»  62 Friars Avenue — Plan of the Property

62 Friars Ave


(The plan can be seen with better resolution here).


Our house stood on a lot about 30 feet wide and 120 feet deep. The overall gradient here is about one in forty from south to north, as the land begins to slope down to the Nene valley. The property itself is about 310 feet above sea level. Mere Way to the south is at about 330 feet; the Nene itself, about 190 feet at South Bridge.

This is a "Bevan House"; a solid brick-built structure on a big plot, with large rooms and a fair approximation to what postwar realtors referred to in their literature as "all mod. cons." (i.e. modern conveniences). Say what you like about socialism; Aneurin Bevan did me a big favor.

The front garden

From the gate on Friars Avenue, a paved — actually, laid concrete — path sloped down to the front step, and continued along the east side of the house, past the sheds and the side door of the house, then west round the corner to end in a small paved area at the back, under the kitchen window. Some of my earliest memories are of playing on this path. Peter Starmer and I used to cadge bits of wood from the carpenters who were still building the south side of Friars Avenue. Then we would play with these pieces on the concrete slope just inside the gate.

East of this path, to the property line separating us from the Longdons at No. 60, was a strip of bare garden. My father planted privet hedges along the property line — another very early memory: I tried to help him with it — but the strip itself was too narrow to do much with. We laid some grass there, leaving a border by the path in which my mother planted flowers — pansies and daffodils.

Dad planted privet hedges along the front wall on Friars Avenue, too. (It is a concrete wall a few inches high.) Just north of this we made a rockery, then some lawn, then more rockery down in front of the bay window. My mother planted hollyhocks in the northwest corner, between the bay window and the No. 64 property line. (These property lines, by the way, were fenced: concrete posts a few feet apart, with two strands of thick wire running through them.)

In the southwest corner of the front garden was an almond tree, also planted by my mother. I can't recall eating any of its nuts, but it gave a fine display of almond blossom in the spring.

The sheds

At the northeast corner of the house, and attached to it at ceiling level by a concrete-slab roof (which continued eastwards to attach itself to No. 60 in a symmetrical fashion) was a structure of sheds built from bare red brick. As you walked down the path with the house on your left, these sheds were on your right.

The first, with a door, was a coal shed. Coal would be delivered to here in large blocks, which my father broke up using a special hammer.

Next (i.e. proceeding north) was the outdoor toilet, also of course with a door. It was considered a great thing in the 1940s for a working-class family to have two toilets at their disposal, even if one of them was outdoors and subject to icing-up in the winter.

Next was a doorless cubby-hole in which we stored coke for the Beeston boiler. I think we also stored broken-up coal in here, coke and coal separated by a wooden-board partition; but my memory is vague. The coke and/or coal in any case occupied only the rear part of the cubby-hole. At the front stood the dustbin.

At the north end, spanning the entire east-west width of the shed structure, with a door facing south up the path, was the shed. About 8 feet east to west and four or five feet deep, this was our outdoor storage area: Dad's garden tools, Mum's laundry equipment (large circular gas boiler, mangle), half-used pots of paint, and various other kinds of junk. There was a small window high up on the north wall overlooking the back garden.

The back garden

And then, the back garden. Other than the small paved area under the kitchen window, this was 250 square yards of virgin soil when we arrived in 1948, with a fair complement of builders' rubble that I can dimly remember my father complaining about. The only structural features were two concrete posts at about three-eighths and three-quarters of the way down the middle of the garden, for clothes lines.

We grassed over the southern part to make a lawn, but the rest was a vegetable garden. I can remember Dad working there, growing potatoes, cabbages, carrots, onions, brussels sprouts, and rhubarb (under a bucket). My mother had a herb garden, or at any rate a mint garden, just north of the sheds; and she planted a lilac tree nearby, so we had blossom displays at both front and back of the house.

The lawn was in two parts, separated by a north-south line of "crazy paving" — just some random-shaped small concrete slabs placed together to make a path. If you lifted one of these slabs up in the summer time, there was an excellent chance you would find an ant city underneath, which you could then annihilate with a kettle full of boiling water.

The back garden went through many transformations from 1948 to 1990. Dad gave up vegetable gardening some time in the 1950s. He planted privet hedges all round. The lawn area advanced northward, leaving an area of flowers, then later bushes and trees, at the north end. At the south end, Mum installed a paved patio and fish pond. These later features can be inspected in the photographs pages.

From some point in (I am guessing) the early 1960s, the back garden also boasted a free-standing TV aerial, 15 or 20 feet high. It was gone by 1987, when this photograph was taken, but would have been over to the left in the photograph, by the shed.