Tony Helyar, Maypole Memories

Tony Helyar, Maypole Memories - History of Maypole, Dartford Heath

This is an edited extract from my autobiography

On the edge of Dartford Heath, across the road from Bexley Mental Hospital, known to all in those days as the lunatic asylum, was The Maypole School. At the time a modern primary school with large, airy, well lit classrooms, an assembly hall and cloakrooms all interconnected by means of a veranda running the whole length of the building. The toilets however were across the playground and on rainy days you got wet, the boys more so since their urinals were not favoured with a roof. This establishment was run with meticulous efficiency by the head mistress Miss Gaspar and I joined the infant's class at the age of five. I think I enjoyed the school, I can't remember ever thinking I would rather not be there. We walked of course, in my case about a mile but some much further, and home for the midday meal. Plenty of opportunities to get wet but the classrooms were well heated, in the winter we thawed out our daily milk on the radiators.

One day, running into the road to retrieve a toy glider, I went under the hooves and wheels of Mr.Chalice the greengrocer’s horse and cart. I wasn't badly damaged and when I realised that the worried Mr. Chalice was carrying me into the lunatic asylum for attention I beat him so furiously round the head that he was forced to drop me and I ran all the way home. On another occasion I was not so lucky. I ran out of a classroom, completely against the rules, head down, straight into one of the iron girders supporting the veranda. My mother took me, swathed in bandages, on the bus to the Woolwich War Memorial Hospital at the top of Shooter's Hill where I was gassed into unconsciousness for the insertion of five stitches.

In 1941 having reached the age of eleven I joined the top class at the Maypole School, taught by the redoubtable Miss Gaspar herself. She was marvellous, she was the school, and it ran like oiled silk. She was a portly lady and always wore a modesty but she took us out onto Dartford Heath to play football occasionally, girls and boys. I remember once during morning assembly an irate mother stormed in to the hall and started shouting about some injustice done to her child. Before anyone had time to think Miss Gaspar set sail across the room, swept up the angry parent and ushered her out. Nothing was permitted to upset morning assembly and All Things bright and Beautiful never missed a beat. In her class at the end of each week all the marks were added up and the class positions announced and everyone moved to their place. I never got higher than seventh.

The walk home from school was over the puddles at Beaconsfield Road, which was unmade at that time, past Vines Post Office, where if your Mum had come to meet you she could sometimes be persuaded to buy you a halfpenny ice cream cornet, on past the little row of shops with Chalice’s the greengrocers, and an electrical shop where in later years I bought parts for wireless sets and where I first came across the Radiospares catalogue which then had a hole in the top left hand corner so it could be hung on a convenient nail (it is now in six thick volumes and weighs the best part of 20 lbs.), past the red railings soon to be removed to turn into tanks, down the hill and over the road into Baldwyn’s Park where I lived at No. 44.

There were a few shops at the end of Baldwyns Park, where it joined the main Dartford Road, and these could supply most of the community’s day-to-day needs. Baldwyns Stores was a grocer's where bacon was sliced, butter was patted, and sugar was weighed into blue bags. Biscuits were displayed in their glass-topped boxes along the front of the counter and there were a couple of bentwood chairs for the lady customers. On the opposite corner was Wesborn's, a franchise of the Fourbuoys confectionery firm. Mr. And Mrs. Wesborn sold chocolates, sweets, newspapers, magazines, and tobacco and ran a small lending library. They also operated an accumulator charging service.

Although almost all the properties in the neighbourhood were connected to the mains electricity supply there were still some folks using battery powered wireless sets and these required accumulators, a 2 volt battery cell in a thick glass container filled with an acid electrolyte and with two screw terminals on the top to allow connection to the relatively high current filament or heater circuits of the wireless valves. These accumulators required charging every week or so and it was common practice for a local shop to provide this service for a few pence a time. The high-tension supply for the wireless was supplied by a large 120-volt dry battery that had to be replaced occasionally. Some of these battery powered wireless sets used valves which required a third power source, a grid bias battery. This was a small dry battery with tappings at 1.5, 3, 4.5, 6, 7.5, and 9 volts; the particular voltage required being specified by the wireless manufacturer. Usually, when an area was connected to the electricity supply, these battery wirelesses disappeared quite quickly since mains operated sets were cheaper to run. However for people who did not wish to purchase a new mains operated set there was an alternative, the mains eliminator. This was a mains powered unit which provided low and high tension outputs which could be connected to the wireless in place of the battery and accumulator connections thus achieving the benefits of mains operation without the necessity of buying a new set.

Next to Wesborn’s was a branch of the Dartford Industrial Co-operative Society that comprised both a butcher's and a grocer's. Mr. Chipperfield and his wife ran the butcher's. Mr. Chipperfield was a big round man and you could tell he was a butcher because he wore a blue striped apron and a straw hat and he had only three fingers on his left hand, the fourth lost in his sausage making machine so the story went. There was always plenty of clean sawdust on the floor of his shop and when you paid the bill he put the money into a pot that fitted on to an overhead wire and when he pulled the handle the pot flew through a hole in the wall to the cashier in her glass cubicle in the grocer's next door. After a while the pot came back with your change and a cheque for the 'divi'. Next to the Co-op was a small draper's and haberdasher's and last in the row was a shop which was bricked up and strengthened to be an air raid shelter during the war but afterwards was converted to a fish shop by Mr. and Mrs. Elsey.

I remember many names from the Maypole School top class in 1941: Kenneth McCauley, Geoffrey Mayer, Alan Coast, Norman Brooks , Sheila Hamer, Joy Linsdell, John Chalice, David Cruickshank, John Chipperfield, Gordon Lennox, Marie Walpole (who eventually became my wife), Sheila Cone (emigrated to Australia), Clive Kidd, Joan Rivers, Derek Wise, Colin Hayes, Irene Turner, Bob Bailey, Jennifer Bell. Post Maypole I played tennis at weekends with Colin Hayes, we used to get down to the courts in Bexley very early in the morning so getting in an hour or so before the groundsman arrived demanding money. Colin sadly died whilst still in his teens. Following on from the Maypole reunion in July 2002 I received a long letter from Gordon Lennox in New Zealand and he subsequently did a lot of genealogical research on my ancestors – it was easier for him to get to the family history centre in Christchurch NZ than it was for me to get to the UK centre in Islington! We exchanged many memories via the Internet, he sent me a photo of the Leyton Cross Football Club 1947-48 which includes many names from my list above. Very sadly Gordon died in 2004.

My wife and I occasionally passed by the school on the way to visit friends in Bexley and apart from the traffic nothing appeared to have changed very much. On our next visit we will be saddened to see that the school has gone.

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