A South Norwood childhood

Growing up in South Norwood from the late 1930s to the 2000s.


In this audio you can hear John, Richard, Marion, Renee, Sheila and Mick.

This audio is 13 minutes and 15 seconds long.



John: When I was young, you know, there was alleyways between all the houses and we used to pop in and out of each other’s gardens via, there was a massive network, a maze of alleyways. You could get from one side of South Norwood to the other without, you know, almost having to cross too many roads and we used to, just used to run through these alleyways as kids and going out of people’s gardens, visit people. We used to pop in and out of old people’s houses, and they used to give us sweets and things. Sometimes we used to, we used to cut their grass for them, and this was when we were at primary school. That was quite a nice time when it wasn’t so busy, you know, burglaries wasn’t too much of a worry and people left their back gardens and gates open for us to go in and out.  Since then, over the years, it’s gradually got more and more built up.

John: It’s got busier, there’s more, a lot of the houses that friends used to live in are now converted to flats and the population is just a lot higher now. But a lot of people seem to come here for the for the transport, for the train station.  It was a very nice sort of more countrified feel to it when I was younger.

Richard: One of my lasting memories was when the buses used to go down towards Norwood Junction station back in the day when we had power cuts and they had beacons, but they were like fire on the end of a stick. So, as you could go around the bottom, serious amounts of smoke. Horrible. It was just dark and horrible. That was one of my first memories. That’s the first thing that jumps to mind now. Oh, I’ve got hundreds of memories.

Alistair (Interviewer): So how old were you when that was all happening?

Richard: I would have said about seven, eight. That’s when the cinema was still in Station Road. So yeah, that goes back quite a way.

Alistair: So, were you getting the bus up to the cinema then?

Richard: No, I lived straight up from the station, three roads up, Dixon Road. That’s where I was born, and I remember walking down. It was an adventure, you know, mum would take us out and you’d walk to the station, and you’d see these beacons. Yeah, it was always very dark and smoggy, I would say, very Jack the Ripper-esque, if you know what I mean and it had that sort of, like, vibe. It was exciting. I was a kid, you know, mum holding my hand and dragging me, basically.

Alistair: And so, when your mum was taking you out around that time, what other kind of things would you have been seeing and doing around that age?

Richard: Do you know what? Probably wanting me to get home. I was probably just wanting to get home, but it was just to get out. God. At that time, at night you didn’t see very much because everything was in pitch black. No streetlights because of the power cuts, lots of people milling around. But you wouldn’t see them because it was so dark and very, very foggy. You know, it was very, very dense fogs around that time. But in Station Road, God, I’m just trying to think what we had down there. Then there would have been nothing, nothing operational because the lights were all out and the power was out, but you’d have the buses and the odd car. Of course, obviously car ownership was a lot less then.

Marion: I remember fog and going out with me scarf around me and a peppermint in my mouth, Mum telling me not to breathe if me scarf wasn’t there. It was a pea souper they used to call them. Smog, it wasn’t fog, it was smog, they called it. And so, at Christmas I was given a bike, hence the proficiency test. And then I got a bike to go to school because Ecclesbourne was a bit far for me to trot.

Renee: I remember riding my bike. I learned to ride my bike in South Norwood on Regina Road, and I still have the scar, all of those great things. You know, the first time you take off the training wheels and you’re going down that little ramp and do you know what it is? It’s so funny because when I now bring my little cousins and my little sisters to that area, that’s where I now teach them to ride their bikes as well. We’ve got kind of a steep little hill and you’ve got to learn to kind of pace yourself before you turn because they come down it too quick and I use that as life lessons for them. So those are some of the memories that I have that I kind of try to pass down a little bit because it’s part of the legacy. Otherwise, you know, people kind of forget even as children and growing up. Yeah, they forget as well, so.

John: At the bottom of my parents’ garden, there was a railway line, there was an embankment. As children we used to build tree houses in the trees on the railway bank. As the trains come past, we could look in, we could see straight into the window of the trains that passed and the drivers. I think we shouldn’t have been there, but the drivers used to radio the police and the police would chase us from these tree houses down the line where we’d all hop off at the next bridge. If we went too far in the other direction, we’d end up being down the train line, we’d end up in the South Norwood Country Park again. So, in many ways the whole area was sort of, you know, interconnected for us as children.

Renee: During those summers, like all the children from all the block of flats, we would all come out and play with each other. It was just such a lovely time, I think, for me and you don’t see that no more. I mean, it could be summer, but I don’t see really water fights in those type of things happening anymore, these type of character-building experiences. Not everybody likes to get wet, some people get really, really miserable but you’ve got to laugh it off and it and it builds character. So, for me, I think, yeah, those type of times where we didn’t have the digital phones and you know, we couldn’t like, can you come out, you just had to go and knock. And if they could come out, they could come out. Those type of things I think are really missing in the community. And if I could go back, those are the times that I would go back to.

Sheila: When we moved into the maisonette in Balfour Road on the left-hand side, we were the last maisonette upstairs. I remember, I must have been seven. And this is, as I say, when my mother’s nerves, she became very bad, and we moved down to Cheltenham. But jolly good job we did move, because apparently one of the bombs that came down flattened the maisonette where we were living. I can remember as a little girl at the beginning of the war, when the bombs used to come over, I used to go out and collect shrapnel, as it was called in in those days.

Tamara (interviewer): Oh, why? What was that for? 

Sheila: It was, you know, pieces of metal that had come off the bombs and things on the floor, it was something that kids did years ago. 

Sheila: And the shops going down from there to Werndee Road next door to Portwood Supplies was a little shop. I don’t know what it was called, but I can see the wooden counter in it now because just after they announced that World War two was starting on September the whatever date it was in 1939, I was one of the evacuees that were sent from Norwood. My mum had got a friend that lived in Apsley Road that had got a little girl of, I think she was about 18 months or two years, was my mum’s friend, and she was going to be evacuated with this little child, and I went with her to be evacuated to Preston Park, just outside Brighton. I can see myself now stood on Norwood Junction station with my little case and my gas mask in a cardboard box. And then this little haberdashery shop. Where my mum, when I was going to be evacuated, I can see myself now in there with my mum, she was in there buying me, I suppose, new knickers and vests and things. And years ago, kids used to wear because there wasn’t any central heating or anything, we used to wear what they called ‘Liberty Bodices’, I don’t know whether you ever heard of those. It was like a little waistcoat affair. They were only cotton, I suppose, but a bit padded and they did up down the front, no collar or anything with rubber buttons, and it was called ‘Liberty Bodices’. You were always wore one of those over your vest. 

Mick: My earliest memories are, down by where South Norwood swimming pool was, there was a bomb site and the kids used to play around.  We all used to play in the bomb site because it was there. It was open ground, really and it was more of a play area really for us.

Alistair: The bomb site then, so you said that you’d go there and play there as a kid. What kind of things would you be doing while you were there?

Mick: Usually playing war games or Cowboys and Indians. And the girls used to be, like, skipping, or pushing their prams around or, you know, getting in our way. 

Marion: The post office was where the Seven-Eleven is now, in the high street. Just past the pub on the corner, that’s where the old police station was, that’s a story. Just along from there was Woolworths, a big Woolworths. It’s the one and only time when I was so besotted with having two balls, rubber balls. You could play against a wall, and I had the wall at the bottom of the garden. I just didn’t have the balls. And I looked and I looked and so I took them and went home, frightened someone was walking behind me, going to nab me any minute. Dixon of Dock Green and Co and I got home and couldn’t wait to get in the garden and mum said, “Where’d you get those from?” I said, “Woolworths”. She said, “With what, did you pay for them?” I went, “No”, “Did someone give them to you?” I went, “No”, I couldn’t lie. It’s not my nature. And she said, “so you wanted them, and you took them”. She said, “Yes, all right, put your coat on”. And I thought she was going to march me into Woolworths. 

Marion: But we did a swerve just before Woolworths. She took me into the police station and there was the sergeant at the desk with his big pointy helmet on. “Hello”. and “tell him”. And I had to say that I liked the balls, and I took them, and no one gave them to me, and I didn’t pay for them. “So, you stole them?” “I suppose”, and so I had to say that, you know, and you know what?  “What happens now?”  And he said, “You go into Woolworths, and you apologise and give the balls back”. I went, “oh, okay”. So, then I was marched into Woolworths, and she just gave me a little push forward and said “now”. And I explained to the lady. So, I had to do that, and I never went to Woolworths for months after that. I was so frightened. But the whole thing was, it was a lesson learnt and the policeman was so nice. And then later on did my cycle proficiency test in the school playground. Guess who took it? The same guy who was…and his name is Sergeant Binks and he said, “I know you”. And I went all red and went, oh, um. And he said, “Have you been good since?” I went yes, yes. And I passed my test, He said, “well done”. I said, “Thank you”. So, very embarrassing. Yes. Highlights of my life.

South Norwood High Street Stories is funded by Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme delivered by Croydon Council. For more information visit www.croydon.gov.uk/southnorwood

Image Credit: Croydon Council

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