Pilgrims Way: more prefab memories

From Janet and Jim Chignall, who used to live in the prefab behind us on the Pilgrims Way prefab estate after the war:

A few recollections and short stories of early childhood life and times in our prefab, 31 Pilgrims Way, Wembley. Middlesex

  

I remember …… 

  • Sitting on the front doorstep looking at my favourite comics, The Dandy & The Beano.
  • Worrying all night about my younger brother (Jamie) starting school – Fryent’s Infants.
  • Going to Fryent School on the coach which stopped by the ‘Green Thing’ outside our prefab.
  • Taking small bunches of flowers, picked by Dad from our front garden for the school-teacher
  • Mum making a soft football from old socks for Jamie to take to school, often after a last- minute request from him – just before we were due to leave!
  • Watching my favourite programmes on our small 9 inch, Pye television. The Flowerpot Men,

Andy Pandy, Sooty and Muffin the Mule –  (I remember crying when Annette Mills, the Muffin the Mule presenter died in 1955).                  

  • Seeing the Wall’s ice cream man riding down the road and ringing the bell on his bicycle which had a metal basket or box at the front with the ice cream in.
  • Getting excited about the Coronation Street party and being able to wear my Fryent School brown school blazer with gold edging over my party dress.
  • Looking forward to the Corona man arriving each week (I believe) with our bottles of ‘pop’.
  • Playing outside in the street and road without any worries or fears of danger. Favourite games: Five Stones, Hopscotch, Knock Down Ginger, Tin Can Tommy, British Bulldog,
  • Hearing the chimes of the Demarco’s Ice Cream van and getting a choc-ice or wafer. (and later a Mr Whippy)
  • Seeing the coal man with his dirty face and hands, heaving great sacks of coal onto his back from the lorry and putting it into peoples’ coal sheds.
  • Hearing the clip-clop of the Rag and Bone man’s horse and hearing him shout out “Rag bones, any old rag bones”… and wondering why he wanted rag bones and what were they?
  • Going for long walks over Barnhill with Mum and Dad to visit the pond for a paddle and seeing lots of red squirrels (now very rare) in the trees and scurrying amongst the fallen leaves in Autumn.
  • Fishing in Barnhill pond for tiddlers and sticklebacks and bringing them home in a jam-jar.
  • Seeing Mum furiously turning the handle of her old Singer Sewing Machine whilst sewing up curtains and making clothes for us.
  • Getting our first dog,’ Sandy’, a little mongrel who we loved to bits. Dogs were just let out in those days and would roam about until they came home. Sandy used to sit on the doorstep and watch the children boarding the coach for school and he would often be there again when we came home.
  • Dad proudly getting an award from the Council for his best front garden and ‘prize’ chrysanthemums.
  • Congregating in the woods behind the prefabs and meeting up at ‘the three trees’

which were behind the O’Mahoney family’s back garden.  Each of the three trees had a trunk with an odd shape and we gave them each a name, one of them being ‘Parcel Tree’.

  • The boys, (unbeknown to our parents and very naughtily), lighting bonfires in the woods and sneaking home to pinch a potato to bake in it. The spuds got thrown in and came out completely charred black, but the insides tasted wonderful.
  • Being scared to go past the entrance to the woods in the area between the flats and the first prefab where Jeff Kaye lived, in case ‘Red Face’ came out and ‘got us’. We never knew who, or what’ Red Face was’, or where this story came from, but we always quickly ran past this spot if we were on our own.
  • Picking blackberries and making daisy chains. One day, feeling mischievous, Jamie and I were in our garden and decided to throw loads of blackberries that we had previously collected, against the side of our next-door neighbour’s prefab wall (the Wren family). The dark, blackish mauve juice of the berries splattered all over the white wall and made a nice pattern and a real satisfying mess!
  • Going on coach trips to various pantomimes and events arranged by the Pilgrims Way Tenants Association. We went to The London Palladium, Wembley Empire Pool and other such places and always had a great time.
  • When the School Coach facility stopped, groups of us would walk all the way to Fryent School, going up Salmon Street and down Mallard Way. In the rain, we loved to splash in the puddles whilst wearing with our long black wellington boots.
  • On the way home from Fryent School we would call in at the sweet shop to buy treats such a

Sherbet Dib-Dabs, Sweet Cigarettes, Gob Stoppers, Pink Bubblegum, Spangles, Shrimps, Flying Saucers etc.  and other times we would get a huge, sour ‘tuppeny’ (2 pence in old money) cooking apple from the green grocers.  I’m not sure which was worse for our teeth!

  • No one seemed to worry too much about keys, as doors were usually left unlocked during the day and people would drop in and out of each other’s houses for a cup of tea and a chat and everyone one seemed to know each other and usually all their business too.                      
  • With so many children on the estate, we were often invited to birthday parties. We were washed, dressed in our best clothes and sent along with a neatly wrapped present. We usually came back with a piece of birthday cake wrapped in a serviette and sometimes with a balloon on a piece of string. One day, Jamie said he had been invited to somebody’s birthday party (can’t remember whose) and he got all ready and carrying a present,  I took him up the road, knocked on the door and the boy’s Mum answered with a bewildered look, on her face. –  It had been a prank and there was no birthday or party!  Poor Jamie was not  happy that I had to take him back home again – and we did not find the prank funny at all!

  • We used to love going to the Funfair at Wembley Park and always seemed to come home with a prize – a goldfish in a polythene bag,  Once home, we usually put them in a small goldfish bowl and if they died, they were flushed down the toilet.  Over time, we acquired quite a few and so Dad got us a fish tank. This was eventually put outside into the garden just behind the gate because we were reluctant to clean it out and the water went green and a bit stinky. The fish however seemed to love it and although we never fed them, they seemed to survive longer.  One year in winter, I remember that the water in the tank completely froze and the fish were suspended and encased in ice. We feared they were dead, but when the ice melted, the fish ‘came back to life’ and began swimming around again??  (Strange, but true)!
  • In early days, Dad used to keep chickens in the back garden. I remember small yellow, fluffy chicks arriving in a thick cardboard box which had holes in. The chicks quickly grew into chickens and I remember Mum boiling up vegetable peelings in a big pot with some other powdered ‘fowl’ (get it?) smelling ingredient to feed them with. When they began laying,

I couldn’t eat our own chickens eggs as I felt queasy after realising where they came from and thinking that inside the egg was a baby chick, so Mum used to have a box especially for me with eggs in that she said were different as they hadn’t come from the chickens but instead had come from the shops’.  – In my mind that was ok then and so I was be able to eat my very own ‘special’ eggs.

Dad had also, due to previous rationing, bought the chickens for the purpose of eating and he used to have a weird metal contraption that went round the chicken’s neck to ‘humanely’ kill it. However, it didn’t always work as planned, as after using this ‘weapon’, I remember seeing chickens running around the garden with their necks and heads dangling over. Dad said that they were dead but that the nerves in their legs still worked.  Mum then had the job of plucking the chicken and it used to be hung over the coal shed door and she would pull all the feathers out which would fly all over the place. Mum didn’t like doing this, but it obviously needed to done before the chicken could be roasted for our Sunday dinner.

  • Dad had an allotment and would spend many hours growing all kinds of vegetables which he would proudly bring home for Mum to wash, prepare and cook. They always seemed to have lots of mud and insects on them and this was probably one of the reasons why I still dislike most vegetables. One time I remember, we sat down to dinner in the kitchen for a meal that Dad had cooked with some of his home -grown potatoes. They were usually nice, but these particular ones must have been a different variety as they were horrible and tasted really ‘earthy’. Dad got quite cross when we wanted to leave them and said that we would have to sit up at the table until we had eaten them all up.  We sat there for ages and then when he got up and left the room, Jamie and I looked at each other and promptly chucked the potatoes from our plates out of the window and into the garden. Luckily, I don’t think Dad ever found out what we had done!
  • Dad used to park his burgundy coloured motorbike and sidecar on the corner outside our prefab. We had some fun times travelling all around, with Dad driving, Mum on the back of the bike and Jamie and I in the sidecar which had a roll up plastic window at the back, out of which we would wave to people as we went by. We went to Somerset many times to visit relatives and had lots of happy seaside days out and holidays in a caravan. I remember having to go to the campsite toilet block for a wash etc and Dad having to light lamps as there were no such luxuries as toilets or electricity in caravans in those days. At a later date, we upgraded to a little blue Ford Popular and had holidays in Walton-on-the-Naze several years running, staying in the same (Oakley) Guesthouse run by Mr & Mrs Skews. It was luxury compared to the caravan …even though we had to join a queue with the other guests to use the one and only bathroom and toilet.  No en-suites in those day!

Jamie and I loved going to Walton-on -the-Naze pier, we had great fun playing on the penny slot machines and would usually have sticky candyfloss or a hot doughnut as a treat.

  • After our chickens had gone (presumably all eaten), we were allowed to turn the old chicken sheds that Dad had constructed, into what became known as our ‘Pets Corner’. I remember going to a a pet shop in Willesden and choosing two lovely, long haired furry guinea pigs (who we were told were ‘sisters’) – and also a little white mouse.

One day, on going outside with their food, one of the guinea pigs came running out of the bed area of her cage squeaking loudly – she was obviously trying to tell me that she had given birth overnight!  I can remember being so excited at seeing these little babies for the first time and then watching them get bigger as the days and weeks went by.

We regularly went down to a small Wood Yard which was at the bottom of Pilgrims Way and across the road and would bring back sacks of sawdust which we were given to use as bedding for our pets.  Our friends from the estate loved to come round and visit our pets and we would let them pick them up and stroke them and sometimes give them food.

I remember one morning, Mum called me to say that she had gone out to feed the

Guinea pigs and found that they were all dead. We could only presume that they had been given some poisonous berries or something by mistake, but we never really found out what had happened to them.  We were very sad, but at least still had our mouse… however….

  • One cold morning I went out to feed the mouse and found that it was not moving and a bit stiff. Mum and Dad were out, so I ran to my friend Maureen’s house a couple of doors away and she told me she’d heard that whisky was good for warming and reviving people. We knocked on several doors asking neighbours if they had any whisky that we could have, but did not have any luck.  The next bright idea we had to warm up the mouse, was to put it under the grill……Needless to say – (and as unlike with the fish) –  a miracle did not happen, so our little mouse was put into a match box and buried in the corner of the garden where the guinea pigs had gone.

We then got a cat called Mandy, who had kittens in a kitchen cupboard ……. and so the stories go on……….

———————————————————————-

Pligrims Way was a fairly tight knit community and most of us kids got on well together. No-one seemed left out or discriminated against and we made our own fun, inventing games to play, sharing and making the most of what we had.

As we all got older, left Fryent School and went to our various other senior and secondary schools, we made new friends and went in different directions. However, I  believe that looking back, most would agree that the fun, happiness and good times we had with the children we grew up with and the friendships we formed then, will never be forgotten and will probably remain in the depths of our memories and close to our hearts for ever. 

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Editorial note:

Many thanks to Janet and Jim (Jamie) for this delightful memoir. Originally, it was a response to a call I made for memories which I might be able to smuggle into the novel I have written about growing up on a ficticious prefab estate, sited not a million miles from the real Pilgrims Way. I have indeed embedded some of these memories in that way, with their permission, but, having finished the book, I thought the Chignalls’ original memoir deserved its own space here, untouched by editorial tinkering. I hope you agree.

Some more photos kindly shared by Janet and Jamie:

14 thoughts on “Pilgrims Way: more prefab memories

  1. Janet what lovely memories of which brought back many memories of mine some I’d almost forgotten. Pilgrims Way was a very special place, although we didn’t realise it whilst growing up there. I’m still in touch with many of the boys and a few of the girls from those days

    • remember you both very well and was at the pond last year, looks very different, when did you retire jim? i left hendon in 2000

      • I left the Fire Service in 2000 as well. Too young to retire so decided to get a job as a Premises Manager at a High School in Edgware that I thought would suit me for just a couple of years.
        I was so happy there, more like a hobby than a job and stayed on for 17 years.
        Happy in retirement now though.
        So nice to hear these stories……we were so blessed to enjoy such wonderful childhoods…..the memories are priceless.

      • Thanks Jim. Best regards to Janet too. I’ll keep you posted about any further developments on the PIlgrims Way story. I’m putting the final touches to my novel based on our shared experiences back then. Struggling with the the nightmare of publishing though. I’ll make sure all those who have helped me get a free version. Stay safe and happy in retirement!

  2. Brilliant memories Janet & Jim. I am ashamed to say that I lived on Deanscroft Avenue, went to Fryent School and then Kingsbury County. I was told, “Whatever you do, don’t mix or talk with those kids from Pilgrims Way!!”

  3. I didn’t take any notice of “Don’t speak to those kids from Pilgrims Way” when I met Peter at Kingsbury County!

  4. Janet
    Thank you for bringing back such wonderful memories, I recognised your Mum straight away, and remember your Dads motorbike. I also used to go on a Saturday morning and get sawdust from the bottom of salmon street at the wood mill, I loved the smell of that place.
    We all had amazing childhoods living in Pilgrims Way.
    Best Wishes
    Shelagh O’Mahoney

  5. Hello Janet and Jim, sounds like the title of a book. I loved your reminiscences of Pilgrims Way and I well remember your mum and dad it was a great place to grow up in. I met Jim at cannons gave me quite a shock hope you are all keeping well best wishes Maurice Bunce

    • Thanks Maurice. I haven’t heard your name before – which prefab were you in? I remember Janet and Jamie (as he was called then) and my sister Janet was pally with Janet C. They were called big Janet and little Janet. Their memories are so well presented, it was a privilege for me to publish them without any editing. We lived at number 36, right in front of the Chignalls. By the way, you might like my book “Prefabulous Days” which is loosely based on life on Pilgrims Way, even though it’s a novel. You can buy it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0946T3LSX?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

      • Thanks for replying Pedro I already have a copy of Prefabulous. I used to live at number 18. I used to be great mates with Bill Lake, Terry Dilley and Geof Kaye, not forgetting Maureen O’Mahoney Janet Chignal and Madeline Williams. Terry Dilley had a brother Les he won two oscars for set decoration on Star Wars. I lived three doors away from Charlie Watts, I also remember being told at school assembly that he was the first pupil to attend Tyler’s Croft to achieve an RSA diploma. The soldier who came back from Korea was John Waugh and I remember them painting the banner which was strung across the street saying “welcome home john” he lived at number 112 I seem to remember.couple of other characters who used to hang around the green thing were Jack and Jim Thornton, Walt Robson Nick Rayner and John Swift who married Maureen O’Mahoney now both sadly passed away. I could not for the life of me place your name, but your book triggered a lot of memories of a very happy time. By the way I won second prize for the fancy dress costume at the Coronation party I was a grenadier guard, Geoff Denning was first as W G Grace. Anyway stay well regards Maurice Bunce

      • Thanks Maurice. Apart from the Chignalls I recall Madeline Williams, Peter Harrison (next door) Colin Flick, Terry Dilley, Nick Rayner and Charlie Watts. Geoff Denning lived over the road. By the way, Charlie W once held me up over our gate with a toy gun and said he would fill me up with slugs. I thought he meant the garden pests. (My favourite anecdote.) Mrs Watts was pally with my mum, even years later when she moved to Bush Grove and Mrs W to Laburnum Grove. That would be the early sixties when Charlie had become famous. I was at university in Leicester but I recall crowds on screaming girls in the street when Charlie was due to visit his folks, when I was at home on holiday. Someone else mentioned Les Dilley’s Star Wars achievement. I later spent many years in TV production (director/ producer) in New Zealand and in the BBC / ITV, so that makes at least 3 pilgrims in show-biz. The reason for not being able to place me is probably that my dad would not let us play in the street, even though the green thing was bang outside our side fence. Seems we missed out on an essential education! Thanks for buying the book – it was fun to write. Now I’m under pressure to write a sequel. Don’t hold your breath………………….

  6. I remember some of those mentioned herein, particularly Paul Kennedy, Wayne Evans, and Jim Chignell. Also from Pilgrims Way – Keith Libby, a foot ball fan, and William Chambers who I think became a teacher. I still have the class photo taken July 1957 (our last year) if anyone would like to see it, or to have a copy (That was the awfully strict Mr Denny;s class – he insisted we wrote everything in italics, which actually helped me get my first job). My family, the Leonard family, first lived at 15 Laburnum Grove (from 1950 until about 1960, then 8 Hawthorne Grove). In Hawthorne Grove we lived right next to Fryent School but my parents would not allow us to climb over the fence, instead we had to walk all the way around to the front entrance in Church Lane. That didn’t make sense to us (four boys and one girl) but hey ho rules are rules. On the day of the 11-plus I had forgotten to take my glasses so was allowed, just that one time, to climb the fence to get them, supervised by the moustachioed Mr Welch who I think was the PT teacher ? My memories of Fryent School were good, except of course the school dinners, which gave me an everlasting allergy to swedes (the orange vegetable, not the nation). I am in contact with only three of my fellow Fryent pupils (Graham Burgess, Jackie Heaton, Lynne Kirwin) but would like to communicate with others : philip.leonard@btinternet.com
    I know that some of my classmates are no longer with us, some sadly passing away as young as 47 – both Andrew Jackman and Ian Cole. Some achieved much in their careers, Dennis Turner of Sycamore Grove for example became Chief Economist for HSBC. Michael Golde became Professor of Chemistry at Pennsylvania University. Andrew Jackman became a well-known composer. Amazing what Fryent School produced. If I got home to Hawthorne Grove late at night/early in the morning, I would sometimes see a dark blue Ford Cortina tearing at high speed into Bush Grove from Slough Lane, driven by Mick Jagger with Charlie Watts in the front passenger seat. I guess Charlie was getting a lift home after a gig. Moments later the same Ford would race back, engine revving madly, and swerve with tyres squealing into Slough Lane. The members of that band did not drive Fords for very long !

    • Thanks Philip. Fascinating memories. Yet another Charlie Watts anecdote! That would have been after I left the area, I suppose. Mr. “Whack’em” Denny – I remember the italic thing, and having to change style at secondary school. I suppose he meant well, but I still find it hard to forgive his methods. Oddly enough, I ran into the same style in New Zealand in the sixties. Paul Kennedy is writing a novel about his well spent youth.

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