Prefabs: Pride and Prejudice

“Whatever you do, don’t play with those Pilgrim Way kids”

When I first wrote about growing up on a post-war prefab estate, I  had no idea that local people living nearby might have formed negative attitudes toward such places and their residents, deserved or otherwise. As a prefab boy, I was not aware that I and other prefab kids may have been seen as social pariahs by middle class home-owners. But following the publication of my 2015 memoir Prefab Days I was intrigued by a comment from a former schoolmate, who quoted a woman living in a “proper house” not far away, doling out essential advice to one of his friends: “Whatever you do, don’t play with those Pilgrim Way kids”.

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Prefabs | Pilgrims Way update

Fryent Country Park Story – Part 5

Paul Kennedy has brought to my attention a Pilgrims Way update by local historian Philip Grant, on the Wembley Matters blog. It’s a must for all prefab old boys and girls. Click here  to read this interesting post, the latest episode in the Fryent Country Park story.

Some key quotes which certainly chime with my memories:

“Paul remembered the woods and fields as ‘a child’s paradise to play in’, and not just in summer. ‘When it snowed we’d sledge at great speed down a very long steep hill next to Barn Hill pond, stopping only when the barbed wire fence of the cow’s field at the very bottom loomed into sight.” (By the way, I once fell through winter ice on Barn Hill pond. Lesson learned.)

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Sir John Franklin, Lincolnshire hero

Last week I got the sack! At my time of life too.  For the last five years I have been running a blog for a well known hotel in Woodhall Spa, England, now suddenly a victim of the Covid-19 crisis. So I have got my cards and the blog has been taken offline. Of the 381 posts published, one or two stories I think are worth re-publishing and updating here. Here’s an one such, originally posted in October 2014, slightly edited and updated today:

 

If you head out East from Lincoln toward the Lincolnshire coast and you get fed up with the main road, you might take the old road through Spilsby. And if you decide to take a break there, you may, as I did sometime after we settled in mid-Lincolnshire in 2001, come across the memorial in the main square commemorating the life and death of Spilsby born and Louth educated Sir John Franklin. On May 19 1845, Franklin’s exploration ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror sailed out from the River Thames, with 128 officers and men, in an attempt to find the fabled Northwest Passage.

Interesting enough in itself perhaps, but suddenly in the international news in 2014, when Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, announced that one of the two ships used for Sir John Franklin’s fatal attempt to find the Northwest Passage had been discovered, over 160 years since it was abandoned in the frozen wastes of the Canadian Arctic.

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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.            Continue reading

My window faces the south, Part 4: Netley days

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A few weeks ago, out of the blue the phone rang to tell us that our old, and much-loved next-door neighbour Tony Bray had died. This sad news, followed by his memorable and moving burial at sea near Gosport a few days later, reminded me just what a formative period this was for us all.

Looking back, Tony, his wife Adrienne and their two sons remain right up there in the top ten greatest strokes of luck we ever had. There’s only so much research you can do when looking for a new home – estate agent blurbs, surveys, casing the joint, it’s always hit-and-miss, and one of the most important factors, your new neighbours, is the hardest factor to find out about. In this case we had won the lottery, but we didn’t know it straight away.

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Old maps tell the story of Lincolnshire

I recently came across a fascinating blog post by Dr. Caitlin Green, featuring a collection of early maps of Lincolnshire. Caitlin describes herself as a historian and writer whose professional interests lie in the history, archaeology, place-names and literature of late Roman and early medieval Britain.

She explains: “This post is primarily intended to share images of some of the interesting early maps of Lincolnshire that still exist, dating from the medieval era through until the early seventeenth century. Details of each map and a brief discussion of the principal points of interest—including the curious region-name ‘Ageland’ that appears in eastern Lincolnshire on many of them—are provided in the captions to the following image gallery, which I aim to add to over time.”

Some interesting early maps of Lincolnshire Continue reading

Ethel Major – A Lincolnshire village murderer?

Not long after we moved into Kirkby on Bain in 2001, somebody said to me something along the lines of “Of course you must know about our famous murderer, Ethel Major”. Of course I had never heard of her, so I did some very superficial research and found that this Kirkby on Bain lady was convicted of killing her husband (a nasty piece of work, allegedly,) in 1934 and hanged in Hull gaol.

A little later Betty Dixon, who was born that year and until recently was one of Kirkby’s oldest residents, kindly lent me a bundle of newspaper cuttings and a book about this case. Like a lot of accounts of past murders, quite a bit of this material was written in sensationalist styles, with little by way of references or source attributions. I also noticed that some accounts were word-for-word copies, apparently lifted from one original newspaper write-up.

During subsequent searches, I stumbled across a real surprise – macabre testimony to the everlasting obsession with murder, a knitted representation of Ethel’s house, made by Jean Arkell, originally installed at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester. Believe it or not there really is a website featuring knitted representations of houses lived in by female murderers. Midsomer Murders scriptwriters, please take note.
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The Dewrance Connection – update

Almost two years ago I told the story of my connection to father and son engineering ancestors John and Sir John Dewrance, as I understood it at the time, including references to John Dewrance having built George Stephenson’s Rocket. Quite recently I have been assured by a learned reader that this was unlikely and that the Rocket was built by Robert Stephenson. Since my original post was primarily about the family connection, only mentioning the Rocket in passing, and in the interests of accuracy, I have updated it accordingly. I do hope this meets the concerns of anyone more interested in railway historical minutiae than in a family yarn, of interest to anyone sharing the family name.

Updated post

Gibraltar Point update

Last Friday I took another trip out to Gibraltar Point, conscious that the building of the new visitor centre must now be well advanced. I was not wrong. The weather was unseasonably fine and sunny all the way there but, as is often the case, the point was shrouded in sea mist when I arrived.

Undaunted I took some shots of the visitor centre development from the car park on my much-derided and battered Nokia mobile, then dropped in to the temporary shop and café. I was working on the theory that the mist would clear as there was an offshore wind blowing. It seemed a fair gamble, having driven all the way there.

This strategy turned out well. Continue reading

Gibraltar Point, an East Coast miracle

I would like to believe a yarn heard about Gibraltar Point, a windswept nature reserve on the Lincolnshire coast, near Skegness. The story goes that one day the driver of a huge articulated truck from somewhere in eastern Europe pulled into the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust Car park there and seemed surprised that there was no sign of a car ferry to Morocco.

Seems he was using a satnav. Not as surprised perhaps as the wildlife trust ranger.

Hard to believe, but true or not, I am reminded of the story every time we go to this wonderful miniature wilderness, all the more fascinating for the extreme contrast with one of England’s iconic seaside towns, only two miles away. Continue reading