Chapel Road, originally Gipsy House Road, is one of the oldest roads in Norwood. It can be seen on Roque’s 1745 map of the Great North Wood and the 1806 Norwood Common, Lambeth Inclosure map when it extended eastwards from Knight’s Hill as far as Salter’s Hill. Most of the land south of St Luke’s Church formed part of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Manor of Lambeth. The land formed part of the Great North Wood and much of it was wooded until the 18 century.
Maps and Land Ownership
Gipsy House Road, the western part of which was later to become Chapel Road can be seen extending from Knights Hill Road in the west to Elderhole Copice in the East. It stood on the Rt. Hon. Lord Thurlow’s land , whilst Elderhole Coppice belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Inclosure map shows the plots with the owner and the letter C. The C stands for ‘copyhold’ which was land held from a manor. Manors themselves were freehold property, and were bought and sold between major landowners. Smaller landholdings within manors were held by copyhold tenure. Title deeds for these pieces of land do not exist in quite the same form as for freehold land. This is because copyhold land was technically owned by the Lord or Lady of the Manor. The people who actually lived on and farmed manorial lands were only tenants of the manor. They held their land by custom, which varied between manors.
The official record of the transfer of copyhold land was written up in the manorial court rolls. In addition, the steward of the manor wrote out an official copy of the court roll entry, which was kept by the tenant as their proof of title. This is where the term ‘copyhold’ comes from. Copyhold land ceased to exist after the 1925 Law of Property Act converted them into freeholds.
Building of the street
The 1863 map shows that by then the large plots of land to the south of the road had been subdivided and were already occupied by the Congregartional Chapel and houses. The other side of the road was similarly built up with terraces of houses.
The 1895 special 25 inch map of London extract shows the five key buildings which occupied Chapel Road:
The Congregational Chapel, the Lower Norwood Working Mens’ Institute at either end of the road and in the middle the Bricklayers Arms (PH), directly south of it The Boat House, known locally as such from its boatlike shape and behind the Bricklayers Arms or Brick the Norwood Brewery.
The North Side of Chapel Road
Street Furniture in Chapel Road
Significant Street Buildings
Most of the places he describes can be seen on the 1895 map extract in the ‘How the Street was Built’ section. His notes provide a fascinating glimpse of Chapel Road at the time he was writing about.
Starting from the High Street on the left-hand side stand three of the ‘original Norwood cottages’. Mrs Gameson kept the first as a lolipop shop and did a gfood trade with the local school boys. Her stock-in-trade included lolipops, sugar sticks, Jumbo chains made of liquoric, bull’s-eyes, pepermints, acid drops and rainbow balls, which changed colour as they were sucked.
The third cottage was occupied by Mr Charles Barber, the builder. The cottages drew water from wells in their backgardens. Wilson thought that being next door to the Chapel’s burial grounds was not a healthy proposition!
The house next to the chapel at the corner of Curnick’s Row was the residence of Mr Curnick a stonemason. Further along stood a house known as Hollingbourne House Academy, a private school later known as Westwood’s Academy.
Then there was a gate leading to meadow land used by the Brewery opposite (see Significant Buildings section) for grazing. Next to this stood the “Boat House” mentioned in the 1841 census so called because it was built in the style of a boat. The house stood well back and had a large garden with a small gate and a lodge near the pavement.
Then there were a few old fashioned shops to the corner of Woodcote Place, one of which was kept by Mr Spargo, a florist, another by Mr Bartley Wilson, later Mr Wallis, a grocer’s .
The shop at the corner of Woodcote Place was Mr Arnold’s butcher’s shop. He was one of the old type of tradesmen, and wore a top hat while conducting business. Mr Smith, the chemist, was for many years at the corner of Eden Road. In the first house on the left in Eden Road lived an old coal merchant, Mr Barker, who used to take his horse right through the house to its stable in his back garden every day. Just above his house was Mr Ranger’s wheelwright’s shop, in the front of which lay a large circular flat stone used for stretching the iron tyres on cart-wheels. On the right-hand side was the Eden Road Day school which belonged to the Wesleyan Church.
On the corner of Chapel Road and Knight’s Hill stand the Norwood Technical Institute (see details in the Significant Buildings section). This was presented by Mr Arthur Anderson who also gave the houses next to it (which no longer exist) called Maidstone Villas to provide an income for the Institute. The two little passageways near Maidstone Villas lead down to a group of old cottages once called Orchard Cottages because of the fruit trees there. It is now called Jaffrey Place. Between these two passages stands a building once occupied by Mr Mark Deacon, with his carpenter’s shop on the upper floor. These premises were then occupied by Mr Nalph Harris, a general dealer. It was decorated with old firearms and wax figures in army uniforms. On the other side of Jaffrey Place stand a little old-fashioned shop , which with the cottage next door, was part of old Norwood. The shop was occupied by Mr Obee the builder.
Victoria Place , now called Weaver’s Walk , contains some old cottage property. Some of these cottages, known as Weaver’s Cottages, built in 1845, were pulled down in 1938.
He says that ‘On Sunday mornings the Bricklayers Arms was the meeting place of local cyclists with their penny-farthing bicycles. They used to hold a competition to see who could ride from the Bricklayers Arms to the Gipsy House without getting off’.
Close to the Bricklayer’s Arms was the brewery a flourishing business owned by Mr Bennett, then a family called Wadley and finally by Mr Cecil Beaton.
Next to the brewery ,was a small row of houses and then by Denmark Place was Mr Deacon’s ironmongery shop. Mr Deacon was a builder as well, and his builder’s workshop was at the side of the shop.
Denmark Villas a small row of houses used to face the Congregational Chapel. Mr William Oplenshaw, a son-in-law of Mr Deacon, who was a Directory of the Cooperative Wholesale Society, lived in one of the little houses all his married life.
The Bricklayers Arms, Chapel Road
In October 1837, Thomas Wallis married Charlotte Copland and the young couple (with a growing number of children, all born in Norwood) are recorded in the censuses and trade directories through to 1889 when Thomas’ will was proven with his address as “the “Bricklayers Arms” Chapel road West Norwood”. Nothing very startling here, I thought, as my eye ran up and down the columns summarising the data. This is clearly the man I am looking for. Then, happily, I focused on the occupation column and I saw a progression which may answer two fundamental questions –Why is it called the Bricklayers Arms? How old is the building?
Thomas, at the time of his marriage, was, like his father, a bricklayer, rising by 1851 to become a Master Bricklayer employing three men. A decade later, he is described as a “Builder and Publican” and in 1871 as a “Licensed Victualler” as he was in his will. I suggest he built The Bricklayers himself in the 1850s and named it after his old trade.
Two different licensees, Robert Bennett in 1896 and Thomas R Watts in 1904 and 1905 are shown in the Post Office Directories and then things settle down again with John and Fanny Whetter there from 1911 to 1929. Then, as the pub had spent its first thirty odd years in Thomas and Charlotte hands, its licensed life concluded with thirty years in the care of Billie and Elsie Barnes, my parents. I and my three elder siblings grew up in ‘the Brick’. One of my earliest memories is lying in bed at night watching the smoke rise through the floorboards from the public bar below!
Billie’s Uncle Jack (John Frederick Barnes) had acquired the Brick by February 1931 when he put Billie (aged 28) and Elsie (25) in as managers. About 50 years later Elsie wrote of her memories of life at the Brick in the 1930s and 40s.
“Drinking in the ‘local’ with some friends I hadn’t seen for some time, we started comparing the pub of today with the pub of the 30’s. I jokingly said that I could write a book about the things I’d seen and heard during the 40 years I served behind the bar. Someone said “Why don’t you?” Easier said than done but at least I can reminisce a bit.
I’ll never forget the night we ‘took over’ the ‘Bricklayers’ Arms’ We were packed out in all bars and working on tills which were much higher placed than our previous ones. Being on the short side, my shoulders and arms were absolutely stiff the next morning!
Usually, the Brick (as it was always known) was not a particularly busy house at that time having been neglected and we had to work quite hard to clean it up and get the trade going again. It was quite large with seating for about 100 in the Lounge, a good-sized Saloon and a Public Bar away to the front of the house.
It also had a Skittle Alley, one of the few left in action in London, and although it still created a fair bit of interest, it was pretty obvious even then, that it was·a dying game. The game was very much like the normal skittles, with 9 pins, each weighing around 9lbs. but instead of the more normal round wooden balls, what was known as a ‘cheese’ was hurled at the pins. The cheeses were rounded; flat discs of Lignum Vitae, a very hard wood, and they weighed anything between 11 and 15lbs each. You will appreciate that this game involved a fair need for muscle and brawn, and it was by no means a peaceful game either with the clatter of the various hunks of timber echoing around the Alley.
More information about London Skittles may be found here: londonskittles.co.uk/
The poor fellow who had the job of re-setting the pins after every throw had, to say the least, an unenviable task and was known as the ‘Sticker’, although how he stuck the job for so long, I’ll never know! No ladies were allowed in the Skittle Alley at all and while games were on, silence was maintained by everyone in the Alley – one was hardly allowed to breathe. We held quite a few dinners for the ‘skittlers’ and their wives, with a dance to follow. Thinking back now over the game generally, it is, perhaps, not too surprising that it gradually died a death and was no more!
We also had a dart board in the corner of the Lounge near the Skittles Alley which was very well-used. The enthusiasm for skittles seem to transfer to darts and almost immediately, the West Norwood & District Darts League was formed, later re-named The Crystal Palace & District Darts League. As we had very good accommodation and plenty of space, the Brick made an ideal headquarters and many matches and most finals were held in the Lounge. The matches, of course, drew very big crowds, and we had some marvelous evenings, and made a lot of good friends from those events. In 1934 the first Annual Darts Dinner was held – restricted to men, 50 of whom attended, costing 1s 6d. The following year it became a Dance – with women allowed! This was an unbounded success and the CPDDL Dances were soon the highlight of the Crystal Palace and District social whirl, and a ‘must’ in everyone’s diary. The event developed a strong fund-raising function for the Red Cross, sponsored by the local bookmaker, H. Hart. It was sufficiently successful to result in the local MP, Duncan Sandys, presenting the prizes.
Eventually, after some 18 years, we finally formed a Ladies Darts Team, a force to be reckoned with indeed! This provided many happy evenings and became very popular with all concerned, even the husbands, for, of course, this gave them an extra night out over and above their normal ones, condoned by their wives!
Quite often we would arrange for a small orchestra to arrive after the matches had been played and then dancing would commence, making, in all, for a very happy social evening. After a few very successful and enjoyable seasons, the Ladies Team slowly disintegrated, due mostly to the fact that quite a number of members were soon to become mothers. They had been social evenings indeed!
We heard quite a few stories of the olden days before the local police station on the corner of Rothschild Street, was pulled down. When Muggy Grant, the rat catcher was arrested for being drunk and disorderly, he released the rats he had in his pack and the only way the police could deal with them was to discharge him to enable him to catch all the rats again. Naturally they were only too relieved to let him go!
In those days, when money was not always so easy, most customers were pleased to belong to the ‘Loan Club’, where you paid in a weekly contribution and you could take out a loan when necessary, pay back with interest, and then get the share out at Christmas. The club at the Brick had been running since 1901, when the proud boast was that the sum of £150 was collected annually. It grew quite rapidly and by our time the annual payout was in the region of £14 to £15,000. ‘Share Out’ nights were quite a problem at the time and we were allowed police protection for, especially during the War with the Blackout on, it was quite a lot of other people’s money to have on one’s premises. We were glad when Share Out was over and everyone had drawn their cash and gone home without mishap.
The social life in the pub was very much to the fore – we formed a club which we called ‘the Cork Club’ – obviously every member who joined was presented with a cork which they had to show whenever challenged. If they were unable to present that cork, they were fined. Out of these fines and other contributions we were able to run a social evening in the Lounge about once a month. We had a dance, with an M.C, and they were very jolly evenings.
A very popular annual event at the Brick was the Men’s River Trip.• This started from an idea that Billie had in 1933, when the menfolk of the ‘village’ were in the bar one evening discussing the regular outings that had been taking place every year from time immemorial and which usually consisted of a hired coach, or charabanc as they were still known, taking a party of men to the coast, normally Brighton or Southend, for the day. Lunch and tea were always booked at a suitable hostelry, the rest of the day being left free for ‘the lads’ to ‘do their own thing’. To a select few of them this usually meant exploring other places of refreshment in the locality. The coach would then leave about 6 – 7pm allowing the party reasonable time en route to make one or two halts to slake their thirsts, and eventually arriving home in various states of disarray long after the Brick had closed, (fortunately)! This then had been the usual pattern for the Annual Outing and from the general tone of the conversation, Billie rather had the feeling that it was beginning to lose its appeal to some of the customers, not least, no doubt, to some of the long-suffering wives of the participants! Consequently he got busy making enquiries and eventually came up with ‘The Annual River Trip’.
This entailed boarding a special train to Windsor, then a river boat to Marlow and back, with lunch, tea, and endless ‘refreshments’ for the whole trip for the princely sum of 22/6d per head, inclusive.
Needless, to say, the whole thing was a howling success and continued for many years. To look at the photos proves what good times were had on those trips. I remember hearing the story of one young man, Bobby Ward, doing a cartwheel for a bet. All his money, wallet, keys etc. fell out of his pocket and most of it rolled overboard. I believe the rest had a whip round for him.
The whole point is that all of these functions were enjoyed yearly by so many regulars; in fact one had to book well ahead to get a ticket. I suppose n these days of ‘progress’ when practically everyone drives a car probably there is little attraction in the idea of a ‘boat trip’ but then it wouldn’t be a group of about 50 or 60 men, who all knew and liked each other and who drank and talked together almost every night in the same friendly pub, where the landlord was always ready to discuss and help any proposed project or outing, or to offer suggestions which would always be welcomed by all and sundry.
In September 1935, my first child was due to be born, and, as I had decided to have it at home, there was much interest and speculation amongst the customers once I was no longer seen on duty behind the bar. After a darts match had been held on the evening of the 13th, my husband told a few of the customers as he closed the bar that the event was imminent. I was in fact, lying upstairs wishing I could have been down there amongst the crowd. All the customers all showed great interest, and concern, but, as we were to learn on the following day, none more so than a great character known, for some obscure reason by us all as ‘Stormy Weather’. Knowing that the baby was due he was too excited to go home and instead, spent the entire night sitting on our doorstep and was still there next morning when the milkman arrived. My son eventually arrived about 5am and as soon as my ‘fan’ had been told the good news, he cheerfully went off home to bed. The customers were wonderful in their enthusiasm and for a long time afterwards our home was a mass of flowers, telegrams and cards which not only filled my bedroom but went down both sides of a long passage; they were in vases, basins, jam jars, milk bottles, everything which would hold water.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
The night of November 30th, 1936 was indeed a ‘night to remember’ for us all. It started off just like any other evening until the news came through, “The Palace is on fire!” Although there are many palaces in this country, nobody had any doubt as to what this meant. To us, ‘The Palace’ could only mean Crystal Palace, the great glass palace just 1½ miles up the hill from us, which had stood proudly looking right across London and the surrounding countryside for over 80 years. It seemed to us all that it had always been there, – all our lives we had been ‘up to the Palace’ to see circuses, exhibitions, displays, speedway, motor racing and, yes, the Thursday night Firework Display, amongst many other things. And now it was on fire? It just couldn’t be. Almost reluctantly we went up on to the flat roof of the ‘ Brick’ and watched with tear-filled eyes confirmation of this awful news, as the inferno raged through the night and filled the sky with its awesome glow.
On a slightly different tack, for several years in the late 1930s, local businessmen and shopkeepers who had cars organised trips for the Old Peoples’ Home inmates to a country pub where a good meal was supplied; after which a drive to somewhere on the coast for tea, a return trip which included a drink at a friendly pub on the way home. The tired but happy inmates were taken back to sleep for the night and to spend the following days comparing notes and generally talking it over.
To quote a very popular Press Reporter “it is rather a Social Centre than licensed premises”. The scrapbook which Billie compiled bulges with souvenirs of those days, letters from old customers, programme cards from the dances, newspaper reports of the dart matches and finals, and photographs and reminders of so many memorable occasions and events which took place in our pub.
I remember some of our staff, most of who were good workers and really enjoyed their jobs. They were known to everyone and were generally treated, as we so often were, to drink with whoever they were serving. Our customers enjoyed their company as much as their service. During the years we had many very good barmaids and barmen.
Two of our staff had worked at the Brick for some years before we got there, and virtually ‘came with the furniture’. One popular character was ‘Old Bob’ who only lived a few doors away. Nevertheless he always came on duty one minute after the doors were opened to the customers, and, despite regular veiled comments like, “What, missed the ‘ bus again, Bob?”, he never failed to produce a broad grin, and never changed his ways, much to the frustration of the management!
DOLLY THE CLEANER
The cleaner, Dolly, did general bar cleaning in the mornings and on some afternoons would concentrate her activities upstairs in the private quarters. When, in 1947, we discovered the public bar was rather badly affected by woodworm, it had to be pulled down and rebuilt. This necessitated putting quite a lot of our furniture in storage. It took quite a time for me to decide which was to go and which would stay. After much deliberation I went around every room and marked the selected items with a piece of red gummed paper for easy identification by the removal men. Having at last completed this lengthy task, I was sitting and relaxing with a well-earned cup of tea when dear Dolly came to tell me she was finished for the day. “By the way”, she said proudly, “your children, (we had 3 by then), have been having a grand time today – they have been into every room sticking bits of red paper on some of the furniture – but don’t’ worry I’ ve taken it all off, and don’t chastise them, it’s only a childish prank!” I was not too pleased but then, she’d acted in good faith and no one had thought to warn her. She was a ‘character’ and I remember the bad time she had when she decided it was about time that she ‘glamourized’ herself a bit and attempted to dye her grey hair. Unfortunately something went seriously wrong and it went a vivid shade of green which necessitated her wearing a little woolly hat for the ensuing months, summer and winter, night and day. She laughed at it all which made our consciences feel a lot easier for we had certainly laughed at our first sight of her.
One barmaid would always grab all the glasses to wash– a job most of the staff dodged if they could. Having a spare moment myself, I decided to change the water in the sink and found, to my surprise, quite a gathering of silver coins in the bottom of the sink! Apparently, the girl was dropping them into the water when she washed the glasses, having either kept them from the customers’ change, or from the cash which should have gone in the till. Needless to say, she was sacked on the spot, being the only staff on duty at the time.
Our Public Bar which was controlled by our Head Barman and a barmaid was well away from the rest of the House which was on a corner site. This made it appear to be a different pub altogether. We had a mike from the Public Bar connected to the Saloon and got a message one evening warning us that a very drunk man had just been refused service in the bar. Naturally we were on the alert for him and he staggered into the Saloon Bar and up to the counter. My husband immediately told him that we were unable to serve him. His reply was “What’s wrong with all the publicans around here – the pub round the corner wouldn’t serve me, and the Governor up there was very like you – you could be twins.” Little did he realise that it was my husband who had backed up the barman’s refusal to serve him!
The Off Licence at the Brick was always quite busy for, apart from the very popular ‘loose’ spirits, (bring your own bottle), we sold such items as pieces of cheese for twopence, twopenny portions of pickle and so forth. Even so, this was never enough and we were always getting asked ‘could we oblige’ with eggs, sugar, candles, bread, tea, stamps and, would you believe, Gripe Water!
We always looked forward to Sunday afternoon since this was the longest rest period we got during the whole week. Imagine my reactions therefore, when the doorbel1 rang during our weekly siesta. I composed myself, powdered my nose and hurried down the two flights of stairs to the side door. A very small child confronted me with the plea, “Could you please lend my mum a cup of Currants as she wants to make a Cake”!!!! After that, we ignored the doorbell on Sunday afternoon! Looking back I suppose that is all part of the friendliness that existed in most small businesses in those days. We all helped each other with a smile and I am sure we all felt better for it.
I sometimes wonder whatever has happened to that genuine, friendly atmosphere that prevailed in most shops and pubs, in those days, when people worked, earned the pay they were getting, enjoyed simple pleasures in their leisure hours, and were happy. Sadly, today the general trend seems to be “Get as much as you can for as little effort as possible, avoid all the work you can, but try and beat the man next door. Whatever you have, strive for more and don’t worry too much about who you have to hurt to get it!” What a pity that selfishness now seems to be the keynote to so many people – little wonder that folks walk around with long faces, worrying about tomorrow without enjoying today. I sometimes feel like walking the streets with a banner saying “COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS”. But then they would feel sorry for me!
OUTBREAK OF WAR
The outbreak of War in September 1939 marked the end of an era, and for every one of us, life changed dramatically.
By this time we had two children, aged 4 and 2 and a new baby, Jackie now 9 months old. On that first Sunday morning of the War I had to take them to congregate with many more mothers and children at the Jewish Orphanage on Wolfington Street the local collection point for evacuation to unknown parts.
During these first few days of the War nobody knew what to expect and I think we were all a little overwhelmed at the enormity of the manner in which our normal life was suddenly being completely torn apart and changed. Although it was not realised at the time, some of those families were, from then on, adopting a completely different lifestyle and would never go back to the type of life that they had left behind them. Children that had never seen a cow would see them everywhere, families that had always lived in towns, with nothing but bricks and mortar around them now found themselves amongst green fields, woods, and, above all, fresh air.
I understand that life was pretty hectic at the Brick during that first Sunday lunch-time of the War. I had left with the children, as most other mothers had done, for evacuation. This also affected two of our other female staff, so that Billie was three short already. He co-opted the services of our local Postman (who had never served before) to assist our one ancient barman and one elderly barmaid, who immediately fainted as soon as the Air Raid Siren sounded! She was sent home after a strong Brandy and we never saw her again. Billie had opened as usual at 12 o’clock to find a larger-than-normal crowd of excited, and somewhat frightened people, waiting for something to ‘steady their nerves’ after their first, of many, wartime experiences. As the months went by we found that many of our customers got into the habit of coming round to the Brick whenever the siren sounded, almost as if they felt safer in a crowd and certainly it seemed very much easier to be brave in the company of other people in a pub than sitting on your own under the stairs! Of course, later on, when the bombs were dropping frequently, most people had got their own shelters in the garden or would use the council built shelters which slowly became available. Nevertheless, we still had quite a hard core of ‘regulars’ who preferred to dash round to the Brick (whether we were open or not) and we always made them welcome, whatever the time of day!
The local butchers shop was almost opposite us and every time the siren sounded his wife immediately dropped everything, gathered up her hat, coat and handbag and abandoned both the shop and her husband to rush across to us only pausing to shout over her shoulder, “You know where I am till the All Clear goes”!
On Battle of Britain day, (15th September. 1940) we had a party of children in the clubroom for our son’s birthday but halfway through an air raid warning was given out and the party had to retire to the cellar, much to the children’s delight, it wasn’t everyday they were let loose in a cellar full of barrels and bottles, mostly empty, but great fun to play with.
I should explain that during evacuations I joined the family to help organise moving, stayed a couple of days and then returned home to Norwood and work! That pattern went on with Billie or I going up for a couple of days every other week and it was almost enjoyable. We were able to make friends in the various villages and, although we used to worry about the reports of raids on London, it was not too bad – or had we all got used to worrying? I suppose one just got used to living from day to day and trying to keep things running smoothly when one could.
During the many journeys I took getting back home after settling the family once again in their new evacuation spots where we hoped they’d be safe, I had several rather worrying events to cope with and sometimes was very frightened, though I tried not to show it. On one occasion our train was attacked by a plane which was firing at the train at quite close quarters. The guard ran along the train calling out “Pull your blinds and get down on the floor!” We heard the bullets rattling along on the roof for quite a few minutes. We were certainly glad to find after a while the plane had disappeared and we were all safe once more.
We had several near misses at the Brick and one bomb hit some shops quite near us. A friend’s shop was hit and he was discovered in his cellar, in bed nude with a lady friend. An Air Raid Warden, who also knew him, tried to help him out of bed and said “Let’s get your wife out first.” He stupidly said “She’s not my wife.” The Warden said “I know that but nobody else does,so shut up!” What a pal he was after the War!
Our most difficult job in those days was to get enough beer and spirits to keep people happy. In fact it got to the stage where we had to try and share it out. If a customer came to the bar we’d say “Where is your glass?” If he had one, we would say “Well sorry, you’ve had one glass of beer, don’t be greedy,”, or if they hadn’t got a glass, we’d have to say “No glass, we can’t serve you.”! It was very difficult trying to make the beer go round. Sometimes it would only last 3 days and then we’d close down and take it in turns to go and visit the family wherever they were living at the time. Sometimes we mixed things better left unmixed like the two bottles of Crème de Menthe and about two dozen lager, ginger beer and lemonade which, together, produced the rather tasty but peculiar looking drink with which we toasted VE day – I don’t think people cared as long as they could sing and rejoice they were still alive. It was a great feeling in the evenings to have all the Lounge and Saloon customers singing and trying to forget their troubles.
From 1944 there was a group of men who called themselves ‘The Cronies’; it was limited to 12 members; they met every week and discussed all kinds of questions which each member put forward; a sort of Brains Trust. They had an Annual Dinner and all members worked hard with raffles etc collecting money for charities of all kinds. The prizes were given by local shopkeepers and a great deal of money was collected. ‘The Cronies’ lasted to 1946 and consisted of a banker, a butcher, a bank manager, journalist, printer, publican, upholsterer, coach owner, builder, electrician, newsagent, traveller – a very mixed but a really grand crowd. I still have the Minutes Book which makes really interesting reading, especially the various ‘odd’ questions discussed at the meetings. I smile remembering when two members cracked their skulls by ducking together from opposite sides of the table at the close approach of a flying bomb!
We had so many of the various Forces passing through or visiting for a day or so that one didn’t always get their names, especially the boys from Australia, America or Scotland. It took a little time for us to get used to the American boys’ attitude to money: many times they’d put a pound note down for “a couple of beers and keep the change” but that was something we soon explained to them was neither right nor necessary. Many of the locals who came back to Norwood on leave from the services were amazed to find us not only open but busy and enjoying life despite the almost nightly raids.
I remember serving Light Ales to three sailors who were on leave and had ‘popped in’. As I was pouring them the Air Raid Warning went, the sailors dropped to the floor as the ‘whine’ went overhead. On standing up again, after the bang, they seemed amazed that I was just finishing pouring and passing out their ale! “Why didn’t you duck?” and I explained that, “by the time I’d put down 3 glasses and 3 bottles and dropped to the floor the bomb would either have dropped or gone over, so I didn’t bother. If I’d just let the bottles drop, they’d shatter and we can’t afford to waste beer, it’s too precious!” “Good Luck to you gal. We’ll be glad to get back to our ship.”
Many of the RAF lads came from the Squadron which was billeted near to the Brick. We gave them a farewell supper in 1944 when one of the AC2s sang Gournod’s Ave Maria to a packed house. On Remembrance Day, 1942 the local Vicar held a service in the Lounge, full to capacity.
I used to write to the many customers and friends who were in the Forces and had many lovely letters back from them. These I treasured very much but unfortunately when we moved I lost a box full of personal and valuable possessions and regret it to this day. Still, I have many happy, as well as sad stories and memories to look back on. I remember very well having one of the coded telegrams from someone called Leslie who I couldn’t even place, but the code number was a mistake. The message should have read “Thank you for the letter. I am quite well. Best wishes, Leslie”. Instead, it read “Longing to see you, all my love, L.” Needless to say this caused rather a rift with Billie until Leslie came on leave shortly afterwards and was able to straighten things out!
Billie spent a lot of time touring various pubs and off licences either borrowing or buying an occasional bottle of spirit or crate of beer here or there until our deliveries were due – we helped each other out whenever we could in those days. I remember one occasion when he was coming home with one or two crates of beer in the boot of the car and, driving over a stone, up a hill. The door of the boot flew open and two crates of beer fell out, spilling the bottles which, of course, ran down the hill making a very loud noise. It was his lucky night, for only one bottle broke, but it was rather amusing to watch him and the car driver running down the hill to retrieve the very valuable bottles.
Many evenings we only had a couple of bottles of Scotch or Gin or half a barrel of beer to see us through the evening, sometimes nothing alcoholic at all, but somehow they, the customers, stayed on until closing time, enjoying each other’s company in spite of Air Raid warnings and All Clears. We never turned them out during an Air Raid, whatever the time and they were happy to stay, especially when ‘Old Ted’ was playing the piano and they forgot their troubles for a while in a singsong.
In spite of the harrowing times during those war days and nights, we were able to have some very pleasant nights at the Brick. We had two very good pianists amongst our customers and they would accompany anyone who wanted to give a song or two. We had one lady who had a beautiful voice but who was rather shy; she would sit at her table with her husband, resting her head on her hand and sing many beautiful songs. Another party, who had some Welsh friends visiting them every so often, used to spend their Saturday and Sunday evenings enjoying a real good sing-song of popular tunes. We had many enjoyable nights there, it certainly helped to make life endurable for so many people! On the very bad raid nights we all slept down in the cellar, about 10 of us. We hung blankets up to divide the ‘rooms’ between the ‘girls’ and the ‘boys’. We never divulged until after the war that the blankets were see-through! It caused many a secret grin between us!
We had several empty bedrooms when the children were evacuated, so we were able to take care of one or two of the American Air Force who were billeted in a college quite near us. If they’d had “one too many” we’d let them stay on rather than send them out to get lost. “
Although Billie and Elsie stayed at the Brick until 1961, she writes very little more about the building though much about the family. They became tenants in 1947 meaning they were then working for themselves rather than for a salary from the brewers, Charringtons. They left in 1961 to take a smaller pub nearby in Nunhead.