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Ray Cobbett interview: School days

You carried on at school until you were 15?

Yes, we had actually moved by then from Ridley Road to 185 The Broadway right in the heart of Wimbledon. Obviously I was that much nearer the school in Russell Road so I walked up and down the Broadway twice a day and got to know it well. At that time we had trams running from the Town Hall to the Elephant and Castle. It was decided to replace them with buses in the early 1950s. This was a time of great fuel shortages and very, very cold winters. When they removed the trams they had to pull the steel rails up which were embedded in wooden tar blocks. I remember the locals following the demolition gang down the Broadway and seizing hold of these tar blocks to put on their fires in place of coal, an exceedingly dangerous thing to do. Embedded in the wood were these sharp stones and when you heated them up, apart from the stink, the stones flew out like bullets. You either had to duck or have a very sturdy guard in front of the fire.

Walking up and down The Broadway I have very fond memories of what was there at that time. Like most young people in those days I had to pull my weight. There were no free rides in the family, everybody had to work and I was usually sent off to do the grocery shopping. That was done at – I think it was called - Copping’s, a grocery shop, just on the corner of King’s Road, right opposite the theatre. [Note: Coppen's, not Copping's. Not actually on the corner, but next to Wheatland's furniture shop, which was on the corner.] I used to love this place because they used to cut the bacon to the prescribed width and pat and pack the lard and the butter into squares. Nothing was pre-packed. You just ordered exactly the amount you wanted. Just down from Copping’s there was a classic hardware shop which had a lovely, seeds, paint and paraffin smell about it. I adored that place. You could buy absolutely everything there.  It might have been called Hughes. [Note: The hardware shop was Allen's Domestic Stores, 88 Broadway, not Hughes, which was of course in Hartfield Road.] But what I do remember is that in among that small parade of shops was the best toy shop I have ever been into. It was Richard’s toy shop.  They sold Dinky toys and Hornby railways, Meccano and Trix construction kits. To a young growing boy these were gifts from heaven. I used to read the Meccano magazine with news of all the latest products, I remember.

Near to where we lived, were the main two cinemas the Gaumont and the ABC Elite. I became an ardent film fan and that is something that stayed with me. I still love films and theatre. The most popular event of the week was inevitably the Saturday morning pictures for us lads and girls. There was the Kings cinema a little bit further up and that was thought to be just a bit ‘continental’ showing what would now be termed art films. They were films by perfectly respectable directors such as, Vittorio De Sica and Maurice Cloche, making what became classics but to some people they were a bit “naughty”. As teenagers we used get in the Kings wearing our fathers’ hats and coats, lowering our voices by several decibels and swearing we were all 16 so that we could see the films. Probably 14 or 15 would have been nearer the mark.

Just down from the Kings cinema was another great hangout for teenage boys, the Temperance Billiard Hall. It was one of the finest billiard halls in South London.

From The Broadway we moved to Kohat Road, off Haydons Road, near to the Wimbledon FC stadium. I was about 11 and it was a. time for new friends, but a little bit further to go to school and a lot of new interests.