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Memories of St Margaret's - Early Communion & Warden Hill
When I was confirmed at 13 years old, we were requested, nay commanded, to attend Church at 8:00 am for Holy Communion once a month. That was all very well, but there were no Sunday buses at that time in the morning and, if my mother attended, she either walked or went on her black ‘utility’ war-time bicycle. Now, how was I to get to Church as we only had the one bike and I couldn’t ride it in any case? So, if we went, we had to walk. Another thing, we were instructed not to eat breakfast before taking Communion, so by the time we had got to the Church I was in a state of ‘faint’, with neither a toilet or water at our disposal. Not a good start to attending the Holy Communion Services!
However, my mother, in her wisdom, decided that it was time for me to learn to ride her bicycle. This was all very well but there were no made-up roads on which to practice. Warden Hill, Markham Road, Wycombe Way, Grasmere Avenue (with adjacent roads off) Birdsfoot Lane, where there was a Transport Café on the corner (just a shack) and others were just muddy tracks without footpaths either.
I should know because during the war, when I attended Bramingham School in Icknield Way, my mother and I were registered for our rations at the little shop at the top of Wycombe Way. Many shopkeepers came and went, but at that particular time it was run by two spinsters. One, who was particularly friendly, would wait for me to come past from school and waylay me to ask if my mother would allow me to deliver the cheese which had just come in. I think we were allowed 20oz per person per week, but it did not come into the shops regularly. I would duly be given a basket of small packages with names and addresses written on the front of each one for me to deliver in all those afore-mentioned roads. No mean task, if we had had a good down poor and they were caked in mud. Wycombe Way even had trees growing in the middle of the road!
Opposite the Warden Tavern was the Doodson’s Garage, with a house on the Luton side built for their use. Beyond that, down to where we now have a roundabout near Birdsfoot Lane, was a cinder track going up towards the hills, where the South Beds Gold Club had their Club House, and just beyond that and the base of the hill were the remains of an old farmhouse, both of which have long since gone. Needless to say, because the garage was surrounded by scrubland, none of Hillcrest plus had been built and not all of Warden Hill Road with offshoots had been fully developed either. So where was I to learn to ride as the last bike I had had was when I was about 3 or 4 when I had a trike?
My mother decided that between us we would walk and cycle to Church, taking it in turns to do so. It wasn’t easy walking either, because the path was only a worn down track amongst the verbage and the main road was not as wide as it is now. There was not room for overtaking, and traffic would build up into convoys, speaking of which during the war there were many army convoys which would come along the A6; always towards Luton. Where they came from we never knew, but they never went the other way. Once one was coming through, it was impossible to cross the road for quite a long time. One of the school children was killed crossing from Doodson’s Garage to the Warden Tavern on her way to Wycombe Way. She and her family had walked from an old farm building which was their home nearer to Stopsley than to Warden Hill. They didn’t attend regularly, and were very poor, and unfortunately, not very streetwise. I digress.
We got to Church, me still feeling faint with the effort of getting up the hill with the bike, etc. However when we came home, my mother allowed me to ride the bike down Sharpenhoe Road, through the village to the main road, the outlet from which was then permitted. She warned me not to apply the brakes too quickly else I might go over the handlebars, but I got up so much speed, and scared to apply the brakes too much, I careered straight across the road, into the hedge and ditch! The sturdy bike survived, and so did I, else I wouldn’t be telling this tale, but it taught me a good lesson. However, I was so lucky that there was not much traffic around, being a Sunday. I did learn to ride the bike and would use it to go to Church and eventually to school despite the fact that both journeys finished with having to get up steep hills without the luxury of gears.