Hi

This is the story of my life experiences in Newgate Street Village from the age of 11 to 16, 1959 - 1964.

If you were there too, you may have remembered things differently, but that's your problem, keep it to yourself. This is how it was for me, and it is my page.

I remember everyone with love and affection.

I visit the village now and again, if you'd like to meet up, get in touch.

Best

Alan
May 2019

First day at school

three

            Michael and I circle each other, warily.

Unknown to me, I held a slight advantage – I’d spent the last ten years fighting a two and a half years older bigger brother. Michael had spent his past eight years fighting a two and a half years younger smaller brother. Plus the last time he’d had to perform this new pupil fighting duty, both he and his victim were, more than likely, dressed in nappies and romper suits.

Michael and I continue to circle each other.

As we went round the third, fourth or was it the fifth time I suddenly gained another advantage. Watching intently from the front row was the most beautiful girl in the world. Dark hair, light skin, blue stripped sailor style dress, and cheeky overbite peeping through her smile. I was instantly Clark Kent, she was gorgeously Lois Lane, but the phone box was across the road, outside the schoolyard.  

Michael and I circle on, warily.

The crowd were getting restless. It was becoming a no-contest. They expected blood but they were getting Come Dancing. Michael was losing his audience, they were drifting off to play tag, play hopscotch or have their own little fights. Mr Mann was probably taking his tea and biscuits.

We circle, one more time.

Michael, desperate to re-establish his ‘cock of the class’ status made a lunge at me, I ducked back, he was too quick, I was too slow, at last, we grappled. He caught me by the shoulder and in astonishment said: “You’re wearing braces!” Me, in defiant desolation: ‘So!’ He started to laugh; I had to join in, the last of the onlookers left.

That was the end of the fight; I’m brought down by my braces. I was desperately embarrassed. I’d been arguing the ‘belt v braces’ case with my mother since the previous Christmas. She conceded the weekends; snake belts were OK Saturday and Sunday, but school, and school trousers, my Monday to Friday life meant braces. She did not, would not, and could not; understand ‘cool’ and ‘street cred’ with an eleven year olds mind.

By lunchtime Michael, had become Mick, and we were instantly best friends, I loved him like a brother for years to come, in fact, I still do, and thinking of him still conjures warm smiles and warmer memories.

Lois Lane became Jenifer, then Fifi, she stole my heart in a second, she made it beat faster as she steps close, I was eleven and I was in love, and would, on and off, remain so for all my Newgate Street years, and beyond.

She still fills, sixty years later, a little piece of my heart. I hope she treasures her memories as much as I treasure mine; I’ll talk of her again, later.

My first morning in Newgate Street built on the promise of the previous day, of this new and wonder filled period of my life. My Luton life forgotten before lunchtime.

I was good, it was good, my life would be good.

A night in a shed

two

           That first night, and the rest of my first Newgate Street week, I settled down to sleep at Mrs Uglow’s. She ran a sort of B&B, my parents were in the main house, I was at the bottom of the garden, in her summerhouse, though it had the features of a shed. For Pete’s sake, I was now sharing a shed with my older brother, worse than our previously shared bedroom, worse by way of possible cockroaches, probable mice, and definite spiders.

The final handover of our new home, the village shop and post office, wouldn’t happen for a few of days yet, but it held the promise, of my own, un-brother filled, bedroom – a boy of eleven needs his own space. I’m sure my brother a few weeks short of fourteen, felt the need even more – he had things to play with.

Monday morning, I woke feeling optimistic and early with a happy sun shining through the shed window, I was thinking I wouldn’t be going to school; I’d be spending the day exploring my new village surroundings.

Unfortunately, my parents had a different plan, they didn’t get it; every boy needs every opportunity to miss a day or two of school, it should always be offered, and always eagerly taken. But no, they wanted my new school routine to start immediately.

So, here I was, nine o’clock Monday morning, packed off to school, St Mary’s, my arrival increasing the school role by 5%, and my year group to six pupils. All of us, the whole junior school held under the watchful eye of just one man – Mr Mann – a row of desks for each age group arranged in order, youngest at the front, oldest at the back.

I still wonder who was most amazed, me joining such a small bizarre school; or the other pupils, having me join their number. It was clear they’d never met a child of their own age who they hadn’t grown up with from birth, and further, they’d never met a child who wasn’t related to at least one of the three of the families that the whole village, and my new classmates, were part of. Most were related to two, some were related to all three.

Looks of curiosity passed between us until 11am, then came our twenty minutes of release. I thought it’d be chance to meet the other boys, get to know them, perhaps start building friendships, or maybe play a bit of footie. In most schools, this was time for play, but not today, not in this school.

We spilled into the playground, me grinning friendly smiles to all, and everything looked promising until one boy, Michael, pushed himself into my personal space with aggression and swagger, he said: “I have to fight every new boy at the school.”

I wondered how he’d come by this task, was he chosen by his peers, or because he was the eldest, or because he fancied himself as a bruiser? Whichever it was, it didn’t seem like I’d be able to talk him out of it.  I quickly gave him a once over to see if he had the regulation number of fingers, limbs and heads, he had, so I said: “OK, if you have too.”

Michael and I took up our position, encircled by the whole of St Mary’s, this time with the older kids at the front. Mr Mann was probably watching though the window. Everyone seemed to be expecting a blood and gore tussle, with one of us, most likely me, the unknown quantity, leaving by ambulance . . . or worse.

Arriving in Newgate Street Village

one

I ceased, in my own mind, to be an ordinary boy. An eye’s blink saw joy, happiness and wonderment burst in and overwhelm my life, and the world I inhabited.

The transformation happened in a few seconds and I don’t think anyone else loaded into our Vauxhall Velox noticed a thing. Not my mom, my dad, my brother, the dog, the cat, or the goldfish. Those magical few seconds occurred when my dad turned the big blue car off the B158, the Hatfield Lower Road, in deepest rural Hertfordshire, one sunny Sunday morning in May 1959.

As we twisted, turned and climbed slowly up Robin’s Nest Hill I gazed out the window, feeling hemmed in by the high-banked sides through which the road cut, yet revelling in everything I saw. Then, as we reached to top, the road cleared the cutting, and to my right, below, spread the wide-open spaces of Hertfordshire’s Lea Valley. Green fields, trees, hedges, cows, horses and not a house in view.

I was excited beyond Christmas.

Earlier that morning and the day before, I’d said goodbye to my best friends Roger, Robbie and Bob, said goodbye to the corner shop that we’d lived over, that’d been my home. I said a fond goodbye too, to the comfortable terraced streets of Luton. We were moving.

Can twenty miles make such a difference to one small boy’s life?

Well, Luton was a busy bustling factory town, where almost everyone, one way of another, worked for Vauxhall. If it wasn’t directly, they worked for someone else who made nuts, bolts, bits, bobs or buttons for them.

Now, here I was in Newgate Street village.

The place seemed very quiet when we arrived. Then, with the 350 grown-ups living here being scattered over a square mile or more of outlying farms, cottages and mansions, it was going to be. In the village itself, there was one road through it and one road off the through road. There were perhaps 50, or 60 houses, instead of the 100 or more in my one Luton street.

The village was deserted. Were there kids my age? Would I find new friends? I hoped so. Then I considered, of course, it’s Sunday; back in those mid fifties days ‘playing out’ on a Sunday wasn’t done.

Sunday in Luton always felt like a half speed sort of day, read a book, fall out with your brother or a clean out my pet mice day. However, Sunday morning did include the smell of the lunch mum was cooking, unforgettable.

The radio played its Sunday routine, Billy Cotton Band Show, Two Way Family Favourites, to which we ate lunch, then Beyond Our Ken. Usually it included an afternoon at Reginald Street Methodist Sunday School too.

Despite being a half speed day, Sunday must have been a hard day for my Mum and Dad, when we got back from Sunday school they were always in bed.

Now and again though, if Dad wasn’t feeling sleepy, we got to skip Sunday with the Methodists. We took a half speed drive in the car, a country walk, a flask of tea for ma and pa, a bag of crisps each for Frank and me. We always had a back seat fight; Dad would shout from the front, “If you don’t behave, we’ll go straight home.” Disappointingly, the threat as never carried through. Then home for a fifties feast for tea; a slice of bread and butter, a tin of salmon, followed by mandarin segments and carnation milk.