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Irene Clarkson interview: Wimbledon memories

Are there any other memories you have of Wimbledon in those early days, the 1920s?

Where cars park now outside St Mary’s Parish Church there used to be a hayfield.
 
When I was a child Canon Munro was the vicar. He had a children’s service at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and he packed that church with children. They came from all over, way outside his parish. When the hay was ready we had a hay party with lemonade and buns. We weren’t as sophisticated as children are now. We had a lovely time once a year.  I think they have one of the modern houses now [as a vicarage] but they used to have a house at the back as the vicarage and there was a tennis court. I remember playing tennis. The youth club of St Mary’s – they didn’t have a hall in those days – they’ve [now] got those two ugly halls that are all right inside but don’t go with anything else -  [but] they had a hall over one of the shops in the village. 
 
I remember as a child being in a play in one of those houses [in Arthur road] and I met Alice in Wonderland, so I am told. I met the child for whom Alice in Wonderland was written. I was told afterwards that this old lady – she wasn’t all that old, probably in her seventies – spoke to us. [Where Hamlet Close now is] I think that must have been the house. People who lived in those big houses had garden parties with a few stalls and we children did “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” in a long drawing room with French windows out on to the garden. We would do the play at one end using the door from the hall to come in and the audience would come in from the garden to watch. We would go off after it was finished to loud applause. This old lady came to talk to us and she pretended to eat the jam tarts. We all giggled politely as well brought up children do.  Years afterwards the little girl who played Alice said “You met Alice in Wonderland” and I said “What are you talking about?” and she said “Remember the old lady who came and spoke to us? That was Alice Liddell [Mrs Alice Hargreaves].” For some reason they obviously knew her. 
 
But the little girl who played Alice, she – or her mother – was descended from the chap who did all the drainage and saved London, [Sir Joseph] Bazalgette [buried in St Mary’s]. It was not unusual in those days, a woman who cut her hair would keep it so this child, who was called Elizabeth, dressed in a white dress and with [her mother’s] hair. She looked like Tenniel’s drawing, she looked lovely. 
 
I was very jealous of the White Rabbit who lived opposite this house. There again there are now several houses on the land but in those days it was a paddock with a pony in it. I was very jealous of that pony. It was in Arthur Road on the right hand side just before you get to the end of Leopold Road. This was at the end of the 1920s.
 
When I first left school I joined a dramatic club but then the war came so everybody went right, left and centre. But I used to go right across to Christ Church because one of my school-friends belonged there. Jack Hobbs lived in the area – the cricketer – and the youth club was run by his daughter Vera. So I went to Christ Church. I think Mrs Hobbs liked moving around. I can’t remember the road [where the Hobbs lived] but it was near Christ Church. I remember going there one Boxing Day (but I also remember going to a flat in Woodside to pick up her daughter-in-law) and another house around there. Then they went to Brighton and I lost track of them. 
 
I do remember when I would be in my teens – churches in those days always had bazaars to raise their money – there was a bazaar and you know Jack Hobbs had a shop in Fleet Street – a sports outfitters – and they did the colours for LSE because I bought my scarf from Hobbs’ shop. For this bazaar he got a cricket bat signed by every member of the Australian team which would include Bradman. It was raffled. I don’t know who won it but I remember putting in my shilling hopefully but I didn’t win it. 
 
Christ Church didn’t have a vicar. Canon Munro seemed to have a lot of young curates – they had priests in charge at these various churches in Wimbledon as far as I can remember but when you are young you are not that interested in how they run things. 
 
Between those two houses [opposite No 34] when I was a child the land was just a passage down the side of that house so that had a bit of triangular garden. Behind [a wall] they had an orchard, so in the spring it was just apple blossom across there. 

The gardens were much bigger in those days, weren’t they?

Some of them were bigger, yes. But you could look straight up [Dora] Road and there was nothing [no traffic or stationary vehicles] there. 
 
Who else had horses? Oh yes, none of the women had washing machines and the Anglo-American Laundry [had] a big van with crossed flags on the side, the Union Jack and the Old Glory, the American flag. They had a pair of horses, one was a grey and one was brown.  As a child, nobody said it but children have the weirdest ideas and as far as I was concerned the white horse was the Anglo and the brown one the American. I remember the van standing outside. 
 
George V’s 25th anniversary [silver jubilee] in 1935, they gave him such a welcome everywhere he allegedly said “I didn’t know they cared”. But if you went on the 77A bus [it] would go all the way to Wandsworth and right down to King’s Cross eventually. Now here, being Wimbledon Park, there wasn’t a banner or flag or anything. But by golly all the way down from Clapham where it was all slum areas on the left they had their sheets out and writing on them. Row after row after row of these little houses with banners and flags the whole way down. 
 
When our first paying guests [were here], these two boys had been at public school together they both had played rugger of course – my Uncle was coming to stay and he was a doctor - they managed to get into this room which is about the same shape with the bow windows and they put their rugger shirts out and draped them out of the window. You can imagine [the reaction] in Wimbledon Park. Shocking. [At the time] you could tip the station man and he would carry your case. So Uncle was coming along with the man carrying his case and he looked up and saw these draped and said “It looks as if they are expecting you, Sir”. Uncle was delighted. It was what he would have done as a medical student himself.