Reminiscences of my first home 1942 - 1966

In the years following their marriage in 1933, my parents lived in a rented house in Northfield Road in the Stamford Hill area of North London, together with my maternal grandmother and her other three children. It was in 1939 that they all decided to move and someone suggested to them - Edgware. When I once asked my father why they decided to move from their house in Stamford Hill, my father answered that the house was rented and that they were paying someone else’s mortgage. My father was a firm believer in, as he said, “bricks and mortar” – in other words buying one’s own house and not renting one. He would say that 60 Harrowes Meade was his second best acquisition – his best acquisition was my mother. I have likewise followed his dictum of house purchase, and as soon as it was possible bought a house first in Liverpool and then in Kiryat Arba and a few years later also bought out the neighbour’s apartment in Kiryat Arba.

It was in 1939 that my parents bought 60 Harrowes Meade and at the same time my widowed grandmother bought a house about three minute walk away in the next road, Francklyn Gardens. The price paid for 60 Harrowes Meade, as I was told, was £950. [In 2011, the price of such a house in Harrowes Meade is in the region of half a million pounds! – information from the internet]

The house my parents bought was the last one built in Harrowes Meade and only several years after the end of the Second World War were houses built up to the end of the road – I believe the last house was number 90.

It was about November 1939, which was a few months after the start of the Second World War, that my parents moved into their new house. The house was semi-semi-detached, namely, the front half of the house was detached, whilst the back half was joined to the neighouring house. The house had two floors. On the ground floor, one entered from the street door into a largish hall and on either side of the hall, there was a large room. A disadvantage of this type of structure was that one could not knock in a wall between the two large downstairs rooms to make a very large room. On this ground floor, there was also the kitchen. On the upper floor there were three bedrooms and a toilet and separate bathroom. At first, one of the bedrooms was used as my father’s office, but during the 1950s, the garage was refurbished and became his office.

The house had both a front and back garden. A number of fruit trees were planted in the back garden – two apple trees, two pear trees and a couple of other fruit trees. We had a nice crop of fruit each autumn. When I was young, I remember the front garden being uprooted and being cemented over.

The kitchen appliances were quite different in design than those found today. The refrigerator worked by gas and to make it work, there was a place to light (as in a gas stove) underneath the refrigerator. The icebox was a tiny thing situated inside the refrigerator at the top right hand side corner. The refrigerator stood on longish legs which were visible.

To heat the kitchen, there was a boiler in that room which worked on coal. Every year, we would order a number of sacks of coal and when it was delivered it would be stored in a coalbunker in our back yard. Having such a coal fire was a boon on erev Pesach, since one could burn the chametz without having to specially make a bonfire. There was also an “ascot” in the kitchen to heat water and this hot water was stored in a tank in the bathroom.

The kitchen also had a lot of fitted cupboards. My mother had some more cupboards built near the ceiling to store the Pesach crockery. The Pesach pots and pans were stored in a big cupboard in the bathroom.

Until about the 1950s, we had no washing machine for clothes. All the washing had to be done by hand. We then bought a machine which one had to fill manually with water and the machine would then just swivel the washing around. The washing would then manually have to be put through a wringer powered by electricity. It was then transferred to a drier which one had to hold down to prevent it jumping all over the kitchen. The washing machine was stored just inside the kitchen by the side of the door, while the drier was kept in the cupboard under the stairs which was situated in the kitchen.

When my parents moved into 60 Harrowes Meade, there was no garage, and so they erected a shed. It was only after the Second World War that they decided to have a garage built. Strange as it may seem, it was not easy in those days to find a builder. We had no car and for a number of years we had a table-tennis table (slightly smaller than the regulation size) in the garage and we would often play table-tennis there.

A few years after building the garage, houses were built in the open fields adjoining our house. After they were built, we received a letter of complaint from the Local Council that the colour of the bricks of our garage did not match those of the adjacent new houses. My father who was an expert with his pen answered that it would require a large stretch of imagination to match the colour of bricks with houses which were not yet built!

There is a photograph extant taken in 1945 where one can see in the background the house shed which pre-dated the garage. One can also see that our house was then the last house in the street. (The purpose was not to photograph this part of the house but it was a photograph of me aged two and a half in my pram and the background is in fact incidental!)

Bombs were regularly falling on London in the Second World War, and since Edgware was not exempt from this, it was necessary to have some sort of shelter. My parents bought an indoor shelter which was placed in the dining room in place of a table and indeed served as a table during the war. I was born in the middle of the war and I heard that I was put in this shelter in my sleeping cot. However, I was only a baby at the time and so I do not remember this.

One bomb fell in the fields next to our house. Someone in the family thought it had fallen in our garden. Another fell on a house a few minutes’ walk from our house and made a big crack in the outer wall and the house had to be rebuilt. Fortunately no-one was in the house at the time.

There were also public shelters built in the streets. I remember one of them about two minutes from my house, since it was not demolished until well after the end of the war. I am told that there were places in Edgware where one would have to go a long way to find such a shelter.

My mother told me that one occasion, a relative who lived on the other side of Edgware came on a visit. The day seemed quiet from air raids and my mother took me in my pram to accompany her home. Soon after this relative left her, the sirens rang out warning everyone to go into the shelters, but we were then in a place far far from any shelter. My mother started running with the pram as fast as she could until she came to the shops on Mowbray parade. She ran into the kosher butcher shop and the butcher’s mother-in-law who was there at the time, advised her to get home as quickly as possible, which she did.

Naturally there was a strict blackout every night. One night my parents returned home to see at least one home-guard waiting by the house. What had happened was that a desk light in my father’s office in the house which was near to a window had somehow come on – maybe it had a loose switch. The light could be seen about a mile away and the home-guards had traced it to our house. I seem to remember my mother telling me that she told them to take their shoes off before coming into the house. She also said that they carefully looked around the house – maybe they thought we were German agents signaling the enemy aircraft!

Although the Germans dropped a few bombs in Edgware, it was much safer than the centre of London. Therefore numerous relatives who lived well inside London made extended visits to our house and also to the house of my grandmother in the next street. The wife of my mother’s brother came for one weekend and stayed for six years! It is related that on one Shabbat they laid the table for 16 people.

The authorities had a right to billet people in someone’s house and the authorities went around the houses to see in which houses they could do so. When they came to our house (or maybe my grandmother’s house) and saw how many members of the family there were already there, they jokingly said that we needed a further house!

During the Second World War and in the following years, food was scarce and rationed. Every member of the family was given a ration book and I remember going with my mother to get our ration books. One of the items in the ration books was bacon. For people who did not eat bacon, this item was stamped “cancelled” and they got an allocation of margarine instead.

My mother told me that a family received a total of six eggs per month. Once my mother was carrying the month’s ration of eggs home in a bag and she dropped the bag. She was near the kosher butcher shop and they gave her a cup to carry home what was left of the eggs.

In the fields next to our house there were allotments and many people used to grow their vegetables there, but my family did not. A neighbour across the road had a relative who had a farm and she would send her from time to time a cucumber. This neighbour would sometimes cut off a small piece and give it to my mother. Today this may sound funny, but in the war years it was a treat to even receive a bit of cucumber.

The price of food was also strictly controlled. My mother bought her groceries from a local Jewish grocer, a Mrs. Harris, and she was friendly with her. It seems that on one or more items, Mrs. Harris charged a halfpenny or even a farthing (which was half a halfpenny) more than the permitted price, but my mother did not object. Someone must have lodged a complaint, because one day as the delivery boy was bringing our order, a food inspector stopped him and obviously studied the bill. Mrs. Harris was summoned and my mother was called as a witness for the prosecution. My mother told me that at the Court, much to the consternation of the prosecution, she was happily chattering with Mrs. Harris. I assume Mrs. Harris was fined for overcharging.

Someone recommended to my mother that she gets her Pesach groceries from Selfridges. My grandmother was apprehensive – What! get her Pesach order from a non-Jewish shop! My mother therefore took my grandmother to Selfridges so that they could see for themselves. There they saw that all the Pesach food was in a separate section of the shop and there was a man – in a white coat, as my mother told me – watching over the food. My grandmother and mother were most impressed. Many decades later when I happened to be looking at the “Jewish Chronicle” for that period I saw that the Pesach section of Selfridges was under the supervision of the London Beth Din. The “man in the white coat” was obviously the shomer (Rabbinical supervisor). Selfridges was thus far better for Pesach than many small Jewish grocers where before Pesach the chametz and the Pesach foods are right next to each other.

My mother had a definite weekly routine for her housekeeping. On Wednesday she would go to the butcher to buy meat and chicken, which would then be delivered to the house. Unlike today, in those days the housewife had to do the salting {“koshering”) process herself in order to remove all the internal blood. At first my great aunt did the salting process and a few years later it was taken over by my mother. The fowls in those days were quite mature and as I recollect they weighed over 2 kilos each. Often partially formed eggs were found in them and they were a great delicacy in the chicken soup. After all the salting process had been completed, my mother would put the chickens in a bowl of boiling water (“breeing upp” as she would call it) and then clean the outside of the chickens

Thursday was “fish day” and on Thursday morning my mother would make the gefillte fish. The cleaned fish arrived from the kosher fishmonger. My mother did not have a mincer and all the chopping was done by hand using a chopper and a chopping board. If my great aunt saw my mother doing the chopping she would say “klap noch a bissel” (chop a bit more). After the chopping of the fish was completed the other ingredients were added and the fish balls were put in a saucepan of hot water to which fish skeletons supplied by the fishmonger had been added. I remember making up the name “geshaiach” for these fish skeletons – I don’t know what made me make up this name! This liquid was then used a fish soup for our Thursday dinner which was always a fish dinner – (on the other days of the week we had a meat dinner). After about an hour, the gefillte fish were ready.

My mother could be classed as an authority on cookery. Over the course of the years she gave about seventy recipes to the newspaper the “Jewish Review” on a strictly honorary basis. One of them was her gefillte fish recipe which was especially well welcomed by the readers. She had an enormous selection of cake and kichels recipes. For many years she would make them each week by hand without the use of a cake mixer. Eventually she bought a mixer but at first they did not turn out right. She then went to a demonstration class given by the manufacturers of this mixer and she learned that with this mixer one can overbeat a cake, something which never arose when using just one’s hands to beat.

Over the years, my family made no major changes to the house. The minor changes involved closing in the porch, laying fitted carpets and of course periodic decorating and painting the inside and outside of the house.

My family lived in 60 Harrowes Meade from the autumn of 1939 until my mother came to Israel in the summer of 1978 – my father had died three years earlier. I lived there until the summer of 1966.

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Movable satellite picture which includes area around 60 Harrowes Meade to view