WEST GREEN ROAD MEMORIES - DENNINGTON'S BAKERS 1920's

 


AUGUSTUS C.S, EDITH, FLORENCE (MARY) ELSIE AND JOHN DENNINGTON

WEST GREEN ROAD – By Florence (Mary) Dennington
Extracts from her childhood memories.
 
 The baker's shop and premises were situated next to West Green railway station (note: actually no. 56 West Green Road, adjacent to Seven Sisters railway station), and the road itself was a busy thoroughfare, so different from our former quiet little backwater (note: Risley Avenue). The railway bridge ran over the road, and the line, on top of a steep embankment, ran alongside our premises.

It always annoyed me that whenever we needed to travel by train this line, which was “on the doorstep”, was one we never used, and instead we had a considerable walk to get to South Tottenham station, which was the one that served our needs.

Another great change was the fact that, after getting used to living in a small house, we were suddenly transferred to quite large premises. The shop was roomy, with two counters, one for bread and the other for cakes, and the double windows ran right across the width of the shop, with the door in one corner. Along the front of the cake counter were stacks of biscuit tins, with glass tops to display the contents. At the back, behind the counter, were shelves full of other goods, while shelves on the opposite side of the shop held the bread – tins, cottage loaves, coburgs and so on.

In those days every loaf had to be weighed, to ensure the customer was getting the full 2 lbs of bread. If, by chance, the loaves were baked too long they lost weight in the process, so a spare loaf was kept on the counter and pieces cut off this when necessary, to provide “make-weight” and to satisfy the customer.
I remember we had one elderly customer who was rather poor. She wore a large black woollen shawl and black boots, and I was always scared of her rather aggressive manner. When buying bread she would keep her eyes rivetted firmly on the scales to make sure she was not being cheated of her just dues.

She was also a regular purchaser of our “stale cakes”. At the end of each day all the cakes and buns unsold would be put into one of the deep drawers under the counter, and thereafter sold at the reduced price of, say, three or four a penny.

The business was a thriving one. In those days shops kept open for much longer hours, starting early and often not closing until 9.30 p.m. or even later on a Friday or Saturday. Many of our customers were fairly poor, and would leave their purchases until late evening, in the knowledge that, in order to avoid having bread left on the shelves, this would sometimes be sold at a reduced price just before closing.

The living accommodation was spacious and extensive. Behind the shop was a small “shop parlour”, and in later years this was turned into a tea-room. A corridor led to a large kitchen, running the whole width of the premises, with a coal-fired range and huge dresser, and behind this room was a scullery which housed the sink and the wash-boiler.

At the top of the first flight of stairs was a roomy W.C., with a long wooden seat set corner-wise from wall to wall, and a bowl ornamented with a design of blue flowers! We had no bathroom then.

Farther along a short corridor was a cosy room with a gas fire, and two windows, set in adjoining walls. This we used as our play-room, and it was a boon to be able to spread one's toys and belongings around and not be scolded for causing a mess. Latter on a partition was erected and a bath installed. This had a wooden top, and we used to “dress up” and use this as a stage.
Up a few more stairs was a small bedroom, and the big front parlour, which ran the width of the premises. It had two large windows overlooking the busy street and the shops opposite. At the top of the house were two further bedrooms.

The bakehouse was a fascinating place. Owing to the large ovens it was always warm, and both black beetles and crickets lived in the brick-work. The beetles only came out at night, when the place was deserted, but the crickets could be heard chirping all day long.

On one side were the huge troughs in which the bread was mixed – by hand in those days – and there were giant-sized mixing bowls, large knives for slicing the dough, and sundry other cooking equipment.

It was a rule that we children should keep out of the bakehouse during working hours, and also out of the shop itself. My parents were far too busy to want us under their feet.

The only assistant my father had, apart from Harry the Roundsman, was an older man called Mr. Ephraim. If time and opportunity allowed he would pull our legs and tell us all sorts of tall stories.
My mother ran the shop, with the help of a very capable and good-natured girl called Chrissy. She had bright ginger hair, inclined to be curly, and always had a kind word for us.
In the house another girl, called Carrie, did all the cooking and cleaning during the day, but at night my mother took over. I realise now how hard she must have worked, serving in the busy shop during the day, attending to all the business accounts, and yet finding the time to give us a happy home life and a strong feeling of security. My father, too, worked long hours – and baking is a heavy job in any case – but he always found time to read to us, or tell us stories after tea. We were a very happy family.

We had no garden as the bakehouse and storage area occupied this area, but there was a “lane” which ran the whole length of the premises, closed at the street end by big heavy wooden gates with a wicket gate inset, and making a left-hand turn at the top end, to run along the backs of the other shops. We used this lane as our playground, and since there was only the railway embankment on one side, and the backs of gardens at the top end, it didn’t matter how much noise we made.
 


WEST GREEN ROAD 1911 - VIEW WESTBOUND FROM OUTSIDE SHOP

SEVEN SISTERS RAILWAY STATION
THIS COULD ALMOST BE THE VIEW FROM THEIR SHOP WINDOW

 

There were several children living in the neighbouring shops, and occasionally we would all play together.

The Ing family lived next door.  He was a Tobacconist and Barber by trade. They had two daughters, Cissy and Irene, and a younger boy called Ronnie. Both Cissy and Irene had long yellow curls.

Next in line were the Jacksons, who kept a grocery store.  Their daughter Maggie was about my age, and she had beautiful curly hair of a dark red colour, like burnished chestnuts.  She had two younger brothers, Eric and Llewellyn (always called “Chow”).

At the end of the row was a corn-chandlers and I can only remember the daughter, Lizzie.

 On the whole we all got on well together, and many and varied were our games, including one of our favourites – Ice-cream shops – the “ice-cream” being a mixture of earth and water, and the “wafers” being pieces of cardboard.

 As I have mentioned, between the living premises and the bakehouse was a large covered storage area, full of shelves where boxes of fat and dried fruit, jars of jam and other goods were kept.  Needless to say, these stores were of considerable value, and since they would be fairly easy of access to intruders at night, we kept an excellent guard dog, a half-collie bitch called Gyp, who was the terror of the neighbourhood.

 Gyp was a real character!  She would allow tradesmen, postmen and other callers to enter, but as soon as they made a move to leave she would give a series of menacing growls, showing her sharp fangs, and generally leaving no doubt as to her hostile attitude.  My father always had to be on hand to quieten her and allow the victims to escape, and before long any van driver who wished to deliver goods would first enquire in the shop as to whether the dog was chained up, before he would venture to approach the back.

 There were a few occasions on which Gyp managed to get out.  She was allowed to exercise in the lane when no-one was there, and the gates were kept closed, but sometimes, by mischance or carelessness, the wicket gate would not have been firmly closed, and it did not take long for Gyp to prise it open with her paw and bound off up the road.  Then my mother, in the shop, would receive a frantic message to the effect that our dog was loose, and my father would have to go in search of her.  I don't think she would have harmed anyone, unless they had tried to catch her or alarmed her in some way, but in any case no-one of our neighbours who knew Gyp's reputation would have dared to lay a finger on her.

 Strangely enough, Gyp had no animosity towards Mr Ephraim or Harry, and to the family she showed a gentler side.  My sister, Elsie, was terrified of her and would never go near her on her own, but although I was not frightened of Gyp, and often spoke to her as I passed, I did not attempt to handle her.  On the other hand, my young brother, John, was utterly fearless.  He would play with Gyp, sometimes sharing her kennel, and would put his hand inside her mouth, and never once was she anything but gentle with him.  She seemed as fond of him as he was of her.

 We also had a cat, a large black creature called, naturally enough, “Blackie”.  She was not a family pet, but was kept to deal with the rats and mice, but she would allow us to fondle her.  She was put out into the back premises at night, and every morning there would be the grisly remains of a large rat left as evidence of her skill.  She would eat the head but no more, and I soon got used to shovelling up the remains and disposing of them in the dust-bin.  I never felt any fear of rats, or mice, even though I knew the former ran about the rafters of the storage area at night, and we were never allowed out there in the dark.

 Blackie had several litters of kittens, and we were never without a cat during the years we lived at Tottenham.

       


WEST GREEN ROAD- BAKERS SHOP -LEFT SIDE JUST BEFORE BRIDGE
(IN THIS PICTURE FROM 1950'S THE SHOP WAS NOW CALLED CAVE'S)

WEST GREEN ROAD 1908- SHOP WAS JUST BEYOND BRIDGE TO THE RIGHT

 

As I have said, West Green Road was a busy thoroughfare.  It was lined with shops on both sides for about a mile, then suddenly the shops were replaced by private houses. 

Opposite us was the Stationmaster's house, then a second-hand shop, a newsagents, and a Jewish tailor named Cohen.  They were a pleasant family, with grown-up daughters, and always presented us with a large portion of Matzo bread every Passover.  We loved this crisp biscuit-like bread, especially when spread thickly with butter.

Farther along the road was a butcher's shop, with a sawdust covered floor, various sweet shops, a draper's and so on.  Sometimes we were invited to Christmas parties at the draper's, and once we were asked to a party given by the Bank Manager and his wife.  We didn't enjoy this very much as everyone was rather subdued and none of our friends was present – I got the impression that the Bank family considered few of their neighbours as socially acceptable, but I may have been wrong.  There was an awkward moment at supper-time when dessert was put on the table, and we were given little silver knives and forks to deal with the fruit.  Although our table manners were very correct we had never been asked to eat an apple with a knife and fork, and we slid out of this predicament by declining the dessert course.

My godfather, always known as Uncle John, had a shoe shop in our road.  He had been my father's friend since their youth, and my father took a lot of notice of what Uncle John said.  I didn't mind that, except when it came to choosing my shoes.  I always longed for dainty shoes, especially black patent slippers with ankle straps, but Uncle John considered I had weak ankles and recommended a pair of strong “button” boots.  I wouldn't have minded so much if they had been “lace-up” boots, which could be quite smart, but my horrible clumsy boots were the bane of my existence.  Luckily for me, after that my mother used to go with me to buy shoes, and she, like me, had a better idea of suitable footwear.

 


ST PHILIP'S CHURCH - PHILIP LANE - TOTTENHAM

We attended St. Philip's church, on Philip Lane, which was a fair walk away.                                      

In those days walking was considered the normal means of getting anywhere.  We walked miles with our parents, to visit parks and other places, and no-one complained.  Every Sunday morning we set off for church, where we met up with Granny, Aunt Louie and Auntie Milly, and our cousins Alban, Edith and Kathleen, when she was not away at school.  After the service we all walked home together as far as the parting of the ways.

On Sunday afternoons, we children set off again for Sunday School, and very often we attend Evening service as well.  Sometimes, however, we stayed at home instead, and sang hymns around the piano.  I always enjoyed this, as my mother would play our favourite hymns from the Moody and Sankey collection such as “Tell me the old, old story”, “There's a friend for little children”, “Jesus bids us shine” (“like a little candle”) and many others.

 Sundays were always made different for us as, apart from attendance at church, we were allowed to read only books of a semi-religious nature, (such as those published by the Religious Tract Society, like “Jessica's First Prayer”), our toys were put away, although we were allowed to play with our dolls, and only religious works were played on the piano.  We found this rather tedious, and the only bright spot was the fact that on Sundays we were allowed to look through my father's very big volume of religious pictures – prints of famous paintings throughout the ages – and we never tired of this.

In later years, this strict observance of Sunday was relaxed, although we still attended church in the morning and Sunday School in the afternoon.  This latter was no hardship as we had a very good Sunday School, with plenty of interesting things to do.

There was a good social side to the church and regular Social evenings and other events were held, which we attended as we grew older.  I remember these usually ended in an impromptu entertainment, at which the Vicar would sing the same songs, “Clementine” and “Tavern in the Town”, and receive enthusiastic applause.

Every Boxing Day father took us out, and we visited all the most important churches to inspect the Christmas cribs.  Some of these were very elaborate, especially that in the Roman Catholic Church, and we always enjoyed the expeditions, even though, as usual, they involved long walks.

Sometimes my father would take me to a service in a church at Stoke Newington, where they conducted what were known as “high” church services, with incense and ceremony, and where the choir-boys wore red cassocks, and everything was bright and colourful.  I loved these services, and was glad when in later years our own church adopted an 'Anglo-Catholic” form of service.  (note: “later years” was probably much later at St Alban the Martyr, Westcliff-on-Sea)

My father became a server, my brother was in the choir and also acted as “boat-boy” on occasions.  Later my father was made Vicar's Warden, which meant we sat in a special pew.  Father and his co-warden led all the processions and were skilled in the art of pacing the routes, so that the choir and servers all arrived back in the Sanctuary at precisely the right moment.  (note: This was probably at St Albans too)



ST PHILIP'S CHURCH - INTERIOR 1924


ST PHILIP'S CHURCH - INTERIOR 2013

 

One of the delights of my early days was to listen to the barrel-organ, which appeared regularly once a week and was parked opposite.  Sometimes I danced to the music, and I thoroughly enjoyed these sessions, wishing the operator would stay longer and play through his repertoire again.

Another form of entertainment which was not so welcome was the regular visit of a small Band, which played under the railway arch, starting promptly at 7.30 a.m. every Monday morning.  One of their favourite items was “La Paloma”, and I grew to dislike this intensely.

There was a coffee-stall under the bridge, and we were instructed never to linger there as we passed by.  My little brother, however, found it a fascinating place.  Often it would be discovered that he was missing, and invariably he would be found at the coffee-stall, listening entranced to the conversation going on around him.

He picked up several expressions which were forbidden at home, but I'm sure it did him no harm, and the keeper of the stall seemed a jovial easy-going man.  Still, my mother was naturally against these excursions and did her best to see that John did not stray.

 

THE RAILWAY ARCH ALONGSIDE THE SHOP 

FORMER ENTRANCE TO SEVEN SISTERS STATION- TO RIGHT OF RAILWAY ARCH

 

We had plenty of “treats” through the year and I remember one in particular, when I was quite young.  My parents took me to the Baker's Exhibition in London, where I can remember going from stall to stall, partaking of the free samples offered, and having a wonderful time. 

I was particularly fond of Egg-and-Milk Toffee, and was given a bag to take home.  We were never allowed to eat in the street, so I had to carry my sweets unopened, longing to be able to sample this particularly mouth-watering sweetmeat.  We had almost arrived back home when a large dog came bounding up to me, snatched the bag from my hand and ran off!  I was both furious and tearful to think that my delicious toffee was gone, but it did me little good and I was told to stop making a fuss in the street.

I was always fond of sweets, and in my early days they were sold at 4oz for one penny.  That meant if you had a penny to spend you could have four separate ounces – shop-keepers were very obliging about this.  Some of my favourite sweets were the boiled variety – raspberry drops, pineapple drops, acid drops, and so on, and you got quite a lot for one farthing.  As time went on prices went up, but sweets were still cheap at 4d a quarter, 1d or 2d for chocolate bars, and sometimes one could buy small chocolate bars for 1/2p.

Comics were another delight.  We each had our favourites, and my taste developed from “Rainbow”, with Tiger Tim and the Bruin Boys, Mariie the Magician, Bluebell, the girl with the magic gloves, and many other characters, to “Chips”, a comic devoted to comic strips, “Film Fun” and others.  Then I started reading school stories and bought “The Schoolfriend”, and, later, “Schoolgirls' Own”.  I was also fond of “Picture-goer”, and collected pictures of my favourite film stars.

When we were young my parents occasionally held Musical Evenings.  We children were sent to bed early on these occasions, but we did not mind for we were allowed to buy a stock of comics and sweets, and, moreover, had a fire in our bedroom, so that we could sit up in bed and read our comics in warmth and comfort.

We could hear the party going on below us.  Everyone was expected to sing or play the piano.  My father always sang “Friend of Mine” and similar songs, and my mother played piano solos.  Sometimes duets were sung, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

After a time they went in to supper, which was always an elaborate affair of cold meats, salads and pickles, and an array of delicious sweets.  I remember one in particular – a Charlotte Russe – with sponge fingers encircling jelly and mounds of cream, the whole wrapped round with a satin ribbon.  We were not allowed to partake of these tempting dishes, but were told that if anything was left over we could have it the following day.  Alas! Nothing ever was.

We, too, had our parties at Christmas.  We were not allowed to have Birthday parties as my mother said this was a form of asking for presents.  Instead, we had lovely parties at Christmas, with a huge tree covered with presents, which were all given away to the visitors.  One year my mother dressed a number of little dolls, each in a different national costume.  Then there was a great prize – the fairy doll from the top of the tree.  I always hoped to win this, but never did.

We also went to similar parties given by Aunt Carrie and Uncle Charles, and by Uncle's sister, Aunt Hilda.  These were always most enjoyable, and there was a certain amount of friendly rivalry, to see which family could produce something new in the way of refreshments or games.


St Ann's School Class II – John Dennington is front row, one boy in from the right of photo
 

 

 

My life was to change dramatically once again.  My uncle Charles, who had been a Captain in the army, decided to launch out on a new career and persuaded my father to form a partnership with him, to be known as “Dennington & Coe”.  A shop farther down the road (note: No 10 West Green Road) was purchased and Uncle Charles took this over.  He knew little or nothing of the baking trade, having been a “floor manager” at Gamages, but he was a very good business man with “go-ahead” ideas, and some years later opened a small cafe in High Road.

The family (note: Uncle Charles' family?) moved into the premises over the shop, and this was welcome to me as Mabel and I had always enjoyed each other's company, and now we should be able to spend more time together.  Mabel had been educated at a private school and was already learning French and mathematics. 
It was necessary, therefore, for her to attend a similar place of education, and Uncle Charles chose the very best – the Tottenham High School for Girls, formerly the Drapers' College.
 

Charles, Eleanor (Carrie), Mabel and Irene (Billie) Coe

He thought that Elsie and I should receive a similar education, so he arranged for all three of us to enter the school in February 1919 – no mean feat, considering the school year had started way back in September. 

I well remember the interview we had with the Headmistress, Miss Emily Felvus. Her blue eyes were so piercing they seemed to look right through you, and I never lost my awe of her throughout my entire school life.


       TOTTENHAM HIGH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS                    (Photograph by Collage)

FELVUS HALL (NAMED AFTER FORMER hEADMISTRESS)

 

Footnote:  The following announcement appeared in the London Gazette 24th September 1920:


 
THE FOLLOWING IMAGE IS A COPY OF THE ORIGINAL HANDWRITTEN NOTES OF FLORENCE (MARY) DENNINGTON

 

POST ARTICLE NOTES; MY MIKE HEBDEN ( Nephew of Florence (Mary) Dennington)

The family moved from 56 West Green Road sometime after my mother, Joan, was born in January 1921, landing in Westcliff—on-Sea where my Grandfather continued in the baking business.

The eldest girl, Florence Mary moved to Oldham Lancs and eventually married Tom Howarth an RAF man.  They later moved to Middle Wallop near Andover which is where their daughter Charmian still lives.

Next eldest, Elsie, married a baker Norman Dossett in nearby Leigh-on-Sea.  The family owned Dossett’s Bakers until late 20th Century, when Norman retired.  Their children Rodney and Ann (now Regan) Dossett both live locally.

John married Dorothy Wyborn and they too settled in Westcliff-on-Sea.  John served in the RAF during WWII, becoming a POW in Burma.  He was an accountant after the war and they had three daughters, Wendy, Jane and Sally. Wendy and Sally now live in Suffolk near the family’s earlier roots in Ipswich.  Jane lives in Canada, I think.

Joan married Donald Hebden in Westcliff in 1944.  They moved to a house in Westcliff, which at the time was an evacuated, militarised area (HMS Leigh, I think). They both worked at the local Hospital and so were in Reserved Occupations, serving instead as Civil Defence Wardens and Firewatchers.  My Grandparents Charles and Edith Dennington occupied the ground floor of the house and my parents lived upstairs.  By the time I was born, we had moved to the downstairs too

We are indebted to Mike Hebden for sharing his Aunts memories and photographs with us.

The former shop of 'Denningtons' will no doubt be more familiar to many residents of the post-war era as that as 'Caves' the bakers.

 

 

Article prepared by Alan Swain - November 2016