This new article from our volunteer Chiara tell us another piece of our High Street community. Margaret and Sue, two local charity shop volunteers, have been living in Egham for many years and know a lot about its history and developments.
I came back to the Oxfam charity shop, after a couple of months from my first visit, to have a chat with two long term volunteers who have been living in Egham for a very long time. Margaret and Sue are two very energetic ladies who are very committed within their community and still give lots of their time to volunteering. They may not be local politicians or business owners, but the memories of people who have known Egham for so long are just as important a record of our history. Their stories are those of locals who live their town and give an opinion from the residents’ point of view.
Margaret and Sue explained to me that they were not born here but moved to Egham long time ago. Margaret arrived in 1984 and never left. Sue moved in 1963, lived in Egham on and off since then, and she told me that she has lived in the same house where she was raised since 1963, and where she then raised her children after getting married, coming back to Egham and living in the same family house, “…And this is where I still live, although I’m now moving again”, she said.
The memories they shared are mainly about the town’s landscape and its changes, “I tell you something I really do remember: our road is the road that leads up to the level crossing. And there was a man in the building next to the level crossing. He had a big wheel to open and close the gate. It was not an automatic one, he used to do it. I don’t know when this changed” said Sue; “I remember on the way to Staines, there was a level crossing in Englefield Green, there used to be a man there. At that time they were all manual”, added Margaret.
“And we have the motorway now. That motorway was not there until late 70s or early 80s. Egham was the last place to complete the M25. I just remember coming home to visit my mother and she said she could hear it now, noise changed from our house, you can hear the M25. She was very disappointed because she never had that noise before” continued Sue. After a short discussion between the two of them about the opening year of the motorway, they both agreed that Egham was much quieter and there were many independent shops all over the town….the 3 butchers, the post office, the green grocer, the sweets shop, the baby wear shop, the bakery…, there were no big supermarkets, Royal Holloway was already there but it was not that prominent, “They’ve cut a lot of trees now, so you can see it now, before it was hidden. And there were just a number of students there. Students in the 1960s used to live in the main building, and then gradually it expanded. They built more, and they are still building…” she continued, “The station layout was different. And there was also a bus coming into town, a big double-decker that used to come into town through Staines to Egham. It stopped at Egham station, then turned round to go back. Now it’s pedestrian, but at that time the bus could pass by. It was a 2 way. I also remember there were 2 cinemas on the High Street. And I remember a pub called “The Coach and Horses”. Now it’s part of the access road to the M25. My grandparents ran that pub, but they both died before I was born… That’s why I remember that pub”. They listed all the pubs they can remember that used to be here before: There was one pub was at the bottom of Egham Hill, another pub was where the Burger King is now (The Victoria), and there was another pub down Station Road, where the traffic lights now are (The Prince of Wales), “That doesn’t exist anymore. The road layout is all different. Landscape has changed so much. There is much more housing now where there was more open fields”.
When asked if Egham has improved or not they both agreed that “It’s much more cosmopolitan than it was. It is much busier” and Margaret remembered “Before, when you went in Egham, you used to always meet someone you knew”. Although they may seem very little changes, they can still change someone’s lifestyle or just some habits. As Sue tells “I live by the station and it’s hard sometimes to actually walk on the pavement. When the students get off the trains and walk down to the college it’s so busy that I stand and stop walking, because I don’t like to be pushed to the pavement. Nobody does it intentionally, but they all talk on their phones… That’s just different”. Another example of how much the Egham population has grown in the last few years is the Doctor’s Surgery, because they say “It takes much longer to have an appointment now….You have to book well in advance, unless you are very ill”.
Finally, just before leaving, I asked them if they remember an interesting anecdote that happened in Egham. Sue spoke first: “I remember something horrible happened. I was going home for lunch and I saw an aeroplane on fire. I remember watching an engine drop off…”, “But that was in Staines…” Margaret clarified, “Everyone on the plane lost their life in that accident…” she added. “It happened in the 70’s. Late 70’s. I think they have an anniversary, they do a meet up with the relatives of people who died there”.
With many Thanks to Margaret and Sue
Follow us next week for the next story from Egham High Street….
(Header photograph: aerial view of the High Street, with thanks to the late local photographer, Fred Parkin)