Oral History Interviews

Playing in streets of London

Our second oral history interview with Alan, you will also hear Lillian on this recording. recorded on 20 May 2013.

Alan with record player

At 12 Alan belonged to youth club, his parents didn’t worry about him going out, which he thinks they do nowadays. There was a snooker table there and they’d play football for the club. He didn’t have any money and used to cycle everywhere. He played football in the street. He had catapult which was handmade – made from yew tree with a suitable branch with Y shape, and the rubber, which there was a shortage of, he’d go into the bus garage with his friends and after being chased away by the mechanic, they’d convince him to give them an old inner tube. Then they’d get some stones and go up to the forest and aim their catapults at the birds, which they never hit.

They never really fought between gangs. Occasionally they go to bomb site and throw stones at each other, this was arranged at school – I’ll meet you at so-and-so. Alan says “It was all good, clean, fun, we’d enjoy”.

The club was open very regularly. Lillian says the Girls were shown how to embroider, however girls and boys would play together, they didn’t think they were segregated.

Lilian talks about being evacuated to St Ives during the war. Her dad was a shirker, while her mum did several jobs.

Lilian went to youth club on her own or with friends. She’d always know people at the youth club. She was fortunate she didn’t have to look after her siblings. She had left London at seven and come back to London at 11, leaving school at 14.

We talk about how family would crowd round the radio listening together. Alan mentions friend Chas Chandler, we’d be playing in the street and then Chas would suddenly disappear – he’d go home to listen to Dick Barton on the radio and then 15 minutes later he would reappear, once the show had finished.

The other thing was Sunday school both Alan and Lil would attend. Alan attended church youth club. It was a big hall. Alan didn’t do prayers or anything like that. Alan belonged to the choir as well, says “even with my terrible voice, but there you are.” Alan hated going to church for Sunday evening service, choir sit opposite each other and they’d fire elastic bands across. The other thing the choirmaster rented out the choir to people getting married and promised to pay the kids for every show. They weren’t paid for ages, but they got the money out of him in the end (much laughter).

There was always kids about in the community and they’d all go to the youth club. They just used to go. Alan doesn’t remember arranging to see friends there. He went two, or three times a week.

When Alan wasn’t out playing, they’d listen to the radio in-doors and play games. Alan used to swap comics with friends – Dandy and Hotspur, swap old ones with your mates, go around friends house. They played snakes and ladders, draughts. Friends come round and play cards, especially when they’re a bit older (teenagers) or go round to each other’s house and play cards. This was when he was 16, 17. They didn’t drink then because they had no money, what they earnt they give to their parents.

Lilian first pay packet she’d give to her mum and she’d get some pocket money back afterwards. She worked at C&A modes and they had a very good canteen. So she always had a good meal at work and she had a meal at home, cooked by her mum, in the evening.

Football in the street was played with a tennis ball. If it was your ball you could say who was playing, as it was your ball. And some said, if they were losing would just say this is my ball, I’m going home now. Or if it got dark you went home with the ball, everybody else would get mad and say it’s not dark yet.

Every street would have a house which had a flank wall on which you would chalk up and you play cricket against. The bat was generally a plank of wood shaped a bit like a cricket bat. If there was dispute about whether the ball hit the wickets, or not, you had something called three matchsticks – you turn your back upside down, so the handle is at the bottom and they would throw matchsticks at the wicket and you try to hit the matchsticks away with the handle, if the matchsticks hit the wicket you’re out. There always be disputes, they would also get the ball and say look there is chalk on it to prove it had hit the wicket.

It was always the youngest boy in goal when they played football. Alan’s first game he played in goal, he was five he can still remember playing it.

You can still recognise even now where the houses were bombed in London if you walk around you see the gaps, the different houses. Alan used to play on bomb sites, they weren’t supposed to, they said Danger Keep Out, but they’d go climb up the scaffolding. They’d always send the fat kid in first, so if he got up you knew you’d all can get up.

They went swimming a lot. In the summer went swimming at Leyton baths or Wick Cross, which was an open air pool, where 2,000 people could swim. They’d go all day, go early in the morning, queue up, and spend all day there. They had great big water fountains and you’d sit on the top with the water squirting out from under you, until a bloke told you to get off. They allowed us to dive bomb – to jump and make a big splash – make what was called ‘a Cannonball’, where you’d create a big plume of water would come up. Everyone learnt to swim.

After leaving school they went football training twice a week, and they still belonged to the youth club. Used to be a lot of evening classes in those days, whatever trade you were doing, you’d study in the evening. Also would go Hackney marshes for a run. Saturday night go to Leyton baths and try and chat the girls up. This wasn’t swimming, as they used to board the baths over and have dances on.

Talk about when telly first come about.

Saturday night go dancing. The lads would get a pass out and go across the road to the pub to get a drink and then go back in the dance for the last dance. Wanted to build up courage to ask a girl to dance.

Used to go cycling a lot, would cycle to Southend. A group of around 10 would cycle from Leighton to Southend, would take them three hours to get there, they’d go for swim and a sandwich and then cycle home. It was probably about 30 miles, on an old roadster, these were heavy bikes. They’s go places like Harlow Mill and carry their bikes across a field and go swimming in the River Lea. There was hardly any cars on the road. They could gradually feel an increase of cars on the road. When playing football in the street none of his friends ever got her by a hit by car.

We go back to talk about school, they play chasing, hopscotch, football, cricket, Release or as some called it – IT – where you chase somebody and had to touch them and then you got them. Lil talks about the game called Jimmy Jimmy knacker, she played around the playground, had to put three struts up and chase them and had to get back without being seen.

Marbles – talk about the game. There was a big Marble and you had to hit it or get close to it.

Alan – we played a game called gobs, Lil called it cogs, or also known as five stones. Alan explains how to play. You have five stones you’d throw up from the palm of your hand and catch them on the back of your hand. Then play ones, and twoses, where you’f have one on the ground and four in palm,than when you throw the four up, you’d have to pick the one up from the ground and catch the other four on back of your hand. If you can do this you than did it with two on the ground. There was a number of varieties to the game.

Lil – they were all made up games weren’t they.

Allah remembers one kid turn up with this box with electric wires and a motor and he said hold these wires and watch this and it basically gave you an electric shock. You can’t believe you could do that nowadays.

Alan talks about playing conkers. Where Alan lived in Leyton there must been hundred trees and you’d go along and you wouldn’t find one conker on the ground as all the kids played conkers and would have picked them up. Nowadays you see the ground littered with conkers as no one plays conkers anymore. He took his grandson once and showed him how to knock conkers down out the trees and his grandson said why you doing that granddad? there’s loads on the floor! But that’s what you had to do in the old days as there was none on the floor. Alan’s headmaster, every year, would save no conkers, but everyone would play. If you beat somebody who had a conker called three’r, you’re one than become four’a. You just add one more to the one you’d beat. Alan never used to treat his conkers they reckon some kids did. The hardest thing was to put the hole in, as there was no drills.

If you get naughty, a neighbour would say I know who you are and if you don’t cut it out I’ll tell your parents.

Lil explains about ‘knockdown ginger’, also known as ‘Knock and run’. They don’t know why they called it ‘knockdown Ginger’.

Parents would loosely know what they will be up to all day and where they were. They talk about gangs and how gangs aren’t like they are nowadays.

Alan take a flask of cold tea when they went cycling all day.

Alan be worried today if his granddaughter, or grandson, went off cycling all day. Cars are the main difference, the speed they go.

Alan was never part of a movement like Teddy boys. They borrowed some of the style, but never joined up really. Alan always dressed smart in a collar and tie.

We move on to their adult world. They get married in 1958.

On Friday Alan usually went for a drink with his mates. Alan still met and played football on a Saturday and Sunday, but didn’t go so regular. Also Alan trained midweek, Tuesday or Thursday. Went saw Alan’s mum occasionally, always went by bus as couldn’t afford a car. That didn’t eat out at restaurants as this was only for special occasions. Also there was never many pubs that did food and Alan was saving up to buy a house.

One-day Alan went to the Foreman and said that he was buying a house, Foreman told him you don’t do that as it be a burden. That millstone round Alan’s neck become a pebble as his wages went up and he got better jobs.

Alan remembers buying a bicycle when he was 14, or 15. He took a half a crown (he thinks) around every week. He didn’t do this by hire purchase but through the shop. They trusted you and once a week he’d pop into the shop with his half a crown and paid off the bike slowly. Actually he bought his car, a mini car, the same way and he still got the book at home somewhere. The money for the bike came from pocket money from his parents. He did a lot of work for that pocket money.

Alan talks about shopping, about queueing, waiting for goods to be cut to order. This was before supermarkets. This is what he mainly did to earn his pocket money.

Alan can still remember the bike, a CWS Vindex, they had a factory up near Coventry, it weighed a ton.

Alan remembers playing football up to when he was 37 or 38 years old. Finally he had to give up because he hated letting people down as he was regularly working seven days week.

Lil talks about dressmaking and what she got up to for her leisure once married and looking after their children. Buying textile offcuts at Walthamstow market. Arranging dances and arranging to raise money for various charities.

Lil used to regular go rollerskating at Ali Pali (Alexander Palace). Lil had great fun, she loved rollerskating, she went as often as she could. You saw people you know all the time. Alan went rollerskating at Forest Gate, used to be packed. Had sessions morning, afternoon and evening.

Alan talks about the only time he can remember going iceskating and leaving soaking wet because he fell over so much.

Alan talks about asking girls for the last dance. He used to go over the Eagle pub across the road. Lil did the quickstep and foxtrot. Alan says people also went just to listen to the live band, they would be fantastic. Ted Heath, Ken Macintosh, just listen to the music.

When Alan was 16 he went to Leyton Baths to see the boxing. He and his friends would climb to the roof of the baths which had glass squares in (ones that could be smashed in case of fire) and some glass had holes in, they’d climb up and watch the boxing and wrestling for free. Climbing up the drainpipe to get there, equivalent to a three-storey house. Alan would not like to see children do it now.

1 Comment

  1. Peter Stevens

    Alan Hyatt is a wonderful man who was always the best of fun on holidays when we were kids. It was like having your own personal stand up comic or entertainer along for the ride.

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