It was thinking about that day in the fields next to the railway bridge and seeing my first electric train glide by, that reminded of another few moments. I am being lifted by my mother up into the cab of a high lorry. The lorry was a tanker that was spraying a layer of hot tar on the road, this was followed by another lorry with men spreading gravel and behind them was a steam roller. It must have been very exciting for a small child to see and hear, let alone smell all this going on. It is possible that the lorry was steam driven because I can remember the glowing fire box inside the cab and the smell of tar—still a favourite smell of mine. It was parked next to Pyrcroft House taking water through a big hose from Dummies stream. I wonder when steam driven tankers were replaced by more modern vehicles, it could give me a clue to the date of this fleeting moment, I think I must have been very young for my mother to be able to lift me high up into the cab.
Horse and carts were used by several local firms for deliveries, meaning the roads around our part of Chertsey were hardly used by cars or lorries, this left them perfect for trolly races, a trolly was made from an old pram, some were just a plank with nothing to stop you falling off, and others had seats and wooden boxes on them and were used for shopping or collecting firewood.
Racing down the slope of Chilsey Green Road from Johnson’s woodyard at the top to the triangle in Cowley Avenue was a sight to see. Five or six would start and it was normal for only one or two to finish. Sometimes a trolly would have three boys on board and some with a single boy, crashes happened all the way down, it is a wonder no one was badly hurt. All through my childhood if one of my mates would be lucky enough to have a trolly, he would be very popular.
Prams are amazing things, they have such an extended life, I can’t think of another every-day item in most people’s homes that are used in so many ways, as the humble pram.
You could tell how well off a family was by the wheels of the pram, not only did they have very large wheels, but the back wheels were bigger than the front ones. The Marmet, a fine coach-built affair was very expensive, or The Silver Cross, another brilliant design and very popular. Large wheelers were for the people up Ruxbury Hill, or St Anne’s Road who could afford them.
Sometimes one of these desirable vehicles would find its way down to ‘Apache’ country, and be highly prized, as they were so easy to push. The large wheels also allowed a large tray to be fitted under the body, perfect for the shopping. Chertsey was a baby factory, large families were the norm; at one time these family prams must have been new, but I can only remember old ones, well past their best. One pram would be used by several families, going backward and forward between them as new children arrived, no one seemed to own them, they were communal. Eventually the plastic interior would start to crack and crumble, and they would start to smell—always like condensed milk for some unknown reason— and the pram would take on its next life, it was the perfect shape for logs, coke, or anything heavy, that needed carrying any distance.
Once the coachwork had been worn beyond any safe use, it would have been stripped down for a trolley for the kids, the spring arms were perfect for holding on to when we were daring enough to hurtle down St Anne’s hill.
Then there was the commercial use, cheaper ones with a metal body, were prized by the muffin man, he could put a little pile of glowing coke in the bottom, to heat his muffins, it’s a wonder it didn’t all go up in flames. He would be out for several hours in the evenings around our streets, ringing his bell in the same way as todays ice cream men do.
Another man would sell winkles and cockles, measured out in a pint jug, again from an old pram this time with a block of ice in the bottom, not very hygienic, but no one seemed to be the worse for it, perhaps we were all immune to a bit of dirt in those days.
At the time all these families did all their shopping in Chertsey, the big prams were perfect, but when Staines or Addlestone began to have a better variety of shops; The folding push chair such as the McLaren was king, but to us kids, no way near as useful.