Sunday, 25 January 2009


Moving to Islington

Although we were reasonably happy in our first little ‘cellar flat’ there was no way we wanted to stay there any longer than we had to. We continued to search for bigger and better accommodation, as did my mum-in-law. Since my parents and all the little Leaches were still vastly overcrowded at Oakfield Road, there wasn’t anything they could do to help. They were desperate themselves to get more room. Arthur’s mum was pestering her estate agents each week when she went to pay her rent. The agents promised her that they would let us have the next available flat, but flats did not become available very often.
So it went on, for some months, until one miraculous day we got word that a flat had indeed become vacant. If we liked it, we only had to say the word and it was ours! Good old Mum Chapman. With the help of her agents, she had come up trumps yet again!
It appeared that the previous tenant had left a lot to be desired on the cleanliness front, and the flat had to be cleared, cleaned, fumigated and decorated before we could even view. This took a couple of weeks, and we both spent the time all but jumping up and down, screaming: ‘We’ll take it, we’ll take it, whatever the condition!’
The great day for viewing came round and there was no holding us back. Clutching a bunch of keys that were tied together with string and labelled 166 St.Paul’s road, we hurried to Islington.
The house stood on the bend of a busy, main road with cars and buses roaring by. There was a flight of stone steps leading from the pavement up to the front door, and a flight of steps to the right leading down to a basement. We let ourselves in through the front door at the top of the flight of steps into a long, narrow hallway. There were two doors on the right leading to ground floor rooms, and a flight of stairs to the left going up to the first floor flat, which was ours for the asking.
Half way up the stairs was a landing where a small, corner hand basin with a cold-water tap was set into the wall. This was the only running water in the flat. On the next landing were two rooms: a medium sized, rear facing room to the left, and a large, front-facing room immediately in front of us. The backroom looked out onto a long garden that ended with a railway embankment. We could see the railway lines. This, we decided, would be our bedroom and we would have to get used to steam-trains puffing past the bottom of our garden.
As you went into the front room, there was a fireplace on the left and two large, sash windows with a good view of the street. We were quite high up and could see traffic and pedestrians scurrying about far below. Everything was clean and newly decorated and, we were assured, bug-free! The rent was eleven shillings (55p) a week, and it was most definitely a step up the ladder. Now we would have two rooms. We told the agent that we’d like to take up the tenancy, and started measuring up for curtains and lino, and made the necessary arrangements with a local removal company.


It was 1952 and, for the first time since we married, we had all our furniture under one roof, including Arthur’s piano. The piano had belonged to Mum and Dad Chapman, and Arthur had been paying tunes on it since he was a toddler. Dad Chapman no longer used it and so they decided to give the piano to us as a wedding present. We hadn’t enough room for it at our first flat, but now it stood in all it’s glory in our new flat.
Because the piano was dark brown and old fashioned, Daddy thought it would be a good idea to make it more modern and in keeping with the rest of our home. He covered it entirely in a substance of his own invention. Very like the Artex finish of today. The surface was stippled all over, somewhat resembling the frosting on a Christmas cake, and painted in a creamy biscuit colour. All the black keys were painted bright red, and Arthur cut out a fretwork treble clef and some musical notes, which he also painted red, and mounted them on the front of the piano.
It looked quite smart and everyone who saw it thought it was great. The only drawbacks were that the red paint wore off the keys and rubbed off onto the ivories, and the Artex type coating somewhat deadened the sound. Still, it was different!!

To be contd.........