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Revd. Gaulter de Mello


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Audio interview with Gualter de Mello

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de Mello, Gualter (Rev.) (Subject of)
de Mello, Gualter (Rev.)


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Prideaux House and its origin:
Prideaux House is the third house of a development post First World War. When the men came back from the First World War, and there were no jobs wherever they might have gone back to, they drifted to the cities in order to get jobs. And Tubby Clayton, who had started a house in Poperinghe in Belgium, in West Flanders, coping with the soldiers who could have a respite, developed houses which were called ‘marks’ like a tank is ‘mark 1’, ‘mark 2’, ‘mark 3’. We were ‘mark 3’, starting in what is now County Hall, the old County Hall and the London Eye. And when County Hall was about to be built, we moved thanks to Punch Magazine, who bought the then rectory for South Hackney in memory of the people who died in the First World War – the people and the journalists and the people involved with Punch – and gave it to Tubby to continue as ‘mark 3’. So we were here from 1930 to 1958. But following the Second World War, when part of the house was destroyed and part of the church was destroyed we then pulled it down and built a new house, ‘Prideauz House’. And we have been here as Prideaux house until 2002. And pulled the old Prideaux House down and we built a new house, which is the second Prideaux House. And we have been here now for 8 years.

His upbringing, and how he came to the UK (and Prideaux House):
Mixed family background sparks desire to be Anglican priest in São Paulo. To South Hackney as ‘Curate’ after theological study at Ely and Ridley hall. Joins Prideaux House as Chaplain to be more involved with community. So I was Chaplain to Prideaux House. And we became involved with all the projects around the community. There were many needs. The area was, in the early ‘60s, was very deprived so we got involved originally with people who were the dockers who lived around the area.
Because the London Docks were closing. There were many family problems and we got involved with those family problems. And then there were many problems with the children. So we got involved with the children and eventually developed a youth centre for the youngsters, a luncheon club for the seniors. And many many other projects that were part of the needs of the area. So Prideaux House is basically a centre for the needs of the area.

Arrival in Hackney 1962:
Ordained, came to Hackney as Curate, served ‘Curacy’, became Chaplain (aka Padre) to Prideaux House.

First impressions of Hackney’s people in need:
An area of needs, great needs, basically because what was happening around the docks. The housing was, prior to the all the new council housing, was multiple accommodation. Groombridge Road had one bathroom and many families living in one or two rooms. It was a great need. And then slowly it sort of developed, the new housing came, council housing such as Church Crescent, and then eventually Kings Hall estate and many of the other estates. So it was an area of need. And children…. We did what we called a ‘Wishing Week’. We went round the area asking “if you had one wish for Hackney what would you wish?” And one little girl said, “I want a garden with a rois tree”. And she spelled rose tree with an ‘r.o.i.s’, a rois tree. And that was the need. People really in those days were very deprived.

How the design of Hackney’s new council housing transformed communities:
Sad that housing development was to accommodate people not retain community spirit. Gives example of King’s hall estate with upper passageways used by motorcycle yobs. “It does not facilitate friendship. The best thing you do is just lock your door and make sure that you are safe in your small flat”. Much improvement in local housing now.

Other local estates, eg. Bannister House, and Jack Dunning:
‘Low’ housing developments, some with gardens and parking space, eg. along Churchill Walk, better for families (than high rise). Frampton Park and estate around Homerton station different to old housing they replaced.

Early experience of bad air quality and pollution in 1950s London:
Improves in 60s when he moved to Hackney. Dangerous journeys in dense smog.In Hackney improved housing without chimneys meant cleaner air. Past environment ills.Demolition in different corners. Pongs from industries of 60s Hackney. Streets safer in his early Hackney years.

Gentrification eroding community spirit:
More conscious of street dangers now. Easier communication with your neighbors then. For instance, in Hackney around Victoria Park roundabout at the corner of Lauriston Road, there used to be 7 pubs. Right? And everybody was there, and you chose whichever pub people wanted to go. But now there are 17 eating-places. The pubs have gone. So part of the old pub atmosphere, you meet your friends and make contacts, have gone. It’s wonderful to have 17 eating-places. But you take for instance some of the pubs around the area there, which used to be very popular pubs, are now very expensive restaurants.

The local posh areas when he first came:
Some posh areas unchanged. Some deprived areas now vastly better. South Hackney was posh in the old days. Around Well Street Common private housing unchanged, local multi-occupancy housing now 2 bedroom flats, plus new builds. Crown Estate sold to housing associations.

Listing general changes in Homerton:
Much overall improvement: self-ownership of Bannister House Estate housing. Area around station. New Academy in Morning
Lane. Chatsworth. These improvements may be part of Olympics coming. Homerton Hospital people and facilities much better than the old Hackney Hospital

How/why Homerton High Street improved:
Sutton House and new Academy opposite. Still few shops but better private and council housing.

Around Homerton Station changes:
New flats replaced multi-occupancy private housing. Station improved too.

8 and more to a room multi-occupancy when he first came:
Out of work Dockers as London Docks closes and Antwerp takes over. 2, 3, 4 families in one house all sharing kitchens and bathroom, Groombridge Road was nearest example. We must remember that the war did not destroy many of the (Hackney) housing. But of course because a lot of Dockers who lived in Tower Hamlets, who lost their accommodation because of the bombing, had to move up. Some came to Hackney. And then they had to find accommodation wherever they could. And then the fact that London Docks were closing caused an enormous amount of problems, because we all know that you didn’t have a permanent job, you went and you were selected for that day. If you could get somebody who knew you, you could get a job for that particular day. And then there were problems because a lot of the men couldn’t find jobs. And the docks were closing so the system was being destroyed. And what is so sad, which is benefited Antwerp, but what is so sad is that we lost London Docks, an enormous, fantastic situation. Which was transferred to Antwerp. As we lost the mileage of the docks, Antwerp was taking it all in, yeah? And now Antwerp is one of the best. And the new information I have is that they will build from Antwerp docks, build a railway to China to export from Antwerp.

How employment has changed…Improvements due to Olympics:
For instance Metal Box was part of the industry up in what is now St John-at-Hackney. Berger Paints were in the area and all the other bits of industry. There were smaller industries. If you went down Mare Street in the old days, you had enormous amount of Rag Trade industry and all the opticians and the technicians. Lots of small shops, post war development. And there used to be at the corner of Well Street and Mare Street a small shop that changed its window every week, they used to produce wedding dresses, you know brides’ dresses and all that. Can you imagine in the 60s, to have a shop that changed its window every week? And the tailoring, the bespoke tailoring in the area. If you went down Mare Street, you had all different shops producing beautiful dresses. And I remember people who used to have the new dresses showing on their wives going down Mare Street, down to Hackney Empire to show off. And then by Monday, you know, they would sell all those dresses. It’s changed. It’s changed enormously. So the area, not just Homerton High Street but the area, for instance now you go down Morning Lane you have New Academy and the development of Tesco. And if it is going to happen that Tesco is going to re-develop and become an enormous block of flats, you know on a stair case system down there, I mean it is going to be a great improvement. And I think we have to say in spite of whatever people object, you know to the Olympics and all that, it has changed, we have better pavement, we have better road surface, people are interested in this part of Hackney. So the riot that we have had is sad, but is only part of what’s happening.

From manufacturing to IT-based and service jobs:
End of local manufacturing and development of docklands, reflects end of UK manufacturing as a whole, and rise of Industrial centres like China, Hong Kong.

Historical waves of migration to Hackney...how it continued after he came:
My understanding is that long prior to my days, people came from the Pogroms of Russia and so many other countries, down to the docks and ended up in Tower Hamlets which was a phenomenal situation. There have always been people from abroad around the area. But the communities which settled like the Jewish community around London Hospital, if you look at some of the buildings around London Hospital, you still see the Star of David on the top of the building, or railings with the Star of David, now being used by members of the Bangladeshi community. And if you go to, as a single case, if you go to Dalston Market, at bottom of Dalston Market, there’s a shop selling sweets and fruit etc, the railings are all surrounded with the Stars of David, and the building which is now being used by a Muslim family who enjoys the building, and doing very well. So there have always been in this part of London, not just from Pogroms etc, but it has always been there. In my experience from Prideaux House, I have seen people who have come and settled in the area. Nigerians have settled in the area, and most of them went to study. And then some went back or moved out to other areas. Many Indians who came, following the partition of India after the war etc, who settled in Hackney, made good, studied and then some stayed and quite a few went back. Now we have a large number of Muslim families, mostly in Frampton Park estate, and they are there, and they will make good, and probably some will stay, and mostly will go somewhere else. There have always been ‘the move’, I’ve seen in our own experience at Prideaux House, we have had Latin Americans, we have Argentinians who came, if you remember with the revolution in Argentina, a lot of the doctors and the thinkers were, you know, were shot or buried alive. And so they came to England, and they stayed. Some the families studied and made good, and some went back and some moved away. So there has always been in this part of Hackney, a constant move. You know the El Salvadoranians, we’ve had those, the Brazilians who came during the dictatorship in Brazil. There are so many who use this part of London. And some make good, and some stay to study, and some go back. The number of Brazilians now come and stay in England because of trade and economics. So this part of London is a wonderful welcoming community, it really is. We’ve always had the people moving in, making good and moving out. In Hackney in my experience, when I first came, the council was mostly Jewish, and the meetings were geared for Jewish festivals. Now is different. But a lot of the community in Hackney, in this area of South Hackney, there were many many Jewish families. There used to be a synagogue in Ainsworth Road, which disappeared. And the synagogue in Brenthouse Road is now been sold and the community is less, there are less families around the area – so they now move to Epping and move to somewhere else, you know younger people. It may be possible there’s a possibility that they will build a synagogue by Victoria park Road. If that happens then I understand there are more Jewish families in South Hackney now, so the possibility of one community there. But by saying that, then you have more Muslim groups who are moving to the area, like Frampton Park. And the mosques! Suleiman Mosque in Kingsland Road is a magnificent mosque! And when you think that there are 3 mosques in Kingsland Road, in Kingsland High Street, is wonderful. The fact that Hackney assimilates all this and it’s part of the life of Hackney. And we haven’t, thank God we don’t have racial problems as such, you know. We have disturbances occasionally, but people live together, and they are good in the way that they mix and they are part of it all.

Racial tensions, his experience and thoughts:
Every country has a mixture, gives example of Brazil and north (America). Hackney has always had a mixture. Difference and economic hardships brought occasional problems for original east enders. Just got to protest and get rid of racists. In my situation it’s not so much standing in the street, it’s getting on to writing and writing and writing and writing and protesting in a different way.

Prideaux House, its work in Hackney… How this work is changing with local gentrification:
As I mentioned earlier, Prideaux House is a centre for the needs of the community, right? And the needs are different from time to time. You know, there were days when the senior folk needed more than others. Now Hackney is going through a tremendous change. Because this particular area is accommodating a lot of the people that have a little bit more money – hence the reason why you have 17 eating places as opposed to 7 pubs. And so the house (Prideaux) is here dealing with what he needs are. We still have the old people who are alone who need social contact. We produce that. But there is also another need: of the woman, the family woman, who is no longer working. The family are, they are not old, or they are not senior as such, but who need contact, who need stimulation, hence we have a ‘book club’ where ‘women only’ groups and all that. And there are needs in the area that we will assimilate as they come to us. You know the fact that you might have money because you’ve got a better job and you live in better accommodation in the area, doesn’t mean to say that you are independent - totally independent, you need the contact of the friends. So that’s where we shall come in to it. We are hoping to do a community study similar to what we did with the ‘Wishing Week’ to see what the needs are of the people who are moving in. But we’ve got to remember that at this stage people are moving in and not staying permanently. They come - because jobs are no longer the 30-year jobs or the 25-year jobs, you know jobs are much shorter - and they will move out. So we see a lot of young people in the area that will have certain needs, but they will move out. And then other people will come. We see with the young people in over the weekends who just come down to go shopping at Tesco, or come down to eat something in the 17 eating places.

Prideaux House charity:
2nd hand/charity shop in Mare Street started by Gualter and helpers at suggestion of Jack Keller. For many years successfully raised money to enable Prideaux House’s community reconciliation and fellowship work. Now takings smaller - good explanation of reasons. “Without the shop we wouldn’t survive”.

Visitors from abroad for volunteer work at Prideaux House – change in culture about volunteering:
Long tradition of young people staying up to 1 year and more – Swedes, Germans, French, Japanese. Lasting friendships after their return. In the old days people would come and stay and whatever. When we had the summer project for looking after children during the school holidays and we had volunteers from all over the world, literally, who came for 3 months or 2 months. But now that’s not part of the system, you know? People prefer to go around the world... You know, my godson has just finished going round the world with his girlfriend, and came back, got married and now he’s busy… so it’s a different culture now about volunteering. But I’m grateful for those who came and who are part of the gang”

Prideaux House –friends and volunteers:
All upkeep is carried out by Gualter and volunteer friends. Some take on specific roles eg. hairdressing, gardening.

Recreation changes, places of entertainment:
Good listing of cinemas past and present from when he first came. Brooksby Walk and Chatts Palace. Less in E5 area, Round Chapel sold and used as venue. “There aren’t many places of what we used to call entertainment like cinemas. But there are many places where you go like us, where people come and be part of different things and centres, you know? You go down to, for instance, Well Street now, you have a lot of Pentecostal Churches, there’s about 2 now opposite Frampton Park, which produce a community development area. And you go down London Fields where the Brooksby Walk is a marvellous development, with lovely shops and the corner by London Fields now. It’s wonderful, you know, bakeries and patisseries, and different shops. So there’re different corners but we don’t have so many of the… what in the old days people, you know, used to come down to Mare Street – ‘the royal mile’, it used to be called ‘the royal mile’ – where walk up and down from Well Street to the Hackney Empire.

Victoria Park and changes:
Using the old Lido before 7am so you didn’t have to pay. The dancing area and bandstand. Animal compound sadly vandalized.
Lake’s pagoda destroyed now – possibly by people anti-Japanese after WW2 experiences.

Well Street Common:
Unchanged. Users Association keeps an eye, plant trees, hopes to bring back old drinking fountain. Common is well-used and good for the area.

Construction of the motorway, changes felt:
Originally everybody thought that Hackney Wick would suffer, but it’s improved because you have a lot more people there. Loss of 26 and 30 bus routes from Hackney Wick all round city much missed. It was a day’s outing.

Prideaux House development from First World War in more detail:
Beginnings – how Gualter/Prideaux House inherited Talbot House started by Tubby Clayton. Tubby Clayton’s biography from curate days at Portsea and rest house in Poperinghe in WW1. How Tubby and rich friends providing accommodation for veterans resulted in Prideaux House. Eventually 17 houses in UK. And others abroad, bases for UK emigrants seeking work. Ethos of houses and guests, ‘service is the rent you pay for your room on earth’ – helping people. Prideaux House had 46 beds. Mixed accommodation from late 60s. By 1982 needs changed, as Hackney changed. End of County Hall saw funding cut. Throughout our period in Hackney we have seen the needs of the area, and tried to develop that.

Tubby and WW1 commemorated at Prideaux House…
Toc-H develops from Talbot House.Room contains Tubby’s original dining room furnishings. Now inherited by Gualter. The room is here in memory of Tubby, and all his friends and… are all on the walls. And he was a very good man. I really have fond fond memories of him. He was, you know, a good guy. And to have experienced what he experienced, the result of what people were suffering in the First war. And to have gone right through his 85 anniversary, you know, always working and doing the best he could, was fantastic. Toc-H developed from WW1 signal for Talbot House. Ethos, ‘To Conquer Hatred’. How Gualter’s life-long association with Toc-H began in Brazil, then continued in UK. Toc-H, the movement, now. The world chain of light commemorated each Dec 11th, worldwide branches exchange friendships

Alfred Heath Centre:
Originally provided for people with special needs. Then provided accommodation. Named after former Mayor and builder - built Prideaux House. Heath centre now GP surgery on Homerton High Street.

General on post-war housing...Well Street users maintain garden at Homerton Station.

Problem high rise flats built and then blown up:
The flats here opposite the church, it was all housing, the old-fashioned housing with the mews on the side. And, you know, 3-up and the basement, semi-basement downstairs etc. And in the 60s many of the houses towards Cambridge Heath Road at the corner of the triangle there, they had lots and lots of Jewish technicians doing fantastic work with lenses and microscopes and all that. All around that corner there, almost opposite the church, the Catholic church there… in King Edward Road. It’s always difficult to remember that the top bend of what is now the triangle down towards Ainsworth Road used to be King Edward Road. But King Edward Road used to come all the way from the triangle down to Lauriston Road where the church is. It was a straight road from South Hackney church straight up to the top to the triangle. But that of course changed. But the block of flats that were opposite the church, was not just this stupid, you know, 10 floors, 8 floors building, with passages connecting one building to another. But also the appalling conditions of toilet waste coming down the wall, and really bad, very bad conditions. And the 4 blocks of flats opposite the church. They went up – they pulled down all the houses, it went up, destroyed the area, and then were blown down. And then rebuilt as small housing – you know, as private housing - but much better. But it was appalling. And we had all the people from the flats here waiting for the explosion when it came. It was terrible.

Different religious needs of migrant communities:
Hackney has always been a place of mixing. After settlement people need places of worship. Changes Jewish community and synagogues. Muslim community and mosques. Worship places for local African, Caribbean, and Latin American communities. How community’s worship places in one era often serve completely different religions of later migrants – eg. Brent House Road synagogue bought and made into Pentecostal church.

Feelings about 2012 Olympics:
Very positive and in favour because of practical improvements for Hackney. Applied to be volunteers. “Up the Olympics!”