Memories of Slades Hill in 1938 and through the Second World War.
Jack Brown (former resident, now aged 96) writes from Yorkshire having moved there in 2002.
I was a London boy, born and bred when, at the age of 14, my father retired from the Metropolitan Police and my family moved to the Slades Hill valley. These notes are my memories just before the outbreak of the Second World War – which would change so many things for all of us.
In Victorian times the area was known as ‘Frogs Bottom’; probably because, before the bridge was built in 1862, there was a ford over the brook and it was prone to flooding. It was provided by the Council with £200 paid by Sir Alfred Somerset, the last private owner of Enfield Court, for permission to realign the footpath known as Brattells Walk (between the Court and Baker Street) to give him more land. He then planted a line of trees which still define the border of the Grammar School estate. At that time the valley was famous for its cowslips and frogs and this and the cold wet mists which still form in the valley in the winter must be how the name originated. If you read chapter VIII of ‘A lost village’ by Henrietta Cresswell the writer describes a delightful walk from Winchmore Hill, down Worlds End Lane to the bottom of the hill, before the bridge was built.
In 1938 the area south towards London was covered in newly built or developing estates, and at that time there seemed no end to the encroachment of the green fields to the north. Our new home, (price £830, mortgage £4.7s.9d a month) was on the Wimpey Estate, now known as Enfield Rd, Trentwood Side, Elmer Close and Grafton Rd and built on the land of a house known as The Chase (formerly Chase Cottage). It had been a large two storey building with servants, a drive and out-buildings and, in the 19th century, had been the home of a military man named Major General A.L. Walker, who had served in China with Chinese ‘Gordon of Khartoum’ and was his friend. In the early 20th century it had been the home of the Eberstein family who belonged to the Enfield Chase Hunt, which often met in the drive.
Grafton Rd was being built and the road and services had been laid out. It was where Wimpeys had their store of wooden poles which took up a lot of space. It was still possible to make out some of the garden of the old house. On the west of the estate where the prefabs were to be built after the war (later to be replaced with the permanent houses that exist today) there was the remains of the old orchard. The field to the north and east, with the Merryhills brook going through it, must have been the pasture for the horses and there was also a Victorian rubbish dump, mostly broken bottles.
When the estate was laid out there was a problem with the brook that ran right through it and Elmer Close, Grafton Rd and Enfield Rd had very small gardens for that time. To comply with regulations Wimpeys came to an agreement with the Council and the field was nominated an open space. At the beginning of the war the Council dug trenches for shelters but they quickly got waterlogged so were filled in for allotments.
An interesting feature of the old estate was a pair of gateposts to the drive that stood in the bushes of the verge opposite No 51 Enfield Rd until they finally rotted away about thirty years ago. In this verge there were still several tall pine trees that must have been planted in Victorian times and, soon after we moved in, one was cut down probably because it interfered with the overhead telephone wires. The felling was done by a man with a large sharp axe (no buzz saws in those days) and I remember my Mother persuading me to collect the large white pine chips that made excellent kindling for the fires we all had. One selling point of these Wimpey houses was that they were all a bit different in an attempt to break away from the rows of identical houses being built at that time, and these small differences can still be seen.
Up the road, towards Oakwood (then called Enfield West) Laings had bought the South Lodge Estates and, by 1938, had demolished the old house and laid out roads and services over the whole estate right down to Boxers Lake. Most of the building was still in the north of the estate but some buyers had chosen special sites and there were a few isolated houses round the lake. These were eventually surrounded years later (after the war) by other houses but can still be made out as older style. At the junction of Merryhills and Lonsdale Drive, Laings had built an estate office and during the war this was an auxiliary fire station, later changed to a clinic and then demolished to make way for the houses that stand there today.
The pond by Lakeside was always an attractive feature, but it was larger and deeper in those days. On the other hand, Boxers Lake had a very neglected and isolated look. Only the east of the island was clear of rushes, which covered the whole of the water to the west. It was possible to walk across to the island on boards laid in the rushes – which had a bad smell, particularly in hot weather. Timber was cheap in those days and lots of large pieces from the Laings building sites found their way to the lake and were enthusiastically made into rafts by local boys, including me. Some were well made and some hardly held together, but there were always one or two that could be poled about provided you could draw one near the edge and get on.
At the east side of the lake the earth dam (covered by grass and bush) built to make the lake in the days of the South Lodge estates, was clearly discernible, being eight or nine foot wide at the top and falling rapidly to a hollow, which was filled in thirty years ago to make the playground that exists today. Boyish attempts were sometimes made to dig a channel across the top, but as the water level was some way down at that spot they were always unsuccessful. There were plenty of frogs and I recall one summer when thousands of little frogs all emerged on the bank at the same time, so you had to be careful where you put your feet. Nobody seemed to mind what skylarking went on at Boxers Lake and it was a boy’s paradise.
Behind the Jolly Farmers, in Linkside, the bungalows were going up fast and Bincote road was almost completed; linking with Worlds End Lane which, up to then, had finished by the brook, hence the name. The old lane was unlighted and cycling along it in the dark was a hazardous business, particularly during the black-out, and you had to look for the white painted stones which occasionally marked the edge.
Up Slades Hill, Windmill Gardens had been finished a few years earlier and on the other side of the hill Slades Rise was being built. The cottages on the south side had been there for ages and on the west side of the bridge there was still a row of four terraced cottages, the last one having been the old Jolly Farmers beer house. The new pub was already built behind the cottages, which were demolished later to make part of the car park. The old hawthorn hedge in front of the cottages had white paling fences which have now gone but you can still see part of the old hedge just by the bridge.
In the 1890s there were already sewers down Windmill Hill but to cater for the growing demand for water closets, in the Hadley Wood and West Ridgeway areas, a new sewer was laid, starting at the bottom of Stag Hill and following the level of the Salmons Brook on its way to the Lea valley. At that time there were some differences between the Enfield and Edmonton Councils and Enfield could not get agreement that the new sewer could cross Edmonton area. As a result a pumping station was built at the bottom of Slades Hill with a tank below to collect the sewage until there was sufficient to pump it up the hill and release it down the Windmill Hill sewers.
A gas supply was laid on down Slades Hill and a gas engine pump installed, with a detached cottage next-door, to house the pump man, whose job it was to start the pumps when necessary. After a few years the differences between the Councils were resolved and the sewer extended as originally planned, leaving the pumping station and cottage redundant. They were still there in 1938 and they still are today, with the pumping station used as a garage.
Opposite the pub is the lane up to the rifle club, which had been there since before the Great War. It was still a dirt lane, and on the right there were three tennis clubs each with its own small pavilion. There was one right of the lane before the brook, another on the far side of the brook and a third in the far right corner. At the crest of Hog Hill, where the gun emplacements were later to be built, there was a cricket pitch and a small pavilion belonging to the North Enfield Club. It was not the ideal cricket site, on the top of a hill, and I knew somebody who played there jokingly said that if a fast bowler took a long run he appeared to come up over the brow.
On a 1658 map what we now call the Salmon Brook was called the Hog Hill Brook. On an even earlier map it was called Stebbings but I think that when the Ordinance Survey maps came along in the 19th century all the old names went and brooks kept the same name right through different districts: tidied up, as it were.
Where the shops and flats are now, between Linkside and Cotswold Way, was open space, later to be allotments until about 1950, and by a large oak tree there was an old fashioned horse-drawn tea wagon with large wooden wheels and a flap that was let down where local building workers could get a cup of tea and a bun.
In Victorian times, the road from the top of the hill to East Barnet was all called the East Barnet Road. At the turn of the century a family named Slade had the Jolly Farmers beerhouse and the hill became known as Slades Hill. In 1938 it was still called the East Barnet Road up to the top of Cat Hill. The road from the bottom of Slades Hill up to the station was tarmac without kerb-stones and most of the way with only one footpath on the north side. The only bus service was the 107 which went from the George at Enfield to Arkley Hotel, Barnet. The fare from the Farmers to Enfield West station (later changed to Oakwood) was one penny and a light came on at the ends of the canopy when a train came in so that if there was a bus outside the driver would know and could wait for the passengers getting off. There was also a large notice on the far side of the road, visible to people as they came out of the station, telling them that Enfield Town was two and a half miles away. The bus would stop anywhere to let you get off and it could be hailed anywhere along the route, although there were designated stops.
Half way to the Farmers one of the fields on the north side was rented by Kinlochs as a sports field, with a pavilion backing onto the road and a large wooden sign over the gate with Kinlochs on it. In the field opposite the station there was an old barn backing onto the railway that was the last remaining outbuilding of the old Westpole Farm, itself demolished to make way for the cutting through which the track now runs. The farm was rebuilt and is now a riding stables. Further down along the brook there was a small copse of trees full of beehives.
Where Merryhills School would be built there was a derelict nursery, still with lots of flowers in its neglected grounds that were happily collected by new residents to help fill their new gardens. It was at this time I saw my first snake down by the brook at Worlds End Lane. Over the fifty years when I had an allotment on Trentwood Side I saw many grass snakes, mostly swimming in the Merryhills brook; and even found one or two dead ones. On one summer day in the early 1990s I went down to the plot with my grandson, Phil and we were startled to see a large grass snake, about three foot long and quite thick, coiled with a large toad in its mouth. The toad had blown itself up and in no way was the snake going to be able to swallow it so they just sat there. Phil asked what we should do and I said we would let nature sort it out and just watch. After a while the snake gave up and let go. The toad went off one way and the snake the other. In my opinion Snakes Lane which runs from Oakwood to Trent Park was named with good reason.
The nearest shops were either Windmill Hill or the newly built parade at Oakwood. A lot of them were still empty and remained so until after the War but Express Dairy, Normans the butcher, Cricks the greengrocer and Murrays the newsagents quickly come to mind. During the war one of these empty shops was used by the Methodist Church for services and people in the flat above used to complain when the congregation was in full voice. The new Church was built in Westpole Ave.
The houses on the corner of Trentwood Side at the Bincote Road junction had been laid back diagonally by Wimpeys to allow for a large roundabout to be built. This was part of a traffic scheme to allow traffic on the west of Enfield to get access to the newly built Cambridge Road without going through Enfield Town. It involved upgrading Worlds End Lane, Bincote Road and Trentwood Side which were both built as wide roads, and then over the fields crossing The Ridgeway and eventually down Tenniswood Road, also wide, crossing Willow Road with a large roundabout still there today, on its way to the Cambridge Road. The War came along, and then the Green Belt, and it was never completed; so we are left with fragments. The present roundabout at the junction of Enfield and Bincote Roads was built about thirty years ago.
A gun emplacement of the type in use at Slades Hill.
After the Munich crisis in 1938 a half battery of 3.7 inch mobile guns were set up in the fields at the back of Trentwood Side and the crews were housed in the almost finished houses behind us. I remember my Father and I laughing because my Mother and Sister were shocked that the War Dept did not provide curtains. The guns went after Chamberlain returned but when the war started a permanent gun-site was built in the Slades Hill valley. They were four, 4.5 inch naval type anti-aircraft guns set in concrete emplacements, together with ammunition stores, control rooms and shelters; all on the top of Hog Hill where the old cricket pavilion had stood. The old dirt lane up to the Rifle Range was concreted and carried on up to the guns at the top of the hill. Lower down, between the guns and the Salmon Brook, a complete road lay out was made for the standard army huts to house the crews together with Headquarter Block, kitchens, canteens etc; each with a very strong five foot high brick blast wall round it. The whole site was wired off with an entrance permanently manned by sentries. The 4.5 gun was one of our largest AA guns and fired a shell about 12 miles or had a ceiling of 44,000 feet and they were part of the outer London gun belt. It was the 469 Battery Heavy Royal Artillery P section served by both male and female gunners, with the other half of the battery at Whetstone.
Women at the gun emplacement off Camp Road; Sgt Mary Churchill (latterly Lady Soames) reclining at front.
In 1941 Churchill’s daughter Mary who was a sergeant in the ATS was posted to the site and served there for some time. On one occasion her father visited the site and the word got round so a small group of locals gave him a cheer at the bottom of the lane. There was a story that he laid some bricks (which he had done at Chartwell) on some construction going on locally. Mary, now Lady Soames, remembers this and the amusement it caused.
She was there from Oct 1941 to 1942 so she missed the big London Blitz, in the winter of 1940 to 1941, when London was bombed for 57 consecutive nights – and the Slades Hill guns were in action every one of those nights. The valley was a very noisy place to be during the raids and in our back bedroom we were near enough if the wind was in the right direction to hear all the laying instructions, and then the order to fire. If they were pointing over our houses the shells sounded like tube-trains going over and we jokingly used to say we opened the back and front widows for them to go through.
Bomb Damage on Links Rise.
After the war the guns were taken away and all the huts made into an Army record Office and were all connected with wooden corridors. In the early 60s it closed and the huts were put up for auction. One was purchased, together with a length of corridor, by the 19th St Mary’s Scout Group for a few hundred pounds. It had to be demolished and taken off site and the Rifle Club agreed that it could be stored (it was a lot of sections and timbers) on their site until somewhere was found to rebuild it. Eventually Ian McLeod our local MP, who previously had a daughter in St Mary’s Guides, got the Council to allocate part of the Trentwood Side allotment and it was re-erected down the lane behind the houses in Enfield Road, where it is today.
When the Cambridge Roundabout road-building was done, thousands of tons of spoil was dumped where the huts had stood and completely covered the road network. In the early seventies a group started a motor cycle club for teenagers in the sunken part of the actual gun site but had to stop because of the noise. Later a lot of the actual gun emplacements and buildings were covered with dumping before it was stopped. If it is not built on, future archaeologists will have a field day.
This is the text-only version of this page. Click here to see this page with graphics.
Edit this page | Manage website
Make Your Own Website: 2-Minute-Website.com