History at St Helier's

Phyllis Cox & Arthur Brown

By Sheila Brown

Arthur Brown

 Arthur's father, Sidney, was born in 1901 at the Wandsworth Union Workhouse. This doesn't mean his family was destitute as my research shows poor women often went there to give birth as it was safer. Sidney was too young to be called up in the first world war but became a professional soldier in the 'Buffs' (Royal East Kent Regiment) from 1919 – 1924. He was a carpenter by profession and married Flossie Thacker, a servant from Norfolk. The family moved from Wandsworth to 359 Green Wrythe Lane when Arthur was 8 years old (~1933). During the war years Sidney spent a long time in St Helier's hospital suffering from tuberculosis and later at Cumberland House, Mitcham (TB hospital – on the Green) which led to his early death at the age of 46. As they had 8 children the family were later re-housed in Culvers Way. By the early 1960's once the children had left home Flossie was re-housed in the prefabs in Culvers Avenue. Although she was very poor she would give us thirty (!) grandchildren a number of tiny presents at Christmas. As she loved knitting and sewing many of these were hand made and I for one, liked them better for that. She died in St Helier Hospital in the early 1980's.


Arthur liked the train that ran through the developing housing estate at St Helier. He attended Number 2 School in Bishopsford Road until 1939, then joined S.H.Bensons Ltd, an advertising company in the Kingsway, as an office boy. When the war started the company decided to move out of London. Arthur was still being paid but didn’t have a lot to do so played chess with a friend which developed into a lifelong passion. Then in December 1940 he moved to Mitcham Works (Mullards) in the Stationary Department as a stores clerk. In October 1941 he changed jobs to Frys Diecasting Ltd as diecaster (zinc, silicon), as the pay was a lot better. His father was too ill to work and Arthur was the eldest of 8 children. It also meant working shifts, 2 weeks day/night. Casting Zn & Si components e.g. 2” mortar, tank periscope was nasty, dangerous work which was why the pay was so good. If you got splashed with the hot metal your colleagues had to strip your clothes off quickly. Arthur had many small scars from burns received this way. Apparently according to his army records, Arthur was also in the Home Guard from 1941 but he never mentioned it to me.

Phyllis Cox


Phyllis' father, Philip Cox born in 1894 in Lambeth, served in the Royal Field Artillery as a driver from 1915 to 1919 when he was discharged as no longer medically fit for service. He received a pension of 24d a day but was forfeited some service as he was convicted of enlisting more than once (he didn't like the brigade and deserted but then signed up again a week later!) In 1918 during the Battle of St Quentin he suffered a head & leg wound, the leg was later amputated in England. In November 11th, 1922 the Star newspaper organised an artificial leg walk from Staines to Roehampton. Family rumour has it that he entered so he would receive a new light metal articulated leg. Philip came 2nd and received a canteen of cutlery as a prize which I display in my hall to this day.


Phyllis' mother, Edith Andrews used to visit the limbless solders in Roehampton which is how she met Philip Cox. They married in 1923 and lived a frugal life in Southwark. Edith came from a very poor family, initially from the East End of London. Even when they moved to Southwark life didn't improve. In the 1911 census they were a family of 7 living in 3 rooms. Of the 11 children born, only 4 reached adulthood.


Phyllis remembered the joy of having their own toilet and bath when the family moved from the slums of Southwark to 31 Wendling Road in February 1932 when she was 8. Green Wrythe Lane was still a muddy track so her mother, Edith had to buy Wellingtons for all the children. The other end of their road wasn’t finished and most of the other roads were not made up either. She remembers how beautiful the elm lined Love Lane was (but the trees fell victim to Dutch Elm disease). At the end of the lane was Peacock’s Farm where she and brother, Maurice would go to watch the pigs. Phyllis initially attended Camden Road School with her brother, Art before moving to Number 7 School (Winchcombe – my sister later attended this school too). Phyllis remembered that whilst they were at Camden Road they used to drop off Maurice at a temporary school in a church opposite the gasometer. In 1936 Phyllis remembered watching Crystal Palace burning down from Rose Hill.


How Phyllis & Arthur met.


Phyllis started working at Mullards in the Sports Office when she was 14 years old (1937), where she sold stamps, football coupons, book theatre tickets, make up posters, a little typing, etc. She started going to shorthand typing evening classes but stopped when the war started. At this time Phyllis also belonged to a cycling club which met every Sunday. They had a good time, often cycling 100 miles with trips to places like the Hogs Back and Kingston and even Brighton 3 times. On one trip half their tyres were slashed by some vandal who also did the same to some Boy Scouts’ bikes. All the lads mucked in to repair the tyres. On another trip they’d planned to cycle to Southampton but as it was a very hot day they stopped at Arundel and enjoyed cooling themselves on the boating lake instead.  Phyllis had a puncture on the way back, near Guildford and was walking back home when a stranger fixed it for her. Once they cycled to Runnymede and rowed on the Thames, however the cycling club died out as men were called up for the war.


Phyllis and Arthur first met properly on Arthur’s 16th birthday although they knew each other by sight from work. Phyllis and her friend, Doris were planning a day out on the Thames and Arthur tried to tag along. When they got on the bus he cycled after it! However it rained so they went in an air raid shelter instead. Afterwards they saw Doris home and Phyllis & Arthur chatted on the street corner before going to their respective homes. After this Arthur changed his lunch hour to the same as Phyllis’s and would pester her by overtaking her on his bike. When Phyllis was 18 years old (just) she took Arthur’s job in the Stationary Department! Arthur had been there since December 1940 until he moved to Fry’s Die Casting about a year later, October 1941. Phyllis got a pay rise and was in charge of ordering the stationary stores and sometimes would go to the printers about urgent jobs. Phyllis & Arthur grew friendlier whilst they were in the same department and had their first kiss! They went to the cinema where Arthur tried (unsuccessfully) to kiss Phyllis but he got more daring on the way home (whatever that means!). (Arthur said Phyllis grasped his knee during a scary bit in the cinema). After that they went to the cinema every week and also went cycling together to places like Frensham and Windsor. Phyllis stopped cycling outings when Arthur got called up. Phyllis liked to go to a friend's to listen to Victor Sylvester and practice the steps. There was dancing at the youth club but again this died out as men were called up. Arthur was interested in dancing so they would go to an empty pavilion to practice but then it was Arthur’s turn to get called up (3rd February 1944). By now Phyllis was quite fond of him and would see him every weekend as he was at Kingston at first. Later when he was moved to Maidstone, Phyllis would visit him monthly, travelling by train.


Arthur proposed to Phyllis in a letter – they wanted to get married sometime during September or October 1945. The wedding was scheduled for 29th September but Phyllis had to go up to London on the Saturday for a Bishop's licence to get this changed to the following Monday. She had hoped to get married at her friend’s church, St Saviour, Angel Hill but this wasn’t permitted so that’s why everything had to be changed at short notice. They were married on 1st October 1945 at St Peter’s, Bishopfords Road at 11 a.m.. Everyone mucked in to help; her Mum, Edith Cox prepared a calf’s tongue (not rationed) and salad, a girl at work made the cake – everyone contributed sugar. Edith made a coat from a black out curtain! A friend  made wedding dresses and one of them fitted. After the wedding they walked to Culvers Way as Arthur’s Father was too ill to attend.


Photo:Phyllis Cox in her Red Cross uniform, Wendling Road 1945

Phyllis Cox in her Red Cross uniform, Wendling Road 1945

Donated by Sheila Brown

During the war Phyllis initially joined the Juniors (under 18s) section of the Red Cross when she was 17 and attended classes every Friday until she was expecting my sister in 1947. She passed various exams and rose to the rank of quarter master. She was allowed to wear 2 pips from April 1946 and was made acting assistant commandant in May 1946. One night a week she would be on duty usually at the Majestic, Mitcham or the Odeon in Morden which was good as Phyllis got to see the films for free

Phyllis remembered the houses opposite theirs in Wendling Rd getting bombed. Afterwards there was a poor pregnant bitch whining around the house. Edith took pity on it and took it in. Phyllis told me that all their inner walls were blown in by the blast but when all the youngsters came home from work, Edith had cleaned up and even had dinner ready! Philip Cox built an Anderson shelter in the garden but Phyllis preferred to get a good night's sleep in her own bed! I guess with 5 other siblings the house and the Anderson shelter must have been crowded! She told me that a girl had her shoulder smashed because it was touching the wall of an Anderson shelter when there was a blast. I don't know if that was the same time as the houses opposite were bombed. Phyllis' bother, Maurice, was a rear gunner in the RAF and brought home an Alsatian from Germany.


In the Autumn of 1946 Phyllis and Arthur enjoyed a month's break before Arthur was posted to the Middle East. They went to the Council Offices in The Grove to find out about housing. During the bad winter of 1947 the offices at Mullards had no heating. It was especially bad in the basement where the accounts records were kept. Phyllis cycled to work during all the bad weather even though she was expecting my big sister. It doesn’t seem fair but everyone at Mullards got Christmas bonuses that year except the newly de-mobbed men who were deemed not to have worked there long enough. Finally on returning from the Middle East, Arthur was posted to Woking for his demob. He was issued with a set of civilian clothes and a trilby. The trilby ended up in the prefab shed and a bird nested in it!

Photo:Arthur Brown and Phyllis Cox wedding at St. Peter's Church. From L to R Nan Brown, Art, Arthur, Phyllis, Nan Cox and Grandad Pops.

Arthur Brown and Phyllis Cox wedding at St. Peter's Church. From L to R Nan Brown, Art, Arthur, Phyllis, Nan Cox and Grandad Pops.

Donated by Sheila Brown


Early Married Life


1947 – 1952

Phyllis continued living with her parents after her marriage, stopping work at Mullards in the spring of 1947 as she was expecting. When the due date came she went to stay in a hostel in Guildford, Selford House, Albury Rd. as there was no room at St Helier. Arthur came to live at Wendling Rd  after he was demobbed in September 1947. He returned to Mullards to work in the machine shop making valves. He tried to move into the offices but the management preferred to keep him there. 


In 1948 Phyllis, Arthur & my sister moved to his Mum's (Flossie Brown) which she appreciated as her husband had died in January and she was expecting her final child. However the council disapproved of the overcrowding so they were moved into a ‘halfway’ house in Strawberry Lane. Phyllis remembers a time when they went out and burnt some rice – not realising it absorbs water let alone you shouldn’t leave saucepans unattended on the stove. When they came back there was a crowd gathered around their door – they got told off for that. It was pretty basic (they slept on camp beds) but moved into an Arcon V prefab in 8 Willow Road, Culvers Avenue ~ July 1948. The previous tenant was a decorator so it was very smart though very cold as the insulation had been omitted during construction (the council did come and put some in later). The McMarns were already living at number 6, Jim McMarn was a Carshalton Counciller in the 1950s.


Whilst at the Halfway House, Phyllis saw an advert on old newspaper cut up for toilet paper. It was a general advert for the London County Council who were recruiting for 200 posts. Applicants had to sit an exam and only the top ones were selected – Arthur came ~43rd.  His first job was in the Youth Employment Bureau advertising general professional jobs. Arthur used to go to the library to find out what the jobs meant and liked the idea of training in Structural Engineering. Post war there was an urgent need for housing. Arthur applied and studied for 2 years at Brixton School of Engineering whilst carrying on working at the YEB. He came top of the intermediaries, winning the Wallace Premium Junior Prize (Institute of Structural Engineers) and was posted to the District Surveyor’s Office in Battersea where he worked as a building inspector. Another 2 years and he completed his final exams and moved to County Hall, housing department (there were 3 departments: statutory, schools and housing). During this time Phyllis worked at Mullards in the packing department as money was very tight.



Loose Ends


Flossie Brown continued to live in Culvers Way until the early 1960s. She then moved into the Prefabs down Culvers Avenue, and finally to Palmerston Rd when the prefab site was redeveloped. Edith & Philip Cox continued to live at 31 Wendling Rd until their deaths in the 1970s. Phyllis' brother, Maurice Cox worked in the chemist in Wrythe Lane and lived in Westminster Rd until his death in 2008. Myself and another sister were born to Phyllis & Arthur whilst living in the prefabs, where we lived happily until the site was redeveloped.


Every Saturday Phyllis would take us sisters to Wendling Road to visit our grandparents. The Anderson Shelter had been turned into a pond where I loved searching for goldfish. Philip Cox had a shed at the end of the garden where he would welcome us children to see what latest project he worked on. He was a very patient man and didn't seem to mind my fascination with his metal leg. It had a few small holes in it that I would try to look through and wonder why there was nothing inside. Edith Cox loved to smother us with kisses which we hated especially as she had no teeth! Though she made up by plying us with cakes after the ordeal. They both worked at Mullards in the 1950s so we would leave our prefab and meet them on Culvers Avenue on their way home.


I attended Muschamp Infant & Primary School. In those days there was a large laundry opposite and water cress beds at the end where Muschamp Rd met Wrythe Lane. Further up on the right, adjacent to the watercress beds was a clinic (opposite Westminster Rd). When that corner was redeveloped with flats we had to go to the clinic in Green Wrythe Lane. Arthur Brown was an avid reader and took me to the library near the clinic to get me started on my lifelong love of reading. My younger sister joined Mitcham Athletic Club in the 1970s, opposite St Helier's hospital and was successful in winning several cups.


Sheila Brown May 2018


This page was added by Beverley Walker on 06/06/2018.

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