“I feel one can say with some conviction that no man should willingly leave his home to fight, wound, maim or kill other men about whom he knows little and whom he certainly does not hate. When all men refuse to commit such follies the foundations of a true civilisation will have only just started to be laid.”
- Sam Sutcliffe, circa 1974 (extracted from his Memoir)
Sunday, 19 May 2019
The Making Of Foot Soldier Sam 2 – 1902-1909: growing up in the street menagerie of the London suburbs, “horses everywhere”, sheep on the hoof and Daisy the friendly cow… and the wild marketplace – merchants, pawnbrokers, desperate housewives, deadly fights… but the quack doctor's “pills, potions and perorations” could cure everybody’s ills…
Sam’s Memoir(1) – paperback and e-book – and the e-excerpts from it are now available in their third and final editions with added Endnotes and, in the Memoir, added documentation.
For details of how to buy the Memoir or Gallipoli & Somme & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books click here plus see reader reviews here and here and reviews from the Western Front Association and the Gallipoli Association here. For AUDIO excerpts click Here Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here
The war’s over at last – but Sam’s blog, Facebook page and tweets will continue until his Memoir concludes with the Centenary of the July 19, 1919, Peace parade in London…
All proceeds from all versions of Sam’s Memoir will always go to the British Red Cross – and the current running donations total as of May 1, 2019, is £4,178.05 (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!).
A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… The Paris Peace Conference came out with nothing of note, so wars, continuing and new, dominate the this summary of significant and still lethal events…
In the Greco-Turkish War/Turkish War Of Independence, while the Greek Army, supported by the Allies – British in particular – after landing at Smyrna, pushed on westwards into Anatolia and over the coming weeks took Manisa, Balikesir, Aydin and other cities (May 21-5), the Turks’ Gallipoli General Kemal Atatürk landed a small force on the Black Sea coast of the peninsula (19) and shrewdly concentrated on building support.
In the east, confusion reigned. The Russian Civil War and Bolshevik revolution seemed to be the catalyst, along with local upheavals responding to the war’s end. The Poles, under General Pilsudski, were invading Ukraine from the west (May 19 onwards), taking on a mix of Socialist Revolutionaries (led by Symon Petylura) and Ukraine nationalists – who themselves were fighting the Red puppet governments in many of the cities. At the same time, Romania attacked Ukraine from the southwest.
And up on the Baltic, the German Volunteers/Landwehr – fostered by the British as a defence against Red Russians, oddly enough – captured Riga, Latvia, from the Bolshevik Latvian Army (May 22)… And in the Estonian War Of Independence, local forces captured Pskov after a Red rifle brigade decided national loyalties took precedence given half a chance and swapped sides (24-5).
Over on the Caspian, the British proceeded with their policy of interference, by tackling the (Red) Russian Navy ships based at Alexandrovsky Fort (May 21) with a flotilla of armed merchant ships. White Russian leader Admiral Kolchak expressed his appreciation by complaining that, when the surviving Red ships fled. the British didn’t pursue and destroy the lot of them.
Meanwhile, in an even more distant but somewhat related post-war conflict, in Winnipeg, Canada, growing strikes saw 13 trade unions and 6,800 men involved (May 24; one cause was disruption arising from the sudden arrival of demobilised servicemen).
[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, 16-year-old underage volunteer in September, 1914, fought at Gallipoli with the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016), then on the Somme Front with his second outfit, the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. They told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He accepted, though with an enduring sense of guilt. December, 1916, saw him posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated to the Essex Regiment Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). During this interlude he suffered various illnesses while recovering from trench warfare’s privations. In December, probably, solo, he returned to France – reverting to Private on arrival, I don’t know why – and dogsbodied around Arras until mid-March when he ran into his own Essex 2/7th Battalion. They moved into the trenches near Fampoux just in time for the German Spring Offensive. A last stand by the Battalion on March 28, 1918, left 80 alive and “fit” out of the 520 who started the day – the 440 in between being dead, wounded or, like Sam, “missing” and, in his case, a POW (Blog March 25, 2018). For several months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups doing hard labour, before spending the summer in southern Germany and finally moving westwards to Lorraine – whence, the day after Armistice, his long trek towards the French Front began. He reached safety after tiptoeing through a German minefield (November 15 probably). Then began his recovery from chronic near-starvation – and a brief emotional breakdown – until, finally, on December 10, 1918, he returned to England and another few days in hospital before reuniting with parents and siblings, especially brother Ted, home on a week’s leave but suffering badly from gas damage. Civilian life offered Sam a warm welcome… until, in February, 1919, the Army called him back - though only to a “Dad’s Army” unit. Meaning, at first, a few weeks de factoholiday in Brighton. But then, something completely different… through the spring, Sam and others ex-POWs guard German POWs at a camp in Sussex, while making various attempts to get back to “normal” life… At which point, for the time being, the story breaks off as explained below…]
RETRO 2: With my father Gallipoli/Somme/Spring Offensive veteran and POW Signaller Sam Sutcliffe’s a-century-ago-this-week(ish) story taking a break because he just didn’t write enough about his late spring/early summer period of 1919, I’m revisiting the de facto theme of the opening chapters about his childhood and teens i.e. The Making Of Foot Soldier Sam. In his Memoir he wrote a substantial section about the period from first memories, aged about two in his case, to 16 when war loomed. He had no ambition to be a soldier, but as it turned out this generally unplanned upbringing did frame the nature of the young Tommy who survived Gallipoli, the Somme, the Spring Offensive and eight months as a POW – never a hero, always doing his duty as best he could.
But excuse me: in last week’s “Next week” paragraph (if you see what I mean) I was thinking I’d proceed chronologically through his early years. Since then I’ve decided to revert to an earlier approach, and choose excerpts thematically, as that relates more explicitly to “The Making Of…”.
So the previous blog addressed his painful new beginnings in north London (when aged three/four to seven – his birthdate was July 6, 1898) after the family fell from prosperity to ruin in their hometown, Salford, and in Manchester. At first, they only grew poorer and more hungry – at one point, Sam tried eating paper to fill his belly. He struggled with schoolmates mocking his accent, his own self-consciousness about his obviously home-made clothes and – when they moved from Tottenham to Edmonton – the hostility to newcomers of the neighbours’ children.
But the child’s view section of the Memoir took in far more than the details of his own problems. Young Sam noted the sights, sounds and smells all around him and remembered them for the rest of his life (he wrote his Memoir in the 1970s).
In this week’s twin-themed excerpts he describes first, the way animals thronged the streets and lives of city kids in the early 1900s – bringing them the sort of entertainment and education later available only to country children, and second, with similar relish, all the hustle and energy of the big city bursting outwards into the countryside which surrounded his suburb, Edmonton. (NB: my father wrote the early chapters in the third person, calling himself “the boy” and then “Tommy”.)
For this first glimpse of the urban menagerie kids of his generation lived among, we’re back in 1902 when the family arrived in London and, momentarily, four-year-old Sam felt things weren’t so bad after all:
‘They all climbed into a horse-drawn cab at the terminus, their bags piled up beside them, and off through the busy streets – seeing all these carriages and big wagons drawn by numbers of horses. Horses everywhere. Splendid sight. Temporarily at least, life seemed to be on quite a prosperous plane. It wasn’t so really, of course. They just had no other means of transporting the family and baggage across London.
They went into a big building, a hotel right down in the East End, a district called the Minories(2). They were shown to a room with only two beds in it for the five of them. A temporary arrangement mother had made. She said she had rented a flat on the outskirts of the city, but they couldn’t move in for two or three days. The excitement of watching the comings and goings occupied the time they remained there. Then once more to a horse-drawn cab – their last ride in such a vehicle for many a day. The journey took an hour or so — the children peering about all the way, everything around them of interest(3).’
(2) The Minories: a district (former parish) and street near the Tower of London.
(3) Their destination and new address was 24 Vale Side, Eade Road, Tottenham, as evidenced by Sam’s brother Alf’s birth certificate (Alfred Brotherton Sutcliffe, born March 8, 1903).
Settled in Tottenham and soon starting school, my father really began to encounter and learn about urban livestock of various kinds, whether draft animals, meat on the hoof, or even on one occasion a wildish and rather menacing herd of horses:
‘To children, the distance from house to school felt considerable. Down the road, round a corner, round another corner, and they came to a busy main road, the traffic all horse-drawn – horses everywhere, horses pulling small carts, great wagons. Milkmen used them, bakers used them delivering house to house. But the boy took a particular interest in horse-drawn trams. He had never seen anything like them. The horses weren’t big really — large ponies you’d call them. Two of them pulled each tram along on its rails, the driver seated at the front, the reins in one hand, a light whip in the other. A conductor on the back collected the fares. The lower deck was glazed, the upper deck open to the sky.
Strange that coming to live in this busy town brought him into contact with animals; not nature in the raw, but nature anyway. Manure constantly cluttered the roads. A deal of urine lay around. The boy and thousands of children like him watched the normal processes of what you might call intake and output and very soon clearly understood what was going on.
These tram drivers, for instance, would be observed closely by the children, especially when they came to a terminus. Our boy would stand there and, if there happened to be a fairly long wait between arrival and departure, watch the driver put the bag of corn or chaff under the horse’s nose, pass the strap over its head, and adjust it so that the animal could eat comfortably. He’d see the horse’s jaws champing away. Every now and then it would blow hard when the dust got in its nostrils. To see a bucket of water placed in front of one of these ponies, that was worth watching. In went the horse’s mouth, a sucking and pumping operation followed, the speed at which the water vanished from the bucket unbelievable.
That was the front end of the animal. The rear held his interest equally. Some horses, he noticed, had one opening just under the tail and some had two. One can’t say that the reasons for this were clear to him at first. He knew that if the tail went up and the animal was of the type which had one opening, dollops of manure would issue forth, landing on the road with a series of thuds and what, to him, was quite a pleasant smell. If the animal had two of these openings, if he saw the lower one moving he knew that a jet of water would presently shoot out. It was advisable to step back because, although the water had no bad odour, if one arrived home with shoes and socks soaked with the stuff there would certainly be trouble from mother.
He was learning, all the time learning.
It soon became obvious to him that the animal with only one of these openings must have an outlet elsewhere for the water. On the first occasion it became apparent to him, he watched, with wide-eyed amazement, the emergence from immediately in front of the horse’s hind legs a big, long thing from which poured forth a stream of liquid splashing into the road and flowing away along the gutter.
So that explained how the two types of animal urinated and he thought no more about it. But sometimes a horse some distance away would put up his head and neigh loudly, perhaps start to jump about, even lash out with his hind legs, his hooves cracking against the bodywork of the tram or cart. The boy didn’t quite understand the reason for this behaviour, although he realised it was connected with some other animal in the vicinity. But it wasn’t for him to know that the noisy, frisky animal was disturbed by one of the opposite sex.
It wasn’t just horses. One could see cattle driven along a busy road to market, a flock of sheep – just one old man with his stick and a dog controlling them. Butchers bought sheep live at the nearest market and had them driven to their own slaughterhouses.
The lad came into further contact with ponies because his road ended in a low, large field. You went down an embankment and there horses were put to graze. A free feed. Quite a consideration for the owners, no doubt.
Well, one day the children were playing in that field and the horses all gathered into a mob. When that happened, usually there was fighting — they bit each other or, more often, presented their rear ends to their foe and shot out their back legs to catch him a whack in the ribs with their hooves. The children would watch, excited.
But, on this occasion, when the children turned to leave, the mob of horses all followed them from the field up the embankment on to the road. Why they did it, I don’t know –unless they thought the children were leading them to food or water – but the children got rather scared. So the sister led them up the pathway to an unoccupied house, thinking the horses would go straight on. But they didn’t, they followed the children to the front door. So now you had the children cowering against the door with several of the horses crowded in between the house and the front-yard railings while others waited on the pavement.
How fortunate then that, after a while, their father came home, carrying his customary walking stick. You can picture his astonishment when he saw the children’s predicament. In wealthier times, he had owned a fashionable trap drawn by a smart pony – he had aspired to teach it to trot, an ambition of many well-to-do men. So, used to horses and unafraid, he edged his way into the yard and beat the horses off with his stick. Quite a feat. He took the children home.
As winter came on, the poorly surfaced roads frequently became slippery and, on several occasions, the boy saw horses fall down and become tangled in their harness. When this occurred, the driver would climb down as quickly as possible and sit on its head. The first time the boy saw this happen, the horse lay quite still so he thought, “He’s finished, he’s dead”. But he soon realised this was the accepted method of controlling a fallen horse and preventing it from trying to get up while tangled in harness, which might loosen or break the shafts.
At this point, while the driver remained seated on the horse’s head, almost any man in the neighbourhood would help to free the beast. Then, with much slipping and sliding on the ice, the poor thing would scramble up – the forelegs first, they’d straighten out, then the hind legs would get a grip on the road and up would come the rear half, and there it would stand, usually quite placid.’
And then there was Daisy, the friendly cow… and a small equine mystery that aroused Sam’s compassion:
‘… our boy would always go to the rail of yet another field where he’d hope to see Daisy, a young cow. Often, she would come over and allow herself to be stroked; he would smell the sweet, grassy breath of her and watch the flies that gathered around her eyes and sometimes beat them off. On one occasion, with no Daisy in sight, there was a horse instead. But what had happened to the poor beast? The lad was shocked when he saw, at the base of the neck where it is broadest, its coat almost in shreds, obviously torn on barbed wire. Mercifully, the owner had already dressed it with some ointment, so this area of torn flesh was a mass of yellow. Something else for him to think about.’
The move to Edmonton (1903/4) – because the family couldn’t afford the rent in Tottenham any more – saw the children again viewing a new locale from a horse-drawn vehicle (a tram, not a cab this time):
‘But suddenly a jolt. Father appeared one day and said, “You must say goodbye to your mother for the moment and come along with me. We’re off to a different home.”
So they set off and walked the quarter of a mile to the end of the road on which they were living – the unbuilt part with fields on either side – and came to the main road where they boarded a horse tram and climbed to the upper deck. For the children, an exciting journey followed. New buildings, new sights. It lasted nearly an hour. Twice the ponies pulling the tram had to be taken out of the shafts and fresh ones installed. It was the custom to change them quite frequently.
The journey finished in what seemed to be a very far away place, a developed suburb eight miles to the north of Central London(4).’
(4) Edmonton, probably at the address shown in the 1911 census, 26, Lowden Road, Edmonton (now N9).
Their new address, on the northern edge of the rapidly expanding city, enabled Sam to get close to another bunch of horses – those used by the builder/developer of their unfinished street – and also led him to make his debut as a very small-scale tradesman, an inclination which served him well at times during World War 1 and, thereafter, for the rest of his working life:
‘The builder had a large number of horses to pull the carts his men used and he stabled them at the end of the road. Again, Tommy was able to get close to these animals. As a special favour, the builder sometimes allowed him to go into the stable’s central cobbled area, sometimes even to clean out the stalls — rake out straw and manure while the horses were out at work, hose down the floors and walls, and refill their mangers with hay or chaff or grain.
That introduced him to an activity which sometimes produced a few pennies. Men who worked their gardens for food or flowers needed manure and sometimes Tommy was able to get a few buckets from the stable. On occasion, the dahlia-loving German next door would purchase their wares. Often, though, it had all been sold to a market gardener on contract, so Tommy and his brother took to scouring the neighbourhood streets to find what their customers wanted. With a bucket and a small shovel they’d set off in the early hours of the morning. A large bucketful of horse manure fetched one penny. A valuable coin(5).’
(5) One “old” penny – 240d to the £ – is about 50p in new money, inflation adjusted 1905-2019 according to the online CPI Inflation Calculator.
Now, the switch of themes, to “our boy”/Sam’s encounters with the uproar and expansive energy of the city, and his district, Edmonton, thrusting outwards into the countryside – it really was all fields round there in 1905ish! – the spirit of commercial adventure untrammelled on the northern edge of metropolitan development – and not always succeeding as the lad came to realise:
‘Despite their lack of money, the children found much to excite them in the neighbourhood, especially the terrific activity on the nearby main road out of London(6). Stacks of wooden blocks and pipes and tall, iron standards appeared, laying by the roadside. Work lasting several years began. Hordes of navvies with pick and shovel dug trenches and laid tramlines in a new road surface made with wooden blocks (replacing the granite chips which had previously done the job).
Following the roadworks led the children to explore further. Much open space lay beyond the new street they lived in; fields and market gardens, a farmhouse with a large barn and pigsty. Tommy liked all the natural smells. Temporarily, they lived at the very edge of the city.
They found brickfields… They watched as workers dug up clay and mixed it with water to form a thick mud they called “pug”, which they then moulded and baked. The manufacture all took place in the open air.
Then, among the tall grass of the fields around their school, they found kerbs and manhole covers laid at intervals along what had obviously been intended as a road. They learned that, during an earlier boom period encouraged by the extension of the suburban railway line, speculators put up street after street of cheap terrace houses. But the bubble burst and they abandoned the work at whatever point it had reached when the money ran out. You could still walk around streets they had completed, though “To Let” notices stood outside many of the houses. Someone told Tommy the rents ranged from about 6/6 to 8/6(7) per week, low even for those times.
… Although their row of houses where the children lived had been completed and the drains and gas pipes laid, the builder still had to suspend operations from time to time – due to lack of money it seemed – and the road itself still hadn’t been made up. No footpath, no pavement, no lampposts, no surfaced road, just the rough ground. But the builder was a very nice man, Tommy thought. He’d supervise his men working on the houses at one end of the street, while at the other he collected the rents for the occupied houses.’
(6) Hertford Road, which started at Bishopsgate; later the A1010.
(7) For post-decimalisation readers, 6/6 (six shillings and sixpence) = 32.5p, 8/6 = 42.5p. To offer an inflation perspective, the CPI Inflation Calculator online says £1 in 1904 would = £120.58 in 2019.
Now I’m moving on to “our boy”/Sam’s tour of the neighbourhood, a magnificent passage I think bringing out both the expansionist dynamism of the area and its enduring connection with Dickensian times in the mid-19th century. The characters, the knees-up fun, the drunken violence (even death), the poverty and opulence, the sights, the sounds, the stinks – all human life is here, recalled and described in fine and florid detail by a man writing in his 70s, remembering from when he was aged maybe six to eight or nine:
‘One afternoon, after quickly eating his lunch at home, Tommy set off for school, taking the route he could rely on to provide something of interest every day. He walked to the end of his street – itself almost made up now – to the main road where the navvies swung their picks, shovelled great lumps of earth aside, and manhandled tram rails and wooden blocks into place. To make their way towards the town square, pedestrians had to jump over various trenches which, for Tommy, only added to the excitement of what was going on.
A little way along, a row of small cottages had been converted into shops. You could buy all your requirements in one or other of them: a laundry, a fish shop, a confectioner, a barber, a cycle maker, general stores. Then you passed a large church, very big for that area, and a row of houses obviously occupied by middle-class families – who, only a few decades earlier, would have lived on the other side of the road, in The Crescent(8), a terrace of houses built early in the 19th century and adorned with ornamental stonework. Each house has its basement, two floors, and attics above. The servants of earlier days did their work in the basement and slept in the attics. Now families of comparatively poor people occupied The Crescent, but a shared garden laid out as part of this estate remained in front of the bowed terrace. It still bore some appearance of dignity.
After the middle-class houses, Tommy passed a blacksmith’s forge, horses coming in and out constantly. Children spent many happy hours watching the procedures there. The horse would be led in, the blacksmith would examine its hooves, and then start removing the shoe. He heated pieces of roughly shaped, thick metal. Holding the glowing, new shoe with tongs, he would try it out on the horse, then adjust it by reheating and hammering away. Sometimes the horn of the hoof had to be pared away a little. When the blacksmith had achieved a perfect fit, he heated the shoe again and nailed it to the hoof amid a cloud of tangy smoke. Tommy’s greatest thrill came from watching the blacksmith work the bellows until the fire roared while the black coals turned red, then bright orange and even white.
Re-crossing the road, another blacksmith’s place, more bellows, and then the piercing shriek of the circular saw in the wood mill next door assailed his ears as it cut trees into planks and planks into squares. He could only stand just so much of that noise.
A little further on he came to a huge pub. He always wondered at the size of this place. Why had it been built there? Behind it were fields and then Tommy’s school. A large square building, the pub had four floors, tall windows and ornamental stonework at the front. It must have been intended as a hotel, but in a small town with little wealth on the edge of London, who would use it? Probably another product of the short-lived speculation boom which left those abandoned and overgrown roads out in the fields. It must have shocked the people who built the hotel when they realised their customers were the rough-and-ready working classes.
Tommy often looked in and saw men sitting on the benches in there, smoking clay pipes and spitting on the floor. He’d inhaled the foul smell of stale tobacco, stale beer, and smelly humanity and it didn’t attract him in any way. But the pubs never seemed to shut – at least, when there was work around – serving from 4 or 6 in the morning until midnight. It was quite common to see men staggering drunk along the street at all hours(9).
Once, as Tommy walked to school, he encountered a large crowd gathered outside the pub. Tommy squeezed his way in among them and saw a policeman down on the ground; a big man knelt over him, punching at him and then clamping his teeth onto the policeman’s ear – a feature of brawls in those days. Soon some bobbies who’d heard what was going on came running up, grabbed the big man, and arrested him, while a couple of them took their colleague off to hospital. Tommy heard later that the policeman died of the wound he sustained, no doubt from an infection. His assailant served a long term of imprisonment.
When the uproar faded, Tommy turned into a road made of railway sleepers which ran along one side of the pub and something else caught his eye. A dirty, unshaven man sat on the ground with his back against the rear wall of the pub yard, filling an old, clay pipe. Tommy paused to watch and realised he was packing it with horse dung. When the man looked at him, he ran off away past the brickfield and reached the school gates in safety.
Sometimes, on his way home from school in the late afternoon, when he came to the main road and the huge pub he would turn the other way, towards the general market area. He’d smell it long before he saw it; strong odours of meat, fruit, stale beer, piss… every dark corner had its deposit of human excreta, no public lavatories(10) at that time. If it happened to be a Thursday afternoon, you could see the sheep coming up the busy road in the care of just one man and his dog, driving them to meet their fate in the butcher’s yard. Butchers in those days killed their own animals and the meat was really fresh and good. However, this particular butcher would buy his beef “on the horn”, as it was called, at Greenwich – slaughtered there. He ferried the carcasses back to his shop on a horse-drawn wagon.
This market area was triangular: on the left side, from Tommy’s direction, a row of shops selling foodstuffs and every household requirement – fishmongers, bakers, grocers, greengrocers, a pawnbroker. Facing them, across a wide paved footpath, a group of stalls also selling food, mainly cabbages and other greens from the market gardens nearby.
At the base of the triangle ran a single-track railway with level-crossing gates. This railway bisected many living areas, an heirloom of early bad planning. Oddly, a short stretch of track in the market place had been built on tiles and underneath them flowed a wide stream. Obviously, before they built the railway, this place had been a ford. The engineers had driven in piles to set the railway and a small station(11) above the water — not always very sweet water either. Some people seemed to regard any stream near a town as the natural dumping ground for dead cats and other items for which they had no further use.
On the remaining side of the triangle (should you be getting lost: to Tommy’s right, that is, but in the far corner near the railway) stood an old coaching inn, untouched over several hundred years, with a cobbled yard at the side and, in the rear, an extensive stable. The innkeeper himself kept several horses, a few local people had one or two, and visiting circuses also made frequent use of the premises. In fact, the proprietor almost always wore riding breeches, red waistcoat, hacking coat and a bowler and did all his journeying around the neighbourhood on horseback. A very popular man.
A couple of doors along, father, sons and daughters ran an old-time family pharmacy – the shelves arrayed with bright blue and orange decanter-shaped containers. The premises served also as a large post office. Two of the sons had trained in dispensing medicines and their father oversaw everything, a venerable figure with his long, lean face, pointed beard and, invariably, a smoking cap (a sort of fez with a tassel on top).
While the pharmacy portrayed the respectable face of medicine, every market worthy of the name would have its resident quack, generally known as Doctor Brown. That name might cover a multitude of sins. Our Dr Brown was a fine figure of a man clad in a cutaway black coat, striped trousers, patent leather shoes and a tall silk hat on his head – proper morning dress – his fair moustache waxed to two long points. He looked clean, every inch a doctor, and the tale he told about the pills he sold, that was part of the weekend entertainment and a huge crowd would gather around him. According to their number, so the length of his story grew and, proportionately, the sales at the end of it. He gave value for money in pills, potions, and perorations and did very well indeed.
In the middle of the triangle was the old village green, as it had been before this small town became a botched urban district. Marked out by a low iron railing, it comprised a pond, a patch of grass, and a couple of may trees. On warm summer days the out-of-work and assorted idlers would sun themselves there, six or a dozen of them lying on their backs while, around them, the activity of the market went on.
This was a market of long standing and not just weekly, like many in the country. Most of the stallholders worked every day of the week except Sunday (a few on the coaching-inn side operated on Saturdays only). Although they held regular pitches, they had no licenses, no permits. Rather, they occupied their places by right of conquest. If you went along there at 4 in the morning you would see that a board or a trestle had been thrown on the ground at the site and a man or men guarded it. Later in life Tommy became quite deeply concerned with these people, but more of that later(12).
As darkness fell, the shops around the marketplace lit up incandescent gas lamps, reasonably bright, none of the brilliance of electric lighting. The stallholders used paraffin flares — a can with a metal tube hanging from it and a burner at the bottom producing a flame about 18 inches high. It would have been very dangerous in an enclosed space. According to his wealth, each stallholder had one, two or three of these flares burning. This always attracted crowds on dark nights — the greatest numbers guaranteed on Friday nights when, as Tommy sometimes observed, the market’s character changed to a degree.
That was the night the workers drew their wages and a little more money than usual flowed into the tills of shopkeepers and stallholders who shouted their wares ever more vigorously to make themselves heard above the hubbub. Everybody with a few pennies to spend felt the pleasure and excitement of it. The publicans did well too, of course. Diagonally opposite the coaching inn, stood the market triangle’s second, less grand pub and on Fridays a throng would gather on the pavement outside both establishments, holding pint pots and talking until late into the evening.
This played a part in generating another of the market’s thriving businesses, operated by gentlemen offering funds to those who, during a hectic weekend, got through their wages, perhaps leaving no money to buy even food for the family until the next week’s pay arrived. On the Monday morning the procession from the sidestreets would begin, a ragged band making for the pawnbroker’s shop (adjacent to that second pub). Father’s best Sunday suit, mother’s best Sunday costume, even the children’s boots and shoes would go over the counter. The pawnbroker advanced a shilling or two on them. The hope was – and, generally, it did happen – that these goods would be redeemed the following Friday night, ready to be worn at the weekend.
Some women carried huge bundles to the pawnbroker’s shop, undoubtedly including sheets and blankets, which would be missing from the family’s beds for the week – if ill fortune befell them in the meanwhile, how were the children to be kept warm? How were the old people to be kept warm? Short of clothing, short of bedding, short of food during the worst part of the week until the man’s wages, to some extent, redeemed them…
Even so, many did survive on the tiniest of incomes, like Tommy’s family, keeping at least an outward appearance of what was called respectability. They frequently suffered deprivations in their home. But even in those circumstances they could still find energy and time to do a little to help others, as with church work. But the toll on nerves, the irritation, the bitterness, the feeling of instability and fear of even worse overtaking them often blighted the lives of people who were doing their best to keep things going under difficult circumstances. And of course the children often suffered the lash of the tongue or the slap of the hand, not always deserved.’
(8) The Crescent comprised 25 Georgian houses by the Hertford Road, built 1826-1851 “by a London solicitor”, Wikipedia advises. Largely converted to flats by the turn of the 19th century. The whole row has been Grade II listed since 1954.
(9) An online search suggests World War I brought about the restriction of licensing hours to 9am-11pm, then 10pm – although one source says the 1914 Defence Of The Realm Act tightened the permitted hours even further. The current much looser laws came in during the 1980s with further amendments in 2005.
(10) In Europe, public lavatories fell out of favour from Roman times until the 19th century. London’s first arrived in 1851, at the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition. I can’t find any clear record of how many were provided during the following decades, though most seem to have been in the middle of the city, but the immortal Thomas Crapper’s improvements in the mechanism – including the invention of the ballcock – seem to have caused them to be spread more widely (sales encouraged by his promise of “a certain flush with every pull”).
(11) My father doesn’t name it, but this must have been Lower Edmonton station, on Edmonton Green, opened 1872; the market grew up in the late 19th century alongside the working-class influx from London’s “inner suburbs”.
(12) In fact, my father’s Memoir barely touched on his life after World War I, because he stopped in July, 1919, with the Peace parade celebrating the Treaty Of Versailles – not to mention the 600 pages and 250,000 words under his belt. What he’s referring to is that he spent much of his working life post-WW1 as an Edmonton market trader (a draper) – a barrowboy – in partnership with younger brother Alf, until they moved on to a small shop.
Yet all sorts of things could make Sam feel a little less poor, a little less strait-jacketed by circumstances. Here, improbably, it’s new developments in street lighting:
‘Some months passed. On the main road the navvies had finished their work: tramlines put down and rather high standards erected with light fittings on the top of them. Arc lamps(13). The night they were switched on was the first time street lighting by electricity in that area had been attempted.
These lamps rely on two sticks of carbon fitted with a slight gap between them so that when a current passes through them it leaps the gap – the arc – and creates a bright light. Sometimes they work well and sometimes not at all. Sometimes they give a steady light and sometimes a flickering light. But the effect excited many people to take an evening stroll just for the sheer joy of seeing the lights and their road illuminated at night.
Tommy too felt something romantic, quite thrilling, about it all as he made his way to the marketplace and up the street to Mr Frusher’s(14) house or the church. Very old, dingy buildings became interesting in this mauvish, pinkish light. So did people on the street. Their clothes could not be seen in detail, their faces took on an unusual colour, and they looked different – not the rough-and-ready folks he was used to seeing about.’
(13) Arc lamps had been gradually introduced to London streets from 1878 onwards.
(14) Mr Frusher, the vicar/choirmaster/Scoutmaster, music teacher – a mentor to the boys of the community, he figures extensively in later “Making Of” blogs.
All the best– FSS
Next week: RETRO 3 – how school helped shape “Tommy”/Sam the kid into Sam the teenager who became a Tommy via… teachers like Miss Thomas, Miss Smith and Miss Booth, Mr Parker, Mr Page, and Dizziba rambling about the Crimean War and never sparing the rod… and junior mixed embarrassments of the taken-short kind… and trying to match his brother Ted – impossible!… and getting ahead and winning prizes… and not being “Stinker” Jackson… and “thrilling” classroom debates, and horrible moments when he couldn’t answer the question… and Mrs Varley’s Waxworks, and posing as Shylock… and loving it so much the time rushed by… and leaving, sadly, because his parents couldn’t afford any more education for him…
(1) In his 70s, Sam Sutcliffe wrote Nobody Of Any Importance, a Memoir of his life from childhood through Gallipoli, the Somme, Arras 1918 and eight months as a POW to the 1919 Peace parade.