Horseshoe Memories - Alan Swain
As a child growing up in Summerhill Road I have very fond memories of Horseshoe Coaches. As we lived at number 11 immediately opposite the garage, I guess we got to see more of the day-to-day activities surrounding the Coach operations than many of the other residents of Summerhill Road. As I recall back in the 1950's-60's very few families in Summerhill Road owned cars, and those that did had garages or driveways so there was very little roadside parking. Consequently traffic through Summerhill Road was very light and we children could play in the street with relative safety. So, when a coach returned to disrupt our play, we were very aware of it and would often wave to the drivers who were mostly friendly characters and immediately recognisable to most of us. Looking back I know that we knew most of the drivers by sight but personally I struggle now to remember their names. No doubt my brother Ray has a more retentive memory than myself on this matter.
The summer months were particularly busy for Horseshoe Coaches and one lasting memory would be the activities that took place at night. On their return from a day's excursion, you would see the reflections of their headlights castings shadows over the bedroom ceiling and hear the throaty roar of their engines as they reversed into the garage. This would be followed by the joint activities of the drivers and old 'Pop' Austin the yard caretaker, as they washed and hosed down the vehicles and cleaned the interiors in readiness for the following day's business.
Old Bob (Pop) Austin was quite a character and lived on the ground floor of the adjoining house 16 Summerhill Road. I can recall that he used to make 'Brawn' by stewing up meat and bones. I must confess that I found the sight and thought of this quite revolting but this was highly sought after by his friends and neighbours. His principle job as the yard caretaker was cleaning the coaches, and I can remember his large box containing lost property, which had been left on the coaches by careless passengers. I suspect that these items were sent to the booking office at Culross Road. During wet days on summer school holidays 'Pop' would allow a small number of children to play in the coaches. They would then become makeshift theatres and classrooms, as we children would play our improvised games. I believe that 'Pop's' son-in-law Colin Ames also worked for Horseshoe at the Culross Road depot. (There is a distant picture of 'Pop' Austin, which is featured on the Stanley Kerr article in the 'Residents' section)
Of the many different coach types and styles operated by Horseshoe coaches, my personal favourite was the small Bedford coach, which had elegant lines, coupled by a simple charm. I can recall receiving a small 'Dinky' toy replica of the Bedford Coach as a Christmas present, and was very upset when it mysteriously disappeared. I have reason to believe that somehow, with a little help from my brother Ray, it found it's way into a hole in the roots of the large tree at number 23 Summerhill Road. Come on Ray it's now over 45 years ago...It's time to own up !
Many of my best memories of Horseshoe Coaches however were the frequent coach excursions we would take to seaside resorts. These were great adventures in post-war Tottenham and the only opportunity to travel outside of London. Living opposite the coach station, I am sure my mother would hear of spare seats at the last-minute. Whether she benefited by reduced prices I don't know. I can remember visiting Brighton, Hastings, Eastbourne, Ramsgate, Margate, Clacton and Southend-on-Sea and I suspect I have forgotten a few others.
I have vivid memories of our many visits to Brighton, which were always welcomed with great enthusiasm. From late afternoon there would be a line of coaches right along the sea-front stretching from the Palace Pier to Black Rock. We would then walk along the line searching for our 'Horseshoe' coach. To complicate matters, there was sometimes more than one 'Horseshoe' coach so it was important you boarded the correct one. Hopefully, by the time the coach had crept along to the head of the line at Palace Pier, all of the passengers had boarded. If not there would be a frustrating time waiting for the stragglers to appear.
Brighton Seafront 1955 - Coaches Queuing from Palace Pier
(Photograph: Copyright Francis Frith Collection)
I can also recall on an excursion to Ramsgate with my father, there was what we now know as a mock-auction taking place along the sea-front. Despite his protests, we persuaded him to go inside and then bidding for a travel holdall, which was being offered for a ridiculously low price. Needless to say the final price was nothing like the one offered and we ended up with a holdall we had no real need for. He never let us forget that lesson !
On another occasion we went to Clacton-on-Sea and plagued our parents to allow us to play Crazy Golf. With an over ambitious and violent swing, my brother Ray hit me right above the eye and cut my forehead open. I was promptly marched to the nearest St John's Ambulance station and had my head swathed in bandages. I had to return home in the coach under the gaze of all our fellow passengers. I am a very keen Golfer today but, with that early introduction to the game, I often wondered why that should be.
Other 'Horseshoe' memories include night-time excursions to see the illuminations at Southend-on-Sea and a school trip to Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. There was also a weekly service from School to the Municipal Baths at Tottenham green. I can also recall that my father would book Horseshoe Coaches when organising pub outings from the 'Hope & Anchor', which was situated at Tottenham Hale.
Another memory concerns my sister Christine, who in the late 1950's, bought her very first record which was Elvis Presley singing ' All Shook Up' which I believe was his first UK number one. However, my Mum told all of her friends at work that Chris had bought a record called 'HORSESHOE CUP', which she insisted was the correct title and of course nobody had heard of. My Dad would tease her that she was obviously influenced by the coaches over the road !
I have not lived in Summerhill Road for over 36 years, but I do recall an occasion driving through central London in the 1980's when a luxurious 'Horseshoe' coach drew up alongside. I could barely hide my excitement at the time and I suspect this was shortly before the company finally went into liquidation.