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Stan Prince's Memories of Brentford
Janet McNamara wrote in June 2021:
He died recently in a care home aged 100years and 5months, so we were reminded of this and thought people would be interested.
Stan Prince (date of birth 21.12.1920). Interview taken 12 May 2005
What follows are lively recollections, mainly from the late 1920s onwards, but also his father's from World War 1. Stan was remarkable in surviving a lightning strike when 17; he remembered in detail bomb damage from World War 2.
My Dad was born on Caroline Place - leading down from Albany Road (where it meets Mafeking Avenue) towards the High Street. There were cottages down there to just about where the cut through to the flats is now. On the side of the alley was a long garden that belonged to the fresh fish shop. Dad's mother brought up 10 kids in a two-up two-down. She had to do three sittings to feed everyone. You walked across the yard to a wash place and there was a toilet and the wash place for 2 or 3 families. They all used the one toilet and wash place. She lived until she was 88.
My grandmother, on my mother's side, had been a servant in the house that was the offices at Peerless Pumps. She used to live in Ferry Square. Rattenbury's, the pawnbrokers, was right opposite there. She married the manager. His name was Cutler. The owner was a man named Raper. There was an alley that ran up the side, and they called that Raper's alley. Over time, people forgot why it was called that and thought it was for other reasons! There was a bit of money in pawnbroking, and they used to stay up in London at some of the other stores. But he died in his early 40s and she had seven kids to look after so she came back to Brentford. If he'd lived, my life might have been a bit different. It was very hard bringing up the family. My grandmother was born in 1850 and died in 1943. My mother's maiden name was Cutler.
My father, George Prince, was a gardener. He worked for Baron Rothschild in Gunnersbury Park. There was a polo field. The stables were right in the middle of the park. My father had come out of the war, and jobs were very scarce. First of all, he went to work for Victor Sassoon at Enfield as a gardener. He had to go all the way to Cockfosters, at the end of the line. Eventually, he got a job with Rothschild over at Gunnersbury as a gardener. Money was very tight and he had a chance to get on the underground at Acton. Three months after he went there, Baron Rothschild died and he left all his workers a pension of £1 a week! This would be about 1922/23.
There were tennis courts, with high hedges, and when the polo matches took place, they used to have all these marquees up, with beer, gin, and whiskey. The gardeners used to go in and work for a night for the extra money. When they was clearing up, there would be all the half bottles left and they used to walk around with their barrows and dump all the bottles in the bushes! So when they were doing the gardening, they'd be having a quick snifter!
In the very cold weather when the lakes were frozen, the ladies and gents used to come down and skate. The gardeners used to put the skates on for the ladies and they'd give them a bit of a tip. One of my dad's mates came up to him one day and said, "look at that, a farthing!" My dad said, "that's not a farthing - that's half a sovereign!" The bloke didn't know what it was - he'd never seen one. I've still got my dad's gardening fork and I use it. It's got GP on it. People thought it stood for Gunnersbury Park, but it didn't. It was for George Prince.
It was owned around 1932 by a headmaster, Mr Stafford. There were garages there. There used to be a plaque on the wall which said "Ancient Lights". I asked my Dad, "What does that mean - "Ancient Lights"? He said, "Well, you have to have it up for seven years and that stops people building in front of it and blocking their light." BRENTFORD FOOTBALL CLUB were doing well then and so they stuck a sign up which said, basically "b***er" to Ancient Lights". The man who was in charge of Brook House - well, he sued the football club. He got a bit of money from them - and then sold the whole lot to the football club the very next year!
There used to be owls in the tree at the front of Brook House. They dived down on the rats and mice that were there. I was about 10.
"Hand down the chimney pot opened the front door"
My uncle and aunt lived in one of the middle cottages. My mum's brother had married a woman who was a widow with three kids, and they had one of their own. The council moved them out to Lionel Road; it was a good house, but they missed the community that they had known around here. They came back here to Sussex Place in Albany Road.
FIRST WORLD WAR
I know about two bombs that fell on Brentford. One bomb fell in Whitestile Road. Killed a family of seven. My Dad was home on leave from the Army and helped to dig them out. The second bomb fell right outside the gates of the WATERWORKS. I've seen a photograph of it in the waterworks when I went there. I had remembered that my mother and father had said that they bombed the waterworks, and I told the man about it. He said they had a photo. There was a crater outside the front gate.
In the First World War they sounded an alarm that there was a raid and someone used to go around the streets blowing trumpets!
BETWEEN THE WARS
When I was about 10, my dad and a few other fellows used to go every Wednesday night to the British Legion - they were the committee. Old soldiers used to come in there to get a handout. They'd ask them how many kids they'd got. If you had one kid, you got a half-crown ticket for groceries. If you had two or three kids, you'd get five shillings. These three men were handing out the British Legion money. The vouchers could only be used in the one shop (to stop them selling them!) My dad used to say, "I've been up there vetting people, and handing out money on a Wednesday night, when I'm skint and I haven't even got fourpence for a pint of beer!"
My Dad got paid on a Thursday. There'd be a knock on the door - a bloke from Lateward Road - "George, can you lend me half a crown?" The bloke next door was the same - "lend us half a crown until tomorrow morning, George, but don't let the old lady know". They got paid on the Friday and next day, there's the half crown back. That's how people lived. The greengrocers and publicans used to have a tick system. But they would not let the bills go up too high. My dad was never really short because he could always turn to serving in a pub. He served in all them four pubs around the ground. They used to come to him to help out a little if they were short of staff. He served in The Griffin in the 1920s. He served in the King's Arms by the railway, and at The Globe and the North Star.
On days when the bikes used to come around, my dad would give me a couple of shillings for helping him. People used to cycle all the way from Windsor and Staines to watch Brentford play. This was before cars began to come in, and trains were expensive. Blokes used to jump off the bikes, we'd give them a ticket; we slapped a ticket on the bike and they'd run off to get into the queue for the ground. We used to run 'em through the house. We'd have loads of bikes in there. Threepence a time. You might rake in about 15 shillings. At the end of the game, they'd be saying, "where's my bl**dy lamp gone; where's my pump!"
The yard on the corner was beautiful. It was in and out. You could get 150 bikes in there. Quite a few places were doing it in the front garden. When the bikes started to go off, and the cars came in, the old pensioners used to guide the cars in - down Lateward and Clifden - and they'd work it in sections. When the match finished, they'd get sixpence or a shilling for looking after the cars. The football ground has been a good industry for people; for the shopkeepers and the pubs.
LIGHTNING STRIKE - 6 SEPTEMBER 1938
It was all because of that football match. I'd had the fixtures list - Brentford versus Arsenal on 8 September - now that was a match you wanted to see. But it was difficult to get to the games, because I didn't finish work until 7.00 pm. In those days factories used to shut down for the first week in August. The foreman of the place I was working then, making leather-goods in Chiswick, came up to us in the last week of July and said, "I want half a dozen people to work next week because we've got some rush orders for one of the big shops - if you work next week, you can take your week's holiday any time you like." My mother and father were going away to Yarmouth August week. They asked me if I wanted to go with them, but I said that I was going to work the August week, and I'd be having my holiday in September. I'd be able to see the game.
I'm a bit of a footballer myself. I played for a club that was in the Sunday football league. When the weather was right, I used to go with a few of my mates to play a bit of football in Boston Manor Park. From the first week in September, however, Boston Manor Park used to shut at 7.30 pm. So we'd change our parks and we'd go to Blondin Park because that didn't shut until eight. Given that I was on holiday that first week in September, we decided to go up to Blondin.
My mother used to do 6d on the football pools. The dividends were announced on the Sunday and she had won - she got "four ways up and four ways right". The amount that she won came to £2.12s and the postal order arrived on the Tuesday morning. So she asked me if I would change it for her; so off I went on my bike to the Post Office - there was one on the corner of Hamilton Road and Windmill Road. And I ended up with 2 shillings in my back pocket.
In the afternoon I decided to go to the pictures - the Odeon at Northfields. For sixpence you could sit anywhere you liked. The film that I saw was called "Hurricane". It had Dorothy Lamour in it. In the film, the church gets wiped out and the lightning strikes the bell tower! I raced home as fast as I can after the film, as I had to get up to Blondin Park.
At the football ground, we were messing around with the ball, when a storm comes on. I gets on my bike and I rides to the end of the park where the footballers used to change and there's a little hut. The storm goes away. We come out and start to play again; the storm comes back and we make another dive for it. We get under these trees. I say to my mates, "it's dangerous to stand under trees". They say, "it's alright - it won't last five minutes". So we're under this tree and I gets knocked down, bonk. One bloke gets killed. My other two mates got knocked out, but they came around at the scene.
There's this St John's Ambulance man; he was coming back from the allotments and has seen what has happened. He came over. He saw that one fellow was dead - there was a watch over his pocket over his heart. My other two mates had come around but they were badly shocked and burned. He saw my mouth had dropped and he worked on me. He then went and fetched his wife and the ambulance came and took me into King Edward's Hospital in Mattock Lane.
They had to strap me to the bed - and fling all the windows open - it was because they thought I might have pneumonia.
The 2 shillings that my mum had given me had burnt a hole at the bottom of my spine. Since I hadn't changed after leaving the pictures, I was still wearing my collar and studs, and they'd burnt right into me. It was the same with my cufflink on one arm, and the buckles of my braces on my shoulders. I also had a couple of coppers in my pocket. And the football studs of my boots had burnt into the bottom of my feet. All my hair had been burnt off. I was unconscious for 14 days.
The doctor told my father that he had given me so much morphine that another dose would kill me! He said that the only reason I was alive was because I didn't smoke, and had a good pair of lungs! Since they couldn't deal with me at King Edward's, they arranged for me to go to the West Middlesex Hospital. When I woke up there, with railings around my bed, I wondered where I was. I thought it was time to go to work.
I was 6 weeks in the West Mid. I used to hear the trolley bus going by, and I thought: "I've got to get out of here. If I can only get across the road, I can catch a bus home." But when I got out of bed, I could not stand, of course. I was off work for 9 months.
It was all because of the football ground having that match. 8 September. Brentford won 1-0. And if Boston Park had kept open, I wouldn't have been in Blondin Park when the lightning struck. But I was lucky: because of it, I didn't get to go to war, and I lost a lot of mates in the war.
There were reports about it the Chiswick Times and in a few of the national newspapers. The Daily Mirror had one. One of the papers got our names muddled up.
The first doctor I saw when I went for my medical for joining up asked me if I'd had any serious illnesses or accidents, I said, "I'm not sure about that, but I've been struck by lightning." He said that he remembered the case. "You're a friend of Mr Bird - 44 Clifden Road. I was his doctor", he said. It turned out that he was a Brentford doctor - a Dr Ruxton. He lived opposite the Butts in Boston Road, next to the Baptist church. Anyway, I saw all the doctors there. The head doctor called them all together and they came up to me. We won't be needing you, they said; only in an extreme emergency!
Within a week, a letter came through from the Ministry of Labour. It said that I either had to get on a training scheme, or get a job of national importance. Anyway, my Dad's having a drink in The Griffin and this carpenter comes up to him and asks, "how's the boy getting along, George?" "He's had his medical and been turned down; he's got to get a job of national importance", Dad says. This carpenter says, "send him down to Ferry Lane, to Lockhart's; I can get him a job down there." So down I go. Down to Lockhart's. I went down on the Saturday and they asked me when I could start. I started on the Monday.
They put me in the woodmill, on a woodsaw. We had to saw through 16 to 18 foot long lengths of timber, for these boats. When I got home, I said to my mum and dad that I didn't think I should last long there. It was such heavy work and I hadn't been used to that sort of thing; and I was still not back to full strength after the accident. Well, I sat down on the sofa and thought it over. I said to myself, if there's anyway I am going to get fit again, then this is going to be the job for me. I made myself do it. Within three months I was picking up this timber and carrying it. I had built myself up; I was beginning to walk better. After saying to my mum that I wasn't going to stick it, I was there 44 years! Wasn't long, was it!
After the war finished, they made me a shop steward there. I moved over to the stores. We used to do work for Vauxhall motors - the timberwork for the cars. They sent in all the patterns for the woodwork; I sorted them all out for the machinist. After a couple of years the governor died and they sold the firm off to a pump firm based at Park Royal, that was expanding, and looking for new premises. It was ideal for them, being next to the waters. The pump firm took over from my firm and took me on. It was first called Varley Pumps, and then changed to Peerless Pumps.
My grandmother, on my mum's side, used to be a servant in the house that was our offices.
SECOND WORLD WAR
Incident close to Brentford Bridge - unexploded bombs in the canal, that sunk a barge
They dropped about five bombs and they shut off the High Street at the Half Acre. People could not go up there in cars. Shut it off the other side, too - not quite sure how far up towards Isleworth. After a week, they said it was "all clear". They could not have got to the bottom of the canal in such a short time. They must have found one that was easy to dig out, and examined it and seen that it was not primed to go off. Everything was all clear after a week. The others must be still down there.
Everybody was so busy then at work. There were people who knew what had happened, but hundreds of people didn't know that there had been a bomb dropped. Information was so sparse at the time; it was not broadcast.
Incidents at FERRY LANE (LOCKHART'S)
Before I worked there, there had been a small bomb that penetrated the roof and did some small, minor damage. But the really big one was the Buzz bomb - that's when it really was hit. Dropped down where the new flats are on the other side of the creek.
(Occurrence No: 628 - 17 July 1944 - 1 Ferry Lane)
My Dad and my Mum were standing by the air raid shelter. It was a nice sunny morning. We had an Anderson's shelter out the back of number 92. Quite a few houses in Brook Road had shelters.
We were in production the same day. The whole roof got took off and the offices were seriously damaged but the machinery was not. We cleared all the roof stuff and asbestos (there was asbestos there) into the yard in piles and heaps and we were in production the same day. It was a Monday morning. The Rescue Depot was in the Council Yard and there was a small mortuary. A lot of people went in there during the war. I used to see the hearse come down there quite a bit.
(GAS WORKS - earlier incident)
There was a butcher's shop on the corner of Distillery Road.
The Germans built that gasometer in 1920/30. They tried to knock it down during the war and then, after the war, the Germans came and took it down!
Occurrence No: 100-203 - Incident on 26 September 1940 - Braemar Road and Lateward Roads
When the war broke out, there were a load of sacks of sand over in the FOOTBALL GROUND. Half a dozen of us had filled sacks there to make a shelter under the stand. Later on, the Council (or whoever) had come along and said it was not good enough and they built a proper air raid shelter under the stand. A lot of people in Brook Road did not worry about Anderson shelters because there was the shelter in the football ground. I would not go down our Anderson Shelter because Dad was a heavy snorer. My mother and grandmother went over to the shelter in the football ground, Dad went down to the Anderson shelter and I slept indoors.
Occurrence No: 164-165 - Incident on 29 September 1940 - Brook Road and Mafeking Avenue
They dropped a stick of bombs that way. One dropped in Brook Road. Couple on the other side of Ealing Road.
Occurrence No: 589 - Incident on 24 February 1944 - 100kg parabomb exploded
A heavy bomb fell where the Brentford Girls School is now. It was boys and girls split into two sections, then. The bomb dropped right into the playing field. It was more or less behind St Paul's Church. The vicarage at the back was blown up. The blast was such that all the windows were blown out at the back of our house and the window frames forced out through the brickwork - all through that one bomb. I think that the main school building would have sheltered the Baths Hall.
I had a friend in the army in Kenya. He wrote a letter to me saying he had heard that Clifden Road had been wiped out. He lived in Clifden Road. The letter had been censored. When I wrote back to him, I had to be very careful about how I framed it. I didn't mention anything about the war damage - you weren't allowed to. I have seen your mother and dad and your brother and sisters, I wrote. They are all OK. We could not mention anything about what happened because of the censors. His letters were censored and my letters were censored. He went to that school with me - we were in the same class.
Occurrence No: 611 - 14 March 1944
One night they dropped a load of incendiary bombs. The café stall opposite St John's School in the football ground got burnt down. The Bluebird School - it was the infant school attached to the main school in Clifden Road - got burnt right down with the incendiary. The house next door to me had two incendiary bombs dropped in. One went straight through the roof; burnt the living room. Destroyed. The other one lodged in the rafters in the front room and didn't go off. On the other side of me, the incendiary bomb punctured the gas pipe in the front garden.
It was a pretty busy High Street. My mother and father used to take me out on a Saturday night down to the High Street. Marriner, the butcher's (next to the Beehive) used to have saveloys - steaming up, a penny a time! Where the magistrate's court is there used to be a market on a Saturday , with all manner of stalls, veg stalls, and second-hand goods. There were old flares - not gas or electric - to provide a bit of light.
THE QUEEN'S HALL - Oh, the Old Bug-Hole (fleapit)!. Where the Police Station is now. If there was a full house we used to queue where the cobbles are. They used to change the programme twice a week. The sound system in there was very good. It was better than some of the big cinemas. They used to charge 4d. The other little cinema was THE CORONET, down the High Street. It was worse than the fleapit. Didn't hold a lot.
No. 59 Mr and Mrs Ward - they were greengrocers. They were there for a long time. The horses and cart were stored at the back. When the Woosters went there it started to sell everything.
The shop next to The Griffin - that was originally a greengrocers. and then they would sell anything, sweets, tobacco, etc.
No. 38 Wastell's - It was run by a mother, and then her daughter. It got very badly damaged by the landmine. It would have had to be really re-furbished to carry on. They drew a horse in the Old Irish Sweepstake; it won £500 - which was a lot of money at the time: it would have bought a couple of houses. The family moved away - it never came back as a sweet shop after the war.
No. 43 Opposite Daubney's was a barber's shop - Mr Ward. I used to go there for my hair. After the war, when they started to refurbish the shops a bit, they made a little café of it. They then got out and it became a collection place for laundry.
No. 62 There was another laundry across the road. The house was the receiving depot, where you dropped it off and then went back to collect it. The wash place was at the back where they have built these new houses.
There was a PDSA for sick animals down there. We used to take a couple of our cats down there. It was a pre-fab sort of a place.
No. 2 Tommie Clements - greengrocers. There was a horse at the back.
No. 12 Mrs Wheeler. After the war was owned by Dowson. Then Mrs Jackson. (No horse and cart).
No. 22 Mr Foster lived there. He had a greengrocer round,and coal. He was married to my Dad's sister. He was my uncle. My Dad used to go out on a round with him. He used to go around with him to get a few coppers - as a boy.
The main dentist was right opposite where Somerfield is now. Down below the solicitors. Mr Davey - he was the dentist.
Over the Great West Road in Windmill Road was Mr Liddy, who used to pull teeth out with plyers. You sat on one of those stools that revolved - it had three pronged legs. One of them broke one day and Mr Liddy used the plyers to bang it all together again!
The dairy was on Albany Road. Mr Wilson was the dairyman. The Griffin had a stable but he didn't keep the horse there. In the days before people moved to motor cars, there were various places that were used as stables.
The site has photos showing the Albany Road area:
The Daubney family mentioned above feature too.
George Thorne, a contemporary of Stan's, also worked for Lockhart's.
Published June 2021