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Interview with: Avril Glyne-Miller
Date: 25th July 2019
Interviewer: Katy Hodges
Q: This is an oral history interview with Avril Miller, conducted by Katy Hodges, taken on 25th July 2019, at the Archive and Local Studies Centre, Valence House, in Barking. This interview is being conducted as part of the Barking Stink Project, run by Thames Festival Trust. Also present are Maria Williams, Mike Meads, Felicity Hawksley and Nikki Shaill. What is your full name?
A: Avril Miller.
Q: And what's your date of birth?
Q: And when were you born? Where were you born?
A: Where? I was born at 4 Creekmouth Cottages in Barking.
Q: What were your parents’ names? What were their jobs?
A: My parents were Dilys and Tim. My dad worked in Lawes. My mum, well, obviously, when we was growing up at that time the women didn’t always work, but she was in the munitions factory sort of during the war, just up the road on the A13. Apart from that, as I say, the women at that stage didn’t work once they'd got married and had children.
Q: So, were you involved much in their working life? Do have many memories of your dad maybe working at Lawes Chemical Factory?
A: No, actually it was just at the end of the road. If we looked out our back yard we could see the corner of the factory it was so close. And the actual village was built by Lawes for its workers. So he just went to work with everybody else, and come back, you know and had a nice tin bath by the fire, [laughs], to clean off the chemicals. And my mum, because there's no machinery in those days everything was done by hand, so women spent most of the days housework, washing, whatever. Chatting over the fence with their neighbours, [laughs]. A very friendly place, you know it was really, erm, something you wanted to carry on to Thames View, and to a certain extent we did. But a lot of strangers moved in and they didn’t have the same camaraderie as the rest of us, so it sort of slightly died off, [laughs], which was a shame.
Q: So kind of, erm, talking about your dad’s work and when he would come home, in sort of reference to smells. Would you have that in your home, kind of the smells from Lawes or like with the washing?
A: My dad was the type he would strip off his work clothes outside. He was very considerate. He was one of the very considerate people. And smelly fertilisers and things, clothes off outside, straight in the bath, which my mum always had ready, of course, [laughs]. So there wasn’t a great deal of smells in our house apart from the cooking, as you say, you mentioned cabbage, and that was one of the staple diets was cabbage, you know for health and so on. But apart from that our house wasn’t full of some of the nasty smells that were outside, [laughs]. That came across and they were quite horrendous at times.
Q: While you were still living in Creekmouth then, sort of in reference to smells, what other ones would you have smelt besides, you know what you remember?
A: Beckton Sewerage, they're the ones I remember mostly. They were awful, and they followed us to Thames View up into our teens and our 20s and 30s. And every time the sewerage at Beckton was let out, so the smell just came over Thames View. And, I think someone once described it as chewable, [laughter], it was so awful, it really was. You had to walk along with a handkerchief over your mouth it got so bad at times. It really was bad. There were lots of other smells, but that is the main one that I remember because it was so bad. So, we had horses as well, in our young days, rather than lots of cars, so we had lots of horse manure that people used to shovel up and stick round their roses, [laughs]. Which is really good for the roses I'm told, I've never tried it, but you'd go past certain houses and their garden did look lovely, but the stench that came from them because of the horse manure that was all packed around them, you know around the roses. Mainly roses, I don’t know what else they put it on, but it was for that as well.
Q: Okay. So, [Laughter]. Erm, once you moved to Thames View did that kind of animal stench, did that go away? Did a lot of these smells that you'd previously had--,
A: No, because when we actually moved, erm, Thames View is built on marshland and everything is on stilts. And some of the stilts sort of went down and got lost, and they had to put more down. And even today you'll see some of the houses that, erm, the steps have sunk. And when we first moved there it was all brand new and everyone was moving in as they were building, and there was cows going up and down the streets, come from, erm, which is now the Reach over the back of Thames View, so I don’t know where the poor cows have gone now. But it was quite a sight to see them just, you know trotting up the road, [laughs]. And, of course, then again, cows leave their, erm, mess behind them, so, I don’t thing people shovelled that up like they did the horses manure, [laughter]. So I don’t know where that went. It probably got trod into the dirt at that time. There weren’t factories on Thames View at the time, so there weren’t really--, only the Beckton smell that came over regularly, [laughs], especially in summer. And that was the one.
Q: Okay. So, obviously, your reason for moving to Thames View was because of the flood?
A: Yes, yes.
Q: That happened in 1953. Can you tell us a bit?
A: Yeah, the houses never dried out properly. And you could always see the tidemark where the flood came, and no matter how much you tried to paint over it or whatever it just never went, and they were always damp. And in the meantime Thames View houses were being built anyway, so, erm, it was in the mid ‘50s that people started to move from the Creek down to Thames View. Plus lots of over people, you know moved to Thames View. The actual night of the flood, I remember the morning actually, even though I was quite young. Erm, my elder sister went downstairs 'cause normally our parents come and take us down, and it was quite light and we were still up, upstairs. So my sister being the dare devil that she is, decided to go down, and she didn’t come back up, so I followed her and saw water up the first few stairs. And then my dad popped his head round the kitchen door and said, “Go back up and sit with the baby,” [laughs], which was Maria. [Laughter]. And of course, my big sister Dilys was still down there somewhere, but, I think it was just a matter of minutes before she was sent up as well. So the three of us were up in my parents’ bedroom while they were doing whatever it is they were trying to clean up or save from the flood. And then as my mum was coming up the stairs, erm, she dived back down to get some baby wool, pure white baby wool, 'cause she was knitting for Maria. And they didn’t have plastic bags in them days, so as she's grabbed the paper bag off the chair, this pure white wool, [laughs], fell into the murky water and it was, you know she was quite upset, not just so much about the flood, but the actual wool that had not disappeared, [laughs]. I think it would have given her something to do while she had nothing else to do, and it, yes, it quite upset her a bit.
Q: So do you think that emotion was, you could feel that within the community during the time of the flood and having to move on?
A: Yeah, everyone helped everyone, you know as they could. I don’t think there was anyone that didn’t try to help. Not like these days, everyone’s sort of, oh it's not my business, I’ll stay away. In them days everyone chipped in, everyone helped where they could. It was really great friendship, you know, and some of it's lasted a lifetime. You know people we still see now that grew up together. And it's really nice that you sort of stay friends. Whereas now everyone moves off here, there--, well we've moved off, but we’re still friends with the people that live down there, you know, which, I think it's quite nice, we get on well with them, [laughs].
Q: So, erm, kind of changing the question a bit. So, obviously, you said you had siblings, how many siblings did you have? Or do you have?
A: Two, one older, one younger.
Q: And would you spend much of your time together during your childhood?
A: Yes, usually me and my elder sister were together more because there's only 14 months between us. Maria was two years and nine months after me, so she was a bit of a tot for everyone, you know. I mean when you're about five or six you don’t want a little, [laughs], two year old, [laughs], following you around. But by the time I was six years old, as I say, we’d moved off anyway. But apart from that, erm, we lived about 100 yards down the river, from the riverbank, and my eldest sister, like I said, she was a bit of a harum-scarum, she's the one that went down in the floods and didn’t care. And at the end of the field, erm, was where the bigger boys and girls played, and we was told by parents, do not under any circumstances go up there, you know. Outside, stay where you are, where we can see you. But of course our eldest sister she’d just go, and one night she just disappeared and she was up the end. They had a bonfire, Guy Fawkes Night. So they looked everywhere and finally found her sort of sitting round the edge watching everybody with their fireworks, and throwing things on the bonfire. I mean she was only young herself, she must have been about four or five at that time. She was a right terror. And also she, erm, she took me once, 'cause I just followed her wherever she went, [laughs]. She took me down, erm, by the creek, and up on the bank there's some steps that go down the other side. She took me up there and, you know hand in hand down we go these steps, and I don’t know if you've been there, but it's sort of blocked off by this big high wall, and the tide started coming in, [laughs], and we got caught. And the next thing you know our parents are shouting at us and dragging us out away from it. If it wasn’t for her I could either have been killed or, erm, perhaps her shouting saved us, you know one or the other. But yeah, she was a right daredevil, she really was wasn’t she? [Laughter].
Q: So would you spend sort of a lot of your time then by the river and--,
A: Yes we did.
Q: Round the factories ever?
A: And because we lived by the river our parents were up there a lot as well, because you know it's nice just to look over. And there was a bit of a bank as well, where you could run along, so you'd just run from one end and up to the other end. That's probably when the tide was out, otherwise the parents would panic, but yeah, they often took us up onto the bank. Probably to get us used to the river as well, because being dangerous in that area you had to be aware of what was on the other side. So, yeah it was great fun.
Q: It was a very prominent part in, kind of in your childhood.
A: Yeah. I mean these days, you know there's so much politically correctness going on, children are not allowed to do anything. And if all those rules were about when we were young we wouldn’t have had half the fun that we did, you know. And being girls, actually we were restricted quite a bit in those days, but, erm, even so, we still enjoyed our young life down there. Lots of friends.
Q: So what school did you go to?
A: We went to the Catholic school in Barking. We used to catch a coach in those days. A lot of the children went to the local school, and Ripple School, but we went to the, as I say, Catholic one. We got picked up by coach, it used to pick all the Catholic children up and take them into Barking. And one day I remember we went to school and someone said, “There isn't any school today,” and our coach driver said, “Yes there is, get on.” And we all got on. Got to the school, she dumped us off at the school, it's shut, [laughter]. So me and my big sister Dilys, aged five or six, walked from Barking, William Street all the way back down to Creekmouth. And where the road is, and it used to be a big pub on the corner, but now it's a big crossroads in Barking, there used to be a great big roundabout, and the part I remember at that part, being dropped off and there wasn’t school, Dilys bought me home, and I'd just about went to step off the roundabout and she grabbed hold of me and pulled me back as a car went whizzing past, [laughs]. And my, erm, the person that run the pub at that time, they must have drove past us 'cause apparently they said to my mum, “I'm sure I've just seen your girls coming down River Road.” So she said, “No, they're at school.” He said, “I'm sure it's your girls.” And it was. And then she had a go at him for not picking us up, [laughs]. Ridiculous, two little girls walking down, he knew who we were, he knew where we were going, drove straight past us. So, of course, you can imagine my parents then, they went absolutely berserk, not just at him, but the school and the coach driver that should have known and dropped us. So thanks to my big sister I'm here again, [laughs].
Q: Do you remember sort of much else from that walk, what you would have passed on the way?
A: No, not from that walk. All I remember is it's a very long walk for a little girl. But then again, saying that we used to walk there every Sunday to church. As much as we hated the walk, you know our dad was a great walker and, no, you're going to church, and the only way there is to walk and walk you will, you're big enough. [Laughs]. So we did, so that sort of just reminded me of that very long walk that we did every week, and it wasn’t very pleasant at all to be honest. Especially, erm, I mean we walked to church with your dad, he's there to protect you, but he wasn’t there and it was quite scary, you know for a little girl. So, but then my big sister, you know marching ahead and, [laughs]. Yeah it was great. Scary, but great.
Q: So, erm, in reference to school, obviously, you said the coach or the bus would pick you up, erm--,
A: Yeah, it was the school coach that took us. A lot of the others from the village went to the school in the village. And that's the only building that's left down the creek. It used to be Squibs Offices, and now someone else has taken over. And we are actually trying to fight to keep that building because there is nothing else, you know. No other sign, the whole village has gone. Whether it will stay or whether they'll develop it with everything else, we’re hoping not. But we’ve put our request in, [laughs], we’ll see what happens. People who listen to this in the future they'll say, it worked, or it didn’t work, one or the other. We shall see.
Q: So do you remember sort of what your friends’ parents would do, did they work in the factories as well?
A: I think lots of them worked in Lawes, but then Fords was near around as well. And then there was the public house, and there was a shop. My aunt actually came down from where she lived in Barking to work in the shop, occasionally. And, I think my mum might have helped out as well. They had--, there's the power station as well. Other factories in the area. But they were mainly Lawes’ cottages, and they were built for Lawes workers. But I suppose over years, erm, people just moved off to different things, as I say, the power station and other factories once Lawes stopped being, erm, well I suppose the ownership never went, but times change and families move on. So, but as for their actual, erm, job descriptions I couldn’t say. As I say, I was only young when I left, so they never bothered talking to us about what was going on, [laughs], or anything else. The only thing I do remember though is about the rats that come up from the river. We used to have, erm, a dog that used to catch them. And the men used to sort of make a game of it. I mean it's something you don’t want in your homes, and therefore they had to be caught. But living by the river it was just constant. And I just remember, as I said a while ago, Lawes yard, the fence was just over the corner from our cottages, and I remember one of the rats being killed and someone just picked it up by the tail and just threw it over the fence, [laughs]. I don’t know how high it was on the other side, or whether anybody actually used that part of the yard, but that corner must have been getting quite deep with vermin, [laughs]. It was quite horrible, you know the way they used to catch them sometimes, really yuk. But that's over. Then there's the smelly river as well.
A: You know, not just the sewerage, but the river itself used to have stench of its own. Until the government said it had to be all cleaned up, which it is now, it's quite nice now. You get livestock in it, as it were, fishes and dolphins. And if it wasn’t any good they wouldn’t be there anymore would they.
Q: Would you ever go fishing in the river?
A: A lot of people do, funny enough. I've never been fishing. I know people that do, but, erm, I was never brought up to be a fisher person. My dad was a farmer back in Ireland, and my mum come from Wales, she come from the coalmining area. So fishing wasn’t part of their remit, you know. So we never actually got to do any of that. Plus being girls, I don’t think they taught girls much in those days. If you could do your washing or sewing, you know you was all right, a bit of knitting here and there, but nothing--, I suppose it used to be, erm, catch the meal for the family at one stage, but nowadays it's for recreation, and we just didn’t do it. And I don’t know anyone that did. I know people go there now though because it's nice and clean.
Q: So, erm, moving on to more your work life. Where did you work?
A: I didn’t go very far. I just went to Thames Road, and I worked in an office. And then when I left that one I went to another office, [laughs]. One was a printers, one was a printing ink. And then, erm, I just got married and started a family from there. I stayed in the offices until a certain time in the pregnancy, as you know, and then I was a mum. So everyone then, young people at that stage moved to the Gascoigne, which was being built. Now at that time it was really nice, they were brand new. The rooms were big, erm, you had everything that you wanted. I mean down the Creek you had a toilet down the bottom of the yard, a tin bath on the back of the wall, cold water that you had to boil. But you moved to these flats, or even Thames View, of course, everything inside and everything was there for you, central heating, and it was just wonderful, you know. Then as time goes on certain people move in and it's not so wonderful anymore, and you move back to Thames View. Which, again was quite nice again, but then things change again, life moves on doesn’t it. That's not as nice as it used to be. Although a lot of people there are trying to keep it nice, they're trying to interact with the riverside that's just been built. But no one wants to know, [laughs]. There's a big barrier in the middle and they just don’t want to get together, which is a shame because there's people trying on both sides, but it just, don’t know.
Q: You feel like sort of moving into these flats, Thames View, Gascoigne, that you lost a sense of community in the different kind of atmosphere that you had in the Creek?
A: Oh you do if you move into a flat 'cause you hardly ever see anyone. When I moved out of the high rise, 'cause they usually put you in a high rise first, then we moved down to the low rise, [clears throat], and the mothers there were all the same, all new mums, and we used to sit outside on the grass with our babies and toddlers, and that was nice, that was like being in a community again. Some of the mothers worked, so they didn’t mix very well, but you'd get some from the other side come over, and it got to be very friendly and lovely, and I don’t think they do that anymore either. You know you get a certain element of people move in and they're just not used to it, and they don’t keep it up. And they don’t even know who their next door neighbours are, you know, which is really a shame, people are just losing it all what we used to have.
Q: So what did your husband do?
A: My husband, erm, he worked at the power station. He was a cleaner and he used to clean up. He used to clean up after whatever the other workmen were doing. If the electricians were lagging the pipes he would clean up the asbestos after them, 'cause that's what they lagged them with. And he had a friend that was an electrician, and my husband used to replenish the toilet rolls, [laughs]. So what they did was when this electrician said, “Oh, I need some loo rolls,” my husband used to say, “I need some light bulbs.” [Laughter]. So they'd swap, [laughs]. I know, naughty things that went on. But then they had, erm, down there they had a good relationship as well. But, you know the asbestos wasn’t, erm, very good. And some of that got, the ash and everything got spread over the land where that new Reach is being built now at the back. And they had to bring in fresh earth from outside. Have you noticed some of the houses are quite high 'cause they had to build it up. They said it wasn’t contaminated, but it was, otherwise they wouldn’t have built it up. So they're all higher than everything else. And, I think that's one of the reasons the power station had to go because there was just too much contamination in it. Plus that smell as well, when it was burning, you know all the smoke that they used to have, it was all the coal dust, and that's not healthy either. Although we all had coal fires to start with. When I moved into my house on Thames View there wasn’t--, the fire in the front room and that was it, nothing else. The windows used to get ice on the insides. There was acrylic iron type windows, single glazed, you know in the winter scraping the ice off from the inside. And all you had was that fire downstairs, which was smoky and smelly, and--, but that's how it was, you didn’t have anything else at that time. Apart from the Calor Gas I suppose, when you get one of those, put it on the top of the stairs, and again, it's smelly again. Everything that they used to have had a pretty nasty odour going to it, you know. But there we go that was life. It's changed drastically.
Q: But I mean that smell of sort of coal or the gas, is that a, sort of a happy smell for you? It's a smell of home or?
A: In a way the coal can be, it can bring back memories 'cause I've got a log burner now, and sometimes I put coal on top and it does, it sort of gives the glow of a nice warm fire. And when you open the door you get a lot of smoke actually, it comes pouring out, but it's the actual smell. And you can sort of visualise when you was younger and when you first had it. And the family used to sit all round the fire, you know close as possible, you know corned beef legs as they call it, and sort of stuck in front of it. And it was nice, people used to sit and talk, you know. Yeah, it does bring a lot of memories back sort of watching that it's nice. You always reminisce when you're young don’t you if you had a good childhood, which we did.
Q: So do you have any smells sort of, of your husband when he would be working in the power house, when he came back home?
Q: Or was he similar to your dad and, [laughs].
A: Yes he was. He, I think the main smell he would have was a bit of coal. And of course, man sweat for working, [laughs], but yeah, straight in the bath as they come home because they didn’t like the smells either. But I must admit when my dad came home from work I do remember he had what I call a man’s smell from the day. And when I smell that now it really, I think, oh it's just like my dad. Really comforting you might say, even though it's a sweaty smell, [laughs]. But it was nice. It reminds me of my dad when he used to come home. But, erm, yeah, they just went straight and washed it all off and, you know, yeah a weird thing to have, [laughs].
Q: So, do you think much changed in that kind of industry in the sense of community, or do you think that stayed throughout when your dad worked there and when you lived in the Creek, to when your husband worked there?
A: Erm, no, my husband worked at the power station, my dad was at Lawes, and the difference between the two was quite a lot. There wasn’t, although my husband made friends where he worked, erm, it wasn’t very, erm, sociable. Yeah, it wasn’t, erm, very sociable. Whereas, erm, my dad was a bit of a shy man, but he had lots of friends and well respected, you know. And, erm, I think my mum was the chatty one, she used to make friends. And everyone just used to call her Glyn or Snowy, rather than--, and my dad was Ginger, [laughs]. They never got called their right names. So, erm, yeah they were very friendly, but not, erm, the out and out pub weekend’s type of people, they didn’t do that. They'd go to a social now and then. Later in years my mum used to go to bingo. My dad, on occasion used to go out to the pub with his son-in-law and his dad. But never any, not anything that people used to do on a regular basis, you know go out and spend the weeks wages and nothing left for the mother, [laughs], that sort of thing. That never happened in our house, you know. I just remember once my dad was in hospital for weeks and my mum was trying to manage on the money that was left, and by the time he come out of hospital, I think she said she had a penny in her purse. She had three little girls to look after. And then when he came out, erm, my dad had lent money to other people to help them out 'cause it was quite a poor village really. And he was a, you know generous if he could be. And these people came to his door and said, “Oh, we’re glad you're out Ginge, you know, I'm thinking now you're out of work you might need the money back that you owe me,” sorry, “That we owe you.” So he said, “Well why didn’t you bring it home to the missus?” He said, “I've been in hospital and she's been managing on practically nothing.” He said, “And now you bring it to my door.” So although they were trying to be, you know friendly and nice he sort of basically told them off because my mum could have done with that money to keep us, rather than practically starving us just to eke the money out, you know. But apart from that everything was lovely. I don’t know of anything nasty that happened that I can think of down there. A really lovely place. Mind you some people say, “Ooh, I'd move back.” I wouldn’t move back, [laughs]. For the simple reason, as I say, the cottages were really basic, two up, two down. You had the back kitchen, no hot water, everything was single glazed. You had to have the tin bath if anyone had a wash. Then you had the living room with a big table in the middle, and a radio to the side. We were lucky enough to have a radio. We also had a piano in the kitchen. So yeah, then we had a great big front garden, which we didn’t use to go in and out of because the houses were sort of back to front. There was a few of us where the back we had yards, with the toilet at the bottom, as I said previous, and a wood shed, and just a bit of a yard to hang the washing. And then just further along all the houses that was their front. So it was a bit everything back to front. So, and then, as I say, in our wood yard we had loads of rats in our wood shed. The poor dog got most of them till they got him, [laughs], her. Good memories, bad memories, funny memories.
Q: Were you frightened of the rats or?
Q: Yeah. [Laughs].
A: Yes, I didn’t like the rats at all, they were horrible, and they were really big ones, you know the sort of size of cats. And every time you saw a hole they'd nip down them and even though, erm, you knew the men had gathered round and got some way or other of catching them and getting them out, you were frightened of passing that part in case there was another one that had slipped down and, you know so you'd try to avoid certain areas. And it was quite scary, you know you're only about this big and then there's a rat the size of a cat. And I remember seeing the rats when my dog cornered them, and they used to sort of jump over him and, I think they bit, erm, I keep saying him, it was a her, they bit her tail and then it sort of went into her body and the disease sort of killed her. But she was a really good ratter. But it was still scary to watch her. Quite frightening because she was a lovely dog at the time. And cats we had as well, on occasion. Although my parents didn’t like cats. And it was horrible what they used to do to kittens as well, in those days. Because they were wild and, you know there was so many of them they had to get rid of them. And they used to pretend they'd given them away, but they hadn't. They didn’t.
Q: Was that just your family or was that kind of--,
A: No that was everybody.
Q: The situation with everyone?
A: Everyone, yeah the cats were everywhere. In a way it was a good thing because there was so much vermin down there near the river, but they just didn’t want them in their house, you know. Okay, you're a wild cat, you can stay outside. But do what you have to do, we don’t want you indoors. And that's a lot of people like that. Unless you was a cat lover, I don’t really know any, [laughs].
Q: Would you ever have any local celebrations or, er, either when you were a child or now? Are you involved in any?
A: I remember the--, there were a few parties down there. I remember the coronation. I was only a tot, but I remember being taken up the bank and the Queen went past in her ship. And my dad was saying, “Look, there she is, there is. Can you see her waving?” And I can remember, even though I was so small, I goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” but I couldn’t, [laughs]. I didn’t know what I was looking at, I was just looking at this ship and just saying, “Yeah, yeah.” Nothing, I couldn’t see a thing. But it's just the memory that I was taken up there and the ship did go past, but I don’t know where the Queen was, on there somewhere. And there was a party, I remember a party in the match factory, but I think that was in Abbey Road somewhere. I think we had a street party at one stage, but I can't remember what it was. As I say, I was so little. But they did, all the others, you know they'd talk about what they used to do, parties in the hall and out on the streets. They were very sociable people, and I think they used lots of excuses just to have a knees up. And, you know the kids were all involved and everything. It was nice.
Q: What would they involve? Would it be sort of lots of food, lots of--,
A: Yeah, it was mainly food. You don’t have the balloons and things that they have today. But yeah, everyone gathered together, everyone made something, everyone put something on the table. I believe there was someone that had a piano that used to go outside with, you know someone having a go. Probably Joyce, [laughs]. She has a plonk on the piano. Yeah, everyone joined in, they just did what they could. It wasn’t, as I say, a rich village, it was quite a poor village. There were some that had more children, but as the children grew up then there was more workers, you might say, so there's more money coming in, so they were just a little bit better off than the rest of us. They had electricity when we didn’t, we had gaslights in our cottage. So, I don’t know if they had hot water, but we didn’t we just had the cold, cold tap. So, I suppose as they moved further along the housing they got slightly more modern. But they had those funny little gaslights, you know that you pull on and off. And a gas fridge as well, believe it or not, [laughs]. If it went out we used to get a match and turn it on and then just drop the match down the back, and it would light up the fridge again. Which when you think of that today there must have been loads of matches down behind the fridge ready to catch fire, [laughs]. They never did, but they could have done. Sort of health and safety again, you know. I suppose then it should have come into force, [laughs], could have set us all alight.
Q: Do you remember the streets being quite busy? As you said, you didn’t have cars, did other people?
A: The shopkeeper had a car. We used to get horse and carts down with their wares. We used to get, erm, rag man and, or rag and bone man. And I remember my mum sending us out on occasion to, erm, she had some rags and she wanted cup and saucers, and you know, and she used to give them to us and say, “Right, make sure if he gives you a cup you want a saucer to match.” [Laughs]. Whether it matched or not I can never remember. But when they gave us a cup I said, “No, I've got to have the saucer to go with it or my mum don’t want it.” But, erm, yeah, as I say, the fruit and veg people. Yes, we used to have, erm, the horse and cart that sold the fruit and veg to the village. And, of course, there was a coalman as well, even though we was near the, erm, power station we had to have a coalman to deliver the coal to our sheds. We didn’t have a slag heap like some people do, you know go rummaging through it. Not that I know of anyway. Maybe they did some of them if they threw out, they'd throw lumps of coal, and I remember reading something, they used to pick up bits, you know if you couldn’t afford to buy the sacks of coal. But I think we managed quite well down there. I think most people did. I think it was, erm, there are some families where the husband was one of the types that used to, I earn the money, I’ll do what I want with it, and there's your bit and you keep the family on it, I'm going up the pub. But luckily, our dad wasn’t like that so my used to, there's my wages, they're yours. She has to feed everyone, she pays the bills, you know. If he wanted to go up the pub, there you go, [laughs], the other way round. But no, he didn’t, he wasn’t that type. Yeah, we were lucky. I think probably because of the different upbringing of our family as well, you know we weren’t east enders, as such. We were part Irish, part Welsh, and they just happened to meet in Barking. So that's where we ended up. So, not a bad thing.
Q: Was the smell of, erm, the pubs, the public houses or--,
A: Oh yes.
Q: Food smells, was that--,
A: There was. They weren’t too bad really if, you know, apart from cabbage, again. [Laughs]. Some of the stronger smells, but most of it was quite nice. I didn’t mind the smell of beers and things, you know it's--, I suppose when they're in there, especially at the weekend, and they're sort of having a sing song and a chat, and it's sort of a cheery thing. So you do get the smells from the drinks that come out, but your mind sort of relates it to something happy, something nice. You know, not, unless you're against drink and so on, then it wouldn’t be. But for me, no it was a happy feeling. The food, as well that the pub used to serve was, erm, it wasn’t too bad at all. And again, everyone that ate in there sort of were all happy, cheerful, singing, laughing and joking. A nice summer’s day sitting outside. And I suppose there was the odd fight now and then, not that I ever saw it. But again, it was a nice happy type feeling from those smells. And as mentioned, the smells from the Lawes factory that used to come out, the fertilisers, that wasn’t so good, but in my mind, I think all the horrible smells I seem to accumulate as one with the Beckton Sewerage, and that is the main thing that sticks in my head above all of them, it was so horrendous, right up until years later. And everything that come after I think, well it's not as bad as, I used to compare it. But, yeah there were quite a lot. And I'm sure you will hear a lot more about that as well.
Q: Do you still compare it now to that smell?
A: Actually, you don’t get the smells now, over there. Occasionally something will crop up, but it's, oh, it's nowhere near what it was. I think they, erm, the sewage works changed 1st January 2000, so that was, erm, they didn’t sort of throw that into the Thames anymore from Beckton. They sort of burnt it and used it for other things, and the ash was used for fertilisers and so on. So the smells didn’t come up as they often do. There is, erm, on occasion some smell comes up, but I'm not sure what it's from. But it's not very often. I'm trying to think what it could actually be. Perhaps it's one of the factories that throws something out. But, no I can't think of what it is, sorry.
Q: So, I mean do you have any other stories that you think you'd like to tell? That you think would be relevant, you know for school children to learn about their history?
A: Oh, there's lots of stories--,
A: Down there. And the history, you know there's the Handley Page biplanes that was started down there than no one knows about. There's the Princess Alice disaster that, you know it's all on our website that we've plastered there. And, hopefully, children will read about that in the future. And the power station, erm, thank goodness, isn't really there anymore because, you know a lot of people died of the asbestos diseases from there, so it's a good job that it's actually gone. The same with Cape Asbestos that--, I mean it was a good product, Cape Asbestos, it did it's job, but they didn’t realise how dangerous it was once you sort of broke it up, and other people didn’t either. So, as I say, a good product gone bad, you might say, as a lot of things are from then. You think they're good at the time, but then that's it, [laughs], they end up doing the dead opposite. But yeah, there's lots of stories, but they would take in depth telling, [laughs].
Q2: Okay, it's Felicity. I just wondered if you had any reflections on the way Barking is changing now, and how the town centre is changing?
A: Oh. [Laughter]. That is my initial thought on Barking as it is now. I think it's changing for the worse, to be honest. I know, erm, the government projects is build, build, build, but it's really not a good thing. They're ghettos of the future. We've seen some of the building that's going on. We took a ride down Abbey Road in a car, we thought we’d end up on the River Road in River Bank, and all we saw was these new blocks of flats on the edge, which probably they charge a fortune for because they're on the edge of the River Road in. But they looked like you could put your hand out the window and shake the hand of your neighbour in the next block. They were so close together. And the only think I can describe as the new building that are going up they're just ghettos of the future. And they will be, there's just far too many. No one will know anybody because they're all flats, they're all high rise. There's no houses with gardens. There's no one, nowhere, to me, there's nothing for the children to do anymore, the youth clubs have closed down. If you're not on a skateboard or you want to do computers the children are lost, and they wonder why the children are roaming the streets doing what they do now because there's nothing for them to do, they are bored. And that is Bar--, it's not just Barking, it's going further out, you know. I feel sorry for the next generation, I really do, they’ve just got nothing, literally nothing. No work, no housing, everything’s full of drugs. The thefts in the courts are going up sky high, and that again, is because of drugs. It's horrendous, it's really awful. And no one’s doing anything about it. They think, oh we’ll build more, buy why? You're building them up, we need to get the community together, it's not working. So that's my views, [laughs].
Q2: Thank you.
Q3: This is Nikki. A slightly different question. I just wanted to find out a little bit more--, you said your mum and dad met in Barking?
Q3: And I just wondered, erm, just finding out a little bit more about how long did your dad work at Lawes for?
A: He worked there for a number of years actually. He, when he came over from Ireland, erm, he sort of came over to Liverpool and worked his way down. And he, erm, he never actually joined up, being Southern Ireland he didn’t have to, but I don’t know if he was against killing or whatever reason, he never said, but what he used to do was clear bombsites. And he said, what he saw would put anyone off of war. So you can imagine what bombsites are. But he never elaborated because he was that type of person, a very private person. So he worked his way down to Barking, and then, erm, he got a job in Lawes there, and I can't remember how long he stayed there, it was a number of years wasn’t it?
A2: He was lodging with Aunt Doll.
A: Yeah. That's my mum’s sister, Aunt Doll. My mum went to stay with Aunt Doll as well. Not at the same time though. Can you remember what year it was dad worked at Lawes until what?
A2: As soon as they got married.
A: Which was ’47.
A: Yeah. So they got married in ’47. That's right, they got the house. In them days you could say, “Oh this house is empty, we’re married, can we have it?” “Yes.” All right, in you go, pay the rent. But nothing like that now. Ten years down the line, you know married, five kids, still haven't got a house, lodging with your parents, [laughs]. But yeah, as I say, you got married and lived at 4 Creekmouth. It was number four wasn’t it or was it at one, did he lodge at first somewhere else or did he go straight into four?
A: Straight into four.
A2: He moved after.
A: So, as I say, he was there a long time. Then he went to Fords.
A2: It changed hands.
A: It changed hands.
A2: And he was still there then.
A: But then he went to Fords, which nearly broke his back 'cause they said, he was on the assembly line and they said to him, one man said to him, “Oh don’t break your back Tim,” he said, “You know you have to let some of the cars go.” He said, “But I can't, if I let them go something’s going to go wrong with the car.” He said, “You can't help it,” he said, “If you don’t let them go you'll break your back.” So my dad hurt his back because he wouldn’t let the cars go without the nuts and screws that were supposed to go in. So if a car falls apart you'll know why, [laughs]. And then he worked until he was 69 and a half, 'cause he went to Cape Asbestos as well. And he worked till he was 69 and a half. He wanted to make it to 70, so to get that little bit of extra pension, but he didn’t quite make it, he was taken ill, so he had to pack up work and then--,
A2: The damned asbestos.
A: Yeah, the asbestos from Cape got to him. So he was hoping, you know you would get to 70 and you'd get, I think it was a lot more benefits from the government, and of course, he totally missed out on all of it. Which was a shame. So, yeah that was my dad’s work thing. As I say, when Lawes’ stopped there was another fertiliser company took over and he did work there for a while as well.
Q: And do you have a sense of what he would have been doing when he was at work? I mean, obviously, you were a child or you might--,
A: Yeah. No--,
Q: But do you know actually what he would have been sort of involved in there?
A: I think he was more of what they call a maintenance man. And he used to sort of clean up after them as well, you know little bits of fixings here and there. And then when he got to a certain age he used to do their washing, he had an old twin tub. So rather the men go home in their dirty overalls he used to wash them. And there was also a piece of garden out the front and he used to maintain that as well, and he kept it all nice with a bench so they'd got somewhere to have their lunch, see. And he still did little bits of maintenance as well, but when he wasn’t doing that he used to do other things. And they were quite happy with what he used to do, and he enjoyed it, so that's where he stayed. Even when we moved to Thames View.
Q3: And how close, I'm just trying to get a sense for people who don’t know Creekmouth, how close was the factory? Could you see it from your home?
A: Oh yeah. Yeah, from where we were. We were number four, erm, in the cottages, and the, I suppose, just on the other side of this building, further along.
Q3: Close enough that yeah, you could see it--,
A: Oh yeah.
Q3: It was a presence.
Q3: It was always, yeah, you were never far away from it.
A: Yeah, it was very close.
A2: 100 yards.
A: 100 yards, yeah. As I say, we could see the, erm, fence, the iron fence from our back gate, where all the rats got thrown over. So, yeah, so it wasn’t far away at all.
Q3: And from, you were saying about, erm, yeah, kind of different smells in the air, growing up in Barking and sort of through your time in Barking could you see pollution in the air? Like would you be able to see things coming out of factory chimneys or?
A: Yes, all the time. There wasn’t much about clean air in them days, whatever had to go out went out, you know. Whether it was the power station, whether it was the glue factory, the smells just went up the chimney and into the atmosphere that spread around the neighbourhood. It wasn’t very pleasant. So this clean air was a good idea. Although there's a lot of pollution now with the diesels, but we didn’t have the diesels and the petrol that we have today, you just a few cars on the road, nothing much. The odd bus used to run down occasionally from Barking down to the power station and back again to take the workers, but not many vehicles at all. So we weren’t polluted by cars, but the factories, yes, you know just straight up the chimney. Whatever it was you were cooking at the bottom, out the top it went. And that includes home fires as well, because you know the coal wasn’t smokeless at that time, and they used to burn anything for warmth. And of course, a lot of it was for cooking as well, you had to have fires for cooking if you didn’t have a stove. So the fires had to be on all the time, so smoke, a lot of the time. And you'd see some kitchens they were black with the smoke that came into the rooms, so it wasn’t healthy to have it inside either, but there wasn’t a lot of choice, there was no other heating for some.
Q3: And do you visit, you know do you still go back to Creekmouth and visit?
A: We do occasionally. There's not much there, erm, as I say, the only building is the school, which is someone’s factory or a factory office. But there's an open space that the Environment Agency owns, and they’ve got some benches up there, and there's some plaques up there with information on them. And we've just had one put up there, the last one was the model village plaque with all bits and pieces on there. And it, I suppose it's nice to sit up there, look over the river, you know you can see the planes coming in down to Docklands as well now. But the skyline has changed dramatically to what it used to be. And where you can see up there the bits of grass and so on that is all new because the bank is further back, and if you remove the brambles and so on it's still there, you can see it. So, [clears throat], yeah, when we can get up there, it's not on a regular basis, but it's nice when we do. If you get a nice day, you get the breeze from the water and it's quite cooling.
Q3: Thank you. That's all my questions. I don’t know if anyone else has got any more questions?
Q: What brought your mum to Barking? You said about your dad, why did your mum?
A: Yes. She went to stay with her sister. I know she used to work, erm, in them days the people used to like have maids and so on, and servant girls and all the rest, and in Wales, erm, my mum was no different, she worked for this couple and they wanted her to go abroad with them 'cause they were moving, and they were very religious people, and my mum wanted to be a missionary as well, and you know. And in the end they went, my granddad wouldn’t let her go, so, I don’t know if it's defiance that she went and stayed with her sister in Barking, which was quite close to the Creekmouth. And then there was places in North Street that she stayed in lodgings, and friends, and so did my dad, and they met. So, I suppose it was to get away from her dad who was a bit controlling. As I say, she was a very religious person, my mum, you know church two or three times on a Sunday, etc. So she just moved away. And her sister was quite, I suppose her sister reminds me in a way of my older sister, you know quite rebellious, if I want to do it I'm going to do it, you know life’s too short, etc. And so, I suppose she went to stay with her sister who had already moved out, got her own place, married, etc. So it worked out quite well for her.
Q: And you did, erm, you mentioned about having a website and, I guess just for the sake of recording--,
Q3: I just thought if you could just tell, yeah, tell people listening about what Creekmouth Preservation Society is.
A: Okay. Creekmouth.net is our website. And the idea is literally, preservation. To preserve the history of, not just Creekmouth, but everything around it. All the, erm, as I say, the biplanes and Princess Alice, and all the other things that I mentioned. And there's also on the website it tells you about those. It tells you about some of the people that lived down there, and it's got some of their stories on there as well that they can relate. So, yeah it is just preserving everything that we can because the history has been lost. So once the history is--, we get it all together. There are lots of, erm, bits and pieces that are here at Valance that they’ve taken because it started as Linda Rhodes had an exhibition in Barking and it more or less escalated from there, you know a few of us got together and we thought, well it's a good idea to try to keep it all together. And we've been going since 2005?
A2: Something like that.
A: Yeah. So it's about 15, 14-15 years, something like that.
Q3: And how many people are involved in that?
A: On the actual committee--,
Q: It's a society--,
A: There is, erm, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight have regular meetings every few weeks. But there are a lot of postal people that, er, Maria actually keeps in touch with because she's got all their lists and so on, and we send them information, and she does the news letter quarterly. And they get calendars, which have got different pictures on them, at the end of the year, and she keeps them all in touch with what's going on. And then they try, you know help us out with different information, photos, anything new that comes up, you know they let us know about it. So, yeah, I think that's about it really, you know. Just--,
Q3: Thank you.
A: General knowledge of the creek and the areas that's been lost.
Q3: Thank you so much.
Q: Thank you. So, I think that concludes the interview, unless we have any further questions or comments from anyone else in the room?
A: No. [Laughs].
[END OF RECORDING - 1:01:02]