Things were different then

Early married life in Watford

By John Perry

My new wife Kathleen and I opened the door of our new but second hand house, closed it and then when we were alone cheered loudly — I remember that we looked at each other in amazement, our very own house, this was in August 1954. We had saved for years putting every penny that we could spare into the Building Society for the future, but what a disappointment when we tried to buy our own house. The Building Society announced that we did not have enough money saved after all their promises; so we took our money and tried to elicit the help of a friendly House Agent who being agents for another Building Society could, we hoped, arrange to get us a loan. Luckily for us we found a sympathetic ear and we looked forward to acquiring our very own house in quick time.

A house in Chester Road

While at my annual camp with the Hertfordshire Regiment we had some houses to view, luckily my fiancée Kathleen was able to view in my absence and eventually chose to get us a look at a terraced house in Chester Road, Watford, Herts. There were several that she looked at in different areas that were unsuitable inasmuch as the front door led directly into the front room; we at least expected a hall, however tiny. At that time only the man’s salary could be taken into account to obtain a mortgage, also the monthly payment was to not exceed a quarter of his monthly salary, we were lucky that my then salary left us with a shilling to the good!

Frozen pipes

So here we were with a house, a lino square, a bed, a dining room, suite and a couple of old chairs to rattle around in a house! A dear friend bought us a wedding present of a bucket, clothes pegs, washing up mop, scrubbing brush, floor cloth and clothesline, this turned out to be our most valuable present at that time. My first attempts at do it yourself would have made the cat laugh but so what, we were in love and we had each other.

Our bathroom had a Barralets water heater that filled the bath from a great height, from a central spout in the casing. In the first winter it got frozen and when lit up it nearly blew up in clouds of steam and water all over the floor. So that was our first large expense, we had a new Main Triton Geyser put in the kitchen so we had hot water over the sink as well as in the bathroom, the hot water being piped to the bathroom which was above the kitchen.

A new wall 

The kitchen had a larder with a large slab of marble to make pastry, as time went on an uncle of Kathleen suggested that I could demolish the wall of the larder and enter the toilet from the kitchen. After one winter of icy trips to the lavatory this was very much overdue! So with his advice I took down the wall and put a door between the kitchen and the lavatory, so enabling us to get to the lavatory without the next-door neighbours knowing of our comings and goings!

Coal fires

Kathleen worked at De Havillands Leavesden at this time; I remember that we still had horrible fogs known as Smog. One particular day we had a real stinker and when She had not come home for a long time after her usual arrival time I went out to the end of Chester Road and found her in a nasty patch of fog completely lost! We all contributed to this sorry state of affairs by burning coal or in our case coke. This we obtained from the Gas Company, and after countless struggles trying to light a fire with wood then the coke we purchased a gas poker. There may be an amusement factor in crouching over a fire trying with a sheet of newspaper to get a fire started, but after it has caught fire and gone up the chimney a few times we resorted to a gas poker. I remember the poor chaps delivering the coke and carrying it right around the perimeter of the house, via an alleyway four doors down then up our garden to the coalbunker, this held a half-ton, old money—when a ton was 2240 lbs, and I could understand weights and measures!


Then came wallpapering, what a sorry business compared to today, the papers seemed to be not much better than tissue, of course there were still distempers, no not the dogs disease but powders that were mixed with water to produce washes for the walls. This being very wet would run everywhere; especially down the arms when trying to whiten a ceiling. Paints were still lead based - can you imagine the furore now if a store tried to sell lead paints?

The worst part in my opinion were the sash windows, periodically a sash cord would break then the window would not stay open. To rectify this the sash boxes would have to be opened to fit a new cord. This seemed to me even then to be a major operation taking quite a time to put right, mainly because there would be the chore of removing layers and layers of paint that had accrued over the years. I wonder what became of all those cast-iron sash weights that existed in this country. The floors slowly got covered with more lino squares, the edges around the room being stained, carpets then were bought as squares with a pattern all around. Our front garden (actually only three feet wide!) had a Privet hedge and this had to be periodically trimmed, although this was a chore that I quite enjoyed.

Local shops

There was no such thing as a Supermarket, but we were well served by the local shopkeepers. All or nearly all of our requirements were available locally. We had Morrells the butcher, Parkes grocers, run by Fred and Betty Parkes, Fred being blind with a guide dog, Copeland for shoes and Whites bakery all in Chester road. Willsons the shoe repairers in Durban road, Express dairies had a shop in Whippendell Road, where there was Greens Paper shop, Hayes the Greengrocer, Hartleys the chemist and Howell Jones Hardware shop and Post office combined, and of course Miss Lunneys another grocer, not forgetting Miss Baines haberdashers shop. She was I believe a leader of the local Guides. All of these were inside fifty yards distance, I still like visiting any old style shops, now sadly all but gone - no one ever asks in the supermarket if my sore toe is better!! I had better not forget Clowsleys fish and chip shop on the corner of Pretoria and Chester road. There may be things called Baltis and Macdonalds but fish and chips out of newspaper are the pinnacle as far as I am concerned, especially when we would return from swimming, mind you the lovely smell was in evidence even when we were broke! Within a hundred yards there was Yorkshire bakers, Tenents Grocers, a pet shop another newsagents, a Millars Laundry shop, a Café, a Chemists, Moore’s Radio shop, Gibsons butchers, Arthur Easts corn merchants and Fox the Butchers all in Whippendell road between Durban road and Harwoods road.

Bicycles and motorcycles

My first brand new bicycle came from Grays cycles in Queens’s road, it was a Raleigh in green with gold lining all down the frame and Sturmey Archer gears a chain-guard and dynamo with a battery tube on the frame so that a light shined even when I was not pedalling, but perhaps waiting at a road junction. Payment was of course by the good old-fashioned method of so much down and call in every payday with a payment until the debt was cleared, I felt really guilty until the debt was paid in full. My bicycle eventually was replaced by a Kriedler moped; this was a two-speed machine and was for only 49cc quite fast. Then my thoughts turned towards a real motorcycle. The old orphanage behind the junction station (now a housing estate) was the venue every Sunday morning to learn via the R. A. C.—A. C. U. scheme to ride a motorcycle properly. My first ride on the course was an ex Army Triumph single cylinder 350cc still in a camouflage colour scheme. The course was very comprehensive and I think it should be compulsory for all new motorcycle riders. My first venture into bigger machines after my moped was a Matchless 350cc with Jam pot springing, so called because the rear springs were short and fat like a jam pot. Then after seeing an advertisement in the Watford Observer I became the proud owner of a BSA 600cc M21 single cylinder with sidecar, which I purchased for the princely sum of thirty pounds. Then on to a BSA 650cc twin with double adult sidecar, finally a brand new 650cc Matchless twin with double adult sidecar if my memory serves me correctly, the sidecar was made in Blackpool by Watson. This was my last motorcycle - thereafter I joined the motoring fraternity proper.

The Co-operative

Rates then were £24 for a full year and included water, sewage and local services, payable in two half-yearly instalments at Watford town hall, the entrance to the Rates office being opposite the public library in Hempstead road. In the summer it was possible to buy ice cream from Mazzone’s in Durban road, Grillo’s kept their ice cream floats in a yard with the entrance in Pretoria road and if my memory serves me correctly Grillo’s still sold ice cream at the gates to Cassiobury park at week-ends. There were several builders with yards nearby behind the houses in Chester road with the engineering firm of Hannafords down the road a bit further almost opposite the Pretoria road turning.

I have to mention the Co-operative society in Whippendell road with a provision shop and the Co-op hall above and on the corner of Queens Avenue the Co-op greengrocer with the Co-op butchers next door. When I have spoken to people who shopped at the Co-op it’s quite surprising how many can remember their society number. I have not mentioned all of the shops in the area, just the ones that we would have used, for instance the post office would have been very popular so we went towards Park Avenue for most things.

Washing by hand

We did not own a refrigerator and there were no washing machines, at least not in our price range, while those that were for sale had to be turned by hand when the washing was loaded by means of a handle on top, although some had power wringers. Some people had wringers that clamped on to the side of the old tall white sinks of that time; most of the old type sinks have been either broken up or turned into troughs for gardens, they sell for good money now. Some lucky people had taken over mothers old mangle, these were handy if somewhere could be found to stand one in the garden, they seemed to weigh a ton but after all they were mostly made of cast iron, but their wooden rollers certainly made short work of the wringing out operation. A spin dryer was our first venture into automating the washing, there was however a launderette at the Merton Road end of Market Street which came in handy and saved trying to wash sheets in the sink, doesn’t it all sound ancient now?

Home cooking

We did not eat out at all. This may sound strange but money really was tight with nothing much left for such things. Cooking we accomplished together. There were inevitably disasters, but so what, we ate all our mistakes! Most mothers in those days would not let anyone in their kitchen to cook. Most girls had attended what was called domestic science and so had some basic idea of what to do. Armed with this absolute lack of knowledge we had set off together on the sea of life. We had arguments but never thought of going home to Mum, that would be to admit failure and we would not be welcome because we had made our bed and so had to lie in it!


Our main entertainment was by a record player and the wireless. At first we only had the wireless but there always seemed to be something to listen to. This meant that you could do something else at the same time, surely one of the advantages of radio?

The worst part was the winter with coal fires (coke in our case) to be lit all the time and it always seemed cold at ones back as the wind used to whistle through the floorboards around the lino square.

Not luck at all

We will always have a soft spot for our first house, after moving to a semi-detached it was always thought that the terrace house had kept that bit warmer in the winter. When people said that we were lucky we felt really proud because it was all our own efforts that had brought the results, not luck at all.      

This page was added on 22/12/2010.

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  • Really interesting article…thanks.
    My house still has original sash windows….they’ve been great.
    Surprisingly complicated to rebuild!
    Thanks again.

    By Graham Broom (24/11/2017)