Fifties Pin-up Girl Now Lives in Streatham

Pearl Newman, now in her 90s, was a professional actress from the 1940s and 50s. From her publicity photos, she was quite the looker in her day, billed as ‘the attractive girl with the attractive smile’.

Pearl was born in Central London but retired to Streatham some years ago. She now lives within a stone’s throw of the Beacon Bingo Hall, which she remembers as Streatham Hill Theatre. Pearl appeared in a number of roles there during the 1950s, including Principal Boy in the Christmas pantomime ‘Humpty Dumpty’, which played from Boxing Day through January in 1952-53 and 1954- 55.

Living in Marylebone, Pearl particularly remembers getting the 159 bus to just outside the stage door at the Streatham Hill Theatre, ready for rehearsals or the show. She finished so late there was just time to get the last bus back home each night.

Pearl took roles in Rep across the country including venues as far apart as Bournemouth and Scotland. She gave up acting to marry and have a family.

Adventurous into her 80s, Pearl spent some time in Corfu, where she lived with her daughter and Greek extended family before practicalities dictated that she return to London eventually to settle in a Jewish community sheltered housing scheme in Streatham.

When we met Pearl towards the end of last year she was very much hoping to pay a visit to the theatre and relive some old memories. Although a spell of ill-health has put this on hold for a while, we’re hoping this will happen in the warmer weather.

The photos show Pearl in her role as Principal Boy in ‘Humpty Dumpty’, at Streatham Hill Theatre,  more publicity shots of Pearl in the 1950s and Pearl as she is today – still elegant.

 

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

Interviewee

  • 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.

‘One of Our Own’, the Star of our 2013 Festival Show, Remembers, 1950s to Present

Interviewee

  • Brenda Hargreaves, 86, was born in Streatham and, with the exception of a brief time spent as an evacuee in Eastbourne and Llanelli, has spent her whole life there. Brenda is a founder member of the Streatham Society and the Streatham Society Players. In 2000, Brenda received a Civic Award from Lambeth Borough. She is a member of Christchurch, Streatham, but now receives communion at home. Brenda is also a poet and writer. ‘Streatham Then and Now’, our show performed as part of the Streatham Festival 2013, was based around Brenda’s poems.

Q: Where have you lived in Streatham?

I was born in Amesbury Avenue.  I moved from Eastbourne to Llanelli after France fell, but while I was staying in Llanelli I became very homesick and so I begged to return home to my family. I arrived home just in time for the Blitz in 1940. When I married I moved from Amesbury Avenue to a small flat in Staplefield Close and from there to a larger flat, where I still live, in 1969.

Q: What are your memories of life in Streatham?

Towards the end of the war, from 1944, there were a lot of flying bombs, or V1 rockets, dropped on Streatham. When they started to fall, I was playing Freda in ‘Dangerous Corner’ by JB Priestley at St. Mary’s Hall, Clapham. I remember I had the line, “Things are quite mad, aren’t they – and rapidly getting madder!” I did quite a lot of amateur dramatics.

I attended Hitherfield Primary School where I was bullied by a girl called Pam, who later became my friend. Later I attended Balham Central School, and made a lifelong friend called Jean. We found we’d both missed a scholarship by one mark,

I met my husband on the day of the General Election, 1964. I had been working for the Labour Party and came back to the Committee Rooms on Downton Avenue where I was introduced to a Mr Hargreaves, a Lancastrian. He was older than me, a Lancastrian who worked for the Water Board. He has also worked for a Funeral Director and was a fireman during the War, so I used to say he covered three of the four elements, Earth, Fire and Water! We married in 1966. I have always worked for the Labour Party. Jim Walker was our candidate in 1964 and 1966. He bagan to turn the tide against the Tories and later Keith Hill won the seat for Labour in 1992. In 2007, Keith Hill arranged for me to go to a reception at No. 10 and meet Tony Blair. The date was April 16th, my wedding anniversary!

Q: What are your memories of Streatham Hill Theatre?

My sister Dorothy, who was 12 years older, often used to take me to the theatre. I remember seeing ‘The River Line’ (by Charles Morgan, week of March 30th 1953). The theatre was bombed in 1944 and did not reopen until 1950. After the re-opening I saw Jack Warner there, who was lovely! I asked him to sign my programme and he put his arm around me and said, “So you’re Brenda are you!”

I also saw ‘Wedding in Paris’, with Evelyn Laye (1955). Evelyn Laye’s husband Frank Lawton was supposed to be in it, but as he was ill, Francis Lederer took over.

Q: What are your memories of working in Streatham?

After my husband died in 1973, I worked in WH Smith. I was made redundant once and went to work in a tobacconist near home and then the Pyramid Press, but then I went back to Smith’s. One afternoon, things were very slow, and we were talking about life in the past. One of the assistants said, “Don’t the years fly by quickly”, and I said, “And don’t the afternoons go by slowly!”

Once a customer came up to me with a really beautiful book and asked for a refund because the book was a wedding present and his wife died on their honeymoon. I asked the supervisor to give the man a refund with no questions asked, which she duly did. I realised later that I’d been conned, but Mr Clark, the manager, a very nice man, said he would have done exactly the same.

Q: What are your memories of transport in Streatham?

The number 5 bus to Mitcham became the 118 to Morden.

Once, when out with my sisters, I dropped 6d in the tram tracks and we had to hold up the tram as I got my finger caught trying to get it out!

I remember the last ever tram going through Streatham. I believe that Ethel Revnell, formerly one half of ‘The Long and the Short of it’, with Gracie West, was on the tram.

Q: What are your memories of shopping in Streatham?

At Tyrrell’s the Haberdashers, the change came back on a pulley system. There was also Matthews the Art Shop, Butler’s Bookshop and Cordo’s Delicatessen, but when Cordo’s moved up towards Brixton, it was never the same!

Q: Do you remember attending any events in Streatham?

I remember Donkey Derbies on Streatham Common and performances of Shakespeare in The Rookery.

Q: Do you have any memories of famous people in Streatham?

I knew Evelyn Laye a little; we corresponded and I wrote a lot of poems for her. I finally met her and her husband in Harrow.

Sonnie Hale lived with Binnie, his sister, on Drewstead Road. When Evelyn Laye laid the foundation stone for Streatham Hill Theatre, she was married to Sonnie Hale, but he left her later after an affair with Jessie Matthews. In her speech while laying the stone, Miss Laye said, “I’m a Streatham girl by marriage”. It was Evelyn telling me about spending the night before laying the stone drinking absinthe with Americans, that led to my writing my poem, ‘Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder!’, that I read at the STC Show for Streatham Festival.

Gene Anderson, a very promising young actress, lived near the border with Balham, but died tragically young of an overdose. She attended the same drama class as me at New Park Road Evening Institute.

A Local Historian’s View, 1950s

Interviewees

  • Graham Gower grew up in Streatham and he and his wife Marion have lived there all their married life. With their keen interest in local history, they are prominent members of the Streatham Society.

Q: Why did you move to Streatham?

Graham

We moved to Streatham when I was a baby, towards the end of the war. My father grew up in Brighton. By 1944 he was in the RAF, posted in London, and he wanted to live where the action was.

Marion

I grew up in Balham, but we never went to Streatham when I was a child: we saw it as too expensive and upmarket so we preferred to shop in Brixton or Tooting Broadway.

Q: Where have you lived in Streatham?

Graham

I grew up in Madeira Road, and after a time in Wimbledon, I moved back to Lexton Gardens where we’ve lived all our married life.

Q: What are your memories of growing up in Streatham?

Graham

When I was a baby, I’m told that I was in an air raid shelter when a VI rocket, dropped on Streatham Station, blew the door off! Quite a number of V1s were dropped on Streatham: There was an army camp on Tooting Bec Common from around 1942 to 1945. The troops maintained rocket launchers; the rockets were anti-aircraft defences.

There were lots of bomb sites in Streatham after the war. As boys we used to run around in gas masks and tin hats and throw things at each other. There were a number of boarded-up public air raid shelters. We were warned not to play in them, but we didn’t always take notice. One is still on the corner of Madeira Road and Oakdale Road near St. Anselm’s Court: you can see the mound of grass-covered earth.

At school in winter we often had lessons by candlelight as there were lots of power cuts after the war.

The tram tracks were dug up in Streatham in 1952. The tarred blocks were piled up at the side of the road and people were asked to take them. My friend and I had a trolley made of planks on pram wheels and we went round offering people a trolley load of blocks for 6d. The blocks were supposed to help the fire burn, but they spit dreadfully and made burn marks on carpets and people’s legs if you sat too close!

We stood outside Streatham Station asking people of we could carry their luggage home on our trolley, but we didn’t get many takers! We also stood opposite the station around Bonfire Night, asking for 1d for the guy, but people complained that it didn’t look much like Guy Fawkes!

When sugar came off the ration in 1955, Dad made toffee apples!

I had an evening paper round from around 1956 to 57 from the branch of WH Smith’s at Streatham Station, run by a Mr Place who was very tall and friendly. I used to go from Streatham Station to the top of the Dip, and I always used to walk through Francis’ Provisions at the top of Gleneagle Road. My cry was ‘News, Star, Standard!’. For a 6-day week I used to earn 5 shillings!

As the round started at 4.30 pm, if I went to a matinee at the cinema, I always had to leave the film ½ an hour before the end!

Next to the ABC Cinema used to be Norfolk House, a big Victorian house with lawns in front.

The coalman, milkman and dustman used to go round on a horse and cart. The horses used to know the route and would move from house to house in response to a whistle from their master. One of the horses ran over our kitten! My mum used to collect cats from bomb sites. At one time we had 5! We had problems with sewer rats in Madeira Road – the railway lines disturbed them.

Behind the United Reformed Church was an open grass area, which backed on to the gardens of Ellora Road. There was a way through the field out into Ellora Road, and at one time you could walk down to a hut which housed the Robinson School of Dance. I belonged to the cub scouts when I was a child, who met at the Dance School.

At the end of Hambro Road there was a first-aid depot during the war.

At one time in Streatham there was a large Jewish population, hence the two synagogues: the Liberal synagogue in Prentis Road and the Orthodox in Leigham Court Road.

There used to be a bandstand at the top of Streatham Common. The road that goes past the cafe used to continue left to the top of Streatham Common North Side. The bandstand was at the road junction.

There were prefabs on the bomb sites and also along the bottom of Streatham Common, opposite Greyhound Lane and along Streatham Common South Side. The horse trough used to be opposite Greyhound Lane too, but it was moved when they took part of the common to widen the road.

The top part of the common, above the path, was covered by allotments.

Q: What are your memories of the coronation in 1953?

Graham

In 1953, the queen did a tour of south London after the coronation and came through Streatham. I remember the whole school marching from Sunnyhill School down Sunnyhill Road to the High Road to see her pass by. We stood outside Astoria Parade, near the Odeon. The queen was in a black car. Afterwards, we children were all given a coronation mug, a spoon and a propelling pencil. The mug was from the London County Council, the spoon from Wandsworth Borough, and the pencil from the school.

Marion

My parents took me to see the queen drive through Tooting Bec Common.

Q: What are your memories of Streatham Hill Theatre

Graham

I remember seeing the pantomime ’Humpty Dumpty’ and going up on stage. (‘Humpty Dumpty’ was performed in 1952-3 and 1954-5).

Marion

I remember seeing ‘The Black and White Minstrels’, ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘West Side Story’.

Q: What are your memories of working in Streatham?

Marion

While I was at college, around 1970, I worked in Dalgleish Stationers, near Shacklock’s the Chemist, opposite Streatham Station. Dalgleish used to sell old postcards of Streatham.

Q: What are your memories of transport in Streatham?

I remember I used to irritate my parents by running upstairs on the tram and turning the backs of the seats around. The seat backs could face both ways, and at the end of the route the driver would push them all back so they were facing the right way for travel. The trams ran in the centre of the High Road and crossing the road to the tram stop always involved risk. When cycling I had to be careful not to get my tyres caught in the tracks.

At Streatham Station there were slot machines that dispensed chocolate, once it had come off ration. I also remember the excursion trains to the south coast. Streatham Station used to be mobbed!

Near my home in Madeira Road, a train used to regularly emerge from the tunnel carrying a large anti-aircraft gun. Trains used to pass by full of service men in uniform, who used to wave to me. All the trains were steam. At night, men used to walk along the tracks, hitting them to test for cracks etc.

Where Albert Carr Gardens is now was a large house called The Chimes, named for the large chiming clock on the outside. Opposite was The Chimes Newsagent and Cafe where you could buy tickets for South Downs Coach Company tours to Brighton, Eastbourne etc.

Q: What are your memories of shopping in Streatham?

The first shopping area in Streatham was Bedford Row, which ran south from Streatham Green. Pratt’s first started there. The High Road was developed northwards around 1930, and has the best examples of Art Deco architecture outside the West End.

We would go out shopping with our ration books to the co-op in Gleneagle Road, opposite the public toilets. That was our allocated store. The man behind the counter had an indelible pencil behind his ear. He’s lick the pencil and cross off our items in the book. I was always afraid I’d knock down the pyramids of cans.

There was another larger co-op store at Streatham Hill, where the Oxfam ship is now.

Pratt’s was the largest store in Streatham, with three floors. Once in Pratt’s I turned the wheel to bring down one of the fire doors, which blocked off a section of the shop. I managed several feet before my mother stopped me! Other larger stores were Tyrrell’s, opposite the police station, and Sharman’s, where WH Smith’s is now. Both were haberdashers, selling materials, cotton, braid and accessories. Sharman’s was particularly middle class. Another middle-class shop was Saponi furs. The Saponis used to live in Lexton Gardens.

Rodgers Curtains is still there. Iceland used to be Littlewoods. In Dorothy Perkins, (the shop on the High Road with Tudor detailing above the door, which I’ve not managed to identify yet!), there used to be a fountain. There used to be two Sainsbury’s stores at Streatham Hill.

Opposite Streatham Hill Theatre were Arthur Mead, which sold school uniforms, and a hobby shop.

Outside Dewhurst’s the butchers there was a bird in a cage that tweeted if you put a coin in the slot. At Toytown, opposite Shacklock’s the Chemist, if you put money in a slot, a train ran around a track in the window.

The UK Coffee Importers was next to Kennedy’s Delicatessen opposite The High. The wonderful smell of roasting coffee used to waft down the High Road. Shillingford’s was a high-class butcher. In The High was Featherstone’s wallpaper shop. The owner had invested his army gratuity to buy the shop.

All the shops closed on Wednesday afternoons and many shops closed at 1pm on Saturdays, or even all day Saturday. All the shops were closed in Boxing Day, as well as Christmas Day.

Originally Streatham was a true blue Conservative middle class neighbourhood. Streatham always returned a Conservative MP until the 1980s when the political colour changed as younger people from different backgrounds moved in, making Streatham a much better place.

Streatham High Road is the longest retail high street in Europe. Most of the Streatham shopkeepers belonged to Streatham Ratepayers Association. They wanted to preserve the old independent shops, so they opposed the proposed coming of Marks and Spencer, and a market on the site where Morrison’s is now. Lambeth Council does not own much property along the High Road so they do not have a lot of say in what happens there.

Q: Do you remember attending any events in Streatham?

In the 1960s there were lots of organisations which met in Church Halls and rooms above pubs. Above the swimming baths there was an Assembly Hall with meeting rooms. Sometimes there were mammoth jumble sales at the baths when they used to cover the pool!

A national boxing championship was held at the Ice Rink and you could see Freddy Mills box for 50 shillings! The side roads were full of coaches, like they are today.

Thousands of people lined the High Road to see the old crocks race from London to Brighton and cycle races used to come through Streatham too, including the medical students annual run, and trike racing!

Places I remember are the Stork Club, next to the Locarno, and the Bali Hai club and restaurant at the back of the ice rink.

Q: Do you have any memories of famous people in Streatham?

Derrick Guyler lived in Streatham Vale and I often saw him in Streatham Library.  There was also Benny Lee, the actor and singer; Bob Miller, leader of the Millermen band; Gilbert Harding and David Nixon. Shaw Taylor used to walk his Pekingese late at night.

June Whitfield sometimes used to open fetes on the field behind the United Reformed Church.

A member of the Crazy Gang – the one who used to blow smoke rings with his cigar, used to drink in the Pied Bull.

Our MP, Chuka Umunna, was born in Streatham and attended Hitherfield School.

Campaigning Against the Traffic, Early 1990s

Interviewee

  • Anne Morgan has lived in the same house in Mount Ephraim Road since 1985.

Q: Why did you move to Streatham?

I was living in Balham with my family when my father died. Mum had a heart condition and we needed a house for a family of 4 and my mum to live together, with a large garden for the children. Until mum died in1998, she had the two rooms downstairs and we lived upstairs. The house was built in 1930.

The house at the end of our garden (I think this is on Mount Ephraim Lane) is Grade 2 listed and the only flint-built house in the area. I think it was the gate lodge for the Magdalen Hospital, on the Magdalen Estate originally owned by Magdalen College, Oxford. (The Hospital started in East London as a school for penitent prostitutes (!) in the 18th century, moved to Streatham in the 19th century and became an approved school for girls in 1934. It closed in 1966). Perhaps that is why there were so few pubs in the area (see below!).

Q: What are your memories of working in Streatham?

I taught at Hitherfield School from 1990 to 1998 and at Woodmansterne School from 1998 until I retired in 2010. I taught in the infants and my husband also taught at Hitherfield, in the juniors.

In around 2007, the Electricity Company were concerned about the high level of energy consumption in the area around Hitherfield, and carried out a heat-seeking survey. They traced the cause to the basement of Hitherfield School, and the caretaker was prosecuted for running a cannabis farm! But the caretaker was such a nice, mild-mannered individual that we all thought he was taking the rap for someone else!

Q: What are your memories of shopping in Streatham?

When we first moved to Streatham, Pratt’s department store was open. After it closed in 1990, the High Road became very depressed. I’ve seen it go down and now it’s wavering back up and becoming less depressed. A number of local businesses depended on Pratt’s and closed soon after Pratt’s did. On Westbury’s parade alone there was a fishmonger, a butcher and a greengrocer. The greengrocer’s was a family business and that lasted longer.

For a long time there were very few pubs in Streatham. There was only the Genevieve, next to the cinema at Streatham Hill and the Coach and Horses opposite. Then there was nothing until the White Lion. The Manor Arms and the Railway were there, but they were both very rough.

Q: What are your memories of Streatham Hill Theatre

I lived in New Malden as a child and belonged to a church youth group. The leader used to take us to the theatre and when I was 12 or 13 she took us to see ‘West Side Story’ at Streatham (1961). We went by train from Malden Manor, via Clapham Junction. I believe Rita Moreno was in it, from the original West End cast. We sat way up in the Gods – the theatre has a very steep rake. ‘West Side Story’ was incredibly exciting compared to the staid musicals that were common in the 1950s, such as ‘Salad Days’ and ‘The Boyfriend’.

Q: Do you have any other memories of Streatham?

Problems with prostitution in Lambeth began around 1990 when the police in Wandsworth pushed the prostitution out to Lambeth, near Garrards Road. Some say that the tradition of prostitution on Tooting Common began during the Napoleonic Wars, when troops were billeted on the common and after the troops left, the camp followers stayed on!

When we moved to Streatham, there were lots of prostitutes on the common and all the traffic went straight down Mount Ephraim Lane, but when barriers were erected at the top and bottom of Mount Ephraim Lane, the prostitutes moved back into Mount Ephraim Road. Sometimes there were up to 10 prostitutes in front of our house and even on our drive. There was a massive traffic problem too, with kerb crawlers and voyeurs – we were constantly calling the police.

We formed METAG, Mount Ephraim Traffic Action Group, and successfully campaigned for speed bumps to be put in our road. We were keen to emphasise that we were not against the prostitutes as such, but against all the traffic associated with them. We also got Lambeth to agree to a night-time exclusion zone: no entry except for access between 8pm and 4am. But this didn’t solve the problem as the police didn’t enforce the zone.

Small action groups formed in each road as the prostitutes moved around: as they were forced out of one road they moved to the next. The kerb crawlers even approached mothers with young children and even schoolgirls in uniform!

Another group, WTA, Woodfield Traffic Action, also campaigned for speed bumps, but they became more militant and organised protestors in the whole area to stand outside in the road at 8pm every night for around 2 to 3 hours. We did this for around 3 months in the summer. The police weren’t happy, and did a kind of lock-down of the whole area, with some success.

One problem was that officers were allocated to the Vice Squad for only six weeks at a time, in an attempt to prevent corruption. They looked on the prostitution almost as a bit of fun, and felt sorry for the girls. They didn’t have to live with it. Once, we were all sitting in the kitchen eating our tea when a prostitute, escaping from the police, ran across our garden and climbed our back fence!

Fortunately for us, there was a change of command at Streatham Police Station and Cressida Dick, now the Metropolitan Police’s most senior female officer, was in charge. She listened to our complaints and extended the stints in the Vice Squad to six months. This meant that they were more committed and began sending warning letters to the kerb crawlers. I remember that in 1992 or 1993 there was a meeting with the police and local councillors at St. Leonard’s Church Hall. Cynthia Payne attended, although she didn’t speak. We chatted to her on the way out and she said that the only way to stop the problems was to legalise prostitution, but I wasn’t convinced then, and I’m still not. The police were very much on the side of the girls.

Eventually, another group, backed by a local councillor, insisted on CCTV cameras, and the women began to move away towards Brixton Hill. This would have been around 1995 or 1996.

Another, earlier campaign in Streatham was STAR – Streatham Against the Road. Campaigners, backed by local councillors, were successful in blocking a proposal to build a major road that would have had a major impact on Streatham.

Boy to Man in Streatham, 1930s

Interviewee

Doug Poupard, 93, brought up in West Norwood, has many memories of Streatham as a boy and as a young man during the war.

Q: Did you attend any events in Streatham?

I frequently attended the Locarno ballroom. In war time, during air-raids, the dancers were allowed to sleep in the ballroom as it was too dangerous to venture out. Men had to sleep on one side of the band and ladies on the other!

On one occasion I attended a circus at the Regal Cinema (later the ABC), when a Japanese girl with an umbrella performed on the high wire!

I attended many shows at Streatham Hill Theatre including “The Entertainer” by John Osborne, but I can’t remember who the star was!

Q: Did you meet any famous people?

Robert Taylor (American actor 1911 to 1969) was in the UK filming “A Yank at Oxford” in 1938. He shot some skating scenes at Streatham Ice rink and was mobbed by the local girls!

Q: Do you remember any Streatham characters?

Bill Payne was the landlord of “The Bedford” pub from the 1970s until around 1990.

Q: Do you have any childhood memories of Streatham?

As a boy I remember walking through Streatham with my father on our way to swim in Tooting Bec Lido and seeing the Astoria cinema being built (now the Odeon, built 1930).

Although it’s not strictly speaking Streatham, I remember my father making my brother and I have a dip in Tooting Bec Lido on Christmas morning before we could open our presents!

I also remember the Golden Domes cinema (opened 1912, refurbished 1929, closed 1938, now CarpetRight). The gent’s toilet was near the entrance and as a boy I often used to creep in the side door and come out of the gents into the cinema to avoid buying a ticket!

Shopping in Streatham 1960s

Interviewees

  • Betty Fitzgerald , 86, lived in Streatham 1953 to 1997, now lives in Dulwich;
  • Terri Douglas, 62 (nee Mary Fitzgerald) lived in Streatham 1953 to 1970, now lives in South Croydon

Q: When did you come to live in Streatham?

Betty:

In 1953 I was living in Brixton in one room with my husband and two small children. The landlady was black. At that time the policy was ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ (sic) and that was the only accommodation we could find.  An Irish relief doctor, not our usual one, was shocked at our living conditions and gave us a letter for the council, which led to our getting a two-bedroomed ground-floor flat in Mount Earl Gardens. When my youngest child was born, we moved to a three-bedroomed flat on the first floor.

Q: What are your memories about your life in Streatham?

Betty

Mr. Gaiter, the caretaker, was a martinet, and who kept the blocks spotless and everyone in order. When I first arrived in Mount Earl Gardens, an Irish lady upstairs made my life a misery complaining about the noise. She complained to Mr. Gaiter who kept coming to ‘have a chat’, with me about it.. In the flats we weren’t allowed any pets and each flat had to take turns in cleaning the concrete steps. Mr Gaiter inspected them every week. They had to be spotless!

Mary

I suffered an attempted kidnap! Mum had sent me down the road to Caton’s and Lillian’s with a shilling to run a couple of errands. I was still in Mount Earl Gardens when an old man – in his 60s, I can still see his face – asked me for money. He asked me to go with him and said he would buy me sweets. He pestered me as far as Caton’s and on to Lillian’s. Luckily, Michael from Lillian’s, who would have been around 15 at the time, took me home and called the police. The police came round and questioned me. I saw Michael years later at a party, reminded him about the incident and thanked him again.

Q: Did you attend any events in Streatham?

Betty

I attended a comedy night at the Streatham Hill Theatre in around 1951, but I can’t remember who was on the bill.

Mary

I looked forward to two yearly events.

  • Knight’s Youth Club, based in Christ Church Road, held an event at Dunraven School each year with a traditional fun-fair.
  • The Derby and Joan Club held a garden party at Wood lawns. The gardens were beautiful.

Q: Did you meet any famous people?

Mary

Shaw Taylor lived in a flat on Streatham High Road and I often saw him around. I often saw Cathy McGowan looking at clothes in Honey Boutique, near Woolworth’s and Dolcis. David Jacobs’s mum had a very high-class classic knitwear shop on Leigham Court Road.

Q: What are your memories of shopping in Streatham?

Betty

When Mary was about 12, I bought her a wind-up gramophone. It cost £1, and there were 78s with it. Mary was very proud of it and used to open the window so everyone could hear it. One of the 78s was ‘There’ll Always Be an England’!

Mary

I remember the shops on Leigham Court Road very well. On the left-hand side there was an estate agent, then Heath and Heather health foods, a wool shop, a trinket shop with costume jewellery, Toni and Guy (the first in the hairdressing chain), a ladies’ toilet, a kiosk selling sweets and cigarettes, a gents’ toilet, Mr Field’s the Chemist, David Jacobs’s mum’s knitwear shop, Caton’s Deli and Grocers, next to the 137 bus stop, Lillian’s greengrocers.

On the opposite side was the gas showrooms and Douglas’s sweet shop.

The kiosk between the public toilets was run by Doreen, a spinster in her 40s who know everyone and everything. My dad called her ‘The News of the World’. She asked everyone their business, even children and also sold ciggies to kids! Mr Field the chemist was a lovely man who gave advice like a doctor. Caton’s sold broken biscuits in boxes.

Going out of Streatham Hill station on the right there was a tobacconist, on the left a florist. Across the road from the florist was Broomfield’s, a nice bakers’. Across Sternhold Road on the corner was a gentlemen’s outfitters and an old-style Sainsbury’s, with bacon, sausage and dairy on one side and meat on the other, Later, Sainsbury’s bought the gents’ outfitters and made it into a small supermarket.

Other early supermarkets on the High Road were Victor Value and McFisheries.

WH Smith had booths where you could listen to records. The first three records I bought there were:

  • ‘Love Me Do’ – the Beatles
  • ‘Here Comes the Night’ – Them
  • ‘That Wonderful Picture of You’ – Joe Brown

A single was 6/8d . You could get 3 singles for £1. Another record I bought was ‘Sailor’ on Woolworth’s Embassy label, a cover of the Petula Clark original.

Near WH Smith was Sharman’s an old-fashioned department store, like ‘Are You Being Served’. It was very gentrified. I had no reason to buy anything, but went in just to look.

Q: Did you work in Streatham?

Betty

When the children were small I worked at Bickard’s cafe on the corner of Streatham High Road and Leigham Court Road, next to the gas showroom. Bickard’s was a traditional cafe serving breakfast and lunch. I worked as a waitress and wore an apron.

(Note: Betty was a trained nurse and later worked at Springfield Hospital).

Q: What are your memories of transport in Streatham?

Betty

You could by a tuppeny-happenny transfer to travel on the tram and the bus.

Mary

For my first job I travelled from Streatham Hill to Victoria. A weekly ticket cost 10 shillings in 1966.  There were no machines; we had to queue at the ticket office.  In Streatham Hill Station, on the right-hand side, there was a row of wooden telephone boxes.

Q: When did you leave Streatham?

Betty

I left Mount Earl Gardens in 1997 when I moved to a retirement flat in Dulwich.

Mary

I left in 1970 when I married in St. Simon and St. Jude’s Roman Catholic Church on Hillside Avenue.