Colin Grainger and Terry Myers at the entrances to North Woolwich pedestrian tunnel | Photo: Colin Grainger

But there was also a lighter side to Alan. Each year local police took part in the pram race in the Ferry Festival. One year he was dispatched to find a pram for two officers.

Alan, now 82, said:

I found dozens of people creeping round trying to do the same thing. I tried the local Young Mums’ club and was told that I might find one at Queensland House.

Alan went up in the lift and found, to his delight, a suitable old pram.

This was about to be turned into The Fuzz Wagon. But when I got to the ground floor, I did not have the courage to walk back to the nick in uniform pushing a pram. The local kids would’ve had a field day. I tried to radio for a police van to come and meet me at the block of flats, but because of steel work around the flats, my radio didn’t work

 

I went briefly to where I could get a signal and the van was on its way. I stepped back on to the corner of the flats to await the van and found, to my acute embarrassment, someone had nicked it. The lads fell about laughing and so did I!

Another important figure for generations has been Stan Harris of funeral directors T Cribb and Sons.

Stan, now 92, worked as a young man in his family funeral director’s business, who has laid generations of local families to rest.

Stan, still referred to as Mr Cribb, because of his incredible ability to command respect, admiration, and love from those he has helped, was employed as a coffin maker at the age of 16 back in 1944.  

Stan joined the Royal Fusiliers two years later for his National Service. After his service, he helped mould T.Cribb & Sons into the business it is today.

One other local character was merchant seaman Derek Mortimer, who ran a ‘house of ill repute’ in North Woolwich during the swinging sixties. The house staged notorious parties and Derek would become ‘Stella’, well known in local pubs and clubs for her drag performances.  

One night the police mounted an operation to follow up allegations of prostitution. They watched her house and while doing so the house caught fire and they saw a sofa being thrown through a downstairs window.  Later they obtained a warrant and arrests were made and fines paid.

Police Officer Alan Godfrey
Stan Right at funeral

In later years Derek returned to work on sludge vessels that carried sewage out to the North Sea. One day while in thick fog his ship was sliced into two by a bigger vessel. But Derek managed to escape on a life raft – and lived to tell the story in later years to Radio Four!

Silvertown was also home to several trailblazers in their own fields. Winifred Scott, born in Silvertown in 1917, was one of Britain’s first black nurses, serving south of the river at Woolwich during the Second World War.

Later in the 1950s, Frank Arthur Bailey, an immigrant from Guyana, took on racist practices within the London Fire Brigade to become one of Britain’s first professional black fire fighters, serving the local community from Silvertown Fire Station.

There are also those occupations and trades that have now gone – but have earned their place in local history.

There were the men and women who used to have their own ‘offices’ in the public toilets at the entrance to Royal Victoria Gardens. I know two well because the ladies were looked after by my auntie Annie Sharpley and the gents by my uncle Jack Atkinson.

They were even open on Christmas Day. I know because as a youngster I would run auntie’s Christmas dinner down the Albert Road and into Pier Road.

My uncle Jack used to get his liquid lunch from friends in local pubs. One year he got so out of it he knocked over the family Christmas tree when he went home. My auntie Joan was not best pleased.

The pub singers who kept regulars entertained for decades are too many to mention. Sadly, that part of life is just a memory.

Of course, the park keepers at both Royal Victoria Gardens and Lyle Park live long into the memories.

Jack the ‘lift man’ at Woolwich pedestrian tunnel in North Woolwich is also fondly remembered.

And just a stone’s throw away was the man who controlled the ferry from a little wooden hut. Pc Godfrey recalled how in the winter, he would let officers in the hunt to keep warm. And that also reminded him of another character.

There was a small wooden bench in the hunt with the letters RB carved on it,’ said Alan. “This related to a licensed peddlar who used to sell her wares up and down the Ferry queue of traffic. Her nickname was Razor Blades!

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Photo: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library