Forgotten Stories – the colourful language of the Royal Docks

Forgotten Stories – the colourful language of the Royal Docks

Respected journalist and historian, Colin Grainger, reflects on the colourful language used by the people who lived in and around London’s Royal Docks in its heyday, taking good care not to overstep the mark… These are the phrases and sayings that have been part of life in and around the Royal Docks community since well before I was a twinkle in my mother’s eye. Much of the language originated in poverty – imagery that summed up poor lives. Many areas of London are considered to be ‘cockney’, but in truth, the old county borough of West Ham, and the sub-districts of Canning Town, Custom House, Silvertown and North Woolwich have probably the best claim. They represent the pushing out of the East End by industrialists who escaped legislation and restrictions by crossing the River Lea. The phrases and sayings we have used bring humour into play and keeps the conversation flowing – something we are really good at in our manor. Robert Barltrop, a great columnist for the Newham Recorder in the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s told me a joke that he described as a ‘Cockney life story in two sentences A girl is alone with her grandfather and tells him: “Grandad, I’m in the family way.” He replies: “Wait till you are my age darling – you’ll be in everybody’s way.” It was pure joy getting people to relate the sayings that have helped keep them alive. My nan Judith Myers used a phrase that has always stuck with me to describe déjà vu or Groundhog day, perhaps with a slight twist: “It’s the same meat, different...
Forgotten Stories – child’s play

Forgotten Stories – child’s play

Respected journalist and historian, Colin Grainger, looks back at the games played by the thousands of children who grew up around London’s Royal Docks in its heyday. They are the games that have stood the test of time. Each generation had its own favourites and passed down the laughs and memories to the next in the Royal Docks community. My earliest memory of those days is playing out in North Woolwich. The family who lived in the end house of Auberon Street must have either been angels or hard of hearing as my friends and I, aged about five, painted a goal in black paint on their end wall in Newland Street. We only painted it once and it was still there 30 years later! On the other side of the road on the dock fence in Newland Street, we had to use white chalk taken from our classroom at Drew Road School, Silvertown to draw a goal of roughly the same size. We couldn’t paint it as the dock fence was black and it was redrawn hundreds of times over the years. That’s where we played football on the shortest of pitches – just the width of the road and two pavements. Matches were normally around three or five a-side. The floor was cement or tarmac. But it wasn’t much harder than the cinder pitch in Royal Victoria Gardens! With so few cars in the late 50s and early 60s we also used to have bigger, 11 a-side (or more) matches over half the length of Auberon Street. Many times they featured our parents or older friends. Alan Morris...
Forgotten Stories – the Ronan Point explosion

Forgotten Stories – the Ronan Point explosion

The shocking events of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 immediately brought back vivid memories of the Ronan Point tower block explosion. Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the accident, which killed four people and injured 17 more. A domestic gas explosion on May 16, 1968, led to the partial collapse of the new development in Canning Town, which had opened for residents just two weeks earlier. A subsequent government inquiry revealed that no laws had been broken, but recommended significant changes to the existing regulations. A vivid look back at the accident, featuring eyewitness memories, as well as archive film and photography material, has been put together by Ricky Chambers. Click through to his Vimeo page to watch the full...
Forgotten Stories: the pubs of London’s Royal Docks

Forgotten Stories: the pubs of London’s Royal Docks

Respected journalist and historian, Colin Grainger, gathers memories of the dozens of pubs around London’s Royal Docks, from the people who frequented them on a regular basis during the industrial heyday of the area. Much of the attention regarding the regeneration of London’s Royal Docks is understandably focused on the large-scale projects that will bring businesses and communities back to these iconic East London waterways. But there are some smaller success stories that bring back fond memories of social lives of the people who lived and worked around the Royal Docks. A Fuller’s pub will be the latest addition to the Royal Wharf development in West Silvertown. The 7,000 square foot bar will open later this year, with a 2,000 sq ft area for outdoor dining on the riverside. Details are expected to be announced soon of another bar to be built in North Woolwich – on the other side of the tracks to the Henley Arms And another application has gone to Newham Council for licensing and music and dance entertainment for the Lockside Kitchen and Bar in Aird Point in in Lockside Way, North Woolwich/Beckton, near the Gallions Point Marina. Earlier this year we wrote about Husk Brewing, the first brewery to be established in Silvertown. Earth Station in North Woolwich, meanwhile, focuses on brewing world-class beer with a social conscience. These good news stories hint at just how important pub culture was to the past communities of the Royal Docks. Since the 1970s, 53 pubs have closed in the E16 Royal Docks postcode area, made up of Silvertown, North Woolwich, Custom House and Canning Town. Of...
Forgotten Stories – the sweet taste of Silvertown

Forgotten Stories – the sweet taste of Silvertown

Respected journalist and historian, Colin Grainger, collects the memories and experiences of the people who lived and worked around the Royal Docks in its heyday. When it comes to the nicer side of life, many locals can still taste and smell the fruit that was brought into local homes by their dock-working parents, relatives and friends. “We hadn’t had apples, oranges, melons, strawberries and such luxuries for many years, so it was a real joy when ships delivering those goods made it to our shores,” recalls Bill Grainger, aged 90. “Many of them were acquired, how shall we say, a little irregularly. But we made the most of them. Apple pies cooking in the kitchen. I can still taste them now. “The smell of molasses from Lyle’s Plaistow Wharf factory in West Silvertown was pleasant. And of course, everyone remembers their first beer. But when we lived in a prefab, there was a baker on the corner of our street and Albert Road. The smell of the bread from Haas Bakers was something else. They had to have police protection during the war because they were German, but the smell of that bread was magical.” One smell that came from households rather than factories or shops was that of traditional bread pudding! That waft got a thumbs-up from everyone. And, of course, the sweet smell of sugar still permeates the air today at the Tate & Lyle factory in Silvertown. Bill has a lifetime addiction to Toblerone chocolate. That came from his mother Emily working in the Keiller’s chocolate, sweets and marmalade factory. “She used to bring them home...
Forgotten Stories – the smells of Silvertown

Forgotten Stories – the smells of Silvertown

Respected journalist and historian, Colin Grainger, gathers vivid memories of the exotic aromas experienced by the people who lived and worked around the Royal Docks in its heyday. The Royal Docks area has a rich history in every sense – literally. We’ll often think back to the events of our manor and the sights we have seen. But the smells and tastes also leave memories captured forever in our brains. A candidate for the worst smell in the Royal Docks community must be The Rotunda. Or as most of us locals knew it and still know it – The Iron Lung. You had to catch your breath and have lungs of steel to survive having a pee in the Grade II listed Victorian cast iron urinal weighing over a tonne. It was used by generations of dock workers and pub goers, from shortly after World War II. The gentleman’s pissoir by CS McDowell is the only surviving circular public urinal in London, and was listed in 1983. People in Newham have wanted to know for nearly 25 years what happened to one of their local landmarks. It was said to have been admired by the Americans who wanted it as a tourist attraction. Rumours have also abounded that the circular structure had been demolished. But now the answer to the question: ‘Who has taken the pissoir’ can be revealed. It is still close to home. After the closure of the docks in the 80s it gradually deteriorated and Newham Council eventually sold it off to the now defunct London Docklands Development Corporation for £1. The body received bids from...