Home Oral History Interview - Reginald Wright

Oral History Interview - Reginald Wright


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Audio interview with Reginald Wright

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Wright, Reginald (Subject of)


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My name's Reginald Christopher Wright. I was born in the old Hackney hospital, 1938 just two years before the war more or less started. And I've lived in Hackney all me life

Well down in Hackney Wick there was very large families, everyone had a very large family, eight or nine children and they sort of married one street or married someone in the next street..... My mother married my father who lived across the road, sort a thing. Originally, far as I can remember we lived in Prince Edward Road above my Aunts place, then we was evacuated to Bristol, we got bombed out in Bristol. Then we moved to Weston Super Mare and from then we came back and they discovered there was this house in Berkshire Road going and we moved in there, we had gas fire, outside toilet, hot water or anything, we had a copper in the kitchen and you could do all your washing and that. I went to Berkshire Road School; we always called it Berkshire from the age of five to a certain age. Then we moved to Gainsborough Road School, now that don't exist anymore, that was opposite the East way baths in East Way. The public baths. It was opposite there. It was really one of the original old schools that had gas light, they had come round when it got dark. It was years... not long after I left they converted it, but as you can see if you go there now it's all flats and that down there. And I lived in there for… oooh, ever since I came here sorta, as I grew up down there and at eighteen I had to do National service. I ended up on Christmas Island – it was a bomb test. I actually spent Christmas on Christmas Island! And then I worked in the shoes mainly, the shoe factory. That's why I can't understand the Hackney Museum ‘cause there's not a lot in there about shoe making, yet Hackney was one of the biggest manufacturers of shoes apart from Northampton. There were loads and loads of shoe factories in Hackney and tailoring that was the main thing, but there's not much in there about shoe making.... And I still got me tools if you ever wanted to see ’em! And then after I came out of National service I lived down the Wick for so many years, an we moved up to here. The firm went broke and I went in to paper converting in Berkshire Road, that's with rolls of paper and you cut it up. And I worked there for a number of years and then they moved again and I worked in Kendon passages until I took early retirement at 62, I wasn't well so I had to take early retirement. That's about all round 'ere really, I mean – I ain’t had a very exciting life, but if you wanna know about this area at all... I mean that building over there's Georgian, that's a listed building that one cross there. They wanted to pull it down Hackney Council. There's only two like it in Hackney.

And there used to be the gravel pit just there, that was a church. The churchyard is still there ... and the tombstones. That's more or less all I know really about round... I say I grew up in the Wick.

You've been up that churchyard haven't you? The churchyard up there? No? There's quite a few... there's Beaufont... have you heard of Beaufont gale? Where they say wind scale, gale force eight and gale force nine – he's buried in there. Plimsoll – you must of heard of the Plimsoll line – he's buried in there. There's quite a few famous people and the scout leader all his families buried in there. And the Hackney Tower – you know about the Hackney Tower. No? You don't know about the Hackney Tower? Originally the church was there from 1200's something. And when they built the new churchyard there they knocked it down. They got right down to the tower – they took the bells out, well when they tried to put them in the new church they was too big. That's why that towers there now because they… was gonna knock it down, but they had to put the bells back. And they decided to keep it as a symbol of Hackney. That's about all the history round 'ere really. That was Polycloths over there - they moved to North Wales. It manufactured clothing... you know? It was quite big industry round this area – clothing manufacturing. And then they moved to North Wales and Burberry's have got it now. They had the building over there, but I think it's vacant now... they opened a new showroom down the bottom there, next to the Wellington pub.

Burberry's been there ooh a few years now. Quite a few years now. Originally it was the big... the empty factory over there. There had all there clothes in like you went in and there was massive big warehouse in there. Then they built the purpose built one over there. Very expensive – Japanese liked it. Come from everywhere the Japanese.

This site here, well if you look on the wall there’s a plaque - I can never see the date on it, but originally a deaf and dumb school along here. And I think along the corner down here was a laundry.

Well there were mostly people who'd been taken out slum clearance. ‘Cause they pulled the wick down and they called it slum clearance. And they built this... this is about getting on for forty years ago this flats. And they built these flats and it was mainly people from the Wick who was moved out and they came in here. And over the years they all moved out and different people came in. It’s sort of a mixed bag in here now, sort of. But originally we had no central heating or anything like that in there, there was just a coal fire there with a boiler at the back, and the emersion heater in the cupboard there.. It was a change, coz the house we lived in we didn't have anything – you know... it was moving in to luxury - sort of thing... even in those days... but as I say – it's not really a lot in this area... Homerton the other side was quite a few shops... you know the Sutton House don't ya? That's the oldest building.Well the Sutton House it had a mixed time didn't it, because it become derelict for a long time. Then Hackney Council had it for a long time, they used it as offices. Then when they moved out a lot of squatters got in there and they done a lot of damage, it was a shame. All the wooden panelling – they was pulling it off and burning it. Then the National Trust took it over and renovated it all. Quite nice in there.

Oh Sutton Place...yeah. Where Sutton place was there was a big factory – the metal box company – they used to make tin cans and pie dishes and all things like that. They was there for quite a long while... there that big factory it was there. The last remaining bit they've just converted in to town houses – council had a part of that for a long time before they moved that.

And Sutton House — cross the road from there was all streets – rows of streets, they knocked them down and built houses there. They have built a lot of places round here, since I, since I've been here. At the moment every piece of green they can find it — they’re building on. Round the back of the church theres a little piece of green... five houses there. Over the back there where there's a little piece of green – we used to cut across and go to Well Street – massive block of flats gone up there. Amazing how quick they build 'em though... I can't think of any... where else would you like to know about?

Oh that was changed a lot, ‘cause there was shops along there where the school is an' they built the old… not academy, but there was the old school there. And there was shops on the other side of the road, but as I said I can't really remember that part ‘cause I was always down the Wick most of the time. And I was bought up and lived on this side sort of thing.

But Mare Street has changed. The factory I worked at was an old big old building along next to the library, just along the library there – there was the gasworks next to that – the gas showrooms, then the factory where I worked, ‘cause it's the library there now in't it – the big library, an 'I used to go round the back then... the alley way down the back to work.

The old Hackney Hospital… well, I was born in there and my mother was in there for a while, my nephew’s been in there. Originally it was, part of it was a work house, wasn’t it? It’s really old the Hackney Hospital, it goes right back to 1800s an’ something. And the, really big wards y’know, it was, wasn’t like they are now, you had ’bout thirty people in rows and rows. I’ve never been in there meself. Only as a baby, apparently I had a chest abscess or some’it and I had to go in there. But the, it was during the War it was very lucky during the war, ’cause you’ve heard of the flying bombs, apparently one of them came over and, have you seen the spires sticking up? It just clipped that and it done a summersault and ended on the Marsh otherwise it would’ve devastated the hospital. It did have a lot of bomb damage around here during the War. Down the Wick, they had a lot of bomb damage, up here they had bomb damage as well, I think everywhere in London ’ad bomb damage. I can remember it quite well running for the air raid shelters. Goin’ down, we had an air raid shelter down in our back yard but my Mum wouldn’t use it ’cause she said it was unsafe, so we used to run round the corner to my uncle’s place and go down in his air raid shelter. ’Cause the first doodlebug landed at Bethnal Green there, didn’t it? Hit the railway bridge. They’ve got a plaque up there. And Homerton itself, I can’t really remember it really. Not as much, and we always stayed this side of the road. The hospital was famous Hackney Hospital. Then you go down the Marsh Hill don’t ya? Down to the Marshes, they don’t come under Homerton do they, the Marshes?

Oh we lived over Vicky Park, ’cause during the War that was a, well it was WD, they had anti-aircraft guns over there. It was all cordoned off, and at the end of the War we always used to spend all day over there, Vicky Park. And it’s like in the streets, we used to spend, ’cause no one had motor cars, there was no traffic, when the bus stopped running down Berkshire road, you had the street to yourself. We’d all play in the middle of the street, girls skipping, and we’d playing football, you’d get a car go by once in a blue moon. And the traffic came along, didn’t it? It used to be horse and carts, even, the Clarnicos. Have you heard of Clarnicos? The sweet factory, that was a massive place, that was. That was more or less in Poplar, Clarnicos. It was, it’s, the Clarnicos stood for Clark, Nickolls and Coombs, that was their name, they called it Clarnicos, made all sweets. Used to be you’d get sweets if you went by there and the window was open, girls used to give you sweets. And they had horse and carts for a long time, carrying the sweets up and down. But, I say most of my memories are in the Wick itself, y’know, Berkshire Road and all the shops that was there. You’d Rubies on the corner, Daddy Davis an’…Alrigh’, well if I come out of my house and I turned left and went to the end of… well ’cause, across the road from where I live was this big factory, we called it Blackies Factory. They made canvas, and they had this big sort of glass thing on top and they used to have ammonia oh it used to make your eyes water. And next to that was Austen’s, the Rag Factory. Then there was Bronco Toilet Rolls. But on the end of my street, when you walk to the left like that, you came to the beginning of Wick Road, that’s where Wick Road started. There was Rubies on the corner there, he was a provision… he sort of saved us during the War with the Black Market you could always get something in there. And then on the next corner was Amy’s, she was an off-licence… she was a character, Amy Haywood. And on the other side was another little shop, and the chap in there, we used to call him Daddy Davis. He was a little portly bloke with a flat cap. Always wore a white apron and his little glasses. We used to be able to buy tuppenny cigarettes in there when we was at school. And on the other corner was Reeds the off- licence. And if you stayed on that, the other side of the road, half way down there was a chap who worked in his front room, mended boots and shoes. He used to open his front window, we used to go in there and have studs put in our shoes, we used to like that. And as you walked up the Wick, on the left hand side, you came to a little shop, it was, it sold all millinery things, y’know. We always called that Banjy Listers. Then there was the post office, then another off-license on the corner, that was Deermonds. And opposite them on the other side of the road was a little paper shop, the oil shop, then there was a greengrocers on the corner. If you come back over, back to Deermonds, you crossed over the road where the square was just there, there was a butchers. There were two butchers next to one another, two butchers. Then there was the chemist on the other side of the road, then you walked up there was Oliver’s the café, there was, let me think, there was Oliver’s the café. Then there was this other sort of little shop that made engineering works inside... Then we had the public toilets, then we had the, Lil’s, the fish shop, the cornchandlers and the diary where they had loads of cans of milk come in every day. And on the other side of the road there was a wet fish shop, another little shop that sold clothes and that, that was Dolly Bell’s. Then there was another greengrocers. Then there was the Victoria Pub. That was about everything we had down there really. We ’ad the chemist, we ’ad wet fish shop, fried fish shop. You could’ve bought anything down there and stayed there for weeks and weeks and never left it. And I remember after the War lining up at one of the greengrocers for oranges and bananas, we didn’t know what an orange or a banana was ’til I was about 8 years old — they didn’t import ’em during the War. And it, it was quite good down in the Wick, it was all communities, it was really good down there really. Lots of people couldn’t believe it when they moved us all out, they pulled it all down, y’know, it’s a shame really. It’s still down there, it’s all them little houses though innit. And the school’s still there, Berkshire Road School. But it was good down there, everyone knew one another and families married families sort of thing. And a lot of them moved up to Wick Road itself, y’know the Wick Road where the Wicky Estate is. Most of ’em they pulled down the houses and they moved up there, ’cause there was rows of houses along there and there was an old police station, really beautiful old police station, all red brick it was. And they had the doctor’s along there and most of ’em did move from the Wick into them new flats, Wicky Estate. But then they built them great big high rise, they was all bolted together in sections, and the trouble they had leaked all the damp. In the end they pulled ’em all down didn’t they, exploded them all and they all came tumbling down! That’s what I remember of the Wick, Berkshire Road School, Gainsborough Road School was really old, that were, a creepy place that was. And then the baths, we used to go to the baths on the Friday, East Way bars and you’d sit there with your ticket and your bar of soap and a towel, and the bloke used to shout out ‘next!’ and you’d go in. An’ if they was done so that they had the taps outside, he had like a key and he could give you hot water, cold water and you had to shout out ‘more hot water number 6 please!’ You had a half hour in there. If you gave him sixpence, he’d let you stay in there all day. He was quite a… but you had to line up there on a Friday night, an’ the queues coming…! And mostly when we was younger we had a tin bath, y’know we filled it up with water and we had a bath in that. But when we moved up here, the first thing I done when I moved in this flat, I had a bath every night for a week ’cause we had our own bathroom. And it was good, yeah. Now they’re really modern some of the flats. That’s about what I could tell you about it… but is there anything else you can think of?

Oh Amy, I worked for Amy. I worked for Amy for, from the age of 13 right up until I went in the army at 18. She had an off license on the corner. I dunno, I could show you a photograph, I’ve got so many of them. Ooh I’m sorry.

She had an off license on the corner, she was quite…She was a right socialist, y’know. She reckons, when she left school, the first thing she had to do… ’cause when I, even when I started in the shoe factory, you only had one big machine and all the pulleys and that run and she had to have the job of switching it off, they all went on strike. But she had the off license; she was quite popular round there Amy. She lived there on her own with a chap who worked in the Docks. And she knew all the Labour Party people, all the doctors in Barts. She was there for years; I think she eventually went to live in Australia. Her nephew was only the one survived that ship that got blown up in the War, there was only three survivors, her nephew was one of them who survived, an’ later years he got killed in a car crash. But she, I worked for her, an’ she helped, I used to get her errands an’ go down the cellar for her and bring the beer up, an’ all that, she used to treat me every week. And every Sunday, she had this big barrow and I used to load it up with brown ales, light ales an’ push it all the way up Casson Road to different houses, knock on the door and they used to have their drink for their Sunday dinner. Think I used to get half a crown a week for that. At Christmas it was good ’cause they all tipped me. Kept me that Christmas that did. We had a hard life in them… ’cause my mother and my father, well there was five of us. My brother, he unfortunately died a couple of years but… and my father was a lorry driver, and he used to go off — in them days, lorry drivers didn’t do certain hours. They’d go up to Yorkshire pick a load up, come all the way down to London pick another… he’d be gone for a couple of weeks just travelling all the time. That’s the way they done it in them days. Eventually he travelled off and he never came back! So my Mum was left with us. But, he used to send money to us on a, to us on a Saturday morning we used to sit there waiting for the postman. It was, it was really har’, people don’t realise really how hard it was… when you go in Tescos now and see the food they have piled on the trolleys an’ you think ooh if my Mum could see that now sort of thing, ’cause we didn’t have lot to live on, never did. It was only when we started leaving school, we starting to earn money ourself that we started sort of living luxury sort of thing, y’know. So she was quite a character Amy, she used to live in this little house, with a little shop on the corner, a little off license, and she’s in the back room and Christmas, oh she used to get all the beer