Behind the houses were long back gardens bordered by concrete posts holding round iron bars at waist height. All over the estate, generation after generation of children were to turn over on those unending bars. Between each block of houses was a path to the remains of a narrow field and the forest trees beyond.

Coppetts Road itself was still a gravelled lane with houses on one side, while behind the houses was the edge of Coldfall Woods, a remnant of the ancient Middlesex Forest. From about 1900, speculators had ventured into building rows of houses between Colney Hatch Lane and Coppetts Road. Villas had been built in Coppetts Road as far as Halliwick Road and Coldfall Avenue and now the Council to build an estate of Homes For Heroes. Lloyd George's vision on decent homes was to become real.The first new people were moving in and we children from older London streets were suddenly to become country dwellers.

Huge oaks, the Quercus Robur which had built the wooden ships of England a dozen wars earlier, stood thick at the end of the garden. Further into the wood were clearances of hazel and hornbeam, the typical woodland of Middlesex. To us as children this was a magic land. Our old upper-floor rooms in Finsbury Park had been without a garden, so our stamping ground had been the streets and shops. In a single day we had been transported to the edge of a thousand year old forest, immense and exotic. We did not know then that much of the timber would be felled. We would watch it go with excitement and regret, but for the first few years we were forest children, free to roam and climb at will.

During the first week we began to settle in as the bedrooms became our own. The front parlour was tightly packed, for the new room was smaller than the old Florence Road one. An upright piano, a black-japanned chiffonier, a glass cabinet with a glass door which survived unbroken by some miracle for the whole time we lived in the house, a large sofa and an arm chair, crowded the room but, once seated, it was a warm place to read in.

The houses were built to a design which was appearing all over the country at that time. Two-storey houses in red or yellow brick, with red-tiled roofs, pebble dash on the first floor, and small glass window panes in steel Crittal window frames. A small entrance hall with a staircase; a tiny front parlour and a larger living room behind, with a pantry in one corner and a kitchen/scullery/bathroom with a concrete floor to the side. Upstairs were four bedrooms, two very small, with a loft above all. There was no bathroom and the Water Closet (W.C.) was outside in an attached outhouse, next to a coal bunker. It was not a lavatory as there was no wash basin,

These council houses did not have bathrooms, or inside W.C.s. Middle class houses had had them for fifty years, but not most council houses. An outside W.C. with a cistern which froze every winter was the norm. With it came the ubiquitous chamber pot. There was still something blind and punitive about the thought behind the design of these houses - together with a need to cut cost. The houses were solidly built of good materials, to last the full sixty years it would take for the rents to pay for them. Instead of a bathroom there was a fixed cast-iron bath at the end of the kitchen and the bath was therefore never easily private. One had to negotiate with the rest of the family; lock the kitchen and garden doors so that nobody could come bursting in; not stay in the bath too long in case someone else wanted a drink from the kitchen sink. Above all one had to avoid the lid, for the bath was covered by a heavy wooden lid which hinged up and was held by a metal catch. In theory things could be placed on the bath-top but, as it had to be cleared each time the bath was used, this was of little use. Instead, the lid was a source of terror. In my early dreams the lid crashed down and I woke in a sweat. Eventually I tamed the thing, removing it completely to make it into a woodwork bench in the garden, useful and safe at last.

 

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