Where is my hometown? Is it where I was born? Where I lived the longest? Where I went to school? Where I went to college? Where I grew up? Where I live now? How do you define it if you’ve moved around a lot?
A friend of mine, the same age as myself (late 60s) recently moved to the South Coast after living in Battersea, South London all her life. She would no doubt clearly identify Battersea as the area or suburb she feels most associated with.
My life-partner was born in Partick, Glasgow, loved Edinburgh for its history and culture, moved to London in his teens, lived in various parts of the capital, lived in Paris for a while.
My mother was born at an aunt’s house in Acton, West London, grew up in Bow, East London, moved to Edmonton, North London, then Hornsey, North London, was in service in the City of London, then in Jersey in the Channel Islands, and has also lived in Camden Town, Wood Green, Welwyn Garden City and Battersea amongst other places.
I was born in a hospital just off Oxford Street in what was then the borough of St Marylebone, now part of the City of Westminster. I lived first in West Hampstead in the borough of Hampstead, now part of the London Borough of Camden. Then I lived in the borough of Wood Green from the age of 6 to 16 and went to school there and to college in Tottenham, now both in the London Borough of Haringey. We then moved to Welwyn Garden City, a place I hated and feel little affinity for. I then lived back in Hampstead for about a month, then moved to Stoke Newington in the London Borough of Hackney, before moving to Camden Town, back in the London Borough of Camden.
I’ve lived longest in Battersea, in the London Borough of Wandsworth, just south of the River Thames, in fact I am just 10 minutes’ walk from the River.
I suppose I feel most affinity to the London Boroughs of Haringey and Camden, both in North London. Camden is where both my parents lived (in separate flats, they were separated in 1951 and later divorced) when I moved to Battersea by pure accident. I have no affiliations with Battersea or anywhere south of the River Thames in London apart from the fact I’ve lived in this area now for over half my life.
There really is only one answer to where I feel my hometown is – London. The capital city which has so many local areas, but is the only place I can identify as living for most of my life. Apart from the 6 years I lived in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, I’ve lived in London all my life.
Even in the years I lived in Welwyn Garden City, for at least 5 of those 6 years I commuted daily to London for first college and later work. It came within the London Transport area at that time (1960s) and was served by London Country buses, with identical bus stops to those in central London. It is now just outside the London Urban Area, being separated from it by just a few fields of Green Belt land.
However London is so big, people are bound to feel associated with certain parts of it rather than the metropolis as a whole. There are huge areas of London I don’t know at all – much of East, West and South London in fact. I’m most familiar with Central and North London., and the area just along the south bank of the River Thames where I live.
I find myself more interested in what happens in Camden or Hampstead, than what’s happening in other parts of Wandsworth which I rarely visit. Every week I visit Wood Green, where I grew up, to go to the cinema, go shopping and meet a friend in a pub. Even when I lived in Camden I ended up in a pub in Wood Green most Saturday evenings for rock’n’roll nights.
Hampstead Heath has always been a major attraction to me since a kid. I still go swimming there regularly in the Mixed Bathing Pond in the Summer months. I know much of the Heath like the back of my hand, and the same for much of North London.
So if I had to pick the areas of London I feel most familiar with then apart from Battersea where I now live, it would be Camden Town, Wood Green and Hampstead, including Swiss Cottage where my father had a restaurant for years. A cosmopolitan area and restaurant even in the 1940s and 1950s – my ‘Aunty Gretel’, a Jewish refugee from the Third Reich, the waiters, waitresses, chefs, and customers as my brother and I sat ordering food waiting for our dad to arrive on our access visits, watching ‘Robin Hood’ or ‘Ivanhoe’ on the black and white TV set. The orders sometimes came up wrong as the staff were nearly all foreign, so once I got chocolate mousse floating around in a Coke instead of the two separate! A posh couple left in disgust after being served glasses of hot water with teabags on a string and a piece of burnt toast when they expected silver tea service. My dad said serves them right, they should have ordered a meal, not just tea and buttered toast. Oh how we had fun watching and laughing at the goings on there, my dad never around to supervise things.
In fact the area was named after the restaurant, not the pub. The restaurant was demolished in the 1960s, but was an old farmhouse and dairy built in the style of a Swiss cottage. The pub, at that time, did not look remotely like a Swiss cottage or Swiss chalet, that has been done since they demolished the original Swiss cottage farmhouse/dairy/restaurant.
Hampstead, Swiss Cottage, Camden Town, Wood Green and Battersea. These are all areas I feel are ‘home’, as is the whole of Central London. I also regularly go swimming and sunbathing in the Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park, walking through Kensington Gardens en route and stopping off at the Diana fountain in Hyde Park.
My work places, apart from one year in Welwyn Garden City, have all been in Central London, all north of the River Thames, so I also feel an affinity for these places, especially my last job where I worked longest – 22 years in the London Borough of Islington not far from the borders with Camden and the City of London – the Mount Pleasant area. This also feels like a ‘hometown’
I’m sure many people have lessÂ complicated associations with areas they’ve lived most of their lives. But with people increasingly on the move, not just around a major city, but around the country and indeed around the world, the idea of one single ‘hometown’ is increasingly becoming a rarity.
The place with real magic for me, in my memories at least, is Bowes Park, that part of Wood Green where I spent 6 years of my childhood and still remember many of the kids I played with in the street, the local parks, the local railway station, shops, churches and school. I guess that is really my ‘hometown’.Â Myddleton Road with its old shops – Seagraves the butchers, the fishmongers opposite, the bakers, the Home & Colonial – all shops where I was sent on daily errands by my grandmother. Now all pizza shops and Turkish or Greek restaurants I’m sure. In the 1950s my brother and I were the ONLY kids in the whole area with Greek names, certainly the only ones in Bounds Green school. Now the area has a huge Greek/Turkish/Cypriot population who have made it their ‘hometown’.