But she took genuine joy in her role as a housewife. The Shipman home, from what the few outsiders who were invited in can remember, was always a spotless place. Her children were polite, well-behaved, and almost always kept at home. It was something that other people admired her for, though they also found the Shipmans somewhat odd. Hannah Cutler, a neighbor who lived in the area during Harold’s youth, recounted.
“The family were rather insular, but I knew them well because I lived opposite. I’ve known the children since they were little. They never mixed in with the other kids, they didn’t play in the street, and when they came home from school, they stayed in the house. I think Harold and Vera wanted them to be different: they didn’t want them to be like other kids on the estate; they wanted something better for them. In a way, they were investing in their children.”
Vera’s efforts to shape her son’s identity proved largely successful. While he was still a schoolboy, Harold – known as “Freddy or Fred” by his peers – developed a rather arrogant personality that would remain throughout his life. This seemingly extended even to his manner of dress; while other children wore casual clothing outside of school, Vera kept Harold prim and proper at all times, and her idea of “well dressed” meant a bowtie and waistcoat, no matter the occasion.
His youth was not entirely solitary. He was close to his siblings, especially Pauline. A few houses away on their street in the Edwards Lane estate lived a boy named Alan Goddard. Just a few months younger than Harold, Alan attended the Buford Infants School – in the United Kingdom, children attend infants school from ages four to seven and could be seen as a partial equivalent to elementary school in the United States – alongside him. Goddard would recall seeing Harold often during the short walk home during those early childhood days, and soon the boys became friends.