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The Rise of Baltimore Tower

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The history of the Isle of Dogs is one of change, the Island has had many reincarnations in the last few centuries. This process never stops and it has always been a part of the blog to keep an eye on new developments.

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In the last few months, one particular development is rising near the middle of the Island. The Baltimore Tower is slightly unusual because it is slightly apart from the other skyscrapers  of Canary Wharf and is already a bit of a landmark, visible from many other areas.

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Photo taken in the summer from Tower Bridge, Baltimore Tower clearly visible on the right.

The Tower had been proposed in many different forms since 2001, after the building of the lower Baltimore complex, work has been delayed for a variety of reasons.
The project was originally proposed as 6 towers but was scaled down considerably when the recession began to affect the construction trade.

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The Tower has been designed by architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, to provide a visually interesting 45 storey tower that will incorporate a series of curves and twists.

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Overlooking the Millwall Dock and near the slightly larger Pan Peninsula, the Tower is being built near the site previously occupied by London Arena.

Whether the building of the Tower marks the first of many similar developments on the Island itself is open to question.

There is considerable development happening on the Canary Wharf site including for the first time some residential.  The proposed sale of the Canary Wharf site to a Qatari investment company for £2.6bn also raises questions about the future development of that particular site.

 

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Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Six

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Buscot Park

In the final part of Lorraine’s memories, she is faced with the realities of the war with Germany. Like many other children it was decided she should be evacuated to escape the worst of the bombing. Most children were sent to a host family, however unusually Lorraine with her brothers were sent to a stately home called Buscot Park where many of her brother’s school were evacuated.  When it was decided to split up the children and put them into private homes, Lorraine’s parents bought the family back home, little realising the horrors of the Blitz were just about to be unleashed.

About this time, everything started to change. The effects of war with Germany were starting to be felt and children from all the schools in the London area were evacuated to different parts of the country. We never went away as my parents did not see the need and they did not want to be without us, so kept us at home.

The war had not affected us seriously yet. We carried our gas masks with us all the time and the windows had brown paper strips stuck on them to stop the glass from flying about in case of a blast. Blackout curtains were compulsory and everyone’s windows had to be well covered so that not a chink of light could be seen. Air raid wardens walked the streets, checking that not a glimmer was showing anywhere.

Rationing had started and families had sons coming home on leave in the uniform of the services they joined. Some looked very smart and older girls would be seen walking proudly beside them.
With the schools closed and children evacuated, there were not many children left to play with. Mum decided she would try to give us a few lessons. Some of the other children who had stayed behind like us were invited to join in. This was fine for my young brothers, but was not good for me. Mum did her best, but I was learning algebra, geometry and French, and poor Mum had no knowledge of these subjects. Gradually my desire and thirst for knowledge began to fade, and with them went my confidence.

My parents must have realised it was not good for children to live this way, so it was decided we had to be evacuated. Mum wrote to Mrs Freeborn, the headmistress of the Cubitt Town Infants School which my three brothers’ attended, asking if we could be evacuated to Buscot Park where the school had been moved to. There was no way that Mum and Dad would allow us to be split up and so she asked for all four children to be together. This meant I was with infants .I asked Mum in later years where my school had been evacuated to, but this was something she could not remember.
But now, through the internet I have found out where my school was evacuated to and it was Chippen Camden in Gloucestershire.

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Buscot Park Gardens

There were three or four teachers at Buscot Park. Mr Wood was one of them. I remember him very well, and I can see his face as clearly as though I had seen him yesterday. There was a big lake and it was part of  Buscot  Park , Lord Farringdon’s Estate. I can recall quite vividly one of the days when we were all swimming in the lake. I swam under the murky water and deliberately grabbed Mr Wood’s leg for a joke. I thought I would scare him and make him think it was some monster fish. A  monster fish in an English lake? I ask you! But don’t forget, this was a child with a lively imagination.

Mr Wood was a nice teacher and took it in good fun. Looking back now, I think it was really quite a cheeky thing to do to a teacher and I was lucky not to be told off, but the teachers were very nice to us and we liked them very much.

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Buscot Park Gatehouse

During this time I missed my parents. It was a very sad and hard time for me. My brothers slept at the gatehouse with the other boys, a large building at the entrance to the estate. The girls had their rooms at the top of the big house, with two girls to a room. The big house was Lord Farringdon’s stately home, standing in acres of land. There were beautiful laid-out gardens, a swimming pool and tennis courts. We were told there was also a small theatre with seating for seventy, but none of us ever saw inside of it, so I do not know if it really existed.

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Buscot Park Theatre

The top floor where the girls slept had been the servants’ quarters, but most of those servants had been conscripted and were busy doing war work or were in the armed forces. The stables had been converted into a dining room and the walls were painted with frescoes. We sat at long trestle tables all joined together to have our meals and I think there were about thirty-five children living there.
Just outside the stables there was a huge tree, it must have been an oak. Thick branches extended from it. Some of the children would sit on the lowest branch and sing songs while we waited for the dining room to open. Even though I missed my parents I can recall some very happy times at Buscot. I used to sit on a branch of the oak tree and sing of a morning and watch for my brothers coming from the gatehouse with the other boys. I used to check them over to see they had washed and were tidy. Nearly every time one of them had a hole in his sock. Darning socks was a never-ending chore.
One day, as I was picking primroses in the woods, a group of children came running, shouting out to me, “Come quickly, your brothers Harry and Donald are drowning.” I was frantic with worry and ran to the lake as fast as I could. There they were, my dear brothers, out in the middle of the lake in a boat that was leaking. I loved them very much and the idea of them drowning was too much for me. I thought of my poor parents, of how they would feel if they were told their sons had drowned. In my imagination they were already dead. I was in a dreadful state by the time I reached the lake. Out of breath, I stood and shouted at them as best I could. They were both laughing at me, provoking me by standing up in the boat and making it rock. It seemed an age had passed before they managed to get the boat back to the edge of the lake. Looking back now, I realise that it was not as serious as I had thought, but I suppose it gave the other children a bit of excitement and something to talk about. I was a very conscientious sister and would sit up in bed until late at night darning my brothers’ socks. Mr Wood came once to tell me that I must turn the lights out, but he let me keep them on a little longer when he saw what I was doing.

Mum and Dad were upset when they heard about me darning socks, especially because I had not told them my brothers needed new ones. Times were hard, and I did not want to worry them. I felt responsible for my brothers’ welfare, as Mum and Dad were not around to look after them. My duty as a sister was to see they were all right, and I took this very seriously. My brother, Harry, was ten then. Donald was nearly nine and Derek was six. I was thirteen. We had another scare and this one could have easily ended in real tragedy. One day, one of the little girls climbed outside the window of her bedroom on the top floor and walked out onto the parapet. She would have been about four years of age. A teacher, Mrs Alchurch, tried to coax her back in. She also tried to keep the rest of us calm while she leaned out of the window and tried to talk the child into coming back inside. She had warned us to be very quiet and not make a sound. Mrs Alchurch managed to get the girl to turn round and walk back along the parapet. The teacher then grabbed her and pulled her into the room. The parapet was very narrow and that child was lucky not to have fallen.

The girls in the bedroom next to ours used to put notes onto a Dinkie clip, which was used to curl hair, and tie them to a long piece of string and throw it out of the window along the parapet. We grabbed the clip as it landed near our window. We wrote a note, attached it to the clip and sent it back. It was all very secretive and exciting; even though there was nothing special happening to us that was worth writing about. Sometimes we would go into Farringdon to see a film, accompanied by a couple of teachers. It was so good to walk along the quiet country road all in line. Often I called at the post office to collect parcels from my parents. They contained Mum’s fairy cakes, sweets and pocket money. They were too big to carry all the way into Farringdon, so I would hide them in a roadside bush and collect them on my way back. My teacher congratulated me on my initiative, which made me feel very proud.

Water lilies on the lake and a waterfall were a joy to see. Buscot was a wonderful place for a child to live. There was a big nursery where a gardener grew the seeds he nursed into plants. These would be planted around the grounds in cultivated beds. I remember asking if I could buy one of the beautiful pansies which were growing in the nursery; they were the biggest pansies I had ever seen. I wanted to surprise Mum by presenting it to her as a gift, but when I was told it would cost two shillings and sixpence, I had to forget about it. Half a crown was too much money. Mr Buck was Lord Farringdon’s secretary. We saw him strolling around the grounds. He seemed a nice man and always said hello to us.

On special days we had bread and jam for tea. This was a real treat. I made the little blob of jam on my tea plate last and last. At jam tea we were allowed to have as much bread and margarine as we could eat. I made the most of it, leaving the table with the feeling of having had plenty of food, which was unusual during rationing. When I felt very hungry my Mum’s fairy cakes were very welcome. I divided them equally to share with my brothers, but once I ate some before they knew the parcel had arrived. I never told them about this. I was too ashamed. What a horrible sister I was to do that. To think I stole from my little brothers. Guilt enveloped me and I knew I would never do such a thing again. I realise now that hunger could have been the only reason for my behaviour. When the next parcel came I gave my share to my brothers, then I felt better.

When Mum and Dad came to visit Buscot on a Sunday, they would take us out and we would have a lovely time. It was just as it used to be. We were all together again as a family. My brothers and I needed that comfort. Lots of the parents arrived by coach. They would go to the local pub while the children waited outside for them. My parents came by themselves on a bus. Sometimes my uncle and aunt would be with them. I loved those times and remember the Anchor Inn where my parents took us for tea. It was owned by two brothers, their names were Eric and Douglas Cutts. It was a lovely country inn. Everything about it was special for me. Their homemade blackberry jam consisted mostly of whole berries. I have tried to make jam like it over the years but have never been successful. I ask myself now whether it really was that good, or was that just the way a hungry child remembers it? I can still taste and see that jam as I write and I am convinced it was special. We would go to Buscot village and Lechlade to buy sweets and post our letters. Looking back, I think we were allowed to go on our own after tea and before going to bed. I recall the evenings were always fine when we went out. It must have been summer time when we were evacuated. Once there was a dreadful commotion and the story went around that someone had put chewing gum in the service lift. The story went like this: A princess was dining with Lord Farringdon at the time. The butler had lifted a tray from the service lift which had glasses on it. Chewing gum was found stuck to the bottom of the tray. As the butler lifted the tray the gum made him need to pull hard, causing all the glasses to fall to the ground. Many were broken. The story could have been made up to stop children putting chewing gum in places where it shouldn’t be. I never found out, but I did wonder. At the time I was very concerned, thinking one of my brothers could have done it. My imagination, as usual, ran riot and I was very worried. I thought about poor Mum and Dad having to pay for the broken glasses. I knew they would be very expensive because they belonged to a lord. Oh dear!

At bedtime, we would go quietly up the stairs all together, with a teacher in charge. As we went up those stairs we saw rooms leading off the landing. They looked so beautiful and luxurious, I imagined the many guests who must have visited Buscot and been entertained in them. For a child from the East End, it was quite something to see the beautiful peacocks and peahens strutting around the estate. I loved the look of them but hated the screeching sound they made. They were like a fantasy from one of my books. The book I loved most of all had black-and-white drawings in the style I know now to be William Morris. All my books were lost when our house was bombed. That was very sad for me. I have searched hoping to find one of these books. Sadly, I had no such luck. I can still feel the book’s lovely thin paper. The pages felt like silk.

One day, my parents heard that all the children were going to be put into private homes in the nearby villages as a private girls school was going to be moved in. This upset my parents very much as they were socialists and considered this to be a slight on children from the working class area of the Isle of Dogs. I have recently learned a private girls school from Kent was moved in and there are photos of girls on bikes and playing tennis. None of these opportunities were available to us kids from the East End which says a lot.
The possibility that the four of us would be separated would not suit my parents and so they took us back home to London. We had not been home for long when the Blitz began in September 1940. It was a nightmare. There was the smell of burning everywhere. Water was pouring out from the mains, flooding the roads. Chemical factories were exploding. People walked about in a daze not knowing what to do. We listened to the constant drone of the German bombers as they blackened the skies, flying low, relentlessly dropping their heavy bombs over London. Their target was the docks. With the docks all ablaze and the sky glowing bright red it was easy for the planes to return the next night and follow the curve of the river. Inside the curve was the Isle of Dogs, all lit up, an easy target for the bombers. It was an awful feeling, knowing there were men up in the sky, intent on killing us. I imagined the faces of the pilots, their goggles, the leather uniforms they wore, and I was frightened. We all felt so tired during the day, having been woken up so many times in the night. We knew that whenever the sirens sounded, we had to get to the shelter quickly. To leave your lovely warm bed and go downstairs out into the cold night air and into the Anderson air raid shelter was no joke.

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German Bomber above the Isle Of Dogs

Dad had dug our shelter down into the ground. These shelters were sometimes referred to as ‘dug outs’. It was at the bottom of the garden, covered with earth to camouflage it. Sometimes we were down there all night before the all-clear sounded. There were nights when we were forced to make the trip to the shelter three times. Just as we had settled down to sleep in the shelter, the all-clear would sound. We would trail back upstairs to bed. Then, just as we were getting off to sleep, warm and cosy, the siren would sound again. Down we would all go, back to the shelter in the garden.
I remember my mother asking once when we were down in the shelter, “Where is Donald?” Donald, who was always a heavy sleeper, had not followed us. That was very worrying and Dad had to go back and fetch him. A bomb could have dropped and they both could have been killed. We were among the lucky ones. Dad had painted the inside of our shelter with whitewash. Being a decorator he always made everything nice for us in the house and now the shelter was our house too. He did his best to make us comfortable. The whitewash made the place much brighter. When the candles were lit, it was nice and bright. I know a lot of shelters were very dark inside and were quite frightening to be in. It is surprising that we could even speak of being cosy and comfortable. Being together was the most important thing in the world at that time and the shelter offered a sense of security. That was until a bomb dropped so near us that we felt as though we had all been thrown up into the air, spun around and then put down again, shelter and all.

There was a night when we could hear heavy footsteps walking over the top of us. Dad was not with us. Mum and I were awake and frightened in case it was a German who had managed to get out after his plane had been knocked down. We sat there terrified until the footsteps died away. The next day we saw big footprints in the earth on top of the shelter. Someone said it could have been a scrounger. These were people who went searching in houses that had been bombed, taking the belongings that were left there.

At that time Dad was doing war work over the water. This meant he was across the river, on the other side of the Thames. When the sirens sounded, the tunnel was closed and Dad and many others were unable to get home. Mum used to be worried and because I was the eldest she shared her worries with me. We made sure my brothers were never troubled by our fears. They were little and had to be protected as much as possible. She would read to us from a novel Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping. It was a sad story, but a lovely one. I looked forward to Mum reading a piece each night but my brothers soon fell asleep. I was the only one listening to Mum after a little while. She also used to knit socks for my brothers in the candlelight and some nights we would all play guessing games until we were tired and fell asleep, exhausted.

My parents didn’t wait too long to move out of the East End once they realised how determined the Germans were to destroy London, the Docks being their main target. We had all been under the illusion that the German planes would never be able to get through the barrage balloons that flew high in the sky over the city. Now we realised how wrong we had been. On one particular night, we went to see my father’s parents to ask them to move away with us. They said they couldn’t leave the rest of the family. That night on our way home the siren sounded earlier than usual. The streets were suddenly deserted. An air raid warden directed us into a public shelter under an electricity showroom in Poplar. It was already full with beds on the floor and people standing. We had no room to move. We were squashed together all night, standing in the same place. Suddenly there was an enormous crash. We could hear the sound of plaster falling. People started to rush to the exit but were turned back and told to keep calm. We waited for another loud bang, but it never came. All we could hear was a rumbling sound, which seemed to be all around us.

Early in the morning, after the all-clear had sounded, we walked to the bus stop to catch our bus home to the Island. We waited and waited. Mum began to get very cross because we were waiting such a long time and no bus had arrived. It was decided that we had better start walking. We were all tired and worn out from standing up for eight hours without sleep. As we walked through the familiar areas we realised the extent of the devastation that had taken place while we were down in the shelter. Houses were still burning; people were standing in groups, crying. Whole streets were gone. It was unbelievable. No one could imagine a bomb flattening a whole street of houses. This night was the start of the use of land mines. We walked through the devastation, passing the shells of houses that had stood tall the night before, wondering what we would find when we reached Stebondale Street. Would Gran and Uncle Bill be there? Would Aunt Con, Uncle Chris and their baby Terry be all right?

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East End War Damage

We wanted to get home and find the answers, but our legs were tired and it took ages to reach home that day. We were lucky. Our house had been bombed, but was not completely demolished and all our family were  alive, but it was still a nightmare. The smell of burning was everywhere. Water was pouring out from the mains, flooding the roads. Chemical factories were still exploding. People were walking about in a daze, not knowing what to do. We saw people with blackened faces, crying because they had lost everything. The London Fire Service was working so hard, but they were worn out, having worked all night fighting blazes in the docks. These pictures remain so vividly in my memory.
Our cat, Ginger, had managed to survive the night. He came up to us, purring and wrapping himself around our feet. I picked him up and cried, burying my head in his fur. I cried for Ginger, for myself and for everyone. The worry of the bombers returning suddenly during the daytime was very frightening. This was always in my mind when people were standing around chatting. Didn’t they realise that the planes could come again? Why were they outside in the street where they could be hit by planes swooping down to machine-gun them? What were they thinking of? I thought then that adults should show more sense. That night we slept in my Aunt Con’s shelter. It was dark and claustrophobic. I stood outside with the grownups, watching the planes flying low in great numbers. You could see them so clearly as the whole sky and docks were lit up. It was like Guy Fawkes Night, with the noise of the bombs dropping and chemical factories exploding.

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East End War Damage

A few days later Dad made the decision that we had to leave in order to be safe. My mother’s two sisters, May and Con, with their children and my maternal Grandmother came with us and the husbands left Dad to take care of us all, saying they would join us in a few days’ time. My father’s parents having refused to come with us and stayed, as many Londoners did, living through the whole of the bombing of London. They lived through the V-1 and V-2 flying bombs, sleeping every night in the nearest underground tube station till the war in Europe ended. Such bravery is written about in many books. It was a time of great fortitude and courage. A time when no one could think of tomorrow. We left with nothing. We were refugees from London. It was planned that we would all live at Buscot and we caught a train, intending to go there. It was late at night when the train stopped at Reading. We were all so tired and worn out that it was decided we should stay the night there.

My Aunt May and my parents had friends who lived there. They made up beds on the floor, gave us food and made us very welcome. I will never forget that night. It was like another world and yet we were only forty miles from London. It was quiet and peaceful, almost unbelievable. There was not a sign of a war going on. No sirens sounded and we were able to sleep right through the night until the morning. It was on that night that I made myself a promise. I would in future always appreciate my bed and my sleep. Many years have passed and I still appreciate my sleep and a comfortable bed, for I can never forget the tiredness we suffered and the torture of not being allowed to have a full night’s rest.

The next day the grownups decided that we would not go on to Buscot after all, but look for a house so that all the family could live together until each had found suitable accommodation. They found a large house. Mum had to take the top floor, as we were all older children. Every drop of water had to be brought up from three floors down. There were times when we had only coal dust to make a fire in the room. All our family had to sleep in one room and eat, cook and wash in the other. The toilet was downstairs in the garden. Dad was away working at Rochester and came home at weekends when he could.

Life was never the same again for me. My schooling had been so disrupted that when I was sent to E.P. Collier Grammar School in Reading I could not concentrate or remember anything. I did not know which was North, South, East or West. I did not know which was my right or my left, and the most ordinary simple things I had learned when in primary school had gone. All I could do was simple maths and this I did well. Children were unkind, as children will be, and again I suffered name-calling. This time it was “Evacuee”. I was nearly fourteen when I started at the Reading school. I was put into a class lower than where I was at my school in Millwall. “Oh! You are an evacuee?” This was said as if I had something wrong with me. Children would call after me too. It all became too much and I begged my mother to let me leave school. I think she must have realised that I was no longer the keen, industrious student I had been and finally she went to the school and asked if they would release me. I was supposed to stay until I was sixteen, but by then I was fifteen and they allowed me to go.

Even though I was not happy at school I was certainly not ready to go out into the wide world to work. I had been playing cowboys and Indians with my brothers and still felt like a child. I know I felt very uncomfortable in my shoes that had Cuban heels, flesh-coloured stockings instead of black wool tights and curled hair. No more white ankle socks; no more school uniform. I had to grow up suddenly. Children adapt easily so they say, and I was one who did.

Soon I was into fashion, make-up, and curling my long thick chestnut hair into the latest styles, a skill that I developed a flair for. I was now grown up, and I had no idea it had happened. I had always thought I would feel different, with the world suddenly opening up, giving me the chance to do all the things I wanted to do and be all the things I wanted to be. But it was not like that at all. So the years passed by and the war ended. Reading became the place where my parents settled for the rest of their lives. Mum lived there until 2001, when she passed away aged 95. Even at 90, she still looked good and liked to present herself well. Every morning she made-up and put on her earrings. She cooked every day for herself and was still fussy about hygiene. Dad died nine years before Mum, and she missed him an awful lot.

Many years ago we returned to Buscot Park. The gardens and lake looked unkempt. The stately home was no longer stately. Everything seemed to be so much smaller than I remembered it to be. It was all very disappointing. The wonder it once held had gone and I was sad.
However, memories stay and I can still visualise the wild primroses growing in the woods. I can hear and see the peacocks, and the bluebells are  still tall and blue. The lake is as it was and the gardens with the water lilies in the pond are still beautiful. The enormous oak tree we used to swing on while waiting to be called for breakfast is still there. So I will not be sad for what no longer exists but I will close my eyes and reawaken the many scenes that made me happy as a child.

Since my visit, I am happy to write that Buscot Park has been restored. The gardens are well kept and it belongs to the National Trust.  it is open to the public and well worth visiting.

Lorraine at nineteen was a Lucy Clayton Trained Model and modelled in many of London’s top fashion houses.  In 1949, she married a Doctor of Medicine who later became a Consultant  Psychiatrist. and had a daughter and two sons, and is now a grandmother to nine grandchildren.
In 1979 she left England and with her second husband and moved to New Zealand and opened a number of beauty salons and her own Beauty Therapy Training College.
 Lorraine also began to write her own regular page on beauty in The NZ Headway Magazine. In 1987 she and her husband retired and moved to Australia where she developed her creative skills becoming an artist, ceramicist, sculptor, poet and a published author.

Other related posts

Memories of an East End Child by  Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part One

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Two

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Three

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Four

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Five

American writer Ernie Pyle in Docklands – 1941

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Ernie Pyle

Recently I came across the book, Ernie Pyle in England and began to read his recollections of visiting London and a number of other cities in late 1940 and early 1941.

Although virtually unknown in the UK, Ernie Pyle was a Pulitzer Prize–winning American journalist known for his columns in the Scripps Howard newspaper chain. From 1935 to  1945, he was a roving correspondent  covering many of the areas of action including North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. He was killed in combat on Iejima during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

In the war,  he enjoyed a  large following in some 300 newspapers and was among the best-known American war correspondents.  Part of his popularity was his laid back and whimsical informal style  and his empathy with the people and places he visited.

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In the following two pieces you can get a taste of his style as he travels around the heavily bombed dockland areas in 1941.

THIS IS THE WAY OF WAPPING

London, January  1941

This is the way the people of London are. Last night I was standing in the dimly lighted office of the marshal of a big air-raid shelter in the East End.
A bareheaded man with a mustache, a muffler and a heavy overcoat was sitting in a chair tilted against the wall. I hadn’t noticed him until he spoke.
“Have you been around Wapping?” he asked.
Wapping is a poor, crime-heavy, conglomerate, notorious section of London. Also it has been terrifically bombed, as has all of London’s waterfront.
“No, I haven’t,” I said, “but it’s one place I’d like to see.”
“Well,” said the man, “I’m a policeman and tomorrow’s my day off. I’d like nothing better than to show you around Wapping if you would care for me to.”
Would I care for it! To get around Wapping with a policeman as a private guide— you can’t beat that if you’re out to see London. I jumped at the chance.

So Mr  Ian Rubin, London bobby, and I walked six miles around Wapping. We did back alleys and dark places, burned warehouses and wrecked churches, block after block of empty flats. We did Wapping with a finetooth comb. And so I’m in a position to say that as far as Wapping is concerned there almost isn’t any Wapping any more.
Wapping is one part of the big borough of Stepney. Today its population is a mere few hundred. The entire ward was compulsorily evacuated in that first awful week of the blitz. They put people on boats and took them down the Thames. Those who have come back are mostly men.
In normal times Wapping would be a swarming, noisy mass of humanity, a population as dense as in our Lower East Side in New York. Today I walked block after block and met only half a dozen people. There was no sound in the streets. The place was dead. It was like a graveyard.

We walked into the big inner courtyard of a square of tenement flats. Rear balconies on each floor formed the walls of a square. The windows were all out; the walls were cracked; abandoned household belongings lay where they had been thrown. In the balconies above, no faces peeped over the railings. There was no sound, no movement, no life in the whole block. It was the terrible silence of that Wapping courtyard that got me.

Policeman Rubin and I walked on. We went into the station of a demolition squad— the men who pull down dangerous walls before turning over the general job of demolition to others. These are brave men. Five of them, in workmen’s clothes, were sitting before a crackling fireplace. There was nothing for them to do today— but there might be any time. They were very friendly, but I could barely understand their Cockney speech. One of them asked me if it was possible to write a letter to San Francisco. One of his fellow workers answered for me. “Sure, you dummy,” he said. “You can write anywhere you want.” Everyone of these men had been bombed out of his flat, one of them three times. Their wives have been evacuated, but they stayed on to work— a part of London’s great civilian army.

We stood now in a vacant lot where until last September there had been a five-story block of flats. It was fully occupied when a bomb hit. On the wall of a building across the alley you can still see the handprints of a man who was blown from his flat and smashed to death against the wall. We stood amid the wreckage of a church, in which Policeman Rubin himself had toiled all night helping to reach a mother superior who had been buried in the debris. She was dead when they found her.

We went to see the Church of St. John of Wapping, well known to American tourists. Only the steeple was left, and it was being torn down for safety’s sake.
We passed a pub where in the old days pirates and smugglers used to gather from the ends of the world to sell their illicit goods. It has been boarded up since September. We passed an undamaged warehouse, where big sacks of East Indian spice were being loaded onto drays, and the smell was sweet and wonderful. ,

We came to a street sign that said, “Danger. Unexploded Bomb.” So we walked around it. Policeman Rubin showed me where a time bomb fell at the edge of a school. They couldn’t get it out, so it lay there nine days before blowing the school to smithereens. The wreckage of the school still lay there in a heap.

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I saw firemen damping down the inside of a warehouse in which a small new blaze had sprung up after months of smoldering. I saw great mounds of burned newsprint paper, and other mounds of scorched hemp. I saw half walls with great steel girders hanging, twisted by explosion and fire. But I saw whole warehouses, too; for Hitler didn’t get them all. We wandered back and forth through dead, empty streets, and looked at hundreds of ground floor apartments where rubble-covered furniture stood just as it had been left. The owners probably will never come back for it. We walked for another hour, Policeman Rubin and I, and then suddenly we came upon a small store with the wallboard front and little show-window center which are today the badge of a bombed establishment that’s still doing business. And when I saw that window it dawned on me that in a solid hour of walking this was the first open store window I had seen. Every other doorway and window in an entire hour of walking through the heart of a city district was a doorway or a window into a room that no longer held human beings or goods.

That is the way in Wapping today. There will have to be a new Wapping when this is all over.

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THE PYNTED AWL London,

January, 1941

We got on a bus, a friend and myself, to see more of London’s devastated East End, where the poor people live, London buses are double-deckers, and you can smoke on the top deck, so we sat up there. You don’t just pay a flat fare in London. The conductor comes around and sells you a ticket to wherever you want to go. But we weren’t sure just where we
wanted to go, not knowing London well.

“I think we’d like to go around the Isle of Dogs,” I told the conductor. So he told us where to change buses.

While waiting for the second bus we bought four apples (thirty cents) and ate them. This second bus took us only a short way, and we had to get off and walk two blocks, for the street had been blown up. A big group of men in workmen’s clothes stood waiting for the next bus.

“Is this where we get a bus to the Isle of Dogs?” we asked.

One little stoop-shouldered fellow with yellow teeth and a frazzled coat said, “Just where do you want to go?”

We said we didn’t know. He laughed and said, “Well, this bus will take us there.”

So we all got on, and after a while a big man who was with the little fellow moved back and said he and the little fellow were going to walk through a tunnel under the Thames and would we like to get off and go with them. We said, “Sure.”

It was a foot tunnel, not big enough for cars. These two men work on barges carrying freight up and down the Thames. They leave home one morning and don’t return until the next afternoon. They were carrying tin lunch boxes now. The big fellow had been to New York six times, before the first World War, working on ships. He told us about it as we walked through the tunnel.

At the other end we came out into what is known as Greenwich. The two men walked us past Greenwich College, which is very old. We stopped before some iron gates and peered through them at some far domes.

“Now that there,” said the little fellow, “that’s the fymous pynted awl.”

“The what?” I said.

“The pynted awl,” he said. “You know, doncha, the fymous pynted awl— the pynted ceilin’, you know.”

And then I realized he was saying “painted hall.” So we looked appreciatively.

“All American tourists knows it,” he said. “The artist he lyed on his back in a ‘ammock for twenty years pyntin’ that ceilin*, and when he got through he found a mistyke in it and he went cracked worryin’ about it.
Nobody else to this d’y has ever been ayble to find the mistyke. You tell the Americans the bombs heynt touched the pynted awl.”

We came to the little fellow’s corner, so we shook hands and said good-bye. The big fellow got on a double decked trolley with us, and do you know that this cockney, a complete stranger, insisted on paying our fare and him as poor as a church mouse! He said people had been nice to him in New York. But that was twenty-five years ago.

After a while we said good-bye to him and got on another bus. It took us down into Blackwall Tunnel, back under the Thames. Then we got out and walked down into the neighborhood of the great West India docks. They won’t let you onto the docks, but we could peep through.

It was raining now and very cold, and it was getting dark. We walked amid wreckage and rubble and great buildings that stood, wounded and empty. It was ghostlike and fearsome in the wet dusk. Poor, pitiful East End! True, Londoners say the slums should have been knocked down long ago, but this is a grievous way to go about it.

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Five

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Photo Margaret Monck 1931-40 Museum  of London

In the fifth instalment of Lorraine’s memories, she writes about the importance of her extended family. In the 1930s and 1940s on the Island it was not unusual for family relatives to live near each other and formed the nucleus of the close knit communities. Lorraine also discusses  how difficult it could be for women especially widows with a large family.

I was born on my Grandma’s fiftieth birthday and I was her first grandchild. Maybe that is why I always felt such a strong bond with her. Grandma would never put on the gaslight till it got very dark. She was left a widow with seven children when she was forty-two and had learned to live on a very tight budget. We would sit in the glow of the firelight. I would talk and she would listen. There was a black stove with a kettle always on top of it, steaming away, ready for a cup of tea for whoever called. I loved my Grandma and I really enjoyed being with her. I would sit and watch her comb her long grey hair, and when she had finished she would take the hair that was in the comb, hold it in her fingers and twist it into string. With this she would tie the end of her plait to stop it from unwinding. Then she would wind the plait round and round the back of her head and with large hairpins she would fasten it into place. While she did this, the curling tongs would be heating on the gas ring. Holding them near to her face she would test their heat and when she felt they were the right temperature she curled her short fringe. This daily ritual would be in readiness for her youngest son, my Uncle Bill, coming home from work. Most men of his age were married in those days but he was the breadwinner and needed to help Gran.

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Photo Margaret Monck 1931-40 Museum  of London

Hair done, it was time for her daily change of overalls. This was always prettily printed cotton, which crossed over and folded across her big tummy and was tied at the back. Poor Gran had bad feet and wore black plimsolls. After all these preparations had been completed, Gran was ready to sit in her chair, resting and reading the evening paper, The Star. This was her time, and she deserved every minute of it.

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 Photo Cyril Arapoff 1931-1940 Museum of London

At one end of the room was an old organ and sometimes my Aunt Con would play it and sing. She was great and she and my Mum had good singing voices. Granddad, who died before I was born, was supposed to have been a great pianist and played and sung all over London. He was a ladies’ man so I have been told, and would be out all the time, working by day on the wharves and out all night, leaving my poor Grandma at home with the children. He was a bully and a drunk like a lot of men were in those days. Mum used to say that she wished he was still alive so she could give him a piece of her mind.

Grandma had a very hard life with him by all accounts and I used to feel very sorry for her when I looked at her stooped figure and the plimsolls on her poor feet. She had no real enjoyment out of life, especially as one of her beloved twin daughters had died at twenty-one. How could she live through such trauma and be so nice? This set an example for me, which I have always tried to follow. I often wonder if Gran knows what an important part she played in my life. I would like to think she does.

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Crowded backyards at Totnes Terrace and Totnes Cottages on the Barnfield Estate, Millwall, in 1932

Every Saturday I would do her weekend shopping and she would give me a penny for doing so. Running errands was the way we children were able to save up and buy birthday and Christmas presents for her, Mum and Dad.

One day I tore my new best Sunday coat while climbing over a high fence at the Mudchute, another of the Isle of Dogs’ large parks. I ran to Grandma and she sewed it for me so Mum would not know and I could avoid a telling off. Later, I realised Mum must have known because the sewing was not very good and you could see it a mile off, but Mum never said a word and I think Grandma must have warned her not to say anything. That was my Gran!

Grandmas had a very special place in those days and provided security when children felt parents had been unjust or did not love them. I always knew that my Grandma understood, whatever the problem was. She would tease me about my long legs and say, “You will catch your legs in your dress if you are not careful.” Seeing as my dress was short this was quite a joke.

One day I saw a pair of brown brogue shoes in a shop window at Greenwich. I asked Mum if I could have them and she gave me the money to go “over the water” and buy them. I was so thrilled and showed them to Grandma, who said, “That is the first sensible pair of shoes I have ever seen on your feet.” You can imagine how happy that made me. I think Mum used to put me into ankle strap black patent shoes. I do not think she considered a brogue shoe fashionable at that time. My Mum was a very smart and fashion-conscious young woman; she was good-looking, tall and slim. I was very proud whenever she came to my school as she always stood out from the other mothers.

I realise now that she was only young then. She was twenty-nine when I was ten. I never thought of her as young, which is sad really, but then she was my Mum and that was all that counted. Most children never seem to care or know how old their parents are.

Now my Gran was always old, though looking back I realise she was only fifty-eight when we first came to live near her. A hard life does show, that’s for sure. She had lived on the Island for many years and was just a few houses away from us. Of course it was rented, as most houses were, and she had a living room in the Airey which was down a few steps and under the house. It never saw much daylight or sun.

On nice days people who lived in Aireys would lean on the railings at the top of the steps and watch people go by. Neighbours on their way to Mrs Kirks’ shop would stop and have a chat. My Uncle Bill would be there on a Saturday morning and would ask me to get him some razor blades or a packet of cigarettes and I would go to Mrs Kirks and he would give me a penny for going.

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Grandma had the downstairs room and two bedrooms on the first floor and in the rest of the house there lived another family. At the back was a scullery where the washing was done in a copper. This worked by lighting a fire under it to heat the water and so the washing was boiled. The scullery always smelt of Sunlight soap and boiled beetroot. It had a damp stone floor and this is where Gran did her washing for all her family as well as the washing she took in to earn a few extra bob. One outdoor toilet served both families, but everyone had a jerry under the bed for use at night.

Gran had a hard life and died at eighty-six, having lived for twenty years with her youngest daughter and family in Reading. Sadly, my mother was full or remorse after Gran died. She cried as she told me how she would hide when she was little to avoid helping Gran. When she got older she realised how unkind she had been and sadly the guilt never left her. I am sure there are many children who carry some form of guilt in their later years, but as they were children one can forgive them.

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With Tootal ties and pocket-handkerchiefs to match, my Dad was also a smart dresser. My parents loved going to the West End to see the latest shows and I was so pleased for them when they got all dressed up. I would feel very happy when they were going out to enjoy themselves. I was left in charge of my brothers when they went out, but Aunt Con and Gran were nearby if they were needed and Aunt Con would call and check on us every so often. She told me that once when she looked in I was dancing on the table with a friend watching me. I don’t think Mum would have liked to know that.

Before the war, Mum and Dad owned a hardware shop and Dad had a business as a master builder and decorator. He was a true artist and the work he did was beautiful. I would go to a house where he was working and watch him. His graining and marbling looked so real and he was always praised for his work. I was very proud of him. In those days, you could not buy ready-mixed coloured paint, so Dad had to mix his own.

Watching my father work was a real joy and I loved to be with him. There came a day when everything in the shop had to be sold off cheaply. There were Ack Ack guns on the Mudchute. Whenever the guns went off, the blast would knock some of the china off the shelves, ending up broken on the floor. It became necessary to sell everything and close the shop. This was sad, as it was a thriving business and the sale of the stock brought little of its true value. I remember we sold toilet rolls, which were a very new product and were special, as everyone had used newspaper until then.

Lorraine at nineteen was a Lucy Clayton Trained Model and modelled in many of London’s top fashion houses.  In 1949, she married a Doctor of Medicine who later became a Consultant  Psychiatrist. and had a daughter and two sons, and is now a grandmother to nine grandchildren.
In 1979 she left England and with her second husband and moved to New Zealand and opened a number of beauty salons and her own Beauty Therapy Training College.
 Lorraine also began to write her own regular page on beauty in The NZ Headway Magazine. In 1987 she and her husband retired and moved to Australia where she developed her creative skills becoming an artist, ceramicist, sculptor, poet and a published author.

Other related posts

Memories of an East End Child by  Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part One

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Two

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Three

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Four

The London County Council Steamboat Service 1905 – 1907

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Anyone who walks alongside the Thames cannot fail to notice the Thames Clippers plying their trade up and down the river.

It seems incredible that since the 1840s, many companies have tried to run regular boat services along the Thames to link east and west London but most have ended in failure. This failure seems all the more remarkable when you consider other river services around the world have had considerable success.

A recent postcard sent by Eric Pemberton bought to my attention a riverboat service from the early 20th century that started with great optimism but quickly was abandoned.

In 1905 the London County Council launched its own public river transport service , acquiring piers and investing in a large fleet of 30 paddle-steamers.  The fleet was to operate frequent services  from Hammersmith to Greenwich.

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Many of the new boats had a local connection being built by the famous Thames Iron works at Blackwall and G. Rennie & Co at Greenwich. All the boats were virtually identical and could hold around 500 passengers, they were mostly named after famous people with a London connection.

It was in June 1905 that HRH the Prince of Wales opened the service travelling along the route  on the King Alfred. The opening of the service was not without controversy, newspaper reports both praised:

The Government had even allowed the Council a service of steamboats on the Thames. It would not run steamers to make an enormous profit, but to open up to Londoners a new highway. Municipal service was not to secure profits and. dividends, but to promote the general benefit of the community.

And condemned the scheme , many saw it has a waste of taxpayers money:

As for the Thames steam boats, a private company is said to have lost £10,000 in one year over them, : and, by analogy, it is safe to conclude that the Council could easily lose twice as much in the same time. The Thames, as we have often pointed out, is not a business thoroughfare, and does not run where it should if it is to be of any use to people going to and from their work. In Paris, which is the stock example, things are different. Our river can only he used for pleasure and not for business, and will never relieve the crush in the streets to any appreciable extent.

It quickly became clear that the doubters had been correct and it also became clear that the numbers needed to break even were not being met.

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Photo  Dr J Meister

1906 EMPTY STEAMBOATS.
£15,000 WASTED.
At a specially convened meeting of the Rivers Committee of the London County Council held last month, it was unanimously decided to stop the running of the boats above London. Bridge, and to diminish still further the service between that point and Greenwich. A considerable saving in expenditure will thus be effected. That the great body of ratepayers are impatiently awaiting the notification that the whole of the boats will be laid up there is overwhelming evidence. As was only to be expected, the position, from the ratepayers’ point of view, grows rapidly worse. The following official figures bring home to everybody the folly of continuing the service:— . Week Ending Receipts. October 14  £351 36 , October 21  £215 13 , October 28  £250 15 0,  November 4  £250 11 0, November 11 , £165 17 6,  November 18  £140 0 0. In the meantime the service is still costing something like £2000 a week.

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The operation struggled on until 1907, but the massive debts led to the operation being closed down. A newspaper report from 1908 remarks  on the services demise.

1908 – As for the Thames steamboats, they have, alas! become  a joke. The L.C.C. entered into the business with tremendous enthusiasm. They built new boats and christened them after the heroes of England. The project was ambitious, but laudable. It ought to have succeeded, But, as a matter of fact, it has proved an abject failure. The boats .were tied up all last winter, and only, started to run towards the latter end of last May. The comic papers to celebrate the joyous event, published illustrations  showing, all London thronging the Embankment, and gazing with intense eagerness towards the river, along which, slowly and majestically, a L.C.C. steam-boat was pushing her lonely way with one solitary and daring adventurer on board. Things are not quite so bad as this,but it is not to be denied that with the increased facilities for transit by train, tram, and motor buses, the Londoner no longer yearns to travel on dear old Father Thames.

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The lack of customers was not the only the problems, the large and unwieldy boats had a series of accidents including one in a Martha Wilson from Deptford  was killed when she was crushed by two of the steamboats.

All that was left was to sell off the fleet, each boat cost £6500 to build and were sold off for a few hundred. A rival company, The City Steamboat Company bought fourteen of the boats and tried to run a profitable service but even they had to concede defeat  at the beginning of the First World War. Many of the other boats were snapped up at their bargain price and ended up being used all over Europe including Mesopotamia, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany and Russia.

Other efforts to run a river service in the 20th century generally ended in failure including the service to Canary Wharf.

Which all goes to show that unlike the tube, trains and buses running passenger services on the Thames has rarely been profitable.

 

 

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Four

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‘Bridger’ at Westferry Road

In the next instalment of  Lorraine’s memories of  the East End in the 1930s, she finds going to a new school presents a series of challenges. She also recalls the pleasure of trips to the seaside and Sunday excursions around London.

I had passed the exam to get into a grammar school. To get to my school in Millwall it was necessary to take a bus over a bridge. This was an enormous swing bridge which opened to let the ships pass through. Many times our bus would have to wait while a big ship passed. Sometimes there was more than one ship, and this would make us very late for school. It was not a serious problem as teachers were used to this happening. All we had to say when we arrived late at school was “Sorry Miss, we had a Bridger.” If we saw that there was going to be a very long delay we would get off the bus and walk along the docks, cross a bridge further down which had not yet been opened and finish our journey to school on foot.

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Manchester Road bridge 1931. A.G.Linney.

I was really happy at Millwall Central School because at last I was free from the name-calling I had suffered at my other school. “Chinese eyes, Chinese eyes” is what the children would call after me. The bullying spoiled those early years, but somehow I still managed to do well at school, considering how unhappy I was. My parents were very proud of me and they saw I was a good student and always did my best. My marks and position in exams was always very good and once I came top of my class. I was very happy and proud of my new school and I looked forward to being free to study without having to cope with the unkindness I had been subjected to.

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Millwall Central Grammar School

My summer uniform was a Panama straw hat with a blue-and-white gingham dress, a navy blue blazer, white ankle socks and black shoes. In the winter, I wore a navy blue velour hat, matching gabardine coat, a striped blue and white tie, navy blue gym slip and a white blouse. Around my waist I wore a girdle that matched my tie. Black woollen stockings and black shoes completed the school’s regulation uniform, and I felt proud and privileged to wear it. The school emblem was an enamel badge with the design of a windmill.

I can remember being very worried the night before I started my new school. Mum and Dad had fulfilled all the requirements laid down by it. I had a brown leather satchel and my name was written inside it in ink with all the necessary equipment inside. However, there was one thing missing: a fountain pen. I had wanted so much to have a Conway Stewart Dinkie small fountain pen. I am sure had I asked Mum and Dad they would have got one for me, but instead I was given a big fountain pen the night before I started school. I was so worried I would not have a pen at all that it was a relief when I was given one. In those days, children were aware of the financial strain it was for parents to buy their school uniform, so they did not ask for a special sort of pen. We could not be disappointed about anything for long, as we were taught to appreciate and be thankful for what we were given. I counted my blessings and the little pen I had wanted so much was soon forgotten.

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French lessons were a breeze and I learned very quickly; I had a flair for the language, so I was told. I remember after the first few days at school one girl asked me if I could roll my Rs. I thought she said roll my eyes. It was quite funny when I said “Yes”, and proceeded to roll my eyes. This made us laugh and I have never forgotten it. I enjoyed indoor sports and was made vice captain of the team.
At my previous school I had been chosen to swim in the London Schools Swimming Gala. I swam breaststroke and won a bronze medal. I was a good swimmer, having already had three life saving certificates by the age of ten.

My aunt came to watch me with Mum and Dad. She and my uncle were so pleased with me that a few days later they took me across the water to Peckham Market and told me to choose whichever doll I liked. I chose one that was not very expensive and they told me to choose another, “It doesn’t matter how much it costs”, I was told. We had been brought up not to be greedy, so I stuck to the one I had chosen, even though there were dolls that were much more beautiful. I was about ten at that time. I called my doll ‘Rosebud’ and my uncle made me a rocking cradle for it. I used to have the cradle at the bottom of my bed with a piece of string tied to it and the head of my bed. I would pull the string gently as I was going to sleep and rock the cradle.

I loved babies and my life would have been ruined if I had found that, like some women, I was unable to have children. Happily, I married and had two sons and a daughter, but that’s another story.
After a while, Mum decided that I was too old to carry a doll around and looked silly because I was now growing fast and was very tall for my age. Without my knowledge, she gave Rosebud to a cousin I didn’t like. One day I saw Rosebud lying in my gran’s Airey with her head off. I think Mum would be upset if she had known how much this hurt me.

Going away for summer holidays was not a typical part of East End life in those days. We were lucky children though because we were taken on day trips of a Sunday. Quite a lot of the community went on holiday once a year to go picking hops in Kent. That way they earned money and also got away to the country. Big lorries collected families and off they went, returning a week later with big green apples to give to their friends. I had never seen such big apples in the shops.

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Southend 1930s

Trips to Southend-on-Sea were a real treat for us. We went there on a big steam train. The smell of the train’s smoke lingers in my memory and makes me relive those times as if they were happening now. Mum would be dressed-up smart with high heels that by the end of the day were crippling her feet so that she could hardly walk. This was something Mum always did because new shoes were part of the fashionable image she was obliged to portray. She was not alone in this as so many women did the same and because of this have suffered with bunions and bad feet for the rest of their lives.

When the tide was out, there was mud instead of sand and this was really something to see. A mile of mud to walk through to reach the sea, but we children never minded. You could smell the strong salty air and there were cockles and winkles, soft ice cream and the fun fair on the famous Southend Pier, and after that the ride home on the train. What more could a child ask for? Who cared about the mud?

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Speakers Corner 1930s

I have memories of days out going by bus and riding into the country with Mum and Dad. I must not forget to mention the Sunday trips to Hyde Park where Mum and Dad could listen to the soapbox orators. That was the time when Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts were spreading the word of Fascism around the East End. In 1936 there was the Battle of Cable Street: a clash between the Metropolitan Police overseeing a march by the British Union of Fascists and anti-fascists made up of local Jewish, socialist, anarchists and Irish groups. There were not many working class people who were not politically minded in those days and rightly so, for they had little to lose, but much to gain if the right party came to power.

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London Zoo 1930s

Another of our famous London parks was Regents Park, which housed London Zoo. On other Sundays we would go to Hampstead Heath. Some Sundays we would all be dressed in our best clothes to go and visit our paternal grandparents. They had an antiques shop at one time and I used to be fascinated by some of the ornaments and furniture in their home.

I loved those visits because all the brothers, sisters and their families would be there. It was good to see Mum and Dad laughing, joking and also having heated political discussions. We children would play with our cousins and I would feel very happy. It would be late at night when we finally left and we would fall asleep on the bus going home.

We had many Sunday trips and I think we were very fortunate children because all those outings cost money. We had our first real holiday in August 1939. This was to be for two weeks with Mum, Aunt Con and Grandma. Dad was to visit at weekends. We went to Basildon, but war was imminent and Dad thought we should all return before the two weeks were up. So that was the end of our holiday.

We were fortunate to have our extended family living nearby. This allowed us to grow up feeling secure and protected. Aunt Con, Mum’s youngest sister, lived a few houses along the road. She was only ten years older than me, so she was more like a sister. She married at nineteen and seemed to be well off as she was always buying expensive food, such as mushrooms and cream cakes. Mum did not buy cakes, but made them herself. They were lovely but the cream cakes Aunt Con bought were so much better.

 

Lorraine at nineteen was a Lucy Clayton Trained Model and modelled in many of London’s top fashion houses.  In 1949, she married a Doctor of Medicine who later became a Consultant  Psychiatrist. and had a daughter and two sons, and is now a grandmother to nine grandchildren.
In 1979 she left England and with her second husband and moved to New Zealand and opened a number of beauty salons and her own Beauty Therapy Training College.
 Lorraine also began to write her own regular page on beauty in The NZ Headway Magazine. In 1987 she and her husband retired and moved to Australia where she developed her creative skills becoming an artist, ceramicist, sculptor, poet and a published author.

Other related posts

Memories of an East End Child by  Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part One

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Two

Memories of an East End Child by Lorraine Roxon Harrington – Part Three

The Story of the Rotherhithe Tunnel

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A few days ago, regular contributor Coral Rutterford sent a photograph of a medal marking the opening of the Rotherhithe Tunnel in 1908. The medal belongs to her brother Tony Holmes who found it many years ago.

Regular readers will know that I  am fascinated by the tunnels under the Thames and have written articles about the Blackwall and Thames tunnels. However the Rotherhithe tunnel is often forgotten, which is a shame because it has an equally interesting history.

Construction was authorised by the Thames Tunnel (Rotherhithe and Ratcliff) Act 1900 despite considerable local opposition, it was estimated that up to 3,000 residents were displaced due to its construction.

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Date Taken: 13 June 1906   Photo English Heritage NMR

Designed by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, the Engineer to the London County Council the  work took place between 1904 and 1908.
In the construction stage an intrepid reporter from the Daily News went into the tunnel to see its construction, here is part of his article.

By exercising a little care you step into a lift, an Iron cage open at each end, on the floor of which are a pair of rails to take a skip. A little bell rings somewhere, and you cling to a rod overhead as the lift tumbles down a dark hole at an ever-Increasing speed. It seems hours, but it is really only a few seconds, and you step out of the lift into a new world, a world full of more eerie men with clay wigs, pale faced, and almost naked, for the temperature lies in the neighbourhood of the eighties, and the work is very hard indeed. Tram lines, baulks of timber, puddles of water, and bags of cement, all these have to be carefully negotiated, and you at last reach the shield that cuts its way through the soil at the rate of about five feet per day. Presently you become painfully aware of the closeness of the atmosphere, and understand better than ever the economy in clothing exercised by the workmen, who rush about like ants in a nest, some pushing the skips, loaded and empty, others trimming, yet more wrestling with a huge segment of cast iron that is to be immured in its cell of concrete and be buried in the walls of the tunnel for perhaps thousands of years.

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Date Taken:  1907   Photo English Heritage NMR

When finally the Tunnel was completed it was the source of some pride and was given a grand opening by George Prince of Wales (later King George V).

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South entrance Date Taken: 13 June 1908   Photo English Heritage NMR

Another newspaper report quoted the Prince’s pride in the scheme.

GREAT ENGINEERING WORK.
ROTHERHITHE TUNNEL. OPENED BY THE PRINCE OF WALES. LONDON, June 13.
The tunnel under the River Thames between Rotherhithe and Stepney was formally opened yesterday by the Prince of Wales. The length of the tunnel is
6883 ft., including 1500 ft. under the river. This is the largest boring work in the world, and the total cost is about £2,000,000. In declaring the tunnel open, his  Royal Highness said, he rejoiced that this great work had been accomplished entirely by British minds, muscle, and material.  The total length of the tunnel and approaches, from Union-road on the south to Commercial Road  on the north, will be about a mile and a quarter, and the dimensions will be slightly larger those of the Blackwall tunnel, 30ft. diameter, external measurement, sufficient to obtain a carriage way of 16ft. or 17ft and two foot ways of over 4ft. each.

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North Entrance 1908

The tunnel was designed to serve foot and horse-drawn traffic on either side of the river. This helps to explain some of the anomalies that you may spot if you ever walk through the tunnel.  Unlike the Blackwall Tunnel, the Rotherhithe Tunnel is open to pedestrians who walk along the narrow footpaths at the side.

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It is not widely used by pedestrians because the car fumes are quite overpowering at times. Ventilation was obviously not a high priority  and the air does not flow through the tunnel due to the sharp bends at each end of the tunnel. Supposedly they were put there to prevent horses from seeing daylight at the end of the tunnel, which might make them bolt for the exit.

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Once in the tunnel, there is no shortcut to the surface, that was not always the case, two riverside shafts  had iron spiral staircases that were used as pedestrian entrances. These still can be seen but are closed to the public because they are in a dangerous condition.

It is easy to underestimate what a wonderful engineering achievement these tunnels represented, many thanks to Coral and Tony for sharing the memento of the opening of what was considered at the time “the largest subaqueous tunnel in existence” and one of the ‘largest boring schemes in the world’.