Opposite our house in Kitchener Road was the London Transport Sports Ground. Although “out of bounds’ to us ‘local’ kids we used to sneak in anyway. London Transport buses, mostly RT’s but sometimes an RTL or a RTW, would bring the LT staff from garages all over London to play tennis, football and cricket on the expansive playing fields. The buses would be parked in the car park in front of the old, twenties-style wooden pavilion and we would roam all over them, and even sit in the drivers seat. Many of the buses which visited were fresh from an overhaul at London Transport’s AIdenham Works near Watford and I can still remember the heady aromatic smell of diesel and fresh paint on a hot summers day as we played hide and seek or “kingy”.
A 15-minute walk up Wadham Road brought you to one of the few remaining parts of Epping Forest. From here, it was possible to travel (or so it seemed to us kids) great distances without using any roads. Depending upon which direction you took when you entered the Forest, you could reach Highams Park Lake ( for fishing or boating), Napier Arms ( terminus of the route 625 trolley-bus which went to Wood Green) or Woodford Green, terminus of the route no 20 bus from Aldgate. By crossing Woodford New Road at this point, you could venture even further through the Forest and end up in Roding Valley or even Buckhurst Hill.
The third mecca for us kids was Lloyds Park. This was situated behind Walthamstow trolley-bus depot off Chingford Road. It was both a ‘recreational park’ - ie swings, slides etc., and an ornamental park with flowers and shrubs and a large playing field area.
In the 1950’s, Park Attendants -“Parkies” - patrolled the Park constantly on the lookout for bad behaviour. The favourite wind-up was to cycle along the pathways until a Parkie saw you and told you to dismount. Instead of doing so, you would instead turn around and cycle away. This would inevitably lead to the Parkie giving chase whilst shouting at you. The knack was to know the layout of the paths by heart so that you were able to get away and leave the park without being caught. It was usual then to lie up for half an hour, if possible with a bottle of Tizer, before venturing back into the park for another go at the Parkie. Ahhh - happy days!
In the early 1950’s my Dad used to take me to to Petticoat Lane and Club Row on Sunday mornings. Petticoat Lane was the name given to the street market which took place each Sunday. Real life “Del Boys” sold cheap goods in an auction type scam which fleeced unsuspecting punters. My Dad and my Uncle Bill were street-wise, however, and would watch as the mug punters were persuaded to put up 5 quid in anticipation of getting twice that value in goods back. They never did of course.
Club Row was different. It was like the equivalent of today’s car-boot sale, except there were few cars in those days, so the goods were bought and sold off an old bomb-site in Spitalfields. Anything from budgies to bikes, dogs to dungarees were traded over a 3 hour period from 9am to noon.
Dad bought me my first bike in Club Row in 1953 - Coronation year. It was a Raleigh and had a black frame, straight handlebars and a Miller dynamo set with a chrome headlamp.
Me, my bike and dog Sandy in 1953
It was my pride and joy and I religiously cleaned and maintained it. It became my means of exploring the wider east end of London.
I have always had an interest in maps. I learned to draw them at Junior school when Mr Ling was my teracher. In the 1950’s I studied road maps of the local area and came to be fascinated by that part of east London around Forest Gate, Plaistow and Canning Town. When I first had a bike in 1953, aged eleven, I used to cycle up Wood Street to the Hollow Ponds. By continuing on to the ‘Green Man’ at Leytonstone I found that I could cut across Wanstead Flats and be in Forest Gate.
Later on, I would cycle further south into Plaistow and then down Prince Regents Lane to the trolley-bus terminus at “The Connaught”. It was here that trolley-bus routes 699 and 697 from Chingford Mount and route 687 from the Crooked Billet terminated.
It was another world. An almost surreal one to me. Groups of hard looking men in flat caps milled around outside The Connaught public house and the nearby betting shop and cafe. Flat-back lorries carrying things enclosed in wooden crates, or mysterious unseen things covered by a tarpaulin, rumbled past. Beyond ”The Connaught” the road turned sharply to the right and then went on to the single track Connaught Swing Bridge which spanned the narrow cut between the Royal Albert and Royal Victoria Docks. Once across the swing bridge and into Connaught Road proper, the road passed under an elevated section of North Woolwich Road; the two roads merging into one just before Silvertown Station.
My return journey took me back up onto the elevated section where, on the right, number 19 Gate held sentry to the entrances to south-side Royal Albert Dock and to both north-side and south-sides of King George V Dock. From this elevated vantage point it was possible to look eastwards towards Gallions Reach and see a panorama of ships lining the quays along both sides of Royal Albert and King George V Docks.
View of King George V Dock Dock from lock entrance
A total of 32 berths were visible from here. In the middle 1950’s, every berth would have a had ship moored alongside and many would have had another lying at “second bottom” - ie moored alongside the ship at the berth quite possibly either discharging or loading goods from overside directly from lighters (barges) moored alongside the second ship. Giant quay cranes swung their derricks in great arcs over the berthed ships; their jibs luffing and yawing whilst lifting a variety of cargoes into and out of the ships’ holds.
Distant booming sounds carried across the berths as the cargoes hit the bottom of the holds. The sirens of tugs hooted as they fussed around a vessel about to depart. The deafening sound of a ship’s siren sounding three long blasts - the signal of a vessel about to sail - punctured the air accompanied by the belching of black smoke from the funnel. It was a scene composed of a mixture of British commercial energy, hard physical labour and unforgettable images, smells and sounds.
The first time I saw and heard all this it literally took my breath away. It has stayed with me ever since. It was also a defining moment in my life. It kindled something in me which eight or so years later would lead me on a career path which would see me working in those same docks. The East Ender in me would find its nemesis.
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