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Oral history interview with Wendy Ellison


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Oral history interview with Wendy Ellison

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Ellison, Wendy (Subject of)

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[00:00:00] My name is Wendy Ellison I was born 20 Hawthorne Street, in Islington London N1, because that was the Islington side of Balls Pond Road. Mum Dad and older brother. Mid terraced house in a little cul de sac. Mum & Dad married in 1938 in ChristChurch Shoreditch, which is Hackney side again. I was in 1945 just after the war at home.00:01:50

Describes road where she was born.

Prefabs at end of road – lucky because they actually had fridges and indoor toilet and bathroom. Their house had toilet outside and no bathroom. They did have indoor running water, gas, electricity

Father machine tool engineer at standard telephone and cable New Southgate

Motorbike and sidecar. Only 3 with transport in their road

1954 her father got a car (Ford)

[00:04:09] School Life:
[00:04:10] Went to De Beauvoir School, just opposite Kingsbury Street. Used to be called Tottenham Road school before her time.

Special Constable used to walk them across road to take them into school.

There were 50 in her class they were given numbers for calling the register.

They always did as they were told. Enjoyed school, although not very academic

Learnt times tables by rote. Alphabet phonetically from blackboard. Their Reader was Mac & Tosh - two Scotty dogs. Corporal punishment given with slipper (not to her)

At about age 8, went to a ‘Sayers Croft Camp’ for a week or fortnight in Autumn - bags of pears taken home as gift.

Then went to Grammar school Dame Alice Owens girls school in Islington

[00:08:52] Whole family very involved in Scout & Guide movement. Dad was a Sea Scout Master, mum had been a Guide Lieutenant, Wendy was originally in Girls Life Brigade and then Girl guide at 11. Outdoory [sic] type family. Dad only had about a weeks holiday a year. They would go camping with bell tent to places like to Canvey Island and all Hallows in Essex. On a motorbike and sidecar, towing trailer. Thinks they were quite privileged. Her father was very skilled craftsman and engineer – he made their toys, including 3 inch gauge model of Royal Scotsman. [00:10:45 ]

[00:11:00] Talks about extended family –where they lived and the relationship with them. Visits to relatives in Somerest:All her mum’s family lived very close: between Southgate Road and Stamford Road, Balls Pond Road, in walking distance. Describes the extended family. Visits to family in Somerset.

[00:14:00] Play time/people she grew up with:

Much of her young life tied up with Scouts & Guides. Kingsbury Road was where they would Skate and Box Cart. Would build Nov 5th bonfires on bombsites.

Skipping, Hop Scotch, Five Stones, Marbels, Bikes.

Talks about people she grew up with and where they are now.

Thinks it was a nice community: if they did anything wrong their parents would be told by neighbours.

[00:19:06] Her Road of houses was condemned and pulled down in about 1964. By then working at the Environmental Health department in Islington. She worked with the doctor who condemned them and when she was leaving the job told him that it was the worst thing he ever did because he destroyed a community which you’ll never get back in a block of flats. She thinks much wiser to have refurbished them 00:20:23

[00:21:02] Describes her neighbourhood: Walk to school 200 yards. Balls Pond Road was cobbled. Balls Pond Road wasn’t bombed. Starting from St Paul’s Church, St Paul’s Road end Blacksmiths. Factory that made cases, Alms Houses, round the corner was the Dairy, now block of flats. The Bag Wash shop (laundry), Cobblers, school entrance, two little cul de sacs, one of which Bishops Grove, then the Sweet Shop, ‘Sheenies’, “being the word for Jewish ladies because of their shiny coats…….the fromers”. Then the pub and then Kerridge Court “which was bombed.” Last bit of Balls Pond Road “Leylands, used to be Moss Bros, where you hired your suits, you see that terrace is still there”

[00:25:16] Normality/Everybody new everyone/ Rationing

[00:26:31] What was it like as a child – it was normal for me, it was normal, it was just everybody everyone, and I suppose originally we were all on rationing, like we’d go to the sweet shop once a week for our 2 ounces of sweets – you’d buy Tom Thumb drops because you’d get lots for your 2 ounces….

[00:26:59]Navy demob suits/ West Indians: clothes - an explosion of colour/ Ridley Road/ St Jude Street butcher started to cater for West Indian tastes as well as English tastes

[00:26:59] I suppose the biggest thing of all was when the West Indians arrived, which is what I think you’re trying to say, is I must have been about 7, 8, and don’t forget I was a post-war baby, most of the men I knew all had navy blue pinstripe suits, which they were demobbed with. And then our West Indian friends arrived – and nothing to do with the colour of their skin – it was the colour of their clothes! I’d never seen a man in a light blue suit, or a fawn suit, with matching Trilby hats, and the women wore these glorious colours – any colour – they just, it was an explosion of colour – to me – as a child – from Ridley Road –you know ‘cause Ridley Road was one of the places they first settled, um, and I think there used to be a butchers on St.Jude Street, and he actually divided his shop into 2, he bought 2 shops, had one which was, sort of catered for the European type, and he very quickly cottoned on that the West Indians liked their chickens chopped, whereas the English like their chickens whole – thank you! And we don’t want boilers – we want roasters, whereas the West Indians wanted boilers, and he actually divided his shop, there was one half for the West Indians and one half for the Europeans, or the English if you like, but yeah that was, oh what was hi sname, Bill was his name .. King .. Kings The Butchers in St. Jude Street, I mean there were those sorts of things going on.

[00:29:17] Ridley Road: saw first banana

[00:29:20] Ridley Road, I think I can remember going down Ridley Road and saying to my mum: “What’s that”? And it was a banana, and we didn’t have bananas, we didn’t have them..

[00:29:??] Explosion/bright pink house where west Indians had arrived/parents 7 everyone else dull/rationing until ‘52/’53

[00:29:53] But I think it was those things that really got you, this explosion - and the painting of the houses, you’d suddenly find a bright pink house where the West Indians had arrived, and their favourite trick was to paint the brickwork in, doing all the pointing – was studiously picked out in black or white, (laughs), but it was that sort of thing as a child, ‘cause as I say, our parents and everyone else were very dull in their navy blue suits, and mostly navy blue clothes, ‘cause we’d all been on rationing until ‘52/’53.


[00:31:23] Dalston as a child: Registered for rationing with a butcher in Hoxton. Bill King originated there and moved u p to St. jude St. Used to go down Ridley Road, very Jewish. Sadie had materiel stall. Good place to get materials. Flower, shellfish.


[00:33:04] Entertainment as a child: Dad would go to scouts on Friday night. She and her mum would go to the pictures. Odeon on corner of Stamford Road. Gaumont was next to Dalston Junction. With school, went to Assembly Room Islington, to see Peter & the Wolf. With the Scouts went to the Gang show in Islington - Dad was Stage Manager. And other Gang Shows. Pantomime at Finsbury Park Empire. Secondary school was near Sadler’s Wells. Didn’t go into Sadler’s Wells till much later in life 00:36:38

“There were loads of cinemas”. Saturday morning pictures. Had a television for Coronation, which her father made - built into an old gramophone case. Listening to radio ‘Listen with Mother’

‘Black Suzy’ doll which her dad made out of blackout curtains and china head. [00.39.19]

[00:39:38] Local Skills & Industry : Dalston had factories for clothes. Hackney Road had furniture - until recently a lot of repro. Paint factory at the end of their road, A R Gibbons. Doesn’t whether it was household or artist paint. Knew several Cabinet Makers. A lot of men had a lot of skills. Blacksmith in Balls Pond Road -proper forge, horses. 00:41:07

[00:41:23] Drinking/Christmas: They weren’t drinkers – Dad would go on work beano in the summer, and have a drink Christmas Eve. They started going to pubs when she was 15 - go for a Sunday ride and got to a pub for a pint. Like her Dad “2 drinks and I’m anybody’s and we’re under the table”. 00.42.12 Talks about how they spent Christmas and boxing day: at home -piano, sing song dancing, wind–up radiogram. 00.43.19

[00.43.21] Skills & jobs & Industry: Names the men she knew who were: Cabinet Makers French polishing, bus driver, lorry driver delivering sack of potatoes. Her mum sewed belts at home. Pig farm in King Henry’s Walk. Francises Dairy [00.44.40]

[00.45.08] Pubs didn’t play a role in their community. They were more into Scouts and Guides – that was their entertainment. Doesn’t remember street fights or feuds. In her mother’s time, (b 1914) there were street fights.

[00.48.14] The Coronation: When the King died they were sent to school wearing black armbands. Then Coronation – her mum collected six pence (6d) a week for each child, for many weeks. Organised a street party. Had hat making competition in red blue and white crepe paper. [00.50.20]

[00.50.21] Deliveries by & Horse & Carts: Pubs had off license bar where you could buy jug of beer.Vinegar man with horse & cart sold vinegar out of a barrel. Rag & Bone man and glass bottle collector had horse & cart. Pub on corner of Kingsbury Road & Balls Pond Road had the Shire horses deliver their beer. Bank of England used horse & cart to move gold bullion until the ‘70’s.

No real cars they were one of three families who had transport, not many people did.

[00.52.31 - Interference on recording]

[00.54.55] Not rich – Z Dudley’s (Dalston Department Store on Kingsland High Street) savings scheme: Her mum and her mum’s sisters would put the same amount of money into the savings plan every week, organised by her maternal grandmother. They would take it in turn to spend it, every three months. They used to have Christmas clubs in the pub “ten bob a week away for Christmas”. The one they used was ‘The Perseverance’ in Southgate Road. People were resourceful – her dad would repair shoes. Arguments at home about money, because he would buy a tool rather than new shoes.[00.58.40]

The Waste: They would buy new tools there on a Saturday, “Saturday job with dad”, the waste was second tools. [00.59.19]

[00.59.54] Dalston was normal, West End was big. Doesn’t go South of the river 01.01.05

[01.01.30] Race Relations: Didn’t notice any difficulty because she was a Scout and a Guide and followed. Took Cub group and remembers West Indian youngsters settling and mixing easily, “in many ways they were more English than we were” Same culture hopes and aspirations, as working class citizens – send to school to better them. Doesn’t remember any tension between Black and White.

[01.03.45] “Perhaps because they were colonial and we’d moved on by the ‘60’s, the swinging ‘60’s, whereas the West Indians were still in their stiff Colonial – you’ll do as you’re told sort of thing, that’s the right way to do things. You didn’t answer your teacher back, whereas we were getting a bit laisee faire about it by then. 01.04.34

[01.04.35] Eloped to Australia/ Ten Pound Pom/ slow pace/ formal dress: Went to live in Australia of Four years, 1967 to 1971. Her daughter was born there. Australia was slow. Worked in Department of Mental Hygiene in Melbourne, doing statistics. Eloped – married a German, according to her mother, “the best German is a dead one”, her sister was killed at Bounds Green Station by a German bomb “I was the Back Sheep”. He’d lived in England since he was ten. Talks about the cultural life in Australia [01.09.22]

[01.09.31] Working Life: Started work for the LCC, London County Council on the 3rd September 1962. Worked at Bancroft Road, Stepney, in what was the Workhouse. Thought she’d been “sent to the depths of despondency… I was frightened…got used to it after a while”. There until local government re- shuffle in about ‘69/’69 transferred to Environmental health in Islington. By that time their home in Hawthorne Street had been condemned and they’d moved to Ashby House in Essex Road. 01.13.24

[01.14.34] Courting: Scouts & Guides rock climbing. Knew she wanted to marry him. Talks about end of marriage and coming back to England form Australia.

[01.15.11] Accommodation back in England: First lived in Flat in Thornton Heath. Bought house in Stoke Newington, Summerfield Road

[01.16.23] Changes:Loss of community, loss of respect. Tells of how they would help look after an elderly neighbour in Hawthorne Street. Everyone is now insular. Hackney has lots of cultures that don’t mix. Jewish culture at Stamford Hill, large Indian Community some don’t attempt to speak the language. Like Kurds when they arrived because they tried to learn language and mixed. Resents people not wanting to integrate.

[01.21.39] Upset about the shortage of housing and house prices: has meant that her daughter moved to Miiddlesbrough to live. Back in London now but living with her husband’s parents. 01.22.08

[01.22.08] Kids can’t get into secondary school/ lack of planning: not enough places at Hackney schools. Neighbour had to go to Waltham Abbey. 01.24.22

[01.24.35] New Dalston Development of flats: No good for families. Her son will have to go out of London to get a home. 01.24.56 “ lets be honest, how rare am I – how many people have you found that are Islington and Hackney born and bred and are still here” 01.25.09

[01.25.26] “I’d like to move out, I’d like to go to Suffolk”

[01.25.45] Dalston Junction: “Great, they put it back where it belonged” general chat

[01.27.44] Night life /4 Aces:

[01.28.07] “No I did not go to the 4 Aces no, no,.. well the last time I went there it was a car auction place.”

Her mother wouldn’t let go to public dances. Hadn’t been to a public dance until she went to Australia. “It felt a bit like a horse market” “Perhaps they were right not letting me go” 01.29.56

[01.30.16] Olympics: Very very happy that it’s coming. Hopes they don’t mess it up, and that it’s extremely successful.

[1.32.16] Characters: Talks about characters in the neighbourhood and in her family. Policeman – he was a Special Policeman.

[01.35.26] What she wanted on return from Australia: London Policeman who was unarmed, a London Cabbie – Jewish and not fanatical, Jersey potato, tomato. 01.37.20

[01.37.20] During and After World War Two: Grandmother received MBE. for voluntary services during the war.Pubs organized evacuation of kids. Blood donation

[01.38.27] Kids would talk about their dad’s doing things during the war. Her dad had a reserved occupation as a machine tools operator. He tried but they wouldn’t let him join the up.

[01.40.02] Talks about the functions they’d go to at her dad’s work place [01.40.59]

[01.41.25] Men had no problems settling back after the war until the anniversary commemorations. Goes on to talk about the effects on the men…..

[01.45.01] Remembrance Day church parades, reintroduction of 2 minutes silence 01.45.54

[01.46.31 Talks about year 9 children studying World War one was part of the curriculum. Show us her Dad’s technical drawing book from 1928. She and her brother remembers her dad making the yacht that he had drawn in the book. Speaks about her father and continues to show us the collection they’ve put together for year 9. Shows us some English and German WWII memorabilia including a German Telegram to her mother in law. Wendy and Tony try to translate the telegram.


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