Childhood memories and the war years

Sent in from somebody who grew up on our estate as a child during the Second World War

One of my earliest memories while walking with my mother was looking down at my shoes and seeing water on my right and tall railings reaching up to the sky, we were in front of Windsor House.  I really don’t know why I remember that one event or what was happening that day to make such a strong impression on me, but it was the same type of memory that I have of my 1st day at school when I walked into that classroom and saw those huge cupboards reaching high above me full of toys, when I told my mother years later she said “fancy you remembering that you were only 3 ½ years old”.

I do not have any memories of the allotments in the early stages of their development but feel very proud that our dad, Leslie Albert Riley, at the young age of 25 years was giving his time to encourage and develop the involvement of the community in such projects.  When we were older my sister Jean and I would go to our allotment which was alongside Park Village East, to pick flowers, fruit, and veg with him for the house, sometimes helping with the watering but being girls we were not overly keen.  Years later when we were both married and living in our own homes, dad would say “Set aside ½ hour every day and your garden will never become a chore” So that was his philosophy.

In November 1940 our young mother aged 23 years was evacuated with my sister and me to Coventry; she had hardly settled down when Germany decided to raid Coventry on the 30th day of that month, with devastating effect.  That night mum took us both into her bed thinking if she was going to die we would all die together; we had been left in our billeted home while the owners had gone to a safe house for the night. Mum said as soon as it was daylight she made her way to the Railway Station with only as much as she could carry.  She asked if any trains were running to London and was told she would have to wait and see if any managed to ‘get through’.

She got onto the London train with steely determination to get back home, when the ticket collector came along she said to him “I’ve got no money but I’m going home with my children”, he just moved on to the next passenger without saying a word.  This Coventry train waited outside Kentish Town station for two hours while a bombing raid was on, it was then only allowed to continue slowly into Euston Station.  It was pitch dark as she ran with us both all the way to Camberley with hot shrapnel falling around her, she didn’t care she was nearly home. Within about eight weeks our dad had to join his unit, The Royal Signals in Yorkshire.

Dad settled very quickly into the Royal Signals and was soon promoted.  It was noted by those in authority how well the men responded to him and his way of teaching them obtained 1st class results.  This is why he wasn’t shipped out with the troops to North Africa, instead they used his obvious skills to train the new troops how to read and send Morse code.

After some very heavy bombing raids on London dad suggested that mum should travel to Yorkshire and turn up at the camp gates in Huddersfield with both of us.  He said the Army would take care of us all, and that is exactly what she did and the Army found us a billet.  I started school in Yorkshire in 1941 but by the end of 1942 or early 1943 we were back in Camberley House because dad had been knocked down along with several of his troops by a military vehicle, while marching. It was a nasty accident and he was discharged from the Army, having sustained head and back injuries.

The bombing of our lovely city was still relentless and on one afternoon while leaving school in Hampstead Road we had one of our aircraft clearly marked come over the top of the school with half of its wing missing, our granny said the pilot was trying to avoid the houses and it crashed into Regents Park.

We spent a lot of time sleeping below Camberley House in the air-raid shelters, the children had their own bay with bunk beds on three sides; we had to sleep two in a bed, and were generally cousins, brothers or sisters. There were 12 children in our little area; I think the older children were in a different area. I remember it was very dark down there, all the windows were packed to the roof with sand bags and the whole place smelt damp and no one liked it but for us it was an adventure.

As we got older we could leave the shelters to watch the fighting in the sky.  We used to see the doodlebugs come across the Black Cat Building then the engines cut out and they fell to ground to do their damage.  I asked my sister if I imagined Windsor House being ablaze and she said “No we both saw that” When I think of it today I feel so sad for those two little girls who had known nothing other than the war from their earliest memories, myself no more than 7years old and my sister 5years old, the sky was ablaze with fire that night.

Many years later when we took our children to the London Museum in the City, I saw an exact replica of the little area where we used to sleep in the Camberley House shelter, the shock I felt when that smell reached my nostrils brought a rush of emotion and tears to my eyes, with such deep seated feelings churning in the pit of my stomach, all caused by a little area in the corner of a London museum. I had no idea it would affect me in that way, but I have to say it still affects me now just writing about it.

On one occasion when the warning siren was heard mum put us both under the Oak Dining Table for added safety; I think people became more complacent about going to the shelter every time there was a raid. But that was the day when the Regent Park Barracks got a direct hit opposite our front door, which incidentally was blown off its hinges and onto our mum, but we were all safe, no harm done to any of us.  The bomb had hit the kitchens of Regents Park Barracks, I can still see my granny trying to get help to the soldiers who were trapped inside, she couldn’t help because the metal was all alive with electricity she had to wait for the troops and firemen to arrive, to make it safe.

The war years were also about feeding your family which was very difficult, our gran & granddad used to save their egg allowance for their four grandchildren, they would bring an egg for my sister and I to share, and the second egg was given to my two cousins to share, who also lived in Camberley House.

My husband’s father was on Fire Watch in March 1944 when he came across an incendiary bomb in the Camberley House courtyard, we aren’t sure if he kicked it away from the building or picked it up, but he was mortally injured and died 2 weeks later on 14th March aged 44.  We married on the 14th March 1959 completely unaware it was the anniversary of his death, and only discovered this fact when we decided to trace our family history in 1999.  There were other men on Fire Watch that night from Camberley who were also killed by those awful bombs.

A very large bomb fell into the Camberley House lawn, and my Granddad stood with others observing the damage and said “that has not gone off”, even though there was a huge crater.  I guess having served in the Great War with The Royal Horse Artillery he knew what he was talking about.  Several years after the war, a block of flats near the Elephant and Castle blew up.  The powers that be decided to check any suspect bombs which they were unsure about and our bomb was discovered still live under our lawn.  The Army Bomb Squad safely diffused and excavated it onto a military low loader; there was a photo of my cousin Norman Riley sat on top of it in the newspaper.

For me the greatest loss was my childhood from 2yrs to 8yrs and the loss of a good education, which was continually disrupted by teachers arriving and leaving each term.

My husband was sent to Kent when he was 4 years old to stay with his Grandparents and remained there until 1948.  He used to watch the Battle of Britain played above his school playground and above their house in the village in the evening.  His best friend from School went home for lunch and didn’t come back in the afternoon, because a doodlebug which had been shot down by our troops landed on the farmhouse where he lived in the middle of a field.  His granddad had to throw himself into a ditch one evening when he was walking home from work, because a German Fighter Plane decided to machine gun him, thank goodness they missed.

These are some of my childhood memories, and living in Camberley House in spite of the memories mentioned above; it was a wonderful place to grow up.  The neighbours who cared about us, the children our friends, the sound of the radio playing, the smell of food cooking, all of these things added up to a safe warm and happy environment for everyone, and Camberley House took care of us all.

Patricia Penfold nee Riley   

Poole Dorset


New Repairs Contract

Please see the press release below sent through by Peabody.

Peabody awards £90m repairs contract to Axis

Peabody has appointed Axis, one of the UK’s leading construction and property services companies, for its £90 million responsive repairs contract.

The 10 year contract, which starts on 3 March 2014, covers planned and responsive repairs, void refurbishment works, and pest control services to Peabody’s 20,000 properties across the capital. Axis already provides an interim responsive repairs service to Peabody.  Residents will benefit from a faster, more efficient two priority system for emergencies and routine repairs.

Peabody residents played a key role in the selection process, with Axis chosen for its strong health and safety record, cost efficiency and drive  to continuously improving customer satisfaction.  

Tim Keogh, Director of Property Services at Peabody said:

“We are pleased to announce the appointment of Axis and look forward to continuing our successful partnership. Peabody residents have shaped the service they would like to see delivered, and were impressed with Axis’ commitment to resident involvement and the employment and training opportunities that they offer.

John Hayes, Chief Executive at Axis said:

“We are delighted to have secured a new 10 year contract with Peabody having worked tirelessly on the interim contract. Peabody and Axis have closely aligned values, sharing similar commitments to people and communities, we look forward to providing a great to Peabody’s residents for many years, building on the customer satisfaction enhancements already achieved through teamwork and relationship building.”

Meeting on Rents

A meeting of the 4 ex-Crown Estate Residents Associations (Cumberland Market; Victoria Park in Hackney; Lee Green in Lewisham and Millbank in Pimlico) has been arranged to discuss the very high rent levels we are all being charged by Peabody and even higher increases expected year-on-year.

The meeting will be held in Pimlico on Friday, 8th November between 6.30pm – 8.30pm.

Residents from the four estates can discuss current problems and what form of action we might be able to take, possibly, with local elections taking place next year and a General election in 2015, with the aid of local councillors and MPs.

The venue is a short 2 minute walk from Pimlico tube station (Victoria Line from Euston or Warren Street stations) and it’s also on the 24 bus route from Hampstead Road. If you would like to attend and would like more information, please e-mail the Residents Association on for details.

‘Give Or Take Day’, this Saturday (2nd November) in the Tenants’ Hall

This Saturday (2nd November), Peabody are holding an event whereby tenants can donate unwanted items or to take items away that others have donated.

Between 10.30am – 12.30pm, you will be able to donate any unwanted items from the list below.

Between 1pm – 3pm, you will be able to take anything that you can use.

The type of items that can be donated are: books; DVDs; CDs; garden ware; it equipment; tools; clothes; small furniture items; small electrical items; toys

Goods such as broken or dirty items; ‘white’ goods and large furniture items will not be accepted.

Everyone is welcome but children under 12 years old must be accompanied by an adult.

Housing Office Restructuring

The Residents Association (R.A.) was informed on Friday that the there is to be a re-structure of staff who deal with Cumberland Market Estate and the other ex-Crown Estate properties.

From December, Peabody intend amalgamating staff within other Peabody teams and not just have a team to specifically deal with our tenants. We’ve been told that one member of staff will be made redundant as a result of this.

There will still be an office based in Camberley House but they will be dealing with other Peabody estates, not just ex-Crown Estate properties.

As we are given further information on this proposal we will let you know via this website.

Our R.A. along with the other ex-Crown Estate R.As at Victoria Park, Millbank and Lee Green, are disappointed with Peabody’s proposals. Not the proposal itself as we haven’t been given any real detail so we’re unable to comment, but the fact that we weren’t consulted in advance about it.

Twice, earlier this year, we were promised that before any final decision was taken on any restructure, we would be given an opportunity to put across our views as to our future management. We accepted that we wouldn’t necessarily have any veto on this issue but took it at face value we would be listened too. Peabody reneged on this promise and went ahead without speaking to us.

As more information becomes available we will let you know and give feedback as to why senior Peabody staff reneged on the promise to discuss the issue with us before taking any decisions.

Netley School’s 130 Year Anniversary

Did you or your children attend Netley School? Can you help them with their anniversary project?
Netley school opened 130 years ago in 1883 and their pupils will be studying the school’s history this term.
The school are keen to hear from anyone who attended Netley and
would like to hear ex-pupils experiences of their time at the school and share any photos they have.
Any photos or information can be sent to or alternatively you can take any photos to the school & they will scan a copy.




Regent’s Park Area Action Group

The Regent’s Park Area Action Group is being held this coming Thursday in the Surma Centre, 1 Robert Street starting at 7pm.

It will be hosted by our 3 ward councillors and the meeting is open to anyone living or working in our area.

Some of the items to be discussed include:

Environmental issues in the area – in particular the increase in rats and mice on our streets

The new Citizens Advice Bureau (on the site of the old library)

Youth activities for young people in our area 

Update on High Speed Rail

Everyone is welcome to attend.

A view on rent increases by one of our tenants

Below is something that was sent to our website earlier today. This echoes the views on rent increases by nearly every tenant on Cumberland Market and on other ex-Crown Estate properties.

I just a had a rent increase of 9%, so my rent has gone from £937 per month for a two bedroom flat (Windsor House) to £1,021 per month an extra £84 pounds per month that I have to find. my salary went up 2% and I have to find an extra £1,008 per year. I have been told the ceiling is approx £1,200 per month, so it will keep increasing every year by 7%>9% max. how I am suppose to afford this? and Peabody will just do another postcode market rent survey when every they feel like – so the ceiling level will just keep increasing!.

Also the quality inside the property and outside for that matter is not market quality by a long shot, the estate is run down and the council estates in the same area (Cumberland market) are actually in better condition. Not that matters to Peabody and their maintenance company ‘Axis’ who provide a less than satisfactory service (that is being kind too).

Such a shame we were all sold out by the Crown Estate so they could maximize their profit and developmental of Regent Street,

I hear comments about the Regency properties (what Peabody calls the former Crown Estate) are not profitable! is that our fault?, maybe it’s something to do with the current housing management that were left over from the Crown Estate Sale?

Oh well guess I will be moving out of the area I have lived in for the last 26 years soon – thanks Peabody!

Aged between 13 – 16 years? A chance to win a trip to the USA

Peabody is offering 13 – 16 year olds a chance to win a trip to the USA which has flights, hotel, visa and passport costs included.

10 places are available for Peabody’s competition to win a seven-night exchange visit to Peabody Massachusetts, USA, home of its founder George Peabody. 

See and experience the American way of life, visit tourist and special interest sites, meet American students, go and see an American Football game (to be confirmed).  

To be eligible for the trip you need to: 

  • be aged between 13 and 16 at the time of travel (expected to be 26 Oct–2 Nov 2013) 
  • live in a Peabody home
  • not be a previous PeabodyUS exchange trip winner

How to enter
Complete the application form available on the Peabody website and send it back by 30 June 2013 to:

Nicola Langley-Essen

Postal address:
45 Westminster Bridge Road
SE1 7JB 

The next stage
Peabody will  invite a number of applicants to attend a workshop before making a decision on the final group. They send out invitations to the workshop by 15 July 2013.

Peabody Job Fair – Friday 26 April 2013 / Hugh Cubitt Centre N1 9QZ

Peabody’s Employment Service is running a jobs fair offering job and apprenticeship opportunities in:

  • construction
  • retail
  • administration
  • care
  • hospitality / catering
  • housing

 Volunteer opportunities also available.

Friday 26 April 2013, 9.30am–12.30pm and 1.30pm–4pm

Hugh Cubitt Centre
48 Collier St
N1 9QZ
Tel: 020 7021 4127
Nearest station: King’s Cross

Last year almost 1,000 people attended, meeting 21 employers and 21 exhibitors. More than 50 people found work as a direct result of attending.