Estimated reading time:9 minutes, 12 seconds
Everyone has a story. Not a lot of people know that during World War Two Arsenal was used as an ARP centre and underneath the West Stand local residents had a safe shelter. That’s where Gladys Muchamore (nee Newman) and her family spent most nights during the war. Gladys’ family have always been big Arsenal fans, and even now that she’s 82 Gladys is still a regular at home games. Interview by Nicola Baird
Gladys, now 82, was born in 3 Hatton House at the top end of Hornsey Road, 100 yards from what would become Arsenal’s new stadium. “They built over my house – the college is there now. And the pawn broker shop run by Mr Coley, with its queues to get Dad’s suit out on Saturday and taken in on Monday, shut down years ago.”
“We moved to 21 Drayton Park which was bombed in the first week of the Blitz, September 1939. I was five years old then. We’d taken shelter in Westerns Laundry opposite (where the factories are on Drayton Park). You’d come out in the morning and never knew if your house would still be there!”
One morning it wasn’t.
Fortunately Gladys’ dad soon found a new place at 32 Lucerne Road, ‘Stuart House’, backing on to the National Children’s Home. “In those days you’d rent the whole house and then find people to sub-let, so my Mother’s sister and her family joined us. They rented the top half of the house.”
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At first the family used the shelters in Lucerne Road but when the pom pom guns went off it meant waking up all the young children – six-year-old Gladys, big sister Joyce, brother John and ‘war baby’ Maureen, born in May 1940 – to get to safety when the sirens sounded. So when Arsenal’s masseuse Danny Kripps, who lived on Highbury Hill, and whose wife was a great friend of Gladys’ mum, Maud Newman, said come to the new shelter at the Arsenal ground the family were pleased. Now they could bunk down for the night before the air raid warning sounded.
Highbury had been commandeered as an ARP centre in September 1940. Football was off, although many matches were played, including the London League, South League and War Cup, with home matches at Tottenham Hotspur’s Ground. At Highbury there was a huge barrage balloon above the stands, tethered on the turf to try and prevent the Germans dive bombing the ground which had become a busy base for ambulance drivers, first aiders and the fire brigade which needed a place to store their pumps.
Gladys’ father spent every other 24 hours on heavy rescue – during the first years of World War Two he helped dig people out from bombed buildings and make safe damaged buildings. By 1943 he was in the RAF in charge of repairing airfields.
“Danny Kripps was a nice man. He knew a family had been evacuated so he was able to give us their six bunks under the West Stand,” says Gladys showing a black and white photo of her family taken when they were using the shelter in Arsenal. Although they used the West Stand throughout the war they were also evacuated twice: once Gladys went to Kent briefly but was put in a different billet to her brother and sister. Then after the V1 bomb fell at Highbury Corner, on 27 June 1944, Gladys was evacuated to Wales for six weeks. But mostly the family stayed in Highbury, living with their Mum’s half-sister, Auntie Lou, and their cousins.
“All through the war we slept under the West Stand. We went down every night at about 5 o’clock or as soon as it got dark. We went to so many schools because they were bombed, or closed, but I remember we’d come out of Drayton Park School, and sometimes have a kickaround on the Arsenal practice ground before we went down to the shelter.”
“The shelter was down some steps by the practice pitch. It was in a basement with bays and we’d have to make our way down to the Gillespie End,” remembers Gladys who reckons that there were a couple of 100 people in the bays under the West Stand. “I think there were seven bays each with 20-30 people sleeping in triple height bunks in each bay. The bays zigzagged. You’d go this way, then that way to get to our bunks at the end. We’d go in with a pram full of blankets and pillows and wait for Mum, auntie and Nan to come down later with a jug of milk and a flask of tea.”
“When the lights went out it was quite dark. You’d have to feel you way along the bunks to get to the toilets.
“I was on the bottom bunk with my Nan against the wall and brother. Mum was on the second bunk with my two sisters. The top was for my Aunt and cousins – George, Lesley and Violet. My baby sister leant to walk by holding on to the bunks!”
“It smelt of damp concrete. The concrete took ages to dry, so if I smell it now I think ‘shelter’!”
“Mr George Allison, Arsenal’s manager was manager of the shelter and he would come through every night and ask if everybody was OK,” says Gladys. Allison, one of BBC’s first sports journalists, ran Arsenal from the time Herbert Chapman died, in 1934, until 1946. He also starred in a 1939 film set at Highbury, the Arsenal Stadium Mystery, starring as himself.
“On Sunday we had a religious service. Not a lot of people know that Arsenal bought the ground from the church and one of the terms of the sale was they were never allowed to play on Christmas Day, Good Friday or Sundays. The vicar at these services would be Mr Daintry from St John’s Church on Blackstock Road – it’s gone now. He’d been a missionary in Africa and was getting on a bit, though he had two young children.”
“When the bombs were dropping you’d have a sing song – A Long Way to Tipperary and Vera Lynn’s song We’ll Meet Again…”
Gladys has lived a long time in Islington but reckons that the biggest change is the break up of the families. “ We all used to live close and looked after each other. I remember when it was normal to have three generations, but now families are so split up. Mine are in Essex and Kent and Australia…”
But one thing hasn’t altered for Gladys – her love of the beautiful game.
“I still go to Arsenal quite often with my son Robert Muchamore who’s quite well known as a children’s author,” says Gladys modestly. Quite well known doesn’t begin to do the Crouch End-based author of the Cherub and the Henderson’s Boys series justice – as anyone with kids hooked by the Cherub books will know.
Gladys’ family have been Arsenal supporters since the 1920s so no wonder her husband, Ken, reckons that by being born where the Emirates stand was going to be built, then christened at St Barnabus church across from the Arsenal stadium, combined with her war time experiences and lifelong passion for the local team make Gladys “more Arsenal than Arsenal”.
Islington Faces interviewed Gladys Muchamore with her husband Ken Muchamore in July 2016. Below is his story – full of trams, horse-drawn milkfloats in Archway and of course Arsenal.
Ken Muchamore, 86
Ken Muchamore, Gladys’s husband, is another Londoner. He was born in Hackney, evacuated during World War Two before moving back to Tufnell Park Road in 1943. When the pair met he was working as a milkman in Islington.
“I had a lovely grey horse, Jim to pull the milk float,” he says. Ken hadn’t known anything about horses until he was evacuated to a farm outside what is now Harlow new town. Hipwells Farm, on Redricks Lane, was a very rural area on the Essex/Hertfordshire border.
“The farmer’s son was a bit older than me and waiting to go into the RAF so he said I had to look after the horse when he went,” he says. Ken clearly enjoyed his time as a milkman – despite his early engineering apprenticeship at George Hopkinson on Highbury Corner when he was 13 years old, after his school was blitzed.
“Jim the horse lived in the Co-op Dairy stables at Archway on Flowers Mews (near where the buses stop now). You can still see where the hayloft was,” adds Ken.
Ken used to go to Arsenal matches until his eyesight failed. Both Ken and Gladys really enjoyed those first post war matches. They loved the “special relationship the crowd had with the slim, smart Drum Major who played in the Metropolitan Police Band. At half time the Drum Major would throw up his mace – all the kids would hope he’d drop it! And the fans would say ‘miss it, miss it’. But he never did,” adds Ken.
Another highlight when Arsenal got their ground back in 1946 was the charity match between the Jockeys v Boxers game. “All the local people went. It was hilarious. The little jockeys would run between the boxers’ legs. And the boxers, all about 6 foot 2” would pick up the jockeys,” remembers Ken.
Both Ken and Gladys also saw the 1948 football previews before the London Olympic games.
- Highbury: the story of Arsenal in N5 by Jon Spurling (Orion, 2006) has stories about Arsenal from the 1930s onwards.
- There’s a good black and white film The Arsenal Stadium Mystery set in 1939 which really gets over the pre-war atmosphere.
- Arsenal Football Club Museum is packed with information.
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.