Mid 1940s to 1953 I lived at 59 Gibson Square in Islington. Each month the rent collector Mr Beetle (yes, really), would arrive on the doorstep to inspect the property and collect the rent. The rent not only Mum and Dad paid, for the hovel, but also the rents from the other six bed sitters. Austerity was rife in the country as the war had taken its toll on the working class areas. What with rationing and low wages – poverty was a fact of life. Although Mum and Dad never said our family was poor we were. Mum used to allocate the meagre wages Dad brought home (£2.10s*) each week into various pots on the mantle-piece to pay all our weekly bills. Extraordinarily and extravagantly Mum, with Dad’s approval, hired a tiny black and white T.V. from “Radio Rentals.” Initially so that she and most of the neighbours could all cram into our small semi-basement living room to watch the Queen’s coronation (1953). To be honest I couldn’t be bothered with all that rich pageantry and what I perceived as an inequity of gross inequality (yes a modern-day term). Even now, after sixty-three years, it still rings true, so I turned down my place to watch the spectacular (which was quickly taken by Mrs Lawly the old white-haired lady who lived in one room on the top floor of the next door house). I just played out on the street with my ten pound bike Mum had bought from Mr and Mrs Brewster for my birthday.
It was impressive however to see all the bunting flapping from the basement railings of each house. Before then however, all we had in the way of entertainment was either Dad playing the piano or the radio which we always referred to as the wireless. Soon after the 6 o’clock news was heard on the “Home Service” the wireless would be re-tuned to the “Light Programme”. The dinner table with its two pull out extended leaves, would have us each sitting round it. We (my two older brother and I) along with Mum and Dad would often play board games, until bed-time. Inevitably it would be card games, such as partner whist, trumps, or ‘beat your neighbour out-of-doors’. Shove halfpenny, was popular. darts was another family activity, the dart board and games like ‘Pontoon’ gave us boys a quick insight into adding-up and multiplication. Sometimes when we fancied a change, from an all family game we would split up into pairs to either play each other, or another pair of family members. Dominos, drafts, even chess was played. Those games, I think were part of our education, sometime to teach us to wait our turn, as well as take success as well as defeat with good grace, when defeat was the outcome, we would often say to winner, “Well done”.
Our small four roomed living and sleeping accommodation was never opulent. It was usually cold in winter but had love and kindness in abundance. Mum and Dad had lived in those four rooms in Gibson Square for forty years when a property speculator (presumably commissioned by the actual owners) knocked on the door and after a meeting that lasted just thirty minutes announced that his company was interested in buying the property. But… only if they could get the house with vacant possession. This meant that if Mum and Dad were interested in taking-up the offer, they would have to issues ‘notice to quit’ to all the other residents in our house. (At that time I had moved out to a house to another hovel in Hackney with my first wife). My oldest brother was occupying the top floor rooms with his wife and so there was a break-up of the family. To cut a long story short, a deal was eventually struck, whereby the new potential owners were prepared to pay Mum and Dad the sum of seventeen thousand pounds** in compensation. My brother persuaded Mum and Dad to take the deal and eventually used their seventeen grand as a deposit on another house in north London.
I still think fondly of that old home, not for its bricks and mortar, or its bugs and mice. No it was the love I received and the happiness that was given to me. Now all these years on I’m the only close family left. But , it is still very true to say “How wonderful were my early days!
*£77 a week in 2016 money corrected for inflation
**£38000 corrected for inflation. 59 Gibson Square was sold for £1.45M in 2007 and is currently (2016) worth £2.5M so the speculator did some shrewd business.