Home » Human Life » Harry’s Games – An Island Childhood in the 1950s

Harry’s Games – An Island Childhood in the 1950s

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Cubitt Town Library
I was recently contacted by Harry “Nobby” Sprackling , who having recently read a post about the Cubitt Town Library sent some of his reminiscences  about his childhood growing up on the Isle of Dogs after the Second World War. Harry knew the Library and surrounding area well and recalls that  “During our very early years it was necessary to walk around the bomb craters and falling down buildings to get to our schools.” This is the world that faced many children in the East End at that time.
I know the library very well as this building was used by us kids to open  our eyes to the rest of the world.
I would like to contribute to your story by giving information about the  Library neighbours.. To the right  the building in 1945 was a small  concrete hut where an elderly gentleman with a long white beard sat on a high  stool dishing out  disinfectant from 3ft high decanters which were enclosed  in straw. We had to keep it at arms length as it was so strong. He used to sit  there all day chatting away to all and sundry. We gave him any old containers  which he would fill and then we would take home for mum to do the washing and  cleaning.
Further down the street and to the left was a brick built First Aid Station  about twice the size of the library but on one level except for a belfry which  housed the siren.  It was decommissioned in about 1946 and remained empty  for some years. About 1950-54 it was used by us very untidy kids from Glengall  Grove Secondary school as our hide-out.  The teachers got wind of what we  were doing and tried to bar us from this building.. One day we heard that the  teachers were coming for us and about six of us climbed up into the belfry,  about 30ft up, and hid in the beams.  They were shouting and screaming and  making all types of dire threats which resulting in one bright kid deciding to  get his own back.. I wont admit I was party to this but the next thing I heard  was… Christ its raining.. Then another teacher screamed it aint raining we are  inside.  Once again we were in the headmasters office with a copy of the  Beano comic  firmly held between our buttocks but alas the pain still came  when that whiplash of a cane connected to our bottom.   Sad to say we  did not go to the hut many times after that and had to settle for getting into  Hawkins & Tipson Rope works and undoing the ropes from the spindles.
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Hawkins and Tipson Rope works
At  this point we were hungry and made our way to the river to wade into the mud and  get aboard the peanut barges where we stuffed ourselves silly and then proceeded  to make our shirts into bags so we could take some home to mum.
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Happy Go Lucky – Pre WW2
Getting back to the library:  Just before and to the left was an Off  License which I believe was called Happy go Lucky. It was a sacred site as it  sold the Beano, Dandy and the most desirable of the lot The Eagle, which came  out in glossy paper.  It was a double storey building but got clobbered by  a 500lb bomb compliments of the Luftwaffe which left just the first floor  operational.
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Happy Go Lucky – After WW2
As it was made of the same material of the surrounding double  storey tenement houses it was demolished in the early 50s.. Two days after it  was gone we went on the site and found that the wreckers had left the cellar  intact. When we got into it we found about 100 threepenny bits which to us was a  fortune. Even after sharing 4 ways we were still able to  lots of sweets  and lots of comics.
Harry “Nobby”  Sprackling  can trace his family back on the Island back to the 1820s, his wife’s  maiden name was Joan Bailey.
Harry lived in a prefab at 32B Glengall Grove (The Banjo) and Joan lived in her fathers house at 125 Mellish Street. They got married at Christ Church in 1965 and then lived opposite the church in the maisonettes. At this time Harry had followed his father’s footsteps working as a stevedore in the Docks.
Nobby and Joan and their three children then moved to Hadleigh in Essex in the 1970s and then decided to move to Australia where they have lived for the last 38 years.
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