Croydon in the ‘roaring ’20s’ remembered

By - Friday 3rd August, 2018

Local girl Freda Beaven grew up in Croydon in the ’20s. In these extracts from her memoir, she remembers life in a very different time…

Photo by Freda Beaven, used with permission.

My grandparents lived in the elegant house known as Laurel Villa, 93 St James’s Road, Croydon. This has now been modernised with little respect for its original character. When I knew it there were front iron railings and a front gate into a small garden area where the laurels grew, and stone steps up to a heavy front door with coloured-glass panels. There was a breakfast room on the lowest level and a large family kitchen and scullery, and a basement. On the entrance hall level was the big sitting room, much used for family gatherings, a large bedroom, lavatory and exit through a picture-glass panelled door, down steps to the big walled garden.

The floor above contained sizeable rooms which became a self-contained apartment, and above that similar rooms, built for staff, were let out as a small flat. The house had originally been bought by my great-grandfather. It would have been well filled with seven girls, two sons, parents and visitors.

Although my grandparents married at Croydon Parish Church, the family thereafter always attended West Croydon Baptist Church, known as Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. The pastor there was a young reverend, Eustace Victor Whittle. In Grandfather’s later years he did not attend church very often but read his bible at home. He disliked being preached at by a younger man and had his own beliefs and disbeliefs. Also he had rheumatic joints which made sitting on hard pews very painful. He wore Thermogene next to his skin, which, it cannot be denied, has a distinctive medicinal odour, so it may have been a relief to people who sat near to him when he ceased to attend. The family pew was in the gallery of the tabernacle, to the left as you face the choir.

Photo by Freda Beaven, used with permission.

Number 13, Guildford Road, West Croydon, where we lived, was a small back-to-back house having a narrow passageway from the front door. To the left was the front room containing the piano, armchairs, a small decorative table and short, bobbled curtain hanging from the mantelpiece above the fireplace. Next the stairway to the two bedrooms, the front one was for my parents and my brother Ron and I shared the back room for a few years. The living room, kitchen and cold larder were at the end of the passage. In the fireplace in the living room stood a range which was black-leaded daily, and a gas cooker with rings for saucepans was in the kitchen… There was a strip of back garden which was kept tidy with bushes and flowers. The lavatory was outside, built into the wall behind the kitchen. Guildford Road was clean, neat and tidy, and in a respectable but not affluent area. This was a time of world financial difficulties leading to the depression years. If you had a job you held on to it.

My childhood was filled with pleasures, relations visiting, picnic outings to local beauty and play spots: Shirley Hills in particular, which involved meeting cousins, aunts and uncles and the long walk up Shirley Road past the windmill, family photos taken on the flat space at the top, trees to climb and ball games.

“One day all of us were called outside as a small plane flew overhead – and we waved to Amy Johnson”

There were often train trips to south coast resorts: Brighton – which was nearest – Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Portsmouth, Southsea, Hastings and others. Sometimes our trips were further afield; once at Margate when I was about three years old they managed to lose me and had to send out a search party. Another time, mother and dad fancied a visit to Epsom races to watch the Derby and they lost me again. I remember being carried high, yelling, in a policeman’s arms.

I enjoyed both schools I attended. After my fifth birthday, my first was Holy Trinity School at Selhurst. It was officially attached to Holy Trinity Church next door, but I don’t remember ever going into the church. The only connection was with one of the teachers who made us bow our heads whenever we said or sang “Jesus”. Musically we were much blessed; we had three teachers who could play the piano to our singing! In warm summer weather we played out in the playground and sometimes had lessons outside. One day all of us were called out as a small plane flew overhead – and we waved to Amy Johnson.

So Far So Good: Memoir of a Croydon Girl In The Roaring 20s by Freda Beaven is now available to purchase on Amazon.

Freda Beaven

Freda Beaven

Born in Croydon in 1923, Freda Goldsmith was the second child born into a musical family. Birth complications caused serious damage to her right arm which presented challenges throughout her life. She enjoyed an innocent childhood against a backdrop of war-ravaged southern England and soon discovered she had considerable musical abilities of her own. In the shadow of her older and equally-talented brother, every day was a battle to convince her parents she was able to compete with the best in spite of her gender and her disability. On the advice of a qualified music teacher who encouraged her to "aim high" she went on to forge her own career and a bright future in the face of enormous odds. Her compelling memoir is beautifully written and provides an insight into life as a young girl growing up in the south of England, with her love of music providing the backdrop for her fascinating journey.

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  • Charles Barber

    Fascinating article, and will certainly buy the book. Is there any way I can do so without using Amazon, who I try to avoid if I can?
    One small quibble – the blurb after the article talks about a war ravaged childhood in Southern England but Freda would have been 15 or 16 when the Second World War began , so her childhood included the depression years but the she would have been a teenager and young woman during the war years. Will there e a follow-up article about her life in Croydon during this time?

    • Anne Giles

      We use Amazon all the time.

    • Steve Thompson

      I agree. Avoid Amazon if at all possible. Beckenham Bookshop, near Beckenham Junction tram stop (I know it’s outside our borough) will order most books for you.