The Cowley Avenue Apaches.

Draft CAA, June 10.

     The following story is one I put together for my two grandsons. It is made up of several of my stories so a lot of it is perfectly true. Other parts are completely made up. You could call it a fairy tale.  On the other hand, it could so easily have happened in a place like Chertsey.

The Cowley Avenue Apaches.

You would think, wouldn’t you? That a bomb exploding nearby would wake you up from the deepest sleep, but it isn’t the noise of the explosion, or the houses across the road collapsing into piles of bricks and window frames. 

What has woken me up tonight is the feeling of my face being peppered by all manner of things flying through the air, and the intense pressure that is enough to make my ears ring like a Chertsey bell.

We have a Morrison shelter in our kitchen where the others sleep but I prefer my own little bed under the pine dresser with an old army greatcoat to keep me warm. 

Now the heavy old coat is covered with broken glass and bricks from the front of the house, it has protected me as well as any shelter. I lift my head to see the kitchen is all lit up, everything is moving, the electric light is swinging about, and things are falling all over the place. I think I’m having a bad dream as I see a crack slowly opening in the ceiling and then it all comes crashing down onto the Morrison shelter with clouds of dust so thick that it seems as if the light coming from outside had been switched off. The blast had gone through our house like a whirlwind, taking part of the front wall and windows with it.

 Amazingly, I was the only one in our house who was hurt that night, the ugly steel Morrison shelter that my mother hated so much, had saved the rest of my family.  

Now, two months later, I am back home after staying with my granny in Addlestone. Our house has been repaired but I still prefer to sleep under the dresser. Apart from some damage to the side nearest to the window from flying glass, I think it is a safe place for me to sleep. The others still sleep under the Morrison shelter, and I only join them when there is an air raid.

 The excitement we children had a year ago has changed to anxiety or even fear. Luckily in Chertsey we have plenty of things to take our minds off the war. There is the Thames to swim in, fields of long grass and the little streams to play in, and of course the wonderful St Anne’s Hill.

I still wake every morning with a feeling of dread, the fear I have is the thought that something like that bomb could fall without any warning. The feeling usually fades with the chaos of getting ready for school. There is only one bathroom and eight of us trying to use it. I stay in bed until I hear the adults leaving for work and take the chance to get washed and ready for school. The wonder is, how we all managed to leave the house on time.

 The feeling of dread that I had this morning persisted; I couldn’t quite shake it off. The day should have started out as one of those school days that those grown-ups keep telling us will be the happiest days of our lives. I admit I was beginning to see what they mean; although it was nothing to do with school. It was because I had nice new trousers and a jersey that my sister Deirdre had knitted for me. But best of all, for the first time everything was the right size, even down to my shoes, proper brown shoes instead of plimsoles or boots that were always too big. I couldn’t help looking down at them so shiny and new.

 This was my first day back at school after my stay in Addlestone, and with my nice new clothes, for the first time ever, I was looking forward to going to school. I have moved up to another class with a new teacher, Miss Williams. She seems nice enough, but I will be glad to get home after school and meet up with my mates again and go up The Hill. 

The Hill, or to give it its full name, St Anne’s Hill was once owned by some very rich people and over the years they had made it into a lovely woodland park. Eventually they very kindly gave it to the people of Chertsey.

 Because of the view it gave of the surrounding country the Hill was once a hillfort used by many different tribes over the centuries, each leaving some evidence of their life there, including some earth works and defences. Even now sand and gravel are being extracted from several old sandpits to fill sandbags to protect us. 

Many years ago, one of these sand pits was cleverly made into the Dingle, a large lawn surrounded by trees and shrubs. There were three ponds, one with a wooden bridge and a small hut on its bank almost hidden by Laurel bushes that swept down from all sides of the Dingle. All the ponds had huge Rhododendrons growing over them, making the water look black but full of life with dragon flies hovering and then darting away. something that we could watch for ages.

The small pond and the hut are a perfect place for our gangs’ headquarters. Our gang, ‘The Cowley Avenue Apaches’ is named after the brave Red Indian tribe that we see in the Saturday Morning Pictures. There are five or six of us, and because some have the same first name, we use nicknames. There are two Teddy’s, the surname of one is Bolts so his nickname had to be Thunder, and his slightly older brother is called Nutsan. The other Teddy is called Wadie, Donald is called Siki after a famous boxer and Tony is called Goldilocks, he has very fair curly hair and is not too happy with his nickname. Because of my height, I am called Littlun, I am eight years old, and taller than any of the others.

We are in Wadies garden, trying to think of a way to reach our headquarters without letting a couple of girls know what we are going to do. It sounds quite easy, but these girls are mind-readers. They seem to know before we do where we are hoping to go. It’s not that we don’t like the girls, but they always want to boss us about. 

 Nutsan Bolts—you can see where his nickname came from— is a bit older than the rest of us and although he seems rather slow, he is the brains of the gang. He comes up with a clever idea.

“The Home Guard do their drill in the Dingle most evenings and they have to march past where the girls live. So, if we keep low and march along with them the girls won’t see us”.

Nutsan is always full of good ideas, and we wait till we hear the men marching along Pyrcroft Road. Keeping our heads down we join the men, they are not very happy about us doing this but it’s only for a few yards and it works like a charm.

Once we are safely up the hill and, in our headquarters, we spend some time messing about on the little bridge, and then we watch The Home Guard doing their drill. They are mostly men that are either too old or too young to join the Army. They are all shapes and sizes and it’s funny to see them trying to do their drill. We shouldn’t laugh but it’s very hard not to.

We decide to go up to the lookout, but as we start to climb up the slope next to our headquarters, we see those two pesky girls standing on the ledge shouting and calling us all sorts of names for trying to dodge them. We slide back down the sandy slope to the bridge to work out what to do next. Nutsan, as always has a good idea, he spends a lot of his time in the townhall library, and he starts to tell us about a loose sheet of paper he had found inside a book. He said it was about a tribal leader and his burial site.

His brother quickly put his hand over Nutsan’s mouth to shut him up. This of course made the rest of us want to know what is so secret. He said it isn’t important, but then after lots of pushing and shoving with the risk of him falling into the pond, he started to tell us about his brothers find.

 The manuscript, he called it, was hardly readable, it was in Latin, or some such old language. Nutsan, had taken it home and worked out what it was all about. He found that it was a sort of prayer for someone called Stangarthe. It asked for a sacrifice for something of value in a spring of crystal-clear water near the top of a hill.

Thunder, went on to say that his clever brother had worked out that the place we know as St Anne’s Hill, was originally called Stangarthes Hill, a hill fort named after the tribal chieftain. Over the years the name was shortened to Stans Hill and then eventually to St Anne’s Hill, as we know it today. We all looked at each other in amazement, we had never heard of any of this before, and I for one, thought the two brothers were making it all up. They swore it was all true and can show us the old crumpled and scorched paper when we get back home.

The brothers knew that the only spring up the top of the hill was the Nun’s Well or the Wishing well, and they had been secretly exploring nearby for signs of an altar or a burial site. Because St Anne’s Hill has been used for hundreds of years by the tribes that once lived there, it was no surprise to find an unusual hollow near to the well, and they had begun to dig around it. The soil had been washed away near the well by the spring and they found some large tree trunks laid in a row as if it was the roof of a chamber. One of the tree trunks was very rotten with the water from the spring and they were able to chip it away quite easily, but the trunk was very big, and it is taking for ever. After each day they would cover the trunk with leaves and branches to hide it from people who were making a wish in the Wishing well.

Now that we all knew about it, we were eager to have a look, but those girls were still up on the lookout. We decided to wait till they had gone home, they hung around for ages and it was getting dark by the time we went up to the Nun’s Well, and I might say, it was a bit creepy. Nutsan was very nervous, he said he could sense that something or someone was watching us, and then there was a funny sound coming from the well, a sort of gurgling sound as if someone was choking, first very quiet and then much louder.

I don’t know who started it. but the ‘Cowley Avenue Apaches’, who are named after the brave Red Indian tribe we see in the Saturday morning pictures, are now running helter-skelter through the brambles and bracken of St Anne’s Hill, down Chestnut wood and into The Old Coach Road then through ‘Monk’s Walk’ and finally into the open top field. We threw ourselves into the long grass under the Mulberry tree, gasping for breath, Siki is the first to speak.

“Did you hear that scream, who do you think it was or even—what it was”?

 Wadie looked over saying. 

“No, I only heard that gurgling sound but that was bad enough, I did get a strong smell of cough mixture though, it was very sickly, did you hear anything Littlun”?

 “I just felt that I was being pushed along by some-one, and I could hardly stop myself from falling over, was that you pushing me, Nutsan?

There was no reply, we started looking around in the semi darkness thinking he was too exhausted to say anything and was just getting his breath back, but there was no sign of him. Thunder started to panic, his brother, although he is a bit older than the rest of us was very afraid of the dark.

“We’ll have to go back into the woods to look for him, he’ll be terrified”.

 I looked at the darkening woods with a fearful feeling, and then—I felt my blood run cold.

 Out of the corner of my eye I could see something moving in the woods, it was a faint glow coming and going, like the blinking eyes of an animal—or something else, it was near the big pile of stones they call “The Monks Grave’.

The feeling of dread that I had all day was now ten times worse I was speechless with fear, I was afraid to turn around and look properly so I just pointed over to the woods at the approaching eyes. We were all glued to the spot as the glimmering lights were slowly getting nearer and nearer, we could hear some heavy breathing and the sound of the brambles and shrubbery being pushed aside. 

Up till that moment I have never believed the stories of the Monk who had stabbed himself in the heart, and who was buried in Monks Walk, but now I was willing to believe anything. 

There are times when you know in your heart, that you should be somewhere else, somewhere far away. Before I could move, the bushes at the edge of the woods were pushed apart and out stepped Nutsan, as cool as a cucumber. He was waving a little torch which was just a glimmer, the batteries were nearly dead.

He walked over to us, he didn’t seem to be at all afraid as Thunder had said he would be, he pointed over his shoulder and said.

“I got a bit lost, but this kind lady showed me a good way out of the woods”.

I just knew from the way my flesh was creeping and how my hair was standing on end, that I must not look over to where he was pointing. I knew in my bones there would be no lady there.

Our gang is known to be the bravest gang in Chertsey—apart from The Barker Road gang of course. they are something else. But bravery is just a word, and at this moment the word seems to have deserted ‘The Cowley Avenue Apaches’. 

It is almost a mile back to Wadies house, a mere moment in time when the mood takes you, like it did at this moment, it was as if we had wings. I went straight home, and as soon as I walk into the kitchen, my Mum gives me a clip around the ear. It happens all the time and it is almost like a greeting, except that it really stings.

“What was that for”? I ask.

“Just in case” she says. 

And then she gives me another clip, harder this time.

“Just look at the state of you, what have you been doing, your new shoes are all scuffed, you had better start polishing them before tomorrow”.

I begin to realise that there is a downside to having shiny shoes, you have to keep them shiny.

I tell her my story, but I can see she doesn’t believe a word of it—she never does. Probably with good reason, I am known as a bit of a storyteller. My sister, Chrissy, who has been listening to my story says. 

“Did you see the headless horseman or the man with the staring eyes”?

They all start laughing at me, she is always teasing me, but this time for a change I’m telling the truth. My brother Don is listening very intently, I think I may have given away the secret of the burial site, I’ll be in trouble with the others now.

The next morning, we are all round Nutsan’s house looking at the manuscript. How on earth he managed to make head or tail of it, I will never understand. But he has that way of thinking, he’s very good at crosswords and that funny chess game. We decide to go up the Hill again, but only in daylight—so that we can see what we are doing—at least that’s what we say, and I’m not going to argue about it.

We load Wadies old pram with a pickaxe and a couple of spades, and a sack for the treasure—if we find anything. As we are on our way past my house, I see Don and Kingy Edwards, they are waiting for us, and they say they know all about our treasure hunt and are coming with us whether we like it or not.

We had been afraid to ask Nutsan about the lady who helped him, somethings are best left unexplained, but as we pass the lookout near the wishing well, Nutsan starts to tell us about her. 

 “We were all running down the hill, and I tripped over and crashed into the back of you Littlun, you were all running so quickly, when I got up I didn’t see which way you had gone; I had my torch with me, but it kept going on and off, then I heard a ladies voice, she said come with me, and we went into the bushes, I wasn’t at all afraid to follow her”.

“Those are the bushes just over there, and then we went through a long tunnel”.

I had tried to forget about this lady of his, but now I’m getting goose pimples again. Kingy Edwards, who is braver than any of us said.

“Let’s go over and see where this tunnel is and where it goes to”.

We all sat on the lookout wall while he poked around in the bushes, then he suddenly disappeared. I was ready to do a runner I can tell you, but then he came out behind us and made a terrible laugh like a maniac. I think we were all ready to do a runner then!

“It’s not really a tunnel at all, it’s just a track through the middle of the Rhododendron’s” he said.

We already knew this because nothing can grow under those big bushes, so they are hollow and are just like a tunnel. Kingy carries on as if he is the gang’s leader.

“OK, we have got to be logical about this, here is the tunnel, and Nutsan’s torch was the light you saw in the brambles, you see, it’s all falling into place”.

“Yeah, that’s all very well, but what about the lady”?

For the first time, Kingy, who, it has to be said is a bit of a know-all, was lost for words, he just muttered something, and we all went quiet just sitting on the wall, looking at each other. I started to lose interest in buried treasure and was thinking of an excuse to go home. When there was what sounded like heavy footstep’s coming from the bottom of the hill, then there was a loud screeching squeal, like an old door with rusty hinges that had not been opened for years, this was followed by a crashing noise. I looked over at Kingy, he was as white as a ghost, then a few minutes later it started again, the heavy footstep’s, bang, bang, bang, followed by what sounded like an unhuman being shouting, and then the sound of the creaking door being slammed shut again with a crash. I think it was Goldilocks, who said.

“I think it’s time I went home, it must be my tea-time and my mum will tell me off if I’m late”.

We all agreed it was nearly tea-time and as we flew down the Old Coach Road, we were stopped by a man who had a big axe in his hands. He told us to stay back as they were chopping some trees down. Someone shouted “Timber” in a harsh voice and a big tree first swayed and then made a screeching noise scraping the other trees as it came crashing down with a sound like thunder. It sounded just like an old door with rusty hinges being slammed shut.

“See its all logical’ said Kingy”.

Logical or not, we still ran all the way home. We never did find the treasure or the Lady. Somethings are better left unknown and undisturbed. The unexplainable is just that, unexplainable.

A word of warning though, be very careful if you tread on the ground near the Wishing Well, you may find the tree trunk that the boys were cutting into is now very rotten and you could become another mystery disappearance, another ghost story for St Anne’s Hill. 

The Mulberry tree

It’s a week now since that afternoon up the Hill, and we are once again round Wadies house. We start talking about what happened, and Nutsan started to say what else he had found in the old book.

“It has a lot of stories about Chertsey, and there are haunted places everywhere, not just St Anne’s Hill, the top field for instance, where the big Mulberry tree is, that place is really very haunted”.

 Nutsan had brought the complete book with him, it was a mess with no cover and lots of pages were partly burnt. He said that the Town Hall Library had been clearing out the shelves, and the book was about to be thrown out and that he could keep it if he wanted to. The library lady told him that a lot of books were burnt many years ago because they were about black magic. He started turning the pages and reading it out. 

“Look at this one, it’s about the top field, where we were yesterday”.

 Then he read the story of the Mulberry Tree. I must say that I always had a nice feeling about the top field. We would sometimes go up there and lay in the long grass just watching the clouds float by. But I always thought that it was a very funny place to have such a big fruit tree, right in the middle of a field, and why did no one ever eat the Mulberries. The bright red fruit would just fall and be eaten by animals, we were told as kids never to even touch them. Nutsan started telling us what he had found written in the book, it had taken him a long time to work it all out from the old language.

“The Mulberry tree is mentioned in the book, so that means it must be more than a hundred years old. It says that the fruit never ripened and just stayed green so were never eaten, but one day a heartbroken Monk stabbed himself in the heart under the tree and since then the fruit have always been red and the tree never grew any bigger”. 

He looked up at us and said very slowly for maximum effect said. “They were blood red”. 

In those few words, Nutsan has ruined one of our favourite places to meet. I started to think of that pile of stones that is known as the Monks Grave just inside the woods nearby, as Kingy had said before, it is all starting to fit together, it must be true! Nutsan, carried on reading the notes he had gleaned from the old book.

 “The Monk had fallen in love with a Nun, and they would meet secretly under the Mulberry tree, but it was forbidden by the Church, it was a deadly sin. The poor Nun overcome with shame threw herself into the well near the Mulberry tree, the one that is now all covered with barbed wire and blackberry bushes. When the Monk found her lifeless body in this shallow well, he carried her to the top of the hill. Where he buried her near a freshwater spring so that their secret meeting place and her shame would never be known. He then went down to where they had been lovers under the Mulberry tree and full of remorse, he stabbed himself in the heart”.

We just sat there looking at each other when Mrs. Wade, who had been listening, came over saying.

“That place has always been haunted, the dogs won’t go anywhere near it, or that old house along Thorpe Road, they call it ‘The Haunted House’ for good reason, and what about the blackberries that grow on that old well next to the Mulberry tree, no one touches them either, that’s why its covered over with barbed wire. 

What had started out as a nice day round Wadies house was now turning into a bad dream, and once again bringing out the Goose Pimple’s. I never thought I would be glad to hear the air-raid siren, but it was the perfect excuse for me to run home as fast as I could. I had heard quite enough ghost stories for one day, and now here was Mrs Wade talking about the haunted house. When I got home and under our Morrison Shelter, I couldn’t help thinking about what she had said. 

The all-clear siren started up after half an hour, another false alarm. I suppose the surprise attack on Vickers the other day had made the enemy aircraft spotters a bit jumpy.

Mr. Wade’s story.

I heard Wadie shouting outside, telling me his dad was home and that he knows all about the haunted house. There was no escaping it, I had to go back.

I liked Wadies Dad, he always made me think he was sailor, I think it was the old pipe he was always smoking. Or maybe the tobacco packet that had a picture of a sailor on it. He always smelt of tobacco, quite a nice smell though. Which was just as well, as he worked at the pumping station next to Tommy Garretts. He is in the garden stirring the copper full of pig’s swill, it’s a bit smelly but the pigs love it. We all live on potato’s these days, so there is always plenty of peelings. If we collect some pig swill, we are allowed to have a little of the bacon from the pork club that is run from the police station.

 Goldilocks, who lives next door jumps over the fence and joins us to hear all about The Haunted House. Mr Wade is sitting on a big log next to the hollow tree stump, he lights his pipe and puffs away for a few minutes as if he was getting ready for a long story. 

“I haven’t thought about this for a very long time, but I can remember most of it. Years ago, I worked with Taffy Jones, and he told me about the man who lived in that old house in Thorpe Road. The man was very rich and had bought the ruined house as an investment. He had plans to make it into a proper country house for his family”.

 He paused for a minute to light his pipe again, I sometimes wonder why men smoke pipes, they always seemed to be going out.

“Poor old Taffy, he never got over what they found in the garden, they were digging a trench for some new pipe work and as they got near to the wall of the house, they were in for a nasty shock”.

I was beginning to feel a bit worried about what was going to be said next when Mrs Wade came out with a jug of lemonade and some egg sandwiches. That’s the best of keeping chicken’s, there’s always plenty of eggs, so a nice cup of homemade lemonade and an egg sandwich was just right. Mr Wade started cleaning his pipe with a little silver pen knife, some of the tobacco was still burning, I think he likes cleaning his pipe more than smoking it. He also likes telling stories and is certainly making the most of this one, so we wait and watch while he fills his pipe again and lights up.

“Taffy said the house had not been lived in for years, and now the lavatory keeps blocking up and that’s why they were digging this trench for some new drains. As they were digging, they first of all found a few small bones, probably from an animal of some sort. But when they came across two long bone’s it became obvious that it wasn’t an animal at all, it was the skeleton of a human being. 

Mr Wade sat back as he watched his young audience sitting stock still and wide eyed, he really was stretching this story out, his pipe had gone out again and he lit it up once more, puffing away as if he had all the time in the world. Then, much to his annoyance, Mrs Wade, who was sitting with us couldn’t stop herself and blurted out.

“The trouble was, there wasn’t any head”.

I glanced over at Goldilocks, he looked terrified, and I have to say, I was not what you would call comfortable. In fact, it was relief when the Wade’s started to have a row.

“You always have to spoil it don’t you Lou, I was just getting to that bit”.

“Well, I saw you were winding them up, they were all scared out of their skins, poor little devils, anyway I never believed anything that Taffy told you, it was never in the papers”. 

“That’s because they didn’t want to frighten everybody Lou”.

 We left them having a row and jumped over Dummies Stream and into our camp, Wadie said.

“My Dad told me that he believes Taffy’s story, and it was all hushed up because there was a rumour going around that it was the bones of The Headless Horseman, a ghostly figure that has been seen by lots of people as he rides down The Old Coach Road in the dead of night”. 

I’ve had enough of ghost stories for one day, and went home managing to duck under my Mums normal greeting, I decided not to say anything about Mr Wade’s story……….just in case.

The rich man disappeared leaving the house unfinished, even the staircase which had been removed for repairs was left rotting in the garden. The house was empty for years, we would spend a lot of time in the garden scrumping apples, but never went into the house.

There is a strange twist to this story, the haunted house is now a popular eating place, and it is called ‘The Hungry Horseman’.

Author: madeinchertsey

Born in 1932, this is a collection of stories of my childhood growing up in Chertsey, and some stories of my later life.

One thought on “The Cowley Avenue Apaches.”

  1. very interesting Alan.
    I love reading your stories about my Uncle Teddy Wade, my Grandad Bill and Nanny Wade and of course about Chertsey.
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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