Leonard Gerald Golding 1887 - 1978
Childhood Memories recorded at age 71
I am the seventh son of eight & the only survivor.
Father was Branch Manager of the famous jewellers in Cheapside, London, under the sign of Gog & Magog & although we did not live luxuriously, we were not on the 'bread line'. I entered this world in Alfred the Great's old manor of Lewisham & born a 'Man of Kent' only to become immediately a Londoner upon the formation of the London County Council! When I was first able to read the postal address was 'Lewisham, Kent' whereas it now hides under S.E.13. Father always spared time to tell us of various happenings I remember his account of the worst disaster the 'Princess Alice' in which so many lives were lost off Woolwich. His old school chum, Capt. Owen, also gave us an account. Capt. Owen may be remembered as captain of the pleasure steamer 'La Marguerite' & as Commodore of the L.C.C fleet of riverboats & afterwards in authority in the Tramways system of the L.C.C. During the First World War he became responsible for the Thames defences against 'U' boats consequent upon his unrivalled knowledge of the Thames Estuary with all its sandbanks etc. Another of father's accounts was of 'Black Tuesday' of which I will speak later. It was his custom to hire a small one-horsed-brake upon which he took us for excursions in the neighbourhood. At that time London Town ceased at the end of our road & we had fields all the way to Bromley, Eltham, Catford & Beckenham except for a few farms & small hamlets. Now all the area is covered with roads housing estates, shops & factories. Our little expeditions remind me to mention about my earliest recollections. A younger sister had died & although I have only a dim image of her, I recall the horses & carriages coming to the door. I concluded I was one of the party to go for a ride & burst into loud sobs when told I was not included . My old Nannie comforted me by saying if I was very good she would let me help to dry some dishes. I was taken for a ride anyhow as I have never been able to get out of the chore completely. Boys of my generation used to be dressed as little girls until 3 to 4 years old younger sons usually had to be content with the reversion to older one's 'grown-out-ofs' but Mother, who was an excellent needle-woman, made my very first pair out of new cloth. I was so bucked at being advanced to man's estate & asked if I might now call father 'Tom' but was advised not.
Having reached man's estate the next thing was school. There were no Council or Board schools then & the choice usually lay between Church Schools & little Dame Schools. We were fortunate in having a good church school & I recall my entry to the Infants Department. I was given a tin tram & horses to play with & promised them again in the afternoon, but I did not ever get them again. We had to take threepence each Monday morning as school fees but by the time I reached the Boys' School the School Board had made the school a state-aided one & contributions ended. I was instructed how to sew shirt & other buttons on to strips of cloth, how to darn & how to sew patches. Boys had to be useful in those days & have found the accomplishments not without merits. In fact, I had a prize the very first year for my sewing skills! It still stands in my bookcase.
I think my next memory is of winter. Most people instinctively allow their minds to go back to the last year but I remember the one in, I think,1894. We had not long been put on 'main drainage' & the old earth closets had been replaced by a lavatory built on to the outside & a water cistern put on top to form the roof. Consequently, never a year went by without a 'freeze-up' & this particular year was terrible. Stand pipes were erected all over the town & my brother & I used to go out into the fields close by & collect snow which Mother melted then boiled! Most stand pipes became useless within a short while. A small brook which drained the fields from Eltham used to flow at the bottom of our garden. It was usually in flood during a normal winter & I have frequently seen a foot of water in the High Street. This year the brook, rejoicing in the name of 'The Quaggy' was frozen solid from bank to bank My older brothers who were good skaters placed my younger brother & me on an improvised sledge & pulled us down to Lewisham where the Quaggy met they Ravensbourne & so on to the creek at Deptford. Next day, Father walked us through Greenwich Park to show us the tobogganing down observatory Hill & on to the Thames at Greenwich Pier, where the river was frozen right across. I believe it had not done that, so far down the river, since the historical ice-fair of the 17th Century. While we were there a young man, for a wager of 1/- (one shilling!) walked across to the North bank. The middle of the stream was not too safe due to the ebb I flow of the tide, but by jumping lightly over the mid-stream he won his bet. Here I might add an account/ of 'Black Tuesday' I some time in the early 1880's. A blizzard started in the forenoon a became so bad that Father closed the shop at Blackheath and sent everyone home He took over three hours to reach home - a walk of about 15 minutes and arrived almost frozen. His brother set out for Greenwich over that exposed country heath. A managed to reach the top of Blackheath Hill when he/ stumbled over the unconscious body of a telegraph boy. With great difficulty managed to carry him to a near-by large house. Incredibly he was refused help or shelter & my brother had to drag the lad to the next house where he was most kindly received & attention given to both of them.
The host refused to let him venture further & insisted upon both staying until conditions improved. According to one account, a cab-man returning from a fare over the Heath - not as far as outside the railway station - was later found frozen to death with the horse also dead in the shafts, about 200 yards from help. My mother used to take my younger brother & me on excursions to museums, Crystal Palace, Kew Gardens, etc. The older boys were then out to work. It is interesting to note the cost of an outing to-day compared to our very cheap excursions. We would set out early in the morning complete with picnic baskets - Mother & two lads, return fare from the Bank to Shepherd's Bush by Twopenny Tube 4d. (fourpence return) & by electric tram to Kew Green another 4d. return. Just half-la-crown for all three with perhaps a little extra for some lemonade or tea. Entry to the gardens was free. Talking of transport reminds me that we had a service of horse-drawn omnibuses ('Bumper buses') they were popularly called, without conductors. The driver collected the fares through a hole in the roof. Entrance was from the back & the door was curved to cover the footstep giving entrance so that unpaying passengers could not hang on behind. 'Whip behind' was a usual call to drivers - who hears the cry nowadays? The driver controlled the door with a stout leather strap affixed a lever by his feet. Two people could sit on either side of him & a garden seat went across the top of the bus behind him. Access to this was by a companion ladder fastened to the side. Women were not supposed to climb to this vantage point - 'it wasn't done'.
Horse trams ran from Greenwich to Catford: & these had conductors a steps led to the seats on top. Both buses & trams had ½p(half-penny) fares but the trams charged 2d. any distance on Sundays & holidays. A smaller bus, drawn by one horse only, carrying about 8 to 10 inside used to ply for the journey Lewisham to Deptford. Mr. Thomas Tilling, a contemporary of my Father, was a cab proprietor at Blackheath Railway station and saw the possibilities of the London 'Shillibears' & started one bus to Shooter's hill & one to Vanbrugh Park across the Heath He was asked to extend the service to Eltham where the nearest station was at Mottingham until Wellhall was developed He started the first bus with outside seats & a conductor but had to use three horses on account of the steep hill out of Blackheath Village & the long gradient from Lee to Eltham. From these first ventures came all the other routes and when the French Company later known as the London General Omnibus Co. threatened to start over the South of London, Thomas Tilling's fought the proposition A finally it was agreed that each company should keep to its own side of the Thames. This lasted until both companies were bought out by what is now the London Transport system Everyone knows how Thomas Tilling developed from cab proprietor to one of the largest transport combines in this Country.
My next recollection is of the Diamond Jubilee. We had an old neighbour whose proud boast was that he was one of the grooms who took the Prime Minister's carriage to Kensington Palace when the young Princess was told her Uncle William IV was dead & that she was her Majesty Queen Victoria. he took us to see the old Queen whenever she was in our neighbourhood. I saw her open the modern Fever Hospital at Hither Green- now not thought to be so modern - & when she visited the soldiers at the Herbert Hospital at Woolwich also when she opened the Brook Hospital close by The old chap was determined to see the Diamond Jubilee procession I promised to take us but he was prevented by his daughter on account of his great age & his feebleness. However Mother took we two boys to see the decorated streets. We went as usual to Cannon St. & thence from the Bank along the royal route. Along the whole of the processional way great wooden barriers had been erected at fairly short intervals & these could be & were shut up when the police judged the area was too packed to be safe for sightseers. It was just one terrible jam. & I think I was carried in the crowd, by the crowd & seldom was able to put my feet to the ground all the long distance. I remember the profusion of poles, banners, loyal greetings etc. & particularly the bigger buildings had designs worked with innumerable gas-jets in the big shape of crowned heads, V.b. 1837-1897 etc. then these were lighted it was a most wonderful spectacle. We had got as far as as the old rabbit warrens (where are now the wide thoroughfares of Aldwych & Kingsway when a carriage & pair came up from the City with the coachman urging his horses on whilst people endeavoured to get out of his way. A police constable recognised from the remarks of the crowd that the occupant was Lord Salisbury & tried to make a way for the coachman to turn down Norfolk St. & go along the Embankment, but Lord Salisbury paremptorily ordered his man to keep straight on & was most offensive to the constable who was only doing what he considered reasonable. Lord Salisbury may have have been born Noble but I have never seen such an exhibition of bad temper & appalling manners. There was nothing noble in his example to the man in the street. Shortly after I went on a holiday to Portsmouth & there saw the Fleet in gala dress as part of the celebrations.
Then we were in the excitement of the Boer War I remember the City Imperial Volunteers setting out for Capetown. schoolboys used to get an ivy leaf, cut out a C in the fleshy part & stick a bit of paper underneath to make it prominent A proudly near our buttonhole "CIV" When the news came of the relief of Ladysmith & particularly of Mafeking the town went mad. Bonfires were lighted in the streets. A any man in uniform was immediately chaired by the mob. One fire near us was outside the old 'Rose of Lee' & when it seemed likely to get beyond control, the Police called the Fire Brigade The crowd tried to cut the firemen's hoses & were only prevented when the hoses were turned upon them. Following closely came the death of the old Queen. I was one of a very reverent crowd -who saw her funeral carriage pass through the London streets to her last resting place; I also saw the Coronation procession of King Edward VII & shortly afterwards peace was signed with President Kruger - when the town again went mad.
To return to the end of my schooldays. Our school had been showing badly in scholarship honours. There were no scholarships, as are offered today but each year a very ancient bequest had left two awards of £20 & £15 to be competed for. The money was to be used to assist the winners in taking up apprenticeships. When I went up to the boys' school a new Headmaster had been appointed & he decided the school should once again be the prominent school in the district. For some years there was no apparent improvement.Most of the successful lads, all from a rival school, had to sit for the exam at least twice running & sometimes for a third try. When I reached the senior school the Headmaster started to groom me. I had to compete with boys from the rival school who had sat for the third time. Shortly after the Christmas Holidays, about a month after the exam, the Chairman of the Governors walked into the school & the lads were quickly assembled wondering what mischief any of us had been up to. Instead, I heard with imaginable pride, that I had outdistanced all the competitors at my first try & had won for the school the First Award & broken the chain of failures for quite a number of Years. A little later at Speech Day it was announced that I had also broken a British school record of attendance - ten years without one absence or one late mark & I added nearly another year with unblemished record. I think I still hold the British School Attendance Record. The Headmaster wished me to take up teaching & Father agreed. In those days a likely a lad was set to teach lower standards under the watchful eye of the Head & later attended a training class. Unfortunately my Headmaster died very suddenly & Father applied to the Goldsmith's Company for permission for me to sit for their scholarship I passed quite well up the list & went to their Technical College at New Cross. It is now a Teachers' Training College Then Father decided I should take the newly instituted 'Boy Clerk' exam & so I found myself in the Inland Revenue working in the room immediately under the dome at Somerset House It was whilst there I saw the clearance of the slums & the making of Aldwych & Kingsway. Every evening at dusk it was quite common to see numbers of rats scurry from the old ruins across the Strand to find shelter in, the streets leading down to the Embankment Occasionally we found their traces in Somerset House itself. The situation of Boy Clerk was a 'dead-end' job as all were dismissed 19 years of age so I had to get busy with further education to sit for other posts, I was successful in three, all about the same time. As the first result was in the Post Office & I was Uncertain if I should pass the others, I accepted the appointment & duly found myself at most inconvenient hours in Whitechapel. Later on I passed another exam entered my full life appointment.
I would like to close with some later memories because so many of my generation who shared them with me are no longer here, but my account will give the reason.
At the funeral procession of King Edward I was one of the soldiers lining the streets along which his coffin was drawn. I also was present at George V's coronation & near Hyde Park the crowd was so dense & in the end we were almost touching the carriages as they came by. In the Processional March through South London the following day I was stationed in Cannon Street. We did not use our traditional bully beef & biscuits as the crowd kept us supplied from their resources. It is a matter of history that all the crowned heads of Europe -were in that procession but my strongest memory is of Kaiser Bill on a magnificent charger sizing up 'the Contemptible Army'. These last event may be within the memory of many under 65, but I think of those present then who so soon after were giving another display of duty.
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