Childhood memories by Arthur Cox


I started a craze at school (Wickford Seniors). I made an electric magnet (a solenoid) with a small roll of cardboard with closely wound cotton-covered copper wire on the outside. A lage nail inside the roll made an armature. With an associated torch battery, I could demonstrate to my school mates how it would pick up things such as pins, and other iron or steel objects and could make a chain of such objects. And also to show how they all fell off when the battery was removed. Everybody was making them. It was the “In thing” as we would say nowadays.

The wire was bought at Wickford market and in fact I still have the original bobbin with some unused wire on it. (See image). Doing this demonstration ended the bullying to which I had been subjected. That no doubt due to being a foreigner evacuee from Woodford with a funny accent. My nickname was rapidly changed from “Arfur Cheesecake” to “The Prof”.

One sad result was that a boy who was a little simple came to school with a large cotton reel and two turns of barbed wire round it. He didn’t understand why it didn’t work.



Swimming in the Rain.

I and my siblings used to go to The Lido near/at the Hollow Ponds, Wanstead area. I recall a day one summer when the pool was full of swimmers and it suddenly started to rain. Never seen such a strange thing before – all the folk in the water hastily climbed out and sat under the surrounding shelters. We had the pool to ourselves for some time. How illogical is that?

a comment from Janice Denslow:

I was lucky enough to live across the road from a Paddling Pool. From the age of 8, I was packed off with a bottle of squash and some jam sandwiches..mum saw me across the road,then met up with friends. Not only did we play in the water and on the fountain,which was always freezing!. We played games like Cowboys and Indians and even made WigWams with our towels. The pool was fenced off from the road so was safe. If it rained, we simply sat in the Wigwams or carried on playing in the water,because invariably the clouds would pass in 20 minutes or so anyway.



The sledge made from a pram

After we (my brother,  sister and I) came home from the evacuation to Maldon in early 1940 there was a rather snowy time. I “found” one of those old very high prams and took everything off leaving a beautifully curved metal frame. I added a seat and a rope and it was transformed into a sledge or more like a sleigh. Very good out in Epping Forest on some of the slopes. I learnt an important bit of physics from that sledge. Once it had been stopped, I found it very hard to start it going again. Very puzzling! Then I learnt that the metal runners got hot (even on the cold snow) and then they melted the snow underneath them when the sledge stopped and then it froze the runners to the ground. Oh, the beautiful laws of thermodynamics! Shortly after that we moved to Wickford and I still regret having to leave that sledge in the coal cellar.


The Lodgers

When we lived in Stanley Road, South Woodford, we had lodgers who lived on the top floor. They were the Macarthys, mother and son. The mother was quite old and careworn, with a loud coarse voice, but the son was a refined young man. I remember Mrs Macarthy was always singing “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.” She would wash the upper flight of stairs to her floor with great deal of water splashed down below. She had access to the garden to hang out her washing and this meant she went through our kitchen and scullery. We noticed sometimes that the soup my mother had cooking seemed to taste soapy and we believed Mrs Macarthy dropped soap in it to annoy us – we couldn’t ever prove it. But it worked both ways – my elder brother writes in his memoirs: “During one of ‘Mother’ Macarthy’s regular visits to our kitchen to cook her dinner – arranged at times not to clash with our own – I once boiled up a rook’s skull to clean it for my bird collection and the stink of it really annoyed her.”

I recall that the son had a red sports car and he used to leave it parked outside with the key in the ignition and I and my friends would switch it on and move it along the road a bit. That must have puzzled him. The Macarthys stayed on until the beginning of the war. When the first air raid alarm happened she refused to wear a gas mask. It was only a false alarm anyway.



At the Isolation Hospital

My younger sister Olive and I were sent to the scarlet fever isolation hospital at Waltham Cross (Abbey?) when we were small. I think I was about 4 and Olive was 2. I still recall the big open wards with a central stove surrounded by a low guard. And there was a boy there who had the nasty habit of thrusting a poker in the fire and then chasing us round the room with it all red hot. Other memories were being left in a bath with the hot tap running thus the white scar on my back. The first night there, I was asked “Do you wet the bed, boy?” And I very indignantly said “No!”. So no rubber sheet was used and I, on my first night away from home, did wet the bed and got slapped for it in the morning. No visitors were allowed in and the only view my parents had was through a glass screen. I have been told that toys were sent to us but we never received them. And as for Olive she slipped in her cot and injured her leg and also caught some other disease (I don’t know what) and that was all hushed up. My grandfather Charles Symmons made a big fuss – he had an appearance of very great authority and would ask questions that my parents would not do.



Exploring a Light Switch

 When I was quite small and we lived in South Woodford, we had electricity fitted to replace the old gas lamps. I have been told that I followed the electrician around everywhere watching his work and peering into various holes in the floor. When all was finished, I had a great desire for knowledge and managed to climb up and find out what was inside a light switch. They were those old round domes fitted to a wooden block and it was easy to unscrew the cover. I ended up on the other side of the room.



Improving the immersion heater

 We had an immersion heater in the hot water tank but the switch was hidden away in a cupboard and we never knew whether it was ON or OFF. There were no switches with little red indicators then. I wired a 20watt light bulb across the immersion heater terminals and had the bulb outside the cupboard. When the heater was ON it took all the current and the bulb was not alight. When the heater was OFF, then the bulb was lit.



Making an Arc Lamp

 I tried to make an arc lamp using the main supply of electricity.



Making cider

We had an orchard and I decided to make cider. I used a Swedish type mincer to cut the apples up, I made a press from some oak boards and a wooden screw from an old carpenter’s bench. It all worked well. The juice was put into a large metal tray about 5 inches deep and that went into the airing cupboard for a few days. Lots of froth occurred and we drank some delicious brew.  Looking at the tray afterwards we saw it was shining like a mirror. We had consumed a good life’s worth of zinc because it was (or had been!) galvanised.


More to follow in due course.


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