Growing-up With Southall From 1904 (Memories of R.J. Meads)


                        1910, Southall’s first cinema, the “Gem” was built in the Green opposite Osterley Park Road (seating about 150 on knifeboard seat; manager. Mr. Murch ). 1911, the “Empire” Cinema was opened. This was in the Uxbridge Road, corner of Northcote Avenue. It quickly got a bad reputation by the films shown, and closed after 6 years. I was told that the last film shown, “The Exploits of Elaine” was very daring; the ladies revealing about 4 inches of leg and very low cleavage. Yet another cinema opened 1912, the “Paragon Palace” built in the South Road; this was on some of the frontage of Townsend House. It was a very up-to-date building and very comfortable, showing in those days only silent films and the action on the screen being accompanied by a pianist playing the appropriate music. One of the ladies whose job that was, was a Mrs. Creech. It seated 300 with tip up seats, with 1 penny matinee Saturday afternoons and thrilling serials. It is still going today, very much altered and named the “Liberty”.  

                       The Maypole Institute now named the Southall Community Centre, was built in 1910 by A. & B. Hanson at a cost of ₤13, 850. It was for their employees, with canteen and all kinds of social functions for which they paid 6 pence a month. Western Road School opened 1911. Tickler’s Jam Works started October 27, 1911. House building was in progress all round. Oswald, Abbotts, Hamborough, West End, Townsend, Trinity Roads were all on what was the Hamborough Estate, named after the banker family of that name, whose residence was in South Road opposite Hamilton Road. It was in ruins when we were kids and provided a good playground. My father told us that a builder used to go broke almost every month whilst the estate was being built. It happened like this. Many had very little capital but if they could buy a piece of land and get the house to “joist high” they could raise a mortgage and thus be able to get them finished. This was far from straightforward. “Sharks” used their influence so the work was condemned, and thus broke the poor builder who would be forced to recover what he could. Then the “sharks” would finance someone to get the houses finished. It was well known that some local gentry were involved, and they became known as the “Forty Thieves”. The cost of a 6-room terrace house would be about ₤300. Houses would be to let at between 8/- ( 40p ) and 9/- ( 45p ) per week including rates. Gas was installed for lighting and cooking.  

                        It was a regular thing to hear of someone who had done a “moonlight flit”. This meant that they had got behind with the rent or in other trouble and, under cover of darkness, had moved out. I can remember a horse-drawn van with “Why pay rent? Keep moving. No questions asked” painted on the back flap, and on the side “It pays to move”.  

                        During the period 1904 to 1914 the population of Southall increased from about 12,000 ( 1904 ) to 27,000 ( 1914 ), and by 1921 to 30,290.