Greg Segal in Loudon Road 1957
Greg moved into what was then 52 Loudoun Road, in 1957, when he was nine years old. The move was a real step up from the family’s previous accommodation in Kilburn, where among his early memories Greg remembers milk carts pulled by horses and coal lorries delivering sacks of coal to households. The coal made a great whooshing sound as it flew down the chutes and coal dust flew everywhere. Also to be seen in the streets were rag and bone men ringing their bells and giving their distinctive call; onion sellers on bicycles; knife grinders; even traders offering to mend baskets. While the absence of washing machines and launderettes was filled by laundry companies like Devon and White Knight.
His father had bought the new red brick house for £6,500 (when they sold up in 1961 it fetched £13,500). Compared with the two room flat his family of four had previously occupied, where the lounge doubled as a bedroom and dining room, the new house had the unimaginable luxury of four bedrooms and two bathrooms, one en suite. The ground floor had parquet floors, except for the morning room which had cork tiles and heating was generated by a temperamental boiler in the kitchen which had to be constantly topped up in the winter with coke kept in the garden. Compared with the plethora of electronic devices found in today’s households, their house contained one fridge, television, radio and a mono record player, and the dial phone number started with a Cunningham prefix. Letters, such as CUN were used by the GPO when phones were less widespread. The Cunningham exchange was in Maida Vale where the Yoo building now stands.
Trains from Marylebone station under the garden
Next to the house, now number 124, was a bomb site, overgrown with vegetation and used by Greg as an extension to his own garden. The railway from Marylebone Station ran under the site and trains passed directly underneath the garden with steam exploding from a nearby vent as they passed. The noise and vibration was at first very unsettling. It caused windows to rattle and structural problems to the house. But within a year, steam began to be replaced by diesel, and the problems abated.
Opposite where Café Med is now, the rail tracks were at ground level and exposed for about 50 yards. Greg remembers one birthday party when he and his friends climbed over the wall surrounding the track and threw bricks onto the line, then retreated in fear and trembling at the thought of what they had done. Fortunately, the next train steamed through without incident. Numbers 80-96A Loudoun Road were built over the railway in the 1960s. Cafe Med took over from The Blenheim and Greg remembers occasional family visits to the pub.
The houses in Springfield Road, opposite Greg’s house, were mostly new, large and detached (there had been a lot of bomb damage). The actress Adrienne Corri and comedian Dick Bentley (one of the stars of the 1950s radio hit Take It From Here) lived there, the latter driving a Bentley. At that time, half way along Boundary Road, which runs parallel to Springfield Road, there were several shops near the junction with Loudoun Road. Greg has particular memories of the sweetshop where he spent quite a bit of his misspent youth.
Greg has many happy recollections of his time in Loudoun Road and believes he was lucky to have spent part of his childhood there. On the whole, he remembers this as a time of optimism about the future (Macmillan’s You’ve Never Had it So Good) as people’s disposable income increased, more and more consumer goods became available and employment offered people opportunities for a regular income and security. But there were things then taken for granted which have noticeably diminished in prevalence since. The noseyness of neighbours, the obsessive class consciousness and the ubiquity of anti-Semitism.
Elm Tree Road 1961
In 1961, Greg’s family moved to rented accommodation in Elm Tree Mansions (now Court) in Elm Tree Road. Their flat was one of the larger ones in the block consisting of a lounge, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen. Elm Tree Mansions had originally been built for professional ladies who still made up the majority of tenants. In the flat below lived Mrs Rosenfeld, a psychoanalyst, believed to have studied under Freud. Nearby in Elm Tree Road, Greg remembers some old farm buildings which only 20 years previously had apparently been used for cattle. Now they served as a lorry depot.
In the house next door lived Mrs Emmie Tillett, whose family owned a musical agency. The famous violinist Max Jaffa lived further up the road and the Royal Surgeon, Arthur Dickson-Wright, father of Clarissa, lived on the corner of Elm Tree Road and Circus Road. Opposite the block lived David Astor, editor of the Observer. Greg remembers that the Astors had a Henry Moore sculpture of a couple sitting on a bench in the grounds of the house.
After the move to Elm Tree Road, Regents Park became the substitute garden and was as full of activity then as today. Amateur football was played on Sunday mornings and there was archery near Winfield House within a mile of Lord’s where the 2012 Olympic archery contest was hosted! Greg recalls two people in particular who flew kites at extremely high distances using hundreds of yards of string such that crowds would gather and peer into the sky to try and locate them. In those days the park was patrolled by keepers in distinctively heavy thick brown suits. They made sure there were no ‘anti social activities’ and enforced park regulations strictly.
School Days and entertainments
Greg first went to school at Hereward House in Eton Avenue, where the headmaster was an ex-army colonel and a chain smoker with a vicious temper. Corporal punishment was then the norm in many schools, and most of the teachers would have their preferred method of administration, usually hitting the boys on the palm or knuckles with rulers or plimsolls.
Greg’s father was a Spurs supporter, and they were frequent visitors to White Hart Lane in the years 1960/61 when the team won the Double. Other entertainment was provided by the cinema. In Kilburn High Road alone there were four to choose from – the Essoldo, the Gaumont State, (with the largest cinema auditorium in Europe) the Grange and the Classic. Greg and his brother remember seeing Harry Belafonte at the State at the end of the 1950s and Cliff Richard and the Shadows in the mid 1960s
Later, visits to the West End theatre became possible through a school friend who had contacts in the Prince Littler Organisation. Greg remembers being seated with his friend in the Royal Box at the Palladium on one occasion (without unfortunately any Royal companions). On Sunday afternoons, the family often drove into the countryside for tea. This at a time when vehicle ownership was rare and roads were pretty empty. Otherwise the boys would go to each others’ parents’ houses, or on outings to museums, particularly around Exhibition Road.
St John’s Wood High Street at that time was more like high streets everywhere with a good selection of grocers shops, a fishmonger, three butchers shops (including one Kosher), a pet shop, and, perhaps more unusually, an artists shop (possibly used by members of the St John’s Wood Art School, which became the Anglo-French school, situated at 9 Elm Tree Road which finally closed in 1951).
The family doctor, Dr Charkin, had a sole practice in Circus Road and appeared to be on call much of the time when he wasn’t working in his practice. His son, Stephen, now works as a doctor in St John’s Wood Medical practice in the St John and St Elizabeth Hospital.
In 1967, Paul McCartney moved into Cavendish Avenue. Greg saw him once going into Regent’s Park. Paul’s then girlfriend, Jane Asher, would occasionally be seen walking their English sheepdog, Martha, in the area. There were no ‘groupies’ to be seen around the house or at the Abbey Road studios, and definitely no fans holding up the traffic on the pedestrian crossing while they take photos, as they do now.
Greg’s father had a womenswear business in the West End. He had lived through all the traumas of the 20th century and could remember seeing a Zeppelin shot down during the First World War; the General Strike of 1926; the confrontation with Mosley’s Blackshirts in the East End and dog fights between planes in the Second World War during which he served in the Fire Service.
His mother had visited Berlin in 1926 while still a teenager and could remember hearing a gun battle taking place between Communists and Nazis at a block of flats near where she was staying with relatives. For a time, she worked for a fashion shop, Frances Stewart, in Piccadilly. On occasion she would be asked to take clothes to would-be buyers and could remember visiting the Ritz to show dresses to Geraldine, wife of King Zog of Albania.
The family went several times to France for holidays – Brittany, Normandy and Paris. The latter in 1958 when Greg remembers being dazzled by the sights and lights of this beautiful city. In 1961, after selling their house in Loudoun Road, the family used part of the proceeds to fund a summer holiday in Alassio, at a time when the Italian coastline was becoming the choice of more and more families and places like Rimini, Cattolica, Lido di Jesolo and Viareggio were turning from fishing ports into popular seaside resorts. This was the last family holiday and for many years, Greg’s parents did no travelling at all, only picking up in the 1970s and 1980s when, like many people their age, cruising became their preferred choice.
In the years since Greg moved into the area, there have been enormous changes in population variety and density. The relatively homogeneous community that inhabited the Wood in the 1950s and 1960s as elsewhere, has given way to a heterogeneous mix attracted by the American school, the Regent’s Park mosque and the numerous other attractions of living in the area. East Europeans, Russians and Arabs have now become part of the everyday landscape. But underneath it all, Greg believes St John’s Wood has retained the features (apart from the barracks) which have make it so popular for so many years – the quality of housing, the proximity of the West End and Regent’s Park, the High Street and Lord’s.