Our Village Playground
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
The freedom that gives our children the capacity to wander and play unsupervised has gradually been eroded and never more so than now with the social distancing required in the spring of 2020 as the country fights the COVID -19 pandemic. Those growing up in the early 1920s through to the 1960s and even in the early 1990s had so much more opportunity to use the village as their playground. Few children today spend long days playing outside, often some distance from their homes and without supervision. For those who grew up in Denham, the village played an important role in providing happy childhoods. Here we share some of their reflections and favourite memories.
If these accounts trigger some of your own memories, please do share them by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Click here for the April Long Read. In his book “Morning Shows the Day - The Making of a Priest”, Stanley Hoffman writes nostalgically of his early years in Denham during the early 1920s, describing his childhood as ‘bounded by all things bright and beautiful.’ He knew all the names of the wildflowers and “spent hours of hot summer days weaving daisy chains and sucking the sweet nectar from the tips of the summer clover.” As with many of the Denham residents the village was his playground. He wrote, “We loved the trees, especially those in which you could make a hideyhole or a tree house. There was one such in Cheapside and in its fork we made a house, stocked with tiny jars of rice and jam, tea and nuts, filched from our larders at home. Rival gangs made rival houses and you were very clever if you could find a tree in which to build a house which none might discover and raid and ruin.”
We are delighted that several Denham residents have shared their stories of the early 1940s. It is clear that the village set in farmland, woodland, rivers and streams became their childhood playground. Here are some of their recollections: Gwen remembered: “I had a lovely childhood with all my brothers and sisters. We had a caravan in the garden to play in. We could have rides on the horse, play in the woods and the fields. There were two houses in the spinney where the country park is today. We used to play there with the children who lived in the cottages. We’d have picnics and go fishing in the river and cook toast on the fire inside the cottage. On Sundays, friends would come round and we’d all play cards. We also played in the gravel pit in Old Mill Road. My favourite games were rounders and table tennis and a game called ‘hundreds and thousands’.” Chris wrote: “I was born in number 5 Baconsmead. The Baconsmead semi-detached houses were built in pairs, Nos 5/6 the first, and each pair was designed and built differently. The design seemed to improve as building progressed with each pair, i.e. installing the bathroom upstairs. As children, my sister and I hated having to go out the back door which was opposite the coalhouse, along a short open passage, past the toilet into the bathroom. This passage was exposed to all the elements so bathing was no joy. We had electricity, also a telephone, being a necessity, as my father was the Chief Fire Officer at Denham Film Studios. “As children, we often went with friends to the River Misbourne in the 'grazing meadows' as it was then known and what is now the Buckinghamshire Golf Club, paddling in the clear shallow water and catching fish in jam jars tied with string to take home. Of course, the poor fish didn't last long. We just loved sitting there and eating our jam sandwiches and having fun in the sunshine. We also gathered on Denham recreation ground after school playing tennis on the old tennis courts, no longer there, or playing other games. The bowling green was also on the recreation ground and my father won many competitions there, his name still on the winners' boards in the newer bowling green club house near Denham Way.”
Here are some of Eddie’s memories: “When I was born in 1937 there was a row of five cottages on the village green opposite the Falcon. There is a garage now near the river, but it was not part of the original cottages. Years ago, there was a mortuary behind the cottages. I lived in number 1 with my family. As a boy, the village was my playground. However, it did cost me a year of my life. When I was 11, I was playing in the gravel pit in the field east of Old Mill Road. I climbed a tree and fell, damaging my spine and ending up in hospital for a year. “My parents were very poor. For toys, I had one teddy that had one glass eye. I’m not sure it ever even had two eyes. My father mowed the lawns with a horse and cart at the golf club and was head gardener on the stages of Denham Film Studios. He used to come home and tell us all about the various stars such as Elizabeth Taylor. We went to kids’ parties there when the Studios had parties for the local community. I remember there was a lot of custard-pie throwing…even with kids dressed in their Sunday best. When we lived in Priory Close, we had an accumulator, a large rechargeable battery, to operate the radio. We had to carry it up to the blacksmiths on Village Road to be charged and often got acid burns on our clothes a result.”
Ann shared these thoughts: “Some of my favourite memories were of playing on the farmland and on the hay ricks with my brother and friends. Of course, I was also in and out of the farm cottage where my grandparents lived. They always wanted me to play “Galway Bay” on their piano which had two candlesticks emerging from each side and was BADLY out of tune! Before my school age, I would deliver milk with my grandfather and his horse and trap to the whole of Denham, supplied from their farm. A pony trap was a two-wheeled or sometimes four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, accommodating two to four persons in various seating arrangements, such as face-to-face or back-to-back. It was lovely! I also had a bicycle as a child.
“There was always a roast joint on Sunday. Memories are of mint sauce and “Family Favourites” on the radio. Monday the remains were served cold with salad and hopefully minced up for Tuesday into a Shepherds Pie. My favourite was – fried sausage meat patties, mash potato, fried onions (almost burnt) and thick gravy. My dessert favourite was Spotted Dick or Lemon suet pudding – both boiled in a white cloth with lemon flavoured custard – delicious! My favourite toy was a large doll called Belinda. However, one day I decided to bathe her, but did not realize that although her head was china, her body was of a composite material and fell to pieces. I was heartbroken! Not many doll hospitals in those days!” Growing up in Denham in the late 1950s, Kate reports “Living there, I had a wonderful childhood, feeling unconstrained to wander and play. I loved playing in the spinney at the end of the garden and from there I could go through the gate into the farm and the fields. Here I would meet up with other children and we’d play among the hay stacks and in the fields.
“One of my special memories is of Mr. (George) James, the donkey man. His job was to sweep the village streets and travelling on his cart led by Jack the donkey, tip the contents of his efforts somewhere along the North Orbital. One day I went with him and was away from home for an hour or more without telling my mother. She was concerned, but allowed me to go again and that was the beginning of some wonderful times with Mr. James. He kept donkeys and ponies, usually bought in Southall market often using our meadow to graze them. Sometimes they foaled in the meadow, which was exciting, for instance Ena (a grey, sway-backed donkey) gave birth to a foal which I named Henrietta. I could ride some of them and grew quite attached to them, feeling sad when they disappeared. Mr. James would simply tell me they had probably gone for horse meat and didn’t seem at all troubled. He also used the old piggery at the back of Winton House for his animals (this has long gone) and the piggery in Denham Place. This meant I wandered in there at any time. If you turned right as you went through the gates there was a vegetable shop. If you continued on a path in that direction, running behind the Pyghtle wall, you came to the grave of a race horse.” It seems that even in the early 1990s children delighted in having parts of the village as their playground. Al says: “The small area where the stream runs past The Priory we called ‘Paradise’. Climbing down to it, over a fence and under the bridges became a bit of an adventure. My grandad, who lived in the West Midlands had taken me fishing one day and caught a perch which I named Percy. Bringing it home to Denham I believed Percy would be my pet and was pretty upset my parents thought differently. Instead Percy was carefully let go in ‘Paradise’. It was the worst day. Once we could ride bikes the Country Park became a great place to cycle as there were no roads. I remember we had three different bases with dens and building them felt like a huge adventure. Across the field from Old Mill Road is a small wood. So many squirrels lived here we always called it Squirrel Village and had stories about squirrel supermarkets in some of the trees. We also enjoyed riding across the Way and Tillard Recreation Ground where the cricket matches were played and then along Cheapside and past the now closed tiny Methodist church. Although we were lucky to have the Country Park, I remember the time before the park and golf club when the land was a farm. The village residents were up in arms about losing the farm to a Japanese company with plans to turn it into a golf club and I remember joining in with the protests holding up my placard. We all went along to meetings in the village hall which did became pretty heated. The golf club has since become absorbed into the village and the bonus has been the creation of the Country Park.“ Laura and Sara also reported on the 1990s when they were free to explore the village. “We loved riding our bikes around the village, along the canal and across the fields of the farm and later when it became the country park. We enjoyed having picnics and collecting caterpillars hoping for butterflies but disappointed when they turned out to be moths. When the farm was being sold to create a golf course, we firmly believed the Gulf War that everyone was talking about was the conflict between the farmer and the “Gulf” course. On the farm we recall watching a cow give birth with other cows surrounding it apparently in support. When horses replaced the bikes, we would go off for hours riding from Denham. Our brother Nick also remembers these as very happy times – albeit preferring to import boy school friends to play with “proper” credentials for sports. We all looked back on it as an ‘Enid Blyton’ childhood.” If this look at growing up in Denham village has brought back some memories of your own, please share them with us. You might also like to subscribe to the site and enjoy the monthly topics. Our thanks to those who have kindly shared their memories and reflections.
Sources: “Morning Shows the Day” by Stanley Hoffman Minerva Press 1995 Copyright Stanley Hoffman 1995 Interviews with village residents conducted September/October 2019