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Tom White's Interviews

Articles > Barking & Dagenham

Some Interviews
Tom White

Tom White recently interviewed some local people. He has very kindly provided us with some fascinating transcriptions of his conversations. The notes are self explanatory.

Joyce Rohbassen (nee Clarke)
Joyce was born in James Street, Barking near the Tabernacle. Her first memories were of a fire at the end of James Street. Joyce’s mother died when she was 4 months old. Her father was a volunteer in the First World War. She remembers her first  trip to the seaside at Shoeburyness when she was four years old. Her dad remarried, but Joyce did not get on with her stepmother so at the age of six she went to live with her grandmother.

When Joyce first went to work making wirelesses she  earned 11/9d (59p) for a 48 hour week. She did her courting in Longbridge Road by the park and shops.

Joyce Clark married a Swiss in 1939. She only saw her husband for about six months during their first two years of married life. She remembers  eating spam, spam and more spam, but she also went to the British Restaurant. For entertainment they played cards and listened to the radio. They were married for 41 years. Joyce worked as a nurse for 34 years. They did not go to church as they worked  7 days a week. She remembers that they got their first television in 1960. Their daughters watched this. Her husband worked in various jobs, including Victor Blagden’s on the A13 for many years. He died in 1990.

Joyce believes that the  best time of life is now.

Chris Goldsmith
Chris was born in 1929 and lived in Islington. She later moved to Muswell Hill. Her first trip to the seaside was to Southend and Devon when she was aged 3 or 4. During the war she went to Ramsey  in Huntingdon and then Great Granston. In the war the family ate at home as the government paid 6/6d [33p].

Her father was a welder and rejected by the army. After the war her father taught welding. Her mother made grey coats for the war effort  and also worked as a waitress. When the war started Chris was staying in Dawlish, Devon with an aunt. Family expectations were for Chris and her sister to get good jobs. The family had their first television in 1957 and listened to the radio a great deal.

Chris met her husband, who was a carpenter, in Jersey. They courted and married in 1959 moving to Chadwell Heath where they had 4 children that still live close by. Chris and her husband returned to the mainland as they believed it was a better place  to live and bring up children. They did not go dancing because her husband did not dance. Chris misses her husband, his comradeship and going to the theatre with him. She went to church when she was young.

Daisy Bishop
Daisy was born Daisy  Sinfild in Wood Street, Walthamstow in February 1934. Her father volunteered for the Army in 1938. When the War broke out Daisy and her mum were left on their own. Daisy’s family had no expectations of her because of the War. Her mother worked  in the shoe trade. When the factory was taken over for war work she went as a bread man. At first she pulled a hand cart but later had a horse called Peg. Peg got to know the round and where she could get food. It took a long time to complete the round,  but when she got near the end of the round she got quicker and quicker. The horse was put down after it had bolted. They ate a lot of pie and mash because it was not on ration, but the meat was not always lamb. Sometimes it was whale meat.

Daisy  spent a lot of time at the pictures seeing the film twice or more. She once went a boy called Reg Sillet, who lived down the road. Her mother got worried when Daisy did not come home after 6 hours. Her mother had Daisy’s name put up on the screen  and later got a wallop. She lived at home before she got married. They had a chicken named Harriet. One day a dog attacked the chicken in the back garden giving it a limp neck. Daisy’s mother pulled the bird’s neck and it recovered.

Daisy met her husband, at a blind date. They went out for two years, and often went dancing. Daisy was 19 or 20 when she married. Daisy did not listen to the radio and they did not have time to go to church.

Jean Wittred
Jean’s parents were born in Canning Town about 1903. She was born in Queen Mary’s Hospital, Stratford in 1934. The house she lived in was bought by her grandfather in 1928 for £450. Her first memory is going to school,  which was just around the corner from where she lived.

Her father made cash registers and her mother worked as a waitress and a general factory hand. During the War the family often listened to the radio, including Paul Temple and Itmar. Jean  was evacuated to Hertfordshire at Bent Pelham. She was about 12 years old when she first went to Ramsgate. Jean also remembers a day school trip to the Tower of London. The family normally ate at home and had their first television in 1956. They did not  go to the theatre. She went to church in the country, but does not go now.

Jean wanted to go into her father’s trade, in the office, but went into the clothing trade making Marks & Spencer’s shirts.

The Tom White Interviews (2)
Tom White

Our intrepid roving reporter Tom White has been out and about again interviewing local people for your newsletter. He has very kindly sent in seven reports.

Bill Law
Our member Bill Law, who was born in Perth Road, Barking in 1921, has  recently celebrated his 90th birthday. His father was a boiler man on a trawler which plied between Great Yarmouth and Barking. After a time he gave up the sea and got a job as a boiler man at Beckton gas works. Bill’s parents, William Samuel Law  (1889-1961) and Lydia Emma Linder (1899-1964) met in Back Lane, Barking by the River Roding. At the time of their marriage on 20th December 1919 he was described as a compositor living at 174 Perth Road, while she lived at 158 Perth Road. They ended up  living in Devon Road. When Bill, their third son, was born they moved to a new house in Sisley Road which they shared with another family. The other people moved out after a couple of weeks and Bill’s dad went to the Council and the Law family  then moved to Lambourne Road, where Bill has lived ever since.

The area around Lambourne Road was then just a field: and a brook ran by St. Patrick’s church and down to the Ripple Road between the do-it-yourself store and the cleaners.  The brook went round to Mays brook making it an island, which gave Upney its Saxon name. Bill remembers falling in the brook as a child and getting covered in duckweed. As punishment his mother said he would not be allowed on the Sunday school outing,  but eventually she relented. Bill remembers going to a fair between Ripple School and the Harrow pub in the twenties.

Bill went to Ripple Road School when he was four, but was not accepted until he was five. His teacher was Miss Pink and he later went to Eastbury Secondary School where his teacher was Miss Barns. One of the teachers lived in Grays and got a boy to carry a bag for him to the station for 3d. Aged 13, in 1935, Bill’s teacher wanted to enter him for an exam, but his father  did not want Bill to sit this as he had a job to go to at fourteen. Bill passed, but his father thought having a job was more important than staying on at school, so he went in the print trade in London as a reading boy and worked 56 hours a week.

Ripple Road School 1931

In 1941 Bill got the call up to an R.A.F station near Oxford and soon went to Egypt. He went by boat via the Cape of Good Hope. He stayed in South Africa and went into the Red Sea and up the coast to the Suez Canal. Bill’s job was to look after the guns because he was good with his fingers. Bill does not really remember food rationing, but he recalls horse meat being sold in the Broadway market. Bill’s parents are buried in Rippleside Cemetery.

Bill was forced to retire when he was 67. He did not wish to leave, but does not miss work now as he has many interests. Bill was confirmed in Egypt and did at one time consider going into the church. He likes to lead the midweek services at St. Patrick’s but would not like to be a vicar. Bill never married as he feels he is too selfish and a wife might stop him from going to see his beloved West Ham United play football. One of Bill’s hobbies is going to the theatre; seeing the opera at Sadlers Wells: a pantomime at Christmas and music hall shows.
What does Bill make of life now? He thinks how hard it was for his mother’s generation and that we have it made now.

Bill Law (left) going to Saddlers Wells with a friend

Fred and Vera Mansfield
Fred was born in Barking in 1933 and baptised at St. Margaret’s Church. His parents were Henry James George Mansfield and Lucy Florence Mansfield of Perth Road. By coincidence Bill Law’s parents, who also  lived in Perth Road and Fred’s parents lay resting near together in Rippleside Cemetery. Fred came from a large family of ten and was evacuated to Warminster in the war. One week Fred was taught in the morning and the following week in the afternoon.  His mother kept chickens in the war and made her own brawn. He left school and started work at Manor Joinery Works before going to Beckton Gas Works where he qualified as a pipe fitter and plumber.

Vera was born in Plaistow in 1936. Her parents  came from Stepney, near to the scene of the siege of Sidney Street. Vera was an only child. She was evacuated to St. Albans with her mother for a little time. She went to school there but when she came back to London she left school and went on to Pitmans  College and secured a job as a filing clerk with the Electricity board.

Fred and Vera went on a blind date at Easter to Hampton Court with Fred’s brother and another friend. They also enjoyed ballroom dancing and went on long walks. They  married in June 1959 and have two children.

Tom asked Fred and Vera if it was better living now or in the past. Both replied now as we have central heating and no ice on the bathroom flannel. Fred added that he would like to go back to work  for a rest – but that’s another story!

Edd Westcott
Edward Westcott was born at 17 Madras Road, Ilford in 1921. When he was young food was difficult to come by for him and his family and it was certainly not the “good  old days” After a lot of jobs Edd got a job as an HGV driver, driving a steam lorry at 25mph maximum. Later he went into tanker driving. Edd worked a 76 hour week for the wage of £1-2s-6d [£1.12p] and 5 shillings [25p] for stopovers, that  was meals and lodgings. This was a decent wage in those days.

During the war Edd was in the R.A.F as ground staff, and got promotion and was sent to Egypt, Cairo, Alexandria, Tabruk, and then on to Greece. He certainly saw a bit of the world.

Edd met his wife, Doris Poulter, at the Ex Serviceman’s Club by the Westbury at Ripple Road, Barking. They visited Hainault Forest and Wanstead Flats during 1940 wartime. They married in May 1946 and lived at Sebastian Court before moving to the  Eastbury estate in 1971. They spent most of their holidays in Great Yarmouth, Hemsby and Cornwall. Edd’s wife sadly died on 29th February 2008 and is much missed. Life for Edd is very good with his daughter and son-in-law and his dog.

Phyllis Hutton née Stevens
Phyllis was born at 103 Hunters Square, Dagenham on 27th January 1933. Her father came from the Isle of Wight. She was one of 7 children, having three brothers and three sisters. She remembers being evacuated to Wells  in Somerset with her gas mask and a bag of food but did not like it there so came back home. Phyllis attended Park Senior School. After a while the family moved to Reed Road where her father made a garden that many people came to see. She remembers that  there was not much bombing in Dagenham but recalls being hungry. Her first job was making hats for Jacqmar. Phyllis also worked for the food shop Wallis in Ripple Road; Plessey’s, where she made televisions and had a very good job with Dunhill's.

Phyllis met her future husband at a cinema where they both worked. She was an usherette. Her parents did not like him at all. They got married in 1953 and were together for 27 years before he walked out on her for an older woman. Phyllis  was left with the children; 2 boys and three girls. She also has many grandchildren. Most live nearby.

Phyllis went with a friend to a singles club and met a man which turned out to be the best thing to happen to her. She has been attending St. Patrick's Church for 12 years.

Doreen Cooper
Doreen was born in Leyton in 1932 and was evacuated to Durham during the war. This was very different to what she had been used to and the family moved back to Stepney after the war. Doreen had a variety  of office and shop jobs and also worked as a barmaid. She met her husband at a dance at The Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford. They both often went dancing at the Tottenham Royal, but did most of their courting in the back row of the cinema. Doreen remembers  war time rationing and had corn beef and mash, and pie and mash in the services café. They had holidays at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. She sadly lost her husband in 1988. Doreen is happy and has a good life.

Tom Baker
Tom was born  in Stratford, London E15 in 1930. He was evacuated to a manor house in Sherringham, Norfolk where he was a kennel boy. Tom says “One September morning in 1939 my sister and I were waiting, just what we were waiting for we did not know. All we knew  was that war had broken out and we were to be evacuees. My sister was only six years old and I was nine years old. We were waiting at Dagenham Dock with a large group of children and were to be taken to a place of safety, safer than the London area. My  sister and I had on our backs a type of rucksack that our mother had made for us. These contained our clothes, also slung over our shoulders were our gas masks in a square cardboard box on a piece of string. We were told to get ready to move off. As we  did something fell at my feet. Looking down I couldn’t quite comprehend what it was. Suddenly I recognised it was my gas mask and someone yelling out ‘someone’s dropped their gas mask’. It had dropped out of the bottom of the  cardboard box. This small confusion was a taste of what was going to happen to us. We regarded it as a great adventure. It transpired that we were going on board a boat. The boat was either Royal Daffodil or Royal Sovereign. These were paddle steamers  which were large pleasure boats. They went from Tower Pier to Southend-on-Sea or Margate. The thing that stuck in my mind as a young boy was the large paddles on each side of the boat as they churned up the water. The boat trip was uneventful.

Sometime in the afternoon we disembarked at Great Yarmouth. We were taken to a nearby school and went into a large hall. Here we were fed and watered. When we had finished this we were brought into another large room. On the floor in neat rows were straw  filled paillasses and blankets for our beds for the night. The next day we were taken by bus to Upper Sherringham in Norfolk! My sister Phyllis and I were separated. She was billeted with the lady that owned the sweet shop (how lucky was that!). I was  billeted at Sherringham Hall. The night was spent in an upstairs room which I shared with four other boys. I think it was the next day that I went into the village and was told my sister Phyllis had been kicking up a terrible fuss and she was sobbing  and not eating and saying she wanted her Tommy. So it was decided that a place was to be found where we could be together. Mr. & Mrs. Warren came to our rescue. They were a couple who lived in Hall Cottage. It was part of Sherringham Hall above the stables.  For us it was idyllic. We were in paradise.

Not long after, the Cox boys blotted their copy book. They managed to move a very large garden roller that had been left unattended on a slight rise. The Cox boys managed to move it to a steeper slope  and gave it a push down the hill. One of the boys had foolishly decided to ride on the handle. Luckily he soon got thrown off as the roller soon bounced its way through the fence of a small chicken farm. The squire was sent for and the boys were split  up and sent to separate billets. However in a very short time they were sent packing and returned to London.

We went to school one week in the morning and the following week in the afternoon. The village children attended in the afternoon one  week and the following week in the morning. We did learn so many country things. We were told to make sure that one trough was filled with water and the other filled with food. We fed the pigs on swill that was a kind of oatmeal mixed with water. We also  collected acorns and crab apples. The best job of all was to occasionally to clean the pigsty. This was a bit of a smelly job, but we really loved it as it made us feel that we really were country children. There was no bathroom, but there was a hip bath.  The very first time I was put into it the hot water made me relax the muscles of the bladder, but the jet wasn’t very high anyway. I was told that I was a very naughty boy. I have no other memories of the cottage although I do remember my mum and  dad came to visit us. Mr. Houghton the farmer drove us to Cromer in his car and then drove them back. It was only a short visit, probably to satisfy themselves that we were all right. My memories of the village and its good people are that Mrs. Warren's maiden name was Pegg. Her mother lived on the corner with Mr. Billy Pegg. Their son worked on one of the farms where they kept a large bull which had a large ring through its nose. If it had ever got out and run riot it would have done as much damage  as the Germans could have done. There was an inlet pipe that the villagers got their water from. I assume it was drinkable. On leaving the village there was an old house that had a cobbled stone wall around it. One day I decided to see what was behind  the wall and found an enclosed orchard. It was late autumn and there was not much fruit except for one tree with the most wonderful looking apple. It was like the Greek legend. I picked it and ate it and yes it was like ambrosia. It occurs to me now this  was someone’s prize possession. One day a boy called Francis and I intended to walk across the Golf Links to the top of the cliffs. Seeing a golf ball I picked it up. This really caused a commotion as two men in the distance started jumping up  and down and shouting at us. We ran and I never did get to the cliffs.

When spring time came it brought forth wonderful primroses. I also saw a ploughman at his work with his horse drawn plough. It was a wonderful sight to see such craftsmanship.  Another memory was seeing mistletoe growing on the oak trees. All of this I would not have seen if I had not been an evacuee. That Christmas we received a Christmas present in the Sunday school. Phyllis my sister got a red silk rose. I wonder what children  would think of it now. In early 1940 an army camp was set up. By July or August Phyllis and I were re-evacuated as we were too near the army camp. But that is another story”.

Tom went back to London in 1942. His first job was in a gentleman's outfitters. In 1950 he applied to work as an overseas telegraph operator. His experience as a telegraph operator during his National Service helped him to get this job. This work took Tom all over London and the Home Counties. Tom lived with his mother  in Chadwell Heath. He married in 1962 and got a place of his own in 1964. He moved to Barking in 1967 when the children were born. Tom spends a lot of time at the allotment. He also enjoys reading and has a dog. Tom does not believe in God. He believes  life is better now, but not happier.

The Tom White Interviews (Continued)
Tom White

Our intrepid roving reporter Tom White has been out and about again interviewing local people for your newsletter. He has very kindly sent in four more reports.

John Michael Blake (Our Chairman)
John was born in the East End Maternity Hospital, Commercial Road in 1948. His parents were Joyce Warren and Don Blake. John has a younger brother who lives in King’s Lynn. Joyce, his mother, was buried in an air-raid during the war when her home suffered a direct hit from a German bomb and developed epilepsy as a result. John attended Becontree Heath  Infants School and then Becontree Heath Junior School, which was then, a decaying Victorian building that had been used as a mortuary during World War II.  John remembers that if all pupils were in class some had to sit on  the floor. He was bullied by a teacher.  In 1955 the school still had coal fires in each classroom and the pupils’ toilets were outside. The school was finally demolished in the early 1960s.

John Blake wearing hooped pullovers

John later went to Warren Junior School and then to Warren County Secondary School in 1959, which he left in 1964 with  no qualifications. A teacher comment in his school report maintained that "mathematics is a complete mystery to John and suspect it always will be". Following a test at Warren Junior School John was moved from the "C" stream to the "A" stream. He was  greatly shocked and really struggled as John did not have the educational grounding of his classmates. However he did win the lower school art prize and, not surprisingly, the upper school history prize!

John worked as a Saturday boy at Matthews Horticultural shop in Chadwell Heath. After leaving school in 1964 John started work at Hampstead Central Library in 1964 and set about getting his "O" and "A" level qualifications. John went to the University of Wales at Aberystwyth  in 1979 and graduated with a second class honours degree in International Politics and Librarianship.

Family holidays started when John was 11 or 12 years old, staying in an uncle’s caravan at Clacton.

John used to be an avid collector, but only collects postcards now. He wishes he had retired at 55 when he had the opportunity as John finds retirement marvellous and takes advantage of the freedom to get up and go anywhere and travel as much as he likes!

Len Clarkson
Tom’s old friend Len Clarkson was born in Laindon, Essex (by coincidence where Tom was also born) in 1940, but moved to Manor Part where he was brought up. His parents were Frank and Florence. The family lived in High Street North,  Manor Park. Len had a brother and two sisters. His father worked for British Railways as a station and train ticket collector until retirement.  Len’s first school was in Kensington Road. He then went to Cornwell Secondary Modern where Len passed  the 13 plus examination which allowed him to attend Poplar Technical College.

Len’s first job was in engineering with Fraser & Fraser at Bromley by Bow with a starting wage of 2 guineas (£2.20) a week. When he left there he joined British Rail at their Stratford Depot where he served a five year Indentured Engineering  Apprenticeship. A back injury led to Len moving into the drawing office. Subsequently he joined a United States oil and gas equipment company in London where he stayed for 33 years until taking early retirement.

Len met his wife Pauline at a Youth Club at East Ham Baptist Church. They went on many rambles around Essex and visited various shows in London with the theatre club. They married in 1967 and had two children. Len and Pauline now have two  grandchildren.
Tom and Len were in the Boys’ Brigade together. Len joined as a boy in 1949 and was with the Third Thames side Corps (previously known as the Second West Essex Corps) until it closed in May 1993

Len and a number of older Boys’ Brigade boys formed a skiffle group and actually won a local talent competition. They also played at Stratford Town Hall on the same billing as Little Laurie London.

The church is a big part of Len’s life and is still involved today. He believes his life has been blessed in many ways and Len continues to help out with the Boys’ Brigade but, in a much smaller respect – as a helper.

Len Clarkson (left) and Tom White

Harry Dowding
Henry Albert Dowding was born in his grandfather’s general store Bow, E3 in 1929. His parents were Henry William Charles Dowding and Winifred Wright. Harry went to Three Mills Lane School, Stratford. The family home was bombed so their  landlord rehoused them at 19 Harrow Road, Barking. His future wife lived at number 64. Harry then attended Eastbury School from 1941.

Harry started his first job in a shipping office at the age of 17. He then volunteered to join the Royal Air Force as Harry did not want to go into the army. Harry was soon sent to Anglesey and then to Church Fenton. Later Harry served overseas  in Singapore at a place called Kelantan on the Malaysia peninsular. He was engaged in ground control and saw no fighting. Harry found the Malaysians very friendly, but some resented the servicemen because they had money.  The Japanese were hated and had  only left two years earlier. The camp was very nice with lots of sports facilities including six tennis courts, a good cricket ground and football pitch. The food was good. Harry signed on for six years with the Royal Air Force and left in 1952.

Harry courted his wife for about three years when he was on leave. They managed to see a lot of each other and went to shows, played tennis and cycled. They had two children, a son and a daughter.

After leaving the Royal Air Force Harry went back to the shipping office. There was not that much business and he was made redundant. Fortunately he secured a job in the post office where he stayed until he retired.

Family holidays were mostly taken in Devon as they had relations in Newton Abbot. Harry’s wife has recovered very well from a stroke which she had five years ago although her speech is a little slow.

Edd Westcott
Edd Westcott was interviewed last year (See 2011 Newsletter page 24). He is now in a home, but his daughter Jean has kindly provided some information about Edd’s family and school and his son has given details of his father’s  service in the Royal Air Force.

Edd and his brother

Edd had one brother, one sister and a step sister named Chick. The family was poor, shoes were repaired with old tyres  and holes in clothes just patched up. Edd went to school in Uphall Road, Ilford. The school was very strict and the cane and slipper used always being used as punishment. Edd once broke his ankles getting away from a teacher.

Edd was called up to serve in the Royal Air Force in engineering. After training he served overseas in North Africa at El Alamein before moving on to south Italy when he was promoted to being a dispatch rider. Unfortunately he suffered a motor bike accident  while bunking off duty with some mates. The handlebars went into his leg and he was hospitalised. The British requisitioned a German staff car with an officer. Aircraft fuel was stolen. This had to be diluted with paraffin to prevent it from damaging  the car’s engine. As it was a German mechanic had to be taken from a prisoner-of-war camp to service the vehicle. The photographs show the car.  Edd made his son learn by heart his Royal Air Force number 2194396

Edd married Doris Poulter at St. Margaret’s church, Barking on 28th May 1946 and had a son and a daughter. The  family lived at 151 Ripple Road and always had dogs. They had three Border Collies, the first one in 1972.

Edd was discharged in 1946 and got a job driving for Brooks. In 1960 he went to the Fresh Water Estate driving fuel tankers for Abco petrol. Edd drove in the 1990s tanker drivers’ strike.

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