Here I have recorded as much as I can remember of the Friars Avenue neighbors during my childhood years.
Because this stretch of Friars Avenue was new-built in 1948-49, everyone moved in at pretty much the same time. These were nuclear families: Dad, Mum, kids. There wasn't much of an age span: the parents were mostly in their thirties or forties, the kids ranged from newborn to mid-teen. For more on the sociology of the estate, see the "Life" page.
The family immediately to our east, at No. 60, was the Longdons. Bob and Gladys Longdon had a son, Bobby, older than me; a daughter, Barbara, just about my age; another daughter, Christine, three or four years younger than Barbara — I can dimly remember Christine being born — a still younger daughter, Janet; and a late arrival, Jackie.
We didn't mix with the Longdons much in my childhood. My parents considered them a bit "rough"; and they held the corresponding prejudice against us — i.e. that we were stuck-up snobs. In later years, however, our families became closer. When I was a cash-strapped student in London, Bob Longdon would give me lifts down to "the Smoke" in the trucks he drove for a living. Later still, after he retired, he would come round and play cribbage with my Dad. Bob died of a heart attack when I was abroad in the early 1970s. They called my mother in, as all our neighbors did in medical emergencies, she being the only trained nurse in the neighborhood. Mum found Bob fighting for breath in the front room of No. 60; but he was gone before anything could be done. I remember him as a large, strong, but kindly man, not much given to conversation.
Gladys had died some years earlier, from cancer. After Bob died, the house passed to Janet, the youngest daughter. Janet had a son, Paul, out of wedlock by a fellow named Wayne Parry. Wayne was married at the time. He soon got a divorce. He and Janet then married, on Boxing Day 1973. A year or two later they had a second child, Emma. Janet trained as a nurse. She was quiet, friendly, and unassuming. For some reason, though, Paul did not get on with his parents. When my wife and I lived at No. 62 in late 1990, Paul was estranged from Janet and Wayne — quite bitterly, to judge from neighborhood talk, and an incident I witnessed, when Paul was actually turned away from the door (by Wayne).
The Northampton Chronicle & Echo for Tuesday, April 2, 1991 ran a front-page headline: Mum finds pair dead in house. The accompanying story is here. Wayne had killed both Emma and the family dog, by strangulation and/or asphyxiation (with plastic bags). Then he had killed himself, by what means I do not know. Rosie and I had sold No. 62 shortly before and moved to London. I had assured the purchasers of No. 62 that Friars Avenue was a quiet street where nothing ever happened.
The other, eastern, half of that house — No. 58 — was occupied by Fred and Mary Allen. They had a son, Barry, some years older than me, and a daughter, Lorraine, the same age as my sister Judith (i.e. a couple of years older than myself). Lorraine was called "Bubbles" by everybody, I don't know why. She had a defective heart, and died in her early teens. Bubbles was my sister's best childhood friend. Mary Allen and my mother were good friends, too. They used to exchange kitchenware (and, according to my mother in later years, birth control advice), sit gossiping in each other's kitchens, and if either family was away on vacation, the other would keep an eye on the empty house.
[A vivid memory from my early childhood — I suppose I was three or four — is of going with my mother to the Allens' house while they were away one summer. Mary had left some meat in the oven on a roasting tray and forgotten it. The tray was a seething mass of maggots. I can still see the darn thing in my mind's eye. My mother, who had seen far worse things than maggots in her nursing career, dealt with it briskly.]
Mary was from the Kings Lynn area of northern Norfolk. She had a ripe Norfolk accent we enjoyed trying to imitate. Fred, who worked as a projectionist at the Savoy Cinema in town, was incorrigibly good-natured — I don't recall ever seeing him so much as frown. In the early or middle 1970s Fred and Mary retired to a mobile home in Snettisham, a village on the Norfolk coast. My mother used to go and stay with them there. Fred died suddenly of a heart attack on October 23, 1977.
Looking back, I see now that the Allens were a very devoted couple. If that is right, then all the good luck of the family was in their closeness. Not only did poor Bubbles die young, Barry went off to the U.S.A., where he attained great success in some technical field and settled in Portland, Oregon; but Mary always grumbled that he neglected them after leaving home, and acted snobbishly towards them. Possibly this was just the complaint of a mother getting less than what she thought her due. It is certainly a fact, though, that this kind of severance was rather common among the successful children of working-class people; so much so that the contrary phenomenon — the wealthy pop star who "took care of his Mum and Dad" — could always be sure of good coverage in the British tabloid press, whatever other sins he committed. A childhood in the English lower classes either makes you a snob, or gives you a hyper-acute lifelong allergy towards snobbery.
The Stents and the Sansomes
The house east of the Allens was occupied by the Stents (No. 56) and the Sansomes (No. 54). Bill and Mary Stent had an older boy, also I think called Bobby, and a daughter about my age named Hazel. The Sansomes had a boy about my age, John Sansome, and a daughter whose name I think was Maureen.
East of the Sansomes' house was a small N-S path — a "jitty" in the local dialect — leading through to the eastern end of Friars Close. East of the jitty on Friars Avenue lived an irascible "old" man whose name was Perrett or Perrit … and my eastward knowledge of the neighbors peters out right there. That "old" is a child's perception; Mr. Perrett/Perrit may have been no more than forty.
In the west half of our structure, No. 64, lived the Starmers. Tom Starmer was a butcher by trade. He was also, though, an indefatigable handyman. His back garden was the best in the neighborhood, with every kind of flower, fruit, and vegetable imaginable growing in it somewhere. He paved the southernmost part of the back garden, fenced it off with a trellis, and had climbing plants on the trellis. His back shed was a carpenter's workshop: a cabinet-makers, actually — I can recall him turning chair legs on a lathe. Tom was taciturn, always busy, a heavy smoker, and died of a strangulated hernia.
The Starmers had a son Tony, a few years older than me, and another son, Peter, just my age. Peter Starmer and I were best friends all through my childhood years. It probably helped that we went to different schools: mine was the local elementary school down in Far Cotton, but the Starmers were Roman Catholic, so Peter attended a parochial school in the town. Of Tony Starmer I remember nothing but his playing early-1950s pop music on a gramophone by the wall dividing our two living-rooms, at a volume that made my parents grumble. (That wall was not thick. The neighborhood joke was, if the people next door pushed an electric plug into their wall socket, your plug fell out.)
I am not clear about when the Starmers moved out. In the early 1980s there was a family named Taylor living in No. 64.
The Swindells, Davises, Bateses, and Finnises
In the house west of Starmers — two semi-detached dwellings, remember — lived a family called Witt, Witts, Wick, or Wicks at No. 66, then the Swindellses at No. 68. I knew neither family well, though Mr. Swindell enjoyed some minor celebrity in the street, being the only inhabitant known to have done time in jail, I forget what for. Beyond them was the Davis or Davies family at No. 70, Fred and Betty Bates and their family at No. 72, and the Finnis family at No. 74. I am vague about the kids down there, who we didn't play with much. The Swindells had a daughter named Diane, older than me; the Davis/Davies family had a daughter named Marion, my age; the Bateses had two boys, the older I think named Roger; the Finnises a boy my age called Dicky — a natural comedian, irrepressibly mischievous.
The Smiths and Ratcliffes
On the south side of Friars Avenue, the family directly opposite us was the Ratcliffes, Bernard and Gladys. They had a son Michael, a year or two older than me, and a daughter Maureen, somewhat younger.
The Ratcliffes shared a structure with the Smiths at their east. John Smith was my age, and my second most constant playmate, after Peter Starmer. He had an older sister, Pat. In the street kids' pecking order, John Smith was considered prosperous — "spoiled," our parents of course said — and excited some mild envy in us because of the quantity and quality of his toys. I remember having a vague idea, based on his wealth and sophistication, that he might be American. (He wasn't.)
The Smiths had the first TV in our street, and I remember the excitement of going over there to watch Shirley Abicair and Muffin the Mule. (The Derbyshires got their first TV in 1957 or 1958, when I was already in secondary school.)
The Smiths moved out sometime in the 1960s — I have no precise idea — and their house was subsequently occupied by a Mr. & Mrs. Sturgess.
The Blands with their twelve kids were a house or two to the east of the Smiths. The rest of the south side is sketchy. Down to the west, but before the corner, one of the houses (that is, two-family structures) was occupied by the Cadds and the Iveses. Mrs. Cadd was a forthright Scottish lady; I have no recollection of Mr. Cadd. They had a son Kenny, a witty and mischievous boy about my age, and an older daughter named June. The Ives family, in the west side of that structure, I hardly knew. The mother, Margaret Ives, was a quiet and kindly lady. When my own mother was in residential care during her last years, Mrs. Ives used to go and visit her, and run small errands for her. I have a very vague recollection that Mrs. Ives was religiously devout in some way, but this may be a false memory. The Iveses had a son I never knew, and a daughter also named Margaret.
Further west, in the corner house on the south side, were the Mordecais, who I suppose must have been Jewish, though I can't recall anyone ever saying so, or making any kind of point of it. George Mordecai (always "Georgie") was a couple of years my senior.
"Across the gardens" — that is, their back gardens abutting on our, their houses being in Friars Close — were the Longhursts and the Cobbinses.
The Longhursts, who lived in the house directly across from our back garden (i.e. in Friars Close) had a son named Trevor, about my age. We occasionally played together. Trevor used to vex my parents by standing at his back fence looking the length of our garden as we ate our Sunday dinner. Possibly he witnessed the famous mustard-pot episode. One Sunday my mother had a falling-out with my father over dinner. She vented her feelings by hurling the mustard-pot at him. It missed, and shattered on the wall.
I have no distinct memory of the Cobbins family, who lived diagonally "across the gardens" — NNE or NE of us. My mother was friendly with Mrs. Cobbins, but I can't remember why. There was a daughter with an odd name that I also can't remember (Keta?) and a son named Michael, who emigrated to Australia.
Taking the "Far Cotton School pupil photos from 1900 to 1962" link from this page brings up several of the above-named kids of my generation.
The "1954 PE" link shows Bob Longdon, my classmate Sheila Campbell, and Fred Adams, our headmaster at Far Cotton County Primary School.
The "1955 Football" link on that same page brings up a group photograph mostly of boys from the year above mine (though my classmate Richard Webb got on the team), including Michael Ratcliffe. Colin Marriott, in the second row, taught me the f-word and told me the first dirty joke I ever heard — the one about Johnny Fuccarada being busy behind the garden shed with a female acquaintance when his mother calls him in to dinner.
The "1955 Form 12" link, again on that same page, brings up a class photograph of the year above mine, showing Margaret Ives, June Cadd, and Michael Ratcliffe. For bonus points it also shows Valerie Clarke, the first woman I was ever in love with, though the photographer's art deserted him there.