AROUND THE BLOCK
by Valentine Barnes
By focusing on the first 23 years of his life living at New Cross, S.E. London,
author Valentine Barnes, now in his 90th year, has managed to encompass a
wealth of social history from the period leading up to and just beyond the
Second World War.
The housing block of the title is that of Dennett’s Road and its surrounds, and Valentine Barnes remembers the families and
businesses that used to reside and ply their trades within this area in the
1920s and 30s. These include the local greengrocers owned by his grandparents,
the local cinema, newsagents, ice cream sellers, the barber, bakers and others,
all of whom made up a close community that, together with a strictly
disciplined schooling, produced a cohesive and caring neighbourhood.
Valentine remembers his first day at school and reflects on pre-war education,
he recollects trips to Southend, Ramsgate, Margate and Clacton with his
grandmother on pre-war paddle steamers, and recalls experiences in the Second
World War when, still well under age, he donned his Light Rescue uniform with
his companions to pull the dead and injured from the wreckage and carnage of
From the simple joys of collecting cigarette cards or playing on 1930s streets
that were mainly devoid of motor vehicles, through to the terror of the air
raid sirens during the Blitz and the social changes caused by World War II,
Valentine shares his experiences and understanding of those far-off days from a
perspective that can only be gained by having lived through them.
Alfred Valentine Barnes was born in 1928. Married to Joy in 1951, they have one
surviving daughter. He served as a Royal Marine at the Deal, Kent Personnel
Selection Office and later at the RM office in London at the end of WWII. After
demobilisation he worked on a number of Fleet Street newspapers, latterly
having a 12 year period as a reporter on the Daily Mirror.
In 1966 he left news gathering and qualified as an English teacher serving for
one year on the staff of a London secondary school. This was followed by his
appointment as Head of English at a Cornish secondary school for a period of
six years until 1975. He then served the same educational establishment as Head
of General and Social Studies and also occupied the role of Senior Tutor.
After retirement he researched and edited The Narrative of a Tour – in the Glorious Summer of 1842 written by James Barnes, his great-great-grandfather, and this was published in
2016. Later that same year Return Journey, a lifetime of poetry and prose, was also published.
His interests include writing prose and poetry, acrylic painting, reading,
research, social history, carpentry and model railways.