Following Daphne Clement’s lovely comments about Sunbury in articles in recent months of Sunbury Matters, I should like to add some of my own childhood memories.
Born in a nursing home in Hampton, I lived with my parents in a bungalow in Darby Crescent, which backed onto the Markway and its accompanying ditch. It was here that I honed my engineering skills with dam building, as in those days the ditch had flowing water, I believe it is now dry.
For me Sunbury was a vast playground. There were four of us in the Crescent with surnames beginning with the letter S, the S Club. As neighbours, we could leave the Crescent via Puddle Lane now called The Pennards, cross French Street for a bit of scrumping in the orchard now Elizabeth Gardens, cross Rope Walk into a damson wood now replaced by Saxonbury Avenue.
If we were still feeling peckish, we could go ‘commando style’, crawling on elbows and knees through the allotments at the bottom of the Avenue, pulling a few carrots as we went on into Sunbury Park. Alternatively, we could head to the professional cycle track at the top end of the damson wood for few circuits on our bikes.
I was taught to swim by ‘muscles’ the lifeguard at the swimming pool on Rivermead Island. The water in those days was pumped in from the river and along with the amount of chlorine required, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face! If we needed to swim in clear water we went to Hampton or the Upper Deck, by the Thames at Molesey. On a number of occasions, armed with a packed lunch, we would cycle to the Blue Pool in Camberly.
Being able to swim came in handy. We would swim across the river from the Island to barges moored opposite on the coal wharf while they were waiting to unload their cargo for the Walton water works. The purpose was to ‘borrow’ one of their spare mooring lines which we then tied to a tree on the bank providing a swing out over the river. I remember swinging out but not able to get back to the bank in my Denmead school uniform and having to explain, when I arrived home, that it had rained rather heavily in Hampton!
My father gave me an ex-army flat bottomed dinghy with canvas sides when I was about nine or ten. Being flat bottomed we could go up streams with shallow water. I remember punting it between the Island and Thames Street to watch the visitors sunning themselves on the lawns at the Club de Cleo, now called Monksbridge and then on up the Creek to Tumbling Bay.
I often used to help at Sunbury Lock in the school holidays and I remember the lock keeper being asked by a hire boat skipper, ‘which side of the lock would you like me’ and he replied ‘whichever side you hit first!’
We obviously had the best of times, unfortunately, I don’t think today’s children have the same opportunities.