Mr Atlee Garfield Road - a Memory of Wimbledon.
Mr Atlee, or as he was when I knew him, Old Mr Atlee, lived on the corner of Cowper and Garfield Roads. Garfield Road was a long road starting at the balloon factory, passing the primary school and the Rec and ending at the Carton factory. Running along its length shooting off at right angles were 5 roads named after poets, starting with Cowper followed by Milton, Dryden, Tennyson and ending with Caxton. Caxton of course was not a poet but I suppose the developer either did not know it or thought “Ah well, it’s to do with writing” .
Being on the corner Mr Atlee had two entrances, the one on Cowper Road had what we liked to describe as “the front garden”, the other was just a door giving onto Garfield Road. The front garden was in fact a patch of dirt with a low wall and a gate and a dustbin waiting to be collected. The wall used to have ornate iron railings running along the top, as did most houses in our streets, but as the neighbours liked to say, “The War Office took them all to make Spitfires in the last war”.
My older brother who knew him in the days when he was just plain Mr Atlee tells that he was a wild one, being the first to get a motorbike in our area and speed like the devil, flying along Garfield Road and disappearing up Caxton Hill in the direction of the train station.
I heard a story that Mr Atlee was wounded in the First World War and because of it never married. Perhaps this explains his speeding. Although I imagine speeding in those days was about 30 mph.
When I knew him he had a corner shop, well it was really his front room with some shelves and a counter, no till, no fresh fruit or veg. Just packets of Bisto, sugar, marg, custard, canned fruit and tea in ¼ pound paper packets, some with cards in them showing birds of Great Britain or other things. We kids would collect and swap these cards until we had a full set, then send off for an album and stick them in. “Mum, Mum can I make you a cup of tea?” we would ask, and pour nearly the whole packet into the pot so we would buy some more for the last card. I suppose they were the Playstation of their day. I often wondered where my albums got to and what the Antique Road Show would value them at now.
Mr Atlee sold the sort of things people ran out of. He never closed, well to be honest he was never open. You had to bang on the side door and wait until you heard his scuffling steps. He would open the door on a chain and peer round the crack. “What you want?”. “Please Mr Atlee, Mum says can she have some Shipham’s paste, I got the money”, all in one breath. To us he was Old Mr Atlee and old smelly man, thick glasses and a crutch he hobbled along on. One of the old types like a letter ‘Y’ with a handle half way down the ‘V’ and a black leather pad across the top, stuck down with sticky tape. He always wore a waistcoat and dirty grey trousers, and a shirt without a collar, he smelt like only old people can smell and to us young kids he instilled a sort of dread.
Door would close and the chain unhooked. The opened again onto his hallway and lead to his shop. You had to wait in the door way until he had lifted the flap and got behind his counter and lowered the flap. “Now what was it you wanted sonny?”. “Mum said can she have some Shipham’s paste I got the money”. He would shuffle to one of the shelves and plonk a small bottle of paste on the counter., and hold out his hand. I would drop the sixpence into it and it would close with a snap. He pulled out a draw under the counter and held out the change. How I hated touching his fingers to get the money, how many times I just opened my palm under his hand hoping he would just drop the coins into it. But he never did.
Because he always opened the door on a chain we kids always speculated what he was hiding in his back room. Pots and pots of money was the agreed reason. He had a shop after all and must have made a lot of money on the things he sold. Mums were always saying how expensive he was and if it was not so easy they would go elsewhere for the bits and pieces.
Of course he did give credit and as in those days many families lived from one pay day to the next this was what was easy.
I did not move away until I was in my late teens but Mr Atlee, I never knew of him dying or moving, we just forgot about him as the times changed and we grew up. No more popping along to Mr Atlee’s for a ¼ of tea. We went to the supermarket. I suppose one day the door just never opened.
A memory shared by on Feb 8th, 2012. Send David Aubrey a message
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