Wednesday, 28 September 2011

From Ely to Peterborough

Peterborough was quite a small town in 1945, though compared to Ely it was a huge city to me at the age of 11. It was an industrial town with railway stock yards and industries including brickworks, diesel engine manufacture, canning and other light engineering companies.  And, of course, there was the sugar beet factory. The re-organisation of the British Sugar Corporation brought Father to the new head office in Peterborough where his job was Senior Purchasing Officer responsible for all supplies with the exception of plant and machinery. The biggest single item was jute and the manufacture of jute bags used for bulk storage of sugar processed in the factories. Much of the jute industry was located in Scotland and the North West of England, which took Father away from home from time to time.

We lived at 85 Newark Avenue, in a house owned by the BSC.  The road was typical of suburbia in many towns up and down the country and six years of war had left its mark.  The job of clearing up and re-building was to take some time; there were shortages of raw materials, manufactured goods and food. Rationing continued for a few years, although, to be fair, I was only aware of sweet rationing.

My new world included a change of school. I was able to transfer from the King's School, Ely, to the Grammar School in Peterborough (also the King's school, although founded by a different king, Henry VIII). The first year was full so I was found a place in the second year. My sister Betty left school at 16 and began training for a career in retailing and management.  We had family connections in the retail business so Betty spent two years in Manchester, staying with Uncle Reg who, you may recall, managed a branch of Dunns, the men's outfitters.

I settled well into school life. We lived about a mile away and, like most boys, I cycled to school.  Traffic was not so heavy with cars but roads were full of bikes ridden by workers travelling to the local factories.  Car ownership was a status symbol and a luxury for many families in the late 1940s.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a family which did own cars and remember fondly the different ones Father had: the pre-war Austin 10 gave way to an even older Morris 12 he bought from a local farmer; the classic Flying Standard (1936) a car ahead of its time with a sloping back reminiscent of the Beetle. In the early 1950s he bought his first new car, an Austin Devon with front headlights recessed into the wings. The last car he owned was a Vauxhall Wyvern with bench front seats and a steering column gear change, like most American cars of the time.


  1. Have been looking forward to catching up with these posts all week!

    Funny to think that people are beginning to switch back to bikes in bigger cities nowadays (especially in CPH!), but those old cars sound amazing! Emma

  2. You have an incredible memory for details, it's so fun to hear about all these cars. In New Zealand there were so few to choose from. When I was young when had the Holden and the Zephyrs fact I was keen to name one of my kids Zephyr! Thanks for reminding me of all this (Our parents stuck us in the car without seat belts and zoomed off to the beach every weekend, no worries mate...)

  3. @Emma - Thanks for coming over for a read. Peterborough is quite near where I live now is still quite popular for cyclists as it's flat - but it's nothing like Copenhagen for being bike-friendly (though it does try!)

    @About last weekend - When I read my Dad's recollections and type them up, I wonder if I would have the same recall as he seemed to have. I wish I could ask him about the cars and the people he remembered - too late for that but hopefully his memory will live on though this blog.
    Zephyr sounds a rather cool name and would have sat well with your children's names, Jodie!