Around Manor Road, Mitcham

Local History Notes 2: by Constance Pope

Constance Pope was born at 1 Willow Cottages, Mitcham in 1916, and has lived in the same house ever since. Her recollections of life around Manor Road in the 1920s reflect a way of life long gone, but still fresh in her memory.


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MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY
LOCAL HISTORY NOTES –
Around Manor Road, Mitcham
By Constance Pope – June 1989
2
Reading through the booklet “Mizens of Mitcham” has taken me back at least 60 years, and, from what
I can remember, there were a few more acres beyond Manor Road that were not mentioned, but may be
of interest to people living in this area.

The petrol station as it is now, was a farm, “Browns”, and the alley alongside was a cart track on the side
of a great pansy field. The track led up to a large house, “Sherwood House”. It’s still there, facing the
factory estate in Commonside East, but in a dreadful state of vandalisation and up for auction. The land
all around, from the farm to what is now Walton Way, was all pansies and, with tall elm trees bordering
the fields, it was a pleasant sight.

My aunt worked over there, and as she looked after me at times, I often went over there, and I can see
her now with her sacking apron, and bundles of raffia tucked in her waist band. My Mother also worked
for Mizens during the First World War, hoeing in the cabbage and potato fields, but she left there after
I was born in 1916. I still live in that same house, but then it was 1, Willow Cottages, not Manor Road.

The land between these cottages and the ones that have been developed all belonged to Mizens and were
called The Clays. They were the vegetable fields where my Mother worked, but they finished up as sports
fields. I have no idea if the cottages near the Horse and Groom were all Mizens’, (ours belonged to Pains),
but I remember the family of Mr Dave King, known as Jim, who worked for Mizens for years. They lived

in one of these cottages, and it went with the job. They grew flowers for cutting, such as pyrethrum, etc.,
on the land at the back of the cottages. I am 72 years and remember most of the Mizen houses in Grove
Road, and the salad sheds. I also remember the greenhouses opposite the Holborn Schools, where as a
child I bought a white hyacinth in a pot as a present for someone. Proudly bringing it home, I got to the
old Beehive Bridge when there was a clap of thunder. Frightened, I dropped the pot and broke the plant.
I was heartbroken. So whenever I see hyacinths now it reminds me of Mizens. I remember Mr Alfred
Mizen and his daughter Alfreda riding horseback along Cedars Avenue on the Common; the only two
horse riders in those days. I rode a fairy cycle on the Common once and was caught by Miss Farewell-
Jones of “Brenley”. She was most indignant, and said, “Get off at once! How dare you ride a bike on
the Common.” (I was nine!)

in one of these cottages, and it went with the job. They grew flowers for cutting, such as pyrethrum, etc.,
on the land at the back of the cottages. I am 72 years and remember most of the Mizen houses in Grove
Road, and the salad sheds. I also remember the greenhouses opposite the Holborn Schools, where as a
child I bought a white hyacinth in a pot as a present for someone. Proudly bringing it home, I got to the
old Beehive Bridge when there was a clap of thunder. Frightened, I dropped the pot and broke the plant.
I was heartbroken. So whenever I see hyacinths now it reminds me of Mizens. I remember Mr Alfred
Mizen and his daughter Alfreda riding horseback along Cedars Avenue on the Common; the only two
horse riders in those days. I rode a fairy cycle on the Common once and was caught by Miss Farewell-
Jones of “Brenley”. She was most indignant, and said, “Get off at once! How dare you ride a bike on
the Common.” (I was nine!)

Fred Harvey used to drive the cows down the lane (Manor Road) to fields next door to where my aunt
lived. Her house wall was in the field, and when it was cold they would stand along the wall where the
kitchen range was, to keep warm.

We never seemed to get bored, there was always something to do – something in the house for your mother,
running errands round to the shop, trees to climb, or somewhere to go and explore. On certain nights we
used to sit along the bank of the ditch and watch the fireworks from the Crystal Palace, then go home and
read comics or books by the light of a candle till bed time. But we did have highlights, like when the Daily
Telegraph had their sports day. We were allowed to go over and enjoy the fun, and the brass band they
usually had on these occasions. And, during the season, we were able to watch cricket and rugby in the
sports fields between the two lots of cottages. Becketts, I remember, owned the refreshment hut between
the fields, but that was mostly weekends.

Also on Sunday a few folk from Lonesome would walk through the lane to the Horse and Groom, for an
evening stroll, (in summer of course). In those days there was a horse trough for the horse traffic, outside
the Horse and Groom, and there were bench seats along the wall adjoining the farm. I remember children
could climb up the back of the seats, and look at the animals in pens the other side, and if you were lucky
and you had someone inside the pub, you might get a glass of lemonade and a Brighton biscuit brought out
to you! A Mr and Mrs Jackson were landlords in those days, and they had a very nice rose garden.

Dawsons lived in the big house on the other side of Tamworth Lane opposite the Horse and Groom, and
a Mrs Whittle lived in the adjoining cottage. I do not know if the big house was ever a Manor House, but
it was a queer shape, with a flight of steps up to the front entrance, and a peculiar shaped roof, but people
mostly went round the back.

My Mother came to Mitcham at the age of three in 1881, one of seven sisters and one brother. My
Grandfather, a gardener, got a job as foreman in the osier beds, (willows), cutting the rods. They had come
from Chiswick, and lived in one of the cottages in Tamworth Lane, near to the osier beds, which were on
Bolstead Land, somewhere near to Pains. My Grandmother and the children had the job of stripping the
bark off, called whitening, weaving them when they were ready and still supple for basket-making. I do
not know how long that went on, as my Mother and her sisters went into service.

My Mother told us that these cottages we live in were built for Flemish basket makers. There must have
been some sort of industry in basket making. I have tried to find out, without success; maybe I haven’t

tried hard enough. There was another sort of industry in these cottages – doing washing for other people.
Two or three families, using a pram, would collect dirty washing from houses in Norbury, bring it home,
wash and iron it, then return it to the people it belonged to and collect the money. Not a lot ! – but it helped
out in those days, and sometimes cast-off clothing was given to the collectors, and that was a bonus. My
aunt was one of the washers, and I can see the steam from the copper and smell the ironing, as she stood
at the long deal table, ironing with irons that had to be heated on the kitchen range.

Should we have any illness, our nearest doctor lived in Lower Mitcham, but as doctors cost money in those
days, we rarely had one, and we seemed to survive the usual childish ailments such as measles and
chickenpox without medication from doctors. Our nearest chemist, when needed, was on the corner of
St.Mark’s Road, and I cannot remember us using that very often; except for once when I scalded my foot,
and one of the neighbours cycled down there to get some oil to put on it.

We had our fair share of fog in those days, real pea-soupers. The school would let those of us who lived
down the Common go home early. Vision would be but a few yards, real thick yellow fog. Some children
might be met, but mostly we found our way home on our own. My Mother fixed a long string handle on
a jam jar, and put a lighted candle in it to make a lantern for the fog, and many a time when using it, you
would find folks tagging on behind, trusting that the one with the lantern did not get lost.

We were also blessed with floods in the lane, Manor Road, where we lived. The ditch alongside our
cottages used to swell up with rain water and lay right across the lane, so another of my Mother’s inventions
was to fill a stone ginger beer bottle with paraffin, use a piece of flannel for a wick and light it as a lamp.
My older brother worked at night at the chemical factory in Tamworth Lane, and, so that he could see the
flood water in the dark, she placed the lamp on a board above the water line, the light reflecting on the
water. The lamp lasted for quite some time.

In the 1920’s the Horse and Groom was a two-gabled building with a public bar, a private bar, which was
also the entrance to the private part of the pub, and a saloon bar, which really was for the élite class – with
wonderful large fish in glass cases on the walls, and a carpeted floor, and people in there spoke quietly.
The public bar had sawdust on the floor, more for the beer that was spilt than spit! Plenty of noise in that
bar, more arguments and singing that spilled over outside when the pub closed. The private bar really was
quiet; you could have a conversation in peace. My Mother worked there for about 12 years, so I knew
the place inside as well as out. I cannot remember when the third gable was added, before or after the
Second World War.

Mitcham Fair was another event in our lives, especially the children. We made grottos of mud and stones,
with flowers decorating them, and on Sundays or evenings, the only times people walked by, we would
stand by our grottos chanting, “Please remember the Grotto, Sir. Only once a year. Penny, halfpenny,
farthing, to spend at Mitcham Fair.” We might have made about a shilling or one-and-sixpence, but to us
that was quite a sum. We also had to watch out for the Gypsies when the Fair time drew near. They would
camp up the lane with their horse-drawn caravans, and everyone had to be on their toes if they had
chickens or anything else that might be useful and easy to remove. The children used to stop us and ask
for money, or anything we possessed that they fancied. Thank goodness they moved on when the Fair
got started.

There weren’t many strangers came through the lane, but we did have an artist come and paint a picture
of the cottages. He sat there most of the day, and Mrs Baker from the cottages gave him food and drink,
and bought the painting off him. When her second husband died and the house was cleared out, the picture
went to another neighbour who had helped the old man. The last time I saw it, a few years back, the
neighbour said her son (who at the time worked for the Council) was taking it to the Town Hall. What
became of it I do not know. I would have liked it; it wasn’t all that special, but I did stand and watch him
paint it.

Many years have passed since then, and it certainly was a different world from ours today. I have made
a map of Manor Road as I knew it in the 1920’s. It may not be quite to scale, but at least it gives some
idea of what it was like.