Memories of Lee SMITH

It's time to add my recollections to the Maypole website, as I have enjoyed reliving some of my life there through other contibutions.

First, some background to my family connections on the Maypole Estate.

I was born in June 1945 at West Hill Hospital, to Alfred and Joyce Smith, and called Lee. We lived at first with my Grandparents, Henry [Uncle Sun], and Annie[Aunt Nan], Bearcroft at number 28 Baldwyns Road. My Great Aunt, Lottie[Aunt Lott] Hoath, Annie's sister and her husband Frank, lived at number 22. The nicknames in brackets seem to be the names they were known by to residents of the Estate. Another Great aunt, Winifred Flett , another of Annie's sisters , and her husband, Walt, lived at 5 Denton Terrace, with their 4 children, Pat, Janet, Denise and Eddie. Eddie is a year older than me, and we were playmates while at school.

When I was about 5, we moved down the road to number 40, I remember being involved in the move, in particular having to carry the chamberpot down the street, with instructions not to drop it. It was empty, I hasten to add. My Grandfather had retired early due to poor health, from work in Bexley Hospital, where he was a stoker, a job he knew from service in the Royal Navy. I think at the time, my Uncle Dennis, Mums brother, worked there too, in a similar capacity. Dad also worked there as a plumbers mate, until the early 1950's.

My sister, Penny, was born in July 1953, and it was a regular job of mine to push her pram from the front garden to the back, or vice versa. The house always seemed to be so big, with its 3 stories, and when Penny came along, I was moved from the back bedroom to the attic. This was a big room right up in the roof, with sloping ceilings almost down to the floor. It also had a little cupboard under the eaves at the rear that my sister believed housed ghosts and monsters. I well remember laying in bed and hearing fluttering noises that kept me awake in fear of the unknown. Birds or bats, no doubt.

In 1950 Keith and Betty Williams, and their daughter Lesley, moved in to number 44 Baldwyns Road. Lesley and I used to shout insults at each other over the back gardens. Little did I know that we would marry in 1968, and move in to number 36 for a couple of years, until I joined the RAF. Keith and Betty later moved out in 1968 to Birchwood Road, near Puddledock Lane.

When we moved in to number 40, there was a brick and concrete air raid shelter in the back garden . Dad dismantled it and buried it, laying grass over it. I helped him[well, at least I was there] to cut down a tall tree, and that probably got used for fire wood. It was a good house to live in. and I have a great deal to thank my parents for in the way that they brought me up, and the happy childhood that it had.

My friends included George Pope, Louis Cruikshank, Roger Dyson, Tony Clark, Philip Balcombe, Billy Lynn, Johnny Parker and more. Poor Johnny died in a motorcycle accident on the A2 on the far side of the heath, at the age of 18 or 19, coming home from evening classes in Dartford. We were the Maypole Gang. Their were rival gangs, in particular, the Crayford Gang, who we had a caterpult fight with on one occasion, across the valley in the Dell. I don't remember anyone being hit by a missile, no doubt because the caterpults didn't have the range. The Dell was one of the most visited areas, mainly because of the rope swing. We also took our bikes and carts there, and rode them down the sides of the Dell, to see how far up the other side we could get. We used to go up the footpath, over the field, to the apple orchard on Cold Blow, and go scrumping. We were chased by a man with a shovel on one occasion, but we got away. If you turned right along the edge of the field before going in to Cold Blow, there was a wood about 1/4 mile away, on the top of a rise. In this wood, adjacent to the A2, there was a hollow with a shed in it. We thought a man lived in it, and we would go and spy on him. I don't remember ever seeing him, though. I would have been 11 or 12 at the time. There were far less constraints on the activities of children then. We just had to be home for tea.

As previously mentioned, my Grandfather was a stoker at Bexley Hospital, and was employed there during WW11. There was an often repeated tale in the family, of when Grandad was keeping the fires going overnight during an air-raid, but he carried on stoking until morning, when he looked up and saw a hole in the roof. Soon after, he was tending the boiler, when he saw a dud bomb lying in the embers. Now, my Grandad was a great story teller and exaggerator, so it may have been another of his tales, of which he had many.

My Mum wanted to be a Land Girl, but as she was working off Tile Kiln Lane somewhere looking after two elderly sisters, she was told that she couldn't. She told us that she was riding her bike to work one morning, along Tile Kiln Lane, when a German bomber flew over very low. The rear gunner fired his machine gun at her, but thankfully missed completely. She said that she was so petrified that she couldn't even get off the bike to hide in a ditch. Seems I'm lucky to be here. She also told us that she had to do a turn fire watching[ARP?] with Mr George Stockford several times a week. She said she used to be more frightened of Mr Stockford than the air-raids. She would have only been about 18 at the time.

Some time ago, my wife and I took a short holiday in West Sussex, to research a church and graveyard at Ditchling that has links to a branch of her family. While we were there we visited a Museum that has old buildings from around the country that were dismantled and then rebuilt there. We were surprised and pleased to find a 15th century building that used to be in North Cray. It was dismantled and kept when North Cray Road was widened in the late 1960's, with the intention of rebuilding it in the area, but this never happened. Subsequently it was given to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum for reconstruction. There is a website which has details of this building that some may find interesting.

Much has already been said about trees on the heath that we gave names to. I only ever managed to climb the Slippery Jack a couple of times. A favourite tree when I was about 10 was the Action Tree, which I also knew as the Helicopter Tree. I don't know why, perhaps because of a particular game that we played. This tree was between Leyton Cross Road and the Middle Road, about 300 or 400 yards from the Hospital gates. I always thought in inches, feet and yards then, so it seems appropriate to use them now. George Pope could swing upside down, by his legs, like an acrobat, from a branch on this tree. When I tried it I couldn't get back up onto the branch again, and had to drop to the ground. It seemed such a long way up then, and of course, none of my mates would help me. They just laughed. The broken neck soon healed[only joking].

About the same distance from the Hospital gates, on the other side of Leyton Cross Road, were the cherry plum trees, which always tasted so good that we ended up with bad tummies. We got in through a loose fence panel usually, but were not averse to getting a leg up over the fence. We would post lookouts and stuff pockets and shirts with as many as we could, then share them out later. We were chased, half heartedly, sometimes, but never got caught. I took some home once, and Mum knew where they had come from, but said nothing. No doubt she had been involved in the same escapades in her childhood. In the 1960's, and probably before, the Hospital farm was run by a Mr Read. I was an apprentice motor mechanic at John C. Beadle, in Dartford, with his son Roger, who later emigrated to New Zealand. There was another son, Earl, who was a year or two older. I don't remember it being a very productive farm at that time, but I heard a lot about it in previous times, when it provided much of the food for the hospital.

Having played on the heath for all of my childhood, I came to know it very well, like the back of my hand as they say. But when I first started to venture out, at about the age of 7 or 8, often we didn't know which way was home. After getting home late one day, we realised we needed some method of finding out where we were. It must have been an older playmate who told us to climb a tree, and look for the hospital chimney. At that time it was visible from most of the heath. We all must remember the heath's landmarks, like the trees, the Penny Royal, the Donkey Pond, the Glory Bumps, the Army Camp, etc. etc. I would still like to know what the Glory Bumps were for. We didn't have the luxury of mountain bikes. We used whatever we had, sometimes cobbling something together from parts, mostly without mudguards and brakes, and rode these contraptions everywhere. The Glory Bumps were especially exciting when negotiated on a bike with dropped handlebars.

There was an occasion when Johnny Parker and I were in the Dell, when we found some older boys, who we didn't know, constructing a take-off ramp in a gully that led downhill, past the swing tree. When they had completed it, it was about 18 inches high. They had a racing bike with them, and were goading each other to ride over it. After a while, and several aborted attempts, I said I would do it. The bike was too big for me, but I did it without falling off. I gained much kudos for that, at least for the day.

As a last item for now, does anyone remember that Mr Pope was a bus driver. He often drove on the 401 route, and I remember waving to him in his cab when I boarded his bus. In acknowledgement he would lift only one finger from the steering wheel. On a visit back to the Maypole in the 1980's, I saw him in his front garden, and just said 'Hello, Mr Pope'. He said 'Do I know you?' Mrs Pope came out and recognised me immediately. They were nice people.

More later.

From the Maypolehistory team - can't wait !

More pages