What's Your Earliest Memory Of London? Part One

By Laura Reynolds Last edited 16 months ago
What's Your Earliest Memory Of London? Part One
Indian elephant at London Zoo in 1967. Photo: Christine Matthews under a Creative Commons license

We had a bit of a nostalgic moment last week, talking about our earliest memories of London. For us, it's being on a train among the rooftops between London Bridge and Waterloo. We felt like we were in Mary Poppins.

We then asked you all on Facebook for your earliest memories, and you didn't disappoint. We loved reading through your stories so much, we decided to share them. Some places, such as queuing for Madame Tussauds and feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, were mentioned by many of you.

There were so many lovely stories, we'll be splitting them across two articles — keep your eyes peeled for part two, coming soon.

If you have any other early memories of London you'd like to share, post them in the comments below.

London Zoo

Plenty of you write about your first trip to London Zoo, with Guy the Gorilla and Chi Chi the Panda several times. Raymond Smith recalls "Riding through London Zoo on the back of an elephant in the 60s" while Mike Paterson of London Historians recalls the chimpanzee tea parties (neither of these events now happen at the zoo).

As for Rosanna Taylor: "it put me off camels for life when one ate my dainty white gloves..."

Hamleys

Birthday treat trips to Hamleys were pretty common occurrences, if these are anything to go by.

"For my fourth birthday, my parents took me to Hamleys to choose a present. We drove to Richmond from home in Hampshire and took a District line train into town. I chose a rabbit soft toy (still have her in my parents' loft...), a Weebles bus and a nurse outfit. On the way home I lost the watch from the nurse outfit by not minding the gap, and was bereft."  - Samantha Deane

"Going into Hamleys toy department store, when it stocked toys, not just branded goods, and seeing the train that circulated around the balcony on one of the upper floors (did it really?!) and being bought a tiny little teddy bear with jointed arms and legs (later named Thomas, still have him) — travelling on the tube back to Liverpool Street station, sitting on those itchy seats that tickled the backs of my legs. I think I decided then that when I was 'grown-up' I'd live in London forever!" - Samantha Heywood

Natural History Museum

Generations of children have enjoyed Dippy at the Natural History Museum. Photo: ArUK5

Many of you recalled trips to the Natural History Museum (including Londonist Editor James Drury — the fossils were his favourite). Dinosaurs were a favourite with many of you.

"Most vivid memory as a young child was seeing the Blue Whale at the National History Museum. The sheer scale was breath taking. Took my own son when he was four, was great to see it have the same effect on him. - Steve Richmond

However, we were somewhat concerned by Ian Gibson's memory:

"I came on a school trip to the Natural History Museum in the 70s. We decided to go to a strip club in Soho instead. I don't suppose that happens so much these days."

Erm... no, not that we're aware of Ian. How old were you at the time?

"I'm not sure exactly. Probably 14 or 15. I take it things are a bit different now? Just to be clear, the teachers didn't actually know any of this had happened. They weren't that incompetent."

Transport

Two west-bound trolleybuses in Romford Road, Ilford, in July 1955. Photo: Ben Brooksbank under Creative Commons license

"Paddington station around 1972. Still almost steam age with oil lamps being put on the rear of the trains and Western diesels in large numbers" - Richard Sparks

"Going in a black cab to the palladium for my birthday" - Rory Annese

"When we went to Great Ormond Street Hospital my nan would take me on the tram at Holborn for a treat — don't ask how long ago that was — but I loved it and still remember it." - Rita Sefton

"Being on one of those old buses, with a conductor selling us tickets from the machine he wore around his neck! Those were the days!" - Zoë McCabe

"Riding the tube with my brother and nan as a toddler (circa 1990), running to get on before the doors closed and thinking the "MIND THE GAP" was so loud! I used to like staring at the strangers sitting across from us and I always remember people smiling at me, pulling faces, helping my nan with the stroller and chatting to us." - Emily Wilkinson

"Arriving into Paddington station and going to visit Paddington Bear — way before he became bronze and got his own bench!" - Louise Davies

"Bromley to Charing Cross to meet my father who took us to see Sound of Music at the cinema. It was one of those trains with compartments... I puked up in the passageway." - Alison Raimes

"My dad telling us that we could walk between tube stops and us tutting, then having a lovely stroll through streets and parks... it was true, you can!" - Claire Nelson

"Mine was the first time I came to London from Norfolk on a school trip arriving at Liverpool Street and walking down the platform past all the huge shiny steam engines all parked in a row hissing and gurgling. I've loved them ever since" - Peter Hampton

"It was 1958, we lived in Sussex and my father was going for a job interview in Eton. He took me along for the day. I remember passing through London and being fascinated by the trolley buses and all the overhead wires associated with them." - Stuart Fairbairn

"I remember the trains going over Ravenscourt Park in Hammersmith and being in the park with my grandfather pushing the pram with my sister in... I remember the flyover at the Hogarth Roundabout — yes really, because later we lived near Stevenage which was full of similar bridges over main roads and I was always reminded of it." - Elizabeth Brogan

"I remember the journey in from Southampton on the M3. You knew you were near London when you went past the building with the cows on the roof. They're gone now." - Billy-Jean Janaway

Family memories

Trafalgar Square in 1980. © Copyright Helmut Zozmann and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

More personal, but thoroughly heart-warming tales:

"Going to see the Belfast and my dad was so excited because it was the sister ship of the one he served on for national service, the Glasgow, and it was identical so he could show us where he slept etc. The South Bank then was a dark and run down place in those days, the early 70s!" - Pauline Hudspith

"I absolutely ADORE London, my earliest memory is mum taking me to the Tower of London aged about seven. I loved every minute, however I was bitterly disappointed not to see anyone having their head chopped off. I can still recall my disappointment all these years later." - Lynn Sloane

"Getting the 101 bus to the docks with my nan to meet my uncle from work and seeing huge boats overlooking little Victorian terraced houses and hundreds of dockers passing through the gates wearing blue overalls and grey caps." Keila Hawksmoor

"When my nan got me my first ever cupcake in a cute cupcake shop in Covent Garden" - Deanio Cozens

"Sitting on my dad's shoulders as he bounced me down the stairs leading from the Aldwych to India Place on the way to nursery school." - Lizzy Perkins

"My parents taking me aged five to Selfridges to buy my red coat with furry collar and boots with fur and matching mittens and hat. I insisted on wearing them all. We then went to Trafalgar Square and fed the pigeons. My mother panicked the whole time that my expensive new outfit would get fouled on. It didn't." - Jacqueline Chaney

"I remember being told if I fell in the Thames I was dissolve because it was so toxic... but I saw a bird bobbing up and down and asked "but the bird isn't dissolving"... Parents, like gods, keep their silence when it suits them." - James Guppy

Share your own London memories below.

Last Updated 07 June 2016

MattFromLondonist

Mine was visiting the Croydon branch of KFC as a seven-year old. Or, rather, waiting in the car while my dad went into the Croydon branch of KFC. I think he probably returned to the car empty handed. He doesn't like chicken, and requires a knife and fork. Still, we were from the north, so the whole adventure felt very exotic. Happy days.

BJWalsh

As a 5-year old going to Haringey Arena to see Roy Rogers and crying when he galloped in on Trigger but had NO guns in his holsters

Penelope Dearsley

I remember a day trip to London with my Dad in the 1960s and being fascinated to discover that buildings such as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben were completely black in colour, I loved the Underground with its warm sooty smell and by the end of the day my new white socks worn for the occasion were a shade of grey.

Melanie Watson

My sister getting stuck in the exit turnstyle at London Zoo and our Dad driving up just in time to help get her out. Also magic times at the Natural History Museum in the school holidays.

Anne

I remember as a child seeing men in the city wearing bowler hats and carrying umbrellas. When you got home after a day in London you would wash your hair and see the dirt rinse out. As a small child when we went to London Zoo I loved watching the chimpanzees tea party and riding on the elephant and camel. As an adult it's terrible to think that was an acceptable way to treat the animals.

Lindsey Berthoud

I remember a day trip to London with my Mum. We went to see my Dad in his scary city office then Mum took me up the Monument and I freaked out - didn't like the stairs but we couldn't turn around cos the stairs are so narrow so she dragged me to the top where I cried and hugged the tower for dear life before she relented and let us go down again.

Lizzie Lewis

I have so many memories from growing up in London! We lived in New Southgate and I can remember going to playgroup and Bowes Junior School which I loved! I adored going to Broomfield Park to feed the squirrels and visiting the mynor bird in the avary. I remember going to feed the pigeons at Trafalgar Square, seeing an elephant and Killer Whale at London Zoo, shopping at Brent Cross & Wood Green, being in the St. Johns Ambulance Brigade plus many more things! It all came to an end when my dad was transferred to Norfolk when I was 8 years old, my sister and I were devastated because we loved where we lived so much. I still love London but I wouldn't want to live there now, I love Norfolk now, it's home, but I am always very proud to say I am from London originally and always love going back.

Claudia

Not my earliest memory, but a vivid one of walks around a totally silent and empty Square Mile with my dad in the late 80s. I'm kind of sad it has shops and things now, as you don't get that weird atmosphere of being the only human being amidst these massive buildings anymore in the City at the weekend.

susan worley

Dad working 6 days a week and on Sunday taking my sister and I over the west end to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square see all the buskers just spend the day walking and it did not cost an earth. Also we saw all the pageantry and state visitors. We could hear the guns go off for the remembrance ceremony we lived that close.

HHGeek

Age 3 or 4, kneeling up on my bed in GOSH after dark, looking out over the lights of the city & crying because I wanted to go home. Pretty sure that's my earliest memory full stop.