Memories of Aquila Road
The writer, Dave Dorgan
Playing in the street
Growing up in the late 'forties until 1965 in Aquila Road, you could play in the street, which saw little road traffic; you could expect to hear the tinkling sound of a bell, warning of approach from a pushbike if you were in the way on the road.
I lived at No 26, on the first floor, a house built in the late 1830s, with a front door to the right hand side, a large window to the left, two windows above and an attic dormer. There was no bathroom - only a single outside loo at the bottom of the yard with one cold water tap, again in the yard to serve two families, one up, one down. To flush the loo you filled a bucket with cold water and threw it down the loo. Although we were one of a number in the street with these arrangements, most people had already modernised.
From the first floor window I could see directly into Randall’s Brewery opposite. The large metal door, opened by pulling a chain, would noisily be raised, six mornings a week with much clanking. There is a red metal grill door in this position now.
The used hops were kept in a raised compartment built into the wall. Lorries would come and go to empty this most days. Back on the road and to the right of this gate were two “windows” but instead of glass they had steel doors which opened inwards and the coal man would deliver the coal for the two boilers which a man in a waistcoat and flat hat would feed all day.
Further into Randall’s yard, at the top and to the left, was where the 54-gallon beer barrels, and smaller cousins, were steam cleaned internally. There was a long, very low metal plank with upward protruding points which fitted into the plughole of the barrel. A great whoosh of steam and the barrel was rolled off to dry. On the right, was the bottling plant.
Further up the offices and the high wooden gates, topped with spikes, led on to Clare Street. Opposite were the gates to Clare House Gardens. We were not allowed to play in there, but in my time the gardens, which stretched from Clare House to Aquila Road were in ruins and there was nothing left to show that it had ever been a garden.
At the Aquila Road end there was a blocked up exit which had cut-off steps leading on to Aquila Road. Today there is a metal roller door in its place. Around the corner from here and just into Clare Street was a large telegraph pole which carried the overhead telephone cables.
Near the top of Clare Street and on the same side as the brewery was Gallichan’s. They sold paraffin and petrol - a sort of garage. I’ve forgotten how many times I carried the paraffin back home for the fire and the lamps in the bedrooms.
Small community shops
These were the days before supermarkets, so every street had its own collection of small shops serving that community. To go to a corner shop outside of your area was almost like going 'foreign'. Two doors down to the right from No 26 was the fish and chip shop, The Seagull Café.
Next to that a corner grocery shop, and next to that going into Journeaux Street was a chap who just sold vegetables in a large garage entrance. Across the road was the barber, and back to the corner on that side was Berry’s, the butcher. Turning right and on up Aquila Road to the next junction were two shops, one on each corner of Poonah Road. The first one was closed with its blinds down and the other was called Monty’s. It was the best sweet shop in the area, painted black, its widow’s contained all sorts of dummy boxes of chocolates and sweets, something now long gone out of fashion.
Moving up Poonah Road, on the right, was the Aquila Road Methodist Church, which when it was not doing church things, held jumble sales, which always had a queue outside, waiting for them to open. Moving on up there were two shops, one on the approach to the corner and one on the corner, both owned by the same family, the Hamons. These were the best grocery stores in the area, but old man Hamon was as a bit of a grump.
On the opposite corner was the paper and sweet shop run by Mrs Pugsley. Further up was the 'bookies”'. I was often sent up to put an each-way bet on a horse for my parents.
At the top of the road was Saville Street and a bakery. Coming back down Poonah Road was a greengrocer, but we never seemed to use those last two much as they were just out of our area. Further down was the butcher - always good meat.
To the left of No 26 was Aquila Close. My friend Benny Roberts lived here in a cluster of very new looking brick built houses in a tidy and clean arrangement. The little gardens had chippings on the pathways.
Opposite was Clare Street and Clare House Garden. Continuing down Aquila Road, to where there were three houses, No 13 was the Dean’s House, and on to Timber Yard with perhaps a connection to shipping, indicated by a chain and anchor made of shells embedded into the house wall that made the entrance.
On the corner of Cannon Street was the off–licence which sold all sorts of alcohol. Across to the next corner of Cannon Street was a newsagent. Across the road, on the corner, was the Eagle Pub. This site had been a bakery in the late forties.
On the corner next to No 26 was a general garage; next were a couple of grocery shops and then Sligo Lane, which contained several sub-standard properties. The whole of this area had several closed shop units which had gone out of business, probably before the Occupation.
This then was 'My Area' and as a family we used the shops in Aquila Road and Poonah Road more than the others. When I revisited the area in 2019, most of the premises I remembered were gone and replaced with residential accommodation of one sort or another.