Sunday, June 18, 2006

Catford: It's Part in my Upfall.

honley colour

So this is 25 Horley Road, Catford. Catford would appear to be a place untroubled by excitement and adventure, tucked away in South-East London where you'd not notice it if you didn't keep your eye open as your train or car gets free of the black hole of Central London and heads for the open spaces beyond the M25.

This is one of the first locations we know my Grandfather's family, the Pycocks, lived in when he was young. We don't have a date for the photo above but it was annotated 'Possibly Stan and Anne'. My grandfather was born in 1906 and his younger brother Stanley in 1909, so it is probably sometime between 1916 and 1922, depending on how young Stanley is, if it is Stanley in the picture. My Grandfather, Lawrence, and Stanley had two younger sisters, Maude and Peggy. Peggy is the only one of the siblings still alive, up in Scotland. So if it is Stanley I'm not sure who Anne is, maybe whoever wrote the note mixed her up with Maude (who was born in 1914 so would push this more towards being taken around 1920) or she might just be a cousin or next door neighbour. The family, the Pycocks, moved around the area a fair bit, not penniless but not rolling in cash certainly. Neither Lawrence or Stanley would have been born in this house. And below is what it looks like today.

25 Honley Road 25 Honley Road

Well, it's been pebble-dashed, but the door archway is still there and, although the windows are now double-glazed the frames holding them look the same as before.
But there's more, a few streets away...

fordmill knapmill honley colour

Come out on to Rushey Green, follow it as it becomes Bromley Road, take a right on to Canadian Avenue then the first left on to Fordmill Road. Now we're in Bellingham, which started as a post WW1 housing estate. It's also where the Pycocks were living when my grandfather met my grandmother, Lillian Robins.

There is a family story that my grandmother's mother, Rosa, wrote to the Prime Minister post-war to ask for a house and this is what she got. Nice to believe but I doubt that there's any truth in the matter. Great Britain had to create 'a land fit for heroes' before the Depression kicked in and there would have been countless others in the same situation. But whether she did write to the PM or whether she filled in some forms at Catford Town Hall the Robins family were installed in 38 Knapmill Road, Bellingham, early in the Twenties.

Again, we can't be sure of dates. But my Nan is the tall girl at the back. That was their 'new house' then...

38 Knapmill Road 38 Knapmill Road

... and this is now. Other than the double-glazing and the satellite dish it looks no different than the picture, get that van out the way and you could pretty much restage that photo with another four kids. It the shame that the original photograph isn't wider, so we can see what's to the right of this house. As you can see it's the only building now with this strange two level thing going on, I'd like to know whether it was originally the end of a terrace of similar style houses or whether it always looked different to the buildings it was next to. Meanwhile, one street over, in Fordmill Road, the Pycocks were living. No old photos this time I'm afraid, just new ones.

66 Fordmill Road, Catford 66 Fordmill Road, Catford

66 Fordmill Road. Or at least, what stands there today. My Nan's home looked good for a building that's nearly ninety years old, though this looks more modern in construction. But in a building on this spot lived the other side of my family tree. I'm not exactly sure who knew who and when, the boys in both families might have been friends or the girls, they might have gone to the same school or my Nan may have caught my Grandfather's eye at church. Certainly my Nan wasn't looking for a husband, she saw herself as doing missionary work and going to foreign parts, teaching people to read so they could understand that they were doomed unless they read and believed the Bible. But thankfully for us Grandad prevailed, they got married and didn't move far.

winsford fordmill knapmill colour

If I had a bit more effort about this I might have tried to find out for you why there are two separate train lines that run through Catford, one heading for Black Friars, the other to London Bridge. When I set out on the Thursday morning of this trip, when I took these photos, I had never gone there before so had consulted the Transport for London website. It told me to go to Elephant and Castle by tube, then switch to the train for Catford Bridge. At first all seemed well, though on leaving the tube station the first time visitor to the area may need some guidance towards the train station, like an actual sign or something. The station seemed empty, while the platforms were fairly busy. But the signs said the next train would be going to Catford, then it was delayed, then it didn't seem to be going to Catford any more. So I went back inside and found a member of staff who told me the next train on that platform would be going to Catford but, when I got back up to the platform the information screens still disagreed. It all seemed irrelevant as there had been signal failures further up the line so no train would be coming through, regardless of where it was going.

By this point my Dad was waiting for me to turn up at Catford and we were about ready to forget the whole idea, but on looking at a train map I thought I saw an alternative route via Victoria. About forty five minutes later I had made it to Catford, probably by transferring on to the same train I should have caught at Elephant and Castle, but I was there. The two stations, Catford and Catford Bridge, are kept apart by a road running up between them, but the former consists of no more than the platforms, some stairs and a ticket office that appeared to be shut in an early Thursday afternoon, so it's not like these are two great transport hubs right on top of one another.

The point to this, for there is one, is that if you look at the map you'll see they neatly enclose the estate where my grandparents grew up like pincers. When my grandparents moved out they simply hopped east in to Winsford Road.

54 Winsford Road 54 Winsford Road
54 Winsford Road Winsford Road

This is the house in which she would live for around the next forty years. Number 54. Again, I don't have any old photos to hand but my Dad was on hand to point to the side gate to the garden, which he used to climb over and the front bedroom that was his when he was growing up. Once more the windows were new and the front door had been changed, but the flower design on the porch window was original so the glass in the door might have been kept to.

I thought this would be the one place I would recognise as Nan didn't move out from here until around 1980, when I was 4. I didn't have clear memories of that time, I remember sitting in her front room playing with a cuddly frog toy but I only remember the frog, not the room I was sitting in. I thought I remembered the street but when we pulled up I realised I was remembering somewhere else entirely.

As you can see Winsford Road is a nice suburban road. I was remembering a much longer road, in a more working class area, with a railway bridge crossing it's lower end, and a gasworks. The gasworks are nearby, just not on Winsford Road (another piece of family history: When courting, my grandparents used to walk down to the gasworks to be together. Well, if you haven't got Paris or Milan you have to make do...) So I suspect that what I'm remembering as the street my grandparents lived on is, in fact, Catford Hill, and my little four-year-old-selfs memory is actually of the journey home.

hither green cemetery My Great-Grandparents Gravestone

The final place we visited was somewhere where none of my forebears have ever lived. It's the Cemetery. Hither Green Cemetery. My Great grandmother, Lawrence's mother, was buried here when she died in the 1930s. When her husband, James, died about ten years later his body was added to the plot. When Lawrence died in the next decade his ashes were scattered on the grave. This plot of land belongs to the Pycocks, 'in perpetuity'.

To finish the story, when I was about four Nan moved from the Catford area out to Etchingham, Sussex, down the road from her eldest daughter. When she died her body was also cremated, but her ashes were scattered in her daughter's back garden, as it had always been somewhere she'd enjoyed sitting.

So that was an afternoon of family history. I've yet to get much details on my mother's side of the family but I don't expect too many problems, her eldest brother is a Mormon after all, so he's probably done all the genealogy work already, I just have to hope he'll give me a copy.


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