Home Oral history interview with Gwyn Williams

Oral history interview with Gwyn Williams

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Oral history interview with Gwyn Williams

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Williams (Gwyn) (Subject of)


Digital file (.wav)
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Photograph - copyright Arnau Oriel

On display?



MAPPING THE CHANGE: Hackney Museum oral history project

Summary of interview with:
• Gwyn Williams, b 1909, Pontypridd (age 101) – has lived in same house since coming to Hackney in 1929/30

Gwyn Williams
Collection Title: “Mapping The Change”
Item Title: Gwyn Williams interviewed by Tony T
Speaker: Gwyn Williams, b 1909, Pontypridd
Speaker: Tony T
Recordist: Rebecca Goldstone
Purpose of recording: Interviewed for ‘Mapping The Change’ (Dalston)
Recording Dates: 16th June & 23rd August 2010
Recording Location: Interviewee’s home, Hackney, London.
Access restrictions: None
Recording equipment: Marantz PDM661 & 1 Sennheiser lapel mic - ew112-p
Recording notes: WAV
Documentation: Typed summary and partial transcript of interview (sections that relate strong stories and descriptions of Dalston. Some quotes used in the ‘Dalston Voices’ exhibition Sept. 2010).
A selection of portrait photographs in jpg format
Disc 1
Interview summary:
Disc 1 [00:00:00] Preamble: Since his wife died and lease ended, has paid a modest controlled rent as a ‘regulated’ tenant on De Beauvoir Estate. Generally rents much higher - gives example of neighbours. [00:01:10] When he first came here most people took in lodgers to supplement income. Explains how house was divided between owner family (the Perry’s), a ‘community’ room with piano for ‘sing alongs’, and lodgers (Gwyn, Evan John – Tenor in D’Oyly Carte, and Tommy O’Brien – Knighted as head of TUC. Later came a Teacher and organist, and a Captain in London Welsh Rugby Club). “We got on like a house a-fire. It was a different life”.
Disc 1 [00:03:13] Background: Born 1909 Pontypridd. Father a grocer, first in long line to break away from mining. Father’s mother, age 9 child-lead-miner mentioned in 1841 census. Mother’s father, age 7, indentured to a farmer - ran away at 11, found job as a miner, killed mining aged 59. Father born and brought up in little village of Trimsaran, Carmarthenshire near Llanelli. 1912/13 invited to USA as brother’s business partner. Sold up and sent for family, but ship never arrived – “It was the Lusitania”. Father died. Mother and children left homeless and destitute. Mother became ‘Hawker’. Eventually re-married. Gwn went to school, grammar school, took degree… [00:07:13] Family hardships in First World War, and Spanish flu epidemic 1919. [00:08:04] Explains how he got his in Physics/ Mathematics degree.
Disc 1 [00:09:05] Story how he came to Hackney to teach after graduating. 1930s depression worse than now. No work. “So I took this Dip Ed course in Bristol just to kill time”. Applied for teaching jobs as second resort. Got London primary school job. LEA then top in country. “First of all I did 6 weeks in Morning Lane… Then I got a permanent job at Wenlock Road”. [00:10:17] 1939, outbreak of WW2, involved in ‘Operation Pied Piper’, evacuation of London’s children “Finished up in Flitwick in Bedfordshire – trying to teach there was hopeless”.
Disc 1 [00:11:05] War Service: Recruited by Air Ministry because of Technical and Scientific qualification. After 3 day’s training, commissioned as Pilot Officer based at Halton, “The number one school of technical training in the Air Force”. Taught theory of flight, aerial navigation, and aero-engineering. Posted to Kirkham. [00:14:20] Explains how Kirkham was reception centre of Polish prisoners from Siberia after German invasion of Russia. As Liaison officer for translation meets best friend, Wing Co. Rudnitsky. They collaborate on glossary of Polish-English technical terms. [00:18:14] Posted to Cosford, but invalided out of forces with Tuberculosis.
Disc 1 [00:19:10] Return to Hackney: Veterans’ old jobs secure by law. LCC take him back on books but not allowed near children. Transport Officer at Upton House, for visiting relatives evacuated to country hospitals. Doodlebug summer at Wandsworth Technical College pre-training aircrews.
Disc 1 [00:24:50] Depression 1930s Hackney - experiences and impressions: Got shared lodgings (27s 6d per week) at Mrs Perry’s through university friend. Lived-in as part of family. No bath. Full board and laundry £1.00 7s 6d per week. First salary £160 + £12 with proof of degree. [00:26:53] Depression forces pay cuts for public sector workers. [00:27:40] Enjoyed first school – despite plenty walking, lacked 1d tram-fare. Discovered 1s all day ticket on trams to go anywhere. Watching London Welsh at Hearn Hill, all-in wrestlers training at Finsbury Park. [00:30:00] Describes Kingsland Road: Lots of little shops. No fast food. Weekly visit to private bathhouse behind photographer’s shop - big demand from so many lodgers “with nowhere to bath”. 1930 public bathhouse built – now Vietnamese restaurant (Continued until Benyon estate put baths in). [00:33:56] Arriving here met Mrs Perry, tram-driver husband, 2 daughters, Celia (telephonist) and Grace (secretary) - at 16 left job to run house, engaged to Gwyn at 18, married at 20 (1935) after father died. In WW2, took over house after mother died.
Disc 1 [00:42:50] Observations whilst teaching in Hackney: After D-Day, got job in South Hackney Central School, Cassland Road – in V1 and V2 periods (first V1 fell, Grove Road near Victoria Park). [00:46:29] Ridley Road: Bought from Jack Cohen’s stall (opened new shop in Well Street, Tesco). Bought from Alan Sugar’s stall. [00:49:51] They still took lodgers to help income. [00:54:23] Ridley Road’s Jewish identity. Seeing Moseley and fascists speeches, and fight communists at Kingsland High Street. Ridley Road, Harford Road and Stamford Road (near George Ewer’s Charobang garage). [00:56:27] Describes tremendous local bomb damage. [00:57:00] Mr Smith’s popular 24-hour coffee-stall on the Waste - son killed in shelter. Barrage balloons. [01:01:14] Experiences V2 blast by Forest Road. [01:03:42] Moseley and supporters blame British government not bombers - for not giving in. Blackshirts start up again after war. [01:04:50] Anger at false portrayals of war, air raids were fact of life. People not terrified. “None of that cowering in terror”. As Home Guard vet, he’s offended by “Dad’s Army sit-com - “It was a serious business”. [01:08:23] Open spaces created by bombing, “So much has gone”. First three months of blitz, a third of Shoreditch destroyed. Survivors moved into evacuees homes. [01:09:44] Doodlebug summer in Hackney. [01:10:54] Good stories of rationing, local Black market and under the counter special treatment. [01:20:14] Bomb damage along Kingsland Road to High Street. Empty holes. Incendiary bombs in 1000s and emergency water tanks on bombsites. Good story about fire-watchers like his wife - “she was tremendously brave because she was frightened stiff” Friend Alice Luther, husband was the warden.
Disc 1 [01:26:05] Sports at Hackney Marshes: annual sports day of Hackney senior schools held at Eaton Manor. Describes location. Being a starter.
Disc 1 [01:26:00] Good explanation of pride in sons getting into Hackney Downs school (The Grocers Company School).
Disc 1 [01:28:35] 1948 Olympics: Good story of going with their former lodger, Fred Roberts, and nephew, Gary. Seeing track events, and 100 yards Olympic final. No special schools events to commemorate.

Disc 2
Interview summary: Disc 2 [00:00:54] Hackney transport from 1929/30: LCC open-fronted trams along Kingsland Road to Stamford Hill, current in slot in tramline. Stamford hill onwards driver changes to power from overhead cable. Boy’s toy iron hoops sometimes cause short circuit, and all trams stop running. [00:03:12] Trolley buses: like trams but not on tracks, could pull in to kerb, where trams had to stop in middle of road. [00:03:48] Crash on 1925 motorbike, skidded on wet tramline. [00:05:22] Describes open-fronted trams, front and back identical. [00:06:38] Good story of tram-drivers like father-in-law going through dirty London Smog –– drivers given goggles. [00:08:24] Buses: 20 and 21 Newington Green to Moorgate – open topped, leather apron to protect you from rain. Main bus company London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), competes for passengers with ‘pirate’ small independent bus operators, raced one another – 1d fare, buses packed. [00:10:46] Good description of power supplies for trams and trolley buses – overhead cables along all routes, long arm from roof of trams and trolleybuses up to cables “quite a tangle”. [00:12:51] Pre National (electricity) Grid, Hackney had own power station, residents paid council for DC electricity, rented electric cookers from them too. After WW2 UK changes to AC - household DC electrical goods exchanged for free AC models [00:15:54] Horse transport: Gardeners collect manure, many horse chandlers or grain chandlers.
Disc 2 [00:18:30] Good explanation of oil shops and paraffin lamps. [00:20:18] Gas-lighting: Electricity in his home from middle 1920s. Good explanation of types of gas-light – naked flames, and gas mantels.
Disc 2 [00:22:49] Strong Jewish identity - in Ridley Road particularly. Kosher food, stall-holders, and shop-keepers – eg Monnickendam’s, Jack Cohen (started Tesco in Well Street named after wife Tessa Cohen), Alan Sugar…
Disc 2 [00:26:54] Sounds of Kingsland Road/High Street before WW2: Clop-clop of horses’ hooves. Trams and trolleybuses quiet. Buses’ diesel engines. Hertford Road very busy by-pass from Kingsland Road – crash after crash.
Disc 2 [00:30:49] Throng of human traffic along Kingsland Road/High street before WW2. Pavements just as crowded. Using lots of small shops, now gone – eg mother-in-law’s illiterate greengrocer David Cole.

Disc 2 [00:32:28] Names slum areas he knew – eg nearby Lockner Estate on Lockner Road/De Beauvoir Square (Tailor, Dairy, Cat’s meat shop…) [00:36:12] Describes slum areas he knew, good explanation of term ‘slum-dweller’ (poor hard up, criminality) – eg. Shoreditch “Nine tens of the criminals in London lived in Shoreditch, but they all worked away from home”. [00:37:34] Infestations: Bedbugs – smell, look, itch blood-sucking.
Disc 2 [00:50:51] Feelings about Dalston Square. “I’m all in favor, I think it’s wonderful” - bus stop, trees…
Disc 2 [00:55:00] Waves of migration. West Indians, Chinese, Turkish – gradual change, cohesion. British identity – diversity, united nations.
Disc 2 [00:58.54] Impressions of Dalston Junction station and line to West Croydon – “lost in admiration”.
Connecting Croydon and Stratford by 2012.
Disc 2 [01:02:37] 2012 Olympics – “I’m in favor because so many people want it, but I couldn’t care less myself”
Copy Material Location: WAV copies held at Hackney Museum:
1 copy stored on a portable hard drive
1 copy stored on a DVD-R (Gold Archive Standard)