How Much Taller Will A 15 Year Old Boy Grow A Childhood Remembered

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A Childhood Remembered

What was it like growing up during World War II? As a child during those dark years, was it scary or just a great adventure? This is the subject of a new video, A Childhood Remembered, in which Keith Johnson, who has lived in the Hertfordshire village of Kings Langley all his life, talks about growing up there in the 40s and 50s. It takes us to some of his favorite secret places from childhood, like the tunnel under the main line from Glasgow to London where he recalls putting pennies on the track and watching them get crushed by the next express train.

He remembers a nursery school where the children were given gas masks (never used) and where they hid under their desks when the air raid sirens (from the nearby Ovaltine factory) went off. And elementary school where he was punished for climbing on the roof to retrieve a tennis ball during a game. He mainly remembers the space and freedom to play outside, in the fields, on the common, in the many open spaces where there are now residential areas.

Keith’s recollections are supported by some excellent amateur 16mm footage, provided by the Kings Langley History Society. This shows the garden parties held in the local doctor’s garden (now Little Hayes) and the May fairs and carnivals held on the Common each year, with country dances, dress competitions and many accompanying shows. Together, the archival footage and Keith’s narrative paint a picture of a vibrant rural community that made the most of the war and thoroughly enjoyed life after it.

For anyone now familiar with the village of Kings Langley, one of the most surprising things is how open the views from the top are. Sixty years later the trees have grown to obscure the view of Leavesden and beyond. Equally fascinating is the film of the Mayday street parade along Blackwell Road – where the houses are now there were only allotments, all the way to the Waterside and the canal.

The sequence showing the High Street shops is less surprising. We are used to the way our high streets have shrunk in recent years as the big supermarkets have moved in. There were more shops then, but Kings Langley is doing better than most villages now. The main change is in the type of action. Back then there were hardware merchants, watchmakers, haberdashery, grocers (including a large co-op) – now there are posh gift shops, art galleries, street cafes, betting shops and bridal shops.

Pubs were another notable feature. In one sequence in the film, Keith stands right outside the old Tooveys Mill and points out no less than five pubs, almost at a distance. Some of the folk lore of the village is told in the film, such as how the community center came to be (because the vicar did not approve or “Blythe Spirit” and would not allow it to be performed in the church hall). And how the church hall itself was lost to the village, when the church authorities sold it for office use.

Watching the film, it’s easy to see why Kings Langley has such a strong community spirit today – it’s been a long time coming.

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