Tom Todd recalls his "Dad's Story" of life in Harpenden

Adapted from a document in LHS Archives

Tom Todd in his youth

I was born at Dunmow, Essex in 2.4.1908 and I was christened William Thomas Todd, but always went under my second name, Tom. My first home was at Hitchin with my mother near a bacon factory and my first school was St. Mary’s, Hitchin.

Early days in Harpenden

In 1914 the First World War broke out, so that year my mother and I came by train to Harpenden to live with my Auntie Alice and Uncle Arthur in Crabtree Lane. My mother went to work at the Almagam Rubber Factory, Batford. My Uncle Arthur was a ploughman at the Castle Farm for Dolphin Smith. Also at the same farm was another ploughman, Frank Catlin, from Gustard Wood. He used to come and visit us and got friendly with my mother, so in 1918 they married and Frank became my step-father. We moved to Flint Cottages, Marquis Lane and there I had a brother, Arthur, and two sisters, Mary and Joyce. I went to the Church of England School. Mr Smith, one of my teachers, came out of the war with a wounded leg. I remember the unveiling of the War Memorial in 1920, when all the children had to march out and attend the service.

Working life

At 12 years old I went as a houseboy, cleaning shoes, filling coal scuttles and other odd jobs before and after school, at St Mary’s, (18) Milton Road, (home of William Lovet Bennett, later the site of Shelley Court ed.). My wages were 3/- (15p) per week, which I gave to mother to buy our coal each week. Mother used to take in washing and I used to fetch and return it in a truck which was made out of a sugar box with two pram wheels.

At 14 years old I left school and went to work for Dolphin Smith on the farm, 51 hours per week for a wage of 10/- (50p).When I was 15, I had a 2/- (10p) rise and was promoted to drive my own horse and cart. The horse’s name was Peggy and it was stabled at Castle Farm. I used to do odd jobs carting straw and chaff and fetching coal and water for the threshing engine used by Mr Nash.

When I was 15 years old I also got a Sunday morning paper round, delivering around Ox Lane and district, for Mrs Thrussel, then for her son George – but more about that later. At 17 I decided to leave farm work.

In 1924 I went to work as Gardener’s Assistant with Mr Gough at The Roseries, Townsend Lane, for Mr Herbert Willcox, the film director. Mr Willcox bought me my first bike. They were very nice people to work for, but they moved to London in July 1925, so I left.

I next went to work for Randall’s Nurseries at Westfield. Mr Carter was the foreman. I stayed until November. When Mr Munt called for the coal money he told mother he was looking for a strong lad to help in the coal yard.  So I went and got the job with Brentnal & Cleland delivering coal, first by horse and trolley, then by motor lorry – a Bedford truck. I worked for B&C for 32 years, from 1925 to 1957, delivering coal to Redbourn, Wheathampstead, Harpenden, Batford and Gustard Wood. In 1957 they sold up to Franklins where I stayed until I was 50 years old, in 1958. From then until I retired in 1973 I worked for Fitts Ltd, the Tyre Re-tread firm in Coldharbour Lane (later taken over by Goodyear’s of Wolverhampton). After getting the old age pension I decided on a part-time job at Manland School for 4 years, and that was the end of my working days.

My youth days

When I was 16 years old, with the help of my pal Henry Brunton, known as “Jocky” Brunton, we got together some lads and formed a football club called Batford Juniors. Our home ground was kindly lent by Mr Randall, who owned the greenhouses where Manland School now stands. Later on I joined Batford Old Boys. Their ground was at Crabtree Lane where Crabtree Lane School now stands. I finished my football days with Batford Sports Club – on the Committee – until I married.  In 1932 Batford Sports F.C. won Division 4; also beat Harpenden Rovers Division 1 in the Pratt Cup Final 2 goals to 1 on the Common.

I joined Batford Social Club for Lads & Lassies. We met on Friday evenings at Batford Chapel Recreation Room. We would arrange concerts and musical parties. Seven of us lads got together and formed Batford Boys Band. I was the accordion player. Our signature tune was “Here we are again, happy as can be, all good pals and jolly good company”. We held our band practice nights at Batford Old Boys F.C. dressing room, listening to records on a portable gramophone, and then playing them. We all had a good time.

I used to go girl hunting with my mates Jocky Brunton and Derek Minter. We walked to Kimpton where we met three girls out of church on Sunday evenings, but after a few weeks we changed district and walked to Wheathampstead.  After chasing girls we met at the Railway Pub for a drink and met other Batford boys. We would all walk back to Batford singing songs like Bye Bye Blackbird etc., with Ted Andrews and me playing mouth organs.

Continuing going to Wheathampstead, Ted Andrews met Rose Hyde and I met Rene Cooper, who lived near the station. She worked at The Hyde, in service, about 3 .5 miles from Wheathampstead where I would walk with her, say our goodnights, then walk back to Batford, five miles in total. After a few weeks I packed that in and Derek Minter took over.

One Sunday evening Jocky and I stood waiting on the corner of Wheathampstead Station when two young ladies went by towards Gustard Wood. It was a dark night in 1927, so we decided to follow them. We caught them up and said “good evening girls” and Jocky went one side and I went the other. It was so dark we could not see their faces, but after a few chats I recognised the voice of the one next to me – Miss Rene Cooper, my old flame! So I said to myself “no, thank you”, and swapped over with Jocky. That’s when I met a nice young lady named Annie Hale who lived at Lower Gustard Wood. Later she invited me to her home. That’s when I started my courting days, a very happy six years.

Annie was in service first at Welwyn Garden City, then later at Harpenden for a Capt. Down and family. She would get one long Sunday off and I would go to her home. The next Sunday was short, and she would visit my home. I remember Annie would get a few hours off on Saturday evenings, so we would go to the pictures at the bottom of Amenbury Lane, called the Victoria Palace. They were silent pictures in those days. We had a good evening for 2/6: 2/- (10p) seats and 6d (2.5p) chocs and ice cream. We had some very good times together over the six years.

Married life

Coldharbour/Westfield footbridge, with Randall’s nursery in the distance, c.1910

On 26th February 1933 the marriage took place at St Helen’s Church, Wheathampstead between William Thomas Todd and Florence Annie Hale. We first rented a cottage at Lower Luton Rd, Coldharbour for 6/- (30p) a week. There was a field out the back where we would go and gather mushrooms, and a river across the road where I would get crawl – fish-like crabs on a net made with wire netting and a hoop- take them home and boil them in a saucepan. They were delicious! I also had a nice garden beside the river where I would go swimming in the summer.

Now, my family grew whilst living there, and we had three children, Ronald, Maureen then Brian. I remember my first being born. It was on a warm June day when Mr Munt, my manager, came down the coal yard and said “Tom, I have had a phone message from Gustard Wood – your new bike has arrived, complete with toolbag and kit, so will you and see it tonight? Congratulations, it’s a boy”. We named him Ronald James. The next two were born at home, in Coldharbour. Well, the cottage was getting too small, having only 2 bedrooms, so I approached Mr Summerton, a retired schoolmaster now on the Council, to put us down for a council house. He later came and told me we had been allocated one in Westfield Road – No. 84 – one of the new houses with three bedrooms and a bathroom. So I thanked him. We moved in during February 1939 with the help of Mr Fred Lawrence and his lorry. He was a son-in-law of Mrs Fisher, our next door neighbour at Lower Luton Road. That was our start at Westfield Road, where we stayed for 41 years. In July 1939 my fourth child, Rita, was born.

The same year, 1939, the Second World War broke out against Germany until 1945. During those years my family increased by three – Pamela (1941), Jean (1942) and Anthony in 1944. That totalled seven children. There were hard times – first the blacking-out of windows, no street lights, then came the ration books for food – meat, sweets, bread – clothes and coal.

The Second World War

A lot of men were called up for the Forces, but I was one of the lucky ones, as my work was a reserved occupation – to “Keep the Home Fires Burning”. During the early part of the war a children’s school from Shoreditch, London was evacuated to Harpenden, where they went to Manland Senior School. We had one of the girls staying with us. Her name was Lily Wimpory, a rather big girl aged 13, until she left school then went back to London. The bombs did some damage in Harpenden, but the worst was when they raided Luton, demolishing most of Park Street with a landmine. Also a direct hit on the Vauxhall factory where they were making Sherman tanks. Three local men were killed there that day.

Later they started dropping fire bombs, so I joined the Fire Watchers’ Service. That meant walking round the block at night to watch out for fire bombs, but we were lucky. The nearest one fell at Batford, hitting the Chapel and destroying the roof. The fires were very bad in London. We could see the glow from our bedroom windows. George Thrussel was called up to the Fire Service and had to go to London, so I carried on his Sunday paper business. That meant going to the L.N.E. Station at 4am to meet the paper train and sort them out.

The end of the War came in 1945. First the Germans surrendered – that was called V.E. Day, then later the Japanese – that was called V.J. Day. So we had two celebrations. Ours included Westfield Road, Westfield Place and Coldharbour Lane. The people in the road hung flags out and some small ones across the road, from house to house.

The Red Cow Public House

At 2pm our procession formed at the cemetery gates, with the children in fancy dress and led by three clowns, Mr Stan Vass, George Messer and Tom Todd who was playing his accordion. We marched down the road to the Red Cow Public House and back to Brown’s shop. Now, outside Mr Brown’s shop the judging of the children’s fancy dress by Mrs Moss and her helpers took place. Then the children were given a tea party held in a large tent in the Westfield playing field. After tea, races and games were held at the back of Westfield Road, in Mosses Field, followed by a large bonfire and the burning of Hitler. In the evening it was the turn of the parents. There was dancing to music under floodlights in the road outside Brown’s shop until 11pm. And a good time was had by all. After the war the blackouts came down and the street lights came on. Also the “called-up men” began to come home. So thank goodness we were getting back to normal.

The Sunday papers

In 1945 my friend George Thrussel came out of the Fire Service and went back to being a postman. He thanked me for helping him out on Sundays then asked if I would carry on with him, so I said “yes”. It meant getting up at 3.30am every Sunday morning to help him sort out and bundle the papers for the shops in Harpenden and Batford, and also the rounds for the men and boys. With a large family to support I needed the extra cash. My round was getting bigger with all the Westfield Estate, so my children used to help me and get some pocket money. Also, the Hartley’s and Sygrove’s children came to help. Well, I’d carried on for 52 years, from the age of 15 to 67 delivering Sunday papers, so it was time to pack it in, and a Luton man, Mr Smith, took over.

Post War life

In 1945 my work mate George Saunders had to pack up as a coalman with a strained back, so I took over driving the 2 ton Bedford lorry. It was George who taught me to drive. Well, as the years went by I had some good work mates: Arty Hilliard, Jack Wells and Geody Messer and at one time I had an Italian prisoner from Batford Camp.

In 1950 my 8th child was born – a girl, whom we called Angela. She was the last and the baby of the family. The children never went cold or hungry because Mother, being a good cook, always had a good meal ready for them, and as a coalman I always had coal for the fire to keep them warm. As the years went by the family began to grow and started to leave the nest by getting married. First Maureen, then Ronald, and in the same year they were followed by Rita then Jean, so that was four gone. Then Brian went to live in Germany and in 1966 Anthony and Angela got married. Then, at last, in 1974 Pamela got married and that left Darby & Joan, all on their own.

We had a good friend, known as Cully (Mr Harold Cullingford). He would call in every morning on his way to the village and come up at weekends to play cards and dominoes. We also had some good holidays together.

In 1957 I joined the RAOB known as The Buffaloes*. Our meeting place was at a room above the Silver Cup Public House. We were called the Arden Lodge. In later years my son Anthony became a member, but with a different Lodge and passed his 4th Degree and became Sir Anthony. I also became a committee member of Westfield Tenants Association. We held football matches between the married and singles on Whitsuntide Mondays and I got together the singles team playing on Westfield Playing Fields. The winners received 10/-, the losers 5/- vouchers which they spent at the Red Cow Public House, and a good time was had by all.

Surprise Parties

My family were always giving us surprise parties. The first one was on my 70th birthday. Ron came and took us out. I thought we were going to his house for the evening, but he stopped outside the Trust Hall, Southdown Rd and said “Dad, I would like you to meet someone” and when I stepped into the Hall there was a surprise waiting. All my family, relations and friends were there and sang “A Happy Birthday” and we all had a good evening. The next surprise was our Golden Wedding in Feb. 1983. In the evening we were taken in a wedding car driven by Colin Wright to the same hall at Southdown, where all our family and friends were there to greet us. So we had another grand party to remember.

In 1983 we decided to move after 44 years, having to leave a nice garden and Mum’s greenhouse, where she spent a lot of time. We moved to a ground floor flat – No. 52 Aysgarth Close, so there were no stairs to climb. We have a small garden and good neighbours. The same year I had a slight stroke, lost my speech and the use of my right hand. I went to hospital for a week, and thanks to them, they got me back to normal again.

In 1984 I lost three good friends. First George Saunders, then my brother Arthur, and in August, there was the passing of H. Cullingford (Cully). He’d had his 90th birthday in March. In 1986 we had another sad loss – the death of my youngest daughter Angela, who was killed in a car crash with a friend who also died. Angela was only 36 years old – a very sad loss for all the family.

In 1988 I reached my 80th birthday, and there were more celebrations. The family got together and gave me a good party. They hired Mead Hall, Wheathampstead. There was about 50 folks there, including friends and relations, with plenty to eat and drink. We all had another good evening thanks to my sons and daughters. God Bless them all.

In September 1990 Mother reached her 80th birthday. For the surprise Jean and David came and took us out for a car ride. We arrived at Heathrow Airport and there waiting inside were Rita and Mike and family with balloons saying “Happy Birthday Mum”. Jean went off and when she came back said to Mum  “I ‘ve got something for you that you have always wanted, a ticket for a flight on Concorde”. Now for the best part, she was taken to the plane in a wheelchair and put on board for a two hour flight. Mum said they treated her well, with champagne and chicken lunch. When she came back to earth we travelled to Maureen’s at Paddock Wood, Harpenden. All the family were there to wish her a “Happy Birthday”, followed by a tea party, and she had plenty to tell them all.

Life in later years

Over the years my family has grown. We have 17 grandchildren and one adopted (Katy) and 12 great grandchildren to date (November 1991).

Now my hobbies are walking and reading. In the summer I walk around Harpenden Common, also Rothamsted Park, but in the winter I walk round the local roads and often to the library to get books to read. Talking of Harpenden Common, I remember, in 1922-23, helping to drive a flock of sheep down Crabtree Lane, on to the Common with the shepherd, a Mr Lawrence, and his dog. We would stay there until 4pm, then drive them back and put them in their sheep pen.

Well, that’s about all I have to tell you. So, Good Luck to you all. From your father, W.T. Todd, November, 1991.

*The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) is one of the largest fraternal organisations in the United Kingdom. It started in 1822 and is known as the Buffs to members. The RAOB organisation aids members, their families, dependents of former members and other charitable organisations.The Order’s motto is “No Man Is At All Times Wise” (Latin: Nemo Mortalium Omnibus Horis Sapit) and it has the maxim of “Justice, Truth and Philanthropy”. It has a Rule Book, Manual of Instruction and Ceremony Lectures issued and revised by the Grand Lodge of England. The term ‘lodge’ for branch organisation and headquarters was adopted in imitation of Freemasonry.


News article on Tom’s 90th Birthday

An overview of Tom’s story was printed in news articles in 1998, to commemorate his 90th birthday. They included details of him, together with his classmates of Batford Methodist Church Sunday School, donating a total of three shillings of their pocket money towards the building of a new Church Hall. For their money they were given a brick engraved with their initials, and the one with TT could still be seen.

Comments about this page

  • Thank you, for this truly endearing feature. It allowed me to introduce to my children the story in his own words of a  Great Grandfather they themselves never got to enjoy. An incredibly priceless article.

    By Kimberly Lee (29/10/2020)

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