Boxing Day travel then and now
by Harry Pope
Looking through some old photos reminded me of how travel was in the 1950s. We lived in North Cheam, which is in south London, not that far from the end of the underground line at Morden. My great aunt and uncle lived in Four Marks, which is in the middle of the Hampshire countryside, some 45.6 miles each way. The journey required two buses, two trains, and a mile walk along remote lanes. Boxing Day 1954, 1955 and 1956 saw us undertake this journey in a day via public transport.
First it was a walk from home to the bus stop, half a mile away. I was a whiney little boy under ten, dressed in my school uniform to impress relatives in the hope of decent presents. We caught the 213 red bus to Surbiton, then the train. On Boxing Day they ran quite frequently at decent intervals, not much hanging around, looking out the window as we stopped at Weybridge, Woking, Aldershot, and Farnham. Our party would consist of yours truly, with three years older sister, and to pay the fares and direct us to the right transport mum and dad. The next stop would be Bentley, where we would sometimes have to change onto a steam train. Next stop would be Alton. Then a long wait for the bus along the main A31 road, not that many passengers, little tummies would be ready for filling with another Christmas lunch.
She was my great aunt, a financial benefactor of my father during his wartime period serving in His Majesty’s navy. The postal orders and money transfers arriving in various outposts aided his youthful mess insecurities. Aunt and uncle had both worked for the Bank of England, he had become a currency expert appearing as an witness in various prominent trials. She was a few years his junior, they had started an affair after WW1, quite a scandal in those days because his wife was an invalid, he her carer, so she was required to leave her job and find something else. Of course I had no idea of this, just loved visiting them in the country as an old couple who liked to indulge me.
The bus journey was about five miles or so, it would deposit us at the side of the road, at the end of Telegraph Lane. This would have been a green single decker, not that many fellow intrepid travellers, as they would have known better than venture out on an unnecessary bus journey unless there was the incentive of a present at the end. Then it was a mile trudge to their lovely quaint little bungalow, called Monmouth, hoping for decent weather. 1955 was wet, as the photo shows, with me standing hopefully in front of a puddle instead of in one as well.
The adjacent garage had a corrugated roof, accommodating a black pre-WW2 old Wolsey, it had a running board, a starter handle, and was only driven by that stage by my dad, as Uncle Albert was a little unsafe to be behind the wheel. She would prepare the usual full repast, ending with a home-made Christmas pudding. There was always a decent present for both sister and myself, but she was always the more popular child in that household. This was because my father had a fractured relationship with his mother-in-law, so there was always a week in the summer holidays when I would accompany mum to South Shields (much better, it was by the sea) and sister would go to aunt and uncle in the country. About 4 o’clock it was getting dark, we would embark on the thirty minute walk along the country lane, me dragging my feet ‘I’m TIRED’, just in time to catch the bus to Alton.
It must have been quite an ordeal for my parents, timing the return journey so we didn’t get abandoned in a remote railway platform waiting room. The last train from Alton to Surbiton could not have been any later than 7 or 8pm, so timings would have been crucial. We would have waited at the Surbiton bus stop by my bedtime, so I would have fallen asleep in a parent’s arms on the bus’s bench somewhat suspect clean cloth seat, clutching my present, a toy still wrapped. Those last steps from North Cheam crossroads to our home in Wordsworth Drive would have been interminable for all in the party, next Boxing Day a distant memory to be repeated, as long as there was no snow and the transport ran on time.
We did that journey three times, just to visit relatives in the country, and then Spring 1957 Uncle Albert died suddenly, dad came into some money so he could buy a car at last, and buses and trains were a distant memory, to be recounted for this article. But the whole point is the way that Boxing Day travel in the 1950s was still there, it was possible to plan such an intricate journey, and know that you would as a family be able to return in the same day.
With a whinging nine year old boy.
Harry Pope is very proud of his book Hotel Secrets. It’s about his time as an Eastbourne hotelier, in partnership with a Californian. On Amazon at £3.99 for the e-version, or £5.99 printed.