Angel Street by Caroline Osborne

“Where shall we go then that’s not going to take too long?” Mandy asked me. “We need to be back by 5.30 to put the chicken on.”

“I was looking at Roger Mayne’s photos of the Southam Street area the other day, you know the famous black and white ones from the ‘50s.” There was a piece about them in the Standard last week.

“Didn’t they pull all those houses down in the ‘60s?” She sounded a little bored.

“Yes but some of it might still be recognisable. Thought we were keen to explore our new area? It’s only two stops on the tube.”

“OK but let’s be quick.” Mandy was always in a hurry.

Half an hour later we left Westbourne Park Tube and turned left to walk under the Westway. Although it was Sunday the traffic roaring overhead made conversation impossible for a couple of minutes. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and consulted the maps app.

“It’s left here, Elkstone Road.” I had to raise my voice above the traffic.

Elkstone Road was a dull thoroughfare of run down 1960s low rise flats on one side and the railway line on the other. Fast food wrappers and plastic bottles blew along the street. We passed a graffitied doctors’ surgery and a tatty looking primary school. Nothing looked at all like the solid Victorian architecture in the photos from the 1950s. At the end of the road was a mini roundabout. Golbourne Road, busy with traffic, was to the left and right and Southam Street, which was much quieter, straight on with a bit of a dog leg.

“Hey look Mand, there’s still a pub on the corner of Golborne Road and Southam Street like in the old photos.” I was surprised to find myself quite excited even though the pub was really more of a wine bar with continental style canopies over the windows. At least it was still there.

We crossed the road into Southam Street and I was disappointed to find it was lined with more shabby 1960s flats with a blue and yellow painted storage warehouse next to the pub. There was nothing remotely resembling any of the grand old buildings in the photos.

As we were approaching the bend in the road where Southam Steet ends and Adair Road starts, a man pushing a bike appeared round the corner. He must have been about 60, tall and well built with a military style moustache and iron grey hair just visible under a flat cap. He was wearing an old fashioned tweed suit with a lightly stained white apron visible beneath the unbuttoned jacket. The bottom of his trousers were kept in place by bicycle clips. Attached to the right hand side of his bike was a ladder held in place by twine tied around the bike frame in two places.

The man was looking at me and I could see he was about to speak.

“Scuse me guv’. Could you give me a hand with some directions?” He had a deep voice with a London accent.

“Oh, I’m not sure, I live a mile or two away but try me.”

“I’m looking for Angel Street.”

“Don’t think I know that one”. I turned to Mandy. Have you heard of Angel Street?’

“No, I haven’t, sorry. We could take a look on the phone though.”

“Good thinking. Just a sec, we’ll check it out for you.”

I pulled out my phone again and typed Angel Steet into the maps app.

The man stood silently, a faint look of puzzlement on his face.

“Sorry, I can’t see an Angel Street around here. Only one is in the City of London, miles away. Are you sure you have the right name?”

The man frowned. “Yeah, I was given that name definitely. Never mind, thanks very much for your help guv’ and ma’am.”

With that he doffed his cap, mounted his bicycle, tuned it around and cycled off the way he had come. By the time we had walked round the corner a minute or so later he had already disappeared.

“Well, that was weird.” said Mandy.

“Yeah, I don’t think I have seen anyone dressed like that since the ‘60s. Don’t window cleaners have vans now?”

“Maybe he isn’t a window cleaner, might be a handyman.”

“In a suit? I tried not to sound too sarcastic.

“Probably just a harmless eccentric.”

“Do you think Angel Street might have existed at some point in the past?” I mused aloud.

“Guess it’s possible but why would he be looking for a street that probably disappeared years ago?”

When we got home I looked up Angel Street online but didn’t find anything. I even went to the local library on my next day off and dug into their archives. I didn’t study history for nothing. They had street maps of the area going back to the 1950s and 1960s but no sign of Angel Street so, crestfallen, I had to give up and go home.

“Blimey Paul, you’re getting a bit obsessed with this Angel Street thing.” Mandy said when I got back. “Give it a rest.”

“Just going to have a look at a few of the Roger Mayne photos online, see if I can see any street signs in any of the shots. Would love to get to the bottom of this.”

Mandy sighed and rolled her eyes.

I climbed the stairs to my study and fired up the laptop, clicking through to the website where I had found the Roger Mayne London photos before. The photos depicted the street life of the London W10 postcode around North Kensington and Notting hill in the mid 1950s. There were a lot of pictures of grubby faced, poorly shod children playing in the streets and men in suits and flat caps standing around smoking and playing cards. The Victorian terraced houses in the background, mostly three stories high were soot blackened and in a state of disrepair. The majority of the people were white but there were one or two black faces.

There was one photo of three boys, two white and one black. The white boys were side on but the black kid was looking directly at the camera. In the background half a dozen men were gathered around a lamppost playing cards. Then I spotted something that made me gasp.

“Mandy, come up here, quickly!”

“What is it? I’m busy.”

“Come on, this is really interesting.”

I heard her climbing the stairs, then she was looking over my shoulder at the laptop.

“Look at this photo.”

“What about it?” She sounded a touch irritated.

I zoomed in on the photo of the boys with the men in the background. Just visible to the right of the group of men was a lone man, a bit older than the rest, with a bicycle. He was tall and well built with a military style moustache, dressed in a tweed suit with a white apron visible under it. Attached to his bike was a ladder.

Published in Issue #26

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