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Garfield Road Rec - a Memory of Wimbledon.

Half way down Garfield Road was the Recreation Ground; better know to all as simply the Rec. It was quiet a large area bounded on one side by Garfield Road and the other by the River Wandle, about which more another time.

Along the top end was the railway line and the bottom the fence dividing the Primary School from the Rec. You could see the kids clinging to the fence fingers and noses poking through the mesh peering at the green grass and all they had was a bitumen playground.

On the Wandle side of the Rec was another wire mesh fence with a large padlocked gate at one end. Half way along the fence was a huge Sycamore tree. Of course the tree had lots of carving in it with hearts and initials, and you would ask yourself why they nearly always added ‘true’.

Off centre towards the road side of the Rec were 2 mounds like square beached whales. On each corner was a concrete plate, which made the mounds perfect for a game of Rounders. They were air raid shelters left over from the Second World War. But to us kids they were hills that climbed to the clouds.

In one corner of the Rec was the Park Keeper’s hut, with an attached shed for the machines. The hut was dark and eerie but Mr Rowden the keeper made it the epitome of the garden shed, an old damp armchair, a gas ring for tea making, and in the winter a coke brazier, which meant he had to leave the door open. The brazier I think was home made a 25 gallon can with holes punched in the side set upon a round of bricks. Mr Rowden was a tall thin straight backed man with a military moustache and a trilby hat. I never saw him with out the hat. He was also the arbitrator of all matters in the Rec. Fights between the boys were stopped and re started in a boxing like atmosphere. Football and stick cricket come also under his eagle eye. Ball over the wire fence meant 6 and out. Only Mr Rowden could collect the ball. He had his eye everywhere, when work in the Rec was needed he had an army of willing volunteers. Weeding the flower beds? “Off you go home and bring a trowel of rake back with you and mind the road”. Off would scamper a dozen or so boys and girls coming back with what they had, some even bringing table forks. Not many people had a garden. “Right you lot, over there and pull all the weeds out, you know what weeds look like?”. A chorus of “Yes Mr Rowden”.

And the mums knew that as long as Mr Rowden was on duty their kids were safe. God help anyone who Mr Rowden did not like the look of coming into the park.

One time a huge old Beech tree needing chopping down and a lorry arrived from the Council. Ladders placed against the tree and up climbed 2 men with bow saws and soon branches started crashing down. Mr Rowden was there shepherding the kids back. “Tommy get away from there! Agnes over here love”, he knew us all by name. Then came the most exciting bit, the actual felling of the tree. You never realise how tall a tree is until it is flat along the ground. “Alright you lot, I want you in 3 lines here and here and here” ordered Mr Rowden. “Biggest at the back young’uns in front”. Three long ropes were laid out by the council men. “Right grab ‘old of the rope and don’t pull until I tells ya to” . A mad scramble to find a place at the rope. “Ready? One two three HEAVE!” The tree swayed and tilted and then crashed down.

I can’t but help imagine how they would do that today; there would be Police, Fire Brigades, Ambulances, crash barriers, cranes. A small army of workers, but no fun for the children.

Mowing the grass was other great event in the Rec. We all knew it was going to happen as he spent the day before sharpening the blades, out would go the word around the houses, “Cutting grass tomorrow”. Next day out of the machinery shed would chug the great green tractor and towing behind the great grass cutting mowers. Why were tractors always green in those days? It looked massive to us. Mr Rowden was now very strict. “Now listen you lot, I want you all on the mounds over there. The first one that comes off I send you all home and lock the gates” . Again the chorus of “Yes Mr Rowden”.
And off he would drive up and down the Rec, cut grass flying high up and blowing everywhere in the wind. Oh the smell of the cut grass still lingers even today. I see myself sitting on the mound baggy short trousers and Mr Rowden swivelled in his seat one eye on the whirling blades and one eye on us.

Mr Rowden eventually got older and retired and was replaced by other keepers, none ever staying very long, but there was only one Mr Rowden.


A memory shared by David Aubrey on Feb 8th, 2012.
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