A NARRATIVE COMPILATION OF THEIR MEMORIES OF CRANFORD PARK CONTRIBUTED BY OUR VISITORS
by Christopher Luetchford
A total of 25 “bricks” were created for the Memory Wall. Although not all of them identified the decade of their memories, it is safe to say from the nature of the comments, that they span the last 60 -70 years. Here is a resume of their contents.
Amongst the most common recollections visitors shared with us, were of walking in the Park (with or without dogs), picnicking, and swimming or fishing in the River Crane. At some stage there must have been a substantial length of rope suspended from a tree on the riverbank, from which youngsters would attempt to swing across to the other side. One contributor recounts a childhood memory from the 1960’s, when the river banks were less overgrown, of catching sticklebacks, redthroats and tadpoles. The natural world which could be observed in Cranford Park was clearly a significant attraction for many children : this is perfectly summarised in one visitor’s observation that, ” It was a classroom for a child to learn about nature and the changing seasons. ” .
For some children, the stables were an intriguing source of mystery . What lay inside them? Would they see the ghostly figure of the mysterious ‘Grey Lady ‘? Their imaginations thus stimulated, they would invent plays involving highwaymen and other historical characters. Cranford Park would appear to have played an important role in teaching children not only the value of the natural environment, but also igniting their imaginations with sparks from the historical echoes surrounding them.
One lady, who was once a Youth Leader with the London Borough of Hillingdon, wrote that she ran summer play schemes in the Park for deaf children. They would spend their days playing rounders, football and cricket and enjoying picnics. However, it wasn’t only local residents who made use of the park : one lady recalls trips by car from Southall in the 1970’s to enjoy picnics there. Consistently people recorded the recreational use made of the Park by successive generations of their families, and the genuine sense of pleasure it has given them.
There are also very appreciative comments about the Park from newer residents to the area, one of whom described it as ” a wonderful revelation “. Another, who moved to the locality five years ago, wrote to say that he has been a regular visitor to Cranford Park ever since, and brings his grandchildren to use the play area. However their favourite feature ” is the middle of the park with lots of trees.”. Even more recently, a lady who moved to the area in 2010, soon discovered ” this delightful park “, and ” fired up ” by her interest in it’s history, she joined the Cranford Park Friends.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Sunday afternoons would witness gatherings of model aircraft enthusiasts, who doubtless found the wide open spaces of the Park a perfect venue for their fragile, miniature aeroplanes to take to the sky.
References to local industries crop up occasionally . A one-time employee of the Nestle Factory remembers spending her lunch breaks in the Park . It would seem that the long-gone Fairey Aviation factory in Hayes, was a regular venue for evening dances. One man recalls walking home through Cranford Park from one such dance, whilst keeping a watchful eye for the possible appearance of ‘ The Grey Lady ‘ in the darkness.
A man who dates his recollection from 1956, was less rapturous about Cranford Park. He remembers crossing the muddy fields from the Bath Road to catch an 81 ‘bus, on his way to a fun fair. So bad was the mud that he and his friends were smothered in it up to their knees, and doubted whether they would be permitted to board the ‘bus. Despite their fears, all was well, but he ends by saying ” I can’t repeat what my Mother said when I got home ! “.
A ‘sporting’ memory comes from a man who describes himself as a one-time ‘Teddy Boy’. In 1951, when he was a member of Cranford Youth Club, he recalls five-a-side football matches being played in the Park each weekday evening. He also remembers a popular tea-room which was open on Sundays.
One visitor, whose recollections go back to 1953, when he was less than ten years of age, wrote that Cranford Park was a ‘magnet’ for his fellow residents in Monmouth Road. On Sunday afternoons they would don their ‘Sunday best’, walk through the Park and over the bridge, and congregate at the tea-room. Apparently there were also logs for people to sit on : he also remembers punts on the River Crane and efforts being made to widen the banks of the river.
In 1956, another contributor remembers “Scrumping” behind the stables, during his childhood and early ‘teens. When he was older, he would meet his friends in the Park and repair to The Traveller’s Friend Public House. Like so many others, he writes that he later brought his own wife and family to enjoy Cranford Park.
On a more sombre note he, and several other visitors, remember the murder of a Mrs. Maitland in the Park during the 1960’s . One visitor wrote that he was once a colleague of Mrs. Maitland’s brother, when he worked for the Post Office. The tragic event was, unsurprisingly, a cause celebre, with one lady recalling all the local press coverage, including the story of two cub scouts, from the 4th Harlington pack, whose pictures appeared in a local newspaper, following their discovery of the murder victim’s handbag.
The memory of this murder is also shared by a gentleman of 83. He however, also has happier memories of ” the peace and quiet of Cranford Park “. where, in 1953 he spent the month of July revising for his final examinations to obtain his ” Diploma from Faraday House Electrical Engineering College. ” It seems that the tranquility of the Park worked its magic and he passed with First Class Honours. A less studious individual reports that he would ” skive off school when it was double maths ” and spend the day spotting wildlife and animal tracks in the mud in the vicinity of Frogs Ditch.
( In the light of the preceding stories, and given the fact that Cranford Park is now ‘sandwiched’ between Heathrow Airport and the Bath Road to the south, and the M4 Motorway to the north, it is perhaps more than a little surprising that nobody made any comments about either the ambient aircraft and traffic noise or air pollution ! )
Although frequent allusions are made to ‘ The Grey Lady ‘, only a few people claim to have seen her. A middle-aged man shared this unnerving story , dating from 1979/1980. Driving along Cranford Lane, at about 10.00 o’clock on a misty winter’s evening, he was suddenly confronted by a woman running right in front of his car. Fearing he had run her over, he got out to inspect the scene, only to discover that no-one was there.
In rather less eerie circumstances, one lady remembers seeing an “old lady, dressed in a very old-fashioned serge dress with a white collar…sitting on a rock”, whilst walking along the riverbank with her dog in 1972. As it was a hot day, she thought it strange that someone should be so over-dressed, but continued with her walk. On returning by the same route, she reached the spot where she had seen the old woman, not only was there no trace of her, but the rock had disappeared as well.
A further strange tale is described by a lady who remembers coming to Cranford Park with a friend for a picnic, when aged about 9. She recalls playing in the grounds close to where Cranford House once stood, and becoming aware of a man leaning on a wall near the old Ice House. Simultaneously, a much older man appeared to whom the two girls chatted for a while.
Noticing that had had lost a finger, our story-teller was told that he had lost it during the war ( unfortunately the ‘war’ was unspecified ). With that, the old man said goodbye, whereupon she looked over the wall to see if the younger man was still there. She discovered that both men had disappeared. Wondering if the old man was a gardener, and had retreated to a nearby shed, she discovered that it was padlocked, leaving her to conclude “that he was a ghost that had appeared to protect us .”.
A final story of the supernatural takes us back to the Second World War. A lady who was fire watching atop the tower of St. Dunstan’s Church one night, recollects hearing some sort of fracas, which sounded like “clashing swords”, coming from a nearby orchard. No evidence of either men or weapons could be seen, but there quickly followed the sound of horses galloping away.
On another occasion, she goes on to say that she was in St. Dunstan’s Church with some friends and their eight-year-old daughter. The child spotted a lady, near the front of the church dressed in grey, and asked “Why is that lady crying ? ” . Apparently the adults were unable to see the lady, since they asked the girl, ” What lady ? ” to which she replied, ” The one at the front of the church.”. At this point the party made a hasty retreat.
The same lady can remember Cranford House before it was demolished in 1945. She reports that relatives of her school friends were caretakers there, and that she had the opportunity to enter the house. According to her account, she says that she was shown parts of a female statue, whom she describes as a “daughter”, who had drowned in the lake when her sweetheart was killed. Our contributor recalls seeing these sculptured fragments lying on the kitchen table. During the Second World War, she attended Cranford Park School, and remembers a park warden brandishing a stick to deter the children from picking blackberries, accompanied by the cry, ” Private grounds !”.
Another lady contributed some further memories of Cranford House, before, during and after its demolition. She explained that her home was opposite the park, within sight of the big house. When her Father returned from the Second World War, he visited the House and remembered seeing many rooms and pictures. By the time this lady was five, demolition of the house was at an advanced stage for she recalls standing knee-deep in sea shells, which had once been a means of sound-proofing between the upper and lower floors : ” I thought I was at the seaside.” she wrote.
She goes on to say that after the war, the Park continued to be used for wheat production, and remembers helping the land girls with hay-making whilst cattle grazed in the pasture. Fields to the Park were farmed by one Ebeneezer Hayward, whose vehicles she can recall with his name painted on their sides. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Cranford Park was her playground, and she recollects that the tea-room was a favourite meeting place. She also remembers the Park becoming a favourite haunt of the young motor cycling fraternity, who, according to another contributor, called themselves “The Parkway Pirates”.
A forty-six-year-old man contributed this intriguing story. According to his reminiscence, the graveyard of St. Dunstan’s Church, or part of the Park, was used as a location for the 1981 film “The French Lieutenant’s Woman “. Seated one day on the wall of the Graveyard, he saw the two stars of the film, Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. It would appear that the Director introduced him to them and subsequently he spent an enviable half-an-hour in Meryl Streep’s caravan enjoying a cup of tea !
Mention of the graveyard wall and St. Dunstan’s Church, reminds us that this ancient place of worship remains an important feature, located as it is within the boundaries of the Park itself. One man told of his sister having sung in the choir there about thirty years ago, whilst the man who remembered walking home from the dance at Fairey Aviation, concluded his recollections by writing that on August 4th 1956, he was married at St. Dunstan’s Church. It would have been nice to know if that dark walk home across the Park, was made in the company of his future wife……………………….
CRANFORD PARK FRIENDS WOULD LIKE TO EXPRESS THEIR GRATITUDE TO ALL THOSE WHO SHARED THEIR RECOLLECTIONS WITH US, IN ORDER TO CREATE THE
MEMORY WALL :
Rosemary Bunce, Mrs. Cole, Clair, Dennis Collins, Katharine Diggins, L. Garthwaite, Beryl Gay, Jane Gleed, Lyn Halnon, Colin Hamlon, Clifford King, Stephen Medwell, Caroline O’Leary, Sandra Lawrence, Jean Lovejoy, Maurice Prickett, M. Mahmood Sheikh, Frederick Simon, Grace Simmons, Gary Southwood, Donna Tagg, Unidentified, Sue Walsh, Karen Webb and Kate Williamson.
Some further recollections were shared by visitors to the ‘Cranford Park Remembers 2014’ event, and are posted below:
Robert Mahoney tells us that Thomas Austen died on the Cranford Park driveway bridge on 21st December 1871 . Mr Austen fell off a cart and hit his head on the parapet of the bridge. He is buried in St Dunstan’s churchyard. A full account of the family is being sent to the priest at Cranford. (NB Robert has recorded this memory on tape.)
Sharon Curling says she was christened by Rev. Maurice Child in St Dunstan’s church on June 26th 1949. She remembers riding her 3 wheeler through the woods with her mum collecting bluebells (they didn’t realise it was not allowed) and stuffing them in the boot of her trike. She remembers the orchard and the park keeper chasing away ‘scrumpers’. She used the swings in the playground and learned to ride a 2 wheel bike by riding down in little grassy hill.
Linda Garthwaite remembers travelling on the 81 bus to Cranford Park to visit a funfair in the 1950s. She wondered then if the return bus driver would allow them on because “we had mud up to our knees. Thankfully he did.”
An anonymous contributor remembers picnics in the orchard ; rolling down the great big hill under the fir trees; church parades from Maurice Child hall; paddling in the river at the bridge; riding a bike through the woods and climbing up the piles of stones when the M4 was being built and the subway was being constructed. He /she was later married in St Dunstan’s Church.
Curated by Bob Barton
A cup of tea and a slice of “Kill–me–Quick”
Mr. Derek Prickett’s Boyhood memories of Cranford Park during the 1940’s
Now approaching eighty–six years of age, Mr. Derek Prickett has a fund of memories about Cranford Park during the years of the Second World War.
His parents moved to Cranford when he was aged four, settling in Eton Road, a relatively new estate of houses, bordering Cranford Lane, lying to the south of Cranford Park. Since the Park was but a short distance away from the young Derek’s home, it is hardly surprising that it became a favourite playground for him and his friends.
Having arrived on the cusp of the outbreak of war, there was little to impede Derek’s enjoyment of the Park, especially during the period referred to as the phoney war. At this point, the Park was still safe for public gatherings, and he recalls the local scouts holding a garden party there.
He remembers Cranford House, but being so young, its advanced derelict state did not really register with him; besides admission to the House was strictly forbidden. Greater attractions were to be found along the River Crane, which runs through the Park.
Due to the damming of the River, two artificial lakes had been formed in the 18th century, either side of the bridge which carries the carriage drive. To regulate the depth of the water, several weirs had been created in the southern reaches of the River within the Park. These had little slatted bridges from which Derek and his friends would fish for tiddlers.
On the subject of bridges, Mr. Prickett can recall walking across the Chinese Bridge which spanned the entrance to the diverted River from the eastern lake. He possesses a photograph, dated June 1950, which shows a stretch of the diverted River, an idyllic- looking scene which is now sadly hidden beneath the M4 Motorway.
During 1940 the impact of the War began to be felt in Cranford Park, with the dropping of two bombs on its far western boundary. Derek remembers that the windows of all the houses backing onto the bomb site were blown out, and as work began to fill in the bomb craters, he took the opportunity to acquire a few pieces of shrapnel as souvenirs.
With so much open grassland, easily viewed from the air, the authorities began to foresee the Park as a potential landing ground for enemy aircraft. To address this problem, Derek recalled a series of strangely imaginative solutions which included; covering the grassland with scrapped motor vehicles (a temptation for young boys if ever there was one!); pock marking the surface with holes; planting a “forest” of telegraph poles; introducing grazing cattle and finally ploughing it up for growing wheat.
To Derek’s eyes the tractor used to till the ground was well-nigh unique; it was rumoured that there was only one other like it. Propelled by caterpillar traction, it was controlled by a man seated in a high cab, operating three large rotary blades at the back of the vehicle.
Amongst his other wartime reminiscences Derek recalls members of the Home Guard training in the Park, and hiding in of clumps of trees as camouflage. Towards the southern end of the Park an air raid shelter was constructed for the local residents. Unfortunately, the shelter was never used, since the gravelly soil below ground level attracted water, causing frequent flooding.
As he grew older, Derek had a paper round which included the delivery of newspapers to a property in Cranford Lane known known as “The Red House”; sadly, now demolished. Its place in Cranford’s history is due to the fact that it was once the home of Thomas Moreton Fitzhardinge Berkeley (1796-1882), who chose not to use his rightful title as the 6th Earl of Berkeley.
During the Second World War, Derek had a paper round which included deliveries to “The Red House”. By this time the property had been commandeered by the R.A.F., although Derek never discovered what went on there. However, he remembers being offered tea and cake by members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force who were stationed there. For some extraordinary reason the cake was always referred to as “kill me quick”; maybe, due to food rationing, it was made from whatever ingredients could be obtained!
In 1964 the M4 Motorway swept away many Cranford landmarks, including a large section of Cranford Park’s main carriage drive and its Lodge House. Fortunately, Derek had the opportunity to admire the view from the Lodge into the Park just as the sun was setting, both literally and metaphorically, on a scene which, within a decade or so, would disappear forever.
Chairman of the Cranford Park Friends
History and Conservation Group