Home » Cultural Life » Memories of Poplar in the 40s and 50s – Coral Rutterford

Memories of Poplar in the 40s and 50s – Coral Rutterford


Coral’s Grandfather on his Poplar Council cart

Recently I was contacted by Coral Rutterford  who now  lives  in New Zealand, she very kindly sent some of her memories of her early life in Poplar and Shadwell.

Coral lived with her family in 2 rooms in her grandparents rented house in Bright St, Poplar and about 1949 they moved to a block of flats in Watney St, Shadwell, About 2 years later they moved to St. Paul’s Cray, Kent. In 1964 Coral and her husband and baby son sailed on the P & O liner “:Oriana” to Auckland, NZ, it was an immigrant sailing with 2000 passengers wanting to settle in Freemantle, Melbourne and Sydney, then onto Auckland.


Oriana 1964

My grandfather was a dustman who worked for Poplar Borough Council and he drove a horse and cart and he used to bring it home and park outside each lunchtime. The horse would then receive his bag of oats or whatever horses eat for lunch. I used to love stroking his head and his muzzle was so soft.

Grandfather had a bad accident, he had picked up some French chalk that had spilled inside the high sided cart. He slipped and broke both arms and his kneecap was twisted. He suffered with the kneecap injury the rest of his life, one operation after the other, and he never returned to work again.

I attended Alton St. Primary School, Poplar, after the war ended, previously my mother, brother and myself travelled out of London to Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Co Durham  during wartime to escape the nightly bombing raids around the dock areas of the East End, I remember vividly sleeping in the Anderson shelter in the back yard amongst the rabbit hutches and chicken runs that Granddad had to help with supplying food for the family and to sell off some at Christmas time.

It was a happy time at Alton St, at playtime the kids all played together, all very friendly, with skipping ropes, 2 tennis balls playing up against the walls and a giant ring of kids all playing and singing “The Farmer wants a wife” At assembly each morning we sung with gusto the hymn “Jerusalem”  and did those feet in ancient times walk upon fields of green….. there was no fields at all in Poplar at that time.


Paulette Goddard; the film actress, visiting to the East End to distribute food parcels to children of the Hague-street school, Bethnal Green in 1948

Mr Mills was the Principal and he introduced country dancing and we all loved that and we put on a show for our parents and all feeling very proud to do so. Just before I left the school we had a surprise visitor who was a movie actress Paulette Goddard, who was once married to Charlie Chaplin who also came from the East End, she looked so beautiful in her white rabbit hooded long coat with gold sandals.It was the only school in London that each child received a large 20 pound weight box of goodies of tinned butter, a huge bar of chocolate which was so good as we had rationing for almost everything and confectionery was almost non-existent and other food stuffs that our mothers were grateful for.
I had the honour of accepting a parcel from Paulette on behalf of my class and a child from each class also  represented their classmates.

After passing my 11 plus exam I went to George Green’s Grammar School which was in East India Dock Rd at that time and the playing fields were in Millwall where we bussed weekly to play netball and hockey.

I used to walk through Chrisp St market on the way to Grammar school and the barrow people were friendly and would say hello and I used to buy a 1d – penny speck apple or pear and eat it on the way home, often I got a nice red apple with no specks.

Walking behind a lady one day who had bought live eels from a barrow and they were wrapped in newspaper. I saw them wriggle out into the gutter and slide into a drain, I bet she wasn’t too pleased when she got home.

queens theatre

Queen’s Theatre Poplar

Each Christmas we were treated to a Pantomime at the Queen’s Theatre, in Poplar and Billy “Uke” Scott was the star at one time. Often we would go to Music Hall and I loved seeing the performers singing and dancing and got to learn all the words of the old music hall ballads. “My old man said follow the van” and “For it was Mary, Mary” and the audience would sing along too, good old memories of days long ago when the folk were getting on with their lives after the war years.


1950’s Music Hall star Billy ‘Uke’ Scott

We moved from Poplar to Shadwell and I still attended grammar school and got a bus each day to ride along Commercial Rd  to East India Dock Rd.

I enjoyed walking Cable St and onto Leman St to visit “The Tower of London” in those days we just walked into the Tower area and I used to follow the Beefeaters around and listen to their telling of historic facts and I soaked it all up.

Nearby is  Middlesex St, or Petticoat Lane as it is commonly known for the Sunday market with stall holders lining the street and full of varied goods and often not of value for money. Fast talking barrow boys were entertaining and one had to be careful that during their banter they were only putting 10 apples in the bag but somehow they had counted 12 going into it. My mother  was approached by someone/ undercover police? who had been watching this and asked Mum to count her apples and was asked to testify in court.


1 Comment

  1. Mike Scott says:

    What a lovely story from Coral. I was particularly pleased to see mention of my Father Billy “Uke” Scott. He’d have loved to know you remember him. You can see more about him here (if that’s permissible)

    Regards Mike Scott

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