Family roots

By Christine Partridge

From North Watford to the town centre is where my history began. Born at the King Street Maternity Hospital, living in 65, Middle Way, Harebreaks, North Watford, until age 22, with so many memories of times gone by. My parents were middle class, both originating in Watford. My mother Sylvia Rose (aka Rose) Sharman (nee Froud), born & bred in 38, Parker Street & my father Percy Robert Sharman (aka Percy or Bob) in 99, Vicarage Road, Watford where his father George Henry Sharman ran his Gents Hairdressing business which continued as a Gents Hairdressers for 150 years. As an only child I came from a loving family unit where my father worked as Manager at Lavers Timber Merchants in Merton Road from age 14 until retirement. My mother, like most mothers in those days stayed at home to care for me & the home. There was little money coming in, but we didn’t go without. My father grew vegetables & fruit in our garden which he maintained meticulously with basic tools available. I remember my parents telling me when they first moved there in the late 1930’s, all the woodwork was painted dark bottle green & bright orange, the same in all the Council houses on the estate. My father had no gardening tools when they moved in, using scissors to cut the grass! He built all the feather-edge fencing & trellis’s which were regularly creosoted, including him!!

In my mother’s early thirties she was diagnosed with Retinita Pigmentosa, a hereditary eye disease which over the years took her sight & she was registered blind like some of her siblings & subsequent cousins. I remember clearly as a small child having to hold onto her hand, having to say “up and down” at kerbs to prevent her falling. A cruel disease I’m thankful was not passed down to me.

Both my parent’s came from very large families, but as an only child I was never lonely. There weren’t any luxuries, but I never recall asking for anything or going without. I was brought up to care for others, respect my elders & always be polite & considerate. A path I’ve always taken & adhered to.

My first school was Alexandra Road Infants School. I still remember my first day when I was left there & being shown where my coat hook was. I was taught how to write our numbers on the blackboard in a specific way, something I still clearly remember to this day. I moved on to Parkgate Junior School in Sandringham Road where I would walk down Fuller Road from home to the St. Albans Road where a lolly-pop man would escort us children over the busy road. I remember he would always give us a sweet called “Spanish”, like liqorice which I hated, but it was nice that someone would give us a treat. On our way home from school we’d call in the bakers near the school crossing, & buy a yesterdays cake for one penny. Finally, Leggatts Way Secondary Modern School was where I remained until 15. I remember the uniform, a grey skirt & jumper, white blouse with black & orange horizontal striped tie & orange badge on a black blazer and black beret. We were never given the opportunity of choosing a career path. I was allocated working at the Yeatman Sweet factory in Cherry Tree Road, but my mother had other ideas. Although money was tight, she arranged for me to have shorthand & typing tuition at the Commercial College in St. Albans Road, North Watford, near Bushey Mill Lane & next to Foxens Pram shop. This was run by Mr. Whitehorn, a strict man. I never knew the cost, but no exams were offered nor qualification certificates were forthcoming on leaving. I remember buying my first typewriter, a Remington, for £16, all I had in my Post Office Savings book. I still have that typewriter to this day. Determined to achieve qualifications and make my parents proud after all the hard work, I enrolled at the College of Further Education in Queens Road where I achieved my GCE ‘O’ level English, plus RSA and Pitman shorthand & typing certificates, not that anyone ever asked me if I had any nor required to produce them!

I remember fondly the North Watford Cinema which when it closed became Waitrose Supermarkt. I would go to Saturday morning pictures with my sixpence which would gain me entry with enough to buy a packet of Smiths crisps with the little square blue salt packet. Such a treat. I never had pocket money as there wasn’t enough for such things, but sixpence for the “flicks” on a Saturday morning to me was great. In the afternoon I would walk down to Underhills newsagents & sweet shop with my father where he would buy a quarter pound of assorted sweets, either Roses or Quality Street, wrapped in a white paper bag for us to enjoy over the weekend. As Sunday was a “day of rest” which we all respected, you could only buy newspapers from shops, but all other items like confectionery or greetings cards were covered with sheets as it was illegal to sell anything else on Sundays. I can still hear the Salvation Army playing their instruments on Sundays & singing hymns on the corner of Middle Way & Fuller Road before knocking on doors for donations.

I loved the Whitsun Carnival which congregated early morning in the Harebreaks at the end of our road with all the colourful floats back as far as the eye could see. At 11am these would start their procession through St. Albans Road to the town & down Rickmansworth Road, concluding at the bottom of Cassiobury Park. Such a colourful spectacular with the streets lined with joyous families, all cheering & thoroughly enjoying some relaxation at this Bank Holiday. I would walk all the way to the park where a Steven’s or Flanagan’s fun fair would be every year which we all enjoyed. Dodgems, carousel, coconut shy’s & much more with prizes, even a gold fish in a plastic bag of water.

Cassiobury park was magnificent with its manicured lawns & beautiful flower beds. Everything was meticulously cared for by the Council & it was a joy to meander through the winding paths taking in the intoxicating fragrance of the roses. I did return a few years ago and was horrified to see how it’s now so overgrown & neglected. It’s obviously been left unattended for years, so sad.

It was tragic when the Council, in their wisdom, decided to tear down the grand, majestic Cassiobury Park Gates. These were a focal point in Watford, but the Council felt they needed to demolish these to accommodate a wider road. In the event the new road was no-where near the park gates location, so this destruction was totally unnecessary. Maybe one day these will be rebuilt, albeit not the original ones, but something in keeping with the original version.

We would regularly visit the park for picnics. I recall as a small child I would love playing in the paddling pool. I hated my knitted, emerald green woollen costume which when wet was so heavy it ended up around my ankles! I would pretend I was a competent swimmer as I did the crawl, even though I couldn’t swim a stroke. I just rested my little arms on the concrete bottom of the 12″ deep pool & pulled myself across. My elbows were red raw. Such memories. Catching tiddlers from the river Colne in my fishing net & putting them in a jam jar was fun before returning them to the river near the bridge which led to Whippendell Woods. We would sit on a rug & enjoy our picnic of bridge rolls, usually with cheese, but sometimes some ham ones. Life, to me was idyllic I was so happy & loved my parents so much.

Watford has changed so much over the years, & not for the better in my opinion. Lower High Street has no character, turning into nothing more than an industrial area with overbearing warehouses & uninteresting stores. The Parade has also deteriorated with all the pubs & clubs, a place most people would prefer not to venture to at night. I remember with fondness we would often take a stroll down St. Albans Road or the High Street during the evenings, window shopping. It was so peaceful, but now I would not venture out & there’s nothing worth looking at. It’s sad how things change & not always for the better. Some changes are beneficial & I applaud progress, but I’m glad I have my memories of times gone by when you could walk the street without fear of being mugged or attacked.

Now, in my twilight years I feel privileged to have lived through the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s in Watford, a town I was proud to say was my home.
Everyone was so friendly. On marriage I moved away, only returning on few occasions which I didn’t enjoy. Only recently I took a stroll down memory lane, strolling around the streets in the Harebreaks Estate where I grew up, through Leavesden Road & St. Albans Road to Longsprings, but it was unrecognisable. When I was young following, WW2, things were scarce and foods rationed for six years of depravation, but everyone would rally round & pass the time of day, be courteous & smile. We all felt safe. St. Albans Rod had no atmosphere & there was nothing of interest there anymore. No shop windows to view. So sad. The one thing I still hold dear are the memories of everything I treasure. Happy Daze……

This page was added on 30/03/2021.

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