The Magic of London for a Young Child


There doesn’t seem much cause for me to visit London so much these days; there was a time when I seemed to be there at least once a year for something or other: a business course, a show, or perhaps to the old Wembley Stadium where Leeds United and Leeds Rugby League teams are perennial visitors.

Taking into account those many times I did manage to visit the capital over the years the first time still shines out like a beacon. It would have been about 1946, I was about seven years old the war had recently ended and the first new models of motorcars since the 1930s were beginning to make an appearance. My dad worked for Leeds Corporation in a driving capacity and the Corporation had just acquired a new Vauxhall, I think it was the Velox model; it was all black and shiny with the Vauxhall’s chrome logo fluting along both sides of the bonnet. I can still smell the magic aroma of the new interior when the doors were opened.

One day my dad came home from work and said he had a letter, which was so important he had to drive down to London in the new Vauxhall to deliver it by hand. To my delight, he said I could take the next day off school (which actually turned out to be two days) and accompany him. We set off early morning but as there were no motorways in those days it was evening before we arrived. I recall his employers had booked him a room in Russell Square, I imagined it would be the same as Barkley Square and listened out for the nightingale.

Having established ourselves in our accommodation, we took the tube into the West End. The tube itself manifested itself as a wondrous thing to me, particularly the maps, which were so beautifully simple as to allow even I, a seven-year-old child, to navigate a way easily around the city. That night we were regaled to see the brilliantly lit, Piccadilly Circus: neon lights in themselves were still a novelty for us, having only recently emerged from the years of ‘blackout’ Piccadilly Circus appeared to be the centre of the world to me: all those people going this way and that way. I had heard the saying: ‘If you stand in Piccadilly Circus long enough everyone in the world passes by.’ And so it seemed.

We walked around Leicester Square, Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square with its columns and pigeons; mentally I was ticking off the Monopoly sites as they appeared. It was all a wonderful adventure for me. We were up and out early the next morning, Dad delivered the letter (I suppose he should have then started on the way back) but instead we spent the day sightseeing. And what sights we crammed into that day: Buckingham Palace, Whitehall, Westminster Abbey, the Thames Embankment and the Tower of London. All the places I had read about or seen on the movies (as yet there was no TV) were here in actuality. Most inspiring of all to me was the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral.

After returning home, I read everything I could find on Christopher Wren and his buildings; I learned the architectural dimensions of St Paul’s and how the three components of the dome had been constructed. I think it would be fair to say: that fleeting visit awoke in me an enquiring mind, which thankfully, I have retained.

Dad must have driven home through the night; he was due back at work and me at school; that part I cannot remember – probably because I was fast asleep, tired out from my wonderful day.

In today’s scheme of things I suppose both my parents and I would have been in trouble for having missed a couple of days schooling but on this occasion my education was surely enhanced as a result and my eyes permanently opened to the wonders of the world. Thank you Dad!


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4 Responses to “The Magic of London for a Young Child”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    A lovely reminiscence Peter. And what an exciting trip for a 7year old. I think your two days off school was most certainly far more educational than any schoolwork could have provided. It has got me thinking once again, as often these East Leeds Memories do. I have often lamented the disruption to my primary education due to the war years. I attribute my failure at age 11 to qualify for high school, to the loss of two years of good primary education to a year of evacuation in the wilds of Lincolnshire :-), and a year of waste at another village school whilst my mother worked nights, and my dad was in the army. But looking back, the experiences of living on a farm, and in a socially hostile environment had lots of long-lasting benefits. Keep up the good work with this blog, I look forward to it each month.

  2. John Holloway \(Stronsay\) Says:

    Thanks Peter – very similar to my first trip to London – by train – (both my parents were ‘Londoners’) although my visit would have been several years later than your own. I was more interested in the ‘trains’ we passed on the way down than anything else – Doncaster sheds the most productive – and than being within touching distance of the V2 engine which had ‘pulled’ us to Kings Cross. A4s A2s etc etc – I could have spent a whole week trains-spotting.! Great stuff Peter. John & Sue.

  3. Mark Wilson Says:

    Another vivid memoir from Mr. Woods. I was in “the Smoke” with my son the other week. We were in and out of restaurants and pubs (staying at the Victory Services Club at Marble Arch) and I have to say that while I enjoyed myself wearing my Teddy Boy suit, it was noisy, hot, crowded and incredibly expensive!

  4. Eric Says:

    You were very fortunate to experience those iconic tourist attractions at such a young age. I was in my 20’s before my first (fleeting) visit & it was only later during many visits that I witnessed many of the places you mention.
    We were fortunate one year to obtain tickets for Wimbledon & although I’m not particularly a tennis fan, it was nonetheless a unique experience. A few leisurely days enabled visits to places like Churchill’s War Rooms, the V&A & British Museum & a Thames ferry to the Greenwich Royal maritime Museum & Observatory. It was a strange “thrill” to cross & stand on the zero degree Longitude Meridian.
    Not sure I would want to live there these days but London is still an exciting venue, although some of the attractions are quite expensive to visit and require a considerable amount of patience.
    I guess most of us recall fond memories of London & your reminiscences Pete, evoked many such for me, so, thanks

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