A FEW weeks ago Nostalgia came relatively up-to-date with some memories of St Albans in the early 1960's from Peter Ridley, courtesy of David Broom of the city museum. As well as characters in the local music scene such as Mac MacLeod and Cuddles the rock and roll street sweeper, Mr Ridley remembers the legendary Ginger Mills well.

He said: "My first encounter with Ginger came a good five years after I was aware of his being alive.

"I'd been warned to keep away from him, because he was an unsavoury character, and of course, he was fascinating for that reason.

"There I was by St Albans lake and he was walking along with his usual bevy of young women, and he suddenly turned on me and said: 'Oi you, are you French?'

"'No', I squeaked.

"And he said: "Well you look French I'm gonna throw you in the lake.'

"'Oh God ....'

"Luckily for him and me he didn't, but that was my first interface with Ginger.

"It was really comical looking back on it, but I was scared.

"Years later, he started addressing me as Ugly, which I at first took personally, but then I realised he calls everybody Ugly, because he doesn't know anybody's name.

"'Oi, Ugly,' he would say, and one day he pulled me to one side and pointed at this tree.

"If you ever go into the little walled garden by the abbey, you'll find a bay tree, and what he said was: 'You see that tree boy if you pull a leaf off that and put it in a stew it tastes really good.'

"He lived in Gentle's Yard in a big old thing like a school coach that was falling to bits and it later became a kind of political forum, because a property company acquired the yard and said to Ginger: 'Off you go then.'

"He said: 'Oh no, I'm not going anywhere I've got squatter's rights.'

"So the thing went to court by this time it was the 70's.

"It was comical, really I think they gave him 14 grand, which at the time seemed like an absolute fortune. Seven grand had to be spent on a vehicle and this is what they stipulated: it had to have an MOT and tax to 'get out of town, boy.'

"So that's what he did, and he disappeared and went off to Wales. He's always come back periodically.

"Ginger was known to absolutely everybody.

"He knows Maddy Prior and the Hurdy Gurdy Man (Mac MacLeod) very well, and of course, his belts and tattoos are legendary.

"Gentle's Yard had this fantastic view you could see for miles.

"There was also a fantastic cherry tree.

"It's all gone now just red brick as high as you can see."

Regular correspondent Brenda Gilson also remembers Ginger Mills, parading down St Peter's Street dressed in leather followed by his entourage, and sent me some details of other conspicuous St Albans characters from the 1950's and 1960's.

"There was Ma Wedge, who owned a ship's chandlers shop in Verulam Road and also had a stall on the market which was a cornucopia to kids with threepence to spend.

"There was also a large lady who stood outside Woolworths selling pencils shouting: 'Always handy, three for sixpence.'

"The Duke of Fleetville dressed in a suit, gaiters and a bowler hat, regardless of the weather.

"Mr Golding, the tailor, sitting cross-legged, at work in the window of his cottage in Albert Street.

"The two chitterling ladies who had a shop in French Row coming from the back room into the shop with metal buckets brimming over with the steaming grisly contents cooked animal intestines.

"People would actually queue up for this.

"Joe, who owned The Kabin sweet shop in London Road holding court.

"After spending threepence in The Kabin we would go to the Odeon for Saturday morning pictures where the manager, Mr Hubbard, conducted the singing before the pictures started, and there was a red-haired ice cream lady standing in the spotlight during the interval.

"Unfortunately the only character I can think of who is around now is the accordion player by W.H. Smith at the Saturday market."

Can anyone think of any that Mrs Gilson may have missed out?

June 21, 2002 12:30