Tim’s blog: A changing Harlow town centre
Lifestyle / Mon 13th Jan 2014 at 10:44am
WHAT memories I have of Harlow town centre, and oh my! how it has changed since being taken up there as a little boy around the late 1960′s and early 70′s!
Well, for starters one massive change I think that strikes you now, is the mobility scooters that try run you over as you go about your window shopping.Whether it’s 4 MPH or 8, I still think some of them need driving lessons. And what happens if one of them hits you? Are they insured? Just how much damage can be caused at between 4 mph and 8 mph is anyone’s guess. A broken toe nail perhaps? The 8 mph scooters can go on the road I believe. Utter madness I tell you, but in reality it’s not that far off being just a tiny milk float like we were used to seeing all those years ago. Unigate and Co-Op if I am not mistaken. Oh how they used to block the traffic crawling along at walking pace. Still, in fairness there really was no traffic back then compared to what we have now and they were faster than the horse and cart that preceded them. Shame they didn’t think of this when they allowed these little fair-ground dodgem rides on our roads. Back in those early days the worst you had to worry about was dodging the prams or having ya head burned by cigarettes as more or less every one smoked back then. Of course kids today may still have to dodge the odd smouldering cigarette, but what’s a Pram? I hear some of you say. Yes I’m old okay! For those of you without lots of years behind them you call it a buggy now.
Harlow was of course, still quite a young new town back then, and as you wander around now, you tend to forget just how things have indeed changed. Not just the landscape of course but also some of the name brands that appeared to be the life and soul of the town at the time have now gone forever. Of course in those early days, a lot of our shopping was bought at the local little parade of shops that were close to home which included a greengrocer, a deli in today’s upmarket parlance I guess, a take away and most probably a pub. Of course even when I say take away I really mean Chinese, or of course the other option being the good old fashioned chip shop. I remember very often being asked, or should I say bribed, to pop to the shops for my mum to pick up some King Edward potatoes, carrots or some greens from the veg shop or at times go with an adult for the sole task of taking back the bottles to the Off Licence to get a penny back if I remember correctly. How that’s all changed now. Sure I believe even back then we had a Sainsbury’s as well as a Tesco’s, but of course they were just a little chain at the time, as the idea of massive super markets had as yet, not taken off.
When I was very little I remember, with great joy for some reason, the large Co-Operative store which was in the building occupied where Fish Brothers and Iceland’s are now, with its restaurant on the upper level, and the main shopping level on the ground floor. We used to run around by the entrance where the lift was I’m sure we were being a pain to everyone entering and leaving the store but we were having fun. I remember the stamps my mum used to stick in a book, though what she used to do with the stamps eludes me some. Of course along with those CO-OP stamps, came the best of them all, the Green Shield stamps. How exiting was it when another book was full and how many of us spent ages licking and sticking the stamps in it for our mums or was that just me? Where did the Green Shield Stamps come from by the way? For my life I cannot remember. And where were they redeemed?
Living in The Downs at the time, more often than not we would walk up town, and on finishing we would wander over to the Taxi rank which at the time run along the length of the multi storey where the bingo is now. My dad was a taxi driver, without a mobile phone, my god how did we manage back then? We would have to wait at the bottom end of the rank until my dad would come around for a job, spot us waiting and then take us home. Whether it was because our little feet wouldn’t carry us anymore, or because my mum had a pull along wicker basket full of stuff and my mum with, at the time, my sister and me to drag around, I dare say it was hard work. If you remember the taxi rank being along the road running in front of the bingo hall and multi storey, you may remember it being where I now believe Boots and New Look are. Other times,I remember sitting in the little seat my dad had put in the front of the taxi while he slowly circled the rank waiting to get to the front for a fare, where I would then, I guess, get out, and go off with my mum again. At times, I was even allowed to sit on his lap and from time to time and he would let me steer the taxi around the circle until he got to the front and where hopefully another job would be waiting for him. I also remember him hating mini cabs. But then as a proper taxi driver, I guess he would really.
Just off the old circular rank was the large Woolworth’s store where once, only a few years ago, Virgin Records stood. This one having a restaurant down in the basement and I seem to remember lots and lots of lamp shades and lights etc. On the ground level was the major shopping area where you could buy anything from records, to ham, my sister working on said meat stall. It’s funny, but I actually remember walking around there holding my mums hand as you always did, only to spot my mum in the distance and to my horror when I looked up at the ladies hand I was holding it was indeed not that of my mum, but that of a lady wearing the exact same coat as she was. I let go and went walking over to my mum grabbing her hand and nothing was ever said of where I had gone or what had happened, or even if she knew where I had gone or who had me. Quite scary now when you think of it. Who was that woman and what did she think was going on? She was probably taking me to a staff member no doubt, and not kidnapping me. I like to believe the former anyway.
From those early days, my next memories of the town centre were in my early double figures. I was a comic book reader and I vividly remember having to walk up town, and at the bottom of the market square there was a newsagents, and I believe every Tuesday I would walk up town and grab my copies of Roy of the Rovers and 2000AD. They did not have them at my local shops, so I had placed an order to collect from there. I can’t actually remember when I stopped buying them, but I do remember being gutted when after getting married and popping in to visit my mum one day I found she had thrown out all of the copies I had kept for so long. I think they were worth quite a lot of money at the time too.
Now after moving into my step dad’s in Harlow Old Town after my dad passed away in 1975, things changed quite a lot. I was now a bike ride or bus journey away from the town and the next few years growing up I cannot remember too much about the town really. Though of course some early fantasies of the town being covered in a massive dome, it appeared the Harvey Centre, after being built was a little bit of a let down to a young child like myself who was expecting some new age super dome like structure. Kids and their dreams right?
My memories of the town cease until my last year of secondary school in 1980/81 and I can’t remember if things greatly changed from being a 10 year old to a 15 year old. We were now allowed to leave the school premises and every lunch time my mates and I would walk up town spending most of our time in the Startime record shop playing arcade games, drinking slush puppies and looking through records. Great times!! And who remembers that cafe down Post Office Walk?
Then suddenly all things again change. On leaving school you begin to work for a living and the town once again changes in how it caters for your needs. Now a place to pop up to when I was not working, I would often hang out at the back of the BHS cafe up stairs smoking and drinking pots of coffee with new friends I’d find through work or clubbing etc. The days walking around holding my mums hands well and truly behind me. I remember passing this lovely blonde girl with her mum outside and across from the Odeon Cinema. Married her funnily enough a few years later. That’s another story however.
Then suddenly a few years later you are in a relationship and you discover what the inside of ladies fashion shops look like. Chelsea Girl being, I believe being the place most bought their clothes. On the whole, a very boring experience for the best part but alas it is all part of growing up. Do I hide when my wife is looking for underwear? Of course not! Suddenly from looking around little toys stores you now hit shops for stylish clothes and shoes and then before you know it, you’re parking ya battered 4th hand Morris Marina in the terminus car park. One to avoid nowadays as it’s madly expensive. But at a push, it’s always the place you can be certain of having a choice of bays to stick ya massive petrol guzzling 4×4 in or in my case the little family Fiat Punto. Where once was an aging water garden, a huge car park now sits in the newest part of the town centre with its split level parking, refurbished fountains and an Asda of all things. Go figure! Always thought that Asda’s were for up north folk?
Meeting places of old such as under the clock in the market square where I remember one Saturday morning being stood up by some girl I had asked out on a Saturday night out in Tiffany’s which of course became Whispers, which later still became a multitude of named nightclubs over the years, presently being “Seen” I believe. And then for a good few years, the fountain in the Harvey Centre became the next place you would arrange to meet someone, and even that now has gone and the structure adorns a hill just past The Stow on the right. We’ve lost the old Town Hall, a feature you could always see standing tall opposite the police station, and of course the college is no longer where it used to be. I remember the odd time riding along with my dad in the back of his Taxi as he went to pick up one of my older sisters from college. All those scary adults you used to see and respect, and in a little way fear the day you would be so old as having to go there after school.
Now a parent myself, my kids themselves have seen changes. Where they once played in the ball pool in Burger King in the high street, they perhaps, as young adults themselves are excited about the proposed new Cinema going into where the old upstairs to Tesco once was and some may even remember the arcade that was on the Harvey Centre’s upper level for some time.
One thing is for sure is, the Town Centre has come a long way since I was a lad where I might sit and wonder over having the Knickerbocker Glory in the Wimpy or eating upstairs in Littlewoods cafe. Now for me it’s mostly sitting and resting the dodgy old spine in my favourite shop of sorts, Costa, where I can just sit and watch and wonder what will the town look like in another 40 years.
It is not time yet to jump on a hover shuttle and be taken to the sky centre, but one day? Well never say never right?
Hope you have enjoyed my little journey through time and perhaps some fond memories have been stirred.
Nice one Tim. Nice to remember back then.