In those days everybody seemed to know each other and watched out for their neighbours. In hot weather many front doors were left open with a plastic strip or deckchair type material curtains to keep the heat and flies out. Most homes did not have a TV and in the evenings groups of neighbours would stand outside chatting together. There were very few parked cars and hardly any through traffic in the side roads of Shepherds Bush so ‘playing out’ was quite safe for children.
On light summer evenings and during school holidays we would ‘play out’ until called home for a meal or bed time. We played football or cricket if someone brought out a ball or bat. Sometimes we even made do with a bat that someone’s dad had carved from a piece of old floorboard. We usually played with tennis balls found amongst the bushes near the tennis courts in Wormholt Park. I remember one day two men gave us a set of six old tennis balls when they opened a new pack. We felt so rich that day.
Whilst the boys played football or cricket the girls more often than not played skipping with a length of old washing line. The main game for boys and girls was hopscotch. A piece of chalk was used to mark the numbered squares, but in the absence of chalk a large stone would suffice and the same stone would be used for the game.
In the autumn we played ‘conkers’ collected from an enormous tree that once stood in Wormholt Park. More often than not we were too impatient to wait for them to fall from the tree and threw sticks up to knock them down. But we always made sure the ‘parkie’ (park keeper) was safely in his little hut in the swings area otherwise he chased us away. Once collected, then all we needed was a metal meat skewer to bore the hole and an old shoe lace to thread through.
Most of us had a collection of 20 or more glass marbles which we usually kept in drawstring bags made by our mums. Although I remember one or two friends used their dad’s old socks. The majority of our glass marbles were the traditional size but if you were lucky you owned one or two large ones, which we called ‘doublers’. If you were really lucky you might have a shiny metal ball bearing in your collection. I remember we once scrounged some from a car workshop that once stood on the corner of Percy Road and Batson Street. We would only use the most chipped marbles to play with as you did not want to lose your good ones in a game. But it also meant that if you won you became the owner of your friend’s worst marble.
If we were not playing marbles then the alternative was cigarette cards. Nearly every cigarette manufacturer put cards in their packets. Adults collected sets and put them in specially printed albums but doubles or unwanted ones were usually given to children to play with. Tea companies followed suit by putting cards in packs of tea. Similar to marbles you would only play with the most worn or damaged cards for fear of losing your best ones.
Toys, usually received as birthday or Christmas presents, were very rarely taken outside. However, we made toys from throwaway items. One was a ‘gun’ made from a matchbox, lolly stick and elastic bands, which actually fired spent matchsticks. Another was a ‘tank’ made from a wooden cotton reel, an elastic band, a lolly stick and a small piece of wax candle. Once wound up it would roll along the ground.
At that time every child’s dream was to make their own go-kart. We searched for abandoned prams or push chairs for wheels. Discarded pieces of wood were used for the cart, and a hefty nut and bolt, a piece of batten and some rope was used for steering. Racing up and down the tarmacked roads was great fun. However, this stopped when the council changed the tarmacked surface to a tar and fine shingle surface which was very unpopular, and terrible for go-carting. There were not many hills in Shepherds Bush but we did discover a sloping path that led from Wormholt Park to Bryony Road, opposite Wormholt Park School. You could get up quite a bit of speed but as soon as you got through the gates you had to steer sharp right or left to avoid hurtling into the road. Of course on many occasions the cart would tip over and you tumbled off.
As a reminder of those days I still have faint scars on my knees from go-cart accidents, slipping on the newly shingled roads, and falling from the swings in Wormholt Park.
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer