32 Raglan Street – memories from Fred Cunningham, born there in 1921 and died there in 2011

This is taken from the Ryland Road Newsletter in July 2020.

This month’s history piece is based on a tape recording with Fred Cunnington of 32 Raglan Street made in August 2007, and comes courtesy of the Inkerman Area Residents’ Association History Group. Fred’s family lived at number 32 from 1911, through both Wars and beyond, witnessing many changes to the local neighbourhood. Fred died in 2011. The house has new occupants. Fred had some very vivid memories of his childhood and youth which he generously shared with his interviewers.

Fred’s parents, Frederick John and Jessie (née Roberts) married in 1910 and were living in 3 rooms in 32 Raglan Street by 1911, sharing the property with another young family, Mr and Mrs Soundy. The Cunningtons’ daughter, called Jessie Edith, was born there later in 1911 and Fred junior in 1921, delivered by a local midwife. His maternal grandmother came up by tram from Georgiana Street to help with his first days. His father worked a 6 day week for Blanchard’s Lamps in Clerkenwell, where they made oil lamps until the firm was liquidated in the mid- Twenties. Perhaps his father’s work gave the young Fred an interest in lighting: he recalls electricity being installed in the early 1930s, before which they had relied on gas lamps, hanging from a central point in each room, with pipes visible on the walls, giving out a yellowish light.

The front room of the house was known as the parlour, and in a good week the family might have a coal fire burning. Here, Fred’s mother would teach piano, and both children learnt with varying success. There was a coal cellar, although coal was an expensive luxury. There was a ‘general’ room behind, then a scullery and outdoor toilet. As the house was built on a slope, there were 3 steps down into the back garden. When the family had the rented house to themselves, they used the upstairs bedrooms, but were plagued by a leaky valley roof so there were always buckets out to catch the rain! On occasion, the family had a lodger, using an upstairs bedroom and the parlour. Fred remembers one such, a Mr Humber, an actor sometimes playing the Bedford Theatre in Camden Town, entertaining the household in the larger than life manner of W.C. Fields.

There was little traffic during Fred’s childhood, so he played out in the streets with his friends, although one always kept watch out for a policeman returning to Holmes road. The children made go karts or scooters with old pram wheels and a greengrocer’s box, or played improvised cricket or hopscotch. Children could earn a penny or so running errands, or went to local shops to fetch a ‘pennorth’ of jam served out with a long wooden stick from Sealy’s, taking a cup from home for the purpose. No unnecessary packaging there then.

Another favourite shop was Kings, the baker, at 265 Kentish Town Road, with delicious fresh baking smells in the morning. They used to make their ovens available for locals without a large enough oven. Fred’s mother still referred to the shop as ‘Konigs’ years after the Great War, although the family had dropped their name König in the wake of anti-German feeling. He also got sent to the small greengrocer at the top of Anglers Lane, (where the strangely shaped house is now) for 7 lbs. of potatoes costing sixpence. Again, taking his own bag. Tommy Clarke and his wife ran the shop, he in bowler hat and she in a big round ‘coster hat’. Apparently, there were fruit and vegetable barrows along the High Street, at the end of Patshull, Caversham and Leighton Roads. With his exceptional memory, Fred could remember all the stallholders’ names.

There were ‘improvements’ to the road in the 1930s. The row of small cottages known as Alpha Place at the Anglers Lane end was demolished, and the residents, many of whom were Fred’s playmates, rehoused in Harmood House flats in Harmood Street. Raglan House later became an old people’s centre and is currently empty, awaiting private development. Fred remembers the Paul family at number 6: Edward was the local sweep, coming home covered in soot, and storing his brushes and barrow in the front garden. He charged one shilling for sweeping the chimneys in those days. By 1937, Raglan Street had incorporated Spring Row and Raglan Place at the Holmes Road end to become the dogleg shape we know now. When Alpha Court was built in the 1960s it recycled the name of the former cottages. The 13 storey tower block, Monmouth House was completed in 1965 on the largely industrial area of Crown Place. Only the west side of Raglan Street, relatively unchanged, is within the Inkerman Conservation area.

World War 2 also changed the area. Fred disliked taking shelter in the tube station during air raids, nor did he use the Anderson shelter in the garden. He would sleep under a blanket beneath the kitchen table. One night the houses next door were badly damaged, and later demolished leaving vacant space where he later parked his van. The side of 32 next to the damage was rendered over, until three new houses were built here in the late 1950s and sold for £3,000 each. The houses ‘lost’ their original railings to the war effort. Later, a shower of incendiary bombs landed in the street, badly damaging the surface, but were put out with brooms and spades. Sadly, there were fatalities in adjacent Inkerman Road. A bomb destroyed number 22 on 24th September 1940, killing 2 teenage sisters called Calver. Fred lost friends and cousins on active service, mainly in the RAF. Fred himself worked on aircraft design, from 1942 at Hawkers in Kingston, and later Esher. He travelled down every day from Kentish Town, hoping he would make it to Waterloo without a bomb alert. His mother was hospitalised for the first time in her life; it turned out that she was anaemic and undernourished because she was feeding most of her rations to her menfolk.

On a lighter note, Fred waxed lyrical about the various pubs run by the Rolles family. What is now Nando’s was the Jolly Anglers, and you can still see the initials RB in the green tiles. Everyone just called it ‘Rolls’, which must have been confusing as the family also ran the Wolsey and the Bull and Gate, which was the classiest of the three. Another lost pub is the Redan, which was on the c

Inkerman Road lasted until 1966. Fred says he wasn’t much of a pub man but he seems to know a lot about many of them.

The above captures only some of Fred’s memories and stories. Focussing on one relatively small neighbourhood area and one individual can illuminate the bigger picture, bringing history to life. I have been gripped by David Olusoga’s series ‘A house through time’, on BBC iPlayer, in which he discusses historical issues using the history of one house and its residents through the years. Highly recommended!

Some context about the Fred Cunnington recording from Mary Hill (Raglan Street)

The recording was made by myself and David Jockelson (who runs Inkerman Area Resident’s Association). I had listened to Freds’ stories over the years. I was born in NW London and was familiar with some of what he had to say, and thought his knowledge of the lost Inkerman area history was worth recording, and David agreed. Fred had an amazing memory of the area before the Council Housing estate was built in the 1960s and he produced a detailed drawn map of the area.

Fred was born in Raglan Street and was still living there when he died in UCH.

At some point he married a French woman and moved away. He had one son, who now has children. He was educated at the Board School in Holmes Road, and then at London University. He was employed in the Aircraft industry, including Hadley Page at Hendon Airport. Later he was employed by Camden Council in the planning department. At some point he divorced and returned to live with his elderly sister in Raglan Street.

He was a highly skilled builder and undertook repairs on many of the houses in the area, (including mine) . He also designed and built a large house in Belsize Park. (he makes mention of his Belsize Park House he built in the recording) He was a long distance runner and a member of the Lifeboys swimming club on Hampstead Heath ponds, swimming on Christmas Day until very late in his life. At some point, either Fred or his parents, bought the rented house. Fred had all the original deeds of the house going back to when it was first built.

After his death, his son sold the house and passed these documents to the then new owner. The house was again sold a few years later but unfortunately, the deeds were not passed on However, I am in touch with the family who now have them and I am working on getting them back.

Back to the recording……

Mention is made that Fred’s father was Director of the Company where he worked…
St. Dunstans was in one of the streets where the estate is when he was born, and he remembers the blind people going there…The Raglan Street Day Centre was previously a health centre for mothers and babies