Home Oral History Interview - Jackie Murphy

Oral History Interview - Jackie Murphy


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Audio interview with Jackie Murphy

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Murphy, Jackie


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I’m Jackie Murphy, and I’m Pearly Queen of Hackney, have been for forty-six years. I married into the title ’cause my husband come from the Hitchin family, which is a well known family, especially in Hackney — George Hitchin was his uncle and it goes back in our family, 1894. And he — I’m lost for words — he, he got into the Pearlies because he’s from a Pearly family. So you can either be born into it or you can marry into it. Now, he was born into it and I married him, so I become his Pearly Queen, and that’s how it all started.

I was born in 1940, ’en the Blitz was on, and I was born in the Hackney Hospital, the old Hackney hospital, in Homerton and, we lived in Mount Pleasant Hill, right down the bottom of Mount Pleasant Hill, and it was when the Blitz was on. And what I can gather my Mum used to pick me up in a mattress and take me down the shelters when the bombs started. So, it was quite traumatic but everybody pulled together; everybody pulled together in them times. My Dad was in the army and people knew he was in the army at the time so they used to bring round eggs for us and rabbits and all different things to help out. And they was a great bunch of people and you, y’know that’s what I think we’re missing today: that closeness, what we all had then. Because it was a bad time for everybody; I mean we used to have bonfires, bonfire night, in the road, and used to get told off by the council ’cause the road used to melt. Everybody used to bring out their potatoes and throw ’em in the fire and everybody was out. You don’t get anything like that now. Y’know it’s all, everything is controlled, which I suppose is right really, but it still don’t take away the enjoyment we used to get of all being together as neighbours and friends. So, that was my childhood.

Yeah I’ve got, well I had, one brother and two sisters. The two sisters are still alive now but I lost my brother. We all grew up in Mount Pleasant Hill and we went to school there, went to a little school up the road to where, we lived and y’know being, living near the River Lea, we used to have the fairground there — which they still do now I think, I’m not sure. But and often the river Lea used to flood. So all the neighbours all get together and decide to do a boat race down to the King’s Head pub which was on the bottom of Mount pleasant Hill and my Dad was involved obviously, and the loser had to stand all the drinks when they got there. So they had a boat race right down t’ where it was flooded or where we lived being we lived right down the bottom and we used to have to have planks outside the door to walk on to get school because you couldn’t get out the street door ’cause the water. So y’know, at the time, it was quite funny really for us kids, to see all that y’know. But we had great times, great times.

We used to play in Radley Square, which was round the back y’know just through the alleyway and round the back, that was Radley Square. And that’s where the old shelters was as well, where people used to go down when, the siren went off, down they all went. And opposite where we lived, right opposite, there was the Latham’s Wood Yard, which is gone now, and they used to have the, all the guns there, firing at the planes, y’know so it was…Yeah, quite a traumatic time really, but everyone got through it. Everyone stuck together, everyone ’elped each other. And that’s how they got through it.

Yeah, the Victory Party, I can just remember being dressed up as — what was I? — Red Riding Hood and I hated it. I remember that I didn’t wanna be dressed up as Red Riding Hood. And they had a big party in the Square. Then we went down to my Nanny’s, in Hackney, ’cause my Nanny lived in Forest Road. And they had a big party, a street party as well. Right along the street all the tables and everybody bought food out, whatever they could get, and we had a big party there as well.

Yeah, we, my husband’s aunt and uncle lived in Bannister House, and right opposite where the new hospital, where the Homerton Hospital is now. And he used to say, ‘come on let’s go down Chats’, and, never called Chatsworth Road, ‘we’re goin’ down Chats.’ [07:00] And, we, it was a lovely little market, it was brilliant, y’know. But sadly it went under, but I think it’s coming back now, isn’t it? We see a lot of stalls down there when we pass there on Sunday.

Yeah - Chat - it was a buzzing market and it was an old-fashioned market, because they had all the old-fashioned butchers there and fishmongers and, y’know, and everybody knew everybody. Y’know, ’e used to…my husband’s uncle, Alfie, ’e used to walk in the butchers, ‘’ello Alf’, y’know, it was that, been going there years, you know. Knew what cuts of meat he wanted and everything, y’know, before he even asked. That’s how it was down Chats and it, everybody knew everybody. And also we used to go into Chats Palace, ’cause my husband, but in our ‘Pearlies’, y’know, my husband used to play organ and piano. And we done a few concerts in Chats Palace. Which was good.

I lived mostly, Wilton Estate which, which, is at the back of the Hackney Empire that way. So we only used to go into Homerton to see ’is aunt and uncle mostly. But, I mean Homerton is, is not really changed that much I don’t think, building wise — y’know the old flats and all that are still there, the old, the church, St Barnabas Church. But, but, actually it’s not changed that much, y’know. But, as I say, the same thing, in Bannister House, when we used to go there to visit, everybody knew everybody, y’know, you could walk through there and they’d say ‘’ello Jack, ’ello Mick’. They knew everybody, y’know. And that’s where I think a lot of it differs today, what you miss, yeah.

Community was… it’s everybody knowing everybody. Everybody helping each other. When you’re in trouble - when people are in trouble, there was always somebody they could go to, and if they was down on their luck, there was always people there to help ’em out. And, the get-togethers, all the get-togethers, like parties, everybody used to have parties, y’know. Even though they had nothink. You’d go, they’d go down the pub and get a couple of crates and away they went, y’know, they only had to have a piano and few crates of beer. Someone made up a few sandwiches and away the party went. Y’know, you didn’t have to have splendour, it was just to, it was just getting together, and that was good, I think. That kept everybody in touch with each other and helping and, yeah, and that’s what community means to me.

When we moved to Hackney, it was the Spurstowe. The Spurstowe Arms, I mean my, my, husband, I lived in the same block of flats. My husband lived in Wilton Estate and he played for the football team in the Spurstowe. So, my brother played in the football team in the Spurstowe, all his mates played in the football team, and all the, all the girlfriends and wives used to go over the marshes and watch ’em play, y’know, and go back to the pub after. He used to end up on the piana and a good old sing song. Brilliant times.Well that was it, being a teenager was, was brilliant. Because we had the football team, we had dances, ’n’ all different things, y’know. We used to go to the Hackney Empire, see Carroll Levis Discoveries.
It was, Carroll Levis, he used to discover people, y’know. Something like the X-Factor really. And, we used to go up, up the Hackney Empire and watch all, watch ’em all, y’know. Yeah. And, it, they used to have good shows there, all good shows. ’Cept one day I was carried out of there, ’cause I had acute appendix. And my uncle carried me from the Hackney Empire to the old German hospital in Queensbridge Road, off Queensbridge Road, and, course
I had to have my appendix out, didn’t I? But y’know all those things, y’know, it’s all memories really.

I went to school, when I moved from Mount Pleasant Hill, I went to Gayhurst Road School, off London Fields, and then, when I went to secondary school, I went to Wilton, Wilton Way School. And I lived, the flats what we lived in, Wilton Estate, Mum, I used to see my Mum out on the balcony, from the school playground. That’s how near it was, y’know. And yeah, she did catch me out one day because me and my sister-in-law, my brother’s wife — we was best friends — and, my sister-in-law decided to go and sit out on the window sill, in the cookery room and my Mum was on the balcony saying ‘get in! get in!’ And, yeah, so she got in quick when she seen my Mum. But she’s sitting there dangling her legs out on the window sill, in the cookery room.

On the bombsites, we used to go down and, after the war, we used to go down, y’know where the ice rink is in, in Lea Bridge Road? Well that used to be all bombsite. And we used to go over there, and I can still remember the smell of that place. It was like a plasticky smell, and we used to find all different colour tubes and things over there. Where they was from I don’t know, but we used to go over there and collect them all. And also, we lived near the River Lea, so we used to cut through, where I lived, we used to go down to the King’s Head Pub and through there was a little alleyway what led out onto the river. Unfortunately, y’know, a couple of kids used to get drowned over there, ’cause it’s such, it was, current there was so strong and we was warned, don’t go near the Lea, y’know. But we didn’t take no notice did we, so. Yeah, and we used to, that was our playground really, all them places. That was our playground, until we moved to Wilton Estate, then we had all inside y’know the flats there to play and in, the, even in there they all had their own bit of garden. My Dad had his own bit of garden and y’know, so, but, but, where we lived in Mount Pleasant Hill, y’know, that was, you didn’t have a lot of places you could play, only Radley Square and if you went off limits and down to the river, then we would be in trouble, y’know.

But, things are so different now and things were so scarce as well, y’know. And, I mean we only had, I can remember when I was little, we only had two sets of underclothes, socks, everything was only two. And every night I remember my Mum coming creeping in and getting our dirty ones. And the next morning we woke up and all the clean ones was on there. And when got up they was all on the line where she’d stood and washed ’em ready for the next turnover the following night. Y’know, that’s how scarce things were, y’know. But we were still clean and fed and, y’know, even in them hard times.

The Coronation, yeah, we’d moved into Wilton Estate, I grew up here. And I was about — I dunno… how old was I? — when the Coronation… about eleven I think, ten, eleven? And, the, everybody in the flats when we knew about the Coronation, everybody in the flats all decided that we’d put on a show. So, we had all different age groups that I, who split it up into and we was gonna put on this big, but we never had enough money to buy costumes or anything, so, we all made stuff out of crepe paper. All the Mums got together, made costumes out of crepe paper, red, white and blue. And, we had the show, we put the show on in Wilton, Wilton’s Way School and, I think we sung In A Golden Coach. That’s what we sung. [Sings] ‘In A Golden Coach, there’s a heart of gold, riding through old London Town,’ that one. And that’s what we sung. And a few other songs, I can’t remember. And it was brilliant really, considering that we, y’know, none of us was dancers and singers but we put on this show. And everybody got involved in it and it was brilliant and then they laid out a buffet after. All the Mums put on a buffet. And that was the Coronation for us. And watching it, we never, nobody had tellys hardly, and my Dad managed to get one. But it was so little you couldn’t see, you couldn’t hardly see anything on it and it had like a green tinge to it, y’know. What, what that was I don’t know. But, so he went out and he managed to get a magnifying glass to put over it. It was like a big square magnifying glass what you clipped onto your telly and it made it bigger and course all the neighbours come in and watched the Coronation on, on the telly. The ones who didn’t have a telly all come in, so everybody got to see it. And it was brilliant really. And out come the crates o’ beer again and away we went.

Well because the men was at war, the men was in the army, most of ’em. And, y’know, there wasn’t the money, there wasn’t, it was a struggle, y’know. The Mums that was left, had to do, the best they could really. I mean my Mum used to make, to get some money in we used to make Christmas crackers. They used to deliver all the stuff and it was tubes what you put the paper round that bit, one bit, and, and it come out, put the banger in. And we all used to have to sit round the table and do them, to, to get the boxes out for Christmas to earn money. And that, and all different things like that. Y’know just to earn a bit of money. Yeah.

Well Graham Road’s not changed one little bit really, to what it always was. Might be a little block of flats here and there poked in. But apart from that, that hasn’t changed. Wilton Estate where I grew up, that hasn’t changed. Forest Road, all round there, no, hasn’t changed… No, I don’t think so. I mean my husband, he grew up in Calverston Crescent, off of Dalston, off of Ridley Road Market. And that’s, that was his playground: Ridley Road Market, y’know. The back of Woolworths and, and all round there, where it’s a shopping area now, a shopping centre. But that was his playground, y’know. We didn’t, there wasn’t a lot of playgrounds or, or nothink, there wasn’t. We found room to play wherever we could really, y’know. But, we still, it didn’t do us no harm.

When I got older, in my teens, my Mum and my sisters used to meet me outside work ’cause I worked at Dalston, Dalston Junction. And they used to meet me, every Friday and we used to go down Ridley Road and get all our fruit. ’Cause we knew everybody down there. And I mean that’s changed a lot I think Ridley Road. I haven’t been down there for a while. But everybody knew everybody in Ridley Road. In fact, I tell you a funny story, because my aunty, one of my aunties she lived in Bowley Road, which is off of Kingsland. And when she died, my Dad said to her, said to my uncle like, ‘where’re you gonna have her ashes put?’ He said ‘down Ridley Road’. And my Dad said ‘you can’t do that!’ He said ‘how can you sprinkle her ashes down…? He said ‘well she was always bleedin’ down there, so why shouldn’t I put her ashes, that’s where she’s happiest. And my Dad had to stop him taking her ashes down to Ridley Road Market. Y’know, that, that’s a funny story really and that’s the one I said was Andy Capp in that picture. He was a right Cockney East-End man. And Ridley Road at Christmas time was the best place you could ever be. My sister used to work with me and we always used to have a few drinks like, Christmas Eve in work. My Mum and my sister, other sister, used to meet us and we used to go down Ridley Road to get all the fruit and that for Christmas, nuts and everything. All the factories used to turn out, and all head for Ridley Road to get their shopping and in the end there was the conga all through Ridley Road, Christmas Eve. And all the music playing, it was the best place to be. Christmas Eve, Ridley Road Market. Yeah, so y’know, it’s, it’s all those things you think about and, and miss really. Yeah. Once again, y’know it’s everybody muckin’ in and y’ know that lovely feeling of friendship from everybody. And I think you don’t get that so much now, y’know, that feeling. Sometimes you don’t know who lives just over the road. But where we was different, you see, we knew everybody and everybody knew us. I mean my Mum, when we lived in, in Wilton Estate, you only had to say, go to Mrs Bryant — that was my Mum. Everybody knew Mrs Bryant. And we was the first ones to move into that block of flats. ’Cause it was just after, not long after the War and we was the first ones to move in there. And everybody used to know Mrs Bryant. And we would always knock on the door: ‘Mrs Bryant have you got some sugar?’ ‘Mrs Bryant can you do this, Mrs Bryant?’ And that’s how she was known, y’know. Yeah.

When I started going out with my husband, well we both lived in the same block of flats, Wilton Estate. He lived number 92 and I lived number 29. Funny ain’ it? He was my Mum, my brother’s friend, and, course he was always in and out, in and out, and I think it was a gradual process really, and as we got older, y’know, we realised that’s who we wanted, to be with each other. And my brother, ended up marrying my best friend and I married his best friend. So that’s how we met, and we was married forty-six, nearly forty-seven years. So, it was a good marriage. Wonderful, yeah.

Well his uncle, Alfie Flat, he used to work in the Alfred Heath Centre. D’you know where that was? Nah? In Homerton, there, I think it’s a Doctor’s Surgery now or something, but it was called the Alfred Heath Centre, and they, it was a community club for disabled people and elderly. And they used to bring them up in coaches and they used to have their dinner there, and do activities, painting and everything. And his uncle used to work in there. And course my two daughters used to be in there all the time with him. And helping in the centre as they got older. And we all did, we, y’know, we used to take the keyboard down there and have little afternoon concerts. And y’know, and, so we was down there quite a lot, really. Yeah quite a lot. Yeah.

Well, the Marshes, was where my husband used to do the football, Mabley Green. There used to be a little hut there. And I used to pop down and have a cup of coffee with him in the footballers’ hut, in the… park ranger’s hut, y’know while the football was going on, I popped down there sometimes. And, I mean, he used to do all the football over there and, he’d cry if he see it now. All the changing rooms have gone haven’t they for the Olympics? Making a lot of it into a car park where all these places used to be. Which is so sad, I think.

Well I knew my husband from when I was about nine or ten years old. So, I knew his family, y’know, quite well. And I knew they was all Pearlies. And he didn’t go into it straight away, my husband. He was too busy... he used to go out with ’em, playing the piano for ’em. But then they kept on at him, ‘Come on Mick, get your suit on’, and they made a suit for him, and he started going out then. And then when I got married to him, then I made the suit up and went out as well. Yeah.
It’s been… it’s something to be proud of, I would think, I think. It’s a tradition which no other country in the world’s got… We are respected wherever we go. I mean if we go out, you’ve got cab drivers hooting, ‘keep it going’. You’ve got lorry drivers hooting ‘keep it going’. Because it’s a tradition what London knows. Not so much the new London, the old London. Like the Cockneys, the East Enders… But what we do, we go to schools now and give lectures and talks about the history of the ‘Pearlies’ so that, people from ethnic groups or, people who have just come to the country know why we’re dressed like we are.

Well the history, is, it started in Kings Cross, Somers Town in Kings Cross. Victorian Workhouse orphanage in 1862. And it was a man called Henry Croft who was born in the orphanage, and he came out the orphanage when he was thirteen and 19…1875, he made a suit up because what happened was, when he came out the orphanage, he got a job as a rat-catcher and a road-sweeper. And he started doing the markets. All the markets: East End markets, all over. And he got involved with the costermongers, the apple sellers, coster apples, and they was called costermongers. And they used to wear buttons on their lapels, on their hats and down their trousers. And they was big penny buttons. And they were called Flashes. And that’s where the old saying ‘Flash Harry’ comes from. Have you heard that saying? ‘There goes Flash Harry’. Well that’s where that comes from. And what it is, why they had them on was to attract customers. So the flasher you was, the more customers you got. And he got the idea of making a whole suit up of pearly buttons. Had to be pearly buttons. Not plastic, pearl. And covered a whole suit, top hat and tails, and he started going out and collecting money for the orphanage. Well he did so well, that other charities — because there was no National Health then remember — hospitals relied on charity. And he got so busy because they was all coming, ‘can you collect for us? Can you collect for us?’ He went to the costermongers, his mates. He said why don’t you all help me out here? Be Pearlies? At the time there were twenty-eight London boroughs and he made a family of Pearlies for each borough. And it’s carried on from there to now. So it’s a very very old tradition. And we still do what he done, collect money for charity. Which we do quite well.

All the timethey was out - every weekend. Sometimes in the week, and then, come out or home from work, grab their Pearly suits, put them on, and out they’d go. As I say, they’d done a lot of work for the, the Metropolitan Hospital, they collected televisions for every ward in that hospital and, and St Leonard’s they’d done a lot of work. Y’know, they was, they used to have carnivals and collect the money for the hospitals. So they were, they really collected lots of money over the years.

If you’re gonna put your Pearly suit on, you’re putting it on for a reason and that’s to collect money for charity. And, I mean, we, I’m chairperson of the Original Pearly Kings and Queens Association, which is how… and, the Original Pearly Kings and Queens Association has got all the Pearlies in that are all original Pearly families that go back… you can’t just become a Pearly. You really should come from a Pearly family. There are Pearlies about now that have not come from Pearly families. But in our association they’re all from Pearly Families. And our family, the Hitchin family, is one of the biggest. Well, it is the biggest now. It is the biggest family. Y’know, I’ve got cousins, nieces, nephews, all Pearlies. Apart from my daughters, my grandchildren. So it is a big family of us. And we do raise a lot of money. Last year we raised, we heard of a school in Loughton of children with severe special needs. Really some of them, quite severe. And they was trying, they was taking them on coaches to take ’em to a hydro-pool, miles and miles away. So they was thinking of trying to get a pool built in the school. So we heard about this, actually my daughter worked there, so she said, ‘Mum, how ’bout if we try and help ’em raise this money. Well the Council was, they had to raise so much, and the council was going to give the other half, like back ’em. And just us Pearlies, our Pearly family, we raised 62, nearly 63,000 pound, for the hydro-pool. And I went to the opening about a month ago. And it’s all finished, and it’s absolutely marvellous. And it brings tears to your eyes thinking you’ve had something to do with that.

Yeah… Apart from that, Richard House, I mean we’ve collected thousands of pounds for Richard House Hospice in Beckton, for children. I was involved in that place when if first started being built. They was selling bricks for a pound to build it. And it’s up and, well, it’s just a wonderful place, y’know. So it’s lots of things, we do, people never hear about. And we don’t, y’know, it’s something we do without having to tell the world, y’know. We, we’re, the Charity Commission know what we’re doing and what we do. We’ve got a charity number and y’know, it, it’s, it’s something what’s passed through the family with that feeling. You don’t need to tell everybody. Y’know, I’m just giving you an example of what, what we do. But normally, people wouldn’t really know what we, what we do, y’know. Yeah.

Well, I’ve been the Pearly Queen of Hackney forty six years. I’m seventy one now. So forty six years ago.I mean, my daughters was quite young still, so we didn’t really want to do it straight away because I was, y’know, two young babies and that, y’know. But, wasn’t long after. Made suits up and that. Yeah.

My grandson now, Alfie. He’s twelve, he’ll be thirteen this year. And he’s gonna take his granddad’s title. So he’s gonna be Pearly King of Hackney. So the title, his title is passed down to my grandson. He’s already wearing grandad’s hat, which he’s so proud of. And his tie, and now he’s got his waistcoat on and he’s getting such a big boy now that he’s gradually stepping into Grandad’s suit bit by bit. But yeah, we will have a little ceremony for him, y’know.

I’ve not really, to be honest with you, I’ve not really noticed, a lot of changes. The only things I have noticed is more recent things like, y’know, calling Clapton Murder Mile, and… we never had none of that, did we? We never had all that. I mean, now, Hackney’s got a street… which is so sad, called Murder Mile. It’s been nicknamed Murder Mile. My cousin lives there. Off of Clapton Pond. And, when I look at that, that makes me sad, because, and y’know, the, the crime, the murders, and stabbings, and, y’know, we never had nothing like that. Nothing. We didn’t. Not that I can remember. At all. When I was a teenager, and it’s so sad, I think to see… ’cause Hackney is, it’s got such a lot of cultural history, ’ain it. It’s got the Hackney Empire, I mean that place, it could be even better than what it is. I mean there’s a lot of restrictions what stops it, like, if you want to go to the Hackney Empire, if you can find a parking space you’re lucky, that keeps people away. And that’s why those buildings start going down the pan like Hackney did, like Hackney Empire did at one time. They tried it with bingo, they tried it with… to bring it back. Now it’s been brought back to a musical place like it always was, and how it should be. How I remember it. But to go there… y’know, why don’t they stop these parking restriction all round there so people can go there and enjoy the show and to keep it open and going. Which everybody wants, y’know. But they don’t.

Well, I mean, the Krays, they… I don’t know whether I should say this but… they wasn’t all bad. They were bad in their own circle. Their own people. But, if an old lady didn’t have no food, or they heard someone had been mugged, God ’elp ’em. Y’know, I mean I lived off of London Fields and there was, one of them, we called ’im, we called ’em the gangsters—one of them lived in London Fields. And all round London Fields, none of them old people went without a dinner. None of them went without money of some kind. And when he died, I remember the funeral was unbelievable. Where people had so much respect for him. He was bad in his own groups, like the Krays was bad in their own groups. They done some horrible things. But, for the ordinary people, they sometimes was their saviours. So, y’know, there’s ifs and buts about it really. I don’t agree with nothing what they did, I’m not saying that. But they did do good things as well, yeah. And they protected people. I mean, it, I think, if they was here today, you wouldn’t have half of this mugging going on and all that what you have now, ’cause they’d stop it, someway if it was against ordinary people.
Every, everybody knew about the Krays. Everybody, yeah. I mean, they used to go to, they had a club in Stoke Newington. Is it off of Rectory Road? I think my husband, my husband’s cousins worked there and they used to be in there a lot. I think it was off of Rectory Road, there was a club there they used to own. Yeah. So everybody knew, everybody knew ’em. Yeah different times.

We was mostly in the Alfred Heath Centre, or, y’know, doing, I mean we used to, I mean, all the warden control blocks round in Homerton… Augustus Court and all, we was always in there having parties for the old people, in Homerton, and, y’know, a lot, there was a lot of sheltered accommodation there. And we knew all the wardens. And we used to go in there with the old keyboard and have great nights there, for the old people. Yeah. So it was more that sort of thing what I was more involved in than, than, actual, historical part of Homerton.

Homerton High Street is not a lot different to what it is now really. The old Hackney Hospital, where I was born, is, is not there now. Y’know it’s there, but not as a hospital. I was baptized in there, when I was two. I had a mastoid, an operation, and I have to be baptised quick, so, I dunno where my baptism thing’s gone. Somebody said that they went, all went to St Barnabas, Records when Homerton Hospital closed down. So, I would like to have a little ride down there one day and see if they’ve got any record of my baptism. They thought that you I was that badly that maybe…yeah, that I needed to be baptised, ’cause meningitis, yeah… That’s what made me a bit nutty today, I think.

Yeah, we did. Chats Palace used to put on some great stuff, musicals… and, we went there one night, a Cockney night where they had the whole place done up like a market, with chickens, like, rubber chickens like, all lain from the stalls and they was all used to be dressed up as traders, cockneys and we used to have some great times there. And a music ‘all sense they used to have there…You used to always be packed. Always be packed. Yeah. I really don’t know what they do there now. We used to have all different things…All ages, yeah. All ages, yeah.Quite often, yeah. Because y’know, they used to like your good old Cockney songs and, which we did, we do. And, yeah, we was down there quite a lot really. Yeah. Yeah.

Y’know. I mean we, we still go and do St John’s, St John’s Church is another thing, I think is a lovely place. My sister got married there. In Mare Street. We do their fete every year, or whatever, if they’ve got something going on down there and they want us to pop down, to support it, we do, y’know. I always like to support things in Hackney, y’know, when it’s needed. Yeah. So… yeah, St John’s is quite close to my heart as well. It’s a lovely place. And Rob the, the vicar there is a lovely man, and he’s always pleased to see us. St John’s, is always got something going on… fundraising things or, for the church, and y’know, ’cause they’ve had a lot of work done with that church, the grounds and all that have all been done. So they needed a bit of support there, yeah.

Well back in the 50s it was quite, a sight for us really, because we’d not seen, y’know, black people before. Very rare, very rare. And, it is quite a surprise obviously ain’ it, when you’re little, you’re young. But you just get used to it don’t you? Like you do everything else. They’ve come to live here and y’know, that’s how the country’s gone and that’s how it’s still going. I mean you’ve got, Polish people have moved in round here, you’ve got all different… I’ve got a lady next door, Ruth, who’s been here as long as I have, forty odd years I’ve lived in this house. Forty four years, forty five years. And Ruth’s been here forty five. She’s from Antigua. And, y’know, we, we live side by side, and she’s lovely. And her family have grown up with my daughters. She had five kids and they’re, her kids have grown up with my children. Played in the garden. And that’s how we got on with things. Y’know, you didn’t think no I’m not letting them play with them… that never come into your head, y’know. We just accepted whatever come along really, y’know. And that’s what you do, don’t you? Live and let live. And if you wanna live a peaceful life yourself, you live with others and make it peaceful. All the, all round here, opposite here, I’ve got a man from Antigua, lady from India over there. Jamaican lady on the corner. And we all get on brilliant. That’s why I would never move from here. Because I love my neighbours and we all get on so well. And we all look after each other. When my husband died, I couldn’t-a wish for anyone better, whether they be English, whatever they was. They all was marvellous. And even now, they knock on my door and say, ‘haven’t seen you for a couple of days, you alright?’ That’s how it used to be and that’s how it is this little bit here. That’s how we are. And it’s, it’s nice. It is nice.

Funerals, well George Hitchin, the one in that photo up there. He had a pearly funeral and it was massive. It was in the Hackney Gazette, I’ve got cuttings of it upstairs. And that was a massive funeral.Well, it was all, all the pearly kings and queens come from all over London for that, for that funeral. He was so well known and, the Hackney Gazette run a story. Said ‘the king of kings, the king of kings’. And… yeah. It was a big, big funeral. My husband had a Pearly funeral. Same thing. We have pearly funerals where all the Pearlies from all over come and pay their respects and wear their suits. And, but ordinary funerals was no, really no different, not a lot of difference to when, to what it is now really. Y’know. There is a one funny story I will tell you. My aunty, who, who her husband wanted to be, wanted her ashes to go down Ridley Road. We went to her funeral and the hearse was late coming. And one of my other uncles was there who was also quite a character. And the hearse was late. And we was all getting a bit fidgety. Where’s the hearse? When is it going to turn up? And so one uncle said to the other ‘Harry, you ’ave paid the bill ain’t you mate?’ ‘Course I’ve paid the bloody bill, what d’you fink I am?’ My Mum used, my Mum had to calm ’em both down, ’cause it really upset him saying he hadn’t paid the bill, that’s why the hearse was late, or it wasn’t coming. Y’know, all things like that do stick in your mind those little things, what you can giggle about now, y’know. Yeah, but even like the funerals then, you’d go back to the house for drinks and they’d all sit round and talk about stories of the past. And that’s what they did at funerals. What they still do really. Talk about the past and talk about different things what had happened between them all. And ‘d’you remember this, and d’you remember that?’ And, that’s funerals really.

Oh weddings, something else. I mean my mum’s wedding lasted four days, yeah. And, they just carried on and on and on and on. In Forest Road, funny enough. Yeah, they used to have a beer barrel out in the passage — a barrel, not, not only crates, a barrel of beer. And it just used to go on and on. Yeah. And it went on for four days. Yeah, one glorious beer-up really. Y’know what I mean. A glorious beer up. But, what lovely times, yeah. Great, they always used to do their own catering. None of this, all this posh stuff now. My Grandad and my Dad, when my sister got married. That was in Forest Road, she went from Forest Road, they done all the catering. You know, sit-down dinner, right through. Marvellous, y’know. But now it’s, it’s all about how much it’s going to cost now. They used to have wedding on nothing. I mean they
even used to call bread pudding, poor man’s wedding cake. Did you know that? You know a bread pudding, you buy a lump, a bit of bread pudding. They used to call that the poor man’s wedding cake. Yeah. So y’know, amazing. I used to meet my uncle up Cooks’s, Dalston. And he’d, you, if you was looking for him, you always knew where he was if you, you’d go in the pubs and there was a little circle of peanut shells. And you’d look on the floor and you’d say, yeah, Harry’s been in. He used to have pocket fulls of peanuts and while he was drinking, he used to eat the peanuts. And you could follow him round any pub and find him, in the end. ’Cause he used to leave a trail, of peanut shells. And if you did meet him, he used to say, I used to say to him, ‘what you going to do now, Grandad, Harry, where are you going?’ ‘Well I’m going home and I’m going to cook me baby’s head.’ Well you, I know what it is. You know what it is? It’s a meat pudding. But not the little pokey meat puddings, the proper suet puddings in a cloth. And the, they used to call them, I’m going to cook a baby’s head, my baby’s head. Yeah, and it was meat pudding. So if you didn’t know what he was talking about, you’d think, my God, get the police. But that’s it, y’know. Bacon and onion dumplings and, and all different things like what people have never heard of, now. Y’know. It’s all part of our childhood. Bacon and onion dumplings, my nanny used to cook them, big pots of stew. We used to go into Forest Road. She had a range, and she always had a pot of stew on, always, whenever you walked in there, want some stew, she used to dish it out, sit at the table, lovely. Y’know… what else? I never used to like faggots. Pie and mash, I love pie and mash, I absolutely adore, all my family love pie and mash. Great. I mean even now, I go down Walthamstow and I always go in and have pie and mash. Oh, loads of things. Micky’s, Micky’s Nan, my husband’s Nan, she used to cook marmalade tarts. And one day she’d ate a lump of her marmalade tart and swallowed a shilling. It was stuck underneath. And she come over to my Mum, and she said ‘Flo’, I think I’ve swallowed a shilling.’ So my Mum said ‘swallowed a shilling, what you on about?’ ‘I’m sure I’ve swallowed a shilling, I can’t find it’. My Mum took her up to the old German hospital and they x-rayed her, and she sure enough she had, swallowed a shilling. The doctor said, all you can do now is wait to pass it and then you can use it for the meter. Y’know, all, all different things, you can laugh about when you look back. It, things what don’t happen now, wouldn’t happen now. Y’know, yeah.

Well another, is my husband’s Nan and Granddad. They all went out Christmas Eve, for a drink down the Woodville Pub, that’s the back of Boleyn Road, Dalston. And, they got so drunk, when they got home, they’d put all the toys in the wrong thing. The girls’ toys ended up in the boys’ stockings and the boys’ toys in the girls, yeah. And anyway, she, he was quite a drinker his Granddad like, he used to like his drink. And she went down there one day to get him out of the pub. Like ‘come on, you gotta come out’. So he said, ‘come in and have one drink with us and then I’ll come back’. ‘No, you gotta come out now.’ Anyway, she ends up going in there, he said, she said ‘I can drink you under the table’. He said ‘can you now?’ So away they went didn’t they. And they ended up carrying her out the door. She tried to drink him under the table and she couldn’t, yeah. But y’know, when you fink I mean when I was telling you about, they used to play cards, all the boys. My mother-in-law used to come from a family of ten, and they all used to go out, but when they come back, and Nanny Hitchin didn’t like them playing cards, didn’t like gambling in the house. So she said. Anyway, they end up playing cards but one of them decides to cook kippers. A pair of kippers. Well she could smell it couldn’t she. Down the stairs she come, gave them all a clip round the earhole but ended up all night playing cards with ’em. And y’know the stories what you, my father-in-law, he used to like a gamble. He used to like the dogs and all that, he used to go to a club where they gambled and he used to come in sometimes four o’clock in the morning from the club after playing cards all night. And one funny story, he come in, and he’s creeping about to get in bed without, my mother-in-law hearing him. And she’s woke up, and she’s said to him ‘you just come in?’ He said, ‘No, of course not, I’m just getting up, I’m just going to work’. And from, for years she thought he, he was just, not just coming in, going ah work. Yeah, yeah. But I mean he used to work on the railway, my father-in-law and he was up the City when the Blitz hit really bad up there and Maple’s, the furniture store was hit. And it actually blew his trousers off, blew his trousers. Come home with all the legs of his trousers nearly off. Yeah, the blast. So y’know, they went through quite a lot, and I mean, I, I didn’t see really none of that because I come in, I was born on the end of it all, like, or in the middle of it but not old enough to see the damage and the, the hardship what it caused and the loss for people whose sons got killed. I mean we lost a lot of our Pearlies in the War. There used to be over five hundred Pearlies, but y’know there’s not now. But we lost quite a lot.

I didn’t have no trouble getting a job. I served an apprenticeship, ’cause we had apprenticeships then. You could go and work and learn a trade. You get rubbish money. Y’know, I think I earnt something like 1 pound 50 a week, which 1 pound I used to give to me Mum and keep the fifty pence, because she needed y’know. I worked at Willoughby’s in Chatsworth Road, off of Chatsworth Road, off of Mare Street there. And — not Chatsworth Road… what’s the other road? Opposite the church there, it was Willoughby’s, a big factory, tailoring. And I learnt a trade there, and you got one pound fifty a week for that. My husband was a furrier, he used to do fur nailing. But of course when the animal rights come in and all that it went. So he, he ended up working on the post office at Mount Pleasant, and then from there he went onto the parks, yeah, yeah. But, there wasn’t that much work really, I don’t think, only if you went served on apprenticeships in different places, yeah. So was there a lot of unemployment then in Hackney? Not that I can remember no. Everyone I know seemed to have a job somewhere, doing something. Y’know, people scraped around for different jobs, yeah. Yeah.

Well…the Olympics… it’s good, I s’pose, it’s good. I mean I only live up the road, so, I’m literally on its doorstep. I’m sad about what they’ve done at the Marshes there, the football stuff and all that. I think they should put all that back after, ’cause the Marshes is well known for its football and that goes right down to Homerton as well. Y’know, I think they should sort of put some of that back, but I think it’d bring a lot of work to the area, which we need, don’t we? But it’s cost quite a lot of money and let’s hope that they’re going to put it to good use after. That’s the thing that worries you, and it’s not going to be something sitting there like the Dome did for years before it started getting used. I think if they make it useable for the ordinary people and the kids, then good, yeah. The swimming venues, the tracks, the, everything. Let the kids enjoy it, the teenagers enjoy it, let them use it. Not let someone buy up whose going to make a hell of a lot of money out of it. I think it should be used for the people, to be used. Then it’d be a good thing. But if not, y’know, I mean the Dome, look at the money that’s being made out of that now, and look at the money we put into it, we put into it! Our taxes, that I wouldn’t like to see for the Olympics, ’cause that is for the people. It’s for the kids, it’s for the teenagers, to use and to benefit from. ’Cause all our money’s gone into it.

Oh the riots in August…very, very sad. Very, very sad. I could’ve cried really. Because it’s not what we want for Hackney. It’s not what I want for Hackney anyway. It puts a bad light on Hackney. From, from other places in the country. Y’know, they look and they say ‘oh Hackney’, y’know. I mean I’ve heard it, when I’ve gone out on Pearly jobs. They say ‘oh Hackney, you’ve come from Hackney?’ I say, ‘yeah, why not? You don’t know what Hackney’s like.’ ‘Oh it’s a rough, we see it on the News, it’s a rough area’. Some of it is, but then you’ve got rough areas where you live. But when you get things like the riots, you can’t make excuses for that to people. You can’t cover up something bad, can ya? It, it, it’s a stigma. It, it seems to take all the thingsthat are good from Hackney away in one, one go. Y’know, everything that’s good about Hackney which I know and I love, seems to, when you get that happen, or things like that, it, it, it takes it all away in one shot. Y’know, they think ‘Hackney, yeah’. And it shouldn’t be, should it? And that’s what makes you sad, y’know. ’Cause I try and defend it. I say ‘no, Hackney! What you talking about?’ Y’know. They say ‘well, every week you got a murder down there, or you got something going on down there.’ And you can’t say ‘no we haven’t’ because we have. And you can’t keep covering it up, but it shouldn’t happen, shouldn’t happen. Because there’s so much good about Hackney, so much… a lot of community spirit in Hackney as well, y’know, but as I say you get the few that can throw all that out the window in one go. What can you do? I don’t know the answer.

Try and educate people, but you can’t, y’know. Try and get more work, try and get work for ’em. Not enough jobs, not enough for ’em to do. There’s all these arguments but we didn’t have a lot to do. We used to make our own, so that’s not really an argument for me. We used to find our own amusements. Y’know. Do different thing. But I think jobs is important because, they’re never going… if they’ve got no money what are they going to do? They’re going to look for it somewhere else. Sad. Very Sad. Yeah. I’ve never been in that position where I’ve not had a job. I’ve always worked. I left school — then we left school at fifteen. We didn’t leave school at eighteen, nineteen, twenty, whatever they are now. We was fifteen and we had to get out there. And if you was fourteen, just turned fifteen – wallop - out you went to work. Y’know. And if you was ill, I mean, I remember I had tonsillitis, my Dad come home from work, ‘what are you doing home?’ ‘Well I’m not well’. ‘Right, get to work, tomorrow you’re at work’. School, even school, you’re not well? Well enough to go to school. That’s how they was. Y’know, it was put in your mind you had to go to work, had to earn a living, from an early age. All of us, we all, y’know. But now, another thing, the dole, I mean even I, I see it all round me, they have too much the kids. They’ve only got to say I want this Gameboy, that computer, this, that, it’s there. Christmas, we had a box of paints and a, and a colouring book. And a, and a stocking with an orange and an apple on it. And we thought that was out of this world. Just after the War, we had nothing. A box of paints, we had. Y’know the little water paints, and a colouring book. Might have a little doll, or a little teeny thing. We thought it was wonderful. But now, you buy the kids something they don’t want, they turn their nose up. ‘I didn’t want that’. Y’know. They have too much. It’s been made too easy for them to just say I want, and it’s there. And I think that is a lot of problems as well. They’ve not been allowed to, to, even work for it. When I left school, we used to have to do little jobs. Y’know, and my grandchildren they’re the same. My daughters follow what we’ve done, y’know. I mean, Amy, she, there’s no work, ’cause she lives in Kent, my daughter lives in Kent, my Linda. Her daughter, she, she washes two cars, washes the two cars, she empties the dishwasher, she makes sure her bed’s done and... All them jobs, then she gets pocket money. My grandson, his father’s a carpenter and a builder, he goes out Saturdays and works with his father. He gets pocket money. It, it’s the way to bring them up. To let them know that they can’t get something for nothing, all the time. They can sometimes, but not all the time. Y’know, they got to put a bit into it. But if these youngsters now — I’m talking about the rioters now — if they can’t find something what they can put in, y’know, what they, what they doing? What they going to do? So I don’t really know what the answer is. The answer is to get them in work. To get them busy.

We’ve always tried with our two. I’ve always said to our two girls, and their Dad always said to ’em, if you’re in trouble or you need advice, or you need help, we’re ‘ere. And I think that is important as well. You’ve got to have roots and you’ve got to have somewhere y’know you can go to. A lot of these kids now, you see ’em, they’re going walking about, twelve o’clock at night, out on the street. Their parents I think sometimes don’t even know where they are. That was never allowed, in ’ere. Never allowed when my Mum and Dad either. If I wasn’t in, by nine o’clock, my Dad was up Graham Road looking for me… ‘In!!!’ Yeah. I mean, a week before I got married… my husband come up stairs and it was, what about ten o’clock, and my Dad opened the door and he said ‘what time d’you call this?’ And I said ‘well it’s ten o’clock’. ‘You’re supposed to be in here at half nine.’ A week before I was getting married. And I said to ’im, ‘Dad, I’m getting married next week.’ ‘You’re still under my roof. I don’t care when you’re getting married. You’re still under ’ere’. That’s how they was. And you daren’t go out and do looting or raid a shop. You were frightened to y’know!

That is, I’m not saying ’ard discipline — discipline though. You gotta know right from wrong, you gotta know that you can’t take something if you haven’t earnt it, or worked for it, or paid for it. You can’t, it’s not. It’s something in you that says that’s wrong. And now, I don’t think that is in a lot of people. A lot of the youngsters, that feeling ‘no, I mustn’t do that.’ Y’know what I mean? I don’t know whether you know what I’m getting at.It’s a thing inside you. It’s not the law, it’s not the police, it’s not nothing like that. It’s something in you that says ‘I can’t do that, I mustn’t do that’.

I mean it didn’t change in my house because my husband was quite strict with the girls. Y’know, they used to go out later than nine o’clock and that, yeah, but he was still strict with his rules, y’know what they could do and what they couldn’t do. So I really don’t know when it changed. I think a lot of it is, when Mum’s started to have to go out to work and y’know. I mean I always worked but when my two was small, I always used to do work indoors so I was always with them right up until, y’know they went to school. And when they came out of school, I was always home in ’ere when they come home. When I went to work, I was always home when they come home. So they didn’t come home to empty house like the kids are now. Kids come home, they walk in, no one there. I don’t know, I think, I think, with a lot of parents, it’s material things come first. Which it shouldn’t, should it? You can do without material things most, a lot of things. But if you ain’t got a big flat screen telly now and a, y’know, then things… something’s wrong. I mean we used to go without and wait until we could afford it. Never get in debt. Never, never have anything on the weekly. Never. No, we’d wait and save up for it. That’s what we’d do. Yeah. I know when we first moved in this house, it took us over a year to do the bathroom. We used to buy a box of tiles a week or every two weeks, when we could afford it. But now, HP and all that, it’s so easy to get in debt ain’t it? I don’t know whether that’s a problem? Don’t know. The parents have to go out and work all the hours. And if they’re not working, they’re in trouble ain’t they? ’Cause they can’t pay it all back. I don’t know. It’s a funny old world now. Principles have changed, everything’s changed to what it used to be. I mean we didn’t have nothing but we was still happy. Still had a laugh and a joke, but now, to have a party now it’s got to cost you a couple of hundred quid to have a party indoors. All Mums go to the Iceland and all the fancy foods and… we used to have plates of sandwiches and wallop… away you went. Things are different.

It’s, buildings don’t change an area. You can knock down this building, that building, whatever building you like. It’s the people that change the area, not the buildings. Y’know, some buildings are gone, some are still there. That don’t make no difference. It’s the people that live there and y’know if, some people don’t wanna be friendly and get talking to this one, that one, some people do. It, I think an all, a lot of it is you get people like come from different countries who have got different ways to how they live to how we live, y’know. Like — like we got, we got quite a lot of Polish people here, who’ve moved round here. You don’t know, I don’t know none of them, ’cause they… and another thing as well which I think doesn’t help, is they seem to move into one area. So they set up their own community and the people that have lived here are not in that group. ’Cause we’re, they’re not, we’re different. We’ve not got their customs and their foods and their ways, y’know? So I think that’s a lot of the problem as well, where people from other countries have moved into one complete area and made their own community in that area. So the people that lived in that area are not in that, they’ve been left out of that, y’know. I mean lucky enough with us here, we all get on with each other and we’re all different. Y’know, you got Muslim people over there, they’ve got their own custom, their own religions and all that. Ruth next door, you hear her singing her hymns every Sunday morning and it, it’s lovely. Y’know, even round here, you’ve got like Indian clubs and shops an’, y’know. It don’t help does it? It doesn’t help to make a community I don’t think.

And I’d say, even now we’ve seen the best times. Even though we never had a pot — we’ve seen the best times. When everybody was all together, whoever you was, wherever you come from, you was all together. But it had to take a war. But then even before that war they was the same, y’know. Never had nothing, everyone scraped around but they got on with it. That’s what the East End’s about. That’s what Cockneys are, yeah, working people.

Oh the bread, yeah. Now when we lived in Clapton, we used to, I mean it shows you how bad it was. It used to have sterilized milk bottles, y’know, with long, with the narrow thing, and if you collected ’em, you got enough, you could take ’em back to the shop and get money back on them which you used to buy a loaf. So my Mum used to fill the bag up and I used to struggle round, ‘All Ports’ it was, I remember the name of the shop all them years ago, ‘All Ports’. And I used to go round with the bottles, get the bread, lovely, it was all new crusty bread and I used to take, pick the top off and pick inside. By the time I got home, the inside was like a shell. And my Mum used to get hold of me, wallop round the ear’ole, very red did she____. But she used to get so annoyed ’cause that bread was for everybody, y’know and there was a big ’ole in it where I used to eat the bread on the way home. But we used to take the bottles back and get a loaf of bread. Yeah, amazing. And at school y’know, during the War, we used to line up with a spoon. Used to have to take a spoon and everybody had a spoon for malt. Yeah. Everybody had a spoon for malt. All the children, in the War. Well because, because food was, y’know, not plentiful, you could get undernourished, y’know. And, so they used to give everybody, all the kids, malt. Cod liver oil an’ malt. Used to dip the spoon in. Yeah. I love it. My kids hate it. They can’t stand it. But I love malt. I don’t know whether it’s from then. But I do, I like malt. The only thing is it’s fattening, so I don’t have it. But yeah, we used to all have a spoonful of malt in the War.

Detmold Road School I used to go to in Clapton. Detmold Road…Yeah I tell you who was one of the, the stars on, who used to go there as well… cor, what’s his name now, he used to do the slip ups on the, on the telly. I can’t think of his name…Yeah, yeah, Denis somebody. Denis Norden, yeah.Yeah, he used to go to Detmold Road School. And that was just up the road where we used to walk on the planks, y’know up… But yeah, we used to have that and they used to have a cone, you make a cone out of paper, y’know, a cone. And fill it up with like this chocolate powder. And when they started getting drinking chocolate out, I thought that’s what they used to get, but it isn’t. I’ve never come across anything that tastes like this chocolate powder. Whatever it was they used to give us, but obviously it was for the vitamins in it and all that to keep the kids going. That and the malt and our milk. We used to have our milk and that y’know. But, yeah, that was, so they looked after the children in the War. Made sure we was nourished, y’know, yeah.