Arthur Welch

From Blitz-hit London to post-war Crawley

By Peter J Stoker

Photo:Young Arthur Welch

Young Arthur Welch

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Arthur Welch' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Arthur Welch' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Arthur Welch' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Arthur Welch was born on the day that the Queen Mother got married (26 April 1923), in Peckham, south London near to where the young boy Damilola Taylor was so tragically killed. "My dad was in the Navy for years", says Arthur, "and my mum was born on Tower Bridge Road. She used to work 12 hours a day, six days a week and walking to work for half a crown (equivalent of 12.5 pence). I had a sister two years older, and a brother two years younger. My dad died in 1939".

A real character leaves a little nest egg

"I vaguely remember my dad's father. He used to go to the working men's club and he was a great collector of glass. My mum's dad, Granddad Edwards, was born in Bermondsey, near the Bricklayer's Arms on the Old Kent Road. He was a builder right up until he was 65 and then they sacked him, so they didn't have to pay him a pension. I remember the smell of his place: salt and margarine. It was a pleasant smell. Grandma died in 1933 of a stroke, so then he came to live with us. In his 80's he used to get the coke for our fire, carrying it on his back. He used to sell tobacco during the week, to get the money for a pint on a Saturday night. He was quite a character. When he was dying, he said to my mum, 'There's a little bit of money for you in the wardrobe'. When he died, she looked to see and there was a couple of hundred quid. She said 'If I'd known that, I would have shot him earlier!' That was her sense of humour".

Seriously injured in the Blitz

Arthur suffered perforated eardrums through whooping cough as a child, which never recovered. He enjoyed his contribution to the war effort until 1940 when, during the blitz he suffered 55 shrapnel wounds in a raid on the docks area of Rotherhithe.  That certainly put him off and he didn't like London much after that: "I had to spend six weeks in hospital recovering".

Faggots for breakfast and dinner!

Arthur supported Millwall and went to see them play every single Saturday for many years with his brother. "I used to play a game called 'tin can copper', a tin can was placed at the junction of the road and each had three sticks to throw at it - first to hit it wins. I also had a paper round starting at 6 am every morning. I got 4/6d (just over 20p) per week, this mostly went home to mother.  Mum would send me out to the shops. A typical shopping list would be for 2lbs of faggots, 1lb of potatoes, 1lb mix root vegetables and some oranges. I loved eating faggots for breakfast and dinner."

A sporting champ - and bright with it

As has been mentioned, Arthur was hard of hearing as a child, although he was also very sporty and bright; on school sports day he won six out of seven races one year. His teacher had encouraged him to do more suggesting he tried swimming next time, but he was already the champ at swimming too. Arthur has school reports from his junior and senior school and they are all exemplary! What confused others coming into the class though, was why on earth was this bright boy sitting at the front of the class? In those days, the brightest pupils were at the back of the class, and the trouble makers at the front. But Arthur didn't get a hearing aid until 1952 so he needed to be at the front of the class.

School days

"I was about three when I went to school. It was Cator Street Elementary Primary School in Peckham. It was destroyed in the war. Then we went to the big boy's school, Cator Street Junior School. Then I went to Sumner Road, High Street, Peckham, from 1934 to 1937. I used to get 3d (1.5p) when my mum was working, so at school lunchtime, we used to go to the pie and mash shop in Peckham for dinner. I got caned, but not often. It was on the tips of my fingers and it was really painful. At elementary school there were no pens and paper; you had trays with sand in them to write in with your finger. We used to have an hour's sleep in the afternoon. There was Mrs Macdonald, a motherly lady, lovely she was. I then went to the junior boys from 7-11. We played football for the school. I enjoyed all my lessons. I sat the 11-plus there. During this time I was going to Guy's hospital because of my deafness in both ears."

Colourful clients - and NAAFI Days!

"After school, I worked in Savile Row as a porter and had to take newly-made clothes to high class prostitutes around London, which I found amusing. I then worked in Navy, Army and Air Force Institutions (NAAFI) during the war. These were clubs for service people, cup of tea, meals, entertainment. (I couldn't go into the forces because of my deafness). I worked in the NAAFI clubhouses in Northamptonshire. They filled lorries with containers of tea, 10 gallons per container, and drove them round to all of the bases. My brother was one of the first in the water at D-day, he was a radio operator. His motor torpedo boat was sunk."

Marriage and a move to Crawley

"I met my wife in 1943 and we were married in 1946, at first living in Rotherhithe New Road in London. I saw a job advertised in the Evening News offering homes in Crawley, so we took it and commuted for six months, before the firm moved in 1950. We moved on 2nd March 1951. Our rent was 31 shillings (about £1.50) including the rates and I've still got my first rent book. We lived at 4 Town Barn Road and still do. I've got lots of photos and newspaper clippings which are in some Crawley local history books. I was also the local football team manager for the Crawley Town Minors football club from 1953. All the boys were under 18, and the team were a great success."

Towards a modern home at last

"I signed the new tenancy for the Crawley house in December 1950 when it was still incomplete. I used to come down every Monday to see how it was getting on. I finally got the keys on 21st March 1951. The removals cost £10 from London, plus £1 insurance. 1951 was a terrible winter, and we only had one fire in the living room, which we used to burn coke on, mostly just to heat water. This was a luxury that we didn't have in London, along with an indoor toilet. The indoor toilet (chamber pot) before used to be called the 'gizunder'. Why? Because it 'goes under' the bed! We now had hot water on tap! If we wanted hot water before then, we had to go to the public baths."

A bike to work - then decoration duties

"When we moved, I went to work by bike. Thousands of us did. There probably wasn't even a bus then. Before the war, when I still lived in London, I used to get up early and cycle from London via Crawley to Brighton and back in one day. It was very different then. At this point Langley's and the railway works were the only two main employers in Crawley old town. You either worked for one or the other. Sir Norman Langley was a lovely gentleman and the big shot in town. I went to West Green, nicknamed 'Youngman's Green', due to one of the factory's there. Most of the new towners worked in Youngman's factory. There were no ready made roads or pavements finished until later in 1951, and the house seemed huge. There were so many cupboards. My wife said 'All these cupboards...what are we going to put in them?' The ceilings in the house went grey with soot from the paraffin lamps that we had in every room bar the living room. We were given 30 shillings (£1.50) per room by the Council, to decorate the house with distemper (whitewash) and wallpaper. There were two colours to choose from: cream and fawn colour."

Picture Post

Arthur has an original copy of 'New life in a new town' from the Picture Post magazine which includes photos of Arthur's factory Vaughn Lift Engineering which made cranes and lifts, later being taken over by Felco in 1956. "I worked there from 1950 to 1988 and I loved working. I'd still do it now if I could."

...And to finish - a song!

Arthur has a great memory for song lyrics and can remember many songs, despite his deafness. Arthur sings for us "Come inside, you silly bugger!": "When you're working for very little money and struggling to live, a chap from inside the lunatic asylum, says 'come inside, we have regular meals and a safe, secure home!'"  "I'm 84 now," says Arthur. "I've really enjoyed the reminiscence sessions. I love talking about the past."

This page was added by Peter J Stoker on 06/02/2008.

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