As youngsters, living back in 70s and early 80s, we would spend a lot of time outside of the house. The phrase ‘coming out to play’ is one that most readers will recognise and have regularly used upon knocking on a friends door. Certainly the phobia of your children’s whereabouts in those days was not as proliferous, and the technological age, with its comfy chairs and desktop PC’s, was a long way off.
Locally, in the St Luke’s area of Queens Park, the preferred option of outside activity was the park itself. I have often made commentary on this urban oasis and its feeling of tranquillity, it’s a doorstep amenity that brings feelings of great privilege.
There was, however, another space in which I spent much of those school-holiday mornings and afternoons. A small and missable piece of ground, known locally as ‘The Patch’.
An online search reveals nothing more than a single photo of this bushy green that exists on the north side of Islingword Road between Finsbury Road and Southampton Street opposite. Beaufort Terrace runs alongside it. The fence at the northern end of the Green holds in the Southern Water reservoir, a wide pathway leading up to a gate for traffic wishing to enter. I’m guessing that most readers in the area have now identified this piece of ground-if they had not already done so by the reading of the title of the page !
I attended St Lukes school locally, and the children of the Hanover residents, often keen to use that title as the area seemed to have a greater sense of community than that on the eastern side of Queens Park Road, tended to attend school in Elm Grove. Consequently, I made a number of new friends at The Patch-even if they did attend the rival institution.
In the middle of the area of green stands a large, and very prickly bush. This was always an obstacle to full pitch football as it occupied the centre spot and kick-off could be a rather interesting experience. Single goal games would take place at the lower end of the slope or the upper side. Even then, high balls would land in the inaccessible reservoir, the lower houses in Cobden Road, or Islingword Road itself. Consequently, full matches never took place, and locals weren’t always appreciative.
The Patch gave me my first introduction to Cricket. With pretend test matches played between a friend and myself during 1981 and 1982. I was always England-and lost. Crisply struck ‘fours’ would end up in the centrepiece vegetation, or the bushes that ran up the west side, and many prickles would be removed from small hands. A sweetly middled ‘six’ once cleared the houses in Beaufort Terrace, nearly always with a tennis ball, although I do remember an irate neighbour marching from their hallway after a cricket ball crashed in to their door.
It’s wonderful how such a small patch of ground can evoke such warm memories, and The Patch is certainly an image of a care-free childhood. Visiting today I saw that it was much overgrown, and the central bush seems bigger than it once was. I would imagine the place is far less frequented nowadays.
Later I shall speak of Islingword Road Mission, a local church in the area, that many people attended over the decades. But for now I shall quietly reflect on a long on-drive that took me closer to my first century with the bat on a halcyon afternoon in the early eighties. Happy days.