Transcript: Barbara Wilmott
Interviewee/s: Barbara Wilmott
Interview Date: 22 October 2019
Interviewer: Nikki Shaill and Jo Cook
Q: Nikki Shaill A: Barbara Wilmott
Q: This is an oral history interview with Barbara Wilmott on 22 October 2019. This is part of The Barking Stink Project for Valence House Museum and Thames Festival Trust. Present is Nikki Shaill asking the questions, and Jo Cook is also present.
So the first question is what is your full name?
A: Barbara Patricia Wilmott.
Q: And your date of birth?
A: 25 January 1929.
Q: And where were you born?
A: I was born in Forest Gate.
Q: So you were born in Forest Gate?
Q: And how long did you live there for?
A: I was born there, 2 Wellington Road. Yeah it’s not there now, it was bombed [laughs].
Q: And what age were you when you left there?
A: Two and a half, I came down here with my two brothers, my older brother, the next one and I was the third. So I had two brothers and myself. My mum was in two rooms with three children!
Q: [laughs] So you were two and a half when you moved to Dagenham, is that right?
A: Yes, yeah, in Hunter Square.
Q: Hunter Square in Dagenham?
A: Yes, yeah.
Q: And do you remember anything from moving here? I mean it was quite young [laughs].
A: No, I can’t actually remember the actual move, but as I say I can remember obviously as soon as we came down you were out in the street in them days, you weren’t – because I had my two brothers and this little boy next door but one, which they were a weird family and after two years they did what they call a moonlight flip, they weren’t there, one night they just disappeared. And their home had to be fumigated because they had bugs in it. See, them days you come down from London in the East End, bugs, practically everybody had them, it was something you had to – my mum had her eyes open all the time, you know, to see if she could see anything like that. And we used to use Flit to get rid of the bugs. But that was something I couldn’t really understand with him, and his name, his surname was Oregon but I cannot remember his first name, but I know that was his surname, Oregon. But apart from that, obviously when we came down here there were no cars in the street at all so our days were playing in the street. And when I started school I think I must have been about five them days, that I can’t remember but obviously we were young. But my mum never took me to school, first day, but after that, because it was only – my back garden, you could see the school playground and we just like came out of Hunter Square down Croppath Road and then you were into Alibon. And when I first started school we never had pencil and paper, we had a tray of sand, because I suppose they couldn’t afford pencil and paper, and we used to draw and do our numbers and letters in this tray of sand. I remember that clearly. I can remember of a morning we used to have to like all troop into the classroom after assembly in the big hall, and the first thing the teacher taught us to do was blow our noses [all laugh], I presume there were lots of children there with snotty noses, so this particular teacher used to make us all blow our noses before we started school [laughs]. Oh dear.
Q: What school was it you went to?
A: Alibon School. There were two schools down Alibon Road but mine was the one nearest Heathway, the other one actually is called Hunters Hall School but it’s actually on Alibon Road.
Q: Did you enjoy school?
A: No. No. I was a very slow reader and that kind of – it gave you a – you had a stigma really because I used to have to go in to the headmistress’s room. Looking back I think I must have been – what’s the word? Dyslexic. Because when I went to the senior school, when they started taking more notice of me they really got me on with my lessons, but I realised I was way behind other children. But I did well at school, my main thing was figures, I was good at what I called arithmetic, which they call maths now is it? [laughs] But my school years were obviously – I didn’t have much schooling because at ten I was evacuated, and that was something I can remember, going round the school about four o’clock in the morning, getting on the coaches. My mum took me then, I can remember that [laughs], and then we went to Dagenham Dock and we went on a boat up to Norfolk, all us kiddies, and I thought it was a big adventure. I don’t think I cried, I’m sure I didn’t, but I was too – I’d never been on a boat, never been on a coach, so to me it was a big adventure.
Q: So yeah, you couldn’t understand what was happening at that time?
A: Not really, no. And actually at that age the war really went over my head. Though my dad was a naval reserve so he was called up about two weeks before the war started anyway. But it never worried me, no. It would now, but in them days it just went over my head. I didn’t particularly like being evacuated. Oh, I had a lovely couple that I was evacuated with, and obviously we had schooling there but it was only half a day because we had a half a day and the local children had half a day, so I never had much schooling, and of course when I came back the air raids started, I only stopped there for I think a year and a half and then my brother was fourteen, because he was evacuated with me but he then had to leave school, we left school at fourteen in them days, and find a job and I didn’t want to stay there by myself, so we came back home. And because then the air raids started and we were always down the shelter. Eastbrook School had one bomb on it which though it was only the headmistress’s class office we still couldn’t go to school for a week or so, and so that disrupted you. Then I started getting migraines so that disrupted my school days, but apart from that... So when we first moved into this house, because my mum thought it was heaven, we had no lighting upstairs at all, only gas in the – gas mantle, I don’t think we had one in the bathroom but we had a gas mantle in the kitchen and in the living room, and that was our lighting until electricity came and then obviously every room had lighting in it. And I can remember how first – how old our wireless is, because we called them wirelesses then. Do you know, I said to my grandson once turn the wireless off, he said, “What do you mean, Nan?” [laughs], and I thought “He doesn’t know what a wireless is?” Because of course they call it... Anyway, apart from that, I can remember we used to have a battery and an accumulator, and they were very heavy and every now and again you had to have a new battery and get your accumulator charged up. So my dad, when he came home on leave once when we were kids, made us a barrow and the boys used to take the accumulator in the barrow down Oxlow Lane to a wood yard, and they used to get the batteries and the accumulator from this wood yard. They were so heavy you couldn’t carry them yourself. But fancy letting us do it for pennies [laughs]. And then of course electricity came and we had a nice electric wireless which we thought was wonderful. And I can remember the children’s programmes in them days, it was lovely. Yeah, because I had my own bedroom, obviously going back to the house, when I came down and I had my own bedroom I thought it was wonderful, and the boys shared a bedroom obviously and Mum and Dad had the biggest bedroom. But we had a lovely big garden, and over the road at the back of us, they had a lovely big garden, we were lucky. So it was quite nice, plenty of room to play, but we still preferred to play in the road rather than our gardens.
Q: Can you remember any particular friends you played with?
A: Oh yes, yes, Jeremy and Dolly were opposite, which my mum used to say, “Keep away from the Smiths” because they used to say “ba’er” and “ma’er” [mimics cockney accent with glottal stops] [all laugh]. So no, Mum never liked us playing with them, but I used to [laughs].
Q: And what sort of things would you be playing?
A: Oh, outside as children we used to love dancing because I think one of them went to a dancing class so she knew a little bit more than us, but we used to just go in a line and dance as chorus girls and that type of thing. Also, loved skipping, one of our main games. We used to have seasons, whipping top, marbles, when them days we used to play in the gutter. Now gutters are so dirty now you couldn’t, but when we came to Dagenham my mum used to every day, once a day, she’d sweep her path, sweep the pavement outside the garden and sweep the gutter. That was a daily job for them, a special broom, we had one of those hard brooms to do that. But now nobody sweeps their path let alone their gutters. We used to take a pride in our places, and our front gardens. Now when we first – when you first rented these houses you weren’t allowed anything in your front garden, you couldn’t – like my brother had a motorbike, as he got older, this was when we first – as he got older he had this motorbike and he wasn’t allowed to put a wooden like – not a shed because it was just a cover, he just lifted it up and put the bike in, but when the rent man – in them days we used to call him the rent man, he used to come round and if you had anything like that you had to take it down. The flowers used to look so neat them days. I can remember as a child when I first went to school we had this teacher who was keen on art and she used to say to us children always try and look at the colours around you and take note of them. And I can remember a few days after, it was pouring with rain and I walked to school and I thought how lovely all our neat green hedges looked and how red the roofs looked with the rain on the tiles. It’s always stuck in my mind, that has. Now, no neat edges, everybody does it different, it doesn’t look the same. Have you got pictures of what it was like? Because you’re more Barking than Dagenham though aren’t you?
Q: Yeah, so this project is looking at mainly around Barking and the riverside and the creek, but at Valence House Museum there’s photos from across Barking and Dagenham, so yeah they’ve got photos that cover the whole area, probably yeah they’ve got a lot of material that covers Dagenham as well.
A: Barking Park was one of our main meeting places as I got into my teens. Sunday we all had bikes, mine was an old crawl but I had a bike, we used to ride to Barking Park and have an hour on the boats, we used to love that. Because there was always the tea – well they call it the Tea Room now but it was – I don’t know what it’s like now but it was very grotty when I used to go there, but we used to go and have our cup of tea in there, and that was like our Sunday out [laughs].
Q: So was it rowing boats, you’d row little boats?
A: Yes, we had the – I saw a picture when you had memories come, I don’t know if it was you who brought the memories round, but they weren’t the same as those boats in that picture, these were long boats like proper little rowing boats they were.
Q: And would you go there with your friends? So you were teenagers?
A: Oh yes, well as you know you have a little gang when you’re a kid, but gangs them days were quite innocent, there was girls and boys and we used to go dancing, this was as teenagers obviously, go dancing and we used to go out riding on our old bikes, go up to Hainault, that was another ride of ours when we first came to Dagenham. One of the memories when I was younger, going back to when I was younger, really our social life was around the church, Sunday afternoon was always Sunday school, and from Sunday school you had like a choir and you always had the May Queen once a year which was a big event, that was, and we used to go round the parade round the streets, you never see that now do you? And when I was in the Brownies we always had a – every now again had a parade around the streets. I suppose it was to let people know that Brownies were about or something, I suppose it must have been. And what was the other highlight?
Q: Which church was it that you’d go to?
A: You know where Osborne Centre is now? Well that used to be a big church there.
Q: Can you remember the name?
A: Osborne, we used to call it Osborne Ch – well to me, I used to call it Osborne Church, whether that was its proper name I don’t know.
Q: And was the Brownies you went to part of that church as well?
A: No, no actually our Sunday school was there, but the Brownies I went to – it’s on the tip of my tongue. Down Croppath Road, right to the end and turn right and there’s a church there, well I used to go there to the Brownies. And what was the other one we used to like? Oh yeah, from the school they used to have the May Queen, and the church I should say. The carnival like was the local government and they used to have a Carnival Queen, but the church used to have a May Queen once a year, and I used to be ever so jealous of the May Queen.
Q: You never got to be the May Queen?
A: Never, no. The May Queen, as far as I know she was May Queen at least twice, and I think if I can remember right her name was Shirley, but she was a Shirley Temple type and she had blonde curly hair. And another thing I can remember her, when I first started school in the infants, this particular morning we were all in assembly and I don’t know why but she was picked on to stand in front of us and – because she went to a dance school, because she was only young, and she sung this song, Tie A Little String Around My Finger, and I can see her standing in front of us, a dear little thing she was, but I was dead jealous [laughs], singing this song. But to me, she was into everything you know, she’d be picked out at school, she was the May Queen, you can imagine I was dead envious. I had straight hair, you know, fringe in a bob [laughs], and she was born with curly hair. But I used to look forward to those two things, the Barking – the Dagenham then, carnival and the May Queen at the school, they were highlights of my year they were.
Q: Would there be any particular like foods associated with the carnival?
Q: Yeah, were there any kind of –
A: The only thing associated in my mind as I got older was popcorn from the Dagenham Carnival, but apart from that I never used to go in for hot dogs or things like that, they used to turn my stomach.
Q: What age were you when you left school?
Q: And what did you do then?
A: First of all I was in the Post Office, and in them days at that age I had to go to college and I was what they called a girl probationer, and you go for college once a year and then when you finish and you have your exams then the Post Office gave you a job suitable to your level you got. But I left after two years because the money was – I think I got fourteen and six a week, but then you had to pay your fare to London. I think you got cheap fares them days but I can’t remember that. But anyway, the Midland Bank were advertising because it was war time and the men were obviously called up so they were very desperate for staff, otherwise I wouldn’t have got in. We had to pass an exam but I was good at figures so that – and there was no spelling you had to do or anything, otherwise I don’t think I’d have passed. But I did quite well once I’d got in to the bank. But the only thing is, the people there were mainly elder women that they had obviously had to bring in like during the war, but they were very hoity-toity, and the fact I came from Dagenham and the fact I never went to a high school, that was held against me, “Oh you wouldn’t have got in here you know if it wasn’t for the war,” and I knew that [laughs], but after a while because they were married they had to leave, once you were married you couldn’t stop at the bank in them days, because of the men coming back from the war, they wanted their jobs back. Actually in them days you didn’t have to worry about work because you could go from one job to another, they were so short staffed.
Q: Where was the bank you were working?
A: First of all I worked at West Smithfield until I got married [laughs], yes, in London, that was right by the big meat market and the big St Bart’s Hospital. It’s not there now, because –
Q: Is it Smithfield –
A: Yes, Smithfield, West Smithfield I was at, yeah, because that goes through to Charterhouse the other side, because that’s coming to Barking isn’t it?
Q: Yes, yeah. And how would you travel to work?
A: Oh, by train. I actually was struggling up to London when the doodlebugs started – no, no, no, not doodlebugs, it was when the rockets, they started, but the doodlebugs really were at an end by the time I went to work. It gets a bit muddly now, you know.
Q: And did you miss the job when you stopped working? So you stopped working when you got married, is that right?
A: Yes, no I came down here, no I got another job locally until I had children, and then I went back to the bank when I went back part time. And I worked there ‘til I left. I was lucky really because in them days you got a pension, so yeah I was lucky. But really I was lucky because of the war as regards my job, I would never have got that job if it hadn’t have been shortage during the war.
Q: And just going back, you mentioned about being evacuated to Norfolk, how did Norfolk compare to Dagenham, do you remember?
A: Oh, it was lovely. It was a chicken farm I was on. If it wasn’t for my mum and dad I’d have stayed there, but of course I didn’t like it because I was away from everybody. It was the first time I’d seen plums on the tree, and they were Victoria plums and I thought they were gorgeous, I used to love to go – because like the cottage I was in was a way from the – it was about from here say to the end of the road away from where the chicken farm was, but I used to like to go and help him in the chicken farm. The man who ran it didn’t like me there because he said it was dangerous for me, but my brother used to go and help him. Oh and he used to kill the chickens. But it was so easy for – he used to just pick them, done, and they were dead. So it wasn’t horrible to see and you just accepted it. But something else I liked about the country, like just walking down the country lane. And one thing, because I was evacuated in September and of course there was a winter there, and walking down the country lanes and listening to the wind through the telegraph poles, because you can’t hear it here, but it used to be lovely.
Q: Did you ever stay in touch with the couple who looked after you?
A: For a little while, yes, but then they died you know and they had a daughter, because like I was in the cottage and my brother lived with the daughter who had a converted railway carriage but it was lovely inside, and he lived with them. But when the old couple died, you know, and my brother got married anyway so we didn’t keep in touch with them then. But my brother went on holiday, oh, ages after he left, I’d say he was about forty, had his two children, and he went past Norfolk and he dropped in to where he was evacuated, but he said the couple he was in the railways carriage with, they weren’t there any more but the people knew where they’d gone, I don’t know where they’d gone, but I loved – what else did I love there? Seeing that they used to have the chickens, like the eggs would hatch and they used to have this big warm – oh it was about half the size of this room, where all the little chickens would hatch, and all their little tweet-tweet-tweet-tweets, I could hear it now. And they kept rabbits. We had rabbits in the back garden.
Q: Oh yeah, I was going to say did you have any other pets, you had rabbits?
A: Oh yes, more for food really during the war, though I don’t think it ever entered my head that we were eating them, but that’s – obviously mum said that’s what she had them for, but I didn’t realise that, even though I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen, it didn’t enter my head. I suppose I didn’t like to think about it to be honest.
Q: Did your mum work?
A: My mum worked at – she was called up actually, because if like you had no young children you had to do a job that was needed, and mum worked in Ford sports canteen. Poor old mum, she was only a little thing, it nearly killed her. Yeah, any time my mum wanted anything she’d go out to work and get it. My dad wasn’t very – he was one of these men that used to – mum never knew what he earned, he’d give her her money and that was that. Not like my husband, my mum thought my Jim was wonderful. My Jim used to come home and give me his pay packet and I used to have to work it out. But what else can I remember when I was –
Q: What did your dad do for a job?
A: Well he was in the Navy for 25 years I think it was, and then when he came out he went into the Post Office until he retired. But my dad used to like a drink.
Q: And you mentioned – so Jim was your husband? How did you meet him?
A: Yes, I met him at school. And we didn’t marry until we were twenty-five. We were going to get married when I was twenty-one, but he went into hospital, he suffered badly with his nerves and he was in hospital for two years.
Q: So what year did you get married?
A: When I was twenty-five, when he came out and then we got married.
Q: Where did you get married, was it in Dagenham?
A: I got married at a registry office in Romford, we couldn’t afford a white wedding.
Q: And is that when you first then moved out of your family home?
A: Yes, we lived with his mum and then we lived with his aunt. We had no children then. But because Jim was in and out of hospital again the council gave us a flat. We were very lucky, not lucky that poor Jim wasn’t well but lucky we had a lovely flat down Whalebone Lane, opposite McDonald’s.
Q: Now can you tell me, do you know why it’s called Whalebone Lane?
A: Because I presume they found a whalebone in it [laughs].
Q: I was just wondering –
Q2: We were both wondering on the way here, weren’t we?
Q: I didn’t know, so [all laugh].
A: No, I think I have been told over the years, I’m sure I have, but surely it must be they must have found a whalebone, mustn’t they?
Q: I’ll have to ask the museum, to find out why. I just wondered if you knew. So yeah, so you got given a flat did you say, or a house?
A: Yes, a one bedroom flat, yeah. We hadn’t moved far at all, we were in a one bedroom flat, then we went into a maisonette down – god, I’ve forgotten, just up the road. And then from the maisonette when I had two children we came here. But my flat was the one with the biggest rooms. When I came here I had to get rid of all my dining room suite because we couldn’t get it in, and because the kitchen was smaller so we had to kind of eat out in the kitchen on a small table, and if I had company I used to have a drop leaf table and we used to put it in here [laughs]. And we knocked the wall down, made it nice. But going back to my mum’s house, there were five of us in that house with a bathroom that was very basic, no sink or anything, not hot water, only from the – we had a copper in the – do you know about these coppers? You used to pump the water up. And we used to wash and everything in the kitchen, which was a very small kitchen, very narrow. Five of us, I don’t know how we did it. Don’t know how we did it. I used to wash my feet by putting my feet in the sink. Now you imagine a sink this high, I must have been very agile wasn’t I? [all laugh]. But you manage, you know. I thought nothing of it, I never thought –
Q: And what would you be washing with, hot or cold water?
A: Oh no, no, always hot water, we used to have a kettle, we used to have a bit saucepan, and then after a while we had a little geyser, have you ever seen those? Very small geysers, and that was the first bit of – what can I say – well anyway, the first hot water we had, it was in hot water, we thought this geyser was lovely. And then after that I can remember, I was married and away from home, my mum got a great big geyser which heated the hot water in the kitchen and in the bathroom, so that was a –
Q: And are there any particular like products or soaps you remember from the time that you liked?
A: Lifebuoy, but I never washed in Lifebuoy but my mum always had Lifebuoy for some reason, probably washing the floors and that. I can remember soda, we used to use soda a lot washing up. We used to have a little gadget on a stick and you used to put the bits of soap that you’d use in this gadget and when you washed up you’d like get your hot water and whoosh this to put soap in the water to wash up with, with a bit of soda.
Q: And can you remember the smell of it, did it have a smell?
A: Oh, Lifebuoy had a lovely clean smell, and the other smell I used to like was olive – Palmolive, that was another one I liked. Imperial Leather, that was another one. But my mum always used to have hard soap. I remember when I went round to Jim’s, when I used to go down there, his mum was very poor and she used to always buy soft soap, but of course it went quicker. I don’t mean soft soap as in liquid, the cheaper soap that wasn’t hard, you know, because it – my mum said that was a waste of money.
Q: Would you use perfumes and things at that time?
A: No. My mum used to have what my dad brought back from abroad when he was – because in them days if you served, like he was in the Navy, this was before the war when he was in the Navy, he used to have two years abroad, he’d go like to – I can remember him being based in Hong Kong I think it was, and India, they had like two years before they came home. My mum used to just manage us children all by herself. Anyway, he brought my mum home a big bottle of lavender and a big bottle of cologne, that’s about the only perfumes I remember my mum having. But I used to love perfume. Evening in Paris, stinky stuff that was.
Q: Can you remember what it smelt like?
A: Yes I can [laughs].
Q: What kind of smell was it?
A: Oh, very heavy. Just heavy, I just think – I would know the smell as soon as I smelt it, I wouldn’t like it now I’m afraid.
Q: Do you wear perfume now?
A: Oh yes, I like perfume.
Q: What’s your favourite one?
A: My favourite is Gucci Magnolia and – what’s the other one I like? Gardenia. I like those two. But I only get them when I can get them cheap, which is Christmas time when someone else buys them.
Q: [laughs] There’s a little hint there for anyone listening [all laugh]. And did you go out much? Were there any particular pubs or clubs that you’d go to in Dagenham?
A: Well as I got older, as I got to my teens, there was obviously youth clubs was our main attraction, we could go there every night of the week, the youth clubs. And then we used to go dancing, that was a nice – that was at least twice a week. During the week it used to be lessons, because we went in for our bronze ballroom – not like ballroom now, I mean now to me ballroom dancing is like gymnastics, whereas years ago it was just gentle gliding along the floor [laughs]. And Saturday nights I used to have a dance night, and that was practically every Saturday of the week.
Q: What would you wear to these dances?
A: Well I never – I used to keep myself in – I used to have a black skirt and I used to buy various blouses and I found that was a cheaper way of doing it. Never had much money I’m afraid to spend on clothes. I think really I’m better off now than I was when I was younger. My mum always used to say that as she got older. Really because we never had the money, we didn’t earn the money that children earn now, so we couldn’t go in night clubs like mine did as they got older. But one thing they got, they were still at school but they got part time jobs. Well we’d never dream of a part time job. I know when I first left school I wanted to work in a vet’s and I wanted to be a vet’s nurse. But to train you had to put money down them days and my mum couldn’t afford it. So I had to go elsewhere. But that was my dream, that was what I wanted to do. Because I loved animals.
Q: Have you had many other pets as you’ve got older?
A: Oh, we always had dogs and cats, I’ve always had a cat up to couple of years back when I was in hospital and my poor cat had to be rehomed with my nephew. And she was lovely, until he’d had her for about two weeks and he decided he’d let her out, on Guy Fawkes week, and she hated fireworks and she just went out and never came back. And she was lovely she was. I’ve had a cat ever since I was married. Had a big black cat when I was first married, then I had my Penny, then I had Rosie, and they all lived to eighteen or nineteen.
Q: Oh, that’s old for cats isn’t it?
A: Yeah, well not really, not now, because you take them to the vet, you feed them on proper food you see so they live longer. What else have we done in our life? Oh, because the Chase, we used to go over the Chase quite a lot. And my brothers when they were younger used to fish over there, but not with a line, they used to what they called trawled, they used to have like a big sack. A bit dangerous I’d imagine because they didn’t really know how deep it was, and they used to trawl the fish. But I would imagine they must have kind of stocked that up with young fish because they used to bring back all sorts of fish, like little plaice, teeny weeny ones, and they used to bring about – my mum used to have a big iron bath we used to bath in when I was with my gran, they used to fill that up with water and put stones and weeds in it and keep the fish in there.
Q: [laughs] So they never ate the fish?
A: Oh no, no, and to be honest I don’t really know how long they lasted. I can remember the fish and they used to be quite proud of them, especially when they got a different type of fish, but I can’t remember what actually happened to them.
Q: And did you go to Barking much or did you mainly stay around Dagenham area?
A: Well no because we always – Barking Park we went to quite a lot because of the boating lake and that and the swimming – and then when the swimming pool came there, because in Dagenham we only had one small swimming pool at Lays – not Lays – oh dear. Where’s your museum?
Q: It’s on Becontree Avenue.
A: Yes, well they used to – in that park there at the back of where you – I can’t remember, what’s the name of it?
A: Valence, Valence Park, they used to have a very small swimming pool there, we used to go there. I think it was about a penny or a tuppence to go in.
Q: And were you good at swimming, did you enjoy it?
A: No I didn’t, I used to love swimming but I nearly drowned myself going down the chute in the deep end and couldn’t swim. I never learned to swim until I was seventy. And I’d do a dog paddle, splash-splash-splash, but I really learned to swim properly at the South East Tech and it was a Sunday morning women only, and I learned quite easily. And once you learn to swim you wonder how on earth you couldn’t – because like you know, when you’re not frightened you do it easily don’t you? Oh, I’ll tell you something else we used to do, go to Forest Gate skating, that was another thing we did.
Q: Ice skating?
A: Yeah – no, no, no, roller skating. Oh no, roller skating. Oh no, I’ve never been on ice skates. So it was money that kept you really not going to many places. I mean like if we went to Southend for a day it was probably about once a year, and that was probably when the gas man came and my mum got returns. Because we had gas meters in them days, and that was the only time we ever had pocket money, when the gas man came [laughs].
Q: So was Southend your main holiday, that would be your main holiday?
A: We never went on holiday, no, not when – I’ve never been on holiday with my mum and dad.
Q: But maybe a day out in Southend?
A: Yes, that was our – yeah, and then it used to be my mum used to get with all the neighbours and there used to be about three families all go down there. And really the train journey down was as exciting as being at Southend to be honest, in them days.
Q: So the families would know each other a lot back then?
A: Oh, them days we were in and out – my mum, I wasn’t but my mum was in and out neighbour’s houses, we had keys behind the door, you know, where you could come home from school and just let yourself in.
Q: And do you think was that the same when you moved to your own flat and then your maisonette? Did you know your neighbours then as well?
A: Yes. Yes, one neighbour I did, she was very good, she used to always light my – when I went to work she’d light my fire before I came home, and that type of thing. Even here, when I first came here, the neighbours we were all very friendly. I’ll bet I practically knew everybody down this road. Because there again we all had children. See you never got a council house them days unless you had children, so there was fifty houses and I think we counted a hundred and twenty odd children down this road. But we never had much trouble, now and again we did but on the whole it was mainly football with the kiddies, you know. But now, I don’t know anybody – well I know Peggy next door but one, she’s the only one left that I used to know. But when we first came down here what they used to do, we’d all like have sandwiches, a plate of sandwiches and take them in one person’s house and have a party. But after a while as the kids grew older that stopped. Because we used to have parties down the street on certain occasions, we haven’t had one of those for years.
Q: A street party like out in the street?
A: Yeah, can’t remember the last one.
Q: What sort of things would you do for the street parties?
A: I think mainly obviously the tea party itself was the main thing, attraction, then all I can remember after that was mainly landing up in someone’s house, probably because it rained [all laugh]. But I can’t remember like actually playing after the party in the road. I think we landed up in someone’s house. That was ages ago.
Q: So you’ve been in this area quite a long time.
A: Since I was two and a half. As I landed up, that flat in Whalebone Lane which is just up the road, then – I can’t think, it’s the road by the railway, with big flats and houses, Landsbrook, Lanesbrook, I can’t think of the name of the road now, I was there. And from there I came here.
Q: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
A: Oh, everything. In Barking, oh it’s the flats in Barking, they’re so different now, you wouldn’t recognise it from say fifteen or sixteen years ago, well longer than that. But when I used to go to work, now I’ve been retired thirty years now, I used to go to – I lived here and I used to catch the bus to Barking and catch the Fenchurch Street line to London. But Barking was so different then, and I loved the High Road, you had such nice – there were two really nice dress shops there, there was an ordinary one on top of the hill and there was a posh one further down, nearer to the church. And they used to have a Marks there, then everything started changing.
Q: Where would you do your food shopping back then?
A: When I first got married I used to do it down Green Lane. Then when the supermarket – our first supermarket, where was our first – oh you’re asking something now. First supermarket was in Green Lane, that we used to go to, I can’t remember the name of it now.
Q: That’s okay, we can check the records.
A: Yeah, I can’t remember it now.
Q: So you’d go to the supermarket to do your sort of –
A: Now I do, yeah. I can’t shop now, my granddaughter does it, she goes to Sainsbury’s. But if I was shopping I would probably go from one to the other. Because a friend of mine, we used to wheel our prams down Green Lane and we used to go into Sainsbury’s because the sugar was cheaper, we’d go somewhere else because the butter was cheaper. Well now you just go to Tesco’s, and I don’t know the price of anything now. Lauren’s been doing my shopping I suppose for four years now because I just don’t – I don’t even know what’s in the shops now. Now and again someone might take me round the shops, but I don’t get round very often. But I would probably go to Lidl’s and that type of place to see what they’ve got.
Q: Did you used to like to cook?
A: Oh I loved cooking, yes.
Q: What was your specialty, what was your favourite dish to make?
A: I used to like my rabbit, I used to make a rabbit pie and my brother used to love that. But with the children, because going to work too I used to kind of make a lot of – I’d do a load of mince and then I’d make pies with it and maybe Bolognese and freeze it, do it in individual things and freeze it in them days. And steak and kidney, that was another one I used to make, steak and kidney. I had a great big pot that I bought mainly so I could do batch cooking. But I can’t stand and do it now, and if I could cook, it’s standing and washing up, I can’t do the washing up. No, I miss that, I do miss that. And I have all Wiltshire Food and they’re very nice, but they’re so – it’s not the same, the taste isn’t the same. I long to have a nice fried herring, soft fried herring, oh I used to love that [smacks lips].
Q: And in this project we’re thinking about smells, and of course that’s got a very strong smell hasn’t it?
A: Well when we first came to Dagenham we had Mann Bakers, which my mum would say to me some mornings, “Oh that’s Mann Bakers, don’t worry,” and then at one time we had smells from the Thames my mum used to say, and I think that got a bit worrisome that did, it was a stink. Yeah I can remember those smells. It’s when the wind was in this way.
Q: So do you know what the smells might have been, from the water?
A: Well we just presumed it was sewerage being let into the Thames them days. All I can remember it was smelly, but really apart from that it didn’t really trouble me, it didn’t affect my health or anything, it was just part of life [laughs]. See, when you’re younger you accept things don’t you?
Q: Yeah, I think definitely you get used to smells and you don’t know any different or you just get used to it. Can you remember any smells from when you were out shopping or from the park?
A: Only when you’d pass the butcher’s and he was doing pease pudding and saveloys and that type of thing. Or the fish shop, fish and chips you know. But them days fish and chips was cheap. I mean as a kiddie my mum would have done her nut, my Jim and I sometimes we’d go to the youth club and we’d be coming home and we couldn’t afford two lots of fish and chips so we’d have one, we’d have it in paper and we’d be eating it going along. How times have changed. We wouldn’t do that now, would we? I can remember walking down the street over my aunt’s at Rainham, and the aerodrome was quite near and seeing my first plane come over, oh I was frightened, I ran all the way back to my aunt’s house. My poor mum was looking after her mum in Forest Gate so I was shoved over to my aunt’s in Rainham, oh and I did hate it. I cried, didn’t know what they were [laughs]. But things have changed. I often wonder what it would be like for my grandchildren as they get older, they get to my age, what things will be different. When you think that we used to get up, we used to clean the fireplace out, that was the only heating we had, just one fire in the living room, and my old mum used to get up, light that fire so when we – we used to run downstairs and get dressed by the fire because it was too cold upstairs in the winter. Now with central heating we’ve got all that comfort haven’t we? My mum would blacken the grate, she’d wipe the step in the front, wash day was all day long. I used to hate Mondays [laughs].
Q: Would you help? You as children, would you all help your mum with the wash day?
A: No, never wash days we didn’t, but we’d help mum indoors, we’d clean the brass, we’d clean the knives and forks. Mum always had – not steel forks and knives but they weren’t stainless and they had to be cleaned. And another thing I used to do during the war was you used to line up for your food. In them days even to get your rations you used to have to line up and if someone said the butcher had liver you’d all be up there. And I’d often spend hours lining up for things for my mum so she didn’t have to do it.
Q: Would your brothers help do that as well?
A: No, no they certainly didn’t do shopping at all for mum. I can remember Frank bringing things home now and again from work, like – because he was older than me and obviously he was at work anyway when the war started, and he would sometimes bring home strawberries or anything, and god knows where he got them from, probably someone grew them in their garden or something, but I can never remember him helping mum with the shopping like I did. I mean 10163 was my mum’s Co-op number and I can remember that off by heart.
Q: And did you enjoy gardening?
A: Yes I did, yes. Not that I did a lot, but when my dad came home on leave he obviously helped mum clear the garden because the garden was a mess when we took the house over, and yes my dad put – I can remember he put raspberry canes in and we used to love once a year with the raspberries, and we had a pear tree which one particular year was laden with pears. Woke up one morning and they’d all been stolen. Yeah.
Q: Is there’s anything else you’d like to tell us? I think that’s all my questions. Have you got any questions, Jo?
Q2: No, I don’t think so.
A: I can’t think of things.
Q: No, you’ve shared lots of memories, it’s really good to –
A: I tried to write some down. Let’s see what I’ve got on that. No, I told you that. During the war we used – because the gas and electric was always cut off, you know, often cut off I should say, and my mum used to cook in her fireplace, she had an oven over it like all in one in them days, all black, all had to be black leaded, and my mum used to cook in that, light the fire and – I don’t know what she did in the summer [laughs], we starved. Yeah, I told you I used to line up with my mum. And of course the fact that we had a toilet indoors was so lovely when we – we used to have a po when we lived with my nan. I told you about the carnivals. How we used to play outside round the lamp posts. Do you know, I can remember the lamps, the gas lamps had to be lit and you used to have a gas lightman with his long stick and he used to light the gases and them out of a morming. They must have had loads of them.
Q: I think they’re featured in the new Mary Poppins film actually, they’ve got them as characters, the people that come and light the gas lamps.
A: [laughs] Yeah, I can remember them. And you know the baker delivering the bread with a horse and cart.
Q: Because you mentioned there were no cars on the streets at all when you were there. But would there have been quite a lot of horses?
A: Oh yes, yes. In fact there were so many horses, my dad used to also grow rhubarb and my two brothers used to have to go round the streets with a bucket and spade and collect the horse manure because it was good for the rhubarb. They used to love that [laughs].
Q: They’d enjoy the job, going out? [laughs].
A: But they did it! [laughs]
Q: Another stinky smell.
A: [laughs] Yes. No, I think I’ve mentioned all the bits in here.
Q: And where were your parents from?
A: Both my parents lived in Forest Gate. Mum lived in the posh area, my dad lived in the downtown area, Wellington Road. But mum lived with her mother-in-law. In fact when she first came down here she was offered a three bedroom parlour type house but she wouldn’t have it she said, because she knew gran would want to live with her [laughs]. So she took the smaller house. And we’d keep saying to her, why, why, because the house mum showed us they had offered her had a side gate, and that’s something – oh, a side gate is so useful, everything here has to be put through all the time. But I’ve never regretted living in Dagenham. When I was in London they used to look down on you coming from Dagenham, but we didn’t have a bad life here, and as I say if it wasn’t for my husband I’d have moved but he wouldn’t move. But my children went to Robert Clack, they’ve both got really good jobs, and as long as your children do better than you what more can you want? They’ve both got nice houses. Linda only lives in Rush Green, my son lives in North London, he’s got a nice house there. And I think to myself, well Dagenham hasn’t been that bad to them, it’s given them a healthy life.
Q: Do you feel proud that you’re from Dagenham? Would you say you’re from Dagenham?
A: Oh yes, no, no, to me I’d rather live in Dagenham than parts of say East Ham, which people are nice, I had an aunt who lived in East Ham, but to me it always seemed so crowded, whereas – mind you I know some of the streets in Dagenham are, especially Indusfarm Road, have you ever been down there? It’s ever so narrow. You can just about get two cars, just about. No, I think really we haven’t done too bad at all here. Lucky maybe, but I think to myself when you’ve got a garden your kids could have played out in if they’d wanted to. And also when we first came here we were on the edge of Dagenham, so Hunter Square we lived, and you only had to go up to the Chase and we used to sometimes walk up there, it must have been a certain time of the year, you could hear cuckoos, and I used to love going up there just to hear a cuckoo in a – I presume it was in the earlier part of the year when they actually [mimics cuckoo]. Things like that you’d never heard before. To me it was like being in the country, just walking up the Chase.
Q: Has the air always been quite clean then in Dagenham, since you’ve been here?
A: I would say yes, yes. Oh now because you’ve got more factories and that now, and because of the cars and that now, nowhere you’re free of cars are you? So when you think my daughter, she’s got a car, her husband’s got a car, and her two children have got cars. I mean so that’s four in one house. I miss my car bad, that’s something I do.
Q: You enjoyed driving?
A: Yes, oh there wasn’t the traffic when I was driving. I stopped when I was eighty, ten years ago.
Q: What age did you learn to drive?
A: I was fifty-four
Q: You’ve shared so many memories. It’s really interesting and really helpful.
A: Well I hope they are, but I never think my life – when I listen to some people who’ve really had – to me when you listen to Elizabeth who’s at the club with me, I don’t know how she’s fitted in all the things she’s done.
Q: [laughs] I think everyone’s different though, and everyone’s done different things.
A: Yeah, well my life has been mainly, as I’ve got older, like helping my mum look after my dad, then looking after my mum doing her washing. I used to go to work, pick my mum’s washing and ironing, come home, do hers with my own, and always had something to do. I never had any time, I couldn’t have volunteered for anything in them days.
Q: Have you got any hobbies now? I can see some knitting.
A: Well I used to like dressmaking a lot. I was never marvellous at it but I made clothes, I made the children’s clothes when they were younger. I had an aunt who had big wide hips and her skirts were lovely to cut up for trousers for my son, I could get the width out of them. And then because now I do my knitting, I’ve made lots of toys. And my iPad, I do like my iPad.
Q: Do you go online?
A: Yes, on Facebook.
Q: Did you go on a course to learn that?
A: Well someone came, I had ten lessons when I first had it, and I never regretted it. Because I’m not very good at it, I mean at the moment I’m doing my nut because I’ve been able to do what I want to do, and then Apple have changed all their format, oh and it’s annoying me. I’ve had to learn how to use BBC, their programmes, you know, their radio programmes, I used to go to bed listening to stories. Well once they altered it all I couldn’t do it so I had to kind of find out how to do it again. Then I wanted to transfer a picture from Messenger to Facebook, because they’ve changed it again haven’t they? And today mind you just by luck I found out how to do it again, I pressed the right button. But you know, it annoys me. My daughter, she can kind of work it out herself, she comes over and says – I said to her, I’ve got no clock now with the BBC Choice I think it’s called, I’ve forgot what it’s called now. She said yes you have mum, that bar at the bottom, you press that and the clock comes up. Now why didn’t I think of that? [laughs] It annoys me. And I know my mind’s not as sharp as it used to be, like knitting, I can’t read a complicated pattern and then do it, I have to read half of it, do it and then read the other half. But I do it, but it’s not like it used to, it’s not as easy as it used to be.
Q: Well I can’t knit at all so I’m impressed with it [laughs].
A: Ah but you’ve never learned have you, yeah. This is my last one, I knitted him. I’m quite fond of his tail, very cute [laughs].
Q: Really sweet [laugh]. Yeah, I think we’ll finish the interview there, but thank you very much.
A: I hope I’ve helped you a bit, like I say I’m not an interesting person really.
Q: Oh you are.
[END OF INTERVIEW RECORDING – 1:03:03]