Chertsey tales Part Nine.

Chertsey Tales Part Nine.

Bonfire night was a damp squib, it really was. We had some indoor fireworks which were just like a candle burning. We did take the guy out though and collected a few shillings which we spent in Mrs Hughes fish shop. There were more search lights swinging around in the sky, it was as if to make up for no fireworks, but nothing for them to see.

The bonfires were soon pulled down as winter started so it wasn’t a waste of time. It was suddenly very cold, so cold that parts of the Thames froze as we got nearer to Christmas. Ruxbury hill was like a sheet of ice. It was time for our sledges to be made out of the front gate. All the council houses had a wooden gate, they were perfect for making a sledge. The two side pieces with curved ends were the runners and the rest made the top. They were a bit heavy but just the job. When the snow had gone the gates were easy to put back together.

Two girls had the best sledges though, which really made the boys fed up. Ann Stanford who lived in a bungalow in Vincent Lane, had a yellow wooden one with a red leather seat, but the fastest one was made of metal tubing like a bike is made of. I think her father worked at the tank factory in Chobham and could make anything like this. I think her name was Jeanette Lessware and lived in another bungalow on the corner of Vincent Lane.

The council kept trying to grit Ruxbury Hill, but the lorry kept sliding all over the place, it did make us laugh, I don’t think the lorry driver was really trying though. There were so many kids there shouting at him.

The playground was at school were also very slippery and made lovely slides, Pound Pond was frozen solid apart from the Abbey Road end, it was very thin there and Billy Pretty who lived next door to Siki Balchin fell in. I saw him running home soaking wet as I was going to the pond. He was really crying but I couldn’t give anything dry to wear as I only had a shirt and a jersey on myself. I did feel sorry for him though, he must have been frozen.

The bonfire wood was soon used up and we had to go wooding again. The gasworks heaps of coal and coke were frozen solid and you had to use a pickaxe to break it up. They would only let you a have half a pram full at a time.

Alvar Liddell, the man on the wireless said the bad weather prevented the German bombers taking off in France to bomb us, so it was some good news.

The last week of 1939.  The secret lives of children.

‘Christmas is coming the geese are getting fat please put a penny in the old man’s hat.’

The words echo back and forth around the hill, since this side of the hill had been cleared of any big trees it was very good for echoes. I don’t know all the words, so I just shout the ones I know as loud as I can.  Kingy Edwards and my brother Donald shouted some rude words, it’s so funny to hear them come back so clearly.

Now there’s a man’s voice, it’s very gruff, like he’s got a sore throat.


We all run down the hill and then watch as a big tree leans over. It doesn’t seem as if it wants to fall; it just groans as if it’s crying in pain. We cheer as it comes crashing down and bounces in a cloud of dust and leaves just in front of us. I don’t know why I am cheering, I’m sad to see any tree being chopped down, especially chestnut trees. This part of the hill has always been called chestnut wood. I wonder what it will be called now. 

A few weeks ago, we were chestnutting here. I like the smell when I scrape away the dry leaves with a stick looking for those shiny brown nuts. The squirrels have kindly opened the spiky chestnuts for us, saving our hands from the prickles. Now the man says the country needs lots of wood for the war effort. The big trees are first to go, the hill is almost bare. 

Lots of kids are wooding, ready for Christmas. The chips from the big axes of the lumber jacks are everywhere but just like the big trees they will soon be gone. Now I can see the railings of The Old Coach Road up the top of the hill and the steps that go all the way up from the main road. Don says the steps are tree trunks and were laid by the monks who used to live here years ago, they’re almost worn away now. 

A man is sitting on his bike leaning on the railings, he’s been watching the trees being chopped down, he gives us a little wave. I hear Kingy say something to my brother, and they start shouting at the man, telling him to bugger off. Their voices echo all around the hill, the man goes away, the boys are laughing, I think they’re being nasty to the poor man, he’s only being friendly. 

Our old pram is heavy with these lovely white chips but it’s downhill to our house and we are nearly there when Kingy stops us. A policeman is coming out of our house. We hide in the big hedge of Lasswade House till he goes away. I don’t know why we’re hiding its only firewood.

Kingy’s takes his share home, and we go indoors. Mum is sitting at the table with my sister Chrissy, she’s been crying. 

‘Put the kettle on Alan love, let’s have a nice cup of tea, I need to tell you something.’ 

A cup of tea seems to be the answer to everything to my mum. Chrissy starts crying again. Mum pats her arm.

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.

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