Oral History Interview - Joan Elliot

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Oral History Interview - Joan Elliot


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Joan Elliot b. Hackney Wick. Interviewed by Tony Thompson, 20/7/2010.


MAPPING THE CHANGE Oral History Project
DATE: 20th July 2010

JE: I'm Joan Elliot and I'm now living in Daintry Way Hackney Wick, I was born in Hackney Wick but I've only in this place two and a half years, went to school here, round the corner, the school's still there and you know the rest is history sort of thing, I'm still here.

T: OK, let's take you through some of that history then. We're going to go through your childhood memories first. Tell us about what you can remember of your childhood, your family, other aunts uncles and so on and I'll just ask you questions as you go along.

JE: Um well there were five of us and I was the youngest in my family and we lived up near the Wick Bridge, near the canal and I lived there after I was married as well, until they revamped all this area, then we had to get out but they were happy days there, it was a little terraced house with a 60ft garden, believe it or not. And it was a little street with houses just on one side and on the other side was a factory which backed onto the canal but they were lovely times really. All the children in the street played together and we spent all our summers and summer holidays on the marshes, Mabley Green, different fields that are over there, and we'd play there all day and at lunchtime our mums used to come over and bring us something to eat. My mum used to bring us egg and chips [laughs], we used to sit under a tent and eat it and then she'd come back in the afternoon with a bottle of tea and some bread and jam and we'd play till about five past. And that was our summer, we played there all day and our home came tea [phonetics] and we were just free to come and go. And because there was a feeder ditch there too which had newts in it and sticklebacks, we used to play, it was quite safe, it was only a feeder ditch and um they are the sort of things we did. And um we played street games- having a blank wall opposite, with the factory, the boys used to draw stumps on the wall and that was their cricket stumps and they'd play cricket and Easter time and holiday times mothers used to come out and we had a great big skipping rope and the mothers used to turn the rope and all the children used to jump in and we'd play like that. -- Other things I remember is that outside the house we had a street lamp and it shone into our bedroom and Christmas eve the salvation army used to come and sing their hymns and everything and they stood outside our bedroom, outside by the lamppost for the light and um my older sister always says that when they came to sing mum and dad had just popped up the road to have a Christmas half pint and she said they used to sing and wake us up and then when mum and dad came back, we'd get all our goodies out of the stocking, which we didn't have expensive toys- used to have a stocking with chocolate, apple and orange, stuff like that. Said we used to wake up and eat ours before mum and dad came back, and all funny little memories like that. Children used to tie a rope around this lamppost and swing around it or take turns, we had skates- skate up and down the road- you know. -- [plane interference] Whip and top. Have you played whip and top? Well you had a wooden top like that and you had a whip with the string and you just kept whacking it and it kept spinning and we used to paint the top- not paint it, colour it with chalks with different colours in a ring red blue...so as it spinning it sort of colours- but they were all games that cost nothing not like today [phone goes off] and they were happy, lovely times.

T: What was the neighbourhood like as a child?

JE: It was very industrial here, and it was poor. I mean some people were ok but there were some poor families but um everybody that could work, worked, because you had to. Um, went to school, I mean there was no playing truant or anything like that, we all went to school. [plane interference] Um women didn't seem to work in those days, I mean there wasn't a lot of work for women, they all had families growing up, there wasn't child minding, nurseries and all that sort of business, and most of the industry round here was where the local people worked. There was quite a lot here, there was Clarnico Sweets, have you heard of those? Yeah. There was a spice and pepper factory and when the men came out at night to go home they used to be bright orange from head to toe with all this- must have gone in their lungs, it must have done. There was a rubber factory that made hot water bottles and stuff like that-- and they, the men there, they used to come out covered in like a white paper, something they used in there. There was Carless Capel you've heard of that? Yeah. Um perforated paper company, they were one of the first sort of organisations to start making paper toilet rolls, and paper towels and stuff like that. Um there was also a rag sorters, great big bundles of rags and women used to sort it out- what a horrible job! Um, I can't really think- oh there was a big factory- Lash and Cooke's cleaners and dies of clothes, there was also a small one called Achille Serre’s [phonetics spelt?] there's a photo there. -- And my father worked in Carpenter's Road, which is now all shut off because they're doing the Olympics there but he used to walk right through there and he worked almost in Stratford, he used to have to walk, there was no bus. There was no canteens they had in them times, he used to take his dinner with him in a basin. My mum used to give him a basin with his dinner and what he called was a 'batch', that was his tea, and it was a clean piece of white linen with loose tea, leaf tea, round like that in a circle, and then in the middle was condensed milk. And they just put that in a cup and poured boiling water on it, and you had milk and sugar and tea all in that one, and then you work very hard then, he was what you called a blacksmith's handy man in a forge, and then when his day was done he had to work all the way home. So it was hard.

RG: I was wondering what sort of work would he do then as a handyman? Do you know?

JE: Well it was an iron, like girders, and stuff like that it was an iron place. And actually at the time, this actual firm they did own West Ham football.

RG: So you think was it quite a big company then?

JE: Yes, oh it was a big firm, right at the top of Waterdene Road before you get into Stratford Road. So that was his job.

T: When you were this little girl playing on the marshes, Mabley Green and playing on your street with all your friends. Were you also allowed to roam around or did you roam around other parts of Hackney Wick?

JE: Only the streets, we never went very far, we just stayed in the Wick. All little rows of terraces houses, it was like a little village really. We just knew children from other streets and you played around, you know. Although my husband came from Felstead Street- do you know, over there?'s two like a supermarket now, and he came from there, and I was born up near the canal. And the strange thing is, until we started courting we didn't know each other. Because he's five and a half years older than me, and that might be as he left Birchead school I went there, and then he was in the Navy by the time he was 18, so we didn't meet until he came out the Navy, and yet we both came from here, it's funny innit?

RG: Yeah because it's quite a small area.

JE: But it's funny when we lived over there by the canal we never used to go over that way much, where he lived, we never seemed to go that way, and then just off from where he lived you come to this, which is now the station, and there was houses all round there, and that little area, we never seemed to go there for some reason. --

RG: So what street did you live on?

JE: Plover street.

RG: And what year were you born?

JE: 1929, and he was born 1924.

T: Where did people, where were the shops?--

JE: Oh there was loads of shops! When we sat and counted up all the shops we got to 60. Would you believe? Yeah. And a lot of the shops were around this area, you know where we are now. And you know- drapers, we had about three off licenses, post office, two greengrocers, three butchers, a dairy, ironmongers shop, a corn chandlers, we had everything here...two bakers, we've got nothing here now.

RG: What's a corn chandler?

JE: Oh [laughs] well they sell, groceries, tinned groceries- tea and sugar and stuff like that but they also sell stuff that animals, like oats and hay and used to have it outside in big sacks like for rabbits, and chicke feed and they'd just come out with a big scoop and weigh you up so much. Whatever you wanted, and little bales of hay, straw if you like, for your animals.

T: I was going to ask you about people's homes because you were talking about playing out in the sun, in the fine weather months but I was wondering when it was winter, presumably you had to stay home then yeah?

JE: Well we used to play out a bit, till it got dark, I mean it was dark here what, half past four, and there was nothing really to stay out for then, I mean in the winter we used to play, I forget what it's called- it's like a chase round the streets, where you made a mark, chalk and you each had a team and you'd try and find out where they'd been or where they'd gone. I can remember in the winter I just used to be indoors and be knitting or something like that-—listening to the radio.

T: Were all the houses the same?

JE: More or less.

T: Describe them. Were they big, were they small?

JE: No, people buy them as a cottage now, that’s what they call them. Two bedrooms upstairs and then you came down a few fli—few stairs and there was the landing, there was one small room which we called an off room and then the rest were stairs and then you had your like living area, and if you was a little bit brassy you had a little front room –—and most people had a piano, I mean we did and we wasn’t you know affluent but we had a piano, and that was our sort of best room and you know you didn’t sort of go in and out there but if relatives came or friends came, especially on a Sunday, mum used to light a fire in there and that was posh, that was our Sunday.

T: Did you have lots of relatives living around you?

JE: Yeah, well my dad had all those brothers. –—and two of them lived in the turning behind us, one lived round by hackney wick station and one lived over by where they’re building the Olympics.

T: Did you all socialise, did all the parents, the adults in the family did they all socialise?

JE: Oh yeah, they used to come round at the weekend and we didn’t always like it, they used to buy beer and have it indoors you know and if you’re younger or whatever…I mean they wasn’t excessive drinkers, they didn’t have that sort of money and they’d buy beer from the off-licence- and we were all included, all the kids you know- and they’d have a little sing-song and everybody had their party piece, and you know and they’d say- ‘come on sis!’ – ‘it’s your turn now’ and she’d get up and sing a song. And when we was kid we used to laugh ‘oh singing again!’ and mum used to say ‘behave yourself!’ [laughs] and they was all like little jokes and as I say they went round in a circle, everybody sang their bit, done a little monologue or something, we had one uncle who used to sing songs backwards –—he was ever so clever at it and all. Yeah, have you heard that song, rag-time cowboy joe? It’s an old song- he used to sing it backwards, yeah.

T: What about the pub, did they all go to the pub together too?

JE: Oh yeah, well not so much to the pub, praps Christmas they’d all go and have a drink together.

T: Tell us about the pubs in Hackney Wick cos you remember them when you were a child.

JE: Oh yeah, there’s this one up the top, the Old Vic, do you know this one? No, it’s still there, it’s not a pub anymore, that was very well patronised that was, especially in the war and just further along as you’re going towards Wick Road, there’s a big one on the side, still there now, ‘The Lion’, ‘White Lion’, that is now a night club that is still operating some way or the other and there was various pubs here and off-licenses, around three off-licences I think——round by the Hackney Wick station there was about three pubs so they was all within walking distance really.

T: I was speaking to a fella down by the canal and he was saying that his mum- she used to go to the pub and he’d stay outside.

JE: That’s right. We used to.

T: Tell us about that.

JE: Well in summertime, in summer evenings, I used to have to go with my mum and dad when they went out to have a drink because all the others were off doing what they were doing. But we used to stand outside and dad would bring us out lemonade and we used to have a big biscuit like that, called an arrowroot biscuit, it, you know like a tea biscuit, a plain tea biscuit, something like that but much bigger and thicker, not very appetising…but they used to buy that and just drink and we used to push our head in the door and say ‘can I have another drink’ or whatever and they used to come out and check we was alright. But I mean there was other kids there as well. But they were pubs mostly that didn’t have a front or a garden, or anything I mean now they’ve got gardens and children are where you can see them. And you couldn’t go in, because police walked around then, and they would go in the pub open the door and have a look to see who was in there.—

T: So this Hackney Wick that you’re telling us about, where you played in the streets, waited outside pubs with an arrowroot biscuit…what did it look like then?

JE: The whole area?

T: Yeah what did it look like as a child?

JE: I just loved it, I mean when I think now, it was like a little village. It was little houses and most of them took pride in their houses, you know the curtains and doorstep all clean and er there was always a shop you could go to for your sweets, plenty of them, plenty of shops- we could go across to the marsh when we fancied or we could go in the church if we wanted to. Which we all did we nearly all went to Sunday school. There wasn’t clubs or anything like that.—nothing like that going on, um and played in the street with our mums.

T: But it wasn’t an ugly place then? With all the factories/

JE: I didn’t think so, perhaps I’m looking at it with different eyes now but I mean people that I talk to that, there’s only a few of left that have lived here, and they all say the same- it was lovely then, not like that now is it.

T: Ok I’m going to take you to another chapter now then, go straight out of that and into um do you have um memories of World War Two? Tell us what you can remember of WW2.

JE: before it started. A couple of days before it started, my brother said to my mum ‘I think you ought to get Joan away, away from here, in case it’s nasty’. Well my mum had a sister living near Walton on Thames and they’d lived a country life nearly all their married life and we used to go there quite a lot for weekends or whatever, so I was bundled off there and I was there when war was actually declared on the Sunday. I stayed there for four months and went to school there but it wasn’t a place where there were other evacuees, I just went there because it was family. So I went to school and it was a bit lonely at first because I didn’t know anybody and I used to have to walk quite a way through the village, the school was right the other end. And um where I was staying with my aunt it was a little two up and two down, a cottage if you like, they had no electric in the night we used to have lamps, and when the blitz or when something got a bit naughty it wasn’t the actual blitz- my uncle used to say ‘they’re having it bad up there in London’, and I used to be frightened for my mum and dad you know. Because there was a couple of incidents where we could see the glows in the sky from fire and that. But anyway on the Christmas I’d been there four months by then and I worried to come home for Christmas, which I did do, my brother and his girlfriend come and fetch me and I never went back anymore, so I was here all through the blitz. And we had an Anderson shelter in the garden, having a great big garden like that we had a big shelter at the bottom and we used to go in there when the blitz was on, every night it was a regular thing about seven o’clock, you could tell the time by it, and on the corner of our turning, right on the corner like that, was a lady living and she used to sell sweets and it was onky in the front room, so of course about half past six all the children used to go in there with their pennys and hapennys used to go in there and she used to have boxes of sweets, all on the piano you know on the top and there and we used to buy all those cheepy chews and refreshers, and all that kind of thing, we used to buy all that and a comic or whatever. you got back indoors before the warning went, and into the shelter all night, for that period while the blitz was on, I mean it wasn’t the whole war, It was just, I think it was September onwards for a few months, but it was frightening, nevertheless every night like that and um, you know, bombs and things dropped quite near to us, behind us and demolished places like that but we got through it somehow like that you know. I was there all the time with my mum. The others just had to get up and go to work, couldn’t just sit in the shelter, they had to keep going.

T: Did the pubs stay open?

JE: Of course [laughs] what a silly question! The Vic that is still there now, just round by the bus stop, that used to be alive, because all the servicemen used to be home and that was like a meeting place for mums and dads and girlfriends. And my next sister to me, she met her husband in there, he used to have a drink in there with his mum and dad when he was on leave and she’d go with my mum and dad and that’s how they met. And he only lived round there by the baths.—

T: And did people used to take picnics out on the marshes?

JE: Oh yeah, yeah. We used to take picnic or, and over where they’re building the Olympics was a pub there, right amongst the marshland, it was just like being in the country, it was called ‘The White Hart’, summertime, when I had my boy little, we used to go there Sunday morning have a drink but take all our lunch with us and when it closed, we used to come out and go on the field and we stayed all afternoon, he was in the fresh air, he had a bat and ball and a kite, it was just lovely.—

T: But to take you back to the war years, when you came through the blitz, do you remember a couple of years later, they had what they called the ‘doodlebug’ summer? Do you remember that in Hackney Wick? What do you remember of the doodlebug summer?

JE: By then I was at work, I was 14 and we went to work at 14 and I worked in a factory just across the road there, it was a dressmaking factory. And it was a very good firm to work for because they taught you right from the beginning, you started off just machining in straight lines, then you made a collar then you made a pair of sleeves, till in the end you made a whole dress, that took about a year, till you could complete a whole dress and then you sewed the bottom and the inside had to be as clean as the outside because it was inspected by a floor lady.—and I was working there and it sort of, it was right on the railway then, with the trains used to come by with all the servicemen in them, and we were there working and ironing, pressing our- and they were just there, we could almost touch them, they used to call out and that and then um, I was I suppose, well I was sixteen when the war ended, I was about 15 or 16 coming up when the doodlebugs started. And I remember one lunchtime, this doodlebug coming over and as the engine cut out well you just all had to get down because you didn’t know where it was going and this particular one, it went wrong, and it kept starting up and going around again, it was horrific! We all kept getting on the floor and waiting for the bang that never came, and all of a sudden it would start up again and go round again. That happened only once, that I can remember. But I mean we did know about doodlebugs.—

T: Then if you started work and you were going out a little bit more across Hackney, tell us, what did the war affect on Hackney Wick look like, the demolition and the damage, what did it look like?

JE: Well like you say I can only remember the demolition a lot of um bomb sites and children playing on the bomb sites, that was their playground you know. Um the shops were all still there and those that had been damaged anyway were all sort of repaired to the best-as were lots of houses, had windows blown out and stuff like that but they all received a bit of first aid in someway so they could carry on, um and that’s how it just carried on and after when the war was over they gradually put some back to normal and some were pulled down.

T: So were there lots of buildings lost? --

JE: I wouldn’t say lots. There were houses mostly, dotted here and there and um, near-quite near to us was a turning where my dad’s sister lived with her family. And they almost got a direct hit where they lived, and their husband was killed and she was buried in the rubble and they did get her out but she was crippled for the rest of the time, you know- so it was a bit near to home you know but um, they were dotted around different places.—

T: Let’s get to a brighter note. How did Hackney Wick celebrate the end of the war? Did you take part? Tell us?

JE: Yeah of course! Well everyone came out with street parties and pianos and those that didn’t have a piano, somebody brought one round from the next street and we had a stage which you know the men folk had rigged up, and the kids could get up and sing, and everyone was dancing, and the kids could have a tea party and it was just, well it was just relief that it was over after six years.

T: I can imagine…though I can’t imagine.

JE: Yeah…you can’t no, sometimes I sit and think, did we live through that? You know. But there was lots of funny stories, my husband, has a funny story, when they lived in Felstead street, they only had like a small yard, they didn’t have a garden like us, so those sort of houses had a brick shelter, every so often along the street and there was one right outside his house and before he went into the navy coming up to 17, he had to do a bit of fire watching, like you watched for planes coming over, a –—and to help the ARP men put them out with like an extinguisher thing, like a pump, a stirrup pump and they and to help like that. And there was a little man lived along by and he was an ARP warden and he was only about 4 foot ten, funny little man he was. And he was talking to another man there one day about the blitz and the children and this other man said to him ‘yeah I’m going to get my wife and kids away fro here’, he said ‘we’re going to Walthamstow’, I mean it’s only a bus ride innit..! We thought that was so silly. But in his mind perhaps he’d never been to Walthamstow and he thought it was in the country. Oh that’s another thing I can tell you- from Sunday school, we used to go out on a day trip in the summer and we used to go to Loughton in Essex, we used to think we was miles and miles away in the country. For some reason, I don’t know why but people used to call it ‘Lazy Loughton’, it’s lovely there. Yeah but we used to go and there was a big field, with a great big hut, we used to have lemonade and games, and that was one of our days out. And then we used to go to Southend with the Sunday school, mind you, you had to go to Sunday school or the year round, otherwise you couldn’t go on the outing, there was no coming and going.—and all that, and mums could come, of course, you wouldn’t go to Southend on your own and we used to go, the other kids and their mums, take a picnic lunch because no one went in restaurants or anything, that was too pricey, we didn’t have that kind of money. And they took their picnics and lemonades and that was another day out. Mum made sure we went to Sunday school otherwise she couldn’t come on the outing!

T: You mentioning mums, that’s a gap that I’d like to fill in if I may, we just popped into the old baths, what do you remember of the baths?

JE: The baths? Yeah well, in our little houses, we never had a bathroom, there was no room for anything like that, so when the baths opened, I think it was about 1934 when they all opened. And we could all go along and have a bath and it was lovely, and um you just went in, bought your ticket, when in like a waiting area and waited till one was available, and the attendant would put the water in and make it just right as he though. And youd go in and start your bath, if it was too hot or too cold, you’d just call out for ‘more hot in number so and so’ or more cold in number so and so. And then at the side there was a laundry, I mean that was still there when I was married and I used to go to that and it was a boon really because we were still living in Plover street so we still, I mean people didn’t have washing machines, not when I got married in ’52, I mean the odd person might have done but we never and we used to go there and do our weekly wash. And they had great big like rotary irons, like that, two. And you just fed your sheets into it and they came out the other end all pressed, all your pillow cases. And, you know, I think it was two and sixpence when I used to go, and you had all your weekly wash done, towels and while you was washing out coloured bits at the sink, the men, the attendants, they operated the big boiling machines with the sheets and everything and while you was waiting for that to be done, you was at the sink doing your woollies or whatever.

T: I’m a bit conscious of your time—

JE: That’s alright go on.

T: Well I wanted to take you to working life because, but before I did that, we lived in Yorkshire, as I say, we were in Sheffield and you know you were talking about Laundry, well I was asking you um, when you were child here, what Hackney Wick was like and it was this magical place then but when you were working and also I was wondering when you were married, because in Sheffield what a lot of women told us about, just after or before the war, was all of the factories chimneys making their laundry filthy in no time at all.

JE: Oh yeah yeah, we used to get plenty of that because it was so industrial. People with a garden hung washing out but you used to get specks on them and all that type of thing, the soot from the chimneys. So of course that was a boon when the baths came along I mean everybody used to go, you used to have to book a place or a time and people had their regular spot, and also it was like a meeting place as well, you know, you met other women and had a chat and whatever.—

T: Thinking about working in Hackney Wick, it was also a bit of a dirty place to live?

JE: Yeah I mean look at the industry here. Like I’m saying, the spice and pepoer and petrol, rag sorters, they’re all sort of mucky old factories, the only thing good there was Clarnico sweets. I think, everybody in there family had someone working there, I mean my mum used to work there when she was single, whoever’s house she went to , they had a jar of sweets, because they was allowed to- Friday I think it was- buy a bag of sweets cheap, so everyone had Clarnico sweets. Yeah my mum worked there until she was married.

RG: Do you know what she did in the factory?

JE: Yeah they had all different rooms there, like the chocolate room or the peppermint room, where they made all these toffees, all separate rooms and she made what are they called ‘creams’, I don’t know if they sell ‘em now. They were big sweets like that with a hard coating but when you bit into them, they was all like a soft cream, all different colours, they were nice sweets their sweets, their toffees and everything, it was a good factory. I think when they sold out, they sold to trebor. But I don’t—the factory’s stil there now, it’s over there by the Olympic, stands out because it’s like a green colour. I don’t know what goes on there now.

T: Um I was reading something about er, how some of the men who worked in some of the factories, they were a little bit affected with their health.
JE: There was tuberculosis, yeah TB, there was quite a few round this area had TB. Um and that was mainly all the chesty problems wasn’t it, so whether some of them factories affected them, or whether they were working with asbestos or something because they didn’t know did they, that they were working with that.

T: I read also that er you always knew the men who worked in the rubber place because they walked funny- did you notice that?

JE: No I didn’t know that.

T: So you were going to say, why would you recognise when people worked in the rubber factory.

JE: Well I just said when they used to come out of a night covered in white powder. I’ve got a friend, whose granddad worked there, I’m going to ask her that ‘did your granddad walk funny?’.

T: They said that um, they walked with a funny kind of tiptoe fashion and they thought it was something--

JE: Something they were using in there?

T: And the smells and the sounds.

JE: Oh the smells used to be terrible, some of the smells. I mean um when they were building the Olympic Park now, that road there um some of the factories up there were dreadful, there was a chemical place, I don’t know what sort of chemicals, there was like a fishmeal place, I think that was something to do with soap—am I right?

T: I don’t know—I can imagine it must have been.

JE: I think it did. That’s where my dad used to work there, And then right at the top there was big offices that belonged to Yardley’s Lavender. I don’t think they did the product there, it was just the offices and that, and the place is still there because on the wall it’s got a huge mural of— a lady with the lavender in a basket and two children and it’s still there and I think it’s listed now because it looks like it’s been re-done. You can’t miss it as you go along Stratford high road, it’s there on the side, I believe it’s a listed thing. They did like the admin bit of Yardley’s. But there was some smelly places down there.

T: And noisy as well.

JE: Oh yeah yeah. That is why, I don’t know if you know much about the Olympics but they’re having to wash all the soil, did you know?—all the soil that they’ve dug up, I mean this mound is vast over there, they’re having to wash it all, because it’s so contaminated by the factories that were there. It’s been lead, arsenic, paint, all over the years, as the years have gone on and on, and they’ve just built on top of it, built on top of it. Even now, when they’re washing it, you can smell it here, it’s like a bleach smell. Only three weeks ago, my husband and myself we went on a trip, on a tour around the Olympic site, they do, that, it’s free but you have to book it.—And the man was telling us about how they’re washing the soil, he said it’s so contaminated, we’ve got four like huge great big washing machines and it’s all being washed. So that’s what was over there.

T: It just goes to show you what an amazing mixture of different contradictions childhood is. Because you say it’s magical but this agical place you were living in, it was surrounded by places that smelt---

JE: I know, I know but we just lived with it, and we didn’t look at that bit too much, that was down that end, we just went to the marsh, where it was a bit fresher I suppose.

T: Now I’m going to take you to another piece of change if I may, which is to do with housing after WW2. Because um, there was some bomb damage but the really big changes happened when they started putting down some of the houses in—

JE: Yeah well that was in the ‘60s, that was when this area was all re-built. All the terraced houses were done away with and they built seven tower blocks here and some bungalows. And then after some years they pulled all the tower blocks down, and it’s as it is now, like they built this block, I think, in about, this block is about 40 years old now I think.

T: But I’ve jumped you ahead then. Is it that life carried on in Hackney Wick pretty much after the war the way it had?

JE: No, because as I say- people lived and worked here and they sort of married the girl round the corner or the fella next door and all that type of thing, but once the war came men and women went in the forces, they spread out, they went up north, they went abroad and they married a different type of people or different areas and so people got used to travelling then.—Before that they never used to- they’d only used to go as far as Mare street, a lot of people and you used to buy whatever you wanted around here, it was all here- you know even a tailors and a shoe shop, you could buy all- so if you didn’t know any different that’s what you did. But I mean once the war came and people branched out and they saw other things, it was all completely changed, people would come home from the war on leave and bring a bride from up north or down south, it was change but we still liked it as it was, because we had all the park- Victoria Park and that was nicer, we had a swimming Lido, they used to have music and dancing in the Banstand, but gradually that all got done away with- they closed the swimming area and- it’s stil a nice park but it’s not like it was.

T: Did people celebrate Empire day?

JE: Yeah

T: Was it a big thing?

JE: Yeah because for us at school we used to go and sing at Hackney Town Hall, all the children used to be in our red white and blue or something red white and blue, I mean all the children- even if it was only a ribbon in your hair. And yeah we all used to be on the stage and sing songs, I suppose people came and listened- I can’t remember that bit. Somebody must have come and watch and listen. But yeah we used to sing and celebrate Empire day.

T: You know you were saying that er, the local girls married local boys, am I allowed to ask you how you met your Jo? Will you tell us that story.—

JE: [laughs] Yeah, well, um he as I say he’s that bit older than me and he used to go with various lads that all lived here and they’d go out, some dog racing, he wasn’t a racing man, some would go racing Saturday night and stuff like that and then when that was over they’d come back here and have a drink, and they used to shut at half past ten then, or I think you had to be out at 11, there was no midnight…all this, they go out at half past eleven now don’t they, when we was all coming home. Um yeah and they used to all stand outside when the pub was shut, still stand outside all talking and laughing.—This particular night I used to go dancing in `Hackney town hall, this particular night I left my friends and I was walking home because you could then- you weren’t afraid to walk about, and he called me because I’d sort of seen him and that across the road, and said ‘um would I like to go with him because he’d got two tickets for a show’, so I said ‘no I don’t think so’, he said ‘oh go on, we’ll have a nice evening’, he went on and on, I said ‘alright then’, I said, ‘you come and knock for me, I’m not going to meet you anywhere or anything’. Anyway he came and knocked for me that evening and I introduced him to my mum and dad and they thought he was lovely, they loved him! My mum used to say ‘he’s sensible, he’s good for you, he’s sensible’- a safe pair of hands. [laughs] And as we walked up the road he said ‘well I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t got any tickets for a show, I just wanted you to come out with me’, so we went to the pictures and it went on from there. – so we was courting just over two years and then we got married.

T: Did you get married locally?

JE: Over the church yeah, across the road there because um we all went there as children, Sunday school, and we was all christened there and we got married there, y son was christened there so it was like a…and we nearly all in our family, I don’t know about other families but in our family when they pass on, we still go in there for a service.

T: And where did you live when you were married?

JE: Well we lived in Plover Street because Jo came and moved in with us because you couldn’t get a place- there was no getting a flat or a house because they just wasn’t available so most married couples got a couple of rooms with somebody, so as I was the only one at home, then we had a couple of rooms with my mum and dad and my son was born while we lived there until we came- we got forced out when they pulled it down, we had to go in the tower block, which we tried hard to resist, and they emptied rows and rows of streets and they was filling the tower blocks up with them. Our turning was the last turning to be pulled down, and by the time we left the house, there was nothing like that left, so we had to go in the tower block, we was in there for 11 years.—And then um, they built some maisonettes opposite the school and I wrote off, I was quite rude what I wrote, but I got one…Jo said you won’t get one now you’ve said that, I told them I hadn’t committed a crime but I was imprisoned in a tower block, and he said you won’t get one now but I did. So we was in Berkshire Road for 29 years before we come here. And we only came here because he was getting doddery and that and not very good with his memory, and we knew we had to leave because it was a lovely maisonette but there was no left. We went in it new but they never put a lift in it, it was only 29 years old, so there was a ground floor maisonette and a first floor and we was on the first floor, so to eliminate all those stairs and everything we came here.

T: I was going to ask you, you’ve given a clue but if I may, I’ll take you back, you, um what was it like living in those tower blocks?

JE: Well it was a lovely flat, the only thing is they had water come in. and they all did, there was some fault in the design and we had water right in the middle of the wall like that. We had trouble with the windows. Apparently, they’re supposed to have been a French built um, builders and they were French design or something and they weren’t suitable for here, there was a lot of people who had problems with them, whether that’s why they finally pulled them down I don’t know. They couldn’t have got their money back on them, now isn’t that [indistinguishable]

T: And what happened to the character of Hackney Wick that you’d known when the terraced houses came down and the tower blocks went up?

JE: Yeah they weren’t the same. Because you’re getting people come in from other areas, I mean I’m friendly with a couple that came from Kentish town, nice enough people, I’m not saying anything, but they came from everywhere and they didn’t know Hackney Wick as it was.

T: But what had Hackney Wick become, did, was there still as much street life or had it changed?

JE: No it started to change and you didn’t let people play like we had done, I mean my boy used to play out but I used to watch you know, he didn’t roam about like I done. Because that’s changing times.

T: Did the marshes change at the same time that the housing changed?

JE: Yeah they did a bit because they started to get travellers on there, Irish travellers and also these new age travellers, started to sort of live over there and when the council fell foul they sort of put big boulders across the fields to stop them getting on there. It wasn’t the same anymore.

T: But were you pleased then when the tower blocks came down?

JE: Well we were really yeah, glad to see the back of them, and we witnessed them all coming down.

T: Oh tell us about that go on.

JE: Um well how can I say [aeroplane noise] you just got to know one was coming down, they’d empty it all out, you know and then everyone kept your distance you couldn’t get near or anything like that, then the last one that came down, was the one that we’d lived in and er for me, it was just across the way there and we had grandchildren by then and we were living in the maisonette, so from the bedroom window we had a good view. And I remember with the little one sitting him on the window sill and we was all round the window waiting for it to come down, and they used to put the charges in and a sound like a—it used to go on for a couple of days getting it all ready- sound like a klaxon thing and then it just used to just drop. The first one they pulled down was up near the bridge on the canal there, that was the first one, and something went wrong with it I came down so far and then it tipped on the side and then it stopped. And of course Hackney Wick being Hackney Wick, they was all calling ‘leaning tower of Pisa’, yeah, that was the first one, they learnt after that, you know. Till they were all gradually down. Then they built Wick Village- have you been to Wick Village at all?

T: Barely.

JE: No, it’s a long by the canal, it’s over near where I lived. Wick Village, built that, and then over next to the school they built Lee Bank Square, that’s a council estate. And then these various other buildings at the back here and this was built about 40 years ago, because there was a tower block here in this area.

T: That’s a tremendous amount of change then that you’ve experienced.

JE: Oh yeah, we’ve seen it, I don’t always feel like it’s for the best, because I still remember it as it was.

T: I wonder how that must have been, when you were seeing all those terraced houses come down. How was that?

JE: Yeah. Well it, you, don’t know, can’t remember now, you felt it’s just. The first street that they pulled down, it was just at the side there, and they were little houses that as you opened the street door you was in the room, you never had a hall way or a passage way, you were just in the sitting room, you know. They were first ones, I suppose they were classed as slums.

T: Because you know I was going to ask you about, I still will if I may, about social life because you talked about it before when you were a child, and the picnics and you had to go to Sunday school to go and…but the social life of Hackney Wick will have changed over the years.

JE: Oh yeah I mean over the years all the pubs have gone, and that area around Hackney Wick station, tell you there was about three pubs there, they went almost right away, whereas people would walk round and have a drink on the Saturday night, or whatever, there was always a piano playing, and they were family pubs, you know my husband’s family being they came from around there, we used to go there Saturday night, meet his sisters and brothers.—because he come from a step-family and there was eight of them, but we all used to meet up and everyone was a [micker born] and you used to have a nice evening with your own and gradually they all closed and um, that’s it you have to find something else to do.

T: Because when we go down towards the canal we pass Napier arms, do you remember that?

JE: That’s right yeah because my husband’s family used that pub and there used to be…

T: How’d do you pronounce it?

JE: Napier? N-A-P-I-E-R.

T: But it is Napier not Narpier?

JE: No Napier, we used to call it the Lord Napier, I think that’s what it had on top, Lord Napier or perhaps people call it the Napier Arms, it’s full of graffiti now isn’t it, I wonder what they’re going to do with it now. Whether they’re going to tart it up for the Olympics.

T: But you remember that from –

JE: Yeah we used to go in their Saturday nights, there was a pianist. And sing or whatever, tap dance, there used to be two men in there that could tap dance, they used to bring their own tap board and unroll it and do a tap dance. Another man used to have corks out the bottle and he used to a tapping tune like with the corks on the table, other people used to play the spoons- and they’d clack em together and go all up and down their body with them, it was that sort of music, it was entertainment, it was lovely.

RG: It’s interesting the way that pubs sound like they’ve changed a lot.

JE: Oh yeah they’re not pubs now they’re mostly night clubs and wine bars in’t they, very few pubs.

T: But you know the other thing we’ve talked about, a connection to your Jo, is the rowing club.

JE: Oh yeah he did row, his picture there, one […], he rowed for the mission when he came out of the navy, yeah, and um he used to take part in the rowing events you know, he did the river races up at barns and stuff like that, so we were courting and that was another bit of social life for us. Because Saturdays we used to go, he used to go and I used to watch and I used to meet other girls there, you know. And if they won and got a cup, they used to all be down the pub and fill it up, everyone would drink out of it and it used to all go on from there, perhaps go to the fish shop, you didn’t go to restaurants you didn’t do that then but yeah that gave us a bit of social life.

T: When you were a child did you know people from the rowing club?

JE: No I didn’t, I knew where it was because it’s in Hackney Wick, I mean do you know where it is? I mean my boys started going a little bit, he took his boys there but they didn’t last at it, but um we’re still sort of interested in what happens to it and we did hear that they’re going to pull it down now that the Olympics are here but apparently it’s been saved, and they’re going to build a bridge right next to it. We’ve seen a picture of that.

T: Thinking about then the canal and you living in Plover Street right on it, you must have seen quite a lot of changes then with the way the canal was used as well.

JE: Oh yeah well when we was children it all used to come up by barges, planks of wood, well anything used to be carried up the river and then it could dock at some of those factories there and unload their stuff. – It was well used I mean sometimes it would be a big like shire horse pulling it and sometimes it was just a man using like a what do you call it a tiller? But it was going on all the time up and down.

RG: It sounds almost like it was used like a road—

JE: Yeah- sort of, yeah, and cos they’re also, everything came to a stop because everything was being brought in by haulage and you know big lorries and that. They did say they were going to start using it again for the Olympics bringing stuff up, whether they are or not I don’t know. But oh yeah it was well used. I mean I get a picture of that when I talk about it, it’s nostalgic I suppose, but I get a picture of a hot summer’s day, and that barge coming up and the horse and the man behind it with a rope on his shoulder and it was so…

T: Were you allowed to pat the horse?

JE: No, no, we wouldn’t have got that near but he walked on the tow path, well I suppose we just got used to looking at it and we didn’t…the thing is what I find funny, my grandchildren, well they’re grown up now, but when they were small we used to have them all the time because we’d just retired, we used to take them there and when anything came a long it was mostly young boats, there was no work being done, you’d see a long boat every now and then, people sitting on top […], I used to say ‘come on kids there’s a boat coming along if you want to go and look’, they used to run down, there was like a railing there, you couldn’t get onto the canal and the kids watching telly like they do, my granddaughter used to call out ‘Hello Rosie! Hello Jim!’, because that was a little serial going on. Yeah that’s how she remembers it, I used to say ‘do you remember Rosie and Jim’, ‘oh nan fancy me calling out!’, that’s how she remembered it…yeah.

T: You mentioning barges and horses, that was another thing that we were talking about as we came down, you’ve seen an awful lot of changes in the different kinds of transport then there’s been here. Tell us about the different kinds of transport, going back to the horses and other things.

JE: Well I mean, there wasn’t many cars when we were children and it was mostly horse and cart delivering stuff all the time and boys used to just run behind and hang on the back, and the man would be driving with his horse, he used to know they were there, and my husband said that, we used to jump on and go sometimes nearly to Stratford hanging on the back and he used to turn round and say ‘Go on!’, yeah he said many a time we used to finish up nearly to Stratford on the back all that way. Yeah there were lots of horses and carts and Saturdays there used to be a milkman come round this way, from on the side- always remember he used to have Coalford Road, it’s north near Islington somewhere, and he used to come round the houses on a Saturday and a lot of houses used to have this like sterilised milk which kept for a week, do you know what I mean by sterilised milk? It was like in a bottle with a stopper, you put the stopper in and pull two wires down to clamp in. And it used to come in a crate and you’d see him deliver to the houses, a crate, that was their week’s milk and the um baker used to come round with a horse and cart, ‘Price’s bread’.

T: When the cars started coming then did they change Hakcney Wick?

JE: Well, if they did then it was all over wasn’t it, it was everywhere then, you didn’t parctiularly notice it in Hackney Wick.

T: Was Hackney Wick on a trolley bus route then?

JE: No Mare Street.

T: So just ordinary bus?

JE: Yes just ordinary buses yeah, not as many as we’ve got now.

T: Well you know what I’m thinking, with all the barges bringing all the goods to the factories and taking it away, you must also have had steam engines coming through—

JE: Yeah well there was a station just up there by, as if you’re going into wick road, there was a station there and we could get a train to South End, it was a ninepence, we used to call it the Stratford Jack—

T: Stratford Jack?

JE: Yeah that’s what we called it, don’t know why but that’s where we used tyo get on it but it was ninepence to South End, what is it now? About £8 innit?

RG: It’s interesting that that amount is stuck in your head. Do you remember any other prices?

JE: No not really. The girls down at the pension club say ‘how do you remember all that?’, and I don’t know, it’s just something you remember isn’t it?

RG: Yeah.

T: Odd things do stick in your mind.

JE: Some things. My friend I was telling you about, she lives in Hastings now, she’s retired, she grew up with me here and she often says things to me and I say ‘I don’t remember that’, she says ‘yeah course you remember’ but then she won’t remember some things I say, it’s just certain things with you stick in your head.

T: With other- you know when you were going out would you walk to where you were going?

JER: Oh yeah even at school, we wouldn’t get on a bus to go anywhere, if we went to Hackney Baths swimming we all had to walk, like a tidy line with your teacher and you walked there. Oh yeah there was no getting on buses and all that, we wasn’t spoilt.

T: Then the places where you were going, were they places in Hackney Wick?

JE:—No only like magic lantern type, you know like penny, it wasn’t really cinema as such, it was just like a bit more advanced than magic lantern, they were like cowboy films and there used to be a lady sitting at the side paying the piano, and it was just full of kids, Saturday morning.

T: Where was that then?

JE: Round by the Napier, that was, it was in like a Church hall. And as you went in you could buy your sweets, it was like a penny, Saturday morning that was.

T: But then when you were sort of going out going out, you go out in Hackney Wick?

JE: Yeah pictures, Mare Street, there was a picture palace right opposite the Hackney Empire. And we used to go the Hackney Empire every Monday, Jo and I, when we was courting. When I was little my mum and that always took me to pantomime at Christmas, that was my treat to always go to pantomime, and we used to take a friend and um then we got married, we used to go there Monday night, Mum used to go u pand book us a seat ad then when we come home from work we’d get ready and go off there. Right opposite there was the Pavilion Cinema and further down Mare Street, going into Well street, there was another cinema called um, I think it was called the Espresso and they changed it to the Empress and further along there was another cinema, which is now Iceland and that was called the Regal.—so there was three cinemas there.

T: You had your pick.

JE: Yeah and then in Clapton there was about three I think, Dalston there was the Odeon, a couple of cinemas up there.

T: And this dancing you mentioned as well, were you a keen dancer?

JE: Yeah well yeah, I used to love it yeah but um mostly Saturday nights at Hackney Town Hall, and it wasn’t a disco or anything, it was a band.

T: And what kind of music were they playing?

JE: Well—

T: Was it jive was it—

JE: Oh yeah, I mean 40s and 50s music, what we danced to, yeah. But I knew a lot of tunes anyway, having older sisters that went dancing, they had a gramaphone. It wasn’t a record player, it was a gramaphone, so I knew a lot of the tunes.

T: You know thinking about that this socialising from work point of view, were there lots of work dos and outings that stayed in Hackney Wick, on the marshes, like football or--

JE: Yeah, there were, like Christmas times and that, people had like a work affair you know and my husband, his father, and him himself worked at the perforated paper company and they were quite a good firm to work for and after so many years everybody at Christmas used to get a five pound note. You didn’t hear of that did you? The old white ones with the black writing, a big one like that, yeah. Afer so many years they had to trail up to the office and get their five pound note. And when I started going with them they used to have their ‘dos’ in Lyons Corner House in Leicester Square, and we used to have a dinner and dancing and it was lovely.

T: Did different firms have football teams and stuff like that?

JE: Well they may have done, I don’t, I can’t really say about football, I wasn’t into all of that. But um my husband rowed for the Mission and played football for them too, and my brother belonged to Eton Manor. He played football for the Eton Manor.

T: I was just wondering, sort of rounding things off really um what do you make of the Olympics and the changes it’s brought to Hackney Wick.

JE: Well I’m not all that enamoured of it, let’s put it like that. I think the money could have been spent on a lot better things. Maybe it’s because I’m not a sports fan I don’t know, or I’m the wrong age I mean um, it doesn’t appeal to me all that much. But I mean well we won’t get anything out of it, not us at our lifetime, and my grandchildren- I mean people say ‘well wouldn’t they like it?’ well they live in Leyton and they’ve got different things they can go to. Gym, and all that, it’s all business swimming pools and it suits them you know. But what I am against is, I mean we’ve put up with all the rubbish here, all the buses being diverted all the smells all the dirt, yet we won’t ever get a ticket I don’t suppose. Not that I’m going to go but it would be nice if I could get one for my grandchildren. But I don’t think we’ll ever get a look in at a ticket even. They’ll go to other people won’t they or they’ll sell for a lot of money. So I’m, I can take it or leave it. I mean the reason that we went round on the tour last week is that I’ve got a nephew living in Cambridge and he was born in Hackney and he has worked in construction, health and safety and he was very keen to you know see it, so I booked for the four of us- him and his wife and me and my husband. But whe--We waited for three months and when the day came he was poorly, he couldn’t come. So me and Joe went, on our own otherwise perhaps I wouldn’t have bothered. I must say it was worth seeing, it was interesting and its vast.

T: Well now there’s a question for you, because thinking about Plover Street this side of the canal and what you used to be able to see on the other side. Surely the Olympics has changed quite a lot of what was going on on the other side, or what you remember on the other side of the canal.

JE: Oh yeah, it was just fields, there was a cricket field with a little pavilion, that’s all gone now. There was a big factory- BOC- British Gases, there was Hackney Wick stadium, dog racing, couple of cabinet making firms, a place that made ladies’ coats, there was all factories all along that Eastway that have been incorporated into the Olympics business.

T: And the Olympics has done away with all that.

JE: Well I think a lot of it was gone away. But over where they’re building we had an allotment for 11 years, where we grew all our veg, and all that but we was the first to have to get off. Yeah, they built a road through there where we had our allotment. We was the first they moved off because we wasn’t resident, we were just an allotment. But I mean we missed it for a while becase we used to enjoy going there. And my dad had an allotment there when we was kids, on the other side of the road. So there’s been lots of changes.

T: So the Olympics people getting off on a bad foot for you then.

JE: [laughs] Well I’ve had several people ask me about it I said well I can take it or leave it, it won’t be for us anyway so why are we going to be all that- might not even be here when it happens! It’s another two years yet.

T: Now then, we’ve only just met you! But you reminded me as you were talking and I was a bit having a laugh at their expense in a way, but I’ll tell you why. Somebody told me about how marshes used to flood in the winter, [sirens] did they flood when you used to play there?

JE: Yeah, yeah, well in the winter they used to flood yeah, because that um, as you go along Homerton Road, just fills either side. This one, when we was kids, it went right down in a dip, and er they used to play cricket and all that then, that used to flood because it was lower I suppose and this one but then during the blitz they used to bring the unexploded bombs over there and detonate them over there on the one that went right down. And then it was built up to road level, with all the debris and stuff from other places, until it was level with the other side. So whatever’s buried under there, goodness only knows, bodies I suppose and jewellery and whatever.

T: So you saw them exploding the bombs?

JE: Well we kept out the way, they used to take them through here with a lorry with a klaxon going so you all know to keep out the way, the whole time, and just take them over and sometimes they- well they did try to like dismantle it before they you know done anything, I think they took the bomb over that come from St Paul’s actually. Because they dropped a bomb on there that never exploded didn’t they.

T: I didn’t know that.

JE: Yeah they did drop a bomb at St Paul’s, it never went off for some reason, spiritual. And so they took that over there to dismantled it. So it er gives you a funny feeling that story I think is there someone? Yeah.

T: I had a walk around, and I read a book just around about the same time. And then me and Bec did a walk just up Ludgate Hill, and all the stories were of just everything burning.

JE: Yes, it was on the tele not long ago, it showed a film of all that.

T: The cheeky thought I had when you confirmed that the marshes flooded was what if they spend all this money building Olympic sites and—

JE: Yeah and it’s under there…yeah say no more! Well that field that they’ve built to level, street/road level, I believe that’s going to be a parking area, that’s what I;ve heard. That they’re going to asphalt it over to be a parking area, I mean you can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. [baby crying] I mean they’ll be thousands coming here won’t there. I said to Joe I think we’ll just have to, if we’re still here, get some food, and dig in and stay indoors for a fortnight.

T: You know what you can do, I’ve read…

JE: Oh let your place out? Yeah I’ve heard all about that.

T: You’ve read my mind.

JE: Yeah [laughs] Oh well I’m going to have to leave you now.

T: Well then great minds think alike because I was just going to say—

JE: Do you want a cup of tea?

T: You’re too lovely but I think we’ve impinged on you enough today—

JE: I don’t mind making a cup of tea.

T: Can I ask you this though? I was just going to say that I think this has been brilliant and I could listen to you all day, and um—

RG: Fatntastic.

T: You’ve told us so many different kinds of change, and the bottom line for me is that it’s your Hackney Wick and what would you like to say about what Hackney Wick means to you and what it’s meant to you?

JE: Well like I said to you for us when we was children it was just a happy free place that children haven’t got anymore and we just found lots to do and well we didn’t know anything different did we really, we didn’t go out spending money on expensive toys or holidays abroad [sirens] It meant a lot to us what we had.

T: Can I ask you another cheeky question- you’ve given a sense of community then, can you , if you can, give us your thoughts on how you feel community has changed in Hackney Wick?

JE: Well you don’t seem to know many people now, not like when we lived in little houses, you knew next door, either side. Now, it’s alright here, we’re all elderly, just go off of this area a little bit you don’t know people, they go to work all day and a lot of people not putting roots down anyway they’re just going to work and when they probably get money, they move off to get something better.—And I think you only get to know people when you’ve got young children, when you get older you don’t and if you’re too busy doing your own thing, well you don’t as much.

T: I think you’ve been brilliant. I’m going to be cheeky again now. I’m going to ask you about Empire Day, did you feel British?

JE: Oh yeah, course you did you loved it, singing all the songs and I mean I think we used to sing Jerusalem and all those type of songs which our grandchildren, I don’t think they even know them.

T: With times changing and new people coming in. Did that feeling of Britishness in the community did it change?

JE: I don’t think it’s the same, it can’t be can it? Because you’re not all cockneys, and know all about each other more or less but um, they’re just different people and you don’t get –I mean I know—I don’t know if they’re African people, or Rastafarian next door, and they’re so nice, and since I’ve been here, we’re right, you know, he says ‘just cal me if you want anything’ and they’re so sort of friendly, so perhaps it’s because you don’t get to know anything…


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