Charles Taylor was born in 1915 and was still on the Friends’ mailing list in 2001 when he contacted us with his memories.
I was born at 46 Judd Street on 20th August 1915. At that time it faced Hunter Street Police Station, the site on which Clare Court is now standing, which all formed part of the Foundling Hospital Estate. I have vivid memories of the children at play there before the site was sold and moved to Hertfordshire. St George’s Gardens, of course, backs onto Coram Fields, which was bought with money from public subsidy and the Beecham’s Trust for use of all children.
Euston Road divides the area. The north side was mostly railway land; the stations, goods yards and a very large gas works. At the present time all is being cleared for new railways and stations. The south side of Euston Road was mostly residential, hotels etc. It was very self-contained – two post offices, four greengrocers, three dairies, two oil shops, four sweet shops, four churches (one of which was one of the few Church of Scotland churches in London – it lost most of its buildings in the war but its twin towers survived), three watch repairers, three hairdressers, not forgetting six pubs, two undertakers, newsagents, two cinemas and one theatre. We did not have to go far for the means of life.
To get away from the toils of life we had St George’s Gardens. For so long part of my life.
There are three entrances to the gardens: Heathcote Street, Handel Street and Harrison Street. At Heathcote Street end stood my first school, belonging to the School Board of London, called Prospect Terrace School, Infants and Juniors. Close by were tuckshops for our gobsuckers and ‘Spanish’ (liquorice). The Gardens provided trees, plants and grass where we could play with so much safety: no horse and carts, no cars but most of all no bad grownups as of today.
The Gardens were well taken care of by a resident gardener and caretaker. He raised all the plants in cold-frames beside his cottage where the glass house is today. In the summer we had the water fountain where we could get well and truly soaked by running through the spray.
Near the school-gate by Heathcote Street were two very large trees. In the spring they gave us boys a plentiful supply of yellow caterpillars which we kept in matchboxes in our pockets. There were three bowers where tree branches trained over iron framework that provided a shelter from the rain. At the Handel Street end by the drinking fountain there were lines of seats which were also roofed by trees for shelter from the sun. The fountain had two iron cups fixed by a strong chain so you could fill them up to drink. The grass areas were off limits to everyone and ball games were very much frowned upon.
There was only one toilet for men which kept clean, not like its last days. I do not know how the ladies got on! All tombs were kept free of weeds and were not to be climbed on. All gravestones had been cleared and placed all round the walls to give the open space for the gardens and flowers, which changed through the seasons.
One grave near the obelisk stone had a headstone at its head and foot with a small tree in the middle. I cannot remember who lies there but every Empire Day the whole school formed up around it and the headmistress took a brief service and the afternoon was a holiday. The area behind and the other side of the path were all fenced in for the works and storage for the gardens.
I have some doubts about the so-called ‘Chapel of Ease’. I think this was a mausoleum for people who did not want to be buried. A stone is let in the side which carries a few names with the family name of Taylor. I have no proof of this: it is just a feeling I have. When the burial ground became a garden the bodies were removed and interred elsewhere.
I think that if it was possible to identify the tombs and restore the engraved words it would increase the interest, for they must have been people of some note to be able to afford to pay for such tombs.
At the Handel Street entrance by the milk depot was a church hall which was part of the Scottish Church. Here was based the 39th Company of the Boys Brigade, where under the leadership of our Captain Cunningham we met for our drill, PT and bible meetings. One Sunday a month we had a church parade. We would attend in our uniforms for a full church service, which I think was under the Rev. Williams, after which we would march through the streets led by our band. At the rear were the girls of the Girls Brigade and very proud we were too.
After the building of Clare Court we moved to No 4 Heathcote Street. Still near to good old St George’s Gardens and an area favoured by the entertainment profession. Fay Compton and her brother Compton Mackenzie were to be seen most days going to work in the West End. She was very fond of her MG sports car. Then of course close by was one of the homes of Charles Dickens. I wonder if he was to be seen in St George’s Gardens? He had three homes in the area.
I pen these few notes in the hope that it may be of interest to some who are as fond of the Gardens as myself with the hope to have a few more years left to enjoy them.