Memories from Minet... a 50's childhood on the Railway Estate

by
MIKE ABBOTT

My parents moved to Hayes in June 1952 from West Ealing. My father was a railwayman and in 1940 he married my mother.

Because of the war he was in a �reserve occupation� and wasn�t �called up�. The war also meant that landlords couldn�t exploit those that had to live near their place of work and those made homeless due to bombing. Although not bombed out, my parents benefitted and they found themselves living in a rather well appointed maisonette in Cavendish Avenue, Ealing. In 1951 restrictions on rents were lifted, and my father pressed hard for a house on one of the GWR railway estates at Acton or Hayes. In early 1952 we were offered 19 Minet Drive, Hayes.

The house, 19 Minet Drive, was built by the GWR in the 1920s, along with similar estates at Acton and Plymouth, and only railway employees could live in the houses, which were rented at a subsidised rate. I was to learn later that it called itself the Hayes Garden Village but never found out why. The land had been bought by the GWR from a landowner and farmer, called Minet, hence the name of our road. Minet Drive was the middle of three major roads running east west on the estate with a series of smaller roads and cul-de-sacs linking all three. The other two main roads on the estate were called Hunters Grove, the first to be built, and Birchway, the last to be built, which had a more uptodate house design. All three roads ran into the major north-south road � Coldharbour Lane - that linked Hayes town with the Uxbridge Road. Coldharbour ran into Station Road which in turn ran into Harlington High Street eventually intersecting with the A4 Bath Road just north of Heathrow Airport, then just a vast expanse of open land with the old RAF buildings running along the Bath Road.

Tiddlers in the brook

At the bottom, and on the left-hand side of Minet Drive, as I was to later learn, was a large area of open land, part of the estate, plus a �club house� - Glenister Hall - all accessed from Minet Drive via an access road. Directly opposite, on the other side of Minet Drive, was the Howell and Hall bakery, a large single-storey building. At the bottom of the road was a council waste tip and overnight parking facility for the council�s dustcarts. Beyond that was Yeading Brook, which ran into the River Crane, and fields (sacrificed in the seventies to make way for the Cranford Parkway) stretching east to the border with Southall. Closer to the mid fifties �our gang� of sons of railwaymen would occasionally, in summer, go through the council yard and paddle in Yeading Brook and try to catch �tiddlers� in jam jars. We would also go into the yard of Howell and Hall and I recall one sunny summer Sunday afternoon, unperturbed by the wasps, pulling out of the Howell and Hall yard, back down along Minet Drive, a large wooden box that had once been full of currants. It sat outside our back door for ages and on a prominent nail I cut myself badly above the left knee. It left a scar that can still be seen today.

At some very early stage after moving to Hayes we acquired �Towser� � a very friendly, elderly and lovable jet black Cocker Spaniel. Towser belonged to an aunt � my maternal grandmother�s sister - and her husband. Old aged pensioners, they lived in South Acton and early one morning, while on her way to the shops, my aunt was knocked down and killed on a pedestrian crossing on the Uxbridge Road. It left my uncle on his own in a modest flat a few floors above street level and unable to look after Towser so my mother volunteered to take the dog. I recall the photograph taken outside the front door of 19 Minet Drive on the morning of aunt�s funeral � my mother in a winter�s coat with a large fur collar with Towser alongside her. Towser lived to the late fifties when he died of old age but was soon replaced by a pedigree, high spirited, Springer Spaniel in white with mid brown patches whose pet name was Nicky. He lived through to the mid sixties before dying of old age, my mother replacing him with the first of two miniature pedigree Dachshunds, both named Heidi.

To the north of the railway estate was a farm. Its gates opened out onto Coldharbour Lane and my walk to Townfield school would take in the view of cows being led to or from sheds. Sandwiched between the farm and Birchway was a petrol station, the local doctor�s surgery, the Botwell Brotherhood church hall and, tucked away at the back of the farm, the Minet clinic and school. My brother went to the school before going onto Primary School.

Townfield was a ten minute walk from home along Coldharbour Lane. On arrival in Hayes, I went into the junior or primary school and, at 11, having failed my 11-plus exam, went onto the senior school. Townfield nestled on the corner of a vast council housing estate and the schoolchildren came mainly from the estate although it also pulled children from north of the Uxbridge Road.

Further along Coldharbour Lane was St Christopher�s � a borstal � on the south-eastern corner of Coldharbour and Uxbridge Road junction. It remained there for many decades before being sold in the `eighties for development. The land once occupied by St Christopher�s is now a shopping precinct with a Sainsbury�s, a Macdonald�s and a Pizza Hut.

Boys smoked in the shelters

One of my earliest recollections of Townfield was soon after arrival in May 1952, sitting in the art class on a hot day with sunblinds down and drawing a horse and getting complimented on its accuracy. On another occasion there must have been an eclipse since we were all herded into the junior school playground and given smoked glass to view the sun disappearing. And later in the summer of 1952 we were all put on buses and taken to a cinema to see a film of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

At some stage in the early `fifties school calendar was the long-since abandoned �Empire Day� and I recall the whole school being given half a day off in celebration.

In the grounds of Townfield were air raid shelters, ranged along the Coldharbour Lane side of the school field. These were low, squat-like structures built from large oblongs of stone. Inside, unlit, were stacked old school desks. We were forbidden to go inside but we did. In fact, in many of these shelters, older boys had claimed them as a safe haven to smoke cigarettes.

There were three entrances to the school. One, from Coldharbour Lane, one from Central Avenue, the main drag that ran north-south through the council estate, and the third, from the junior school, running out onto East Avenue. From Coldharbour Lane, the main buildings were on the left.

Townfield's vast fields...

First came the junior school building, then the larger senior school buildings, two since boys and girls were educated separately, then opposite the girls school building, which also housed the school assembly hall, was a single-storey cream coloured building in which was taught metalwork. Continuing along, at the end of the girls building the road split � left for the boys� building and playground, and - up a slight gradient, passing the caretakers� house - right for the school restaurant, or left for the exit onto Central Avenue.

The main school buildings looked pre-war while the metalwork and restaurant buildings were identical in design and probably post-war. Adjacent to the restaurant building was a wooden hut, the home of the RAF Cadet Force, who looked to recruit from the senior boys. Right of the restaurant and hut was the seemingly vast expanse of Townfield�s playing fields.

I would have sat my 11-plus exam in the summer of 1954 and, having failed, gone up to the senior school in autumn of the same year. I recall one of the boys from Halsway, the next street to Minet Drive, passing the 11-plus �with flying colours� to quote him, and going onto Mellow Lane comprehensive school. The 11-plus rule was very simple - if you were truly exceptional you went to a �grammar� school, if you were acceptable, onto a comprehensive, if you were the dross you went to what was known as a �secondary modern� school. At thirteen came a second chance � at Townfield, if you passed a highly technical exam, you went onto Southall Technical College where you were trained to be a toolmaker, draughtsman or something similar, going onto an apprenticeship in one of the big local employers such as EMI, Fairey Aviation or AEC, the company that made London�s buses. Of course, I failed my 13-plus and remained at Townfield until just after my fifteenth birthday - 1958 - when I gave up on formal education to get a job.

Pictures: Top: exterior of 19 Minet Drive circa 1960; Centre: me, left, with my brother outside front door of 19 Minet Drive, c1955. The uniform is Townfield Junior School, a purple with yellow edging Bottom:Chris my brother also c1955 in football strip in the garden of 19 Minet Drive.

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