Barry Alderson: Memories of the Horton Area


Barry Alderson in 2010
Barry Alderson in 2010
Image courtesy of Peter Reed ©2010

My father John James (Jim) Alderson was born in 1907, in a mining village at Leeholme, Durham. His mother Martha was unmarried and abandoned dad to his grandmother Louisa, a few months after his birth. He could just about read and write when he left school. He grew up to be a good footballer and a handicap sprinter. He played for the Countries top amateur team, Bishop Auckland, and his niece in Durham has his silver medal for winning the 'Hospital Cup' around 1920. Like all the males in the area he started working in the coal mine at 14 but due to an accident in the pit he could no longer work in the mines.

Jim Alderson sitting next to the West Park Hospital Bowling Green  c.1950's
Jim Alderson sitting next to the West Park Hospital Bowling Green c.1950's
Image courtesy of Barry Alderson ©2010

His uncle Earnest Victor Parton (known as Bert), a mine electrician, had moved to Horton Hospital as group electrician, and after living for a short time in Hook Road, moved into the East Engineer's Lodge in Horton Lane. He got Dad a job in the gardens of the hospital. Later he persuaded him to go into nursing and then commenced to school him.

Postcard image of Horton Asylum Entrance c1905
Postcard image of Horton Asylum Entrance c1905
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

One of the wards in West Park Hosital where Jim Alderson worked c.1950s
One of the wards in West Park Hosital where Jim Alderson worked c.1950s
Image courtesy of Barry Alderson ©2010

My father met my mother, Gwyneth Doreen (Doreen) Watkins at a hospital dance. She was a miner's daughter from Pontypridd Wales, doing domestic work at Redhill Hospital. They married and their first child, Nita was born that same year, 1931. Doreen quickly becoming pregnant again so they decided to let his Uncle Bert and Aunt Louise adopt Nita. Unlike us, Nita had a wonderful childhood in the lodge throughout the years of the Second World War.

Jim and Dorren Alderson on their 50th Anniversary c.1981
Jim and Dorren Alderson on their 50th Wedding Anniversary c.1981
Image courtesy of Barry Alderson ©2010

My parents had 4 other children, John in 1933, Avril in 1934, myself in 1936 and Godfrey Gwynne in 1938. The same year they rented a house in Rollesby Road, adjacent to Butcher's Grove. Money was short during the war, but we scrimped through it. Being the middle of three boys, John had new clothes, then passed them to me, but by the time I finished with them they were too worn out, so Gwynne had new clothes. My mother's sister in the USA sent us some of her sons' cast-offs.

Jim Alderson's Long Service Certificate - click image to enlarge
Jim Alderson's Long Service Certificate - click image to enlarge
Image courtesy of Barry Alderson ©2010

For some reason, I don't know why, I was sent to Ruxley Lane Infants, aged 5. For the first year my sister took me and brought me back, but when she left the infants, she went to Moor Lane Chessington.

So a 6-year-old (with small legs) had to walk to school, about two miles, on his own. I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like, all weathers with no waterproofs. I do remember having cardboard cut out insoles in my shoes to stop the wet from the holes in my shoes.

Milkman George Larkby, his horse Punch with a Scotts Dairy Milk Float c.1950. This is NOT the vehicle involved in Barry's accident.
Milkman George Larkby, his horse Punch with a Scotts Dairy Milk Float c.1950
This is NOT the vehicle involved in Barry's accident.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

At about 8, I was run over by a Scotts Dairy Milk Van, in Ruxley Lane: I broke my ankle and shoulder. When they took the plaster off I had ringworm: a perfectly round circle about the size of an old halfpenny, but have never seen one since. My mother was more concerned that in the accident one of my shoes went flying. We never did find it. She sent my older siblings to look for it. No joy. Anyway when I recovered I was sent to Moor Lane School, as it was deemed too dangerous for a small child to travel this distance on his own (as it had proved).

Ringworm on an arm
Ringworm on an arm

During the war, my mother had been doing war work at Fox and Nicholls on Tolworth Broadway but that went with peace time. She got a job in a crumpet bakery in Ruxley Lane near the Chessington Road end. She would bring home miss-shaped crumpets and we had crumpets in one version or another for a couple of years. I won't touch them now. When she was dying in hospital in 1995 (aged 86) I asked her if she could discharge herself as in the local paper they were looking for an experienced "crumpet maker". She nearly fell out of the bed laughing. Dad, Jim, worked in West Park for forty years and was 96 when he died in 2001.

Crumpet and butter
Crumpet and butter

My most outstanding memories of the hospital complex were the dawn chorus. In the early spring the noise was wondrous and woke us up each morning. Butcher's Grove was a sea of bluebells, followed by a multitude of primroses. On the right of the rail, towards the footbridge, for about 200 yards there were dewberries, larger than a blackberry and bluey mauve, delicious. I still play a little golf at Horton and I often look for them but no sign. Wild strawberries grew all along the same stretch of rail and were very popular with the children, as were the hazelnuts.

Dewberries
Dewberries

In the orchard at Long Grove was a French cooking pear tree, hard as nails (we scrumped them) but on the end of a stick, poked in a wood fire 'til black and then peeled, or put in a stew with dewberries or blackberries they were delicious. Blackberry picking was a family outing; the kids knew all the best bushes. Dad would send us to pick mushrooms that only grew in one field: now the golf course.

Onto the troubles we had with the derailment. [Editors note: The Horton Light Railway was built to carry materials for the building of Long Grove Hospital and was later used to carry general supplies and especially coal to the Hospital Cluster] We would walk the line with a bucket picking up coal falling from the truck, or if the driver ever left a laden truck in the siding at Butcher's Grove, it was all fair game.

Engine Hendon at Four Acre Wood on the Horton Light Railway 1938
Engine Hendon at Four Acre Wood on the Horton Light Railway 1938
This 0-6-0 saddle tank engine was manufactured in 1926 by Manning Wardle.
Image Source: Greater London Records Office

We discovered that, if we left brushwood on the line, the driver would stop the train to clear the track. One or two of us would show ourselves and he would throw lumps of coal at us. Unfortunately one day the patients from the Manor, who maintained the lines, left a 24-inch length of rail by the side of the track and this got put on the track under the brushwood. This time he decided to run through the small branches and caught the piece of rail, which took the train off the lines. We had no intention of this happening, as it had become a game with him. Fortunately he was only badly shaken, but when I think what might have happened I still shake today.

During and after the war, times were hard for children. No sweets, ice cream or any other of the treats now taken for granted. I remember going into the Bungalow Stores, by the road tunnel and buying little blocks of Ex-lax, which looked like miniature bars of chocolate, or liquorice root. Or, if we could rake up sixpence, a small tin of Horlicks tablets. I don't think we had such a thing as a winter's coat, only a jacket with shiny sleeves. If you've never had a handkerchief, you know what I mean.

The Bungalow Stores, 358 Chessington Road 1972
The Bungalow Stores, 358 Chessington Road in 1972
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

Butterflies and moths were in profusion in the woods and fields. I think I knew them all by name and could recognise their caterpillars. I remember the Comma in particular. If you stood still by a blackberry bush in flower one would always land on your head. Wild plants and flowers were plentiful.

Comma Butterfly
Comma Butterfly

There was a small alley, which ran between Rollesby Road and Ruxley Lane, which was ditched on the side of the woods. Some nights in June it would be alight with glow-worms, hundreds of them. We would catch a couple, put them in a matchbox. By day they were just drab looking beetles that never ever glowed again.

Glow-worm
Glow-worm (Lampyris noctiluca)

Cuckoo
Cuckoo (Cuculus Canorus)

A favourite arrival in the park was the cuckoo. It would call all day. You never got tired of it. We had no deer in the park then: was it due to meat rationing? The only crops grown I can remember was sugar beet, which came in handy on November 5th as lanterns and pigeon peas (a black coloured pea). In Butcher's Grove were 2 or 3 'thrush stones'. You would hear the thrushes cracking open the snails all day and the shells surrounded the stones.

Song Thrush
Song Thrush
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2010

I found an old bayonet in the woods. I think now it was from a brown Bess rifle circa 1860, but I have been told it is probably Napoleonic, it is now in the hands of the museum. Dad told me that when the Home Guard were formed in the 1940s all they had was an armband, nothing else. Many old weapons were used. Did someone have this old bayonet in his shed: we'll never know.

On the 17th tee of the golf course are the old ruins of some low walls. There was a pigsty on this site and on some Saturday mornings pigs were butchered the old way [Caught, hung head down and their throats slit so the blood would run out] and they would squeal for hours.

Pig Slaughter
Pig Slaughter

A doodlebug fell on this fairway about 150 yards to the green. It left a large crater that was later filled in, but you can still see a slight depression. The bomb exploded in the field but the casing was thrown about 30 yards into the wood and was left there.

Also a spitfire crashed in the fields between the footbridge and Chessington Zoo. We tried to get souvenirs, but they put soldiers on guard. "We have orders to shoot any person crossing this line" they told us, but only in jest. Near the site of the spitfire crash we used to dam the Bones Gate stream to make a swimming hole, but the stream fed Harry White's sausage shop alongside the Bonesgate pub and old Harry would storm up stream and tear the dam down, but it soon went back. In the field by the footbridge the Home Guard and the boys from the manor put up a series of large posts to stop any landing from German Gliders: a nice flat site.

I can remember double Summer time. In the summer holidays when we all but lived in the park we used to walk to the Stew Ponds up the line to the West Park, passed the tank traps. It was a long walk for kids and we had to walk on the sleepers: no path. We all learned to swim in the Stew Ponds. It got dark about 11.00, a long day but we were fit and it was great.

Stew Ponds c.1950
Stew Ponds c.1950
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

Generally the kids got on well with the patients who, if not working on the line, would often wander about. But one scary moment was when the kids found a body in the small pond in Butcher's Grove. They picked him up on the train.

A few years ago the blacksmith at Horton told me that, when it was decided to develop Long Grove, they had a lovely building with a clock outside. I remember going to a New Year's Ball. In the dance they had a beautiful chandelier and some company came down to value it. It was estimated at £10,000 and they decided to sell. When the buyer came to collect it it was missing. Is this true?

Also my sister Nita in Horton Lodge said that they used to listen to Lord Haw Haw on a Saturday night "Germany calling" and one night he mentioned that although Horton was a reserve hospital it was still considered a legitimate target and was fair game. [Editors note: Lord Haw-Haw was the English language broadcaster on a German propaganda radio station] She said an unexploded bomb fell into the ditch in Horton Lane, outside the Lodge, and they had to move out for 3 days. Also a bomb exploded the same night on the swimming pool, which was originally a cooling tank.

Finally, at Moor Lane School we had, for a short time, Petula Clark who was then living in Rollesby Road with her mother. Also Julie Andrews was the daughter of Ted Wells, our P E Master, and she would come and sing at some of our school parties.

After thought: my most distinct memory of the area was a sound on a Sunday morning, by the footbridge, where you could hear the bells of St Mary's church and the roaring of the lions at the zoo.

Barry Alderson after a night on guard duty c.1955
Barry Alderson after a night on guard duty c.1955
Image courtesy of Barry Alderson ©2010

Barry Alderson



Unless otherwise stated images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



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