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.

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  • My twin sisters and I (originally from Stepney) lived in The Chestnuts for six months in 1959-60. I was seven years old and they were six years old. Just today I thought about that time for the first time since I was a child. I Googled and found this site. I do remember “Matie”. My only other memory is all the children were taken to the West End to see a pantomime and the cast called us out to wave to the audience. I had no idea it was a home for Jewish children or in Hemel Hempstead. Thank you for the history and memory.

    By Tina Keith (née Levine) (03/05/2023)
  • I also went to Queens St school and George St school in the fifties then corner hall. My grandad ran the iron foundry and was a farrier. He died in 1959. I loved the watercress beds if only watercress tasted like that now! I remember the round house and used to play with the kids from there. I lived in Herbert St old town. No bathroom toilet in garden. Mum and Dad did a lot of dancing at Betty Bouston and both my parents worked at Dickinsons. I loved my headmistress at George St school Miss Parkin and still have the prize for coming first in English. Mrs Garson was strict but an excellent teacher. My Uncle George was manager at The Princess Cinema and my grandma was usherette at The Luxor. Mmm free chocolate and ice creams. My Aunty worked at Polly Flinders so had lots of lovely clothes. I was born in 1950. My parents Elsie and Lou Woodward passed away in 2014 and 2016 aged 92. I remember Bill Wildman and Albert Rose the milkmen. Happy memories of Hemel I now live in North Wales.

    By Christine Arnell (nee Woodward) (19/12/2022)
  • My parents were Bill and Jean Minty, and from 1947 until 1959 they lived at 18 Alma Road, Hemel Hempstead. My dad was born in 1920 at 25 Austin’s Place, just off the High Street; his sister, Bett, followed in 1923. Their parents were Bella and Will Minty. Will was born in London in1889 and came to Hemel with a horse artillery regiment at the outbreak of WW1. Bella Minty (nee Crussell) was born in Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire in 1884 and came to live with her mother, Sarah Crussell (nee Starman) and older sister, Betty at Austin’s Place. Betty worked in service for the Granville family at Wellesborne in Warwickshire. My grandmother, Bella, was a machinist at Umpherrville’s apron factory at the top of Alma Road.
    Sarah Starman was born in Hemel in1833 to parents William and Ann Starman who lived in Pope’s Lane, now long gone, but close to where Bury Road used to be. William Starman was born there in 1801, and according to the census was a cooper to trade..
    I was delivered by Sister Olive Regis in the Marnham Ward of the West Herts Hospital 23 days after the founding of the NHS in 1948. I am 5th generation Hemel, a little unusual in the context of Hemel as it exists in 2022.
    My earliest memories are of 18 Alma Road, a house on the right-angled corner at the bottom of the road. We lived on the ground floor until my parents were able to buy the whole house. It was demolished by the New Towns Commission in 1959, along with the rest of Alma Road, to make way for the development of Hemel Hempstead’s new Civic Centre, consisting of Dacorum College, Police Station, Magistrates Court, Library, new Town Hall, Pavilion Theatre and Odeon Cinema. At the bottom of our garden was a large sycamore tree, which last time I visited Hemel, was still standing. It was the only way I could pinpoint exactly where our house stood, prior to demolition. Our mongrel, Ted, was the first inhabitant of the new Police Station’s dog kennels. A regular wanderer, he had been found after missing for a week.
    Next door to us were Mrs Copeland, whose husband had been killed in WW1 and Mr and Mrs King. Mrs Copeland used to take her baths in our house as she had no running hot water. Their radio was powered by a battery accumulator which was re-charged at Brockett’s hardware store, round the corner in Bury Road. I used to be sent there to collect paraffin for our downstairs Valor stove. Further down the road lived Mr and Mrs Timberlake.
    In Bury Road was Taylor’s fish and chip shop where you could buy a piece of Rock Salmon and chips for 1s (5p). Moving round the corner was Sid’s newspaper shop and next to him the Bream’s Coaches garage. Through the 1950’s they were a feature of Hemel’s transport system. At the top of Alma Road, on the Parade, were the bus stops, including the 709 coaches to London. Mrs Dunbar’s wool shop was a regular stop for my Mum, and just a bit further MacFisheries fish shop.
    At the top of Alma Road was the Sebright Arms, run by the parents of one of my school pals, Roger Warton. Just down from them lived the Pikes; Johnny was my age and he had an older brother, Frank. Across the road from us were the Williams family. Mr Williams worked as a bus conductor for London Transport. The buses used Alma Road as a turning point to queue up in Bury Road, then Hemel’s bus station. I remember one day a conductor losing his grip on the rear platform and being flung off into the road.
    Alma Road in the 1950’s was served by two milkmen, Bill Wildman from Piccotts End and Albert Rose from Bury Road, both of whom provided the milk from horse- drawn carts. One of my jobs was to collect the horse droppings to put on my dad’s roses. We used to play in the River Gade and catch trout which in those days was still beautifully clear, fed from artesian wells up stream at Great Gaddesden. Tom Williams had cress beds over the wall from our house and a packing shed where the swing park currently is in Gadebridge Park. There were other children who lived in houses on Bury Road with gardens backing on to the river; friends one day, and sworn enemies the next.
    My dad kept chickens at Alma Road to ensure my brother and I always had a good supply of eggs. Rationing did not end until 1954. To help eke out the family budget my parents let out two upstairs rooms to Mr and Mrs Wheeler, both of whom worked at Dickinson’s paper mill in Apsley. Ted and Vi used to bring us a tube of Smarties every Friday (pay day). Eventually they were rehoused by the New Towns Commission in a new house between Gadebridge and Warners End.
    I went to school at Queen Street Infants’ School in 1953. I remember Miss Wilkinson, the infant teacher and the Head Teacher, Miss Jarman (who also taught my dad at Piccotts End School). Two years later I crossed the meadow, to George Street Junior School. I liked Mrs Garson who gave me a hug when I left in 1959.
    When I was born in 1948 Hemel Hempstead was a small sleepy Chilterns market town of less than 20,000 people. I remember my dad remarking that in the early days it would be strange to walk down the High Street and not meet someone he knew. In later years it was strange for him to meet someone he did know.
    I left Hemel when I was 18. My parents died in 1998 and 2000

    By Ian Minty (08/08/2022)
  • Steve Bicknell we were at Halsey together from 1962.
    I went to Bury Mill end primary and then Blessed Cuthbert Mayne before high school. The sweet shop you remember was on corner of old Bury Mill Road and the new Leighton Buzzard Road which ran parallel to Cotterells. I used to live in Collett Road and we could walk down a path by allotments to get to the shop for A Tizer and Wagon-wheel. Hope all good for you in Mallorca. Our daughter lives in Barcelona.

    By Brian Pratt (05/08/2020)
  • I would love to hear from anyone that remembers the Roundhouse in Gadebridge. My mother in law was brought up there.
    There is no evidence of it now but it was a large tall building

    By Ray Brown (20/07/2020)
  • I wonder if anyone knows anything about Heathside House, Green Lane End, Boxmoor. On researching ancestry, I found out a brother and sister, Ernest William Oliver and his sister, Amelia Jane Oliver , both died there on the same day (9 Mar 1964). Their details say their bodies were found (I expect in the house), but no cause of death is given. On the recent property list, the house is still standing, so maybe rules out a fire. I just think it’s really odd. Answers appreciated

    By Frances Pipkin (29/04/2020)
  • Absolutely fascinating to read about the life and times from a Hemel Hempstead resident during the 1940s. Thank you for taking the time to write this all down for the benefit of all.

    By Antony Rogers (03/10/2018)
  • This is wonderful to read- I love reading about Hemel Hempstead’s history, I’ve lived here all my life since 1964 and much preferred it before Dacorum Bc ‘developed’ it (from the 1980s onwards)- Hemel has lost its soul these days and sadly I now want to move away….

    By Julie Young (02/10/2018)
  • Absolutely fascinating I live on Alexandra road now so great hearing about all the places I live thank you:)

    By Jordan b (22/08/2018)
  • 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 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)