Journalist's new book describes post-war Croydon
In a touching autobiography, journalist Frank Hurley describes his childhood, torn between the highland hills of Scotland and the urban landscape of Croydon.
The 65-year-old has vivid memories of growing up in post war Croydon where his mother, from Bannockburn had come to live with her husband, a soldier in the English army.
The father-of-three, who once worked as a journalist on the Croydon Times, said: “Mum hated it. She got homesick and we would drop everything and she would hitchhike to Scotland with my little brother Arthur who would have been about three, my older sister May, who was 11 and me, I was about seven.
“We would catch lifts with lorry drivers, things were different in those days, people were more inclined to help eachother.
“My mother would try all sorts of tricks, sometimes we would get the train and she would buy a ticket for herself and then we would hide when the guard came around.
“We were always seesawing between Scotland and Croydon.”
For Frank Croydon was playing with friends in the rubble of the blitzed urban landscape, swapping bits of salvaged metal passed off as German bomb shells or enjoying Sunday sandwiches in the Queen’s Gardens, whereas Scotland was the freedom of playing in the fields or by the river and eating fresh food.
He said: "We had all this space to run about and then we went back to the confines of Croydon."
And every time the family fled to Scotland, they left their council accommodation and went to the bottom of the homing list again when they returned, having to survive in the hell of homeless hostels before a new place could be found for the family.
One was a half way house in Beulah Hill. Frank’s book, The Boy in a Trenchcoat, opens with Frank’s vivid memory of a four-year-old boy “who looked like an angel” dying after eating rat poison.
The family eventually moved to New Addington, a brand new council estate, isolated from the rest of Croydon with no tram and few bus links, where everything was clean and new but there were no pavements.
In the story of his childhood, Frank remembers stealing flowers from people's gardens to sell in the local market and was a garden-shed chemist until an experiment involving chlorine went awry and killed a neighbour's cat.
He said: “I remember the old town in Croydon, the smell of the old gas works.
“Croydon had quite a forward thinking council, they saw that to rival London commerce they would have to start building bigger offices and start introducing traffic management like the flyover.
“The first big building was in Wellesley Road, it was seven storeys high. To us it was a skyscraper.
“I still remember the old days in Croydon very fondly but it is not the town I grew up in any more. There have been so many changes, it is more of an international town now.”
The Boy in a Trenchcoat is published by Macdonald Media Publishing and is available for £9.99