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Interviewee/s: Jim Albert
Interview Date: 18 October 2019
Interviewer: Nikki Shaill
Q: This is an oral history interview recorded by Nikki Shaill for The Barking Stink and Thames Festival Trust. I’m interviewing Jim, and we’re recording at Valence House Museum on 18 October 2019. So if we can start by asking for your full name.
A: It’s James Grant Albert.
Q: And your date of birth?
A: 19 December 1952.
Q: And where were you born?
A: I was actually born in Canning Town and then moved to Barking when I was four years old.
Q: And the name of your parents?
A: Jean and Harry.
Q: And what did they do for a living?
A: My dad worked at Beckton Gas Works. That was his last fulltime job. He did other jobs before that. My mum was a machinist and later on she become a cleaner.
Q: So what age did you say you were when you moved to Barking, sorry?
Q: Four years old, okay. So what memories do you have of Barking as a child? What do you think are some of your first memories?
A: So I lived down Howard Road, which comes off of Abbey Road, and I was there when the Gascoigne Estate was being built. I think that was in the ‘60s sometimes and that was a kind of playground for all us kids, climbing on the scaffolding, jumping in the sand. And then we kind of strolled down Abbey Road, and right at the end of Abbey Road was a – we used to call it the Bank, and we used to climb up there, and got a river, lovely, and that became our playground like, kind of. There used to be a big woodyard down there and odd bits of wood would be floating about, so we’d grab them and make them as our boats, and sail them down the river. I remember the tugs used to come along, bring the great big tree trunks for the match factory, and we used to wave at the tug drivers. A lot of them waved back but a few of them like, you know, “Get your arses out of here”. The times we fell in with the mud and everything, and a clip round the ear from the mother, “Don’t you ever go up there again,” “Yeah, alright.” Next day we’re up there again. Then further down was the rushing waters. I still remember the old lock gates that used to be there. That was great fun, jumping in at one end, swimming under the bridge and… How we survived, I don’t know. But they was good times growing up. And there was a real sense of community in them days, really nice. Literally everyone knew each other down the roads. Used to have our little gangs of kids but those were like gangs for playing, not like it is now, you know. But it was, it was a really enjoyable time, growing up in Barking.
Q: Did you have siblings? Did you have brothers and sisters?
A: Yeah, I’ve got a younger brother who’s two years younger than me, so more like mates than brothers, like. I’ve got two sisters, two younger sisters.
Q: And you were saying you weren’t actually meant to play around the river.
A: No [both laugh].
Q: It was out of bounds, but you went there anyway.
A: It was, yeah, but I – kids being kids – and this bank, I mean, it was actually closed off. Used to be like a kind of wire fencing along there, but that had been broke some time or other, so it was our little entry into there. It was just nice.
Q: So what age would you have been when you started playing around there, can you remember?
A: Oh, I’d say about eight, nine, something like that.
Q: And where did you go to school
A: Gascoigne originally and then to Park Modern.
Q: And what did you think of school?
A: Yeah, it was alright. You know, I was a bit of a nerd, I suppose. I think I only went in front of the headmaster once. But stayed on to take me exams, went to be a draftsman but I failed the final exams. I could have stayed on for another year but by this time me brother was out earning and I thought, well, he’s earning money and I’m not, so I left school, seventeen.
Q: So what age were you when you left, seventeen?
A: Seventeen, yeah.
Q: And what did you do then? What did you go on to do?
A: First job was in the post – used to be telecommunications in them days, down at, oh… I forget where it was now, it’s up London anyway. I still remember me wages as well, £7.10 a week, and I used to do ten hours overtime and my take home money was £11. I used to buy a Ben Sherman shirt every week, give me mum housekeeping money, plus all me train fares, and still have change at the end of the week. That was on £11, which is just impossible now [both laugh]. I was there for about a year and a half, I suppose, and then I got fed up with the travelling, and my brother was working in a woodyard down Thames View, and he was working in the sawmills, and he said to me, he said, “There’s a job going in the offices.” So I applied for that and become a wages clerk at Store Softwoods then I transferred from there to their sister company, Blackners. And I think it was from Blackners, I went to Silexine Paints down at Abbey Road, and I was there for thirteen years.
Q: And what was your role at Silexine Paints?
A: I was a paint maker, messy, dusty, smelly, but it was good. I mean, thinking back now with the health and safety we’ve got now – I mean, we used to make lead based paint and there’s like bags of lead powder, and they’d give us a little facemask and a pint of milk. I don’t drink milk so my mate used to have that. And that’s all it was, was just this little paper mask to stop the dust going down, you know. I mean, there was a forty-five gallon barrel with formaldehyde, and used to have to get about three grams of this to put in a hundred gallon batch of paint as one of the dryers, and you imagine having a little sample pot, right, and you’ve got a forty-five gallon drum, and you’ve got to get out of forty-five gallons into a little sample pot. Nine times out of ten it’s split everywhere. And I remember the smell of it like, you know, it just really turned your stomach. I couldn’t eat anything after that. I didn’t think anything of it. It’s only in later years, like if you checked up on formaldehyde, and I think how dangerous it was. Ammonia, again, forty-five gallon drums of that, and again you’ve got to get a little sample out of it to put in the paint, no protection [laughs].
Q: What was the milk for?
A: Apparently, when you was doing the lead based paint, right, like with the powder, they’d give you a pint of milk and supposed to counteract the powder.
Q: For you to drink?
Q: So that if you’d inhaled the powder, the milk was supposed to –
A: Yeah, supposed to neutralise it sort of thing.
Q: Wow [laughs].
A: That was health and safety in them days.
Q: And would you be – so apart from – you’d have the mask. Would you have gloves? Would you have any protective clothing?
A: You could have gloves but you couldn’t really work in them. It was awkward, like you’d have – ‘cos the bags would slip out your hand and things like that. Like you got – with the spirit based paints, you got white spirit on the gloves, then it’s just on your hands all the time, so it was better just to use your bare hands.
Q: And you said it was smelly, what kind of smells was it?
A: It depends on the paint. It’s so long ago, I can’t remember the exact paint, but it had a right pungent sickly smell to it, and it was okay when you was making it, all the raw ingredients. It was once it was made and then you’d got to pour it out and get it into the tins, and you’d just get a whiff of it. I mean, again it’s one of them lot, when it comes to the dinner break, you’d still got this smell inside, and you just couldn’t eat anything. But I mean, the gloss paint, that was alright, got quite used to that, and like the emulsions, no smell to them really. It’s just certain – and we had a little – it was a kind of shed out the back, and used to make oils and varnishes in there, and some of them, they smelt a bit. Plus there was a chemical factory next door to us, Barford Oils, and they used to do like oils, and so it was because of them that the Fishing Smack closed down.
Q: Why did the Fishing Smack have to close down because of that?
A: Well, we was working in – as I say, I started working in the Fishing Smack part time, and I was working there one day, I’ve gone down the cellar to change a barrel and just noticed a really pungent smell down there. So I called the governor down there and, “Cor, what’s that?” So we’ve had a good look round, and there’s this like thick black goo come through some of the walls. It was just getting stronger and stronger, this smell down there, and in the end he called an inspector down, right, and apparently it turned out to be this stuff called xylene, right. Now Barford Chemicals turned round and said, “Well, it’s got to come from the paint factory,” which was closed by now. So I went, “No.” I said, “I used to work there.” I said, “We never used xylene.” I said, “We’d never – nothing’s made with xylene in the paint.” I said, “It’s got to be from your factory.” “No, no, it ain’t.” Right, anyway, in the end the inspector – the environmental people come down, and there was a big silo out the back of their factory and it was xylene in it, and it had leaked into the ground. We end up – all of – well, the Fishing Smack – the fire brigade come down. The road was blocked. Nobody could go past ‘cos of the – I mean, it’s really explosive as well. I used to go down with a smoke in my mouth to change barrels. I could have just blown the place up. But they closed the road down. They did soil samples. Across the green, like opposite the Fishing Smack with the houses there, did all soil samples there. And so the road was closed for ages.
Q: What year was this, do you know when abouts?
A: Oh, I can’t remember what year.
Q: Roughly maybe.
A: [Sighs] 1990ish, I suppose, somewhere round that area, I’d say. My friend Jacquie Goosetree, she might remember the year, if we can get in touch with her about that. But as I say, it ended up it closed the pub down, just couldn’t reopen it.
Q: Wow, what a shame.
A: Yeah, it was the best pub in Barking as well. It’s a lovely place.
Q: So when did you say you stopped working with the paints? How long did you work there for?
A: I started in ’71, so it would have been ’84, something like that.
Q: And did you enjoy it, despite the smells? Were there good bits of the job?
A: Yeah, it was – it was only about twenty people, thirty people there, so it was really – it was more like a family, working there, you know. My mum used to do the cleaning there and that’s how I got the job. The only thing I didn’t like about it, I mean, I was still like a young ‘un then and I used to have hair coming right down me back and everything, ‘cos with the powder – and I was so proud of my hair. And when I went for my interview, Mum asked the works manager – I went up for the interview and there was two of them there, and did the interview and they said, “Okay, we’ll let you know.” And then Mum said when she went into work the next day, they said, “He won’t last two weeks here,” they said, “’Cos of his hair.” He said, “His hair’s going to get mucked up.” And so thirteen years later I was still there [laughs].
Q: So you didn’t cut your hair.
A: Oh no, cor, I wouldn’t cut my hair, no, no. Just a bobble hat, tucked it all up. And it was mainly when we was doing the – the paints we used for like the colouring like, you know, the bright yellows, bright reds, and the – the powder was in like a twenty kilo bag, and it was so fine. I mean, if you breathed on it, you got a cloud come up, and of course you’ve got to pour it into a little tiny funnel to get it into a ball mill for making it, and as soon as you get the funnel, of course you’ve just got great clouds of it coming up. Used to go home – I mean, sometimes, you know, just really tired, used to go home and just lay on the bed like and get up and my pillow’s just yellow [laughs]. Mum wasn’t pleased [laughs].
Q: What were the paints used for though? Were they industrial paints? Do you know where they were heading to?
A: Yeah. Originally we was doing all the road lining paints – that might actually be the one that had that horrible pungent smell. We had a contract with the council, did all the yellow line paints, all that sort of stuff. And then the industry was kind of moving away sort of thing to – then, as I say, there was Sherwood’s Paint just down the river to us as well, so we started getting more into like the gloss paints and emulsions. I actually made the gloss emulsions and the exterior paints, like stone paint and sand coat, and we used to make them in like a thousand gallon batches. It was tiring, heavy work but it was enjoyable at the end like, you know, when you’d just see all these bags of powder and kind of shoots of sand going into this thing, you know, and it comes out and you’ve got this tin of paint. There was a lot of satisfaction in it.
Q: And were there women as well as men all working in the roles?
A: Yeah, the women mainly doing the filling, filled the tins up. We was on the – I think we was on the fourth floor where we actually made the paint – no, third floor, and then the filling was done on the second floor. And so where the Malt House is now, where the Boat House Bar is, they’ve turned it into offices now, but before they did it all up, there used to be a hoist come out, and then from the hoist going down to the next floor, there was just a load of paint down the wall where – there was a fifty gallon kind of container of paint and we had to take it out on the hoist and lower it down to the second floor, and of course it just caught on the edge and over it went, so we decided to paint the wall.
Q: [Laughs] And you said that there was a chemical factory next door.
A: Yes, Barford Chemicals, they mainly did like oils and stuff. I mean, that threw up quite a few smells as well- the oil, ‘cos obviously cooking it, like. And I remember one of the other smells there – I’ve asked people but nobody seems to remember it, but it used to be – ‘cos we had dinner breaks, you know. On a summer’s day, we used to go and sit out, climb through the windows and just sit on the wall by the river, eat our sandwiches there. On certain days, there was a really sickly smell come over, and I asked about it at the time and one man said, “Oh, it’s embalming fluid.” And apparently there was a factory on the other side of the river that made embalming fluid. But everyone I’ve asked, nobody remembers it, and yet I distinctly remember that sickly smell. Depends what way the wind was blowing, you just got that sickly sweet smell come over. Horrible it was. And of course, depending on the winds, you had the Beckton Outfall, and that wasn’t sweet or – well, it was sickly but not sweet [laughs].
Q: And that was on, yeah, certain days.
A: Yeah, depending on the wind and I suppose how much they was pumping out at the time like, you know.
Q: So quite a lot of – yeah, quite a lot of different smells around Abbey Road.
A: Oh yeah, yeah.
Q: Were there any nicer smells to counteract it?
A: Yeah, there used to be Austin’s wood yard used to be right at the bottom of Abbey Road, by the bank, and you walked past there and you just got the smell of the wood. That was nice, just kind of fresh cut wood. That was a nice smell. So that unfortunately burnt down though. The caff, it seems to have been there forever, you used to get some nice smells coming from that [laughs], especially on a morning with a hangover. Walking to work and you’d go past there and there’s a smell of bacon roll. Yeah, there was a scrapyard down there, Howard’s Scrapyard, and that was just a smell of oil and old cars. Yeah, that was the – it was kind of the middle of Abbey Road really was where the – the smell factories were.
Q: And you talked about when you were younger, playing around that sort of area, down by the river. Can you remember any smells down by the river then?
A: Really only – so never took much notice as kids but the only one I can really recall is like the actual smell of the river, the mud at low tide, and again, coming from the sewage works, but I mean as kids it’s a rotten smell so, “Yay” [both laugh]. You know, it’s only as you got older like, you know, you kind of go, “Urgh,” you know, you realise what the smells are.
Q: And so what led you to then leave that job?
A: What, at Silexine?
Q: Yeah, at Silexine.
A: It closed down so I was made redundant. I was actually made redundant there twice. It closed down, I was made redundant, and then two weeks later another company bought it – ‘cos it was lovely, we got our redundancy money, two weeks holiday, start back to work. I think that lasted for about a month and then just couldn’t make a go of it so closed it down, like. I think ‘cos of the other – ‘cos it was only like a little independent paint factory, you know, and you’d got like big Sherwoods the other side of the bridge on the river, and then all the other big paint companies – and where we started off doing specialist paint, there was no more need for that. So as I say, they just couldn’t make a go of it and we was made redundant.
Q: And do you keep in touch with anyone you’d worked with there?
A: Yeah, my old foreman, George Taylor, I used to have a couple of social nights out with him. He was a pain though. Yeah, and a couple of my brother’s mates that worked there, lost touch with them now but when it first closed, yeah. I mean, ‘cos we used to go in the Fishing Smack anyway, so we was always meeting up in there.
Q: So the Fishing Smack was a real sort of hub for the local people.
A: Yeah, yeah. I mean, me and my brother –‘cos you’ve got kind of Fishing Smack and then Silexine Paint was right next door, it’s just like a dirt alleyway in between, so tea breaks, dinner breaks, we was running in the pub, having a quick pint. We got quite a few rackings off our governor over it, but – and we used to sneak out the back of the building, go across Barford Chemicals, go across their backyard, sneak down the alley on the other side of the Fishing Smack and go in the pub bar [laughs], you know. But where I was covered in dust and everything, I used to leave white footprints [both laugh], so they could tell where we’d been. And we sneaked out this fire door one day and we’d gone across, had a quick pint and were sneaking back, going up the steps to the fire door and it was closed. [Sighs] So we’ve had to walk back round and go through the front of the factory, and of course governor’s just waiting there, caught red handed, “Don’t do it again, boys.” “Yeah, alright” [laughs]. Next day… [both laugh].
Q: You did do it again [laughs]. So what did you do after you’d been made redundant the second time?
A: I started working fulltime at the – I was unemployed for a while, and the other pub I used to drink in was the Hope down on Gascoigne Road, and I was in there one day and one of my mates come up, he said, “Oh.” He said, “There’s a bloke down there wants to have a word with you.” So I’ve gone up, seen him, he said, “My name’s Harry.” I said, “Mine’s Jim.” He said, “You used to be a barman at the Smack?” I went, “Yeah.” He said, “Heard good things about you.” He said, “I’m a scaffolder.” And I’m thinking, so? So he went, “I’ve just bought the Smack.” He said, “I’ll be working all day.” He said, “I want you to run it for me.” So I went, “Yeah, okay.” So I started working there kind of fulltime, like running it during the day. Then he’d finish work, he’d come in about half five, six o’clock, have a quick pint, then he’d jump behind the bar and I’d come the proper side of the bar, finish off me drinking. Yeah, so I was working there for a few years or so, then that closed down and he took over the Red Lion, so I went there with him. I was like live-in barman there, worked there for a while, then started at Tesco’s just down the road, and then ended up at Comet down at Romford. Worked there for about nine years, got made redundant from there, then I was unemployed for about a year, and then started in Argos, which used to be right next door to Comet. So I started in there, did my final working years in there, and retired two years ago.
Q: And where do you live now? Are you still local?
A: I’m at Dagenham now, yeah, so still local. As I say, I’ve got me boat down the river, so I’m always down on the boat, nice summer’s day. Just nice to sit in the back of the boat.
Q: Tell us more about your boat. What kind of boat is it?
A: It’s only a little nineteen foot cruiser, and it’s a – you know, my mate, we used to always go to the Broads. Like my mate, when I was working at Comet, every year we went to the Broads, hiring out a boat. Started out, it was about £600 for a week, then over the years it was getting more and more, and I just said to him one day, I said, “I tell you what.” I said, “All this money we’re paying.” I said, “We could have bought our own boat.” “That’s an idea.” So we decided to not go on holiday the following year, we’d get our own boat. But unfortunately, he got leukaemia, so the plans all fell through. Then as I was saying, then Comet closed down, got made redundant, so I had my redundancy money, and the girl I was living with at the time, I said, “Right.” I said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “We can have a nice cruise.” I said, “Or we buy our own boat.” “Buy our own boat.” So I bought the boat, and I had a word with my mate, Greg, had a word with his wife. I said, you know, “I want to name the boat after him.” So I called it Greg’s Spirit. And as I say, it’s been down on the River Road – ‘cos me and this girl split up, so I moved the boat from her house, the nearest place was the road. I was going to take it straight down the Broads, but my daughter said, “How often are you going to get down there?” You know, “While you’re doing it up, keep it local.” So I thought, “We’ve got the River Road down there” [laughs]. Yeah, so it’s down there now. It looks a bit silly ‘cos you’ve got all the great big liveaboard boats down there and then you’ve got my little tiny nineteen foot sitting at the side of it. I picked the biggest boat to moor up to as well [both laugh].
Q: So what’s it like? You must get quite a different perspective of the local area from the river.
A: Yeah, it’s – you know, you can walk along Abbey Road, but you can’t really see the river properly. Down on the boat – it’s even better on a little dinghy. I’ve got a dinghy there as well, and just taking that along the river, you know, and seeing the old wooden posts and everything that the barges used to tie up to. It’s completely different when you’re down on the water looking up. But I mean, all of that’s been spoilt now with the flats, which I won’t go into ‘cos I do not like the flats [laughs]. That’s no character down there. And it’s a – you know, you’re getting all these new flats there now, and the – the kind of history of the river seems to be forgotten, and the character of the river’s changed. I mean, it’s not used now. Like we used to get the tugs down there. It’s a shame. I mean, especially now with the flats there, I mean, surely they’d love to sit out on their balconies and see the boats going past. Like, you know, you’ve got the big Town Quay there and it’s just silting up, not being used, you know. I’d love to see that dredged and put some like floating pontoons in there, have narrowboats going down, little visits. You know, moor up for a week or so, money for the council as well, charge for mooring fees.
Q: So you think at the moment most of the people now living there don’t use the river?
A: No. The only ones who use the river are the liveaboards, and that’s a kind of community within a community. I mean, that is still the – the true meaning of the word community. Everyone’s there to help everyone. Like, you know, if one of the boats has got to be moved, everyone jumps in and helps like, you know. Everyone knows each other. You know, you’ve got to go across other people’s boats to get onto your own one like, you know. Yeah, it’s a really nice community. And there’s a little bit of a walkway by the side of the boats as well, like on the bank. There’s all tables and chairs there like, you know, and a nice summer’s evening, sit out there, a few bottles of beer, barbeques we have up there. Yeah, it’s really – I think it’s the true sense of community, like. You’re kind of sitting there, looking across the river to the flats, and you see them up in their concrete blocks, and you’re thinking, this is the life down here. If I could afford it, I would, I’d get a bigger boat and live on the boat, but nineteen foot’s a bit too small. I’m only a small one, but… [laughs].
Q: Do you spend a lot of time on the boat?
A: In the summer I spend more time, ‘cos I’ve got no heating on the boat, so it does get a bit cold, it gets very cold, so in the summer. You know, even if I’m – you know, if I’m doing a bit of work, or even if I’m not, you know, and I’m just sitting indoors, I think, oh, I’ll go and sit down on the boat. You know, it’s just nice to sit on there like, and you’ve got the – well, it’s such a small boat, it rocks about. You know, I just sit there. I’ve got a few beers in the cupboard there, so a glass of beer, just sit on the back of the boat, bit of music on, and you’re in a different world. You wouldn’t think you was in Barking like, you know.
Q: And is the water pretty clear? Is there wildlife around there?
A: Yeah, the wildlife’s pretty good. Oh, there’s loads of fish, quite a good variety of fish. The last I counted, there was six egrets down there. You’ve got the cormorants. There’s four resident swans, two at one end of the river, two at the other. So where the boat house is or where my boat house is, is their kind of middle ground, but you get them up patrolling their grounds like, you know. Yeah, there’s swans there. Well, you can feed them by hand as well. Then obviously the seagulls. Yeah, there’s a good variety of – there’s even a kingfisher down there as well. You know, you just see a little blue flash and that’s it and you can’t see them anymore. Yeah, wildlife’s pretty good. And the water itself, I mean, it’s – considering how many fish are there – and you get the best of both worlds, ‘cos when the tide’s out, it’s freshwater coming down from the Roding, and when the tide comes in you’re getting seawater coming in, so you’re getting like the sea fish plus freshwater fish.
Q: Do you ever do any fishing?
A: I don’t, no. There is – you see people down there fishing. And I mean, they’re pretty big fish, that come out as well.
Q: So where your boat is, can you see where Silexine Paint used to be?
Q: You can see that old building?
A: I’m literally moored opposite.
Q: How does that feel? Does it feel strange to look at your old workplace from that perspective?
A: It was at first, like. I kept looking over there and kind of thinking “Yeah, I used to work there”- and trying to picture how it was, ‘cos obviously bits have been built onto it now and like certain bits are missing. It was trying to figure out of where everything was. I think it was a few months back now, me and my brother gone into the Boathouse, had a drink, and as we left we were trying to figure out where the Fishing Smack used to be like. And we’re kind of standing there, we’re looking at the buildings, saying, “Oh yeah, we used to come out of here and, yeah, it was slightly over this way.” And it worked out, it was roughly where the – there’s a supermarket there now, so it’s roughly where the supermarket was that the old Fishing Smack used to be.
Q: Do you think there’s – is there anywhere – new places for the community that sort of – in that area that replace what the Fishing Smack pub would have been?
A: Well, I’d say the best place at the moment for community is the Boathouse bar and caff. It’s a lovely place. Del and Alison, the owners, I mean, they’re a terrific couple. Del makes you feel so welcome. As soon as you walk in there like, you know, you feel as if you’ve been there for years. People in there, so friendly. You can leave your phone on the bar and walk out and come back, it’s still going to be there. Yeah, it’s a really – it is a good community feeling in there. Plus you’ve got all the art studios down there as well, so they’re getting quite a few of the community involved.
Q: Paint in a different way, probably [laughs].
A: Yeah, yeah.
Q: From one kind of paint, being used in the building to another [laughs].
A: Yeah [laughs].
Q: I’m interested to hear just a little bit more about your time at the Fishing Smack, because it’d be interesting to know any particular smells and aromas associated with time spent in the pub?
A: Well, in the pub it was mainly the beer smell. You can’t get away from that. But it’s if you was like standing outside, obviously you get the smells coming over. Could be the sickly sweet smell or the sewage smell, or the oil, if they was like cooking the oil. Yeah, so quite a few different smells around the pub, but once you’re inside, it’s just mainly the normal beer smell of a pub. Oh, and smoke, of course, ‘cos you was allowed to smoke in pubs in them days, good old days [both laugh].
Q: Did they serve food at the pub?
A: No, not really. They used to when – when I first started there, when Tom and Elsie had it, they used to do a bit of food, but it was mainly sort of pie and chips, that sort of stuff like, you know. When Harry had the pub, I think the biggest thing he ever cooked was a toasted cheese and ham, and that was it, or crisps. Like it’s a pub, not a restaurant, you know. But it didn’t matter when there was a caff just up the road, so, you know, people are hungry, go up there and have something to eat. But as I say, with this Boathouse now, I mean, it does a nice little menu there. I mean, it’s not like kind of cooked breakfasts or anything, but it does all paninis and Mama’s soup, which is nice on a winter’s day. Yeah, so it’s – plus I mean, you know, tea, coffee, all varieties of coffees there, teas. Then you go onto like the good stuff, the beers. And Del’s a cocktail maker, so he makes all the cocktails.
Q: I’ve heard about these cocktails. Quite a lot of local people mention the Boathouse cocktails.
A: Once you’ve had one, you remember them [both laugh].
Q: Do you have a favourite cocktail?
A: What I love about Del, he’ll do you a cocktail and the next time it might be different, ‘cos he’ll think, “Oh, I’ll just add a bit of this in it,” and he kind of improvises, you know. He made me a gin based cocktail once, I forget the proper name of it, you know, took a sip of it and it’s rather moreish. I don’t know what he put in it, but I had trouble walking home, I know that.
Q: And have you got any sort of favourite smells now just generally?
A: So the smells along there now, they’re – they’re not really there, you know, to how it used to be. I mean, you still get the smell of the Beckton Sewage Works coming up now and again, but like the sickly sweet smell, whatever that was, that’s gone, I’m glad to say. But now it’s just the – you walk down Abbey Road now and it’s just the smell of people cooking. So you might walk past the flats and there’s a smell of curry, go past another one and someone’s having a late breakfast or something. Yeah, it’s just normal household kind of smells really. And as I say, the character of Abbey Road’s gone. That’s why I don’t like the – the flats [laughs], it’s lost all its character.
Q: And what do you think it’ll be like in another ten years or so, can you imagine it?
A: Dread to think really. Hmm, I could imagine, with – with all these new flats going up – I know I keep on about these flats, but with all these new flats going up, and the sort of money they’re – they’re charging for it, I think it’s £240,000 just for a one bedroom flat like, you know. And you’re going to get the people in there that have got no interest in the river whatsoever. It’s like, “Oh yeah, it’s near to London, I can get to work,” no interest in the river. Because you’ve got the boats there that have been there for years like, you know, that people live on, that’s their homes, and they’re not – not all of them are kind of tiptop shape. So I’ve got a feeling there might be a bit , “Oh, I don’t want to look out the window at them,” you know what I mean, this sort of thing, and I’d hate it to happen that they turn round and say, “Well, you know, the boats are going to have to go” because of people moaning in the flats. I mean, once them boats go then you might as well say the river’s dead. I mean, it’s only really the boaters that care for the river, which is sad. It annoys me. Without that river, Barking wouldn’t exist. It’s only the river that brought the trade here and – I mean, biggest fishing fleet in the world and where is it? Barking, you know, and all the other industry that went along because of the river, and now it’s not even used, just neglected, silted up. It’s just such a shame, you know. I mean, done up, I mean, kind of dredged and everything, get the boats using it again, be a lovely little place. I mean, even with living in the flats, a nice little walk along there, put proper walkways in. I mean, there’s a couple of little narrowboats further down the river, towards Ilford, and the first bloke who moved down there, Paul, right, he’s started – he wanted to get the walkway going from there right the way to Ilford along the river. And I seen he was there with kind of a machete and stuff, just breaking down all the brambles, and he’s actually got the pathway going up there now, and now there’s a few of the residents on Arch Lane Estate opposite, they’ve come over and they’ve planted trees there and made benches for people to sit on, and I thought, well, this is people actually on the river. These people have lived by that river all this time and thought nothing of it like, you know, “Oh, it’s just a river.” But yet you get the boats come down, “Yeah, let’s do something with it. Let’s make it nice for the community.” You know, and… Yeah, the kind of council, they seem interested in the flats. That’s all it is like, you know, and you’ve got the – the history and heritage of Barking is – is made by that river, and they neglect it. That’s why I don’t like the flats [laughs], but I’m not going to get up on my high horse over them [laughs].
Q: I’ll change the question slightly then, and this is one of my – maybe going towards my last question, I’m not sure. You mentioned your dad worked at Beckton Gasworks.
Q: Do you remember anything about that from when you were a child? Were you aware of what his job was?
A: I remember like how dirty he was when he come home from work, ‘cos he was what’s called a stoker and used to rake all the coke out of the kilns. I mean, he used to come home and he used to be black. He actually got his fingers – ‘cos he got a lump of coke stuck in his finger and it got infected, so his finger ended up actually crossing over, and he’s now had it amputated just so his fingers are not crossed. And when we used to play pool with him in the Fishing Smack, I always used to try and leg the cue ball in the middle of the table ‘cos he couldn’t balance on his one finger [laughs]. Yeah, but I mean, he had it pretty tough at the Gasworks. As I say, when that closed, obviously he was made redundant there, you know. As I say, it seems all the old industries along there have all closed down, apart from Beckton Sewage Works [laughs]. Mind you, that big new sewage tunnel they’re building now, that might go as well. Doubt it, but… [laughs].
Q: And your mum you said worked as a cleaner?
A: Yeah, she was a cleaner at Silexine. I don’t know how many years she worked there. When that closed, the factory further along called Linnell’s. They used to make the mailbags and she was a machinist in there. There was her and me youngest sister was machinists in there. I had a job in there, didn’t last all that long. As they was machining – ‘cos it’s all kind of piecework, got to get as many done as you can like, you know. So it’s just lines and lines of machines, industrial machines, and they’re pumping out all these mailbags, and it was my job to go along and pick them up off the floor. It just done my back in. I used to go home and lay on the floor. Couldn’t lay on the bed like, you know. I think I only lasted about six months, if that. Yeah, terrible job [laughs]. But then that was a compulsory purchase order for that factory, so that was pulled down to make flats [both laugh].
Q: And were your parents from Barking?
A: No, Canning Town.
Q: From Canning Town.
Q: And do you know about your grandparents, where they’d come from?
A: I only knew my grandparents from Dagenham, like. My granddad used to be a docker down at the Royal Docks. I don’t think my nan worked. No, ‘cos it was that kind of era, you know, the man went out to work, woman took care of the house. Yeah, my granddad, he was a docker, and he used to bring a load of stuff home that he – you know, you’d get the sailors on the boats, all hand carvings and all this sort of thing. Used to bring them home. So he was a right old character.
Q: Do you remember any stories of his work?
A: Yeah, like some of the stuff he was unloading and – he told us once about – he was unloading bananas and he’s kind of putting the crates on or something, and this great tarantula’s come crawling out across his hand [laughs].
Yeah, it’s just some of the stuff that dockers got up to like, you know what I mean– well, like Arthur Daleys of their time like, you know, a bit of a rogue. You know, what they get off the boats and they can flog. Yeah.
Q: So quite a history of, yeah, being on the river or by the river in your family?
A: Yeah, I think it was destined for me to get a boat, yeah.
Q: [Laughs] I think that’s all my questions actually, Jim, unless there’s anything else you think you want to add to the interview that I’ve forgotten to ask about?
A: No, I think that’s about covered like, you know, most of my memories down there. Obviously a few more things will pop up once I get home, that’s always the way, ain’t it? But as I say like, you know, good old days, and unfortunately all gone now.
Q: Thank you for sharing your memories.
A: No problem.
Q: Thank you very much.
[End of recording 0:43:02]