Skating, Coffee Bars, Record Shops and Cynthia Payne! Teenage Life in the 60s


  • Mary, 67, remembers life as a Streatham teenager in the 1960s.

Q: When did you move to Streatham?

We moved to Streatham in 1955 when I was 8. We moved here so my brother could go to Battersea Grammar school. My father went to Battersea Grammar and I think he pulled some strings to get my brother there. There was the swimming, the ice rink, two cinemas and the two commons (Streatham and Tooting Bec). It was a really good place to have a childhood.

Q: Do you have memories of your life in Streatham?

Pratts was a focal point. I went there with my mum. I would go up the High Road on my own and meet friends and wander round Pratts. We’d not spend anything but it was something to do. Then as a teenager in the ‘60’s you would go up the High Road and it was a real focal point. You would always meet friends. I was at the Convent Girls’ School and we used to meet up with the Tulse Hill boys who we thought of as ‘a bit of rough!‘

There was the Rumbling Tum at Streatham Hill Station in the ‘60’s; that was like a real coffee bar. Up the High Road it was more like Wimpy bars. Then there was Pratt’s tea rooms where your mum took you for a cup of tea. In the ‘50’s there was Fuller’s Tea Rooms next to the Odeon. That was posh. The waitresses were dressed up like Lyon’s Nippies in the black. You’d only go there for posh occasions.

My mum took me to the cinema and to Streatham Hill Theatre. I saw Oklahoma and West Side Story. I was 12 or something and it was just amazing. Then there was The Boyfriend and Salad Days. They were the ones that really stick out in my mind. And also from when I was 10 she took me to the odd film. I remember seeing Doris Day. I think Streatham Hill was a place with a lot of theatrical digs. There were a lot of well-known West End actors living in Streatham Hill. It was quite up-market in those days. It was so sad when Streatham Hill Theatre shut. They used to put on pantomimes. It was a lovely theatre and it was my introduction to the stage and a different sort of magic to the cinema.

I used to go skating on a Saturday morning and meet friends. There was much more freedom for kids then. Parents felt it was safer, or maybe it was safer. I don’t know whether it was perception or reality. So you would meet friends outside the ice rink and you’d go for 2 hours. We were quite savvy. It was good. I could go out from a Saturday morning from aged 9 onwards and go skating. They had an organist at the rink and if it was your birthday he would play Happy Birthday for you, which was really nice,

We went to the library at Streatham Common station; It’s a nursery now. We always went there as kids. We also went to the Tate library.

Q: What was it like as a teenager in Streatham?

My brother was 4½ years older than me. He was a big Jazz fan. There was a Jazz club by Streatham Hill Station. When I was about 14 I would be really curious about what went on at this club. He used to go off with his bongos under his arm. I never got there because it shut before I was old enough. I went to the Locarno at Streatham Hill which was a big draw for dancing. But I was a bit snooty by then because I was really into Blues and R&B and I would go to the Marquee Club up in Soho from when I was 17. I would get the bus to Tooting Bec and then the tube. I would go every Saturday. My dad would pick me up at the tube at 11 o’clock with his raincoat over his pyjamas. He was just great my dad. Whatever I did he would pick me up. I didn’t know boys with cars. I didn’t go to Streatham. I went up town to the Flamingo nightclub in Soho; an early disco place. I saw The Who, Georgie Fame and Rod Stewart and the Faces who did a residency at the Marquee Club Soho. There was so much happening then. I went up town for music.

When I was 17 I met a group of friends; which when you’ve been to an all- girl’s school, to meet a mixed group was quite exciting. We used to meet at the Bedford Park Hotel opposite Streatham station and you’d hope someone might have a party. So for me as a teenager Streatham was great but it also had good amenities for getting up town.

There are a lot of churches in Streatham; my mum was Catholic so we went to the English Martyrs. But when I got to 16 and I decided I was no longer a believer, I would set off for church, but then go up to the Rookery and meet my boyfriend.

Q: Do you remember any particular events in Streatham?

I remember the night the church on Guildersfield Road burned down. My kids Lucy was 14 and Sam 15. I heard this crackling in the night. It woke me up. I looked out of the window. It was so bright. My daughter and I went out to see what was going on. It was very spectacular. You could almost understand pyromaniacs because it was just flames and the crackling. And then there was a fire engine and the crane spraying water, and the crowds. Originally it was an Anglican Church of England church. It was taken over by an African religion. They were using it at the time it was burned down. Whether it was just the electrics, I don’t know. It was a huge Victorian church but it didn’t look inviting.

Q: Do you have memories of shopping in Streatham?

As a teenager there was a very good record shop opposite the Odeon and there was a tiny little shop called The Swing Shop opposite the English Martyrs, run by a guy called Ray, which did imports from America black artists from the ‘50s and ‘60s. I would come back from school, get off the bus at St Leonard’s and take off my Panama hat and go in there. It was just really nice.

When Lambeth Council decided to shut Pratts down that was a big blow to Streatham. That was very sad really and it really went downhill and was really quite depressing. And it’s really noticeable now how it’s looking up again.

Q: Do you have any stories about famous residents of Streatham?

I remember Cynthia Payne. I was pretty young but I was old enough to know something was going on. I must have been a teenager. My mother belonged to the Union of Catholic Mothers and she had a friend who had a house next to Cynthia Payne’s house on Ambleside Avenue. Mum said this friend didn’t realise what was going on. She must have been a bit daft because she thought there were a lot of visitors! My mother-in-law who lived in Tankerville, she used to have her grand daughter, my niece, after school and she used to come home with a school friend; who always had luncheon vouchers. So my mother-in-law always thought that this woman’s mum worked for Cynthia. And three houses up from Cynthia’s place in Ambleside Avenue they used to have whist drives for the church; so you think “wouldn’t it be funny if they got the number of the house wrong!” Cynthia was thought of with affection.

Q: And what about now?

I would say that there seems to be a lot more energy in Streatham now again. I think Jo Brand did Streatham a favour. You know she slagged off Streatham and I think it rallied the troops a bit. It’s got quite a community feel. I think. Streatham library being done up will be a great help because the library should be a focus for people.

2 thoughts on “Skating, Coffee Bars, Record Shops and Cynthia Payne! Teenage Life in the 60s

  1. There were three cinemas in Streatham in the ’60s, the Astoria (which was re-named Odeon), the Regal by Streatham Hill station (re-named the ABC) and the Gaumont up near the Locarno which became the bowling alley.
    The obliging organist on the stage at Silver Blades ice rink was John Bowery. If you meant the “old” rink – before it was modernised in 1962, the organist was above the entrance steps and was Stan Pearse.

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