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Notes and news — October 1998

CP in Camden Town

Silvia Rodgers in her autobiographical book Red Saint, Pink Daughter (André Deutsch 1996) describes her astonishment at London when, escaping Nazi persecution, she arrived here from Berlin in 1939. She first lived at Eton Place near Chalk Farm underground station and from an industrial archaeological point of view it is interesting to note some of the differences as seen by an 11-year-old girl. Compared with Berlin double-glazing in windows was all but unknown and duvets on beds were many years into the future. Being tucked into bed and held down by English blankets felt very restricting. Electric light switches did not turn but flicked up and down and the light bulbs did not screw but bayoneted into place.

In the streets trams did not run in trains of two or three but were top-heavy double deckers which swayed alarmingly and there was a curious hybrid between a bus and a tram known as a trolley bus. Fruit was abundantly available from the corner shop, Britain had an Empire, and the bread was so white — but the sausages were not so attractive. In Woolworths the display of Chocolate biscuits was tremendous, so many varieties, and as well as a chocolate and sweet culture there was also a tinned culture. In Berlin no self respecting person would have prepared a meal from tins but in London even smart shops stocked all kinds of things in tins, even luxury items. There was also a novelty; baked beans. With all those chocolates and sweets how was it that English people were so slim?

The cinemas were a great attraction, the Gaumont at Camden Town had an organ which rose out of the floor and there was community singing in the interval between films, the audience reading the words projected on the screen. With films considered unsuitable for children it was easy to attach oneself to an adult and get admitted. The fruit and vegetable market nearby in Inverness Street was splendid but buying there had its difficulties. It took time to learn that 'tuppence hipenny' meant two and a half pennies. There were also ungainly tricycles that carried a box over the front wheel with the words 'stop me and buy one'. What could that mean? However, at first one thing did seem clear, the cardboard notices displayed in shop windows with the letters CP. They must be places where meetings of the Communist Party were held. Only later did she discover that CP stood for Carter Paterson, the road transport firm. Does anyone remember the CP notices? Bob Carr

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(GLIAS Newsletter August 1998)


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Tim Crichton

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© GLIAS, 1998