever at the same isolation hospital and believe I caught it at The Plough paddling pool where I slipped and swallowed some of the slime. I used to play around the foundry and air raid shelters, not to mention the island in Gadebridge Park. I used to live opposite ‘Fishy Joe’s” fish shop and always popped in there for scrumps. My brother David worked for London Transport and often drove his double decker down Alma Road and into Bury Road to park. Your list of shops I remember well. Thanks for your wonderful memories of ‘Hemel Hempstead Remembered’.

    By Alan Bailey (23/11/2013)
  • Thank you so much for your memories so beautifully remembered! Your writings will be stored in my ‘memory box’. A treasure indeed. Thank you again!

    By Jill Flude (09/11/2013)
  • I too was very excited to read about the Jewish Children’s home. I was there with my sister in around1964. If anyone is willing, I would love to chat about it and would also dearly love to know if the building still exists to see if any of my memories are correct

    By Rose Russell (01/01/2012)
  • I too remember very well the “Island” behind Marchmont House. We had a rope swing over the river to get to the middle of it from the Gadebridge side. I also remember the greenhouses behind the house, and used to scrump apples from there. Does anyone remember the “threepenny-bit” hunting lodge/house on the corner by the iron bridge that always had washing lines out and a little allotment by the side ? We played in that too before it was demolished.

    By Steve Bicknell (14/10/2011)
  • I was very interested to see that you had mentioned the Jewish childrens home called the chestnuts which I spent some time in approximately from the age of 5years -11years . Thank you very much for taking the time to record your memories .

    By jacqueline wood (13/08/2011)
  • I moved to Hemel in 1956 I was 8yrs old. I was born in USA my mum met my dad at Bovingdon my mum & her family lived in Hemel for many years prior to this surname Spurr they lived off Lawn Lane. My great grand father owned Spotted Bull in Apsley. I went to George St & Corner Hall Schools left school in 1963 I now live in USA. Loved your memories, made me relive mine just a few years behind you thanks. Sandra

    By sandra snailham (19/02/2011)

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