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Our favourite toys 43: Playing outdoors and making ends meet

Posted May 15 2010 11:52pm

                 The Clarks

Battersea Town Hall
Memories of playing as a child in the fifties in south London include some of the following…

Gangs were not the same as the gangs of today. We played in streets (with much less traffic) – marbles in the gutter and cricket, against walls with chalked-on stumps and flicked cigarette cards across the pavement against the wall.

I remember building a scooter during the extremely long summer holidays and scooting off to Battersea Park for the day with sandwiches. One year we tried to build a bus using old wooden boxes from the market and my Nan’s jam jar of old used nails. It didn’t work.

We would go to Clapham Common to climb trees, where we had a favourite tree and by bus to Wimbledon Common, to go fishing for newts with an old spoke-less bicycle wheel attached to the neck of a sack and dragged across the pond with lots of bits of string tied together.

I remember prams, the big ones with big wheels – very important to show off with. Were they called ‘Princes’? I can’t remember, but every mum had one, blocking up the passage in the corridor of the flats! Bomb sites always had a pram or two dumped in them – in the same way that supermarket trolleys get abandoned today.

Like other poorer children, I got money for sweets and presents for parents’ and friends’ birthdays and Christmas by a variety of methods. Apart from running errands, on Saturday mornings I did ‘totting’ (collecting newspapers, rags, lead, iron, cardboard etc and selling it to the scrap merchant, a kind of old-fashioned recycling really).

I used to collect wooden boxes from Northcote Road market, drag them home and chop them up into sticks, then bundle and sell them to old ladies as kindling.

In the evenings, when only the night watchman was sitting at his brazier sleeping, we used to ‘find’ tar covered wooden blocks from sites where roads were being replaced with ‘proper’ tarmac, which I chopped up and sold for firewood.

I would ‘cast’ white plaster-of-Paris ‘novelties’ in rubber moulds, paint and glaze them and then go door to door in the evenings selling them. I remember that ‘Squirrel 9d’ and ‘Crinoline Couple 1/-’ were very popular (and the cheapest!).

Last but not least, Susan T**** used to show us her bum behind the Battersea Town Hall – but that’s a guilty secret…

Many thanks to David Clark (Devon)


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