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Kensington Place

I lived there in the 1950s

I came to Kensington Place  as a baby, having been born in 1948 in Yorkshire, but we came down here soon after. I was in Kensington Place for most of the 1950s until I moved to Findon Road in Whitehawk in 1958. I remember this because my Dad passed away just a month before my 12th birthday. The property [38 Kensington Place] was rented and like many families, my family was poor. I can remember my father making pictures and framing them with black tape and then my mother would go round, possibly with my sister, knocking on doors and trying to sell them.

My family

The family consisted of my Mum and Dad, my sister Norma, my brother and myself.  I had an older brother who roamed the countryside, a bit like a gypsy. He used to live up north, especially in Leeds, and from time to time he came home. When he did I was in seventh heaven. My greatest thrill was when he would meet me after school when I was at St Bartholomew’s, and brought me home - I liked that.

The layout of the house

Downstairs at the front of the basement was the main/best room which we didn’t use apart from Christmas and Bank Holidays, which made it that much more special, and then behind the best room we had a kitchen which contained a bath with a wooden cover, a big table for us all and a black range and that’s where we lived.  We had a couch and a table and that is where took our meals. It was cosy.

The passageway from the front door was pitch black and I was frightened to death and I used to sing, or if I was going out I would  get others to sing until I was out. We had an outside toilet, with toilet paper made up of neatly cut squares of paper, precisely cut by my father, and then a narrowish but longish garden. Upstairs on the ground floor you had the front bedroom, Mum and Dad’s room, the back bedroom where myself and two sisters shared a bed - two up, one down - and then on the second storey were two rooms. In the back room was my brother John and the front room was always empty.

Favourite memory

My favourite memory of the house was at Christmas, especially getting the fire going with paper in front of the fire. That was special because it was only at Christmas that we had a fire and a beautiful, fresh Christmas tree in the corner with lots of presents and the bowl of fruit and the dates on the sideboard. It was lovely, magical. My mother always did a party in the afternoon of Christmas Day and friends would come round. I remember my brother was friendly with a family from Over Street and they would come round on Christmas afternoon.


I remember going to the Central School in Church Street. The entrance was through the gothic doors. I have this one memory of sitting by a dolls house on a little chair. I then went to Pelham Infants School and from there to St Bartholomew’s.

Local people

Of the people in Kensington Place, I remember Ann (Spicer) and Billy and Geoffrey who lived nearby and we used to make our own entertainment in the street. I had a little friend - we called him ‘Chunky’ but his name was Raymond Locke. His father was a taxi driver, as was his eldest son. They lived at No 33. Next door to me were the Taylors at No 37. He had twin daughters. I spent a lot of time in Ann’s house because I used to push the pram up and down the street. I remember the family in No 39, the Claridges, an elderly couple with grown up children, and she regularly used to throw a stone over the back wall onto our kitchen window like a summons and I would go and get her a bottle of whisky from the snug in the Nelson. Her husband kept chickens and had beautiful gladioli. I was always leaning over the wall and they were always telling me not to and then one day I had a very bad accident. She had a mangle and at some point, I don’t know how it happened, my hand got caught in this mangle.

Our entertainment

In those days children could go out and about. We played hop scotch and film stars, but our greatest pastime was gingerbread (knocking on doors and running away), especially in Tidy Street. I can remember getting caught and how I felt. We played in the alleyway a lot (Trafalgar Lane) and spent time with Mr Wiggins in the sweetshop on the corner. Even after we moved my dad used to bike all the way from Whitehawk because he knew Mr Wiggins well and he would let him have things on tick. I can still remember the day when I was on the seafront with my sister and with someone else, possibly Clive who lived at No 42, with his mum and dad and little Denise. My sister was climbing on the Aquarium and she fell in and Coco the Clown rescued her. There was a big picture on the front of The Argus with him holding her in his arms. I even think it made the national news. On Saturdays I would take all the children I was friendly with to the Astoria for the sixpenny Saturday morning pictures. I was ‘mum’ and I took them all - that was fun.

Other activities

We were always at The Level and in fact when the pond was there I remember falling off the bridge and my sister carried me all the way home. We spent a lot of time there. We also spent a lot of time in Chunky’s at No 33 because he was one of the first to have a television. I can remember sitting in the front room watching Rin Tin Tin with him.

Local shops

I remember the market, as I was a little shopper. It was vibrant and bustling. I used to love going along there. It was open until 1pm and you could buy allsorts – bric-a-brac, clothes, veg.  Walking along there now brings it all back. Bardsley’s fish shop was just around the corner and I was the one to be sent there, usually on a Friday. There would be a huge queue and I asked for a pennyworth of crispies on top. Absolutely wonderful.

Sydney Street was wonderful for butchers and greengrocers. Christmas Eve was just fantastic. For the last minute shopping they would all be there trying to sell off the meat. Whenever I got any money at the weekend I would go to Woolworth’s (where Aldi is now), which had wonderful wooden floorboards, and would hot foot it to the ribbon counter upstairs to buy ribbon and little toys. Opposite there used to be a cafe run by a brother and sister. I miss the Sundays when all the shops were closed and you would walk down the street and it was quiet.

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 203, March/April 2010]