Growing up in wartime Brixton

Two or three years ago my wife, Jane (aka Maureen), wrote her reminiscences of her experiences in Brixton (and as an evacuee in Accrington, Lancashire) during the second world war.  This was mainly intended for our granddaughters, now young teenagers, American citizens living in New York, for whom London in World War II is about as easily imagined as Hastings at the time of the Norman Conquest. 

For reasons too intricate to recount here, this document turned up again the other day, and I thought it might be of sufficiently wide interest to warrant a place on my website.  So now you can read it here.  Readers born after about 1950 may find that it provides some insights into what life was like for a little girl in Britain during the war which help to explain why those of us of Jane's generation still regard the childhood experience of war, however long ago, as the defining event of our lives, regardless of how vivid our post-war experiences may have been.

By all means comment on it here.


4 Responses

  1. Geezer says:

    Dear Mr Barder,

    I enjoyed reading your wife's piece.  I worked for 8 years in Brighton Terrace in Brixton, and often walked the streets around Acre Lane- I remember a not very nice pub, the Branksome Arms, in Branksome Road.  I lived in Streatham Hill at the time and frequented a few hostelries in Lyham Road, backing onto Brixton Prison.  Makes me rather nostalgic now I live in the west of Scotland.



    Brian replies:  Many thanks for this, Richard.  My wife was delighted to read about your Brixton memories.  Scotland must be quite a contrast! 

  2. Gail Sykes says:

    Dear Mr Barder

    I received through the post today a copy of my late Aunts birth certificate.  She was born at 80 Branksome Road Brixton in June 1918 therefore you can imagine my delight at discovering your wonderful, detailed, descriptive web site.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to capture your families memories and share them with others.  It is wonderful to be able to visualise an area how it was many years ago.

    Best regards


    Brian writes:  My wife, the Brixtonian and family historian of the family, has replied to Gail thanking her warmly for her very nice message. 

  3. Brian Walker says:

    Hi there, again,

    The following is a repeat of a message I sent some time ago to your 'contact me' address. I thought it worth the extra effort to have it recorded in an appropriate place on your site.

    Hi Brian,

    I discovered your website by accident, researching information for my own Walker family tree. Your wife’s Brixton reflections, centered around the war years, were of particular interest to me, as during this traumatic period my parents and I lived at 30 Haycroft Road, right on the corner of Branksome Road. I’m much the same age as your wife, born in April 1935; so, without knowing it at the time, we were near-neighbours and young wartime contemporaries. Jane Cornwell just doesn’t ring a bell, but we could well have met up from time to time on that Bonham Road salvage depot, where my gang of young tearaways had a camp built within the brick stockpiles – Away from the prying eyes of passing killjoys, as I later wrote in one of my books.

    I can easily relate to your wife’s recollections: Lyham Road School, where I started, aged 7 in 1942; but with not such happy memories of its teachers as your wife: Sudbourne Road School, not that much later, where old Mr. Walker, my namesake, did his best to bring out the very best in me, despite the efforts of Miss Ogilvy and a few noteworthy girl trouble-rousers to bring out the worst: Shrapnel collecting on the way to school: Anderson shelter existence, during which my parents and two next-door relatives smoked like chimneys and rowed like stink: And the much maligned ARP, who set up their area headquarters in our house. Luckily we managed to survive without being bombed-out, as the expression went.

    Living in Winterwell and Winslade Roads as your wife then did, I wonder if she can remember any of my old playmates: Tony Alchin (Winterwell Road), Peter Cox (Winslade Road), Michael Hayes, Jimmy and Charlie White, Jonnie Hill and George Spurgeon (Branksome Road), and Eddie Sydenham (Haycroft Road). If not my mates, then she must recall old Mr. Kennett, proprietor of the grocery store on the corner of Winslade Road – He was a wizard at working out bills for dozens of items in pounds, shillings, pence, halfpennies and farthings without using any calculator other than his brain; and he had a large collection of rotten eggs in his back yard that came in handy when our lot had regular pitched battles with the Baker lot further down Branksome Road. Such were the times, but much water has passed under the bridge since then.

    After a very satisfying working life as a chartered quantity surveyor in the construction industry, serving mostly overseas in Cyprus, Kenya, Tanzania, and back to Cyprus, I now find myself in Sri Lanka with my third wife, a Sri Lankan, thirty-four years my junior, running what I’ve called my Cosmos Coconut Club, and trying to dispense a radical brand of psychically-inspired cosmogony. Consequently, most traditionally minded people I now come in contact with probably think I'm off my head; but what I do and think has enabled me at least to lead a life of enduring hope in a universe with a definite purpose. In the current chaotic state of the human affairs, in a world held firm hostage to its fragmented and sordid past, and with outmoded customs and beliefs all but cast in stone, I needed to feel there was more to my life than being born, living and finally dying in despair of our political and spiritual leaders in word, thought and deed ever finding a solution to the fundamental problem that besets us. So, as ridiculous as it might seem, I’ve become a self-styled Cosmic, as without contradiction we all are, and try my best to convince others to trace their own roots back to the Big Bang – Stupid diverse ethnicity has to be conquered by some means, if there is ever to be peaceful co-existence on what has become our global village.

    If out of interest, you’d like to learn how this eccentricity arose in me, a lad from the back streets of Brixton, have a look at my website It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the psychic background is most unusual.

    Carry on with your own mission, Brian, while I get on with mine. And, if you feel so inclined, it would be nice to her from you.

    Cosmically yours,


    PS: Was the problem you had with your left leg erysipelas? From the picture, it certainly looked like it. I’ve had many a bout of this in my own left leg, caused by lymph flow blockage and its infection. Thank goodness for antibiotics. When it was known as St. Anthony’s Fire in the dim and distant past I think it would have resulted in an axe job. 

    Brian writes:  Thank you for this interesting response.  My wife and I are replying privately to your message, which for some reason never reached me when sent via the Contact facility (it usually works all right). 

  4. Keith Towers says:

    Isn’t it funny that when nearing 70, as I am, we begin to reflect upon our past with such fondness. Even the bad times (few and far between even as they were though) seem to shine through as memorable experiences.  I was born in 1943 in Tring, Hertfordshire, and after a few months in South Wales with my mother as an evacuee, we returned to Brixton where I and my cousins (and later my brother) spent all of our childhood growing up.  In 1948 I began school at Effra Parade and continued my schooling there until I left to go to secondary modern, first at Santley Street and then at Tulse Hill when it opened in 1956. 
    Growing up in and around Brixton was wonderful. We lived at 146 Leander Road and my nan lived at 18 Hardham House on the Tulse Hill Estate, aka ‘The Old Flats’. We had plenty of places to explore: the ‘Chinese Tower’, ‘The Bird of Paradise’, all overgrown gardens that once belonged to magnificent four story Victorian houses, bomb derelict and linked to form one massive jungle of trees and weeds to play our imaginative games in.  Brockwell Park Lido on a hot summers day was always a nice venue to go to as was the ‘Big House’ where parents could take us for a cup of tea and a glass of lemonade. 
    Other delights were the Saturday treat of pie and mash, and the not so nice trip to the horse meat shop where my nan would buy melts to cook for our cats. 
    I left the area after I got married in 1969.  Up until then I worked as a projectionist at the ABC Streatham and later at Elstree Studios.  Loads more memories but too many to write up here.