Prefab Days update: the green thing

When I wrote Prefab Days, little did I suspect how much interest it would stir up, notably among former residents of the Pilgrims Way estate in Kingsbury NW9. The original post was written for a museum housed in a prefabricated building, and I had to work to a word limit. One of the memories which I chose to leave out of the article concerned a cast-iron object in the street, just outside our back garden, known locally as “The Green Thing”.

Perhaps a subconscious motive for leaving the green thing out of my story was that, as I recall, my sister and I were forbidden to go anywhere near it, even though it held a magnetic attraction for other kids as the place to hang out. I am pretty sure this ban was just one outcome of our Dad’s horror of playing in the street. However I may have defied the edict on at least one occasion because I remember an event which took place right next to the green thing, which I mentioned in “Prefab Days”:

“When we moved in, work on the infrastructure was still going on, mainly finishing the roadway and footpaths. The labour force was a couple of German prisoners of war, supposedly supervised by British soldiers. We kids were strictly instructed not to fraternise with them, but of course we did, as the squaddies seemed to be notable by their absence. One of the POWs smuggled toys to us somehow, and I remember with affection the tiny metal tractor that came my way.” I am sure this happened next to the green thing, where there was a pile of sand, presumably used officially for laying paving slabs and unofficially as a sandpit for local kids less constrained than us.           

A year or so after I published the original post, Vic Burton, now a valued commenter on this blog, reminded me of the green thing and its lasting significance to kids on the estate. My sister has also mentioned it since, so I have had it in mind for an update for some time. I guess it must have had more of an impact on other kids than on us, even though it was always part of our landscape, only yards from our side garden fence. With hindsight I think the parental ban was just one outcome of my Dad’s general aversion to the idea of his kids playing in the street, probably influenced by the general assumption that the green thing was an electricity junction box of some sort and therefore possibly a hazard.

Well it turns out that the green thing was indeed full of electricity, distributing mains voltage to all the prefabs on our all-electric estate. But as far as I know, nobody was electrocuted, nor had their lives adversely affected by playing around it. Rather I suspect it was unintentionally beneficial as a hang-out for street-wise kids; for some of them it remains symbolic of a carefree post-war childhood.

Paul Kennedy also remembers the green thing. Never mind its nostalgic impact, he has tracked down exactly what it was, thanks to John East, an electrician with Eastern Electricity. It seems clear that it was indeed an electrical distribution box, known in the trade as a Feeder Pillar. John has identified its manufacturer and purpose: “They (feeder pillars,) came in various sizes and dimensions, and were manufactured by LUCY of Oxford, an electrical castings company still in business today.  They were used to sub-divide the distribution of electricity.” John has kindly given his permission to publish his findings, contained in a copyrighted document, which anyone interested can download here as a .pdf, on condition that no money should be involved.

John’s sketch map shows the location of the Pilgrims Way feeder pillar exactly where it was, adjacent to number 36, our home from 1947 to 1957. Proof enough for me.

I thought I would see if I could find any images resembling the green thing as I remember it, and I think I have found one. It’s on an intriguing web page about “Lucy Boxes”, published by the Black Country Living Museum in Tipton Road, Dudley. There are photos of an amazing variety of green things on this page, and on a subsequent page, but the only one that comes anywhere my mental image of our one is identified as a GPO (Post Office) telephone line distribution box. Perhaps these Lucy boxes could be used either for mains power or telephone cables. I doubt there were any phones on the estate at that time apart from one public call box, but mains electricity was its life blood.

Whatever its function, as far as I remember, one of the attractions of our green thing was  the prospect of climbing up and sitting on top of it, no mean feat if these images are anything to go by. Obviously I never achieved this distinction but I think braver, taller, more athletic and less confined kids probably did.

On reflection, given the possible electrical hazard and the likelihood of falling off, perhaps my Dad had the right idea after all.

Thanks to Vic Burton, Paul Kennedy and John East.

(The prefab in this clip seems to be the same type as installed in Pilgrims Way – the “Airoh”. The electrical connection is mentioned in the commentary, and there’s a brief glimpse of the mains cables being connected.)

Related posts

14 thoughts on “Prefab Days update: the green thing

  1. Re the feeder-pillar illustrations, Paul Kennedy, who has a better memory of the green thing than I, writes: “No none of them are the same as the Green Thing it had two doors opening from the middle with 2 large protruding hinges each side, we used them as foot rests to climb up onto the top. I had no luck when I tried the company Lucy who made it some time back but I have just emailed them on the off chance that someone there might be able to dig out an old picture or drawing of it.” Thanks Paul! Anyone else remember?

  2. The Green Thing, these are some of the words taken from my brothers Wally story written about the green thing.The name was self -explanatory .In the corner of the street,down the hill from 27 was a– well — a green thing..Made of cast iron 1.6Inc x 4ft longs 5ft high.It humed very faintly ,found out later it was the electric relays.Small children could use the hinges to climb up on its top.It was cricket stumps.It’s were we counted to 100 while our friends hid in many games of tin can tommy,we lent against it we giggled by it,and decided what game to play next ,so we didn’t have to go home just yet .If it could talk it tell of all our dreams ,hopes and the laughter and tears.The freedom to.laugh until your jaw aches.The green Thing,an integral part of our history.. This is a small part of his /our story

    • Thanks Dave. Great memories. Answers to your questions: We moved in in 47/48 and left in 56. Yes, Fryent school, me and my sister Janet. Trips only thanks to Mr Harrison next door – Empire Pool and Olympia Tattoo I think. I’m 78 next week. Yes to other names – Wren, Chignell, Denning Dilly. There was a long-running feud between my parents and Mrs Denning. The reason why nobody remembers us is that my dad would not let us play in the street so we missed all the action. I have removed your street address for security reasons, but I will write you a letter with mine. It would be great to have Wally’s story that way, but it would remain confidential. Stay Safe!

  3. Yes ,but because im not at all that skilled with these magic box of tricks the only way is for me to copy it 3pages and post it to you.That said please forgive me can we start at the beginning ,I always thought I would remember people,families , when did you move in and out from Pilgrims way as I can’t recall your name did you move in after the Paynes or before,did you got to Fryant school,my age is 73 ,did you go on any coach trips,parties to golder green, .These are some of names I remember Wrens,Andrew Forby,Chignells.Jef Kay Dennings .Hues ,Wallers Jim Thornton,Harrison’s Williams Bill Tommy Lake. Terry, Leslie Dilly worked on star wars art directer Hut,Jollies .I could go on sorry We were 3brother Joe,Walter,David ,Joe being 83 now Back to posting. Wallies story to you, if that’s ok .You really have sturd up such memories, lovely times and place …………….Wally has written short stories all his life but mor next time.My dad won first place in the 3 mile road race 1953 I’ve got his medal organised by p,w,t,a,

  4. I remember the green thing fondly, loved sitting on top, my sister and I and Dave Robson any other kids who cared to join us. If u stood by the green thing you were never alone for long. It was the meeting place for all.

    • I had been browsing the web for any snippets on the Kingsbury area where I lived from around 1956 when I was 10 until the 19 70’s. I then came across Peter’s fascinating blog of growing up in Kingsbury and in particular the stories of the prefabs at Pilgrims Way – serendipity indeed.

      Here I must own up and confess I wasn’t a “Pilgrims Way kid” but lived next door in the council flats along Kings Drive. For myself I always felt extremely fortunate to spend most of my childhood growing up “in the shadow of Barn Hill” and not in a busy suburb.
      It was marvellous reading peoples stories of growing up in Pilgrims Way and then to suddenly see two familiar names that I recall from way back (that’s if my memory serves me well) – Paul Kennedy and Shelagh O’ Mahoney. I was friends with Chris Slater who lived in the flats and I believe we met Shelagh and her friends when we were about 15/16 years of age.
      Over the years I had lost touch with most friends from that time bar two – Brian Harris and Steve Philpot both of whom I believe lived in the Pilgrims Way prefabs.

      It’s a wonderful Blog and great to recall times past.

      • Thanks Colin. I always wondered who lived in the KIngs Drive flats! My sister once fell off the low wall at the edge of the road, ending up in someone’s veg garden there. The Pilgrims Way story lives on. Glad you like the blog!

      • Hello Colin
        I do have memories of Kings Drive flats, I recall your name and Chris Slater’s, was it down the bottom by Salmon Street end?
        Also the caretaker Mr Gilmore who frightened me as a young child, although looking back perhaps we gave him a hard time!
        Happy days.
        Regards Shelagh O’Mahoney

  5. That makes sense. now,as you would have been going to juniors as I was going infants,and as I was starting to venture out, you would have moved .Nice to meet you.! .Ah shelagh, Jim I believe was a paratrooper very tall smart man.Jim Shelaghs dad.That’s another untold stories returning from the war , prisoners of war .Jim Thortons dad survived The Lisbon Maru and Japan ,a great generation

    • Hello Dave
      We all have amazing memories of Pilgrims Way, I shall be ever grateful for living there our childhoods were so special such freedom, the beautiful surroundings to play in and all the friend in the world to enjoy.
      Best Wishes
      Shelagh O’Mahoney

      • Hallo Sheilagh. Delighted to approve your comment. Your name crops up a lot in the Pilgrims Way saga!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s