An old tradition

By Ray Crawley

On a certain day in the summer we used to build grottoes in the street and ask passers-by for a penny for the grotto.

I have no idea how it was known by the kids when to build a grotto or even why it was done. I used to make one next to the Gaumont as that was a good pitch. I made it on the entrance to the flats - the one next to Finlays. The first thing we did was to get some earth - as fine as possible- then we would make it into a shape of some kind, then decorate it with stones,sea shells and, if you could get your hands on some, also flowers. You would accost the passers-by for pennies. 

As I have said we had no idea why we did it but eventually (due to the internet which gives some background to the custom) I have discovered it is to do with St. James' Day on 25 July. They used oyster shells in years gone by.


This page was added by Ray Crawley on 23/06/2013.
Comments about this page

I used to make mine outside the school canteen in Green Wrythe Lane. I lived in the first street, Green Wrythe Gardens. Not a lot of foot traffic tho!!

By Maureen Hurt
On 10/09/2013

Hi Ray yes we had no idea why we made them, suddenly like everything else it was time, usually ended up a contest between girls and boys, who also vied for the best spot to catch the passing traffic, grotto making was actually begging, for grottoes we would take dirt from under the hedges or Gardens around spread the dirt out to make a square or circle in it were placed stones and other objects in patterns, then pick flowers from peoples gardens that were lucky enough to have them and place them on the various pieces of earth that, making a picture then when people came along from work or wherever we would ask them for a penny for the grotto, sometimes they would give you a penny or half penny and we would save that money until we had enough to buy sweets. Strange again in those days we seemed to have unwritten rules, despite it being a contest, I never saw any one try to destroy anyone else's Grotto, it wouldn't have been considered fair, which mattered a lot in our day.

By Ted Blowers
On 06/02/2014

I was lucky in that my prefab was just around the corner and my dad was a wonderful gardener! I had the pick of the best flowers ever and my grotto was truly beautiful. - not what Dad called it tho!!!

By Maureen Donaghey - Hurt
On 18/03/2014

I too remember building these grottos.We lived in Enfield in North Middlesex. It was a newly built estate so the custom may have come with families moving there from London.

By Eric Jackson
On 28/10/2015

You're most likely correct Eric because  I made similar grottoes  to persuade the London Dockies to part with a pay day penny. Moving to the estate when I was ten I probably thought I was too old for such a childish caper.

By Edward Wilkins
On 06/11/2016

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