Home Oral History Interview - Kathleen 'Kit' Crowley

Oral History Interview - Kathleen 'Kit' Crowley


Audio file

Production date


Object number


Physical Description

Audio interview with Kathleen Crowley (1918–2018). This interview was recorded for Homerton Voices Exhibition for Mapping the Change

Associated Person

Crowley, Kathleen (Subject of)
Dunbar, Newton (Associated Person)


Digital file (.mp3)

Credit line

Photograph by Emma Davies.

On display?



[On moving to the Gascoyne Estate in 1948]

KC: I thought it was posh, when I moved it was better than it is now. It was a lot nicer than it is now in Cassland Road – there was all nice houses opposite, along there. And the block of flats that I live in now weren’t even built. If that flat that I told you my cousin said you’ll be out – trust me they must have picked that flat for me, hand picked. There was no lift, but I was on the second floor, it had a double balcony, it had a second bedroom, and the front room the lounge whatever they call it – next to each other – both facing the Common, both facing Well Street Common. And as I went out of me bedroom, there was a bedroom window, and a French door to let you to go out on it. Absolutely hand picked.

TT: Did you have a bathroom

KC: Yes, everything, everything was there, it was really lovely. It was only sixteen shillings a week, it was really really - really lovely. And I had the best neighbours you could ever meet. One was a Jewish lady, we were friends for years, till she moved away – and she moved away, got older like we all do, and she passed away. But I was very very very, very friendly with them, the sons, I think ones a Chartered Surveyor and the other ones a Barrister, and I knew them as kids, they was so lovely to me.

TT: Was there a lot of bomb damage around there, when you moved there?

KC: No, not that I, no, suppose being, I just see the Common, that was it, there was none. There was all, there was all, when i first moved here, on the Common, was all prefabs, all American prefabs, yes, there was no bomb damage, all prefabs there. No, then I moved in there and, there, and the other side to me was a man, a lady and a man. And believe it or not, you must have heard of him on the television if you never seen him, used to be Bootsie Bass, he was a top comedian, really really good, well it was his brother who lived next door to me. Lovely people, absolutely, lovely people, really really nice. And there was an old lady who lived on the end, with her daughter. Really really lovely there.

TT: Tell us about the area, for example, where did you do your shopping?

KC: Well Street, that’s the nearest init. It was better than it is now, although there’s nothing down there, there’s only Tescos. Years ago they had all the stalls out – it was a real, real, market, but it’s just all disappeared, they’re trying to get it back, but I think it’s a bit too late, because people, now, in all those years, have all got cars, and they all want to get to go to where ever they want to go – to the big supermarkets. For a ride they’ve got a car, so they make a day out of it. There’s nothing down there, as I say just Tescos – which I’m glad of – it’s Tescos – it’s got everything the same. But there’s nothing else down there – I think there’s one shoe shop, a chemist, a Muslim place, what they turned from a pub into where all the Muslims go. A little pub on the corner. There’s no fish shop – oh yeah - there’s one fish shop, I tell a lie, another little one opposite Tescos – you could be in and out in half an hour – I’m not in and out – I’m down there about three hours, because I see everybody, ‘hello how are you’? Chat chat chat chat chat, and that’s it! Sit inside Tescos. No well I’ve lived round there a long while, so I do know – which is not good – I do know a lot of people, they all know Kitty [quiet laugh], and a lot of them what – you’re never going to believe this – a lot of them that work in Tescos, there, i had in the nursery - when they was little kids – now they’re grown up, and I had their children in there - I worked there for thirty two years, so I’ve seen a lot of the kids grow up.

TT: You’re ahead of me – that was going to be next question – what work were you doing when you moved up there?

KC: When I moved round here? I wasn’t, I didn’t, I don’t think I went ‘o work, me husband kept me. No, I didn’t – oooh yess, when you go down Cassland Road, you know where, this end there’s a set of traffic lights, right at the top end well do you know, and the 277 turns round there, well, on that corner as it turns round, was a college, but I don’t know what it is now, it’s not a college now. I think they’ve let it out - they’ve sold it to private, ownership like, I think they’re all flats, or little, well yeah there must be flats in there, there’s no houses. Well I worked in there for about three years, in the college, cleaning up after the teachers. Quite nice, pleasant, no problem – it was money wa’n’t it. ‘Cause although my husband always a’ work – good man, good provider. But years ago when you worked as a Stevedore, they was, they were always on strike, wasn’t they. Dockers and Stevedores used to go on strike a lot, always on strike. So, I used to do little jobs, that helped out and i could look after my son. I wouldn’t leave him with people, I don’t believe in going to work and leaving your children – go without the luxuries, stop at home and mind the children, the day will come hard as it may be. So, I done that job in there, yeah I done that for about three years, and then suddenly someone from the council, which was all the LCC then, now it’s all split up. I don’t know what they call it or for what reason. So someone come to me and they said, “oh someone wants you in the office”, so I said oh yeah. I went in there, a man well “sit down Mrs Crowley, yes. We’d like to have a little chat with you”. So I said, oh yeah why? “How long you been working here”? I said why? What’s the matter with me work? Aint I done the corners? “No, no, no,you been here three years, are you happy here”? Yes of course I am, I like it. The hours suits me, ‘cause I come at half past six in the morning, and I go home at eight o’clock, and I can see to me boy at school, and then I take him to school and then four o clock I pick him up and come back here, and do me work and I got me child with me. “Oh right, well what we’re wondering about would you consider doing another job”, I said only if it can, if it fits in with my son’s school, I can’t do more hours than I’m doing now. So they said “no it would be a key job, you could let yourself in and out”. I said, where? They said “do you know the Wentworth Nursery”? I said yeah, well that’s where I live, I live next to it. They said “if you would like it, we would like to offer you a job in there. Someone’s been doing it for six months and they can’t do it no more and your name was brought up. “ I said, I’d like that, very much, I said. They says “the job is yours if you want it”. So I said oh you know, thank you very much. He said “Make an appointment to see the Headmistress”, which I did, I made an appointment to see the Headmistress, and I stayed there 32 years! And I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. And that gets round to telling you how I know a lot of the people that work in Tescos – they was kids – because it was a brand new building, a brand new place - It’d only been open six months – of course they went there, and I seen them grow up. So when ever I go in Tescos I go “ All right Kit, you all right” yeah. So I’ve lived round here too long really, you know, but I’ve had some happy times – I’ve seen them grow up.

TT: When I went to school I was the only black person, when I went to work, I was the only black person, this why I was, I stood out! Like a sore thumb. Me hair wasn’t - my hair today is straight – over the years it was really, tight curly hair. I was the only one when I went to work. I was the only, when I work, went on the railway – what made me bring that up? I was the only one when I worked on the railway, and I was the only one when I moved on Gascoyne Estate, could you believe that? Out of all the slum clearance that there was, there was only me. But the difference was, there was a lot of people that moved on that estate, that already knew me – “oh Kitty, fancy seeing you here, oh”, that was the difference.

TT: it was a bit of a reunion

KC: Yes, yeah, even though I wasn’t living near them, they was living in different parts, it was just that they all seem to come – because that estate, was a show piece, of Hackney.

TT: In the nursery did you start seeing these mothers and children then from other countries?

KC: No, No, that’s all happened since I’ve been gone, and I’ve been gone twenty years.

KC: I’ll tell you a story, I was telling someone – I was in Marks & Spencers, what’s the day? A Thursday, Tuesday, I went in Marks & Spencers – my legs are not good now, that’s why I got that trolley. And they all, cos a lot of blacks work in Marks & Spencers now, especially Mare Street one, so they all know me now, I tell you – “can we take you round”, hold your arm anyway, I don’t really know how it come up, something came up about Father Christmas. So they said “you ever had any experience about Father Christmas”? I really don’t know how this come up, so I said, well I said there was one incident in my life, I said with a child, which I’ve never forgotten, “oh tell us about it”, I’ll tell you about it, I’ll tell you about it, so – when I was working in the nursery, they wanted to have Father Christmas, “oh you got to be Father Christmas, Mrs Crowley, go on, because you make the kids laugh”, oh, I said, no I don’t want, “go on, just be it, just this once”,
So all right, so they got me all dressed up as Father Christmas. So we all gets there, they’re all sitting there, all have their presents, all sat, all merry, all merry and bright. And there’s always one whether it’s an adult or a child, there’s always one – that speaks out, or comes out, and I was one of them that always spoke out. So anyway, there’s this kid sitting there, white kid it was – in fact, all the years I worked in that nursery, 32 years I never took one black child in there, can you believe that! In Hackney! Never. Shows you they weren’t round here or there was some reason, I don’t know, but it’s not like it now, that is all completely changed. I don’t know the reason why, they keep asking me – was supposed to go down there for Christmas, next week for the party. So this kid said: “You’re not Father Christmas”, I said I am, “no, Father Christmas aint black”, I said I got a story to tell you, and all the kids are listening, saying: “go on Mrs Crowley, Mrs Crowley”, so I went shh. Anyway, oh go on then, this bright smart little Alec he was. I said I got some’ing to tell you – you don’t believe I’m Father Christmas, I said well I am, you believe me. He said: “Why, how can you be Father Christmas”? I said where does Father Christmas come from? You know where Father, “oh we know where F”, I’m not asking you, I’m asking him – where does Father Christmas come from, when he comes to your house? “Oh he just comes to my house”, but how does he get, get in, into your house? Everybody’s in bed – he comes down the chimmley – ‘eres a good boy – ‘cause that’s why I’m black, ‘cause I’ve just come down the chimmley. “Oh , oh yeah I forgot, I’m sorry, I’m sorry Father Christmas”. They was roaring and laughing in Marks & Spencers, I said that’s the truth – back then they’d never seen a black Father Christmas – they have when they seen me – I come down the chimney.

KC: Yes I did used to go up Chats, it’s a long while since I’ve been up there, some say it’s a lot better than it was, it went right down pan, didn’t it!

TT: What was it like when you used to go there?

KC: Well it was a nice market, I don’t know what happened to it. No there was absolutely nothing down there, but they say now it’s up and coming, so maybe, I don’t know, no reason, why it should, because there’s plenty of flats round the back there. Besides, it’s another market, I would say, within walking distance – so if you wanted to go for a walk, if time allowed, yeah you see different faces, you see different things.

TT: do you think that as a black woman – do you think that you stood out as much, when you used to walk up to Chatsworth Road market?

KC: No, no, no, it has changed, no, no it’s a long long while since I, long long long gone since I stood out anywhere, long gone.

TT: It’s a bit of an idiot question, then , thinking about the time that you spent in Hackney, Cassland Road, What’s changed, around here, how has it changed – the area?

KC: oh I don’t really know.

TT: how have people’s attitudes changed?

KC: Oh they’re not the same people, ‘cause you’ve got to remember, I’ve live round 63 years or 64, whatever it is, no it’s not the same, [pause] people were more friendly, much more, much more friendly, than they are now round here. They’re not, really not. On that estate, there was t, there is, on Gascoyne Estate two hundred and, well you can count – add it up – a hundred and fifty five in Gascoyne House alone, and that’s one, there’s no stoppage, they’ve only just put a lift in the last year, or so. And that’s one big block, you can walk along the landing, all the way along, there’s no break, it’s one hundred and fifty five. There’s 65 in Bradstock House, there’s one two three four, twenty in Cass, and there’s forty in mine. Now I can tell you honestly with my hand on my heart, when I moved in there, Harrowgate House was not built, I watched it built, but apart from those three blocks, I knew everybody. I could walk through there now and not know – well I could count on one hand who they are. I’ve got one fella who always comes up to see me – make sure I’m all right, (me son works away and he can’t get to see me), he comes up to see me regular. There’s one there on the ground floor, one next door to him is two, black Margaret lives up stairs, that’s three, and one right at the other end of the estate, four, and a man I know, that’s five. I might have left one out so that’s six people I know out of a hundred and fifty five, and I’ve lived there all them years. In Bradstock house I know black Mavis. That’s it. It don’t seem possible to me, it does not seem possible, where have they all gone? If they would move, if they gonna actually, and they’re not all dead, god forbid! But it has completely changed – used to have a lovely party for the kids, I used to take part, whatever, everything was going on – nothing goes on now.

TT: What about the pubs?

KC: Pubs?

TT: were they part of the community then?

KC: well the one right opposite was, as you come out of the estate there was a pub called the ‘Queens’, that was, but that’s finished, not anymore. It’s got posh posh, no nothing. So it is the people then, ‘cause the people are not there, the people all used to go over there. To me - I can be wrong – they’re all foreign. A lot of foreign people do not want to mix, for what reason I don’t know, they do not want to mix, but they’re losing out, they’re living in this country – I’m not saying they got to eat sausage and mash like English, or fish and chips, I’m not saying that, everyone’s got they’re own appetite, but talk! Just talk! Supposing you’re ill, you had a heart attack, or a stroke, or a kid’s had a fit – what – it’s not easy to pick up the phone, you might not have a phone. So how, I do not understand it. They’ve put, tried to get, I’ve been down to the meetings. How many been down there, two of us for a meeting. What can you talk about, I mean it’s supposed to be a meeting. And they put a notice up. Maybe they can’t speak English, I don’t know. I’m not being disrespectful, but if I was somewhere, I’d wonder what that said and I’d think – nothing in English – I would ask somebody, if I thought hey looked foreign – without being disrespectful - excuse me can you tell me what that says up there – ask. You don’t know nothing if you don’t ask and you don’t speak.

KC: It feels safe enough, yes it feels safe enough, I don’t think there’s any undercurrent, but mind you, it only wants one to start doesn’t. So I don’t think, I hope that never happens. You know when they had all that trouble, when was it, in August, no there was nothing, it was absolutely nothing, no one come in, knocking on the doors, no, it was quite all right. So, while it’s like that I’m thankful, ‘cause I live on my own, I’m thankful that it’s as it is, with no humdrum and trouble, don’t need – I’d hate to know anyone was in any trouble, don’t matter what Race or Creed, even if I didn’t talk to them, I’d hate to think that unpleasant things happen, that’s not nice, no I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t, have that, no I wouldn’t like that. So you just make the most of every day, whatever, that’s all I can say.