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Tom Williams


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Audio interview with Tom Williams

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Williams, Tom (Subject of)


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Right, my name’s Tom Williams and I live here in Welling, Kent. I was born in number 10 Warwick Villas, Homerton off Shepherds Lane, it was a cul-de-sac, on the 27th November 1916. We lived for a little while with my grandmother and then my father who was in the forces in the Royal Horse Artillery he came home on leave and I’ve never puzzled out but my brother is a year or was a year and four months younger than me so he must’ve come home on leave and then flew his kite off to India in the army and so it was a couple of years before he came home. So then my grandmother looking after two of us, my mother worked at a place called oh I forget now up Clapton there used to be a piano manufacturer just past Lea Bridge Road and we used to go up and meet her from work and anyway, we then, as I said we had the street party in 1919 and what I liked about it and I’ve always remembered that as they were all semi-detached houses and had alleyways in all the people got together and put ropes across from bedroom to bedroom and the illuminations for the evening was little bottles like the bottles you got shrimp and some fish paste in and they were all different colours and you used to have candles in them and people used to pull them in and put fresh candles in and all that. So that was one thing that’s always stuck in me mind. Well anyway then it came to just after 1919, from the peace party my dad was still in a hospital just up the road from here, an army and military hospital and my mum wanted to go and see him. Well, my uncle was a builder and decorator lived up the top of Well Street. And he never had a van in those days, he had a pony and trap and all his builder’s materials in that. Well, he brought us through the tunnel and the tunnel then was all cobbles and all that. Going through that tunnel, it shook the livers out of me, I was as sick as a dog all the way. But I can’t remember going in to the hospital there but anyway, that was that.

Then I started school, Berger Road School, I was I was in the infants there which was just at the bottom of Shepherd’s Lane where we lived and I, I loved school, I enjoyed it. And I suppose I was a bit of a… I don’t know. The fact that my mother had me and she wasn’t married… I was a war baby. And of course my father was stationed on Hackney Marshes. And I can only fathom out that they moved to Warwick Villas from Dalbany Road – y’know Dalbany Road do you? My nan lived at 106 Dalbany Road. Well, just at the side of their, near their house, was a back entrance in in to the fields, which was a big, vast Royal Artillary ammunition dump. And that’s where I think my mother met, now my mother, I’m telling you this really, er, my mother when she conceived with me, was only 15. Because she was 16 on, on the 11th of July and I was born in the November. So that, that’s, I’ve only worked that out in the last few days. And anyway, I said to my mother one time when I did find out about that, I said you were a dirty little devil, weren’t you, I said. I said, you, you shouldn’t’ve done things like that at your age and it was always a puzzle to me because my paternal grandparents never came to our house. My grandmother was a great big beefy woman and they lived at Bethnal Green. And my dad was a rather educated man, I found out in later days.

Anyway, back to Homerton. Shepherd’s Lane run down a slope right behind Lewis Berger’s paint factory and I’ve always said I was brought up on the smell of paint. And as it went under the railway arch, which the railway line went from Homerton Station to Broad Street. It used to be in a dip. But we used to play football there because it was the only place where neighbours didn’t shout at us because of their windows. And it was very entertaining with skates and all things like that and we’d have our own wheels, pram wheels, on the board and all that y’know, which we used to make all these things. And then, when it come round to Guy Fawke’s day we always had a Guy. And it’s, we used to go round and get money and the only trouble was we always had to give my mother half of it y’know but we weren’t allowed to buy fireworks. And then in the summer we as children we used to gather all bits of broken glass and we’d go in Hackney churchyard all round the graves digging off th, the moss and we used to make patterns on the pavement on a Saturday morning in Berger Road so that all the ladies going shopping, so we used to earn a bit of pocket money that like that. And til somebody else wanted to get in your place, so we, we’d packed up. So, another thing I used, there used to be two timber yards. One in what was called Bridge Street. I dunno what they call it now, that goes down to Morning Lane. There used to be, but the railway arch there used to be a timber yard. We used to go there and get wood and there was another timber yard in Fenn Street. Do you know Fenn Street? Under the little arch? Still there is it? Yeah, well we, there used to be a timber yard there and we used to get all the broken pieces of wood, bring them all home, on the, out on the pavements, chopping them all up, put them in buckets and sell them to the neighbours for tuppence, two pence and all that. Well then it came to a time when they started doing away with gas and having electricity. Well, they come all the way down Shepherd’s Lane and up Warwick Villas and they all in those days, any sites that the, you don’t see it now, always had a, a nightwatchman. And they’d have a hut with a great big coke fire and as kids used to sit in there with no thought about children abuse or, or anything like that it was nothing, the, these elderly men used to be there. They’d give us cocoa and all that. We used to go, and go home. I used to go in my Nan’s back gate and pinch a couple of potatoes, jacket potatoes and we used to put them on, on the fire. In the winter we used to do our chestnuts on there and all, all things like that. So we, as kids, we, we were self-entertaining. But, getting round a bit later, when we got a bit bigger, my grandmother used to every Christmas take is to what was called the World’s Fair. This was at the agricultural hall at Upper Street at Islington. It’s still there, the building. The post office took it over at one time. And we used to go there to see the circus and, and, and all the amusements and all that. That was that. And then she used to take us to Hackney Empire and she used to always book a box. This was all the grandsons and granddaughters. And she always booked a box there for us to see the pantomime. That, that was regular. Now, coming round to my grandmother and Hackney Empire, she was a regular. She would go there every Monday and I used to come home from school and she’d give me a penny and I’d go up and line up for the Hackney Empire for the pit. They used to call it the pit down by the orchestra. And she used to go in there and she had the one special seat that she always sat in for years and years and years. And then Hackney Empire was sold eventually and ITV who took it over found out about my grandmother being a, a regular there, they sent her tickets. She was disgusted when she found that her seats wasn’t there, an’ all the wires running all over the place, she’d never go again. Well, prior to that, when the silent films finished and talkies came out, I took her to the The South, the cinema in Wells Street to see a Charlie Chaplin film. And she wasn’t happy at all. She didn’t like the movie films, she liked the old-fashioned types and all that. But she, she liked the theatre. She was a great one for going up the West End to, to see all the shows and all that with her sister. And, the, the grandmother of the photo I just showed you. And she worked hard, my gran. She did housework for a headmistress up in Clapton Square. She did laundry for – I can’t think, I’ve been trying to think of the name of this, great big milliners stores down Chatsworth Road on the right-hand side, down on the hill. And they lived at Whipp’s Cross and, and Nan used to go there and do their housework and she’d do all their washing. She’d bring it home and she wash, she’d be washing for about four or five people. Well, I didn’t mind because I used to have to deliver it. So that, my Nan would give me a penny for taking it and when you delivered it, you got more so money was building up all the I was not… I dunno, I was… lucky. Other boys didn’t do it, other boys wouldn’t go do shopping for, for people but I shopped for about, during the school time, we used to have lunch from twelve til two. Because you were at school from nine til twelve then, then two til four. And I was at Berger Road School. And I used to go and do shopping for neighbours. I had a Tate and Lyle big sugar box, which I put wheels on with shafts and I’d go, they’d give me all their, their shopping lists and you went in to the grocer’s, Brill’s in Wells Street, you hand that over, you sit on a high chair there while they got your order. And they’d tell you how much it was and they’d write the price on, on the shopping list an’, an’ and all that. So that, in a lunchtime, was always giving me money. Now, on top of that, what with the getting, selling wood and doing, doing things like that.

The school, I played football for them once but I didn’t enjoy it. It was on Wells Street common and the football pitch was all cinders. It wasn’t grass, though there was loads of grass there, it was cinders. And I fell over once, oh and on top of that you if you couldn’t afford a pair of boots, football boots, you used to play with one boot and someone else would play with one boot. They were in the school cupboard an’ all that. But, and you used to play football of a lunchtime as well and never like they are now with the schools. But, it’s… childhood, I enjoyed, I enjoyed. The only unfortunate part that, when we used to go off in the school holidays, go up to Whipp’s Cross on the tram in Epping Forest. I always had to take me brother with me an’ that was a blasted nuisance, but anyway… Incidentally, see that little chair there? He made that. He made that for every grandchild that was born in the family, and my brother had six children. Every grandchild that was born, he made a chair and we are the only ones that have kept it. That’s now, well my son’s seventy years of age so that’s how long we’ve had it. And, anyway, that’s… that’s that.

In 1926, we had the General Strike. Now, we had a teacher called Jimmy Dyer. ‘Beetroot’ we called him, coz his face was always bright red. Well, the, the army was stationed on the Marshes and with the band they would come down Church Road, down Berger Road and go up Kenton Road to Victoria Park. And they’d be marching there and there’s two songs I always remember – ‘Brown Eyes Why Are You Blue?’. I dunno whether you know that. [Sings] “Brown eyes, why are you blue?” ... and all that. And the other one was West Ham’s signature tune. That, they always used to play that. And those two songs, they’ve always stayed in my mind. My grandfather belonged to a working man’s club in Brooksbury’s Walk. It was just down on the right-hand side, just opposite the church wall. I dunno whether it’s still there. There used to be two – one there, one a bit further up. An’ he belonged to that and of a Christmas there was always a party for the children. And we used to go to that and I can remember being on my dad’s shoulders, standing at the back 'cause we got in late and seeing Cinderella in the coach coming, and with little Shetland ponies y’know, like that. That’s always been in, in my mind all those, those things. When, a bit later we, I don’t know what happened in the educational system, but we had to move from the last two years of our schooling, we had to move to Morning Lane School. But, oh, let me go back to, to Berger Road School. Our headmaster was Mr. Pearce, Charles Pearce and he was a brilliant pianist. And through him, he used to play all the classical music in the hall an’ all that. The… he sort of educated me towards classical music. I still love it, I like watching the Proms and all things like that. He was, he was a brilliant man, very smart man, a, a brilliant man. Never come to watch a football match or anything like that. But Miss, Miss Gallotly, was headmistress of the girls’ school upstairs. Bit of a so and so, she was. But anyway, we, as senior boys at that school, we used to have to go down to the infants and in lunchtime, just after lunchtime, we had to make the beds up. They like, they had trestles and poles and canvas and we had to make them up for the little ’uns who went to sleep in the afternoon and all that. And, I can always remember being called down there to, for my sister who was six years younger than me. She’s still alive by the way. I had to take her home because she’s wet her knickers. So my, my mum was what we called, my Nan called “slommackly” [phonetic]. She wasn’t clean unfortunately. And now, another thing, on a Monday we’d have stuff left over from dinner on a Sunday, and things like that and, er, bubble and squeak and things like that. But then, one day a week, she’d tell us to go, there used to be a fish shop in Welling, in the high street, in Homerton high street, on the corner what used to be College Street. Now Mr Dale there, he knew me regularly, he used to walk in there an’ and he’d say “Six pennoth o’small?”. They used to fry all small pieces of fish. I, I always used to have to say “Six pennoth of small, Mr. Dale, and Mum said would you put plenty of cracklings in”. That was all the bits that floated on the top. That was our day’s dinner, the in those. And it was great.

Now, my great-grandfather lived in College Street. Now, these are places that are strange to you. You’ve got Bannister House now haven’t you, Bannister. Well, that started at Bannister Street and went right along Homerton High Street to College Lane. That was all demolished. Now, [clears throat] in the high street was Homerton College, which was part of one of the universities. And I always wanted to go there. But unfortunately, I did at a later date go somewhere but that, er, comes later. But it was a lovely place. And that was all pulled down and College Street, 29 College Street, even in my mind’s eye now I can see my great-grandfather sitting on his chair in the front garden, talking to everybody that went by. My grandmother was born there and they had six children and they’re, my, well they’re all passed away now but,ah, they went on from my grandmother who, who was a hundred when she died. All her sisters all, all, all died of different things and all that. But my great-grandfather had a beautiful garden and he had a big conservatory at the back and he had grapevine all growing right through and the grapes, we used to love going stealing them y’know and all this. Just take one off a bunch and all things like that, coz he always knew, he’d say “You’ve been touching the grapes”. Well, his garden backed on College Lane, where there was a school for children with disabilities. Cripples,and things like that. And we in, in Berger Road, we had a cripples’ school behind Berger Road. In fact we had the cripples’ school and we had in, in Shepherd’s Lane was a cripples’ school and was the carpenter’s, carpenter’s, where we used to do woodwork. We used to go one day a week or one morning a week to do carpentry and I made a tray and as a matter of fact, a few weeks a go I saw on ‘Flog It’ on television a tray similar to what I made, with an inlay, an inlaid of different woods which, in a diamond shape and all that. A diamond that way and a diamond that way. And I thought oh, I wonder what happened to my tray. But anyway, that was that.

But in College Lane was a coal merchant. Now, that was another job I used to do. My grandmother, she could always have a coalman come – Charrington’s or someone like that – come and deliver half a ton of coal or something like that, 'cause every house had a big coal hole under the stairs. And she would all, but everybody the neighbours, they were, they were poor. And like my mother. So I used to have to go down the coal yard with a sack in me cart and get twenty-eight pound of coal. An’ that’s how people used to buy, buy coal like that. Coal merchants used to deliver and my, when my grandmother used to have coal delivered they had to carry it up Warwick Villas from down the bottom in Shepherd’s Lane, because it was a cul de sac, they couldn’t go up. And my Nan used to say “Stand down by the lamp-post, and count the number of bags”, 'cause what they used to do, they always, if you had ten bags of coal, they’d only give you nine but leave an empty bag down there so that they caught… My grandmother was wise to all that sort of thing. And that was that. But that coalyard that I used to go to, on voting days Reynold’s the coal merchant, used to clean his coal cart up and we as kids would be all on there, and Herbert Morrison was our local MP. And we’d be on, on, on there, on the cart going round the streets singing [sings] “Vote, vote, vote for Herbert Morrison, chuck old Butler down the stairs”... 'cause Butler was the Conservative y’see and all that. So, this was all that. Well, that, I was sleeping at my grandmother’s then because my uncle was in the army, and I was sleeping with my grandmother, in, in her house and that was when we’d been all round the streets on this horse and cart and that was when we were told that the result of the voting would be called out round the streets. So, I used to have, suffer with lot of nightmares and things like that and walking in me sleep. And that, one, one night, on voting night, I tried to get out and open the window to listen and I hit this lip on the back of my my grandmother’s old chair. Well, I’m crying out “Nan, Nan”, “Go to sleep”, she said, “I’ll see you in the morning”. Well, course, when she came in the next morning, I’m smothered in blood, me nightshirt is smothered in blood.
But going from that, Herbert Morrison lived just over the road from here, the other side of Falconwood Station. And he used to go in the Falcon Hotel when he, he was at the House of Commons and the House of Lords and go in the pub there for a meal. Well it, when I was on late duty I used to go up on the train with him and, and we used to chat and I said “See the scar on my lip?”, I said, “You were the cause of that”. But anyway, that, that’s that, that’s going a bit forward.

We went to Homerton, went to, whassername [phonectic] school. I applied when I was fourteen on November. A neighbour next door to my grandmother was a postman. And all my friends were all getting jobs, but the jobs that there were van boys, errand boys, working in sweeping up and all this and that and they were getting twelve shillings a week, something like that. Well, Mr. Reynolds, ah, Mr… No… Hemmings, Mr. Hemmings. He, he said “Tom, go in the Post Office”. He said, “It’s a job for life and you’ve got a pension at the end of it”. Always, that was the old saying y’see. So what happened was, I applied at the Post Office. I went up to King Edward Buildings in the City and had an interview, “Yes, you’re ok”, they give me an exam papers and everything worked out. “The only thing is, son”, they said to me, “You’re half an inch too short. Now, you go away and try and stretch, make up that half an inch”. Well, what happened, I got a paper to say, that was in the November, that my dad was out of work then and what happened was he used to have to go down to the old Hackney Hospital, which was the workhouse. And he’d have to go down there and in, in side, I think you’d call it Kenworthy Road is it now? Well, Sidney Road, there was a little hole in the Brick Wall and he used to have to go in there and get a docket for seven and six to go and buy groceries. But, he had to go and work and he used to work in Clifton Road off in Chatsworth Road, used to be the council depot there for the builders and the road people and he used to have to go there, chipping those big blocks that they used to repair the road with and all that. And his hands used to be, I can always remember, he used to moan about his hands and my, my Nan used to say to him “Why don’t you wear a pair of gloves?” He said “Well, I look a bit silly with all the other men wearing gloves”. But, that’s what they had to do in those days, which is another form of hard labour really, which what should happen now. But, that, that was that.

I’m trying to think going on from there, I went to Morning Lane School. Oh and then we got together and started, all the boys in Warwick Villas and Shepherd’s Lane. Oh, I, one thing which I, I still to this day. I can never understand why Warwick Villas started at number five. Where was number one to, one to four? It always puzzled me. There was no number five, no number one to four, it started at five. Five, and they were in pairs with a big gateway with a side gate. But we, when we moved from my grandmother’s we lived to 19 Shepherd’s Lane. That was right at the side of the railway. But we had no side gate at all, we was the only one in the whole area that didn’t have a side gate. We had a small front garden. But my mother and my sister, when she got a bit older, we had outdoor toilets and I always remember I always had to go out and stand outside while they went to the toilet because being alongside the railway, some of the railway men used to be dropped off the trains when they were going home and come down the railway embankment on our wall, out of our front garden and all that and my mother’s always frightened about that. She kept chickens. The man who run the allotments on the, the railway along there. Mr, Mayers he lived on Morning Lane, he was a guard on the train and he used to say to my mother’s name was Amy. Amy Caroline Eliza, but my grandfather always give someone a different name and he always called my mother “Wyn”. And this, this Mr. Mayers said to my mum, he said “Wyn”, he said, “I’m on night shift tonight”, he said. “Get young Tom to get a bucket out”. He used to throw some coal, he used to be at the back of the train as a guard with his little fire, he’s throw out a bucket of coal, up I’m going and getting all the coal. Well, he was a great gardener and my mother was an ignoramus. I say this, most probably the family don’t agree with me, but she knew every word of a flower or a plant, there was, they always had three names. She knew all the Latin names, all the middle names and all the, all the proper names. In our garden, she grew from a cherry, from a cherry stone, a white Napoleon cherry, she grew a tree. And we used to have masses of cherries off that tree and when they pulled down Warwick Lane, Warwick Villas and Shepherd’s Lane, I notice that cherry tree was still there. When my mother moved out, out of the house. But whether its still there now, I don’t know. Because they told me Shepherd’s Lane’s altered now.

Shepherd’s Lane had a factory at the top and as you come down Shepherd’s Lane on the right-hand side was a big warehouse. Now, we used to puzzle about that because you used to see a lot of men come on horse and carts and they used to be, have all Arab clothing. Well, what this factory was, they used to bring from Egypt, they used to bring cartloads of quail. In great big long trays. Some were alive, some were dead. Which, I mean, we never saw anything of them after that. They’d go in the factory, you never saw anything more. But they used to go out I understand to all the big r, hotels and restaurants and all that, which was a delicacy. We never saw any personnel in there at all. There was a house there. Further down backing on to Louis Berger’s paint factory, was a little cottage with Old Granny Bowger lived in there. Miserable old bitch, she was. But we, we used to swing with a rope on the lamp-post right opposite her, we used to swing. Well, nine times out of ten we’d break the mantle when it was gas, and consequently, she’d, she’s in the dark there and she used to moan like any, wouldn’t let us,wouldn’t dare play football there or all that but. She lived there and we could never understand what her connection was with Louis Berger’s paint factory. We knew that her son lived just by us, but we, we just didn’t know what she was to do, how she got there or anything like that. But anyway, that was that.

Every other Saturday my dad would take me to Clapton Orient. Now Clapton Orient was down Millfield Road, d’you know Millfield Road, do you? Goes down to the Lea. Down where the Marsh, the Millfields itself. Well its now, it turned out to be the dog track, didn’t it. But what happened was they got kicked out of there. The, the chairman of, of Clapton Orient was a man named Garlam Wells. And his son was at Cambridge University, and he was a good amateur, played for England in goal. And he used to in, when they came down from university, he always used to come and play in goal for the Orient and all that. But, he kicked them out and started a dog track. Well the Orient went to the Spotted Dog in Lea Bridge Road, which was a field with an amateur side playing in it, Leyton used to play there. And it played, and then eventually they went to Lea Bridge, on the bridge, they went there, where they started midget car racing in, in, in there from America. A well-known blonde filmstar, her husband started this, I can’t think… They started it at Charlton as well. But anyway, then the Orient finished up where they are now at Osbourne Road. That used to be Walthamstow Avenue played there. No, Leytonstone. Leytonstone used to play there. And the, the Orient took it over and that’s when they changed their name to Leyton Orient. But always, always called the O’s, everybody called them the O’s. I tell you, my brother – I’m going a bit further now, my brother, he had six children. He lived in Treehurst Street at the bottom of Marsh Hill on the left-hand side. It’s the last street but one. And they lived up there on the right-hand side. And he had six children. And every time a child was born he bought them shares in, in the Orient. Now I often wonder what happened to all that, with the ups and downs of football. And he, he was a great man my dad. He never, never drunk. He was a strict, strict teetotaller but he smoked Woodbines. Well now, we’re coming back, back round to when I left school. My mum said to me “Well, your dad’s out of work. You’d better find a job while you’re waiting to go in the Post Office.” And I worked for a Jewish grocer’s in Dalston... number eight Sandringham Road. And I worked for them for six weeks. And I used to have to, had a big heavy bike with a great big basket on the front and I had to deliver groceries right up Stamford Hill and all round that area and all that. Well, in those days, eggs was always in a bag. Olive oil was, they give you a bottle and, and, and you fill it in, in the shop, you fill the bottle up with olive oil and all that and, and you got soused herrings and all things that. All in the basket. And they were so heavy for me and it was a hill I had to go up first to get up to the main road. And I had a couple of accidents where people didn’t get their eggs because all smashed. But a lot of the Jewish people were great. On, I never worked on a Satuday, I had to work on a Sunday. But on a Friday if, they would ask me to go round, light the fire and all things like that because of their religion and all that. And there was always money. Well at the same time, prior to that, I used to work for a milkman. United Dairies. Pushing the barrow, used to be a barrow, used to be a big churn on the front with a tap underneath which, and they had containers that they carried which they used to fill up and then what they used to do scoops with a pint or a half a pint and people would go to the door and they’d bring out a jug. And you’d put out. Or someone would leave a note in the jug there, y’see. Well, that was alright. Well this is all before that days of bottles. The, there, they used to have some, ah, like a zinc container which held a pint of milk, which used to hang on the side of the barrow. And that was hard work pushing that. And I used to get about sixpence for, for helping out. I used to do a paper round in the early morning. Jim Ridler in Berger Road and I used to hate going in there because he used to “You’ve had any breakfast?” “No”. And he’d, on the stove, he would have a teapot on there and the tea was black, it was thick and it was horrible. And directly a customer come in the shop, while I’m sitting there drinking the tea, to buy a paper, I’d straight down the sink y’know and wash the cup. Go and deliver and I delivered all around Casson Road, all round those side streets. But then the milkman I helped, he used to go right down Hackney Wick and all that… Gascoigne Road and all the way round and he then, Ted did, the milkman, he lived in, in Victoria Park Road. Then he had horse and cart. I used to sit up there, but we had to watch for the inspectors, because the inspectors, Ted knew them all and he’d say “Quick, jump off quick”. Well, that experience with him come in very handy just after the war here. We had a milkman named Tom here and he couldn’t go in to the forces because he’d got plates in his leg. And at the end of this road here, where, as I said a V2 dropped, eight houses was destroyed. Now, the cart, the horse knew the round more than what he did. The horse would, knew where, where Tom was, so he’d walk on and he’d walk round and then he’d stop outside here. And I said to the wife, “Tom’s a long while coming”. So she said “Yes”, she said “I wonder if he’s alright”. So I walks across to the bomb dump and all that and I find him on the ground – he’d had a fall on the bricks, and his leg had gone. So, we never had a telephone. I went up to the phone box and phoned for an ambulance and we’ve got the horse outside, which my wife went out and put his nosebag on and all that. I’m here, got all his money and all of that. I rung up United Dairies and told them, I said that “Tom’s had an accident and he’s in hospital. Now we’ve got the horse and cart here. Can someone come down?” “I’ve go no-one to come down”. So this is the honest truth, I drove the horse and cart, that was the experience from working with Jim Ridler, I drove the horse and cart up to Bexley Heath where the depot was, handed the money over. They never turned round and said well, there y’are, there’s a drink or something like that. And that was the reason we used to have milk delivered by United Dairies, and because of that I stopped, we stopped. We started getting our milk from the Co-Op. But that’s going on later years.

But going back to Well Street, the market. My, my grandmother was known by every stallholder and every shop in Well Street. And they used to give her different things y’know, cheap and all that. Well, when decimalisation came in, my grandmother never went shopping. And I only found this out. My mother sometimes did a bit of shopping for her. But she lived upstairs in Flanders Way, they call it Flanders Way now. And she lived up in a, in a bedsitter because all, all Homerton, all Shepherd’s Lane and Warwick Villas has all been pulled down and extended the school. And they lived there and she would call out the window and say, see a neighbour and say “Oh, d’you mind getting me so and so”, and she’d give them a note. But they’d never give her the change. I found this out, so I started getting her pension, which was, the post office was just over the road in, in Well Street, and I put it in the bank, and then I would draw so much out every now and again to give her, give her money. Well, that was, that was that. But, but she never went shopping, she never understood decimalisation. She, unfortunately, I believe I’ve told you before, she used to fall out of bed, and her bed was only low anyway. So I got a mattress and I put it down the side so when she fell and I started calling and I used to go up to there, leave here at half past five, call in on her at six o’clock. I used to motor up then in those days and make sure that she was alright and then I used to go down of a… Two things. My mother, as I said, was very untidy. And my Nan used to say to me “Tom, do me a favour – clean my bath out will you? And the toilet. Your mother never does it, does she.” And it used to be in a horrible state. So, I would go up there and when I used to, when I knew any of my family was going up to my mother’s, I used to nip down of a lunchtime from the office, make sure the toilet was clean and all this and that. And I’ve always been one for that – toilets and things like that. Used to clean them and all. Used to buy carbolic and goodness knows what to do the two toilets.

My father died in 1947. He was 54. And he dropped dead in a, in a and the police rung me up, or not rung me up, called me in the early hours of the morning. I put me head out the window. “Oh, Mr. Williams? Er, your father’s passed away. Will you attend, er, the mortuary at Shoreditch?” So I went up there to identify him. Well, it seemed my father had two jobs. He worked as a night telephonist and, well, I knew this as he did that. He worked two long nights a week at Clissold Exchange which was at Dalston. And when I was in the army, we had an arrangement that I would ring him and my wife would go up to the phone box up the road here and he’d ring her, so that I could talk to my wife y’see and all that. So that was very convenient. But when he died, he was also treasurer of the, the union, their union, so I had to go up there, when they opened his locker to get all the money out and check it and all that. But he, he was, my dad was a well-educated man but unfortunately he’d come unstuck. My other grandfather used to say it was a shotgun wedding. But another thing, my mother when I said about how awkward she was, she was always breaking crockery. And when we used to go down to the Orient, as we come home up Chatsworth Road, my dad would always buy half a dozen cups, half a dozen saucers, half a dozen plates, coz he was always buying dinner plates, everything. Because in the scullery that we had – it was only about as deep as that, the sink, - and of course, and it was big but of course it was solid, so she was always dropping things in there. But we had a big copper in there. Now, this copper had a fire underneath it. Now, all the washing was boiled in there in this copper, with the fire. Well, then, what happened was hot water was, was boiled up and all that and I, being the eldest, I used that, me brother who was younger and me sister, would have a bath in front of the fire in the kitchen. I used to have to sit in, in the copper with the, with the fire underneath and wash meself down, y’know, and all that. So I devised a wooden thing to stand on while I was in, in the water, drop that in the water and I used to wash meself down like that.

I used to go swimming, went swimming with the school but, I’m going back now as a child again. We used to do a lot of swimming in the canal, down the marshes. And we used to dare each other to jump off the bridge, Homerton Bridge, in, into the canal. Well, unfortunately, people used to, if they had cats and dogs that had had youngsters, they used to drown them, they used to throw them in, in the canal, and consequently you had to be dodge all this drifting around. Well in the, in the winter I dunno whether you’ve been down there, you’ve got the canal, the Regent’s Canal, then there’s a big dip and then you come to Hackney Marshes. And then you had the high road, it was a high road in those days, and the field was very low. It was about fifteen feet down. Well that used to, the River Lea over the back, used to flood and the canal used to overflow as well. So that used to freeze, all that big field used to freeze, all where they’re building the Olympics now. And we used to skate all across there in the winter. We’d be down there all day. Go right across what we called the backs. Eton Manor – I dunno whether you know about Eton Manor – Eton Manor was owned by a millionaire. He was eccentric. Still is, I understand, well I don’t know whether he’s alive. But they built the, built some centre there, I was reading the other day. But, ah, used to watch Hackney Schoolboys playing down there and we had a chap that lived in number 5, Warwick Villas, he used to play for the Schoolboys, so of course we always used to go down there. Get tickets from the school. And they used to play Islington and all, several other boroughs and all that. But it used to be entertaining down there, Eton Manor. But as I, as I say, kids we, we’d get a tram up to, all the way up to Whipp’s Cross in the summer holidays. We’d be up, we’d be all day up Epping Forest, or we’d be over Victoria Park or we, we has, Homerton has so much open space around. Springfield Park, you ever been up there? Up Clapton? Goes down to the River Lea. And you’ve got all along there its, when you go up, up Upper Clapton, you pass Northwold Road and on the right-hand side you go down a side street to the park. And it drops down. Now my aunt, they lived in the block of flats in the front. My grandmother’s sister, ah, daughter-in-law. And when she, they always used to sit under a tree in the park there, in Springfield Park. Her ashes are buried there 'cause that’s where she wanted to be buried and all that. And my uncle drove a pair of horses in Louis Berger’s paint factory and he often used to come down our road and he’d say “Come on, Tom, jump on”, give me a ride on the horse, going down. And he was a great man. And when we got married, my, my aunt and him, they, they knew what my mother was like and they took us aside at the wedding and give us a little talk and all that, which was, was, I always thought was very nice of them, y’know, and all that. They were, they were a great couple, they were. That’s why I still keep in touch with me cousins. They’re all over the country, well my family’s spread all over the country. But… I, I haven’t said a lot about Homerton have I?

Homerton High Street, Urswick Road, that’s the thing. You know Urswick Road? That’s a continuation of Homerton High Street up to Clapton. On the right-hand side, there used to be a big school. It was, what they call it? Urswick Road School. But then it went, it went as a school for delinquents and all that. I was a choirboy in St. John’s Church. The only puzzle about being a choirboy was, I could never understand psalms. I could never understand. I could, I never, never learn them and still haven’t to this day. But, this school had a band. They were all boys that was in there, they live in there y’see, they’re all, all terrors and all things like that, come from all over the country. And they used to have a church parade about once a month. And they used to march to Hackney church from Urswick Road, round Lower Clapton Road and then come in to the churchyard. That was, that was entertaining. Do you know the iron room? The iron room, you know the mortuary in Hackney churchyard? Well that mortuary was the iron, was the church hall was next door and we used to do all our choir practice in there. And the reason I stopped being a choirboy, there all we got, we found out that St. Luke’s and St. Barnabas, the boys got paid. And we never got paid, all we used to get was a tea party at Christmas in the Rectory which is in the narrow-way, in the narrow-way next to the the old church tower. And, but the iron room was there. Never saw any dead bodies but now down the bottom of the churchyard was the tram depot. By the railway arch that goes to Hackney station, run all alongside the railway and all the trams used to go in there or start from there. Early morning, you’d catch a tram to Aldgate, I’d catch a train, a tram at 4:13 when I was going to work there to get to Aldgate to get to work. That, that was when I was a boy messenger in the Post Office.

But anyway, there were so many… Hackney Empire, as I said, my grandmother would always give me the money, go and line up and the penny she used to give me for lining up, I always bought a bag of peanuts. There used to be a man come round, selling peanuts and all of that. And when she worked on a Friday we used to wait at the top of Shepherd’s Lane, waiting for Nan to come along from, she worked for this Headmistress in Clapton Square and she’d always go in Grimwood’s the baker’s, and she’d get four cakes for threepence ha’penny and that was our luxury was that cake. Grimwood’s had two baker’s shops. They had one right opposite Shepherd’s Lane, but the other one was down by that courtway going into Fenn Street. And they did all the baking there and at the same time, families all round Homerton, especially at Christmas, turkeys or meat all on a dish, take to the baker’s, paid so much money, they’d give you a disc and y’ and you’d, a numbered disc and, and you’d have your Christmas dinner cooked you see and all that because ovens weren’t big enough in the houses you see. But my Nan, she, they used to use it sometimes but she, my grandfather had a spit over the, over the stove and they, that was one night of the year, Christmas Eve, that he never went out boozing. He used, he used to be in front of the fire there with a big dish, with all the fat in and he’d be basting and turning, and all that. And I would be playing in the street and suddenly there’d be a call, “Tom!”, it’d be my Nan. I’d have to go up, either up the Lamb and Flag which was on, up in Homerton High Street in the jug and bottle department, with a jug, and get his beer. If he was flush, he’d have a, a pot. So, it was full up the top, and I’d have a little sip on the way back home. And he, he, he knew that. He’d say to me “You’ve been drinking it”. Sometimes, I’d go down to the, another pub, and they had no jug and bottle. You’d put your foot in the door and call one of the customers, “Can you fill, get this for him?” and all that. And that’s what I used to do. Well, that jug believe it or not, my Nan gave it to me after my grandfather died and my wife wouldn’t have it in the house, it was up in my shed. And my son said to me day, one day “What’s that jug up in the, in the shed Dad?” And I said “Well, that was your great-grandfather’s.” He said “Oh”, he said. “What was that?” I said “It’s what I used to get his beer in.” Used to either pay sixpence or eightpence. “I’ll have that”, he said. Well, he had it on his desk as a headmaster. He used to tell everybody about this and all that. So I said to him the other week, “You still got the jug?” “No, I’ve passed it on to Chris.” Chris’ got it, my eldest grandson and all that. So, that jug’s a hundred years old at least.

Yeah, he was a great one. He was a, he was a baker. How when my great-grandfather and my grandmother, she was born in College Street, number twenty-nine. He was a chef on the Great Eastern Railway, which was before the LNER. And he used to travel up, up, right up to Edinburgh as a chef. Well that’s how I found out about my grandfather. He was born, which I didn’t find out til later, later on, he was born at Bradford. And he was a, a chef as well on the trains. Well, when he come down to London he had nowhere to live so my great-grandfather found him accommodation in Templar Road. I dunno whether its still there, Templar Road. Off Homerton Terrace. And he,anyway, he stayed there and that’s where he met my Nan. And eventually they got married in, in, oh what was it, in, in 1890 or something like that, I forget now... I got their testimonial upstairs. About 1895 I think they got married. But he finished up as a baker he worked for the Aereated Bread Company, that was similar to Joe Lyons, they had all tea shops. Well then he eventually finished up working for the LCC, worked in the bakery in Bethnal Green Hospital. In the workhouse part of the hospital. And, as a kid, I used to walk through Victoria Park to there, to go, on Good Friday, to go there, see the doorkeeper, and he let me in and I’d go down to the bakers and all that. Well, what happened was, my grandfather used to, for all London hospitals in the East End, he used to make all the bread and he makes the, all the hot cross buns. And he used to make great big ones. Well, what he used to do, when I was coming out, I couldn’t come out the gate with them in a bag. We had an arrangement that what he used to do, he’d come round to the wall going up to the park and he’d throw the bag over the wall and I’d, I’d catch it with all the hot cross buns in, you know? I’d eat one on the way home, I used to walk right through the park and all that. And he had, that, that was one… And then when he retired form there I had to go up to Somerset House to get his birth certificate, and of course it turned out we pulled his leg wholesale, he was a week younger than what he was. Instead of April the 4th, he was April the 11th! And we used to pull his leg over that. John Henry. But he was a so and so when he was in hospital at Hackney Hospital. I keep saying Hackney Hospital 'cause the other one was the Eastern Hospital, it was a fever hospital where it is now. Isolation hospital. And that’s where my grandmother used to work. See, now, my grandmother was a maid in there and she was a maid to the Matron, from about sixteen, she worked there. And that Matron was given the job of coming here up Shooter’s Hill, to the Brook Hospital to open it and employ the staff, and my grandmother came with her. Now, I didn’t know about all this. When my mother went to Spain, she asked me to… Have I, have I said this about my grandma? No. My mother said “Would you look after Nan while”, and I used to go down every morning, pick her up 'cause she wouldn’t stay here, she wanted to sleep in her own bed. Well, we’re coming along Shooter’s Hill Road, she said to me “I been along here before, Tom.” So, I said “No you haven’t, Nan.” “I’ve been along here before.” So she said, “There’s a big field here on the left-hand side, and all the army horses from, from the Woolwich Arsenal, the Woolwich barracks, are all there, the horse artillery.” Well of course it’s all flats there now. And she said “A bit further along, there’s a big red bit of building called the Brook Hospital.” She said, “I worked in there with the Matron.” And, and that was in the nineties and all that. Well, she got married from that hospital and all that. And, blow me, she’s remembered all this. But taking her down to Welling, down the road, there’s a road called Sherwood. “Look!”, she said, “They’ve named a road after me!” That was her maiden name, and all… But she was a character, but she was very nice. I thought more of her than I did of me mother. She was very good. Me grandfather was a so and so. He’d always be on the drink and he’d say to my Nan “Lend us a couple of bob” “You can have a shilling” And she had a little, used to buy a little book in, in Woolworths for a penny, a notebook, a little red book, I can see it now. Write there 'Granddad, John – shilling.' And she’d charge him a penny interest . She was great though, but she was great to me, and I took it down, because several of the neighbours were very good to me and I take it down to the fact that my mother was only sixteen and I was where they, 'cause a lot of people said “Poor Tom”, he says, “Poor Tom”. I says “What they keep calling me poor for? I’m not poor!” And as a kid, I used to buy all my own clothes, everything, all the money that I used to earn I used. My Nan had me moneybox, and she’d say “Right – if you’ve got sixpence, put fourpence in the box and you can have tuppence to spend.” Now she used to take me, there was a woman named Mrs. Huggett that lived in Churchill Road and you’d go in her street door and all up the stairs where new boots, clothing and that, all in the hall and she run a club in other words. But my Nan never believed in belonging to the club, she used to take me there and then I’d buy a new pair of boots and all this and that or a new pair of trousers and all things all that.

And then when I started, when I was at Berger Road, when I was eleven, you used to have the school’s country holiday fund. Now this was a charity that was run and every year, you could have two weeks either in the first school holidays or the second two weeks. Well, I used to go on the first two weeks, me and a chap name of Robbie Steele, it cost us ten shillings. We’d be taken by the council up to the station and the first one I went to was near Dover, place called Temple Yule. And we went there and we stayed with a lady named Mrs. Fagg. F-A-double-G. Now, Fagg, as I later found out is a well-known name in Kent. But I can go on a bit further about that. But anyway, we used to go on this holiday and we’d write home. When we was in Mrs. Fagg’s house, lovely little village, and you had a stream come off the Minish, that’s the hill. And it used to run through her garden. Well she never had a bath. We, as kids, used to have to get in this stream. Ice cold, in the middle of the summer, and have a wash down. But she used to tell us a story about her husband’s relations were smugglers. And one of his descendents used to have a ship. And, he used to smuggle stuff in to England from France, and he’d smuggle stuff in to France from England. Now, he was the only Englishman, she’s telling us all this, he was the only Englishman that was allowed to land in France. Well, I was up at Scarborough and I took, my friends took me up to Whitby and we went in the museum at Whitby and I saw this book all about smugglers. And I thought, I wonder… And I got this book out and looked for, I bought it actually, I got it here somewhere, and there is an article on Captain Fagg. So she was telling me the truth. But the part about it was, further things in that book going on from that, was one captain who used to bring perfumes and goodness knows what from France, up to Whitby and, and Scarborough. But he used to take the wool back from Yorkshire to, to France. Well, he had an arrangement with the farmers that they would come down to the cliffs and he’d got these small boats that used to come in and take all the wool. Well, going from that he arrives one time and there’s no-one there and all this and that. So what does he do? He gets all his crew, he marches fifteen miles in to Yorkshire, pinches all the sheep, took them all back to whassaname, and took them all over to France! First time they’d seen sheep in France. But, this is all in the book here somewhere. And, yeah, it was nice to know that what that lady told me as a kid wasn’t a fiction, it was a true story.

I went to a place called near Northampton, near Wheedon. Floor Village. That was nice. There’d always be a lot of us going to the village. You’d be on the, it was like the evacuees during the war, you’d be on the railway station and people’d say “I’ll have him, and I’ll have him” and all that. Well, it was a nuisance when I started to have to take me brother with me, you know, all that. But I went to the Isle of Wight on, on one trip, that was lovely. I went to about five years on the trot. But going back to the country holiday fund, when you come back you had to write a composition or an essay as they call it nowadays. And of what you, on your fortnight what had happened. Well I wrote three times, three years, and I got two prizes and lo and behold I had to go up to the City of London, to the Lord Mayor, to be given the prize. And I was annoyed that my mother dunno what happened to them. One was all about animals you know and all that, tigers and lions and all this and that. I think it was by Rudyard Kipling or someone like that and with all the colours in and all that. Going on a bit further, back to when I was a boy messenger at Billingsgate, we used to get even then, I used to scrounge fish on a Saturday morning, shrimps, cockles, and sell them to me neighbours. In East Cheap, I dunno if you know much about the City, but East Cheap was the home of all the dried fruits people, you know and all, and the offices and all that. They’d have all the reps come in and, and the tinned fruit come in and try the samples and all that. Well, what they used to do they used to throw the fruit away. So, I bought a white bucket, and took it up, spoke to the chap in there. I said “Any chance”, I said, “of you throwing that away and us having it?” “Yeah, of course.” They used to fill that up once a month with pineapple, peaches, apricots, the lot, all the tins in there and we used to have that there. Used to scrounge fish off the fish merchants and we had a lady cleaner, Mrs. Buckingham, Old Buck, she used to cook it for us 'cause all we got was bread and jam for sandwiches at work you know, all that, or you’d go up to Sander’s the grocer’s in East Cheap and buy a tin of baked beans and fat, you know, and all that, which was about threepence and that was your dinner. But Old Buck she used to cook fish, eels and all that. I’ve always been a lover of eels. And I still do, I had them yesterday as a matter of fact. I go into Morrison’s and I get a great big bowl full full of eels, jellied eels. I love them. But that was all there. We’d get live eels and there all the transport was horse and cart. And these horse and carts used to come down and all, all the roads all round Billingsgate, coz they used to wash the roads down every afternoon there would be all these cobbles there and the amount of horses that used to slip over. And then they, a firm called Harrison and Barber that was at 3 Colts Lane at Bethnal Green, they used to come and kill the horse, they’d put a screen round and all that because they were all, always breaking legs and all that, railway and all that, they’d come from Liverpool Street, and Broad Street, and sometimes they’d got great big boxes of eels. Well sometimes they’d drop, unloading, and eels would be all over the road, well you had to be quick, grab hold of them you see and the chaps used to show us, the fish merchants, used to show us how to grab hold of them and shove them your bag that you had and take down, put them in the sink and Old Buck she would kill them and cook them for us and all that. Well of, one of the neighbours that I used to do the shopping for in, in Warwick Villas, the Connors, Mrs. Connor, all her family were fish porters at Billingsgate so I knew them all and all that. And they, they were all, one of them was a great friend of my brother’s so they were friends for donkey’s years. But Mrs. Connor, she had a grandson, Sonny, as he was named, well, he was a mystery. His mother was always living with different men and he, his name would keep changing at school and all that. And but we always knew him as Sonny Connor and she was great, Mrs. Connor. She always paid me well. She never asked him to do any shopping.

Another thing I’ve got to come round with, Warwick Villas. I can’t reveal the name of the person, but there was one lady in Warwick Villas that was always pawning her husband’s clothes. Now, he worked right down, at a firm called Austin’s, right down Hackney Wick. And he used to go out early of a morning, and there was three pawn broker’s in Homerton. One in Homerton High Street, one in Well Street, and one up, I forget, up towards Casson Road. And Mrs. So and So, she used to say to me “Tom”, she used to open her front room window and there’d be a black cloth there. It’d be her husband’s boots on a Monday morning. Take them up the pawn shop, and all that. Get up there early, line up and in she’d go and come up and get the ticket to redeem them. Well then, when he’d come home from work on a Saturday with his wages, then he’s going to go down the pub, she would put the ticket there on the cloth on her window and I’d go and get it, and all things like this. Only for about half a crown she used to, his boots. But that’s two and sixpence. And what’s that? Twenty-five p. And, and she would only have to pay about three p. interest you see, and all that. And I used to do that and then suddenly my mother got wise to the fact that I was doing this and she said “You’re not doing it anymore”, she said, “Because people’ll think its me that’s, that’s doing all this.” But I found out something later in life, only last year actually to be truthful. My brother joined the army 'cause he was out of work, and he didn’t like it and he cried to come out. He was in the King’s Royal Rifles and, and it was quick marching. And he, he didn’t like it. So, he wanted thirty-five pound to, to buy himself out. Now, my mother, my dad bought my mother and my grandmother a, a chain bracelet and I said to my sister, couple of years ago I said “?Del?, whatever happened to Mum’s bracelet?” And she said “Well, Nan’s one, June’s got that”, that’s her daughter, but she said “I dunno what happened to Mum’s” and then she said “I know what it happens.” She said “She pawned it.” She said. I said “Is that where my cycling medals went?” 'cause I used to win a lot of them, I still got a couple upstairs, but it’s a good job I did save them. She pawned all my medals as well to buy him out of the army. So, that’s, I’ve often wondered about where my medals were but that’s what my sister told me a couple of years ago.

It's different things... they... it keeps coming across my mind. I lay in bed thinking about things you know and all that. But, ah, I don’t want to forget them, that’s the thing. I don’t want to get to the stage where, where I’m feeble and, and all that. Whether I want anyone to inject me or anything, I don’t know. But I’ve gone on so far and my grandson’s got a bet that I’ll live to be a hundred, one of my grandsons, and he’s lucky he is, so I’m hoping he’s right! But I’ve not talked a lot about Homerton, have I?

The Homerton High Street... we had a doctor, Dr. Turtle that was opposite Bridge Street who was the police surgeon. We had Dr. Todd. He, he moved, he had the chemist’s shop on the corner of Bannister Street and he moved up to, towards Mabley Street, no, Nesbitt Street. But we had a doctor, a Dr. Jelley. Used to go around on a white horse. Now, Dr. Jelly was a character. We didn’t know why but he’d been banned which we find out as I go on, that I take it he was doing abortions. And he was banned. But he had a shop just opposite Grimwood’s and used to have daubed all over sayings and all this and that. Well, we as kids used to call after him, he used to have his bag on, hanging on the side of the horse, and we used to “Oh, Dr. Jelly, had a wooden belly!” All things like that, we’d run like anything, 'cause he’d chase us with his horse. Now, there was a dairy called Snewin’s. S-N-E-W-I-N. Just next to the alleyway going to Fenn Street. If you wanted any milk, it was shut of a nighttime but the, on the door was a big brass plate with a tap. Now, I didn’t know this, but I was all under the impression that there was a cow the other side of that brass thing, 'cause you put a penny in and put your jug under and you got your milk. And it was still warm, so whether they had a cow there or not I don’t know but that’s what we always thought as kids. And that was there, as I say, there was the Post Office, there was Dr. Turtle, the Post Office, Grimwood’s, the courtway there. And then, there’s a pub in Rosie Innes’ Street called the Two Dragon Arms, I dunno if you know where that is, you went up the steps from where we lived. It used to be in the main road and, in the high street. And they built this new pub, The Brewer’s, but it was a a place for gays. They all used to call, and there was a lot of trouble I understand over the years, I mean I wouldn’t know, because I wasn’t a frequenter of pubs. So I don’t know anything about that, this was since I’ve left there. But Shepherd’s Lane was a great life for all of us.

We got together, we started a cycle club. This cycling club when we all bought bikes, when we were about sixteen, seventeen, that’s when I took up racing. And I belonged to a club called the Comet. They were up at Upper Street, at Islington. Not Upper Street, at Ball’s Pond Road. And I rode in several events. The medals I’ve got upstairs was from the first race I was in was for the Eastern Counties, up near Stansted Airport, that it was now, the thirty-second milestone. You rode up to, towards Cambridge and then turned back again, twenty-five miles. And I got third fastest as a novice and of course the unfortunate part about that, my time made it so that any event I went after that, I was on scratch. Barring one event I went in and I was on the South End Road and I did one-five-nine, I come down from one-nine-twenty-nine, then one-five-nine and I could never better that. I did a couple of fifty mile events, and over at Ealing on the Bath Road. I had one go at a hundred. Never, never again I used to say to myself. I bought a new saddle, what they called a B-17. And it was all round the Fen district, all round Cambridgeshire and Suffolk and all that, you did a hundred miles and I did it in just under five hours, which was evens but the, the competition time was about four-forty-eight. But of course, we weren’t allowed to have mass starts racing here in this country. The police wouldn’t allow it. But what happened was, there was one chap name of Charlie Holland, who from Birmingham, he entered a mass start event in France, whether it was the Tour de France I don’t know. But he asked for volunteers and what happened was he took over Brooklands race track, down in Surrey, and he asked for all the clubs to come down to give him atmosphere in our groups, you know and all that. So we all went down, and we went round so that was our first mass start racing in, or as such, a meeting in this country. And we all went round Brooklands there and there was a test hill there of one in four. Well, nine out of ten I never, never went up but there was one chap that belonged to the Finsbury Park club, Frank Bell, F. W. Bell, he used to go up it every time. And then in the winter, you didn’t have any time trials, it was always hill climbs and funnily enough it was all down this way, that’s why I got to know this area so much. I used to come through the tunnel more times than anybody and, and come here, up Westcombe Hill, on to Blackheath, you ever been to Greenwich Park? Yep, well, there. My son when he got married had a flat, right the side of Greenwich Park. And while they were on their honeymoon in Switzerland, my wife and I went over and redecorated it all. We did wrong, because there was a lot of lovely wood panelling in this old house, and all that, and we papered over it and all that. But, but anyway, it’s now a hotel that, that big house, over there. But, yeah, I used to love coming over here and what we used to do. I couldn’t afford, some of them would go lunchtime, when it was a social trip they’d go up the pub and they’d have a lunch, ploughman’s lunch, like that. I’d have to sit outside eating sandwiches and things like that. But it would always cost you money to go racing. You had to book bed and breakfast or bed and two breakfasts with a cottage somewhere near the route, maybe it might be five miles away, but you did and what you did. Racing always started at five o’clock in the morning so the landlady would give you a breakfast before you come out and then when you’d come back you’d have another breakfast and all that. It would cost you a half a crown, two and sixpence. Well then, what you do, you’d join up with the social side of the club, and you’d go finish up having tea - all pubs used to shut at two o’clock on a Sunday, but a lot of them used to do teas. So that’s why I know about so many pubs in Kent. I could name dozens and dozens of them that I visited. As a meal now, I’ve got all the cards, I keep all the cards. And I used to, there, you’d have a tea, you’d have two scones, a pot of tea and cream and strawberry jam, y’know, and all that. But it was quite nice and then you’d make your way home. Used to go camping down here, well we never used to camp. It was a case of you bought some blanket pins which I’ve still got up in the loft actually, I was telling my son the other day. We used to take a blanket, and used to fold it over, get inside and pin all the way round with these blanket pins, out in the open, you’d just have a groundsheet to throw over you, you, I never had a tent. And we used to camp at Clacton, at Jaywick, Canvey Island, all down here, Dimchurch, Seasalter, Herne Bay, all, Whitstable, all the way round but never had a tent. Never had a tent. Always sleep on the grass verge and all that, and you could leave your bike and all your equipment there on the side of the road and no-one would touch it. You’d go walking off and all that. And going round the, now this by the way, at Shooter’s Hill there’s a farm. I’ve diverted again from, from whassaname. But that was the first hop farm, coming down where hoppers would come on day trips. But normally, further down Kent were the hop farms you’d have people, you’d see them coming over London Bridge pushing the bassinet, the big old-fashioned prams loaded up with all blankets and clothes and all that, and all the hoppers, and they’d get to London Bridge and they used to have what you’d call the hopper’s trains to go down Kent and all that, to all the hop farms. It was a holiday, it was four week’s holiday picking the hops. And I was only watching a program the other day, what was it? Sunday. No, not Sunday, Monday. On ITV. He was down here at Kent round one of the hop farms. There’s not many of them left though. You can always tell what was a hop farm when you go along in Kent, you suddenly see all the lofty elm trees to stop the wind blowing on the hops. There’s still, still a lot of them about.

Can I get back to Homerton again?

When I first worked at the Jewish grocer’s, they paid me twelve shillings a week. I didn’t, I have to work Sunday, didn’t work Saturday. But when I started in the Post Office, they told me, all me friends said “Oh, you’re going in the Post Office, the money’s not good” and all that. But as I said my, my neighbour turned round and said that it’s a pension at the end of it, and all that business. And my first week’s money was ten shillings and elevenpence. Now, my mother said to me, “You can have the elevenpence, I’ll have the ten shillings for housekeeping.” Well, it turned out that by that time the Post Office had a Sanitorium, which I still belong to, I’ve been paying it right since I was fourteen, and they took tuppence a week from you, so that went, that went down to ninepence. You joined the union, which was another tuppence, so you finished up with sevenpence. So you had to, you got tips as a messenger for delivering telegrams. There was some fish firms that all these telegrams used to come down from central telegraph office, on the pneumatic tube underground, all over central London. And some of these fish firms used to say “Deliver us first, and you’ve got a penny for every telegram.” Well sometimes they used to have half a dozen telegrams. And you’d have a penny for every one, so that’s where you got your pocket money. As I say, when I used to sell the cockles and shrimps and all that, that was your pocket money, and fish. I used to get sultanas and packets of them and samples and all that, all those and they were in tins. All me pocket money and that was going in me box and all that, so I was never without.

Everybody was working, everybody had got a job then. I mean, my brother, where he worked, he worked at Haggerston, up at Dalston, for a firm called White’s, it was two brothers and a mother. And he was a chair frame maker. He wasn’t, he was an apprentice. But he used to have to deliver all these frames of furniture, that’s what he used to make. Well, [pause] he, he got good money but then again, Mrs. White packed up or she died, I forget now, and the brothers packed up and that’s when, when he joined the army. But before he joined the army, he joined that, what’s the name of the pub on the corner in Clapton, I forget now. He worked there for a little while. But the town hall in Hackney wasn’t there. I remember that being built. It used to be all at the front of the road, with big iron gates all along, big old building and all that. And then the Fifth Battalion, the regiment, the territorial regiment was right behind the drill hall. Used to call them the Hackney Gurkhas, I dunno why, that was the nickname, from the 14 – 18 war but that was there. The Hackney Empire, to be truthful, a couple of books I got there about different houses in, in Hackney. There’s none featured in Homerton unfortunately and I got this book out at the library but I couldn’t park anywhere near it, so I parked right up Graham Road and I come walking back, and I come round by the stage, stage entrance of the Hackney Empire and there’s a man standing there with a brick and he’s looking up and he’s looking to see where it had come from. So, I was chatting to him and I was telling him about my grandmother, so he dais “Ooh”, he said, “We’re just refurbishing the Hackney Empire. Would you like to come in and have a look?” So I goes in the stage door with him and all that and the fire screen was all work by hand, but he was trying to get some mechanical stuff and evidently, while I was there, someone rung him up and, and said that up, up somewhere up North they’d got all this equipment, so of course he cut me off. But someone showed me round, all round the stage, and all the Hackney Empire, how it’s all been refurbished and all the seats and all that, and up the gallery, he, they took me up there. I said, “Where’s all the hard seats that they used to have up there?”, 'cause it was only sixpence up there, all plush seats up the, up the gallery and all that. But it was an eye-opener to me, I saw everything and all that. And as I said, my Nan used to sit right down that corner and she used to love that. 'Cause the reason she sat there, was sometimes the curtain never went right back and she could see the acts before they came out, y’know and that, that was it. She was, as my great-grandfather was, was real character.

But, going back to some of the streets, as I said that Bannister Street had a mission hall up there, so we as kids used to go there of a night time. We’d go to the Salvation Army one night. And, we’d go St. Barnabas and all that. So in the end, we were crafty, we only did it as members because when the tea parties come on you see, and all that. Or bun fights as they used to call it. And we used to be nice. There used to be a in Wick Road, just by Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the pub, bit further down, there was a, a blacksmith. Used to like going down, watching him shoeing the horses. Always a smell, you know, of the burnt and all that, but… And there was another one in Homerton High Street, just by Digby Road. We used to go up, it was up the entrance, they built a bungalow up there. I dunno whether its still there. There used to be Briar Pipe Works that used to make all pipes, men’s pipes and all that, all different shapes. There always used to be a carpet, Colpeck’s. I see them down here, the lorries. I dunno whether they’re still in Homerton High Street, carpet people. Anyway, there were several shops further along. Bearing in mind that we, as kids, never ventured far away from our playing area where we lived.
Warwick Villas backed on to Digby Road. Big, long gardens they had. And we used to climb over the wall, 'cause there was a man who used to grow artichokes and we used to pull them up, and we used to roast them on this fire, you know and all that. We never knew what we were having, but they always tasted alright. Where we lived was there and my grandmother’s house was there. So that we could go along the railway wall and go in to my Nan’s garden, see and all that. And what happened, my grandfather he knew every pub in Homerton and Hackney and there was a pub in Morning Lane that was being refurbished. So the big screen that they had between the bars with the glass panelling and all that, he asked could he have it. So what happened was, my dad, my uncle and my grandfather, they carried it home, up Bridge Street as it was called and down. And my grandfather, my dad and my uncle, they fitted it across and they built on it and it was like a bungalow in the garden. And when, when they used to have parties, all the family and there, we as kids used to be in there. And it used to be odd, I’ve slept, summer nights I’ve slept there. I can always remember being in there one Saturday afternoon, when the cup final was on and it was on the wireless, and we saw the German zeppelin going over, that came over, the airship. There was an airship came down in, in or dropped bombs in the 14-18 war in Morning Lane. Is the library still in Mare Street? Opposite the town hall, on the corner?
At just the top, just coming round the corner from Morning Lane, used to be, used to be the Pavillion, there was the Empress down opposite the labour exchange down, further down Mare Street. There used to be the Clarence on the corner of Clarence Road. There used to be the South, down Well Street, and there used to be the Castle in Brooksbury Walk. I don’t know if any of them are still there.
The one in Brooksbury Walk was a big one, by the hospital. And then they moved round in to the high street, didn’t they? They’re round in the high street now. But the lovely old building, right opposite the hospital, opposite Homerton Row. Yeah. And that Homerton Row hospital, I was surprised when, because my mother died in there. I got a phone call... when was it... 1989. A phone call to say that your mother, the meals on wheels woman couldn’t get any attention and she was worried and though my brother and sister lived right near my mother, she would never give them a key. I was the only one that had a key. So I had to dash up, up there and of course what was happened was I got in but she was in her bedroom and she’d fallen out of bed and she’d tried to get to the phone, which I used to keep saying to her “Have that phone at the side of your bed”, but no, she had it by the door. She said “I want it there because when I’m not in the bedroom, I can’t, I can’t hear the phone if it’s not near the door.” And of course, she’d grazed, with these coarse mattings she had in the bedroom, they were like plastic, she’d grazed all her side and all that. And she was only in there three days and she’d passed away. But, yeah, and that was a surprise to me because we never went in the front entrance, we had to go round Clifton Road, round the back, by the Blackhouse, the pub. Where the 22 bus is – I don’t know if they still stop there. They used to go right round. But me grandmother she died in the old Hackney Hospital. I was really annoyed over that 'cause my mother said to me “Nan’s getting too much for me”, she said. “I’d like to have a break.” So I said, “Well, I’ll go and see Dr. Duncan and see what he says.” On the corner of Treehurst, no, not Treehurst, opposite the fire station. And I, I said to him, he said, “I’ve got a friend”, he said. “I’ll get him to come down and have a look at Nan.” 'Cause, oh yeah, that’s what I was going to say. Anyway, I’ll tell you the story first. So I went and got, he came and he said “Oh, yes”, well I didn’t know it but he was in charge of the old people’s home in, in Homerton, Hackney Hospital. And my, when my Nan went in there, the beds was terrible state and the place was awful. And she cried and said “Tom, take me out of here.” That was on the Friday when she went in there, I said “Nan, I’ll come on Saturday, Sunday morning and take you out.” And I left a message that any occurrences, get in touch with me. But they didn’t. And consequently, when I went in on the Sunday morning, she’d passed away. Well, one of the patients told me that she’d fallen out the bed, they didn’t have the cot round her, and all that and broke both hips. But, when it come to the inquest I, I suppose I was a bit rude really, but I said “No, it was a, a Maltese and an Egyptian that signed the certificate.” And I said “And they couldn’t speak English.” So he said, I said “I want an English speaking doctor to explain everything to me there”, and all that. I was a bit rude to them, because it was so sudden after her hundredth birthday.
What happened, my Nan, when I used to go down and see her and my next-door neighbour was the same, I used to gather firewood up when, when we had the terrible wet winter of 1947, I used to go up the woods, gathering all driftwood and all things like that, get a sackload of that, and then dry it off in me shed up there and then, then by the time I went to go next week there was enough for the boiler. 'Cause the boiler used to be in, this was the kitchen, the boiler used to be over there. And so, we couldn’t get coal 'cause the road was right thick snow and I used to do that and I saw the park-keepers up there and, which you don’t see now, park-keepers he said “It’s alright”, he said, “As long as you don’t take anything off the trees.” Well my neighbour that side, he suddenly said to me “Ooh, I’ll come with you.” Well then he told someone else and they brought a saw up, so I stopped going 'cause he was cutting the trees down. But Bill used to be, would say to me “Ooh, I’ve got pains in me back”, and I would say “Well, I’m going up me Nan’s tomorrow, I’ll get her to get some Camphorated oils.” She used to always go to the doctor, “Young Tom’s got backache, can he have some Camphorated oils?” Well the last bottle she got, just before she died, I’ve got there, still here with the label on it and all that, 1976. Bottle of Camphorated Oils. I was always getting him, because he used to travel around a lot, he was an electrician. What else can I go on about?

Well, people were always hard up. You had the old man going round with barrows, the rag man. And people were coming out with bags of rags and things like that... as kids used to go down the butchers and get the bones from the butchers. And then these men were gathering all bones and that, melting down you see. So, these were the things you used to do. Bucket – get a bucket, following the horses. Fill it up with the horse manure. Sell it to people, for so much a bucket and all. This is how we, we got money, kids. There was no case of your parents buying you sweets or anything like that – you had to buy your own. At Christmas, all you got, in your stocking that you hung up, was an orange, an apple, a couple of threepenny bits, three penny piece coins, which I’ve still got upstairs. You never got any toys or anything like that. You might get something that somebody’s knitted. 'Cause we used to wear jumpers with buttons on the shoulder, you never wore a shirt, never had a shirt. That was what you had, you wore woollies with a collar but the buttons was on the shoulder. And, as I say, children were going around with holes in their trousers, and the shirt hanging out and I mean all that. And of course, at school when you’d see anyone like that you started pulling their shirt and all that. But, there was fights and goodness knows what over there. Nesbit Street, in Homerton High Street, was, had the biggest reputation. Pedro Street, down by Millfields, they were the two roads that you were told never to go down. Now, since I’ve been at the swimming pool, well I’ve been going since, since the wife died in ’93, but at this new pool that we’ve got, I’ve met so many people that were born in Homerton. Homerton Hospital and all that. Now, I spoke to a lady in Morrisons, the big stores, one of the supervisors, ah, I showed her that photo and all that. And she said to me, “Where do you come from?” And I said, “Well, I used to live at Homerton.” “I was born at Homerton, at Hackney Hospital.” So I said, “Whereabouts?” So, I said, “Where did you live?” So she said, “I lived in Dalbany Road, but my mum lived in Mabley Street.” Now, I had relations living in Mabley Street, and I’ve told, told her that. Her mum and dad are in Spain at the moment, so she’s going to find out if she knew my relations. But she lived two doors away from where my grandmother lived, before the 14-18 war. My Nan lived at 106, she lived at 102, when she got married.

Nesbit Street... well, it was all rogues down there. All rogues. Before the war and after the war there were fights in streets every Friday and Saturday night. We had a fellow in our road, that the police, or in Warwick Villas, Jimmy Bridger, the police were always there because he, he’d been in fights and, and all that. Every street had someone like that. Now, we had another chap. He was a distant relation of mine by marriage, Bill Abbot. He was a lovely chap. And strange enough, he when he used to get drunk, he had one song he used to come in to my Nan’s, and 'cause his sisters and all that was in my Nan’s, and he’d sing ‘River, Stay Away From My Door’. I always remember that. But, Bill was great, he worked with my uncle at the paint factory. He worked on transport. And I was lucky because when I was in the Army and we were in Normandy, and the division I was with bridged the River Seine to let all the second Army come through, out of Normandy, to go up to France and Belgium and Holland and all that. And we were left behind. So, I happened to see, go, I went to the workshops to see if they had a spare vehicle, 'cause they took out my vehicle. And who should I see, was Bill Abbot. I said, “Bill, oh my God.” He was a Sargeant in the workshops. “I’m looking for transport.” “Yeah, all I’ve got, Tom, is a German B.O.W motorbike.” “That’ll do!”. And so I had that for a long time. And 'cause I ran the Army Post Office, in the Royal Artillary, but Montgomery when he took over in Europe, he said he wanted every man where possible, as a tradesman to be in his trade. So, I was transferred to the Army Post Office up at Nottingham, from down in Somerset and then I got fed up with it up there so I asked for a transfer, so that’s when I, I came down to Canterbury with the 43rd Infantry Division. I was the corporal then and I’d have a sapper with me and we’d run an army Post Office you see and all that for each brigade. When we left Normandy and we were in Holland, and we were going up to... well we were supposed to be assisting on the drop at Haarlem... but we could only get as far as Neinhagen, well we were being machine-gunned on the high roads there, on the dykes, and we had to dive over the side. Well, I had a sargeant with me then, and that’s how I got promotion from corporal to sergeant. Because he disappeared and I never heard of him, he was an elderly chap and he was older than me, and he disappeared. And it turned up, he turned up at division headquarters and all that, and he got sent home because all the shooting had, had panicked him. Cyril Curtis, I’ll always remember his name. So that was when I took over. When we were down the raid over the Rhine wasn’t successful, so we were withdrawn down back to Holland and stationed there, we were supposed to be resting. And that’s where I was in charge of the, of the Army Post Office there. And that’s when I was very friendly, on my birthday in November, it just happened to be that I got a pass to go to Brussels for a weekend. And they give us all new uniforms to go. Well this uniform was a bit big in the neck, so I said to this Dutch fellow, “You haven’t by any chance got a sewing machine have you, in your house?” “Sewing machine”, he said. “Sargeant”, he said, “The Germans took everything from us.” Which they did, they took the bedlinen, the carpets, the lot. He said “We haven’t got, but my wife is a very good seamstress.” So I went over and they lived in a maisonette, and she measured me up and she altered the uniform and all this and that, and that was how I first started to know them. And course I, eventually, knew all the family and I could see how they were without. They hadn’t got anything, no food, nothing. So every time I did a run to do a pick up mail, I used to be able to buy something somewhere in Belgium and I’d scrounge from NAAFI, and from the stores. Food and all that for them, meat and potatoes and goodness knows what.

Moseley and his lot always used to congregate at, oh, what’s the market at Dalston? Ridley Road. They always used to pray, have their meetings there, on the corner of Ridley Road, at Dalston. Well, then they had a big march, against the Jews at Whitechapel. And they marched, they rallied in Victoria Park all, all the Black Shirts from all over the country. Well, we as youngsters, we would want to see this. Well we’re along the road there, where the trams were running along, and we’re there against the walls of the houses, and they’re all marching on. And of course there was so many Jewish boxers in this country that they were all waiting for them at Mile End Gate... we never saw that. But I got squeezed up against the railings by a police horse on the pavement, I always remember that. Then, of course that was when the Black Shirts, they was very – what should I say? Very anti-Jewish. But, well, I, anti-everything I suppose. They had them here as well. We had them here after the war.
Well, I didn’t know individuals but, 'cause you never knew a lot about them you see, because they never wore uniforms. They only wore uniform when they went to meetings at the Albert Hall and places like that. They had big rallies at places like that. But you never saw them as an individual in their uniforms. At least, I’d never seen any of them. But, as I say, you kept away from places like that, you see. That’s how, in Victoria Park, when they used to take that over you never went in the park.

Used to have a running track there in the park. I used to go, when I used to go cycle racing, I used to go there for massage and I used to pay sixpence to a masseur, for massage your legs, you know, couple of times a week. Victoria Park was very, very big. When you come to think, Victoria Park, Well Street Common, Hackney Marshes, Hackney Downs, what’s the other one? Oh, and you got Springfield Park. And of course, then you’ve got Lea, you’ve got all the Lea Marshes and all that. So we had so much open space that we really used to go to those places for your enjoyment. And course, used to have big fairgrounds down at Lea Road, Lea Bridge Road, on the marshes there, all along the river there. But we used to like to go up Springfield Park and go down and have a boat out on the, on the River Lea, we used to do a lot of that. Well, we used to in Victoria Park, in the big lake there. Park-keepers used to chase us 'cause we used to get off the boat, get on to the islands and all things like that, which was out of bounds.
Mabeley Green was always a field. It was an ammunition dump during the war, but it was always a field, Mabeley Green. Yeah. Mabeley Street is where I had relations, the Sherwoods, they lived up there. My grandmother’s brother, and where him and my aunt used to always have a row, he used to come down and sleep at my Nan’s. Well then one time he went there was in... I dunno what they call, is it Kenworthy Road they call it? Or is it Priestly Road, I dunno. But down, there’s a Catholic nunnery and church. And i when he used to have a row with his wife, he used to go down there and sleep. Well, they had a bomb dropped there, he was killed my Uncle Bob. Though their name was Sherwood, his son was in the Sherwood Foresters pre-war. He died of while he was in the army, of pneumonia. They had about four daughters and I’ve, I’ve lost touch with all them. I went in to, in to a pub, over the Falconwood Hotel one night. I don’t know what I went there for and there’s one of my, these cousins of mine behind the bar, they were managers used to go for holidays, you know, do a different, and I was surprised to see Beattie, yeah. I’d forgotten all about them, yeah. Beattie!

The Adam and Eve... my grandfather and my brother used to use it a lot. My Uncle Harry used to use it. My grandfather’s brother, Uncle Fred, he used to use it, cause they lived in Glynn Road. Yeah, it was very popular, the Adam and Eve. I dunno, is it still? Hmm. Well, Coopersale Road, just at the side of it, my dad would, when he was out of work, he worked at a firm called Keeley and Tongs at Whitchapel. And, I dunno, he got the sack or what but he worked for a builder on Coopersale Road, and I used to, when I was a boy messenger, about sixteen, bit older, they had no one to look after the phone in the office. So I used to go there on my early days and sit in the office, and I used to get half a crown for about three afternoons, you know, answering the phone and all things like that, you know. Coopersale Road. Yeah, my dad worked there. When he lost his job at Keeley and Tongs, a man in a coffee shop he used to go in, Tom Mitchell, lent my dad fifty pound and he took over, he rented an archway at 3 Colt’s Lane, in, in Cambridge Heath Road. And he whitewashed it all, and he opened a coffee bar there, like pull-up for car-men as they used to call it. And I used to sometimes call in on there on me way home on the bike, do the washing up for him and all things like that, you know. Yeah, he was a pretty knowledgeable man, my father. How he got ensnared with my mother I really don’t know. Really don’t know. They were never happy together. But there you are, as kids you know, you ignored a lot of that, well it was going over your head, you didn’t know anything about it, but on reflection I, I realised that he was worthy of someone more. I think, when he come home from India, he was a bit dubious about my brother, but and all that, but I suppose looking back now, with her behaviour with having me, you, you don’t know whether he was right or wrong. But now my, his father was a strict teetotaller and he was a little man and I always thought with the name of Williams, he was a typical little Welsh miner. And looking dark I always associated him with the Spanish Armada when, when it was defeated and some of the Spaniards, you know when you did history, some of the Spaniards come and landed in Wales. My thoughts were, I bet he’s a typical Spanish Welshman – he wasn’t, he was born in Manchester! But, he was a musician and I used to have to go and stay with them. I was the only one in the family that used to go up there, at Bethnal Green. And I used to stay there and my Nan used to say to me, in the News of the World on a Sunday, on the back page always had a popular song of all the words and all the music. Now he was a musician and he played with the church army band, which was at Billingsgate. He played the cornet and he used to sit down with the News of the World and he’s write all the band parts for different instruments, from that there. And he’s, he used to make them all up properly and all that and he used to sell them to all the big bands. All the, like Jack Hilton, Jack Payne and all that... Roy Fox. But he was a busker. That’s another thing, when my, my father come home from the army, he had no work. So my grandfather worked at Keeley and Tongs and he said to the manager, “My son’s come home from the army, can you give him a job?” So he said, “He can have yours.” So my grandfather got the sack!

I’ll tell you about how I met my wife. I was a postman and I used to collect, clear pillar boxes in the City of London. They used to get so full up that they had to be cleared every half an hour. And of course, I used… I was on the corner of Threadneedle Street, clearing the, the box. And, course, as a postman you’re down here and you’re clearing the boxes and all that. You’d have to have a taxi to take the stuff back, because you couldn’t carry it. And I used to see all the women walking past and all that. And suddenly I said to myself “That’s the one!”. This is the honest truth. So the next night, I stopped her and chatted to her. So I didn’t finish til 8 o’clock at night, so I made arrangements to meet her at 8 o’clock, er, half past 8. At Whitechapel Road, as I thought. Just by the Blind Beggars’, there was a big sign up on the wall and it said: Mays Ways Always Pays. And I thought that was where we was making arrangements to meet. So I gets there at half past 8, stays there til half past 9. No Elsie turned up. The next day: “Where was you?”, she said. “I waited”, she said, “Half an hour and you weren’t there.” And I said, “Well I was there an hour!” She was standing outside Jay’s the furniture shop, opposite the London Hospital! But anyway, we made it up and we got, we got engaged when I was 21. Strange enough, her ring, Matthew, my youngest grandson, I gave to… They got engaged and I said “Well, would you like Nan’s ring?” “Oh, yes please!” We bought it in Black Lion Yard, which was in Whitechapel Road, I dunno whether it’s still there, it was a little alleyway, all where Jack the Ripper used to operate, all round there. And it was all jewellers, they called it the Hatton Garden of Whitechapel. And we bought it there, and it was seven pound fifteen, I think we paid. Well, I had it valued before I gave it to Matthew, for insurance purposed, and they valued it six hundred pound. So anyway, I gave it and she’s wearing it. We got engaged when I was 21. And we got married when I was 22. Now, I’ll tell you this - my wife was eight years older than me. And I never knew it until years after she passed away, I had a look at our marriage lines. And there it is – I was 25 on the marriage lines and she was 28. No wonder she said to me in the church, “Don’t let your family come in to sign the register”, and all that... my family still don’t know. And my wife was always a great one, she never wanted people to know how old she was. Even on her gravestone, I’ve not put her age, you know... She’d come down at me! We were sitting watching television and she said “I don’t feel too good.” I’d already had problems with her. We were shopping over at Sidcup, at Tesco’s and I though “You’re a bit strange”, so I said “Now, you stay here with the trolley, and I’ll go round and get things that we want.” I’d been looking after her for about fifteen years, with illnesses and all things like that, doing the cooking, the ironing, the washing and all everything. And anyway when I come back to the trolley, she said, “Who are you?” So I thought, “That’s it”, left the trolley and all that and told someone at the counter that the stuff was there and brought her home, and I phoned the doctor and Doctor Pearl came up – I can see her sitting now. And she said she, “I think she’s had a slight stroke.” But anyway, this night, on September the 3rd, she’s sitting up there and she says “I, I feel a bit strange and I‘m going toilet”, so I thought “Alright”, and suddenly I heard a noise and a bang in the toilet. So, cause I said to her “Leave the door open”, I dashed in. So I said to her “You alright?” and she said “No, I feel funny.” So I put her on the, on the settee. Yeah, there’s the settee. And I said, “Come on, I’ll get you undressed, so you can get to bed.” So, I started to take her tights off. “Don’t take them off like that!”, she said. “You’ll tear them!” So, I thought, “Well, you’re alright…” So this is about quarter past eleven at night. So I got her up the stairs, and got her in the bed. She said, “Ooh, I’d like a glass of water.” So I come down again and got a glass, got some water. She said, “It’s no good giving it me like that”, she said. “I can’t drink that lying down. In the top of the cupboard there’s a load of straws from the boys.” Cause we’d had the boys, picking them up from school, well, mean nursery. So anyway, I come down and I got them and I’m going up the stairs and I could hear this noise, and she’d gone. And it was about five to twelve at night. And 3rd of September is a thing in her family. Her mother died on the 3rd of September. Her brother was killed in action in France on the 3rd of September. So, when I went to register the death, it was on the Saturday and it was the fourth. And he started putting down, because the doctor had come after midnight, and he was putting the fourth. I said “She didn’t die on the 4th, she died on the 3rd.” So, he said, “Well, it doesn’t matter to me. If you want the 3rd, then I’ll put the 3rd.” and all that. But, because, what had happened, I rang my son and he came over. He rang, the doctor came, and all that. And then the police came, then the undertaker came, and all that. And they were all in here, and I’m making tea for all of them. But it was... it was a happy release, she died in her bed. That, that was what always what she said, “I want to, don’t take, don’t let me go to hospital.” Cause she went up the Brook Hospital because she’d been in pain with her back. And, ah, they exa… they, they reckoned what had happened, she, the, the, she, it was something to do with her spine. But it turned out that it wasn’t cancer, it was cyst that had grown between the skin and the spine and it was rubbing. So she was in agony. Cause I took her fruit picking, pick your own, on a farm. And they run you out from the shops on a trolley, you sat on the side with your legs over the side, and she said to me, “Ooh, tell ‘em to stop,” she said. “Me back’s killing me,” she said. And we had to walk back to, to the car and all that. And that was the start, well these were the things that built up. But for fifteen years, I did everything and all that, so I couldn’t do anymore. And often, as I say, when I’m sitting here, I look round in that corner, or if I doze off, I thought “Oh my God” you know, she’s upstairs and all. You think all manner of things. But we got on well together. She wasn’t me, she wasn’t talkative, she was within herself, but she was a good listener. She was a good listener.
We had a lady along the road here, that come up here crying to us once. She said ‘Ooh, Jim’s gone to the bathroom”, and he was about six foot three. And she said, “He come home from cricket”, on the Saturday it was. “He’s not been feeling well and he’s come home.” And I went up and I couldn’t get the bathroom door open. She said, “He said he was going to the bathroom.” So I went to the bathroom and broke the window and I could see him up against the door, the bathroom door. So I, I’ve managed to get the window open, the bathroom window, crawled through but I couldn’t do anything. And the thing happened with the lady over the road, the elderly lady I was just talking about. She died downstairs, the home-help came over and said, “Tom”, she said, “Mrs. Sprayer, I can’t, can’t get an answer.” Well, I got, I looked through and I couldn’t see anything. I could see her bedroom window was open. So I got me ladder, and I put me hand in and got the window open, climbed down, opened it and come downstairs and opened the street door. Cause she was dead, dead, downstairs in the lounge, in the corner, like over there. And when the police came, they told me off, said “You had no right to break in.” and all that. But, with Jim they had a boy. They were Catholics and Jim was a strict Catholic but she, Beryl, wasn’t. But she was a high and flighty, very flighty, very nervous type. And we looked after the boy, we had him staying there for six weeks because her doctor put her in to a home because of her nervous disposition and all that. Well, we, she used to come up here and my wife used to say, “Go on, out the garden.” Because Beryl, wouId tell her off you see, with a lot of things she used to… come out with. And it was always men. And she… by the way, this is going away from what you want me to talk about, innit? Beryl would go on coach trips – from Blackheath. And she’d always sit up the front, near the driver. So that she’d say to the driver, “I’ll count them on and off.” You know, on day trips. And then what she used to do, when the drivers went round the back of these places for a cup of tea, she’d go with them and all that. Well then she came home one day, and she’s been shopping over at Eltham. And she said, “I met a lovely man,” she said to my wife. First thing my wife said was “Go on, out the garden.” And my wife, telling me all this. He was a traveller and she was having coffee up there in the stores and he was chatting her up. And, anyway, they got friendly and she had one son, Colin. And he hated his mother for all these man-friends, cause he loved his father. And suddenly, this fella said to her, “Ooh, how about us going to Bournemouth for a weekend?” She said, “Only if my son and his girlfriend can come with us.” So he said, “Yeah.” Well, Colin worked at the VAT office, so anyway they all go off to Bournemouth. Well about a month afterwards, Colin is called in to his office by his boss. So he said, “We’ve had, got a complaint about you.” “So, what’s that?” he said. “You spent a weekend in a hotel at Bournemouth.” “Yes.” “Well you came away without paying the bill.” He thought this man had paid the bill, see, cause he invited them and all that. But he hadn’t done, he was another con artist. Well, Colin lost his promotion over that. So after that, he never even invited his mother for the to his wedding. He’s got three children up in Newcastle and he’s got twins and another one. And he won’t let her go near them, he won’t. She goes up there and he won’t let her in the house and all that. He, he’s just so bitter about all what she done. They’re out there and she gets friendly with a man, dancing in a hotel. Dance-mad, was, was Beryl. She rings my wife up and she said, “Elsie,” she said. Bearing in mind we’d never been in her house, never. “Elsie,” she said. “I won’t be coming home,” she said. “I’ve met a lovely man. I’m staying here for another week,” she said. “I’m in his, in his flat,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place.” And all this and that". So when she comes home, she tells us all about this fella and how good it was and all that. And then off she goes again. And shes, been there about three or four days and she comes home. “Oh, that was quick!” As usual, my wife said to me, “Out the garden.” And, Beryl, this bloke, it was his father’s flat and his father owned the business that he kept on saying he was, you know, the big businessman. He had nothing and he tried to get her to sell this house up here. Well in the end few years later, she suddenly said she’s moving. And she moved to Haverford West – that’s the furthest point you can go in Wales. Now, she got a bungalow in a cul de sac, and it turned out it’s a two bedroom bungalow, which she bought, but she was in there for about a year before she unpacked her furniture . But strange as it may seem, this bungalow backed on to a nature reserve. And she complained to them about the trees overhanging her garden. Two fellas came down and they started cutting these branches off and all this that. She said, “I made them tea and I said to them, 'you’re not Welsh.” They said, “No, we come from Kent.” “Oh, whereabouts in Kent?” she said. “I, I come from Kent, from Welling.” “Oh, do you?” she, they said. “We got a friend of ours lives up Eastcote Road, where you lived.” “Who’s that?” “Oh, Tony Williams.” And that, through that, well, Tony found out through them that she’d made herself a nuisance in the local hotels or dances and all that. But I still ring her Christmas time. She’s still alive. She still tells me the same story, I dunno why I ring. But I used to go out to Holland. Well, El, the wife and I when I retired, we used to always have two holidays a year. We used to have a holiday on the continent or a holiday here in the country. And we used to enjoy it. Well then we, when she passed away, I used to go to Spain twice a year and got very friendly with a lot of people all over the country, which I, I used to visit. Well that’s when I suddenly started getting these spots on me head, and I went to the doctor’s and he sent me to the hospital, the Queen Elizabeth. And I saw this skin specialist and all that. And when this big one that came up and course they, they x-rayed it and goodness know’s what, all on day patient. And I’m sitting there and my son came up with me and he was sitting in there, and I’m laying there on, on the bed there, and there was three doctors round me. There was one that was going to cut me head. There was one who was going to take the graft from me arm, and the other one was a naval man who was visiting the hospital to get his clearance. And he says to this chap with the knife, he’s standing there, “Is that knife very sharp?” So he hands it over to him and he says, “You ought to try it. Don’t touch it with your fingers or your fingers’ll come off.” I said, “I’m keeping my bloody mouth shut! I’m not having any fingers in me mouth!” And my son said, “You had a cheek.” But nothing hurt and it was done and all that and did the skin graft and all that and, but the only trouble is when I, when I was going to me doctor’s, they’d been spraying me head. I haven’t been for a long time, but that’s what made me lose me hair. I’ve lost me hair over the last coupla years. At least, that’s what I think it is not old age.

But I’ll tell you another story about my mother – whasisname? John Bowles. Not John Bowles. Yeah, John Bowles. He was, is an actor. American actor. She was John Bowles mad, and sometimes when we were kids, she’d disappear. She’d suddenly find that he was in a film somewhere over the other side of London, and all that. Well, my dad’d come home from work, “Where’s your mother?” “Dunno.” Well anyway, when my father died in, in ’47, she worked in a factory, up, up, up Urswick Road. And I said to her, “You don’t want to keep working here, “ I said. “How about a job in the Post Office? I’ll apply, see if you can get a cleaner’s job in the Post Office.” Well, I got her a job in Wren House in St Paul’s Churchyard as a cleaner. Well, as I worked in the office over the road, they rung me up and said, “Your mother’s not been in, is she alright?” I said, “I dunno.” Anyway, what happened was John Bowles was over here making a film on St. Paul’s Churchyard steps. She sat out there for three bloody days, watching John Bowles. Never even got his autograph. Oh, we’ll forget that. It used to be Rudolph Valentino, all lovers in films, them quiet films and all that.

Well Street was a lovely market, Chatsworth Road was a lovely market. Used to be nice, yeah. Chatsworth was a more upmarket market than what Well Street was. But they was nice stalls. There used to be different types, you used to get stalls there. And of a Saturday night and all that, you know, there was, that Prince Monolulu, did you ever know him? Well, he used to be down, Prince Monolulu was a big man, used to wear all the big feathers. He always used to tip horses at Epsom, at the Derby. And he, he used to come down. Selling some concoction, some embrocation or something like that, and all that, about this, but and all that. But, it was a good market and they were very, very friendly people and all that. There was a big Co-op down there, big Co-op shop, there was a big grocer’s, there were two or three good shops. And my mother was very friendly with the florist, right down the bottom. And there was a greengrocer’s stall - they lived at Berger Road. What was their name now? Can’t think of their name now. Dalbany Road was much bigger cause it was so much longer. There used to be, right at the top of Well Street, where my uncle used to live who had the pony and trap, opposite him there used to be a big factory called Polikoff’s Tailor’s. Used to do the army uniforms and all that. Well then they, they had a big fire. Well that disappeared and then they built a big cinema there. A big Odeon. I dunno whether it’s still there. The last, the wife and I, we went there when we were single. They used to show the film late til, til twelve o’clock. And we went to see a film with Paul Muny called ‘Bitter Rice’. It was a lovely film. And of course, by the time we come out and we got a tram, it’s turned twelve o’clock before I got her home and her father came out, “What are you doing keeping my daughter out this time of the night?” and all that.

I’ve always been interested in, in athletics and sport like that. During the war, in the army I never smoked. But I used to run for the, the regiment, the battalion, the division, the command, all over the country in cross-country events and all that. And I, always used, used to win a lot, and course, the lads used to put me name down on the lists without me knowing, and all that. And the prizes was always cigarettes. So that’s why they used to put me name down, because I used to give them all, two hundred cigarettes or something like that, or five hundred cigarettes and all that and I used to give them all the cigarettes. And I loved that and I got out of doing, what happened was the regimental sergeant-major, this was when I was in the Royal Artillery, the regimental sergeant-major said, “Oh, Williams”, he said. “Athletic type,” he said. “Boxing. You’re on my boxing team.” I said, “No, not me.” I said, “No.” I said, “I don’t mind sport”, I said. “But I’m not interested…” Though I used to go at the Devonshire Sporting Club, I dunno if you know that, in Devonshire Road at Hom, at Hackney. It was a synagogue and, and whassisname he, he converted it to a boxing hall. And I used to go there with my dad, Sunday afternoons or Sunday nights and all that, all the boxing. Used to be Kid Berg, Jack Berg, all the famous boxers, you know. Jewish boxers and all that. Used to go there a lot. But never wanted to take part in boxing. But, so I said to him, “No, I’m interested in athletics.” So he took me off of doing PT, every time we had PT I used to go running. And eventually, I got half a dozen chaps to go with me, I used to wherever we went, I used to map out a course of about five miles, you know, for training. And I used to enjoy that. But I would love to go to the velodrome. I would, there was someone on one of the programs, a woman, she wanted to go to the velodrome. There’s a program on, whassisname, the American fella, on BBC a few weeks ago. And their wishes and all that. And I thought to myself, oh that’s just what I would love to, go round that velodrome.
What’s going to happen afterwards? This is what I think of, you’ve got this silly argument over the football teams, over who’s going play and convert. Now, the thing is, why the Orient are complaining, because they, they never have a crowd big enough to fill that stadium. Never. What they having, four, five thousand and all that. It’s got to be West Ham, which is the nearest. Tottenham is coming quite a way. Tottenham have been talking for years about building another stadium. I mean, when Terry was manager there, I used to get tickets and I used to go up, when he was manager there. And when he went to Middlesborough and, and Middlesborough come down, and of course, I used to take a lady that lived down the road. She’s football mad. And I used to take her with me, and Terry’d meet us and get, you know, when he was at Crystal Palace as well. And the part about it was, at Tottenham, we used to have to go in and have lunch with the directors and all that, you know, so it was quite nice. And we used, when we’d come out and sit in our seat, with blankets over your lap and all that, then they’d come and tap you on the shoulder: “Would you like to come in for a drink?” and all that, you know. Used to be lovely, I used to enjoy that. Yeah, I been around several grounds with him, you know, when, when Tottenham played in some of the London grounds, you know, and all that, I been…
I’ve always said I hope it’s a success. But there’s always been a little doubt with me. I don’t know. But, I mean, round Carpenter’s Road and all that, I mean I don’t know what it’s all looking like now. I mean, Carpenter’s Road was to me, going over to Stratford, you know, down Hackney Wick. I mean Gainsborough Road was alright and, as I say, like High Street Homerton going down is alright. But, going over there, over there at Temple Mills... there used to be a pub called the White Hart. Isolated. There used to be a big rubbish tip there. Well, we used to, as kids, we used to go down there Sunday mornings, watching the men with their dogs chasing the rats. And this is what’s at the back of me mind, you know, that rubbish tip.
But the first time I saw television before the war, was we took my father-in-law to the London Tavern, next door to the London Hospital, one Saturday night in the pub and they had a little, small screen. Black and white. That was the first time. That was in, in the 30s.

I love athletics. I love all sport, I watch boxing and all that. I mean, Henry Cooper. Used to train out here in the woods. And he used to stay. Henry Cooper when he was an amateur boxer, him and his twin brother they were plasterers. Used to do a lot of jobs in the houses round here, you know, plastering and all that. And when he turned professional, he used to stay down the pub down Wickham Street and he’d come running up the road, and running all round the woods and all that and… Because he lived over on a council estate at Mottingham.