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South Arbury '70s Sundays... Part 1

Sundays in South Arbury - minus the open shops, mobile phones, the World Wide Web, etc, etc, etc... the 1970s were rather different to today.

Sundays used to be very quiet days back in the 1970s. 

In South Arbury, the estate seemed to go to sleep. And, as a kid back then, I was often bored to death.

The day would sometimes start with a couple of the family's adult members feeling rather... er... fragile - after a night out at the Labour Club in Romsey Town the night before.

Saturday nights were always the main weekly 'night out' for the 'night outers' amongst the elders of my tribe.

Over-imbibing was not usually a problem, but sometimes a head or two did throb the next day.

I used to wonder why adults bothered with alcohol. Until I left school and disappeared into the nearest boozer (the Snowcat) to celebrate.

Klackers weren't really as interesting as the World Wide Web - and they could be pretty hard on your knuckles.

Great Nana lived in a flat in Brackley Close and sometimes I visited her on a Sunday. Her front door was in a little lobby opposite the front door to another flat, and every time I knocked at Great Nana's door the old lady opposite would come out.

'Oh, I thought it was my door,' she'd say, disappointedly, and go back inside.

Great Nana thought she was being nosy, and she obviously knew her far better than I did, but I felt sorry for her.

I was a very sensitive lad.

Great Nana was the elder and the head of our family - the whole family - all three generations descended from her. We knew nothing about 'nuclear' or 'extended' family in those days. Family, to us was family, blood relatives and in-laws - siblings, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins... 

We used the term 'extended family' to describe people who were honorary family members - people we were on such good terms with they were considered part of the family. Often we kids called these people 'Auntie' or 'Uncle' - although they weren't.

Great Nana's leadership of the family was never questioned. Her opinions were listened to by everybody with deep respect and I think we were all a bit in awe of her.

Great Nana's flat seemed cosy to me - there was a loo and sit-down bath through the door on the left as you entered, and the coal hole to the right.

The front room door was in front of you as you entered the little hall or lobby, and it was a good sized room, with a small kitchen and bedroom off to the left.

Great Nana had a piano in her front room, and a flight of ceramic swallows over the mantelpiece.

Great Nana was quite strict - a straight backed Victorian matriarch - and I had to watch my manners when visiting her, but she always made me very welcome, with soft drinks and biscuits.

And there was always a feeling of being loved and of being safe with her - despite the need to be on my very best behaviour!

She would ask me about school. 'It's fine, I really like it,' I'd say - brazen little liar that I was. 

She was very interested in my life and times.

Then she would talk of the 'old days' - life at the Manor Farm on Arbury Road where she was in service, or the time a bomb dropped, nearly demolishing her mother's house in Vicarage Terrace, or how she and Great Grandad made a living from his smallholding at the Manor Farm - he growing produce and she selling it from the front room of their tiny house in Milton Road, which they made into a little shop.

Great Nana's stories were a great escape from a '70s South Arbury Sunday, especially if it was raining, and I'd lose myself in them, absolutely spellbound.

Although she was in her eighties, Great Nana coped well with living alone - and had the assistance of my aunt (her granddaughter) and my aunt's husband, who lived in Verulam Way. If Great Nana was in need of help - she wasn't on the phone of course - she'd put a particular piece of card in her window. Auntie and Uncle could see Great Nana's window from their back garden and they'd 'keep an eye out' and go round whenever the card appeared.

I think everybody in the family expected Great Nana would go on forever. Her death in the summer of 1976 came as a great shock to us - even though she was eighty eight.

Great Nana's swallows migrated from Brackley Close in 1976, and now continue their endless flight in my living room.

Sometimes, me and Cousin Sharon would go out for a walk - up St Alban's Road and round to Arbury Road opposite Arbury Camp Farm on a Sunday.  We'd walk up to Histon/Cambridge Road and gaze down it towards Histon. It was far too far to walk to the village, we always decided, and we didn't want to miss dinner. 

So, back we'd go.

That now long-vanished end of Arbury Road by Arbury Camp and the allotments was not some wonderfully attractive Dingley Dell. There were electricity pylons, an air of factory farming, and the Histon/Cambridge Road was for cars not scenic effect.

But, a few years later, retracing my childhood steps, I was stunned by the awful change brought about by the A45/A14 and King's Hedges Road redirection and extension. The old layout of the B1049 had been on a human scale, but this was massive, ugly and alien. What had happened to the end of Arbury Road, with its bushes and trees dripping with drizzle amongst the pylons? It had been zapped out of existence - and nothing was recognisable.

And the road marked 'King's Hedges Road'? Well, the original King's Hedges Road was an old friend of mine, pottering in from East Chesterton, with the very grand 1930s retro-styled building, The Golden Hind, on its corner, and coming to a full stop by its own fifty eight acre plot north of the railway line (now the guided busway). Its own little pride and joy.

This wasn't King's Hedges Road!

It was part of a nightmare.

The concrete and the flyovers and the traffic... 

The first time I walked up there after the changes had taken place, I became convinced I'd somehow taken a wrong turning and was tempted to retrace my steps. It made no sense to me that something so familiar could just completely disappear and be replaced by a new and totally misplaced stretch of King's Hedges Road, and that motorway and all that concrete...

I still feel that, somehow or other, the original end of Arbury Road and the Histon/Cambridge Road as it was must be there somewhere...

The way it was... check out the East Anglian Railway Archive for a wonderful photographic record of the transformation of the old B1049 and the disappearance of the original end section of Arbury Road:

The shops, apart from newsagent's which were open for a while on Sundays to sell their newspapers, were all closed. The weekday and Saturday bustle of Arbury Court vanished to be replaced by empty concrete and the occasional figure entering or leaving the Snowcat pub or the paper shop.

We'd hang about there on sunny afternoons, and on the Arbury Court Rec. 

Our hearts were often heavy because school loomed the next day.

Even in the summer we'd have a Sunday roast for dinner. It was an unbreakable weekly institution. The only times I think we lapsed were a couple of occasions during the intense heatwave of 1976.

Most of my family did not attend church - I can only recall one aunt and uncle couple being regular churchgoers back in the 1970s. Looking back through the generations, I think my great-great grandmother (1861 to 1924) was the last regular churchgoer that I am directly descended from. Every Sunday she would walk from the Manor Farm on Arbury Road to the Wesley Chapel in High Street, Old Chesterton.

Religion was important to some family members in the 1970s, but their attitude was best summed up by my grandmother: 'You don't have to go to church to pray'.

Part 2 is here: 'We had joy, we had fun', trouble on the hills and avoiding the Osmonds...


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