diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Let me take you for a walk up New Road.

It's badly named because it's pretty much the oldest road in Croxley Green, but it was a new road in the 1860s and nobody ever got round to changing the name. It starts near Croxley station, it climbs gently past assorted terraced houses and it ends up on The Green. It's also the road I grew up on so I may start getting a bit nostalgic along the way. This big green street sign is new, they never had it in my day, and is also full of spoilers for what lies ahead.

New Road bears off the main road at The Red House pub which been here almost forever, at least since all this was fields. We never went in the pub, we'd mainly only walk this way if we were catching a train or going to see my grandparents, plus they didn't do quiz nights or Steak Thursdays in those days. The run of cottages on the other side of the road includes some of the oldest and higglediest of the local housing stock, once for farmhands and millworkers and now souped-up commuter stock with an eyewatering price tag. I've always loved the lampposts which are still fundamentally the same but upgraded with something smaller and more energy efficient on top. The pavement was never very wide and still requires onward dodging. It's 20 miles per hour along here these days, though you'd have a job to hit 30.

In amongst the houses were, and occasionally still are, a number of small one-off shops. The CCTV specialists at number 276 occupy a double frontage, one side of which was once Tolley's radio shop and the other Busy Bee confectioners where I remember jars and jars and jars of boiled and chewy sweets. Suzanne's hair salon has become an ordinary house, as have so many New Road shops, whereas the shoe shop somehow lingers on as a pampery new age emporium offering hot stone massage and aromatherapy facials. Also long gone is Evans barbers where I used to get my hair cut in a short back and sides style I had no choice over, and which my parents would later whip out in photo albums to embarrass me.

The Fox And Hounds was always the pub with the common touch so we definitely never went in there. It's still the gathering point for Croxley's sportier drinkers, i.e. it's going all out for the Six Nations crowd this month, and although we've only gone 200 yards that's the second Greene King pub because diversity is not Home Counties style. Wilbee Terrace has a plaque dated 1889 which sounds about right for construction hereabouts. I always loved looking in the window of hardware store W A Carr, or rather above it where the thrillingly futuristic digital clock ticked round. But that clock got taken down a few years ago and on this visit I see the interior's finally been emptied out and the leasehold is up for sale, the company having thrown in the Hertfordshire towel and retreated to Amersham.

The library was roughly the same age as me, architecturally in a good way, until it burnt down over Christmas 1992. It had an airy adult section whose Dewey decimal ordering I could still lead you round, a special children's aisle where the new entrance now is and a reference room you only ever entered with due reverence. It's still the crux of the village but likely a lot less silent. The once exotic China Garden, now Sunny Express, remains New Road's only takeaway. Look, the accountants that became a printer cartridge outlet now does cosmetic surgery because priorities evolve. Sadly I don't really remember the Guildhouse where the papermill workers socialised because it burned when I was a baby. And yes there are still people living in little houses inbetween all this lot, they're just not so worthy of a mention.

We've reached the 'New Road shops', the largest and most central of the village's parades where all our everyday spending took place. The One Stop supermarket was always better known as Budgens, it felt enormous but had such little tills. The charity shop used to be Barclays Bank, an occasional hushed retreat for cash withdrawal. The parade now looks all wrong because Gadsdens butchers (I can still smell the blood and sawdust) has been transformed clodhandedly into a house. Bryants grocers proved superfluous early on and has sequentially morphed into pilates and the Crazy Goat cafe (where incomers now graze on avocado sandwiches and takeaway caffeine). As for Lavells newsagents where I spent much of my pocket money on ice lollies and comics, that's become podiatry and orthopaedics because my word Croxley's changed.

The retail behemoth at the heart of New Road was always the Co-Op. It started as a grocers on the corner of Dickinsons Avenue which is how I remember it, plus being led round the shelves looking up at the tins and bottles before watching the blue stamps spill out of the machine by the till. That bit's now the funeral section, which always feels odd, and the previous undertakers' unit now a barbers, ditto. As for the new supermarket - I say new but it shifted there decades back - this used to be an amazing Aladdins cave selling clothes, household goods and haberdashery. We'd go in and the assistants would hunt through the drawers behind the counter for the right sized vest or the right coloured wool, and maybe once a year the nametags my Mum ordered to darn onto our socks, folded one way for mine and the other way for my brother's.

And that'll do for shops, it's almost all houses from here on. There was a lone greengrocer, Mr Element, who looked so old to my little eyes that it was no surprise when he retired and his shop was replaced by a funny-windowed house. I can even remember the coal merchant out delivering sacks atop his horse and cart, plus the sign for Pink Paraffin at the entrance to his yard. The biggest house hereabouts, owned by a dapper single man with a collie, used to sit alone in an orchard, an orchard that's now 20 houses. As for the older Victorian stock, this often gets described by estate agents as semi-detached but only because it's on a bend - were the road straight it'd be a kosher terrace. I think of my grandmother when I walk this part, with her bowl of cacti on the TV set, her enormous sideboard filling the back room and her ridiculously long garden.

New Road service station used to be the village blacksmiths, perhaps an inevitable evolution. I'm amazed it still has a petrol pump as it did when it was a proper Esso, in much the same way I was amazed when it popped up as the backdrop to a scene in Grange Hill, sadly long after we'd moved away. But the shrine I look at most wistfully is the house that used to be the corner shop at the top of Yorke Road - Mardlings it was called - which was a regular treat stop on the walk home from school. They knew how to tickle our sweet tooth, they sold rhubarb and custard by the quarter pound and Black Jack chews and lemon bonbons and disfigured sugar mice and sherbet dabs and edible necklaces and sweet cigarettes that turned out to be chocolate when you bit through the paper. I hope the current owners didn't spot me salivating retrospectively outside.

The houses get bigger after this point, this being the less working class end of the road, indeed I remember dropping into a friend's house and being amazed that their living room was wider than our house. Biggest of all is The Hawthorns, a proper villa with a studio out back that I remember as a nursery but which was once used to sculpt and store wax models. That's because a century ago the owner was none other than John Theodore Tussaud, the great grandson of Madame Tussaud, whose day job was managing the collection of dummies on Baker Street. Other than Barbara Woodhouse, Fred Housego and EastEnders' Big Ron he may be Croxley's most famous former resident.

The Methodist Church has multiple foundation stones laid in 1892 and a hall out back my parents packed me off to on Mondays for armbanded activities with the Boys Brigade. The lady in the big house two doors up invited all the local children round to her garden once a year so she could empty our Barnardos collecting boxes. The last house, I've just discovered, was the original farmhouse on whose fields the nucleus of modern Croxley was built, which would be New Road, the old road we've just walked up. It ends here on the Green, the impressively lengthy village green after which Croxley Green is half-named, and which you'll have seen in Betjeman's famous Metroland documentary. Here you can go for a pint at The Artichoke, scrutinise the war memorial or take a seat under George V's jubilee oak, or simply reflect on the journey that brought you here.

We all have a New Road in our life, the street where we grew up, which to everyone else is just a road but where so many of our memories bubble to the surface.

If New Road is meaningful in your life you'll appreciate this 27-page(!) history on the outstanding Croxley Green History Project website, and if not then hope and pray that one day someone produces an online resource even half as good about where you've lived.

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