The following article was written by Martyn Day and published on the St Margarets Community Website (an area of Richmond). I've mentioned this story a few times before, but I'd only ever heard a sketchy or second hand previously. So I was delighted to find this full first hand account today.
When I was a little boy I lived in Lausanne Road in Hornsey. It is part of the Harringay Ladder, a grid of Victorian streets running east -west between Wightman Road and Green Lanes. In my time, just after the 2nd World War, the streets were empty of cars and apart from the occasional milk float clip-clopping its way down the road and the weekly dustcart the area was largely free of traffic. It was halfway down this street that the German Lady lived and watched us kids playing outside her front door.
The Harringay Ladder is bisected north-south by a long alley – Harringay Passage – which cuts across the streets to the shops in Turnpike Lane. The German Lady lived in a house on the corner where the Passage crosses Lausanne Road. This is where we played and this is where she watched us. She watched us as we kicked a ball about and she watched us as we went down the Passage to the Coop, ration books and shopping list in one hand, trying to remember our Mum’s ‘divi’ number. This is what she watched and we in turn watched her. She was the German Lady. I do not know if we or anyone actually disliked her but when we saw her we shouted at her “Nazi!” or “Heil Hitler”. That’s what we shouted. Sometimes we ‘goose stepped’ up and down the pavement or stood outside her front door and saluted, right arm in the arm like Hitler. Braver and bigger souls would bang on her door than run away. We didn’t really know why we did it but we still did it even though most of our mums told us to leave the poor woman alone. She was the German Lady and this is what we did to Germans after the 2ndWorld War.
“She made a silly mistake” said my Dad “and we’ve never forgiven her for that”. At the start of the war there was a national campaign encouraging people who had cast iron railings or gates or the like to give them up to be melted down and turned into tanks and battleships. You weren’t obliged to and many people didn’t but on the Harringay Ladder almost everybody did – apart from the German Lady. Nobody knew why she refused. Maybe she was a pacifist who didn’t want her front garden fence turned into weapons of war. Maybe she was a realist who knew that you cannot turn cast iron fencing into tanks or battleships. Maybe she thought that her house would lose value if it were denuded of its Victorian fixtures and fittings. Many other people had used similar excuses to keep their fencing… but not in the Harringay Ladder. Our gates and fences had all been stripped away apart from the house in Lausanne Road on the corner of the Passage, the home of the German Lady, who us kids thought was a Nazi and personal friend of Adolf Hitler. No wonder she didn’t want her ironmongery turned into a 1000-pound bomb.
Kids no longer play in the street and the German Lady has almost certainly gone but her ornamental railings remain and I often wonder about that woman who watched us and the terrible way us kids treated her. Maybe she wasn’t a Nazi at all. Maybe she was a refugee fleeing the Nazis, just one of the many that Hitler was determined to eradicate. Maybe she loved England and wanted to stay here to help fight the war. Maybe she didn’t deserve any of the childish racism that we threw at her in our ignorance and neither do any of the minorities living in our communities today and yet we in our ignorance still turn against them. 70 years on I am still ashamed of myself then and ashamed of ourselves now.
This posting interested me, not because of the German connection, well that too, but because I'm a bit of a railing fan myself too. And of course, it wasn't only in the U.K. that railings were sacrificed. It happened in Germany too. Not only that, I too can also recall, some terrible terrorising of residents in Harringay, when I was a kid. The German lady mentioned, was most likely not a n+zi at all and had probably chosen to live in the U.K. exactly because of the 'overall' safety she had, away from politically driven nastiness of the Germany of the time.
After reading the posting, I went out, walked around the block and got these shots. Taking a look on my street and surrounding streets, there are plenty of reminders of the so-called Waste-Metal Drives of the wartime period. With plenty of house walls where the railings have been removed.
As regards the children terrorising the 'German Lady'. I remember a lady living alone on Chesterfield Gardens, in the first house after the bomb site, who the local kids called a witch. They used to knock on her door, put things through her letterbox and do all manner of things, and she got in a terrible state. I can remember the police being called on one occasion and feeling very sorry for the woman.
I've never been a believer in the so-called 'Good Old Days'. People were just as mean, jealous and nasty as we seem to think they are today.
Stephen, see my post above. I joined in these terrorist activities from time to time. Targets were often elderly, single women - perhaps left so as a result of the 1st World War. Your remark about the 'Good Old Days' is food for thought. Yet I do not share your optimism that we are less mean, jealous and nasty than before but believe such things are now controlled by legislation and political correctness, kept under wraps and still simmer beneath the surface unfortunately.
Splendid pictures - thank you.
Thanks for this, Hugh. I relate to this story very much. We grew up on the street and there was much of what would now be called racism, though in those days that word was unknown. We knew it was unkind, yet wore it like a badge of [dis]honour somehow.
I am also guilty ..remember her garden it seemed overgrown rumours there were snakes ..Mary Pritchard was another single lady who wheeled a squeaky pram through the passages collecting fish crates from the fishmongers in Turnpike lane ,she lived in Frobisher rd
Phew - what a blast from the past. I lived in Frobisher, down by the then Regal cinema but we too knew all about the German lady. I am not sure I knew about her railings - they were not the only ones to avoid the call up. But given she was German the impression would not have been a good one! Oddly enough in a simlar position in Frobisher, just down from the Passage lived the elderly lady who dished out the cod liver oil and 'fresh' (huh) orange juice. She wore black and had what we called a beard, We were equally horrid to her as I recall (shame!).
Regarding the railings - the BBC did story back in the 80s or 90s about how none, ar at best very little, of these went to munitions as cast iron is of no use. However I recall that report suggested the material was stockpiled and then re-sold after the war. As Stephen's excellent picture below show, the loss to the streetscape was considerable.
the lady who gave out the cod liver oil and orange was Mrs Bunce lived next to passage she wore the green and red WVS next door was mary Pritchard in black and grey I was scared stiff of her
Ah - maybe it was Mrs Pritchard I was thinking of? In which case humble apologies to Mrs Bruce!