The house that was destroyed
Pymmes Villas sometime before 1940.
In the second half of the 1930s, my father's Clarke family moved from Sweet Briar
Cottage, a little cottage in Warwick Road on the
Huxley Estate where their children
grew up, to 82 Silver Street, Edmonton, a large house in a set called
Villas opposite Pymmes Park.
People were surprised when they moved,
because it was such a large house, bought rather than rented, and a big step
up the social ladder. It was one of a terrace of five or six and had been
bought from David Hatfield, a preacher in charge of
Tanners End Mission which
the Clarke family attended regularly. It had was on three stories with an upstairs bathroom, five bedrooms,
a study and a games room, all of which were fairly unusual for the time. Beyond
the house was the North Middlesex Hospital and beyond that a factory which made
stockings. Then came Weir Hall where
Jim Clarke had an allotment.
How I fitted into the family
In 1938 I married into the Clarke family and moved with my husband, Len,
away from Edmonton to Edgware.
The air raid
James Clarke in the
Anderson shelter that he built for
the family home of 82 Silver Street, Edmonton, during World War II. According
to his son, Eric, "Little good it did him; it all happened too quickly".
It was on the day after Boxing Day, 1940, that
something awful happened. A landmine hit Pymmes Villas during a German air
raid. Maude, Len's mother, was killed outright, and Jim, his father, was
taken to hospital, as were his sister Doris and brother Eric. His other
sister, Mary, had to have her leg amputated on arrival at hospital and was afterwards
in and out of hospital for months at a time for years. Horace, Len's brother,
identified the body of his mother (who was originally from the
Fisher family of Wedmore).
Horace was in the forces and came home on compassionate leave. Not long afterwards
he himself was killed on active service. He was a lovely man, charming and with
good looks. He left a wife, Hazel.
I remember that it was a very short air raid. I knew because we heard
the warning siren and the all-clear in Edgware. It seemed that there was no time at
all between them, and Len and I went back to bed almost immediately, little
realising the devastation in Edmonton. It being the Christmas period, we had
left there only the day before. We had been prevailed upon to stay longer, and
as it turned out, it was a good thing for us that we didn't.
The morning after the air raid
The devastation of the blitz in Silver Street, Edmonton, by eyewitnesses who were children at the time
This particular parachute landmine was the loudest that
the Edmonton residents heard during the whole war.
The day after the bombing my mother
and I went shopping and came out of Pymmes Park main entrance onto Silvers Street. On the other side of the
road between the railway bridge and Gloucester Road was utter
devastation. The two blocks of houses that were Pymmes Villas were a heap of rubble.
I remember these houses as very old and set well back from the
road. Everywhere was dust and a smell that we were soon to get used to
as the war continued.
The morning after the dropping of the
parachute mine, I was on a bus from The Cambridge [the public house landmark on the corner of the A1
and Silver Street], and the bus was held up at
the park corner at Sweet Briar Walk. Once underway the bus went slowly
past what was tremendous devastation.
The following morning (a Saturday) Len went to work. Yes, people worked on
Saturdays until lunchtime in those days. Somebody rang him at the office of
the Advanced Linen Services (ALS) where he worked in Golders Green to let him
know what had happened. We were not on the phone at home at that time. Very few people
were. Len wondered how to let me know that he was setting out for Edmonton.
He looked down the list of ALS customers and saw that there was one in Penshurst
Gardens, the next road to ours in Edgware, and he phoned them to ask if they
would be good enough to take a message to our house at
9 Brook Avenue. When they knocked
on my door, they simply told me that my husband's parents had been bombed.
Contacting people after the air raid
My first thoughts were how to get in touch with Edmonton and Len. I put baby
Pat into her pram and went out to try public phone boxes - but I was unlucky,
not because of vandalism but because there was a war on. As my brother Ted was
on the phone, I thought perhaps the manager of the Co-op shop would let me use
the Co-op phone to phone him. He did. Apparently he had, at one time been the
manager of the Silver Street Edmonton Branch and knew Pymms Villas well. So
I got through to Ted and asked him if he would go and check on 82 Silver Street.
He replied, "There is no 82 Silver Street". When I asked him to take a message
there, he advised me to wait at home for Len. I learnt later that he was relieved
to hear from me because a baby had been found dead in the rubble and he had
assumed it was Pat and that Len and I had been killed too.
The realisation of death, maiming and destruction hits
When Len eventually came home, I said, "Where's your mother?", thinking he
would be bringing her back with him. I had even prepared the spare bedroom.
He just said, "They haven't found her yet".
Then I heard the facts. It hadn't
entered my head that anybody had been hurt. One somehow only ever thinks that
things like that happen to other people.
Coming to terms with what happened
Len didn't talk about the bombing much. He just seemed to accept such things.
For example, when the next air raid came and we were sitting by the stairs (which
was supposed to be the safest place), I said to him, "I feel I can't pray to
be kept safe after what happened to your mother", and his reply was, "You have
no business to ask for that. You should pray for courage and fortitude."
Salvaging from the rubble
Ivory crocodile glued back together after being found
in pieces in the rubble from the bombing
It fell to the Pioneer Corp to clear up after the bombing, and quite a
lot of things seemed to go missing. However, after Len's sister, Doris, was discharged
from hospital, she came to see me in Edgware, and gave me a parcel.
She said, "Here you are Florrie (that was the name I was known by in the Clarke
family). I know that mother would wish you to have this as Len brought it home
from Africa for her." It was the ivory crocodile that everyone who has visited
my house knows so well. It had been retrieved from the rubble of the bombsite,
and was in three pieces which we glued together. Len had brought a number of
things back from Africa, and I appreciate and enjoy most of them, but I always
look on the crocodile as something sinister. It sits on the mantelpiece of my
fireplace and has been admired by many people. When I tell them the history
of it, I say that it is a symbol of the horrors of war, although I know that
Pat regards it as a symbol of human triumph over adversity.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.