Category Archives: People

1976 : Mr Sparrowhawk out-drinks horse in Bucks Head

From the Sunday People, 31st October, 1976, via the British Newspaper Archive.

Mr Sparrowhawk out-drinks Boozy Toby

It looked like a cert for Toby the pony when he met Ron Sparrowhawk in a challenge beer drinking contest.

Observers of form in the public bar at the Bucks Head, Mitcham, Surrey, pointed to the size of his mouth, the length of his his tongue and his great capacity for liquid.

Challenger Ron Sparrowhawk, they argued, though known to be a fast man with a pint, was taking on more than his weight. The smart money was going on Toby, a proven sprinter over anything from one to six pints.

The public bar was tense when timekeeper Mike Green, landlord at the Bucks Head, put up Toby’s pint.

It was a smooth three-lap performance – three laps of that long tongue and the pint was gone in a snappy six seconds.

Then it was the turn of Ron Sparrowhawk.

He looked confident as he took his stance opposite his pint, nicely placed at the edge of the bar.

He raised the glass with a nice easy action, placed it to his lips.

Then, as the crowd fell silent, Ron downed the pint in an amazing three seconds.


The contest was over. The dark horse had won.

What the punters didn’t know is that Ron Sparrowhawk, of Bond Road, Mitcham, is an expert on the drinking capacity of animals.

“I’ve always been a drinking man,” he said later, “so naturally I’ve been curious about what other animals can sink.

“I wanted to put my theories to the test with Toby, hence the challenge.

“I just open my mouth and pour. It’s like tipping it down a drain.

“Toby has a long tongue, I grant you. But I’ve got the technique. And a long longue is no match for technique.

“Watch the drinkers in any local. How many long tongues do you see?

“Mind you, that Toby can hold more than I can. But he hasn’t got the speed.”

Ron, who owns a shellfish stall, was full of praise for his beaten rival.

“He’s a plucky contestant that Toby and I’m planning a rematch.”

Landlord Mike Green said that Toby started drinking beer six months ago.

“He has three pints in the morning and three at night.”

1959 : Monte Car hits a boulder but finishes run

From the Mitcham News and Mercury
30th January 1959

Damaged steering failed to prevent three men from completing the dangerous mountain circuit of the Monte Carlo rally.

Mr Colin Sproxton, 39-year-old owner of Home Radio, London Road, Mitcham, said on Monday : “We are very pleased with the result. We finished the course 66th in the general classification and 19th in our own class. We did better than several champions.”

Mr Sproxton – it was the third time he had entered the rally – was co-driver of a Ford Zephyr belonging to Streatham garage owner Mr Gordon

Danger spot for the enthusiasts was in the mountains. They hit a boulder which had fallen into the road.

“The road was too narrow to avoid it and too icy for us to stop. We were very lucky – it could have had us out of the rally.”


“As it was, it damaged the steering rod and steering was very difficult, but not impossible. We later had it straightened, but steering was not perfect.”

The Zephyr came through the course almost unscratched.

“Apart from lamps which were smashed by falling stones we had little trouble. We spun round once or twice, but somehow always ended up pointing in the right direction.

Conditions were pretty good, although we did experience a bit of everything including fog and ice,” said Mr Sproxton.

He returned home on Sunday. On Monday he was back behind the counter of his shop.

Dad’s Wartime Memories

Army and Wartime

Somerset Light Infantry

When called up in 1941, dad joined the Somerset Light Infantry, and trained with them. After a year, he volunteered himself, and Frank Bishop, to the Airborne, with the South Staffordshire Regiment.

Called up to the Army and Jasper Willoughby

When moving from one hut to another, dad claimed his bed by putting his gear on it. Later he came back to the hut and another soldier was stood at his bed, and had put his blankets on it. “I’ve been in the army before,” said this soldier, “and it’s not your bed, I’m claiming it.” Despite being afraid that the soldier would have a go, dad threw his blankets across the room. The soldier just walked away.

Listen to Another soldier claims his bed

“Lose that job!” was the advice. Listen to The Batman Job

An embarrassing task for dad, when his was in the guard room, was to mend the beds in the women’s barracks. Listen to Mending beds in ATS barracks

Officer that Stuttered

The first time he went Absent Without Leave (AWOL) was when he was told he would get leave after being in hospital for a jab. He didn’t get the leave so took it anyway. His punishment was to spend 14 or 21 days in the Guard House, and do chores during the day. Once a day he would run around the cap with his rifle above his head while being followed by an officer on a bicycle. The officer was Lance Corporal Rogers, who all the men called ‘Buck Rogers’. The office took a smoke break in a dispersal area, and dad would ask him about his farm. At night dad would be in the canteen dishwashing and would get stick from the Air Force corporal in charge. Dad complained to Rogers that he shouldn’t, as Army, have to take it from an Air Force man, and Rogers had the RAF man moved.

Listen to First AWOL and ‘Buck Rogers and the RAF

When he moved to another camp, he no longer had Buck Rogers to back him up. Dad was called by the Sergeant-Major there as one of three ‘undesirables’. One stint of 14 days punishment involved him making coal briquettes. Another 21 days punishment had him in one of four cells in the guard house block. Being the only inmate it was his job to clean out all the cells. A corporal would make a point of walking with his rubber heals over the freshly cleaned floor, just to make dad do it again. On one occasion this officer had a revolver, and dad asked what he was wearing it for. The corporal replied “to shoot bastards like you if you try to escape”. Dad said “ta-ta then”, and walked off, infuriating the officer, who didn’t draw his pistol.

Listen to Undesirable and the Pistol.

Another time he went AWOL, for about 10 days, he went to Waterloo station to get the train back to camp. All the trains were packed and he spoke to an MP, who said he should just shove to try to get on. Dad told the MP that he was a ‘bit late’ getting back to camp. “How late?” asked the MP. “Ten or twelve days” came dad’s reply. “Right! You’re with us!” and he was marched off to Scotland Yard, and put in the cells there. When an officer came from his regiment to escort him back to the camp, the MP asked him where his sidearm was. The officer asked dad if he was going to try to escape, to which dad said no, he was going back to camp. Before going to the train station, the officer and dad went to the pub.

Listen to Scotland Yard and Sidearms.

Dad had some fun while training with the Somersets. One occasion, on crossing a bridge at night he, and others, would shout that Martin would fall in, and he did.

Listen to Martin falls in.

More mischievously, dad and Frank would tease their fellow soldiers at grenade practise.

Listen to Throwing stones at helmets.

South Staffordshire Regiment

He joined the Airborne regiment and was number 2 to ‘Cowboy’ Foster, a 6ft 4in Bren gunner, who was the heavyweight champion of the battalion. During exercises in the streets of Bath, dad found he couldn’t get over a wall at the end of some mews. The officer in charge, a Provo-Sergeant called Bateman, ordered dad to get over the wall. He said he couldn’t, and the two started to argue, with dad swearing. Nearby at work were two bricklayers, and a labourer, who heard this commotion. They were from London and heard dad’s accent, and so they intervened, forcibly telling the Provo-Sgt to ‘Help him over the wall’. Dad was not popular with the officer after that.

Listen to ‘Help him over the Wall’

Bateman had dad on a charge and put in the cells, but dad rebelled further. Cowboy Foster meanwhile was put up as a Provo-Lance Corporal and tried to get dad, his number 2, to tow the line. But dad continued to ignore Bateman’s commands, and so he ended up in solitary confinement. A twist though was that Cowboy Foster challenged Bateman to a boxing match, the latter getting out of that by having hurt his wrist.

Listen to Solitary.

Dad said that Cowboy Foster died at Sicily, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) have a Private William Thomas Foster, aged 27, of the 2nd (Airborne) Bn. South Staffordshire Regiment, who died on 9th July 1943. His parents were William and Clara Foster, of Tipton, Staffordshire.

Dad referred to this group photo from 1942 as ‘Our Gang’

Listen to dad describing who was in the photo. This included Reg Swaby, listed on the CWGC as Private Reginald Swaby, aged 27, who died on the 10th July, 1943. Others mentioned are Carpenter, Hancock, Corporal Jones, Sergeant Billy Parks, ‘Tosher’ Brown, Fisher.

Seven Days Field Punishment mentions Frank Bishop and Eric Deardon.

Dad told about a soldier called Harvey who had the nickname “Commando” because he was always exercising using the jumping tower that the paratroopers trained on. One day Harvey took apart a gun, but couldn’t get it back together. dad ridiculed him for that, and Harvey deserted.

Listen to Commando Harvey.

Dad went on two missions, from north Africa to Sicily as part of the Allied Invasion of Italy, and Arnhem in Holland. He was a Bren gunner, and was carried in a engine-less plane, a glider, which was towed by a powered aircraft. Around 6 miles from the landing site the glider was released, and glided down.


Africa to Sicily by Waco Glider

Listen also to Difference between gliders

Eric Deardon killed in Horsa Glider to Sicily
Eric Deardon on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

More on Eric Deardon

Landing in Sicily

Dads mate Frank Bishop was sent to a river to get water, and when he returned he was annoyed at being shot at. Listen to Only getting water.

Dad’s Memories

Audio recordings of my father telling his stories of growing up in Mitcham, life in the Army during the Second World War, working, keeping pigs, pubs etc.

Click on a link to hear the story, which will open in a separate window or tab. Some recordings were made in pubs and so they have background noise, and most recordings include some mild swearing. There may also be some duplication, where stories overlap.


Dad grew up in Queens Road, Rocky. His mother Alice died while giving birth to him and his father didn’t want the baby, so her parents brought him up. Dad’s father lived in the same road, and he remarried and soon dad had two half-brothers.

Dad’s grandparents had 6 sons and 6 daughters. Two of their sons died in WW1, and their names are on the Mitcham War Memorial: Arthur James Block and Edgar Block. Dad’s mum, Alice, had married before to William Walklett who died in February 1918. His name is also on the Mitcham War Memorial. They had a daughter, Alice Eileen, who died aged 18 months in November 1918. She remarried in August 1919. Dad’s older brother was born in 1920.

Listen to Home life in Rocky

Dad recalled where the shops were. Listen to Shops in Rocky

Factories in Rocky : dad mentions Permo, Bush’s, TW Farmiloe, the Cock Chimney and Brown’s varnish.

Dad also talked about a small farm nearby in Rocky, with a piggery, slaughterhouse and pond, surrounded by a wall, which as kids they climbed over. Listen to Small farm in Rocky

Money slang

Dad’s grandfather had a shed on the allotments in Batsworth Road, and would drink a bottle of beer there rather than go to the pub. Dad would bring sandwiches to his grandfather, and sometimes get the beer from the Wheatsheaf, and would get a chocolate biscuit as a treat. Johnny Johnson had a pet monkey, and would bring it to the allotments, and give the monkey a chocolate biscuit.

Listen to The Monkey and the Biscuit

Star School

When in the infants, dad and his friend Roy wondered what teachers Miss Smith and Mr Shaddock got up to during break. Climbing on dad’s shoulders, Roy looked through the window and told what he saw.

Listen to Miss Smith and Mr Shaddock.

Rose Avenue

After the Explosion, dad moved to Rose Avenue.

Listen to Rose Avenue and strawberries

Starting Work from School

Listen to Starting work at Upholstery with Frankie

Dad’s Wartime Memories are on a separate webpage.


Dad started work after leaving school at 14, at the furniture factory of Standard Upholstery, Lewis Road. After three months he was promoted to castor boy, but then left to go to the marzipan factory in Locks Lane of John F. Renshaw & Co., Ltd. as a van boy. This included washing the vehicles at the factory as well as going in a Dennis lorry to and from the Docks, as well as other parts of London, both delivering marzipan and picking up sacks of almonds etc.

Van Boy and the Docks

He returned there after the war, and worked in various departments until becoming the almond grader, working on the top floor.

Grades of Almonds

This photo from 1960 was taken in the Loading Bay at Renshaws. Dad is in the front row on the left, Mary Oliver next to him and her brother Peter. In the back row, Sally Mount who married George Briggs, and Eileen Major. Listen to Loading Bay Photo.

Before getting married in 1947, dad asked Mr Renshaw for 10 shillings more in his wages.

Listen to Half a quid rise.

When dad worked there, Renshaws bought in the almonds still with their skins on. Removing their skins was called blanching, and dad described the process and also how he mistakenly thought he could dry his overalls in the same machine and ended up breaking the cogs. After he left, Renshaws switched to buying in almonds already blanched, which resulted in savings of time and money for the firm. Listen to dad describing the arrival of almonds and their blanching.

He left Renshaws in 1963. Mr Renshaw gave him a 25 pound service bonus, which dad disputed as he had left to go to the war.

Listen to 25 quid bonus.

Keeping Pigs

Dad, on right, with his work mates and their pigs

Dad kept pigs with his brothers initially, but after a chat in the Bath Tavern, which he went to most Sundays, he started his own pig stys with a couple of work mates from Renshaws.

This story is also told in Keeping pigs in Batsworth Road

Their first pig was killed near the Bull pub.

Dad’s uncle Sid had worked in an abbattoir before, and he helped with the slaughtering of one of their pigs.

Working on building sites

Snagging Ideal Homes

After working for Croydon Council, dad got a job with Hatfields doing spray plastering. He was promoted to foreman, and sacked the others, bringing in his mates from the council job. One of them being Trevor.

Listen to Spray Plastering and Trevor.

Window Conversions

Obsolete Glass

Around Mitcham

Blowers seafood


Dad’s father in the ARP

One of dad’s father’s neighbours was kicked out by his wife, and he slept in his shed on the allotments. Dad took him home, and went into Spicers butchers, next to the Kings Arms, on the way. Meat had just come off the ration, so dad bought a load of lamb chops at 1 1/2d. each. When he got home with him, mum was still at work, so dad cooked the chops for the pair of them. The man then fell asleep in the armchair in the front room. Mum got home and saw the man, saying to dad that there was a little old man asleep in the front room.

Listen to little old man asleep.

1937 – Dad at 15 and Tommy Woods

Jasper and Henry Willoughby

Johnny Munt and the Eel

In 1965, two years after leaving Renshaws, dad was working as a builder, and he almost won the pools. “People like us don’t win money like that” said mum.

Listen to Almost won the pools

Talking about food, dad mentioned getting milk delivered from someone in Fleming Mead, and vegetables such as blewit mushrooms picked nearby.

In 1927 a Saxon relic was sent to Mitcham Australia

From Norwood News – Saturday 18th June 1927, via the British Newspaper Archives.


The Mitcham school managers met on Monday night under the chairmanship of Ald. A. Mizen. It was reported that Miss A. D. Milne, mistress at Gorringe Park School, was visiting Australia, and the managers decided to ask her to convey a signed letter from them of cordial greetings from Mitcham, England, to Mitcham, Australia. The letter recalled that a flag was sent from Mitcham, Australia, to Mitcham, England, some years ago, and that more recently Mrs. Howard visited them in England, and conveyed fraternal greetings from Mitcham, Australia.

The chairman mentioned that Colonel Harold Bidder was sending to Mitcham, Australia, a relic from the Saxon burial grounds of Mitcham, England.

1954 : Stephen Chart becomes Mitcham Cricket Club President

Norwood News – Friday 26 February 1954

Col. Chart is president of Mitcham C C

LIEUT.-COL STEPHEN CHART, a member of Mitcham Cricket Club for 50 years, was elected club president at the annual meeting. He succeeds Mr. H. L. Gauntlett, who died last year.

Describing the cricket club as the “most important institution in Mitcham.” Col. Chart said that he had an advantage over several of his predecessors “in that I have on one or two occasions played for the club.”

During the rest of the election of officers it was mainly a case of the old bands carrying on. Reelected were E. J. Dobinson (chairman). J. H. Stainforth (secretary), S. J. Pillinger (treasurer) — for the 27th year — and B. Bullock (match secretary).

Team captains are E. J. Ide (1st XI), G. Brodie (2nd XI), T. W. instance (3rd XI) and S. L. Smith (Wednesday XI). F. Cole is team secretary.

Surprise of the elections was the appointment of the opening bowler, R. S. Culmer, as vice-captain to the first team. At the previous annual meeting Culmer had said he would not be playing regular cricket. He forecast a gradual retirement from the game, Presumably he will now appear more frequently.

Collections on the Green during the season amounted to £218 with a further £178 from the loan of deck chairs. But the rising costs of the game are still hitting the club and a campaign to recruit honorary members is being launched. Each member of the club will try to enrol two.

The Harwood Trust bat – awarded to the most improved player under 25 – went to 18-year-old Colin Morgan, the opening batsman who had an average of 62 during cricket week.

Tom Sherman, the fastest bowler of his time

Cricketer who made 82 appearances in first class matches in the 19th century.

Born in Mitcham on 1st December 1825, his father James Sherman was also a cricketer. He died 10th October 1911.

A letter dated 30th November was published in the The Sportsman of Thursday 1st December 1904:



I thought it would be of interest for you and others interested in cricket to know that Mr Tom Sherman attains his seventy-ninth birthday to-morrow. He is the oldest Surrey cricketer, and has the unique distinction of having played continuously for fifty years. His health haring quite failed him, and circumstances for this reason being anything but comfortable, I would be glad if something might be done to make his position a little more comfortable during the winter months. I feel quite sure that some of the older generation who knew him in his famous bowling days would willingly help him if they knew his position.

— Yours, etc.,
Arthur B. Wilkinson.
Lower Green,
Mitcham, November 30.

Source: The British Newspaper Archive

His obituary was reported in the Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette of Saturday 14th October 1911.


A Famous Surrey Cricketer.

The Inquest.

The death of Tom Sherman, of Mitcham, who succumbed at Croydon Hospital, Tuesday, after breaking his leg at Mitcham, leaves William Caffyn the only survivor of a great band of professional cricketers who were in their prime nearly sixty years ago.

In “Scores and Biographies,” Sherman, who was born 1827, is described the as the fastest bowler of his time, and himself recalled the fact that in one of Surrey matches against Yorkshire at Sheffield he broke stump into five pieces. For this feat an admirer gave him a case of razors.

For the greater part of his long life, says “Unknown” in the “Morning Leader,” he lived at Mitcham, one of the famous nurseries of the game, and it was on the village common nine years ago that I last saw Sherman, on the occasion of his annual benefit. It may the vanity of old age to compare the present with the past to the disadvantage of the former, but I remember the wrinkled veteran as very emphatic in expressing an opinion that the bowling in his time was a great deal faster than that of modern days. In the matter of physical power, he believed that Alfred Mynn and himself were considerably ahead of latter-day bowlers when it came to question of pace. “This right knee,” he said, ” was put out as result of a scorching ball from Mynn. and it has never been right since.”

Sherman played for Surrey during eleven or twelve seasons with Julius Caesar, Caffyn, Lockyer, Martingell, and Mortlock. Sherman never bowled against Dr. W. G. Grace, but the man for whom he had the greatest respect as a bat was Fuller Pilch. Sherman dropped out of county cricket when his county were at their best, taking scarcely any part in the great things achieved by the Surrey team under Mr. F. P. Miller, who led the side to victory against All England in 1861. Appearing at Lords in 1846, Sherman met with most success in season the of 1850 and 1851, taking 99 wickets in the course of ten matches during two years. This was before bowling analyses were taken. Described as one of the fastest round-arm bowlers, he earned fame as a contemporary of Alfred Mynn, Fuller Pilch, George Parr, William Caffyn, Felix, and Martingeil. Two months older than Caffyn, Sherman was the oldest professional cricketer living.