Setting the stone rolling

South Norwood resident and SPI Steering Group member Ken Baker recalls a youth spent at Stanley Halls.

union card

Mr Baker’s union card showing all those payments

I was barely 11, sitting uncomfortably on a wooden floor, watching a marching troupe of girls in red, white and blue singing “We are the soldiers of the Queen, my lads”. This was 1953 and it was our local schools’ Coronation party. As my first memory of The Stanley Halls it was unfortunately not a very happy one; I hated parties and would rather have been elsewhere, but there was no escape!

Within a month or two, my visits to The Stanley Halls became more frequent; not for quite such an ‘uplifting’ reason, however. Every few weeks, on a Monday evening, I would have to take the place of my father (who would rather be practising with Beckenham Oratorio Choir) at the Lower Hall, where he should have been attending his regular union meeting. I would be kept waiting outside the swing doors, while men drifted in and took their seats. A speaker would drone on, but I’d only catch the odd word or two, until someone condescended to collect my father’s dues and sign his card for The Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers. Then I would cycle the short distance back home to Brooklyn Road, none the wiser about union proceedings. I still have all his cards, duly completed, from the day he joined in 1927 till his redundancy in November 1969. He was then 63 and I believe the blow of that redundancy, just two years off retirement age, contributed to his early death in 1973.

Ken's photo

Clearly enjoying themselves. The Incidentals with Ken third from the right

Fast forward to 1958:  I’m in the sixth form at what was then Selhurst Grammar School and, with two fellow pupils, started a group (they weren’t called bands then – and pupils didn’t become students until they went on to college or university); so Brian was on lead guitar, Uwe (pronounced “oover”) on drums and me on bass guitar – or at least I was when I’d made it! The cost of electric guitars was prohibitive at that time (“Fenders” were £150-00 upwards), so I made mine, in the school workshop, from one solid piece of pine; I couldn’t trust my woodworking skill with the usual joint between neck and body to withstand the tension of heavy bass strings – hence much work with saw, plane and spokeshave (no power tools then!). With frets, machine heads, strings and pick-up, it all came to less than £20-00. Once we’d gained a rhythm guitarist/manager and a singer we were ready to learn and practice, which we did every Tuesday evening in the appropriately named Deaf and Dumb Hall on Selhurst Road (Brian’s father was vicar there). With my ‘hire purchased’ amplifier on a suitcase trolley and guitar slung on my shoulder, I’d trundle down Love Lane, through the “Bunny Hole” and up Cambridge Road to catch the bus to Selhurst to join “The Incidentals” – yes, that was our name.  After months of this, we’d put together an acceptable playlist (“Hit Parade” stuff: Cliff Richard, the Shadows, early rock-n-roll) and told ourselves we were ready for weddings and dances. We couldn’t have been too bad; we were even photographed for the Croydon Times (that’s when Croydon had two ‘real’ newspapers). Local dances on Saturdays were held at Holy Innocents Hall, but on Fridays THE STANLEY HALLS was the venue – so there we were.  What goes around does come around.

PS:  Incidentally, the group was relatively short lived; we split when real life intruded, some of us going on to college or university to become proper students – and kick-start the ‘swinging sixties’.

And my excellent amplifier? A local lad bought it; one Bill Wyman – now what happened to him?

© bd 2012

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