Hilly Fields - Summer 1941
The bandstand in Hilly Fields, the park in Enfield that was a popular visiting place for the boys at St Joseph's. As Norman Taylor's story mentions, many concerts were presented from the bandstand. Thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Hilly Fields, who have restored the bandstand to its former glory, it is once again a popular concert venue. (The photo of the bandstand is on the website of the Friends of Hilly Fields and we would like to thank them for allowing us to use the photo here.)
• Find out more about the Friends of Hilly Fields by visting their website.
The authorities had become aware that, after nearly two years of war, the population was in need of a rest. The previous twelve months had been the most dangerous in the country's history and also for the civilian population, who had endured the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Enfield, with its industry and closeness to London, had been in the front line and, in early May 1941, it was the target of the Luftwaffe. This raid resulted in many casualties and widespread damage.
The German attack on Russia had resulted in a reduction in air raids, and the Government took the opportunity to relax working restrictions and allow the population to take a holiday break.
The late 1930s saw the introduction of one week's paid holiday for industrial workers and the problem that confronted the government was where on earth could the people go to relax away from the grind of the war effort? With the threat of invasion the military had sealed the coastal resorts, allowing only a limited number of residents to remain in these towns; no one else was allowed to enter them. The beaches were mined and miles of barbed wire and concrete barriers to prevent a sea landing had been constructed. Britain was a country under siege.
Suddenly posters began to appear with slogans exalting the population only to make journeys that were really necessary and advertising the benefits to be gained by remaining at home. The local authorities were charged by the government to arrange entertainment for the public. Parks and open spaces became hives of activity, with outdoor concerts, visits by mobile cinemas, and the showing of newsreels of the stunning victories our armed forces were achieving against the enemy.
In Enfield, Hilly Fields, with its rural setting and Victorian bandstand, became an important venue. On a sunny Saturday afternoon Hilly Fields was the venue for one of the most successful concerts to be held in 1941. Row after row of chairs had been arranged around the bandstand. A military band had been engaged, and a small area had been prepared to allow people to dance.
The bandsmen were dressed in khaki (the splendid uniforms did not reappear until after the war). They played not only rousing marches, but also the gentle popular tunes of the time, allowing couples to dance or gently sway to the music. Many of those who took to the dance floor were servicemen and women on leave. Soloists sang the popular songs of the time, the audience was hysterical with laughter as comedians told jokes about their poor mothers in law. The great and the good came onto the bandstand to urge the people on to greater efforts to win the war and to give generously to the Spitfire fund. Their voices could be heard echoing across the hills.
I believe that the cost of a fully operational Spitfire was £24,000. There was very little motorised traffic at this time; the majority walked from home, or traveled by the 128 bus or by train alighting at Gordon Hill Station.
One of the changes that Sister Joseph had introduced when she became Mother Superior was to allow the older boys to go out unescorted. Only the small boys were taken out, and walked in a crocodile line. We wandered around in small groups enjoying every moment of the entertainment. We watched families sit down to picnics, and secretly we envied the children who were part of these families.
The Rose and Crown public house, in its village setting in the valley that separates Hilly Fields from White Webbs Park, was the focal point for many people. An extension to the licensing hours must have been granted as alcohol was consumed long after the normal closing time of 2pm. In those far-off days, the sky was filled with aircraft and sometimes a Hurricane or Spitfire would swoop low over a crowd of people, and waggle its wings, and roar away into the distance.
Late in the afternoon a single Spitfire did appear in a cloudless sky, and swooped low over the crowd. Whether this had been prearranged we will never know. We waved and we cheered as the pilot climbed and rolled his Spitfire. There was only a small police presence, mainly to take care of lost children. In those far-off days public disturbances were virtually unknown.
Double British Summertime meant that it was daylight until nearly midnight, and when the St Joseph's boys made their way home, the entertainment was still in full swing. In fine weather the boys always made for three places when they went out. One was Hilly Fields and the other two were St Johns Wood, and White Webbs Park.
The stream that meanders through Hilly Fields was always a magnate for us. We would catch small stickleback fish in home made nets. Sometimes we would paddle in the clear water and then realise that we did not have anything to dry our feet with. There are, I believe, fourteen arches that span the valley where the railway makes its way to Hertford, and we stood and waved to the passengers. St Johns Wood, and White Webbs Park were also magic places for us.
It was in the late Autumn of 1977 when I next had the pleasure of visiting Hilly Fields. The rolling country that makes up the parkland was again bathed in sunshine. It was very quiet; the only sound was the wind gently rustling the leaves. I looked across to where the bandstand stood, and thought back to that summer's day, long ago, when the citizens of Enfield enjoyed a respite from the nightmare that was wartime Britain, and I spent a few brief hours relaxing in Hilly Fields.
Norman Taylor, May 2003