Life in Lorenco Road after The Great War (1919 – 1935)
Philip J Smart
My mother’s mother, Florence Martha Mole, was born on December 6th 1913. She was the third of six surviving children born to George and Annie who lived in Lorenco Road, a drab working class backwater on the Edmonton and Tottenham border on the outskirts of north London in Middlesex.
Florence’s father was absent from home during her earliest years on account of him serving King and country in The Great War. Her childhood years that followed his safe return, and those up to her marriage in 1935, fell within a national depression, but despite the hardship of these times, Florence would later reflect on them with amusement and fond memory. The area where she grew up had a reputation for being the roughest for miles, but even so it was a place where people looked out for each other and shouldered their troubles together and as a child she knew no happier or safer place.
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The Great War had brought the country to its knees and almost broken the spirit of her people. Every street had lost husbands, fathers and sons and although those that survived received a hero’s welcome, the promised “land fit for heroes” never materialized. Instead they met with a shortage of jobs and a country in financial ruin.
George Mole was invalided out of the army in 1921, having miraculously survived the war. He returned home from Cologne where his regiment was part of an occupational force, only to find hungry mouths to feed and a long wait for a meagre army pension. He did find work as a night watchman but these were hard times indeed. Not that this was anything new. The people of Lorenco Road had always lived day by day, as best they could, often raising cash by pawning the few menial belongings they owned. By sharing the burden of hardship they somehow muddled through. It was often said of Annie Mole that she would give away her last farthing than see a troubled neighbour go short.
The Lorenco Road neighbourhood was known locally as “Little Russia” on account of the number of Russian immigrants who had fled their native country during the 1917 revolution and lived on the estate. The area was regarded by the local police as a den of iniquity and a haven of thieves, drunkards and street gamblers. The police would only patrol in twos and whenever they were in hot pursuit of local crooks down the street, residents would bundle the offenders through a roof hatch into the loft. With no firewalls to be cornered by they were free to evade their pursuers by scurrying along the roof space unseen to make their escape further along the terrace into another house.
Children were always playing outside in Lorenco Road. With no traffic or parked cars to get in the way the streets were their playgrounds. Florence and her friends used to play skipping by draping a rope from one side of the road to the other. Adults would look on as they sat out in their doorways or gossiped over fences or on street corners.
With no money for toys the Mole children were well used to improvising and making their own entertainment. Florence remembered using the old orange boxes to make dolls houses and during the summer months they played for hours in the sand pits over the fields between Lorenco Road and the North Middlesex Hospital (the former workhouse). Using broom handles and their mothers’ tablecloths, Florence and her friends would erect makeshift tents and sometimes Annie would bring over a jug of tea and some buns. Occasionally they would rent bicycles and explore the neighbouring countryside, cycling along the car free- lanes of Edmonton and Tottenham that surrounded their homes. They often played in the grounds of the old Weir hall estate, where Florence recalled seeing the shell-shocked victims of the war convalescing. It was here too where a prank ended in tragedy when cousin Frankie (son of Annie’s sister Florence and her drunkard of a husband, Frank Dewson) drowned in the lake. That was a day she would never forget.
Windmill in Silver Street, Edmonton 1920
Florence Mole and most other children in the neighbourhood were educated at The Lancastrian School in Bruce Grove. By then the building was already over a hundred years old. Financed by voluntary contributions the boys’ school had begun life in 1812, and the girls’ three years later. When Florence was at school here there were no exercise books, only slate boards and chalk to write on them with.
On Sundays Florence would walk from her home to Sunday school classes at the mission hall in nearby Queens Street. On the way she would pass The Three Compasses pub where her father would be enjoying a beer and a game of dominoes with friends in the tap room. She would knock on the window to gain his attention, and he would appear at the door with a penny for her to put on the collection plate. The mission hall was also where she went to watch magic lantern shows. This building still exists today.
In the 1920s, when finances allowed, George Mole often enjoyed a pint or two at The Three compasses. This was the social hub of the estate, where local men gathered to escape cold and cramped homes that were overrun with children, and to share a joke or to drown their sorrows. It was not always laughter and chitchat however. Disagreements and arguments after a few beers would frequently lead to a scrap on the pavement outside to settle differences.
Florence would later recall that a boxer called Jack Holt from London frequented this establishment. He used to call to see his friend and fellow boxer, Billy Mathews who managed the pub. Amongst the crowd that accompanied Jack was Billy’s sister, the Hollywood actress Jessie Mathews. In the early 1930s during one of these visits Ms Matthews gave Florence one of her dresses. It was, she recalled, “blue velvet with open sleeves revealing a beautiful satin lining beneath”.
The Moles could not afford holidays, although occasionally the street would hold charabanc outings to Southend, which they would always ensure was organised for the day the rent man was due to call! Now and again visits from relations also gave cause for rare periods of relaxation and merriment, like the times when George Mole’s brother Tom and his wife Mary came to visit from their home in Finsbury Park. Florence remembered that Uncle Tom would take the family out to the Hertfordshire countryside on his horse and trap. Whipping the horse continuously they would travel northward along what is now the old A10 through Waltham Cross and beyond, and stop at a favourite pub. At Rye House there was a leisure park with a maze where Florence and her brothers and sisters would entertain themselves whilst the adults were inside the pub swilling beer and gin. The locals called these working class revellers “rent dodgers”. Suitably merry, on the way home they would all join together in a singsong.
The Moles of this generation belonged to the age of music hall and one of the biggest entertainers of the day was Marie Lloyd, whose last appearance in 1922 was at the Mole’s local venue, The Edmonton Empire. Florence recalled that her mother, Annie, saw Lloyd perform there several times. Herself of humble origins this star of her time was able to capture the imagination of the working classes with a particular brand of humour and entertainment that they could identify with. One of her most famous songs, “My old man said follow the van,” was about the familiar subject of moving house to avoid rent arrears without the landlord knowing. The song is still recognised and sung in modern times.
Marie Lloyd and The Edmonton Empire in 1910
Among the songs Florence remembered her mother singing were “The Sunshine of your smile,” “I wouldn’t leave my little wooden hut for you” and “Little Annie Rooney.” These are songs she would have learnt from music hall performances. Other tunes almost certainly sung by the Moles as they journeyed back from their Hertfordshire jaunts in the darkness were those reminiscent of the First World War, including: “It’s a Long way to Tipperary” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”
Christmas time was another rare time for high spirits. Although there were never parcels to open Florence and her siblings would each receive a stocking laden with small gifts; an apple and an orange, some sweets or nuts perhaps, and the occasional small toy or hair ribbon for the girls. The house would be decorated with homemade paper chains that the children had glued together with flour and water paste, and at lunchtime the family would sit down to enjoy a roast dinner of rabbit followed by Mrs Cates’s home made Christmas puddings, which were spherical and about the size of a cricket balls. The children called them “bombs.” Cousin Doll (aunt Maggie’s daughter) and her brood, the Parkes family, then came in from next door, along with other neighbours and friends and they would enjoy a few drinks and sing the old songs into the evening. Annie Mole’s party-piece on these occasions was to dance the Scottish sword dance above a marked out cross on the floor. Later they would meet up with Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary down the 3 Compasses pub at the end of the road.
The close-knit nature of the Lorenco Road community meant that there was very little privacy. Consequently gossip and rumour was always rife. This actually brought a degree of excitement to an otherwise largely gloomy existence. Indeed people revelled in scandal provided they were not the subjects of it! Paradoxically too, despite the criminal activity of the area the people who lived here exercised a strict code of moral social conduct amongst themselves. This was enforced by ritual demonstrations of working class etiquette, particularly amongst the housewives. Doorstep scrubbing, for example, was once common practise, but was more about keeping up appearances than fulfilling a necessary requirement. These people were poor, but they were also proud. The people of Lorenco Road looked out for each other and they were very protective of their own. There was never a need to lock doors and windows in Lorenco Road. Theft and violent attacks were unheard of from within the community. Even when a front door was shut entry could always be obtained because every house kept a key hanging on a string on the inside of the letterbox.
The electoral register of 1920 gives a snapshot in time of this colourful collection of working class families. There were for, example, the Skipps at number 72a whose second son ended up in prison. There were the Dells, flower sellers at number 78, and Albert and Annie Chadney of 76a who both died of TB. After their deaths their son Albert, Florence Mole’s one time childhood sweetheart, was subsequently taken away into a home and not seen again. The Thorntons lived at number 80a. This was the home of Florence’s best friend, Florrie (known as Polly) and her remedial sister, Dolly. They lived with their father, Arthur, who had only one leg. Their neighbours, The Moles, lived at 82a and in 1920 they shared the house with Annie’s brother, George (and later his wife Ada), and their mother, Laura Cooper. Upstairs at 82b were the Cates family who eventually moved to Hemel Hempstead, taking with them Dolly Thornton. George Mole’s sister Maggie, and her husband, Bill Parkes, also lived in the street. Their daughter, Dolly, married another resident, Bill King, from number 68.. On the corner of Lorenco Road was a small shop selling fruit and bundles of chopped firewood, which was managed by the neurotic Fanny Hazelwood. Mrs Kilby and her son James (known as “Jimbo”) lived opposite the Moles. She was a good friend of the family whose London nephew courted Florence Mole for a time.
Making ends meet was a way of life in Lorenco Road. Food was basic and generally purchased from the market or from street traders like the muffin man, with his large tray that he carried on his head. The “winkle man” was popular on Sundays and the milkman was a familiar sight each morning with his horse drawn cart and metal churns. Milk was delivered, not by the bottle, but ladled into customers’ jugs from churns at the back of a cart. The coalman was a regular visitor to the street too and likewise, traded from a horse drawn vehicle.
Annie Mole always bought her linen and bedding from a Jewish door-to-door salesman, called Mr Simms, who called on Saturdays. She would pay him in instalments, but was frequently caught short when he was making his calls in the area. Keen to avoid debt she would send off Florence to the pawnshop just ahead of his visit to raise the money from whatever might cover the due balance. George’s wages (when he was in work) were never enough, so to help finance the running of the house, Annie worked as a cleaner at the Three Compasses. She later cooked, cleaned and scrubbed steps for the middle classes in Palmers Green.
The muffin man
The people of Lorenco Road lived one family to a floor in two storey terraces. Each alternate front door opened to stairs leading to a dwelling on the upper floor. The passageway of each home led to the main living area, which served as a kitchen and main living area. At one end of this room stood a black-leaded range, which doubled as a heater and cooker. Mice would scurry around this area and often jump in and out of the oven when it was left open.
There was no bathroom or hot running water. Bathing took place weekly in a tin tub in front of the range and on these occasions the same water was used in turn by the entire household. The eldest would always go first and the youngest last. Hot water for bathing and washing laundry was obtained by heating cold water from a single household mains tap, on the range in large heavy pots.
The adults would normally bath at the public facilities in Bruce Grove for a charge of 3d. Cold water only was used for daily ablutions.
At the back of the house there was a small scullery with a few cupboards. Food was kept cool by placing it in a tin and burying in a hole in the garden. The primitive toilet was near to where the gas cooker stood in latter years. Annie’s grandchildren would later recall this with a shudder! It was so dirty they hated using it.
There were two bedrooms in the Lorenco Road dwellings. In the Moles’ home these were to the right of the hallway. The children all slept in one room, several to a bed with coats for added warmth, as the only source of heat in the house was the range in the main room. The rooms were cramped and unhygienic and on one occasion, whilst lying in her bed Florence saw a rat run along the inside widow ledge.
On the opposite side of the hallway from the bedrooms there were two cupboards. One of these was used for storing coal, the other general domestic items such as brooms and coats.
On February 9th 1929, two days before Annie’s 41st birthday, George Mole died at North Middlesex Hospital at the age of 43 (the death certificate wrongly states 45). Florence remembered that her father had died of “chest problems,” which were caused by the appalling conditions he endured in the trenches during The Great War. The death certificate confirms this, stating the cause of death as pleurisy and acute bronchitis. It records that he was a general labourer and an Army pensioner.
Florence remembered that during the years leading up to his death, often he would travel up to London to the military hospitals and return in an army issue blue suit (known as “the military blues”) with a tin of faggots for tea.
On the day of his funeral his body was laid out at their home ready for burial. Florence would later recall that the children were sent into the garden on the day of the funeral but called in to kiss their father goodbye at her mother’s request, before he was carried off to Tottenham Cemetery. She was 15 years old when he died.
George’s death plunged the family into further financial hardship. Although Annie brought in a meagre income from her cleaning jobs she now relied heavily on money from her eldest son, George.
Around 1930 Annie was at her wits end when her eldest son, George, announced that he and his friend Harry Nichols had resigned from their factory jobs and joined the Kings Royal Rifles. There was talk of buying him out of the army, presumably by borrowing money, but George could not be persuaded to stay and went off to India with his regiment. In 1938 times grew even more fraught at 82a when one of the Bullock boys of number 70 landed Lily Mole pregnant at the age of 15. Lilly had broken one of the biggest rules of social conduct and it was the scandal of the street. Nevertheless her mother, Annie, stood tall in the face of shame and supported her daughter through her ordeal. When baby David was born Annie raised him as her own. Even in old age, Florence persisted in referring to David as her “half brother.”
When Florence left school at the age of fourteen she worked first in a battery factory in White Hart Lane. Afterwards she worked with her sister Rose who was a French Polisher for “Liebermans” Florence was only allowed to apply the chemicals to the underside of cabinets or in the inside of the drawers, a process (she recalled) known as “fadding.” In her spare time she liked to visit the cinema and well remembers silent movies when the films were accompanied by a piano or organ player to add dramatic affect. One of her favourite stars of the time was Clara Bow, but she loved them all and collected pictures of them from magazines. She also enjoyed dancing and frequented a dance hall in Lea Bridge Road, Walthamstow. Her mother once saved up for weeks to buy her a new pair of dancing shoes and one evening, in her haste to return home on time she lost one of the shoes. She was never able to tell her mother.
As a teenager, Florence Mole shared the same group of friends as her brother George. For a time his good friend Harry Nichols courted her, but she refused an offer of marriage from him and he ended up marrying her sister Edie instead. Florence fell instead for a dark featured young man from Enfield called Reginald Watts. Four years her senior, Reg worked at “Sangamos”, an electrical appliances factory in Southbury Road, Enfield and he owned a motorcycle. During their courting days they travelled around the countryside on this bike and visited towns and places of interest, including Waltham Abbey, Crystal Palace and St. Albans. Chingford, then a rural and open place, was one of Reg’s favourite places.
Florence and Reg were married on August 4th 1935 at St. James church in Upper Edmonton. Dressed in his regimental uniform George Mole gave his sister away.
Reg’s brother, Ben, was his best man and the bridesmaids were Brenda Watts (Reg’s niece), Doreen Pickett (Florence’s niece), Edie Mole (Florence’s sister) and Florence’s best friend and next-door neighbour, Polly Thornton. Ray Watts (The best man’s son) was a pageboy.
The wedding reception was held in Mrs Kilby’s house, which had a suitably large front room and garden.
Florence’s mother, Annie Mole, lived on at 82a Lorenco Road until the street was demolished in the late early 1970s as part of a local authority redevelopment programme. It was a rough place to the end. When Terry Morris was courting Annie’s grand-daughter, Pearl Watts, he used to leave his car in Lorenco Road whilst he went off to watch Tottenham Hotspur play home matches at White Hart Lane football ground nearby. The car remained safe however, because the local children insisted on looking after it while he was away. This was by no means a gesture of kindness, but rather a threat that if a payment was not made it would receive a thorough going over with a wire brush and parts stripped from it.
At the time of the demolition of her home Annie had lived in Lorenco Road for around seventy years. By then, in old age, she had developed Diabetes and as a consequence was going rapidly blind.
Annie’s grandson, David (Lily’s son), who she had raised as her own, later enjoyed a short career as a professional football player. He became the pride of the family when, as a newspaper cutting shows (see below) he was welcomed to Fulham FC by the captain, Johnny Haynes. Sadly all this ended abruptly when he broke his leg at a holiday camp. Many members of the Fulham football team attended his wedding in the 1960s.
Annie Mole died of a heart attack at St Ann’s Hospital in Tottenham on February 17th 1980. She was about 93! At the time of her death she was living at 4 The Weymarks, Weir Hall Road in Tottenham. The death certificate states that Annie was born in 1886, but in reality her birth was never registered, so this is not certain.
Annie - a tiny lady, no more than five feet in height - had lived a long and hard life: She was born to a harsh Victorian world, without privileges and with few basic comforts to make life bearable. Road transport then was still horse drawn, electricity barely in use and telephones a recent invention that only the minority rich could afford. Like many others her adult life was a struggle against poverty, whilst trying to raise a family. Her era was a difficult one: She lived through two world wars and although her husband, George, survived the trenches of the Great War, he never really recovered and she was widowed at the age of forty-one. During the national depression between the wars her eldest son joined the army, so taking away her main source of income. Almost destitute she was forced to wash and scrub steps for the well to do in Palmers Green.
Annie had borne ten children, and buried four of them before their fourth birthday. The last went to her grave just a year before the death of her father, George. She also lived to see the terrible drowning of her sister’s child, and endured the shame of her daughter’s pregnancy at fifteen, which burdened her with yet another child to raise when all that should have been behind her.
By the time Annie was re-homed into a council flat around 1970 her memories of Marie Lloyd at the Empire must have seemed a distant echo from a long forgotten age. The Empire had gone and instead new pop idols, like The Rolling Stones and Slade, were on the scene, their music booming out from radios and televisions - inventions that her generation would never even have dreamed of as children.
I can just recall my great-grandmother, Annie. I remember my Nan, Florence, taking my two cousins, and I to visit her at her flat in Tottenham when I was about 9 years old. I remember it seemed strange to hear my grandmother call someone “mum.” Great grandmother was a tiny lady and I remember enjoying talking to her but wasn’t sure what to call her! She said that I looked like David’s boy.
Enjoyed reading your website on Lorenco Road and the story of the Mole family. I was born in Durban Road and regularly visited there until my mum passed away in 2004. It was a great place to grow up - never really feeling the edge of the place as it was all I knew - the only fights we saw were brothers against brothers, as described in the story of life in Lorenco Road there was an open door policy and all my dads brothers and sisters lived in Durban Road and it was a fun and adventurous place to grow up. My memories of Lorenco Road were mainly hand me down stories of horses living in the house with the families as there were not big gardens for them - and as they were the source of their livelihood then they lived in one of the rooms of the house. It all seemed to make sense to a child! I also remember that next to Daves sweet shop on Lorenco Road there was a lady that used to make the most delicious toffee apples and word used to get round that they were about to be sold and we used to queue up to buy them - very sticky chewy toffee - gorgeous. On the other corner opposite Daves there was a betting shop - which barred my dad because he could pick a winner once too often for their liking. I could go on and on as I say I have nothing but lovely memories of life in Durban Road, and Lorenco Road used to be where my friends lived.
By Lynn Price
I was born in lorenco road in 1947 and lived there until it was pulled down my name is vivienne herbert nee hutchings I lived at 17a my mum and dad were joan and arthur and I have 1 brother peter my mums single name was ayres. I saw the write up from samantha I remember her mums family well they lived at number 8 I still see some of her mums family from time to time. I. married Roy Herbert also from Lorenco Road after we married we moved to number 40 next to daves shop .
BY Vivienne Herbert
I am now 78 and was brought up in the first house in Durban Road, number 1a - my name then was Olive Shephard. Our family had occupied the house since about 1910 when my grandmother Amelia Robbins lived there with her large family. We moved out to Cheshunt in 1957 and my Mother (a widow) came with us . The stories of Lorenco Road and the area are very familiar to me and I believe I can remember the Mole family but the other names ring no bells - though the sticky toffee apples do. However, in my day they were made by a family called Little who lived in one of the shops between Lorenco and Durban Roads, facing the railway, in Pretoria Road My other half is still a keen Spurs supporter - Durban Road was always lined with cars parked by supporters on Saturday afternoons in the days when all we had was a bike! The year they won the Double was one to remember
By Olive Bree
My name is Linda and I lived at 27a Lorenco Road where I was brought up with my sister Kathleen by my grandparents Jack and Olive Mills in fact one of your photos is me sitting on the wall outside our house with those I mentioned plus that's me again in the next photo standing by the kerb, Our family the Mills was one of the biggest in the road being four brothers John (blackie), James, Mosses (Moe), and Henry the sisters where Linda, Sibbie, Olive, Sylvia, and Rose plus me and Kathy making thirteen. Times were hard as the houses only had four rooms and outside toilet all on one floor but we all enjoyed our yearly trip the the Hop fields in Peasmarsh Sussex which took us three days by horse and cart to get there and then staying in huts and tents for the next six weeks with weekends at the local pubs either the Horse and Cart or The Cock.