telephones and doodlebugs


A walk up London Road Kingston

London Road runs for about a mile from Kingston-Upon-Thames town centre to Kingston Hill.

Stanley Adams, my late father, was thirty-one years old when war broke out. Luckily, he was involved in essential war production with Celestion and was classed as being in a reserved occupation. As such, he was not enlisted and would not have been called up till one month after the war ended. He was required to do Air Raid Precaution duties. One day, in 1944, he and another chap walked up London Road Kingston. I follow that same jouney here.

We start at the place called The Elite, at the Kingston End of London Road, where we see a horrible pile of twelve red, London telephone boxes left there by artist David March. The Elite cinema has long gone, the site now being occupied by Wilkinson's department store. Our view down London Road is one of the least-changed in the Kingston Area. On the right, we see the old police station, in use from 1864 to 1968. Like many local people, I became familiar with the interior. London Road is a quiet cul-de-sac now but in the Sixties, I was pulling away from the lights, after eleven at night, when a police car passed me going like a rocket, shaking my old '54 Ford Consul like a leaf.

The Oxfam shop is said to be historic, built in 1660, and the shop next door was, for decades the place where we got our leather shoes repaired. The area retains some of it's historic feeling, with several small businesses.

On the left we find the Cleaves Almshouses built for six poor men and six poor women in 1669. On the opposite side is a shop selling vinyl records, together with the Fighting Cocks pub, a well known comedy venue.

We join the main road. Opposite is Kingston Grammar School. Next door to it is a new art gallery, sometimes open to the public on Saturday mornings.

On the left side we encounter the marvellous Lovekyn Chapel, founded by that gentleman in 1309 and established as the original grammar school by Queen Elizabeth 1st in 1561.

Next we encounter Tiffin School, established as late as 1880, but incorporating an 18th century house.

The right side of the road has been rebuilt in recent years. Notable is the stainless steel sculpture of 1980 by David Wynne, depicting three leaping salmon - three fishes being the symbol of Kingston On Thames. The sculpture is a companion to the Boy With A Dolphin on The Embankment in London. On the left we see a couple of interesting industrial buildings, the sort of thing that has dissapeared elsewhere. I seem to remeber that McMurdo had premises here. On the right side we see an old-established cycle dealership. The well-known horologist - maker of clocks - has gone.

Staying on the right side of the road, we cross at the lights and come to St Peter's Church where my father and his companion had an experience that you and I would not wish to repeat. As they crossed, they heard a distinctive sound - a sort-of purring or two-stroke sound. It was a flying bomb - a V.1 - a doodlbug. These un-manned aircraft were set off from the other side of the channel. They were powered by a pulse jet - hence the sound - and kept on course by a gyroscope. They were the first of Hitler's terror weapons. The machine passed overhead and the sound died down. Then the impossible happened. The machine turned round and came back. So far as I know, this malfunction was unique. As it came back into view, the motor cut out, meaning that some poor soul might have fifteen seconds to live. My father and his companion scrambled behind the wall of St Peter's Church. There was a huge blast as the machine went down in Birkenhead Avenue, just over the back. Cursing and swearing the two lucky escapees peered over the wall, only to come face-to-face with the old vicar, with dishevelled cassock, covered in debris, and dusting himself down, having been on the wrong side of the wall. "By jove lads," he said, "that was close!" The joke ends there. On hearing the sound of the engine returning, a gentleman in Birkenhead Avenue called for people in the street to take shelter in his house. They did - the house suffered a direct hit and everyone died. The bombed site was one of the last in this area to be replaced by new housing. To this day, many houses in this area retain wobbly, so-called, doodlebug glass in their windows. This glass was produced quickly, in large quantities, to fulfill wide demand and wasn't polished properly. You can sometimes see air bubbles in it.

We approach the road junction known as Snapper's Corner. This area is now subject to considerable development and most of the old buildings have gone. Michael Snapper was an antiques dealer who ran the hotel on Eel-Pie Island, when that building was used as a venue, frequently played at by The Rolling Stones rock group. The showroom was considered very modern in it's use of plate glass, and was only demolished a few decades ago. Previous occupiers included the carpenter Henry Thair and the confectioner Charlotte Bouchard.

On the left, near this junction, was a historic house known as Snapper's Castle, which was indeed owned by the other Michael Snapper. Next were the premises of V.W. Derrington, well known in the 50s, 60s and 70s as suppliers of competition parts for BMC engines. Victor Derrington actually started in the 1920s, supplying parts to Brooklands drivers, especially the mandatory lozenge-shaped Brooklands silencer. He achieved some success on the Brooklands "Mountain" circuit, driving a beautiful 1100cc French Salmson, which remained in his possession up to his death in 1972. Those buildings were demolished to make way for a controversial bus station, which quite soon gave way to a d.i.y. centre, which still stands. The V.W. Derrington works survive in nearby Clifton Road.

We pass under the railway bridge and soon arrive at Norbiton, now a small collection of shops. A few years ago several notable works were situated here - Prince Machines, who supplied parts for car engines, Alan Dudley Ward who tuned racing motorcycles, and Hiwatt, developers of the famous Marshall guitar amplifier, which used valves. Hiwatt were at 16 Park Road. We arrive at Kingston Hill, the end of our walk up London Road.

There were several notable local cyclists: a man who raced high bikes against man and horse, his contemporary, Happy Jack Keen, Mr Locke, a racer who ran a cycle business in Hampton Wick for many years, Cyril Wren, another racer, with a shop at 78, Richmond Road, Ernie Roberts, who raced using home-made wooden rims and was the Club Professional at Home Park Golf Club in the late twenties and, most well-remembered of all, "Poor Jack" or "Set 'em Alight". This legendary character was suspected of suffering a condition called St Vitus' Dance. He rode an ordinary - a penny-farthing bike - right up to the Twenties, and could often be seen slowly riding between Tolworth and Kingston. As he rode, he shouted at dogs and children and shook his fist at them. His condition caused him to jerk his head back over one of his shoulders, continually, yet he stayed on the bike. Happy Jack Keen may have raced at the track in Surbiton, established in 1880, which is now the Victoria Recreation Grounds, in Balaclava Road.

Happy Jack Keen at wikipedia

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