Thurrock Local History Society: May report
Following on from the AGM, our April meeting welcomed Ann Hardy, whose talk entitled “For Richer for Poorer”, recalled her family’s life in Stratford in London’s East End.
Her grandfather worked on the railway and was a strike breaker in 1926. He collected coins and clocks and she remembers his shoulder length grey hair. Her grandmother was in service, a maid of all work, but had to leave on marriage, only four of her eight children surviving.
She took in washing and when the boiler was lit a penn’orth of gunpowder was used – you just threw in a match and stood back. At the time it was a struggle to bring up a large family. When they died many young babies were buried in a shoe box, placed in someone else’s coffin. In WW1 the family went into the shelter, even taking their death policies with them.
Her mother Rosetta was one of eight children. She remembered General Booth’s funeral, her parents being Salvationists. There were pockets of slums in the area and this was the time of the Suffragette movement, the Titanic and Ford cars which cost Â£135, in black. Also the Great Eastern railway had arrived. Her father lied about his age when he signed on in WW1, aged 15 and served at the Khyber Pass. He died when Ann was a child. Her mother was very homely woman. She was a foreman in a fur factory where rabbit and sheep’s wool etc was used to line pilots’ jackets.
In WW2 a radio program on the kitchen front suggested recipes, such as stuffed turnip. During the war her father moved several times, ending up in a four storey Georgian house in Hackney. He later purchased a small terrace house in Stratford. Ann was born in 1946. She had only one set of clothes and wore hand-me-down shoes. She wanted to be a dressmaker but trainee dressmaking paid too little so worked at Clarnico’s and made Christmas crackers.
The 1950s heralded TV with children’s programmes such as Andy Pandy, the Coronation, the Festival of Britain and Everest was conquered. Houses had brown lino with orange and purple paintwork. New too were DIY, tea bags, frothy coffee, ITV, stiletto heels and stiff petticoats. On the radio there was Round the Horn and Educating Archie. Ann’s wedding took place in a register office. The Aunts went shopping afterwards and had a cuppa at Joe Lyons.
In Stratford most houses were similar, two bedrooms and a box room, front room, middle room and scullery; the bathroom was outside so use was made of the Municipal baths. Ann remembers the TV being covered up each night and wore coat, gloves and hat in bed, for there was ice inside the windows. Also newspapers were cut up for toilet paper before Izal came on the market. Everything was cleaned thoroughly, bed bugs being the last thing you wanted. At school Ann remembered missionaries’ visits and the announcement of King George VI’s death on the radio. They lived near a cobbled rag and bone yard with a horse and cart, where rags were exchanged for goldfish.
They collected manure for the garden. Memories also included the Lollipop Lady, dire school dinners, playing hopscotch, swinging round lampposts and marbles. Sweets were honeycomb, liquorice comforts, midget gums, sherbet lemons, homemade fudge, coconut ice and toffee apples. There were also Baptist Sunday School outings to Epping Forest, Southend on Sea and London zoo.
Ann also told of the street vendors, the coalman, baker, Italian ice cream seller and onion sellers, also the tallyman. At Stratford Broadway you could buy a penn’orth of scratchings and broken biscuits. Nostalgic foods included tinned pineapple and evaporated milk, brown shrimps and winkles, bread pudding, vegetable soup made with bacon bones and seed cake. She recalled The Fifty Shilling Tailors and Hunts which sold farming implements and chicken feed. The haberdashers used a cylinder system for payment, whizzing the money to the accounts office. There was also the oil shop which sold vinegar, pegs, blue dolly dyes and candles. The stationers were Wilson & Whitworth. Ann spoke about a holiday camp in Yarmouth and knitted costumes, also visiting Father Christmas at Selfridges. New Year was rung in with a toast and a tot.
This was a trip down memory lane for most of the audience, thoroughly enjoyed, but Ann never really forgave her mother for giving her a Twink home perm.
Our next meeting is at 8pm at the Grays Adult Centre in Richmond Road on Friday 20 May when the speaker will be our chairman Susan Yates, entitled Antiquities of Ancient Greece, a change from our advertised programme. Visitors are most welcome.