FOREWORD - This blog post ruffled a few feathers. Regular readers know that my writing is usually tongue-in-cheek, so please take this piece with a large pinch of salt.
In the 19th century,
a rural Thameside village called Teddington underwent a huge transformation into a suburb of London, as the city's population increased sixfold. Fields and meadows were swallowed up by street after street of semi-detached villas, artisans' cottages and parades of shops.
It was part of a process that was happening all over the outskirts of London, as the gaps between villages were filled with parallel roads of redbrick semis. In this new suburbia there were no longer any boundaries. Teddington suddenly turned into Twickenham or Hampton, depending on which direction you walked in.
I was born in Teddington in the 1960s and spent the first 25 years of my life there. Then, one day, I realised that it was time to pack my bags and go somewhere a little more exciting.
I moved to Twickenham.
This is where I caught the bus to my new life, a mile away:
I wonder how many hundreds of hours I have spent at this bus stop in Teddington's Waldegrave Road (the slightly improbable birthplace of Noel Coward) waiting for a glimpse of red in the far distance. I dread to think.
Sometimes I'd wait for over half an hour, before two or three 270s appeared at the same time. The drivers had probably decided to ignore the timetable and have breakfast together at Fulwell bus depot.
Nobody ever complained.
In some ways, the bus stop photo sums up Teddington for me. The sense of waiting for something to happen; that life is elsewhere.
I've been thinking a lot about Teddington recently after I had an amicable difference of opinion with @TLTeddington
on Twitter, who had objected to my description of it in the latest Crap Towns
book. I'd described the town as a "very dreary, overpriced suburb", which had prompted the following comments:
"The cheeky 'bar stewards'. We know how lovely it is and what a great place it is to live!"
"Clearly have never set foot in the town. we should invite them for lunch at Retro or any of the other great places. Idiot."
"We have are fortunate to have a thriving town centre filled with lovely independent shops, not a cloned town."
@TLTeddington also posted an image of this manifesto:
It all looked very inspring, but was this the same Teddington that I grew up in?
In some ways it was - we certainly shopped locally. Up until the mid-70s, when Bruce Forsyth opened a new Tesco supermarket, all of our food shopping took place in corner shops where everyone knew me by name.
It was like being in a Ladybird book.
My mother and I walked everywhere, as we couldn't afford the bus. In Stanley Road there was the Chinese butcher, who sadly died of a heart attack in his early 40s, a hairdresser's where my mother had her 'perm' and the Friend Shop
, where a man would cut slices of processed ham with egg in the middle for us.
Vegetables were either bought from a greengrocer run by two brothers in Waldegrave Road, or a shop in Broad Street where a mynah bird called Bobby would greet me with a loud "'Allo!".
Sometimes, as a special treat, we would walk up to Teddington Model Shop, where there was a coin-operated miniature railway in the window. The slot for the large, pre-decimal pennies remained long after the model shop had been replaced by a video rental business.
It seemed a quiet and benign world, where the pace of change was reassuringly slow and many people had lived in their homes for decades. We knew most of the people in our part of the road, either by their
surnames or by some distinguishing feature: The German lady, The Irish
family, The Lady with the son that makes the noises, The Woman with the
and The Man with no thumbs
One woman had lived in her house since 1899:
Mrs Plutheroe, aged 103, in 2002
Our immediate neighbours included two German Jewish sisters, neither of whom hinted at their tragic past, a retired couple I knew as Auntie and Uncle Fuller, and a gentleman in his 70s called Mr Gifford, who took his 1930s Austin Seven out for a spin once a year.
There was very little traffic, so in the summer I would play in the street with the local kids, only returning when it was too dark to see.
In hindsight, it seems strange to think that the centre of London was just over ten miles away, because Teddington felt very different, like a sleepy, provincial town.
I've tried to find some photos that capture the essence of Teddington as I remember it, but only came across a few snapshots. I suppose it wouldn't have occured to me to take photos of that ordinary, everyday world that has now disappeared.
Bushy Park. Much nicer than Richmond Park.
Teddington Woolworths, where my mother sold Pick 'n' Mix (known by the local schoolchildren as "Pick 'n' Nick") to the stars.
Outside my house in Church Road (I'm the poncey-looking one on the left)
Looking at the 'Live Totally, Shop Locally
' manifesto, it is simply a description of how we used to live. We knew the name of the person behind the till. We smelled the fruit and chatted to strangers. We even ate food grown within walking distance, as my parents had an allotment next to the cemetery:
So why have I been so critical of modern-day Teddington? Does it really deserve to be branded a 'Crap Town'? Well, yes and no.
There's nothing uniquely terrible about Teddington. In many ways it is a pleasant suburb that offers a more relaxed pace of life than some of the more 'vibrant' London suburbs. I'd far rather raise my children there than Peckham or Perivale. But in its journey from being the poor relation of Richmond and Twickenham to becoming a property hotspot, Teddington has lost something.
Perhaps the first sign of danger was when Brucie opened Tescos. One by one, the corner shops began to close. Some were converted into residential properties, while others became takeaways. The familiar, friendly faces behind the tills disappeared.
Then, in the mid-1980s, the London property market began its gradual ascent into the stratosphere and Teddington, once seen as a bit drab and slightly too far away from London, became increasingly desirable, as Richmond, Sheen and Kew became unaffordable.
People needed to be near London for work, but they didn't want to live somewhere where they had to worry about being mugged. They also wanted something that wasn't London, but wasn't the sticks either. Enter Teddington.
What happened next is what's happened in most parts of London and many towns within commuting distance. Demand exceeded supply and house prices reached a point where people who had grown up in the area couldn't afford to get on the property ladder. They moved out and were gradually replaced by those who had the money.
The sentence in the manifesto "Show Your Kids Their Future" is particularly poignant, because unless they have a considerable sum of money or can afford a mortage for properties that cost, on average, over 30 times the average salary, these children won't have a future in Teddington.
Like me, they'll have to move somewhere else. That is the 'crapness' of modern Teddington. This blog post could have easily been about another London suburb - they're nearly all unaffordable now - but I know Teddington better than anywhere else.
Teddington used to be a socially mixed town. It had its rough parts - in York Road the policemen always went in pairs - but most of the town was a blend of lower middle and working class and, most importantly of all, it felt like a real community.
Perhaps Teddington still feels like that, with its smart resturants, pleasant cafes and artisan bakeries, but I suspect that the town's population is far more transient than it used to be, if the estate agent signs are anything to go by.
Maybe I'm just a grumpy middle-aged man, resenting the inevitable process of change, but I'd like to feel that if my children grow up in an area, they can choose to stay if they wish and not be priced out of their home town.
Of course, by that same logic I shouldn't have moved to Lewes, as I've probably helped to price Lewesians out of their local property market. It's all very complicated, isn't it.
I think I'll go and have a lie down.
One final thought. Although Teddington may not always have been at the forefront of the avant garde
, my mother may have been an inspiration to at least one contemporary artist: Grayson Perry:
That's a point in Teddington's favour, surely.
P.S - On reflection, one positive thing I must mention is that my mother spent her last few years there surrounded by very caring neighbours. She probably wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for one particular neighbour. They were all families with young children who'd managed to move to Teddington just before the house prices went into meltdown. I saw an encouraging resurgence of the community spirit I remembered from the 1970s and 80s. But will any of those children be able to remain in Teddington when they grow up? That's the question.