Transcript: Eric Feasey
Interview with: Eric Feasey
Date: 21st May 2019
Interviewer: Nikki Shaill
Q: This is an oral history interview conducted at Valence House Museum in Barking and Dagenham. My name is Nikki Shaill, and I'm interviewing Eric Feasey on the 21st May 2019. So, can you tell me your full name please?
A: Right, Eric Feasey, Eric Roy Feasey actually.
Q: And your date of birth?
A: 1942. Now that's relevant to what we’re going to talk about because I was born originally on the canal in an old Victorian slum property in Lower Clapton. Unfortunately my father got killed in a waterworks accident after two months of when I was born. Later on I lost, my mother died of leukaemia. I also had two sisters and a brother, all older, which they’ve all gone. So I was then took over by my godparents. A very nice lady, especially her husband. And so they lived in East Ham, which is very near Barking, and another canal and river called the River Roding.
Q: And so, what were the names of your godparents?
A: Right, erm, Que--, right, well I knew her as Queenie Feasey, because I took their name.
A: So, erm, and that is a story within its own right again. How my name goes from Feasey to Maynar--, well, sorry, the other way round, Maynard to Feasey. My real father had a sister, and he was married, or she was married to a man called Feasey. A laundry man in Hackney. And they didn’t have any children at their home, but in them days the man had a child, illegitimately by one of his workers. But the lady, which would be my aunt takes in this child. He is the dad I get later on. So it goes a roundabout way, but I end up becoming a Feasey from a Maynard, completely out of the blue. So, but as I say, I didn’t really know my real parents, but my godparents were fantastic, especially my mum. Now I, note the word mum, I don’t--, from that you can tell I'm not one of these posh people who are like mother. I'm sorry, I like the word mum.
A: So, anyway.
Q: And so mum was called Queenie.
Q: That's how--, yeah, known a Queenie.
A: So that was her nickname a well. Jessie Emily really. And bought her up as best she could, worked very hard again, in several different factories. One of them being in East Ham, it was [inaudible 0:03:08] Sweet Factory, but originally it was the horse tram depot. I only found that out because now my knowledge of history is improving very much, and I love it at this Valance House.
Q: So yeah, we’re here today at Valence House Museum.
Q: Tell me, when, yeah, when did you start coming to the museum to learn about history?
A: What happened, some lady said, “Oh, they do coach outings, this group called the Friends of Valence House.” “Oh, yes, we’ll come along like.” And of course, this was before the chap who runs it now, Mark Watson, was here even. And so we joined the Friends of Valence House, and I actually ended up on the committee here as well, in this very room. And that got me interested in history even more. So it's social history basically. I didn’t realise I could get back to Dickens and that. A completely different story, but it does link Barking. The, erm, Charles, erm, how Barking comes to get a sewer, a big sewer from the sewer bank, which, erm, there was a big stink in London, the River Thames didn’t whatsit. And the, erm, they decided they needed to get someone to do something about it, and he got a man called Bazalgette. That most people know of, but one of his workers on this board that he had set up or they'd set up was Charles Dickens’ younger brother because he was a railway engineer. Bazalgette was a nautical engineer. So you can realise the ties with boats, ships, Barking, and so on. So that's it, and that same sewer, of course, ends up at Barking. Now I’ll go on to actually more--, so I was not very clever at school, but I did like woodwork. [Coughs]. But our school happened to be on the edges of Barking, like with East Ham, so some of the time we decided we were going to play in Barking.
Q: And what was the name of the school you went to, Eric?
A: Thomas Lethaby in them days. It was a comprehensive. There was a girl’s school, which was separate, and there was a grammar school, all built on this site, which was marshland really. But it is actually on the border of Barking. And our back entrance to the school you could get round to the town key, which we all called the rushing waters.
Q: Why did you call it the rushing waters?
A: Because you've got two lock gates, or did have, and all the water would rush through them.
A: So everybody called them the rushing waters. We also went the other way and played on the dumps. This was before the A13 was there, but it wasn’t a major motorway, it used to have two lanes. In fact underneath it had a brick shelter. That was part of our whatsit. So we thought it was great fun. And then later on we also went down Abbey Road, we started to venture out more, and we played on the Abbey Green there where the Abbey ruins are. But in that day to the side of it there was still some older houses, they hadn't been demolished. Barking was completely different. It's been altered once or twice before. They're now making this lovely project with these apartments. Again, I use the word apartments, but once upon a time they was known as flats. Flats have gone out of favour. Erm, but, so not only have I done that because of this Valance House I become interested in history. So we take the real history of Barking and we go back to the Gascoigne’s. And he is the same Gascoigne family as the man used to be on University Challenge on the television.
Q: Mm. I found that is, erm, Bamber Gascoigne.
A: As in Bamber Gascoigne. And they get in a bit of financial trouble, but we won't go into that, you look that up yourself. You need now to realise that this very, very clever, astute business farmer moves in called Glennie. He buys part of the Gascoigne estate. I will carry on to where I come into the picture even again later. So, and they're also on a big house called Bifron. A smashing house, completely lovely. It got pulled down way back in 18 something. But he had a nickname of being two faced, Bifron means it come from the Greek gods, right, Greek and Roman god, meaning two faced. But it does say, looks to the past and the future, which this project is trying to do. So there's a lovely tie there. So this Glennie then he starts developing Barking, and so you end up getting, first of all, some other places named Bifron. There was a Bifron Square. But these are what you call working class tenement hou--, not tenement, but working class houses. They soon become slums after a while, the drainage and everything. There's several reports of the health minister. Now, from there I do really need to go on to when Barking becomes a borough. That was mentioned. [Coughs]. That was in the ‘20s, which is coming up very shortly. Now, everybody probably has heard of the King’s Speech, about him stuttering. He didn’t stutter when he come to Barking. And there's a film on Pathe News about it, and another company, and he's in the Barking Town Square, look it up. Also, they brought in because it's now become a London borough, they brought in another chap, I can only say part of his name, as in Dewhurst, not as the butcher, so I'm probably saying it wrong. But he was a very clever town clerk, and he's in this film. And the dignitaries are. And, so not long after they had the Barking pageant. So, er, but again, not Labour, this is where I try to be fair between both of them. They do several other projects, one of them is for Greater London, North London, is set up an infectious diseases hospital at Barking. I end up turning to know through a neighbour in East Ham of it, and then ended up living opposite it, and becoming a friend of Barking for over 30 years, and met some fantastic people from Barking and Dagenham, which I would still like the borough to remember. They're not going to get over here. Some people did, but let’s go for the ordinary people.
Q: [Laughs]. Wonderful.
Q: Can I ask you a bit more Eric, erm, you said about, yeah, going to school just kind of in East Ham on the border of Barking, and playing on the rubbish dumps, and going to Abbey--, what was it like playing on the dump? What did you find?
A: Not a lot. You could dig out horseradish.
Q: Ooh. [Laughs].
A: Which was interesting. We knew what horseradish was. But, of course, there's a second part on this one because now they're saying that children are too clean. So, of course, you was in muck, dirt, did it build my resistance, so now I'm 77, so, you know does it give you a bit more chance if you build better resistance up? But they let you do them things in them days. There was not so much health and safety. And from previous what I told you, having a father got killed in an accident at work, I believe in health and safety, but sometimes you do think it gets a little bit too much. Erm, yeah, so that's the--, and so, in that school, but the one thing I really loved was carpentry.
A: Because I wasn’t much good at anything else. Dyslexia was not recognised, only later when I left. So, I had a smashing teacher by the way, called Mr Lowham. He was a Mr Chips type character, he was a brilliant old chap. He showed us how to garden and that. And so we asked the headmaster can we have allotments? That was brilliant. Really common sense. Whether they do use this common sense these days when everybody’s got computers in the school, and everything else, I don’t know. But I like computers because I can now get a playing field level that I couldn’t do before.
Q: Absolutely. And, so at school, yeah, so you really enjoyed the woodwork and the gardening. Are those things you then continued throughout the rest of your life?
A: Yes. [Laughs].
Q: Tell me more about that.
A: Well, erm, if you like I’ll go down, well, first of all, even now I've raised the plants up a bit and I've got tomatoes, sweet corn, er, potatoes, a couple of gooseberry bushes, and some blackcurrants and an apple tree, all growing in my garden. It's not flowers I'm afraid, but it's more like an allotment. They are doing one other thing now, so we’re now, you know this time where everything’s being developed the powers that be have allowed people to build great big mega kitchens. I call them “Jamie Oliver style” kitchens. People will have to look him up in the future. And thus, the gardens are disappearing. Now they're going back to where I come from originally, which the buildings, the Victorian buildings had a back yard, they didn’t have a garden. The idea of a garden, especially showed itself in Dagenham, in the Dagenham Estate, and that again, is slightly misunderstood. I can't prove, well I can't prove it, but you can look it up, anybody can look this up their self. After the First World War they said they'd built homes for heroes. It became a catchphrase. And I'm going to say rubbish. And why I say I'm going to say rubbish, the idea come about before that. It starts with entrepreneurs like Cadbury’s built model here because they realised the workers, you treat your workers better you get better out of them. Port Sunlight, and the church played a lot. And of course you had Peabody Building. All working class places to improve the health of the workers. Now why I said that law was rubbish, you don’t take the First World War, you take the Boer War. And the Boer War, of course, was with Dutch farmers. So they hadn't left the farms or been pushed off the farms by the Enclosures Act, they, erm, just healthier people, and better weapons.
A: So, of course, the government because we were beaten by them. So, of course, the government thinks well, look we've got to do something about these workers, they're not very healthy to fight a war for us, before the First World War. That's what made me say it was rubbish. If anybody checks their dates properly, we’re not talking about when the places were actually being built, we’re talking about where the ideas come up in parliament.
A: And by the way, one of the people all involved in that sort of thing was Lord Salisbury. And what was Lord Salisbury? A Gascoigne. There's a Salisbury Road. Another thing I only found out the other day, but again, I need to check it, is the saying about Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt. Well actually, Lord Salisbury’s name turns out to be Robert, or Bob. And that's where the saying is supposed to have come from. I can't verify that yet.
A: But it's very apt.
Q: Thank you. That's, yeah, a--,
A: So, erm, and I still think that's why we ended up with this infectious diseases hospital at Barking. I can't prove it, but there are some things I can prove. Now the records again, won't say that the, er, Barking Hospital, infectious diseases, was built on Upney Meadow. And I will say, rubbish, and I can prove it. Look up the ordnance survey maps. Now the easy way to do that is, er, Scottish Libraries ordnance survey maps, and you'll get ordnance survey maps of all over the country. Track into the ones for Barking and look at the Upney area. The first one says Lower Barking and Higher Barking, and Rookery Hall. It doesn’t say Upney Meadow. But when you look at the second map for exactly the same area it then says infectious diseases hospital. And someone has got a picture, has wrote a book, I can't think of it offhand that actually shows the first two huts and staff sitting outside. And the first matron of Barking Hospital is Matron Hedgecock, there's now a community centre called that. And she was the first matron of Barking Hospital. And then it goes on, it gets developed by--, Ilford had a big session in the Houses of Parliament over it. Right up till then it all gets pulled down for the houses except for one little bit that got left in the corner, what got changed into a community hospital. But when you look up another website called Lost Hospitals of London, you will actually see this has happened to hundreds of hospitals, and I mean hundreds.
A: Since the NHS. Some were Victorian workhouses, yes you need to change. But Barking had actually had a refit two years before they decided to pull it down. And it was a big block, not an old whats-her-name. And the maternity had been developed and everything. Then they didn’t want to build on and make that shock all at once, they kept the maternity for a couple of years as a, er, they bring out the term these like, erm, centres where you go to, a scratch or a cut. And that become one of them. But within a few years that had to be built on as housing. So now we’re going back more to even this project that is trying to give a fair understanding of what was on these sites before that are being now developed. And as I say, time will only tell whether what the standard of these houses are. I mean there's been quite a few recently, including big fires, we don’t want to mention too much about, where the buildings have not been. As a builder, [coughs], I also remember Ronan Point when I'd already started work. The young wood machinist come in and said, “Ooh,” he said, “This big block of flats has dropped down where I live.” It was called Ronan Point.
A: And it had been shoddily built. Because they built these flats as if you lived in a warmer climate, the continent, not how where the place would get corroded with water coming in. Later on in ti--, I mean we can go back to, I worked on Council estates, and had to work on some of these buildings what's supposed to be clever, including in Islington.
Q: So, yeah, it would be good to hear a bit more about, erm, yeah, about your experience working with, yeah, with timber, with wood.
Q: Continue on from school. And like you say, you're working in building. Erm, yeah, tell us more about that part of your career.
A: Yeah. It's, so when the career’s officer in them days comes to the school, asks you what you do. Now if you were in the D class you can't do much else, but you happen to say, “Oh, I like woodwork.” And he has got a great big wood firm all around in different areas, he's going to say, “I've got just the job for you son.” So I started at this wood firm in East Ham called, Austin’s of East Ham. But don’t be fooled by the name because it was very involved in Barking, and the area that is now being developed, which was the old Hewitt’s fish--, a bit, er, sorry, Hewitt’s Ship Building Yard. That's what the boats--, which did get blown up by a boiler explosion, killing some poor little boy away, and killing half the workers. They couldn’t do much, they had to be trundled all the way to Poplar Hospital in them days. But of course, you didn’t get many of them live. That sort of really didn’t do the Hewett’s any good at all. There was two factors coming into play. One was the railway had come, and therefore you could bring the fish in from the coast. And two, after paying all that compensation for that big disaster they were knocked back a bit, but they moved to the coast, and that. And still own some of the land, some of the property. Very important, very, very clever. They're fishing fleet run into hundreds. That also made a difference to this other industry that smelt in Barking because there was another factory, a tar works. Now, you've got to remember by this time, we’re not talking of tar coming out of coal, as in [inaudible 0:23:07], you got it out of pitch pine. And to tar these boats out so they could hold the fish and not sink you needed tar. So that was one of the industries we’re talking about on the River Roding.
Q: And have you got experience of working directly with tar? Or is it more that, erm, you were made aware of this history through working at Austin’s?
A: I know of tar being a builder because that's the stuff you put on walls or roofs to stop the--, or you used to. Again that's changing. But you would put felt and tar on a roof, not only on the roads.
Q: And when you work, erm, with materials like that you say it's changing at the moment, erm, yeah it must have--, was it quite smelly? Did it sort of affect your breathing working with these things?
A: It didn’t, but there was more factors, and one of them affecting me now, only a little thank goodness, yeah. Asbestos. And I must bring that in where we talk about Barking.
A: ‘Cause they had the biggest Asbestos called Cape Asbestos, going.
Q: Have you got personal experience of that?
A: And, erm, well a lot of the people die of asbestosis. When I actually, because another thing entirely, just recently, [coughs], with brittle bones, which I didn’t know I had. I was helping a neighbour and I broke a rib, which punctured my lung. Now for that I ended up at Bart’s, in the specialist department. And, of course, then they find out you've got a bit more wrong with you. And one of the things they found out I did have traces of asbestosis. Which, okay, I’ll take a bit longer, I mean I'm 70 odd, you know, 109 do I want? You know. So that's, really that is the hazard, that's once again, I want to emphasise, when we say smells, it wasn’t necessarily the smells sometimes, it was how hazardous these industries was that the working class had to do. They talk or Brunel, he actually worked down on the Isle of Dogs there, built the first metal ships. He built your big bridges and everything. But what they don’t say is--, oh, and by the way, also in the Olympic Games that were held in Stratford, as well, Britain how good it is, Brunel, and everything. Fantastic. But what about his workers? Loads and loads of his workers died. They did when they built the tunnel under the Thames, the first tunnel. So, I'm afraid sometimes they forget about the working class and the cost of their life because they didn’t get compensation that much in them days either. So that's why I don’t like people knocking the working class.
Q: Absolutely. Erm--,
A: But you could--,
Q: What does it mean to you to be working class?
A: Well, if you properly was working class you help one another, which seems to be going out the window a lot. Erm, basically, and you're still decent. What I mean by that this godparents on their own for--, 'cause I shall go to the second part when I was nine, bought me up. And you won't believe it, but I never swore. I'm a builder--,
A: And didn’t swear. But that had to change when I went to work because if it hadn't I'd have had the other people, the other young men take the mickey out of me and goodness knows what. So you have to use very colloquial terms to tell them please go away. But I was never brought up to swear. I was brought up to be, again people don’t like, brought up to be a gentleman. Working class, but you could still be a gentleman, you can still be mannered, and that. I don’t think that's wrong even today.
Q: Absolutely Eric, I agree. And so, just to try, I'm just trying to trace through, you've gone to school, you've had your education.
Q: We've discovered you like woodwork. You've started, was it an apprenticeship that you started?
A: No. That was the point, in that time, er, I, after a while they set about making some of these labourers there, uppers approvers, meaning you could learn it on the bench. You didn’t have to do paperwork with it, which suited me down to the ground. So I thought, I’ll do that please. And at first they made someone else up, and Eric was annoyed about that so he went to sort, he went to sort the foreman and the production manager out, and say, well look, you promised, blah, blah. And they said, “Right, Eric,” because I had that bounce, “Oh, you can be made up next time.” And they made me up. I was later to come and nearly buy the house of the production manager that lived in Barking. I went and looked at one house and it was this production man, which I'd also been on a works committee with later on. So, I ended up being shop steward, and so on, on that. So it went on, and Austin’s, so we said that Austin wasn’t just East Ham, this is where I say it was involved in Barking. It was involved in the area we’re talking about Fisher Street. But that had twist to it because like a certain advert now there was two brothers, they didn’t quite agree, so the other one starts one up down Ilford, in Ilford, but it's, er, wood yard wasn’t River Road, it was the other road going to Thames View that way, that road. And so there was two different wood firms going, but they were Austin’s. And they even morphed different names later on, and that is a completely different story because one of them, the Austin’s, live in Ilford, and from Ilford, I won't go into, there were two brothers. I will add a bit more spice to this story because I've done the Austin’s story. There were two brothers, and they married two girls, Brampton’s. The Brampton girls were ladies that knew what it was all about. I can prove that as well because one of the brothers is actually taken to the [inaudible 0:29:56] for having an affair with his sisters.
A: And if you can't show it you shouldn't say it. But we can show you it. But, so let’s go, but let’s go on to, first of all the Austin’s of East Ham, the one that works in Barking because their family is very interesting. They take the second name as Grantham, and I'm looking up the people who are living in the house, bom, bom, bom, and I come across this dental student. Now the family lives and breathes wood, and you go, dental student? But even more funny, you can link the Austin’s story with the King’s story because his dentist was a mate of General Austin, dentist to the King. I can prove it. East Ham won't tell you that that they had one of a dentist to the King.
Q: Wow. Amazing story, Eric.
A: Unbelievable isn't it?
Q: It's amazing.
A: Go to the other one quickly.
A: With that other lady, one lady goes to America, one sister. He ends up marrying a younger lady. They end up eventually buying Debden House, I mean the big one, the mansion. It got burnt down. And, erm, they, erm, so one of the joinery works in Barking ends up being called Debden Joinery. [Laughs]. But still belonging to the Austin’s. So I found that very interesting all the time. And as I say, so when I was a labourer there I worked on what they call a Forkardt this is one that makes all the mouldings. That's how I go on.
Q: Is that Forkardt?
A: All these moulding are made, normally, which they were made, and this is how Austin made it's fortune or money, it's what you put in houses, in staircases, in windows, in everything. So Austin become the main producer of joinery for the Dagenham Estate. People have forgot it. But not only the Dagenham Estate, they actually become one of the biggest joineries in the country.
Q: Wow. And what did your--,
A: All from East Ham and Barking.
Q: And what did your role involve? So you've worked your way up.
A: Well, so, right. So when I become an approver, you get your own tools, and then you work on knocking up the window frames. You assemble all this pre-made tenons, and see the mill part--, first of all the mills that mould the timber from sawn timber, the main ones were at Barking, two great big on the Hewitt Ship Building Yard. And then that's bought by regular vehicle, every day two or three train loads from Barking to East Ham. Then it comes into our mill, which is cut to size and tenanted and mortised, and everything. So you learn all about mortising and tenon. But then you go on a bench and you start putting it together. There's one off ones, not the so many hundred lights. Because they base windows in lights, one light, two light, depending on how. But you do more, what I would say, the speciality ones, can be made up the same style. I never worked on staircases. Austin’s also made staircases. And our other friend from East Ham that ended up in Barking, of course, was Vera Lynn. And she sings Up The Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire. Well if you know what the wooden hill is it's a staircase, and she's there at the same time, and she lives in Upney Lane, near where I live now. So that was one other person that went to Upney Lane before I did. Yeah, so, erm, well just to recap on that a bit, that was good, but then when that East Ham branch closed I actually went down Barking, down Abbey, you know, Abbey Road, now called Abbey Road, to this other plant, the one we’re talking, er, there was a big fire. That happened while I was at the other timber yard, other factory. When I got to the one in Abbey Road, there was actually a building called the Phoenix Building, rising out of the ashes. Also, while I was at the East Ham one, of course we heard of this big fire, I go home and see it on the news reel on Pathe News, and then notice an aunt in it, being evacuated from the house nearby.
Q: Goodness. So did you actually see the fire yourself? Were you aware of it?
A: No, because I was working at the East Ham one, but we kept getting reports, every time a trailer come down, “Here, it's got bigger, it's got bigger.” And so, of course, by the time we knew it was going to be that big it was--, but luck would have it, it didn’t really burn the mill down itself, it was more the timber yard at the side. But it was that bad there were, of course, chemical works nearby, gas works nearby. Even, they say on, you know how they're a bit afraid the whole lot’s going up.
Q: And what about women within the industries in Barking? Can you tell us a bit about were there women working then?
A: That is a very good point because once I went to work I found working in this wood factory was lots of women, and they was working as hard as any men. These big window frames, they were picking them up, moving them, and things like that. Quite a lot of, you know. You didn’t get cheeky to the women either, as you were a young man, I can assure you, but I just don’t, take my word, in the Austin’s, at Barking and the Ilford, there was lots of women working. I will tell you one story, whether you edit it out or not, but it's a true story. We had one lady knocking up ledge and brace doors, that's these doors made up of strips of wood with another going across at an angle. And she was knocking these up with a hammer, literally just bang and a nail would go in. One of the men working there decided to get a bit out of hand, and he, inappropriately he touched the lady. This lady promptly turned round, he forgot that she could bang these nails in like that and she smacked him one. He's gone halfway across the factory floor. And instead of getting the sack, we heard about this at East Ham as well, it went round like really like a good one, of course, and it amused all the blokes that this woman showed him, [laughs], no, don’t mess, and just hit him. Well, any fellow should have realised if she's knocking them nails in all day long you don’t want to get on the end of that one.
Q: Wow. Quite the story, Eric. And one more question for you. What kind of wood were you working with by the way?
Q: What type of wood would you be working with?
A: Mostly, mostly pine, a little bit of hardwood for the sills, but mostly ordinary pine, erm, wood. They used, occasionally, as I say, a couple of, erm, other--, they used, again in some bits they started it actually, just before I left they actually did start trying to cover wood with plastic because of this, again the plastic windows. But it was mostly all pinewood, it was, erm, the sills were made in two parts because it was cheaper. Because if you do a big windowsill, if you make the sill parts separate and fix it, and that just quickly brings to mind a little job I was doing. The head and sill on a window frame, the top and bottom bit, the head mould they used to glue a nail on. Now at one time, before I got made up into a chippie one of my labouring jobs was to put this stuff, had gone through a glue machine and glued it, and then they nailed it on. So I've sent this stuff through, it got glued with [inaudible 0:03:22] glue and it got nailed on. While the lady was nailing this strip of wood on with a nail gun, it jumped and nailed her finger straight to the timber.
Q: Oh my goodness.
Q: So when you were working with the glue, with the wood, were you like protect--, were you wearing any protective clothing, goggles or gloves?
A: May I turn round and say, in them days you must be joking.
Q: Nothing? You didn’t have any protective gear, the health and safety was different?
A: You probably did have a pair of rubber gloves, but of course, they weren’t much good, they got, erm, you know. No, the same as you didn’t have ear protectors. The main thing is when you're in that mill, you know if you think the Lancashire cotton mills are noisy you should go in a wood mill when these double ender, well they're called double ender, that puts all--, and it's got, it's got eight big motors each side. And then you've got two of these machines each side of each other, and a big circular saw. That's for the other stuff.
Q: Very noisy. And was there a set--, can you remember any smells to do with the wood?
A: I suppose wood, pine has got its own smell, but again, like you said before, you just get used to it, you don’t think nothing of it. But again, again, see again, with the modern moulders they're all enclosed, you don’t get no dust. Wood has been linked to lung cancer as well. I'm hoping the one--, I don’t mean the one I did happen to have, but there was a couple of blokes got lung--, not at our place. One did at the Barking place get asbestosis, and that was because the flush doors, fire ones have asbestos in them. So, Cape Asbestos wasn’t the only place using asbestos in Barking by a long way. There was another wood factory as well, who were making fire doors, and when you make fire doors you put asbestos in them as well. So you just take that as part and parcel really. They used to tell us that white asbestos, it was only the blue asbestos, [laughs]. I think we found out different since then.
Q: Indeed. Thank you, Eric.
Q: Were there lots of accidents that happened at that time in the industries?
A: Well, yeah, you see, after, so after all that before it all ends because they're coming the plastic window frames, and a lot of internal factors, but mostly like the coming of the plastic window frame. Up until then Austin’s lived and breathed wood. He's had floats in the carnival called Desert Island Disc because it's got a palm tree on it. So things like that. I loved working there really, it was nice. See working in firms in them days was more like a family. And okay, there was a couple of people you might not like, but on the whole you went on the outings together. It wasn’t so much as it had been because coming up before my time these firm--, this Austin’s, and now the records are in Valence House here, had it's own football team, and everything like that you see. And that's how West Ham got started through a firm having its own football team. But everybody, people played football not watched it.
A: You see.
A: So I mean I can't say I was into sport either, but I do believe it, like I believe in gardening, to keep the people fit, and it's lovely.
Q: So with your gardening are there, erm, are there any particular smells that you enjoy in your garden and your allotment?
A: I don’t mind the smell of manure because I know the tomatoes are going to grow well. But what I do know, and anybody can try this one, I grow Heirloom tomatoes, and Heirloom tomatoes means any shape, any colour, and taste lovely. Normally. Sweet. But I'm afraid the tomatoes they grow this day commercially are gown on areas of like the late football pitches, 18 foot high on Rockwell and just thick with feed and everything. And the trouble is they taste like plastic. Now I'm not saying that being funny because it has to have shelf life, and the tomato is grown for shelf life. The supermarkets don’t want the tomato that only goes one day or three days and it dies or goes rotten. Whereas in your garden you go out and pick it, you eat it before it goes rotten. That's what people did in general. It's only the coming of this modern age, technology and everything, and I love technology, but it's gradually being done by robots, including growing. I never went hop picking, I had mates that did, but of course that got replaced. But now the ones that become sophisticated they can pick strawberries, raspberries, goodness knows what. So that's another thing of our time. [Coughs].
Q: What would you say the biggest change that you've noticed living in this area, working in this area for so long? What's the biggest change been?
A: Well now you're noticing the--, well, first of all the pubs are disappearing. But I was never a pub goer either. My dad, my real, this godfather actually belonged to Barking Working Man’s Club, so again, I'd come down to Barking. And so saying that about changes, there was old houses on the--, which is now the Abbey Green, er, the Barking Road side. One of the things my godfather was, he belonged to what they called working men’s clubs. So as well as pubs you had these working men’s clubs 'cause you could take your children along. We didn’t, like in the old time they stayed outside the pub with lemonade and a packet of crisps. I can remember that. But if you have a working man’s club they did things for the children. And Barking did have a one, I think you'll find it was on the other end of North Street, right next to the Quaker building, as in the Quakers. A small building. I now see that's been pulled down for a great big block of flats. Sorry, apartments.
A: The White Horse Pub was in Barking, but it was on the other side of the road where these old houses was. Then they built it on the other side, [inaudible 0:40:24]. And just on a bit further, the buses, and this was including trolley buses, used to stop, turn round, change the poles over and come back. But there was a café there, and what the bus people had, the bus driver and the other, they had a little tin flask, mug, with a tin cup, and they'd go in the café, get it filled up, which they would do at East Ham as well, and that's where they had their break. And then it turns round and comes back again. So that's basically why--, and by the way, the fare, for me at least, one penny. People won't even know what a penny is now, it's just a fraction of what money was. So now when you work out the cost of--, but nowadays I get a bus pass, so [inaudible 0:41:16] I blow them. Yeah, so that is some of the main changes. Another building I do remember as a young boy, over on the Abbey Green side was a travel agent, but more the point than a travel agent, in it's other window it had a great big electric train set. So you could imagine that young children will remember that shop. But I do remember a few more that actually was on that same bit of green all got pulled down to make the Abbey look better. And one was a fish shop, fish and chips. One that sold air rifles and guns. Another was, erm, a sweet shop, the old fashioned type. Even when it got pulled all down it moved down nearer to this, down the other end of East Street, near the working man’s club. And poor old chap they had blooming vandals go in and have a go at him. Terrible. So you got crime and trouble in them days. Not like so much now. So, yeah, they are some of my memories, early memories of Barking. But there's another important memory of Barking that this god mum of mine had a friend, and they grew up in West Ham together, and they had, he had actually worked on the painting and decorating of the building of the Ledbury Estate. So they bought a house on the Ledbury Estate. So as a six year old I was took to these big lovely, to me, after knowing these other houses like in Hackney were like a palace. Huge gardens, everything. And so that's when I first knew, we didn’t know that day and age that I would end up owning one of these big houses on the Ledbury Estate. But that doesn’t alter my attitude to other people.
Q: Amazing Eric.
A: Because of the upgrade. So, [coughs], have we got time to go on?
Q: Yeah. I was just going to ask, erm, it's fantastic to hear about the memories of, yeah, how these streets have changed, and about the sweet shop and the fish and chip shop, and everything you've done. I just wondered, erm, yeah, this project is called the Barking Stink, and we are asking about what smells people remember.
A: Well you get stink from a fish and chip shop. You go, cor, lovely. That you asked earlier, what sort of would you say pleasant ones are, well if you like fish and chips and you get a fish and chip shop smell, which there were plenty about in Barking, you go, oh, I fancy some chips.
Q: And are there any smells that you particularly associate with your working life?
A: Evostick glue. Spirit glue.
A: Evostick glue. Again, working life, now I will fill the working life in a bit better, but I actually remember working on a council estate in Islington. So we went into this one, we had to put this ball up to stop the damp coming through, and I opened two giant tins of this Evostick, which really smells. But on the same estate, I'd gone over the road and we had to do something up nearly on the roof, so it meant getting up through a loft trapdoor, and I had a pair of steps, and so I thought, I'm not going to leave them here and get them nicked. I knocked on the door, a lady answered the door, the place was immaculate. It was, you don’t know the poor old boy might have not been able to manage. This other place better than I've ever seen. No, sorry, I won't leave my ladder in your hall, it's so lovely. So that gives you an understanding, more an understanding that it takes all sorts. So we also found in other places I've worked, I can go down a street, all council places, necessarily think so, like in Barking, and every person was different.
A: So you get to know people--, and this is what--, oh, this was the other thing before Austin’s finished, we got more immigrants come, Indians and Pakistanis. You worked with them as people. But when you come to work with them you get to know them as Ali, Fred, whatever, equivalent of that. And you find some you like, some you don’t, but you don’t have your dislikes and that because of their colour, you like them because they're people. You do the same with white people. Now that is what people should do. That's the best thing that's happening now, you will find a lot of mixed marriage, black and white are getting along fantastic. Dads coming along with his little son. It don’t matter what colour they are. And you're getting both, you're getting black ladies, white men, you're getting white men, you're getting both. But they're turning out to be really decent people. I did find that out on my second job. Because I went--, can I go onto my second job?
Q: Yes. We've got a little bit of time left. Absolutely.
A: Right, I’ll quickly go on to my second job. After Austin’s closed I went to the Labour Exchange, they said, “Well, we've got a carpenters job at Whitechapel, do you mind?” “No, I’ll go to Whitechapel.” I went there, said to the chap, “Look, I can't say I know everything about joinery and all this, but I'm willing to have a go. I've done it at this Austin.” So this Mr [inaudible 0:47:56] said, “That's all right.” I only found out afterwards he knew some of these people from the Austin’s didn’t he, so he knew, but I didn’t know that at the time. So I worked for them. But in that firm there was another chap. Now they, I will say 'cause it does sound whatsit, but I can assure I didn’t realise it was being racial. They called this chap Snowy because he was black. And I know that sounds daft when I say that I didn’t realise that. So one day they said, “We want you to work with this chap.” And I said, “All right.” So the chap said to me, “Eric,” he said, “My name is really Clements,” he said, “Do you mind calling me Clements?” “Of course I don’t.” I worked with him for about three years. One of the most nicest blokes you could work with. Again, how can you be prejudice after that?
Q: And are you still in touch with anyone that you used to work with?
A: I met that chap afterwards when I was married, in, erm, Greenwich, but only quickly. I have bumped into a couple of them since, you know, but, erm, not so much now. And again, they would never believe I do the history of Barking. Yeah, but there was another person you'll be interested in, [coughs]. So working for this church, this, erm, place at Whitechapel, we’re actually doing up pubs, government buildings. It gives you a really good insight into building. We had a manager. Now it's not going to ring any bells yet. Well, Bill, William, Bill McKenna. All right? And so I worked here, worked there. And one time, some had been working over the other side, er, of the water, and something went wrong with this blackboard he was putting up in the building where they used to do all the photographs from here. So, “Eric, would you go and put that blackboard up?” So I went over there, put it up no problem, and then I done a couple of little jobs, “Eric, can you come back over here?” And Eric weren’t very happy about that. I said, “Look,” I said, “You asked me to come and work here, now you want me to work there. I like it over here.” “Oh, all right then Eric, you can stay.” Well I got a job actually in Camelford House, the telephone headquarters, doing all their maintenance, putting door--, you used to take doors off, they wanted windows, put ones back, and all that sort of thing. Everything I didn’t mind having a go at, all carpentry and that. So it was good working over that area, it give me much more experience. But, so, anyway, this same manager I just told you about, William, Bill McKenna, one time he says, “I want something done on my windowsills, Eric.” Oh no, tell a lie, afterwards what happened, I'd worked for another firm quickly after, I get a phone call from this McKenna, and said, “Eric, would you like to come and work for me in Matterson’s?” He said, “I've got a contract in there.” Matteson’s were the bee people. Well that's all right, it's nearby, I haven't got a car, I’ll have that. So I worked there for about three years or more. But while we was working there, and then we done other stuff and I met other people that I'd even known at Austin’s. But the interesting part, I went to where his family is, and I met his son. Now when I tell you his son is the multimillionaire Paul McKenna that's when the bells start clicking. I met his son as a teenager, and that. In fact I had made an elec--, he was into discos and all that and I had made this flashing light thing and I gave it to him, I'd got fed up with it, it makes the lights flash. And later on he gradually, he started in store broadcasting, which I, again helped to build his own, the first workshops and everything, his first offices under the railway arches. I also, one day, and I worked late at night on that, I made a stage, covered it all in Formica, and it went to Tottenham Court, off the Tottenham Court Road, the Virgin Megastore. So this will give you some idea. And I worked for him for a number of years. And what happened in the end, the work gradually got further out though, which I couldn’t do by transport of any description. And also, his other son, the younger son was just about right to go in, so we agreed virtually, I would leave, I could, you know I'd got other work, so his son could go in the business. So you didn’t expect the twist to knowing a millionaire do you?
Q: Amazing stories. Those are fantastic stories, and yet all these different people that you've met and all the different things. Just to finish off, erm, I just wanted to ask, when did you retire?
A: Well I carried--, when I left there I actually come back, started working for myself because at first I went in the Labour Exchange and they said, “Well, you can do two days a week and that's all right.” And you told them if you done more. So a couple of times I used to say, “Well, yeah, you know I have done another day and that.” So it come to it, they said, “Well Eric, you really need to work for yourself.” Now I didn’t want to start employing people 'cause I'd have had more paperwork. I can do that by myself. I goes, “What do I do?” So they showed me where the tax office was. Where they normally send the people when they haven't done what they're supposed to do, whereas I'd go there and go, “Well look, can you help me with this lot?” You know, erm, “What do you want to know? Do you want to know there's my bank statement, there's me--, what do I do?” And they helped me fill it in. It got though to stage, and I was coming up to retirement, I was coming up to like 65, where the tax office had all started to close. Who was going to help me?
A: So I said, “Look, I’ll tell you what, I'm not hardly doing anything now.” I’ll be honest, and this is going down on the recording, there was the odd occasion I'd do work for an old person, and I wouldn’t charge them a lot. But I'm not say that's tax wise, not for an old. It wasn’t big jobs, it was, you know just to help someone. So I earned a bit on the side. Didn’t get a pension, only the state pension, and that. So that's what I mean, erm, I can't stand, and I've been in the buil--, I could never con an old lay--, you hear about these con builders. I couldn’t do that. I would get down the road by, probably that upbringing, I'd probably get half a yard down the road and the conscience would go, you've just took her pension lad. And you just don’t do it.
A: I know some people willingly do it, and they’ve got no conscience at all, but I can't be like that, so.
A: But that was the main thing though. Let’s get back onto where you first start.
Q: So we were asking you what, yeah, what are the smells and the historical--,
A: Yeah. But it's not--,
Q: Smells people might remember?
A: It's not--, yes there was terrible smells, as I've told you, the counterpart, the Darwin’s said it was a terrible place. Barking has been a terrible place. It wasn’t just the Labour party, both lots are responsible. Both lots built those terrible factories and terrible smells. Both the working class mostly paid the price for it in their health because loads of people in Barking and Dagenham die of asbestosis. People from the docks die of asbestosis, without all those other chemicals they were handling, you know. So please don’t knock the working class. Sometimes, yes, it is their fault, they can be stupid, but mostly they're not, they can be hard working people. And even Mr Rodwell, just think sometimes when you say, er, the people of the Gascoigne Estate 'cause I say it should still be called the Gascoigne’s, as the Gascoigne’s were very influential people. And just check the Lord Salisbury link, which we’ve got roads named after in Barking. That's all I asked him to do. So that was why I come along now and didn’t mind speaking. But as I said previous, you've already done one talk with a bloke who knew much of Barking than me, and that was that Sid Westbrook. A fantastic bloke. He had helped the Friends of Barking for 30 odd years. We both joined the same time, and so when he died I also wanted our Chairman, well he said, “Well, Eric, you can do it.” We put something in the paper for him. So that's when I say you find some decent people in Barking and Dagenham. That is where you want to end the story.
Q: Fantastic. And a fantastic place to end. Thank you so much Eric, for your time.
A: No, it's all right.
Q: And your memories. And that brings us, yeah, to the end of this interview.