VILLAGE CHILDHOOD FIFTY YEARS AGO by John Knock
A conversation with a neighbour who came to live in Leigh a few years ago led to talk of where we used to play as children. The second world war ended when I was eight, and until reaching the age of all wisdom at fourteen, I and my friends played, scurried and mooched around not only the village but the fields and woods of quite a large area beyond.
The main playing area was, of course, The Green, where we played countless games of cricket and football between ourselves, with ‘pick-up’ sides and counting of runs or goals, until we were too tired, muddied, or bruised to continue. We watched closely the weekend adult matches to see and learn skills (no TV or action replays!) A bit less strenuous was the running about the old brickyard, or ‘bricky’ as it was known, consisting of an area of water filled pits and woods between Lower Green and Kiln Lane down to the railway, now all built up, with only the deep Well pond, ‘the Welly’ now surviving below the line. Hopscotch was played with markings on the road opposite the (now Old) Bakery, with virtually no traffic to disturb us, and I can just remember us beating hoops down Green View Avenue.
The areas of Penshurst Park and Hall Park were well trodden by our youthful footsteps, with our ‘boundary’ stretching up beyond Tapners to Ashour Wood and the long since demolished Quarry Cottage; on the other side of the river Killicks Bank, Well Place and back via Cooks pits and Martins Drive to the slopes of Pauls Hill, where we went tobogganing on home-made sledges in the snow. Blackberries were picked in profusion at the Round Toll up in Penshurst Park for our mothers to bottle or make jam, and sweet chestnuts for roasting gathered in the Chestnut Toll half way up Cinder Hill. Small fish were caught in the London Pond and cut wood collected for firewood stocks from the railway bank. The best holly trees were well known for our family Christmas decorations.
From across the aerodrome at Charcott our ‘territory’ extended to Leigh Park Farm, the pond at Tips Cross for tadpoles, and back down Birdcage Walk or past Home Farm kennels. The footpath behind The Forstall to Meopham Bank corner included a field where we went gleaning in the stubble for corn to take home for the chickens, kept for their eggs. Often we would walk down through Kiln Bank arch to the water meadows, the Iron Bridge and the Straight Mile (now cut in two by the gravel pits). We paddled, and sometimes swam, at Ensfield Bridge, the Shallows at Hayesden, and tragically the old Weir Pool, now replaced by Leigh Sluice and the flood barrier. A pond by the Sewerage provided safe skating, the Well Pond and Hall Place lake were reserved for ‘great freezes’. We had ‘camps’ in East Wood beyond Lealands Avenue and Hollow Trees Drive.
At Leigh school we played conkers, marbles (with complex rules), tag, double tag, ‘kingy’ and ‘Cowboys and Indians’. A number of us joined the Church choir. There were thirteen of us boys when we made a recording in the church. Every summer we competed enthusiastically in the British Legion Sports ‘tilt the bucket’ and talent contest! Dick Wood ran the Scouts with weekly activities which included boat building and the annual camp.
Groups of youngsters since and indeed now continue to play, scurry and mooch around the village. To me they do not seem as self-organized as we were, the Green is often empty in the holidays, the woods and fields are more ‘private’, traffic much more dangerous, and parents, for good reasons, more apprehensive.
Of the old ‘gang’ Russell and Bernard Thompsett, Dennis Stolton, John Holden and I still live in the village, Ray Chadwick, Mike Cheseman, Alan Holden and Claude Taylor are among those not far away. I think we were all very lucky to have such varied and free time, now fifty years ago.
NOTE: for newcomers – places listed are on the map of paths in the Pump House in the High Street.