Memories of a happy evacuee

Harpenden in the early 1940s

Kinsbourne Green, where Rosie may have learned horse riding with the Dunn family

My mother Rosie Grew (nee Billings), now 96, still talks fondly about the four years she spent in Harpenden. She’s from the East End of London, and was sent from Crondall Street in Hoxton to a lovely billet in Roundwood Lane with a family called the Hawkins. I think their names were Len and Maud, and they lived at a house called Brightwell (now no.15) that they’d built themselves. My mum says Mr Hawkins chose the name because he wanted everyone living there to be bright and well! Their younger daughter was named Thelma, and she and my mum quickly became best friends. My mum remembers cycling everywhere, visiting a bluebell wood, and some kind of pond or “hollow” that froze over in winter where people went out onto the ice. There was also a family called the Dunns who were hatmakers, and they taught her to ride a horse.

Eventually my mum got a little job assisting a photographer named Oliver Harvey who had a shop in the High Street. She was learning to operate the lights for the portraits and to retouch photographs. Mr Harvey’s regular assistant may have left to become a land girl. My mum was extremely happy in Harpenden, but as usual all good things come to an end… shortly after her sixteenth birthday (1943) she was packed off back to grimy East London, too old to continue as an evacuee. I wonder what her life would have been like if she had been able to stay in Harpenden? I know she would have liked to!

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