Townshend Estate - 1970s onwards
Peter was born in 1930 in Clerkenwell. They lived in Hanson Street for some years until the council moved them to Wilkie House, Townshend Estate in St John’s Wood in the 1970s. Their flat had three bedrooms, (two very small), a living room and kitchen which was badly designed as it was only big enough to get two people in at once. Then there was a bathroom and toilet, (which they had never had at Hanson Street) where you had to go down several floors to get to the bathrooms. Peter and his wife had four sons. They were regarded as foreigners by those who had lived there since the flats had been built.
Early Years of the Townshend Estate
“When I was 17 I worked for an electrical firm, and we were doing work on Townshend Estate which was just being built then. We had to bring all the equipment up, walking, or on a wheelbarrow, and the really heavy stuff on a trolley, pushed all the way from Newman Street in the West End. There were no delivery vehicles then. I saw that one building was out of line and told the designer. It still is, but the trees have grown up now and it is not noticeable.”
Peter was sacked from this job, as the young men had to sign up for National Service and the employers had to guarantee to re-employ the men after their Service, and they didn’t want this expense.
“After we had settled in they started the Townshend Association for council tenants. I became chairman. and we got money out of the council to make a garden in the centre. We had 12 big tubs, soil, sand and plants. When we moved over to the [St Marylebone] Almshouses, I gave up the job. I also became chairman of St John’s Wood estates, and there are 17 estates in St John’s Wood, incredible, Abercorn Place, Hamilton Terrace, all over the place. Now a lot of the properties have been sold on.
When I was chairman of the Westminster Council estates, we had meetings with a view to improving relationships with the tenants. They kept referring matters, ‘Make your mind up’ I would say. They have to go and refer it to the rest of the council. It annoyed me, it takes weeks and nothing gets done. I‘ve been to the town hall, SW1, the Lord Mayor’s Parlour and all. We discussed vandalism, police complaints – the police can’t be everywhere. I retired when I came here to the Almshouses.”
“Mostly it’s drugs now, not drink. There were four known drunks in St John’s Wood, three in our block Wilkie House. They got barred from the estate. Brothers, they would drink and want to get into a fight. They were nice with me. It is the school children that do the drugs. I ignore it now, I don’t want to get involved. If they hit me, they hit me. In my days there were street fights, one against one. Nowadays the kids get involved and the knives come out. People don’t understand, they got no sense.
When you were 18 your father would take you for a drink, gave you a brown ale, then often take you along to the pub with his friends. Now they go along to the off licence and get drunk, you can buy a drink any time, day or night virtually. Kids drink spirits. They don’t start on beer. When you drink real bitter, you taste it for a week afterwards. Lager is coloured water and £3.20 a pint. We used to have a night out 10/- each. For every 10/- you got 8 pints. We had a laugh and a joke. Nowadays the young girls have a drink and it costs £20 a round.”
Peter was also involved with the Paddington Recreation Ground and with the union at the Lodge Road post office. He had meetings probably four nights a week and went cycling on Sundays. His wife did not like it very much.
Their two eldest boys went to school in Foley Street, the younger ones to the Catholic school in Marylebone, and then on to Quintin Kynaston. Peter himself missed a lot of school. He actually started at age 3 but just sat there and remembers getting hit with a ruler on the hands and ankles. He was evacuated to Coxley Green during the war, but was not wanted and moved from home to home. School might be five miles away and only last for half the day as other schools were using the premises. He returned to London and played truant for several years. He went back to school in London at age 13. Because he was so tall he sat at the back of the room and could not see the [black] board. No-one realised that his eyesight was very poor. He had taught himself to read aged 10 by reading comics.
The Postman - Peter became a postman in 1974
“Lodge Road was the nicest office in north west London . It was friendly and we had a nice governor. Some offices are too big and you have gangs, others are too small. We had about 80 when I was in Lodge Road. It was a 24 hour service, 6am-1.30pm 1.30pm-9pm and 10pm-7am. We had to open the bags, and sort them for the different walks and stack them in the right sequence, then deliver. The first delivery had to be finished by 9am then back for breakfast and get ready for the later delivery.
We had two weeks training, and you had to sort 350 letters in 15 minutes to pass the test, eventually 2,000 an hour with only 15 mistakes. Then, after a year you were a postman. Sorting had to be done with the odds 1,3 and so on to the end, then back the other way with the evens. But when I became a postman I had money in my pocket at the end of the week for the first time.
My first walk was Clifton Hill and half of Carlton Hill, the second was St Johns Wood Terrace, Ordnance Hill and the estate. The worst problems were dogs who were a lot of trouble, and silly letter boxes which were too low. You had to rattle the letter boxes to let the person know that there was a delivery.
Postmen got bitten by the dogs. One particularly vicious one had a go at me, a big white husky thing. It would attack cars, jump right on them. The police wanted me to give the owner a letter and I told then to deliver it themselves! He was eventually fined £1000 and moved away.
People get to know you after a while and at Christmas you could do quite well. One postman I know got £1000 one time. I remember getting two bottles of whisky and £70. I walked home drunk through the snow. Sometimes people left their keys in the outside of the door and I would wake them up to give them back. I saw a man climb through a window once and called the police. Turned out he didn’t want to wake his wife by coming home then , and he was very annoyed at being nicked by the police.”
Postmen could get a mortgage on their pay then, now they can’t. Peter got £38 a week before stoppages, national insurance, pension. There was always overtime if they wanted to work. Now they get £400 or £500 a week. There has been a 20% cut in staff. If you get the mail by 12 noon you are lucky. Peter’s daughter-in-law works at a school and has to fetch the mail herself from the post office, otherwise it is too late.
“As a union rep I tried to save jobs and improve conditions. At Christmas we had to work 12 hours a day from 6am till 6pm. And you were only supposed to carry 35lbs on your back. About 2% of postmen may be villains. Stealing mail for instance. You could always tell when there was money in a letter, probably grannies sending money to their grandchildren”.
There were few coloured people on the estate when the Todds moved there. The caretaker’s daughter was coloured, and was nice. During the war Peter’s best friend was coloured. Then they started selling the council flats. You could buy them for £12,000 and sell for £50,000. (now much more of course). Foreigners moved in then.
Peter went to the cricket at Lords quite a lot. It was 5/- to get in in those days. Queues went round the block. You could join Middlesex CC for £8 a year. Peter had a friend who was on the ground staff and has been into the pavilion on occasion. There were no ladies allowed in – and the spectators were always talking about playing bridge! He reckons it was an expensive hobby belonging to the MCC, but the contacts you could make must have paid off in the long run.
“I’ve been all over the country playing crib, cribbage, and have won a few cups. You had to play three games before you got qualified. It was expensive as you had to spend a couple of nights wherever, at Bridlington for instance. We’d play at the Star or the New Inn or in three of the other pubs in St John’s Wood, they are closed down now. But when I started there was a big league all over southern England, Brighton, or St Albans, Watford. Somebody had a car. We had 10 people in a team, and there were 64 teams to get to the final. That’s a lot of people, and their supporters. Some had team shirts. They were keen in the Midlands, and the Irish, they would drink their way down on the boat, you should see ‘em. The league is now down to 5 teams, the pubs don’t want them. 2 in KentishTown, 2 in SomersTown and 1 in NW1. It is easy to learn crib but hard to play. I have won 20 odd cups, my granddaughter polishes them”
“I do the calling for the bingo here at the Village Club. I don’t like bingo truthfully but I don’t mind calling. You have to keep your eyes on them. Some don’t speak up loudly when they have won. You have to be fair about it. They play every week. We have to pay for the hall now, it is £60 a month. It used to cost nothing in them days, now we got to pay CityWest Homes. You have to pay £20 an hour, but we get in for £5 an hour. It belonged to Age Concern and we paid them nothing, but they couldn’t afford to repair the roof. We have a race night there, the Club is through the arch in Allitsen Road, and we have dances, parties, socials, the quiz nights are not too popular. We have a committee and I am the Treasurer. Some ladies don’t do nothing. You have got to get them out to do something.”
West End Work
“I used to run parties for 300 people in Leicester Square. A good night would go on till 6 in the morning. All actors and actresses. They would do a little sketch. One of the clubs I worked at in the West End, it was a homosexual club. I took a friend of mine, a policeman there and he asked a girl to dance ‘I don’t dance with men’ she said. You have to laugh. I know quite a few, they are harmless. If you are not that way inclined they don’t want to know. I had a friend, only a boy, when his father knew, he threw him out.
When I started work at the Palladium, I bought a TV for £50. I got a colour TV for the Olympic Games one year, Melbourne in 1968 I think. We had colour screens at the Palladium. They diverted all the power from Carnaby Street, there was not enough electricity. I probably worked at about 20 West End theatres in my time, met all the actors and actresses.”
Wartime in St John’s Wood
“I went to the Zoo for the first time during the war. It cost 4d I think. I used to go about twice a year. We used Regent’s Park all the time. We had a dog and played football, model aeroplanes, watched them play baseball, the American soldiers. They built air raid shelters in the park during the war. Near the Zoo they had a depot for unexploded bombs and blew them up there. During the war Regents Park was surrounded by buses, we used to play on them, we played cricket and football too, and cowboys and Indians.
“Cars started coming in. There was a Rolls Royce on the estate. Some kids scratched it and they paid £12,000 to respray the car. Stupid man, should have put the car in the garage!”
“I never had a car, I used to drink not drive. Had a push bike and a motor bike. I used to race the push bike a lot. One time I came off, I was the first one down in a crash of 50. I was underneath and it knocked all the wind out of me. They thought I was dead. They had three nurses and a student doctor there. While I was being looked at all the other riders came in from the same crash. It looked like a battlefield, they couldn’t cope with 50 odd people being bandaged up. I got gravel rash on my shoulder. You really need two shirts, then if one gets torn off, there is another still there. I only had the one, It hurt, stings. My mates took my bike and left. I had very little money to get back to London, got the Greenline to London Bridge and had to walk home.
We used to go on caravan holidays with the boys, to Littlehampton. The train pass was £1 each. I been all over the country by railways £8 going to Glasgow once, and we got stuck in the snow for 20 hours.
“When I was young I would buy clothes for the boys at the market. I used Church Street market quite a bit. They had some nice shops, a haberdashery and a shop that sold everything, quite a famous shop. You could buy a cheque for £8 and pay off 5/- a week. Now it looks like a bazaar in Church Street. We would walk up from the West End and went to Sainsbury’s in Marylebone Lane and bought £5 worth of food, a big trolley for the week. In St John’s Wood High Street I remember 3 greengrocers, Panzers, the off-licence Oddbins, 2 DIY shops, 2 cop-ops, 3 repair shops, 2 barbers.
Now it’s all different!”