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Ray Cobbett interview: Early years

To start, please could you give your full name, date and place of birth.

Raymond Brian Cobbett, 21 July 1938, Charing Cross Hospital, London.

What were your parents’ names, their backgrounds and how big was your family?

I was orphaned before the age of two and then adopted by the Cobbett family whose name I share now. They lived in Wimbledon Park. Soon after, we all moved to Ridley Road in South Wimbledon for the rest of the war so I have some memories of that. My father worked for the railway. I’m not sure what my mother did and my sister, Vera, went eventually into the Women’s Royal Air Force. My father’s name was Stephen and my mother’s was Violet. .

Can you tell us anything about your father’s job?

He worked at Nine Elms Railway depot. He wasn’t a driver but something to do with freight loading and worked there for quite a long time.

What year did you move to Wimbledon and where did you go to school?

We arrived in 1940 and my school was in Russell Road, the Roman Catholic school which is still there.

What do you recall most about that school?

I remember it was fairly strict, more so then than now from what I hear about schools nowadays. We were told off for doing virtually everything.  During air raids we took shelter in the cellars of the Wimbledon theatre which. I remember running into whenever the sirens sounded.  After the war finished and VE Day came and went, life began to settle down and took on a normal school routine.

How long were you at that school?

Pretty well all my 10 years of school life. It was 1943 and I was five when I joined the school and stayed there until I was 15. I did most of my further education after leaving St Mary’s. At that time there was no secondary modern system. There was the 11+ which I didn’t get through. Had I done so I would have gone on to King’s College School which was the option for Catholic families.

Note: King's College School. He means Wimbledon College - that was (is) the Catholic one, not King’s.

Do you remember any particular teachers and what hobbies did you have?

I remember some. The head-teacher was a lady called Miss Bryant. I never knew her first name but “Miss” was the preferred form of address. 

There was Miss Mulvaney who taught music, Miss Flaxman who taught English and possibly drama and country dancing. There was a man called Mr Howarth, a maths teacher. Although it was only a ten-year education it was quite adequate and stood me in good stead for my later life.