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My love affair with steam began in Brookmans Park

By Trevor Alcock

Photograph of the Flying Scotsman speeding through Brookmans Park station in 1969 - image from Ron Kingdon
Trevor Alcock's love of trains began as a boy in Brookmans Park
Image from Ron Kingdon, from the Images of North Mymms collection

I found the articles by Colin and Mary very interesting as we are of the same age. I am also fascinated with the stories about Gobions Woods, where the majority of my spare time was spent as a child.

I am so pleased that some one has preserved it, because it is truly a unique place. I have been fascinated to read about the history of the area, and now regret the damage I must have caused when we played some wild games there.

I have printed out all the history additions on the web site, and my brother Philip and I have pawed over them many times. We are always planning to return to explore the woods again, but have never made it. He’s busy selling ventilation systems and I go to sea for a living.

We left BP in 1971 when my Dad retired. We moved to the Southampton area. I returned to the woods in the mid 80’s, but by then, storm damage had fell many trees and had completely changed the footpaths in the woods.

I remember my brother drew a map of the area and he took it to school. Mr Harris, the headmaster, was furious that he had been “playing in another man’s garden,” but he would not reprimand him any more because we were town people that did not know any better. We had moved from Woolwich to Brookmans Park in 1954, to a house in Bluebridge Road. It cost £3400, and was just a couple of doors up from Mary’s.

Before Brookmans Park, we lived at Erith, just outside of Woolwich. I remember the death of the King. I came home from school, and mother usually had the news on the radio, but it was all very sombre music and she kept saying, “Isn’t it sad the King has died and he’s so young.”

We had a street party for the coronation, and people in the street put on a show, using a lorry as a temporary stage. We went on a trip to London to see the lights, and of course were given the usual coronation mug and moneybox.

Brookmans Park to us was all open spaces. Phil had a bike, and I was so small I got around on a scooter. My brother pedalled off, and I followed until we eventually ended up south of Potters Bar on the mainline railway where they were boring two new tunnels. I remember the site as being all yellow clay. A miniature train went in and out off the tunnels returning with the spoil. Several hours later, we returned home to two very irate parents.

I think this started a love affair with the railway. I got 2/6d pocket money, and that was the return fare to Kings Cross. We would take the trip to London, passing all the shunting yards at Wood Green and Hornsey.

There would be line upon line of engines with their doors open and men cleaning them out. The next line would be engines being fired up to make steam. The smoke would be so full of moisture that it would fall to the ground and creep along. Plumes of steam were released from around the oily engines with aggressive hisses.

The men would be covered in grime as they toiled with ash, grease and steam. This whole picture was so exciting to boys like us who were not interested in reading, but wanted desperately to be part of that picture.

At Kings Cross we would go down to Euston Station to see engines from another region. Once, when we were loaded with money, we got the train to St. Albans, and then came home on the 303 bus.

I saw nearly all the A4 Pacifics. Steam was king, and held an unrivalled passion. Mothers could not understand the importance of A3’s, and the double header of two L1’s that drew the rush hour express from Kings Cross.

I met my father off this train one day, and carried his briefcase to the Brookmans Park Hotel. Many commuters had a swift half on their way home. On one particular occasion, the Hotel had its first carpet laid in the lounge bar. All the Dads took their shoes off at the door. The last time I was there, it was the same carpet.

Not long after that, we went to a social night at the Brookmans Park Hotel to celebrate the departure of my brother’s best friend Peter Lewis, who was emigrating to Australia with his family. They lived up Bluebridge Avenue.

When they built those houses, what a playground they were. There can’t be a patch of concrete with out a small boys fingerprint in it.

I do not recall the woods as a safe place to play. The lower woods had active swallow holes, a derelict sewerage farm, and an unguarded well. In the popular areas, the hands of many small boys had polished the branches of the trees. Add to this, air rifles, cigarettes, fireworks, father’s axe, gang warfare, and films like Davy Crocket, Dunkirk and The Dambusters. A good read was the Hotspur or the Eagle. By the time any boy got to the woods he was a powder keg of unexploded mischief. The fuse was no parental control. I had a fantastic childhood?

I too remember Moffats Lane as an unmetalled road. I can recall when the field to the south was cleared ready for building. Several freestanding oak trees had to be up-rooted. I can remember playing in the fallen trees, and jumping down into the huge craters that were left by the roots. The smell of oak sap was over-powering.

One of the trees was near a pond, and it flooded into the root bowl making the pond even bigger. My brother and a friend found an old bath, and tried to paddle it across. It capsized and cooled their adventure. At the most southerly end were some old chicken coops, which were ideal for hiding in, and trying your first cigarette.

There was also a huge beech tree in the village centre, but it was too near to the road, and when it was chopped down, in about 1957, I got my photo taken and it appeared in the Herts Advertiser.

That was the year of the 11+, and true to form I failed. My parents wondered how I had caught autism, but rallied round and brought me a school uniform for St. Audrey’s in Hatfield. We didn’t have a local secondary in those days. We would all hang around the village waiting for the bus every morning. The school was brand new in 1958, and I now hear that it has been pulled down.

I did a paper round for Mr. Saxby. I started with Westlands Drive for 7/6d a week. By the time the Bloxham’s arrived I was on the even numbers of Brookmans Avenue on 10/- a week. A weekend paper now costs more than I got in a week.

The big freeze of 1962 and 1963 was followed by the big thaw, and I remember going up to Gobions Lake where the banks were littered with hundreds of dead Mirror Carp, some as big as 12 or 15 lbs. We never realised the lake held so many fish.

We only stayed in Southampton for a year, and then we all returned to our roots, Hull. It’s just been voted the worst city in Great Britain. I cannot agree. I love the place, but my fondest memories are my childhood days in Brookmans Park.

By Trevor Alcock 

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