Forgotten Stories: hop-picking in the fields of Kent

Forgotten Stories: hop-picking in the fields of Kent

For many Royal Docks area families it was their only holiday. The working and living conditions would have today’s ‘elf and safety police up in arms. But as journalist and historian Colin Grainger recalls, it’s almost impossible to find anyone who didn’t love hop-picking in the fields of Kent. There were songs, laughs and happy days galore as one Canning Towner, who went from the age of nine months to nine years recalls. “My first thoughts are of messing about in streams with tiddler nets, finding wild rabbits, lying in hammocks that my dad would hook up between poles with heavy string vines,” said June, who was still hop picking when the Fab Four were dominating the charts. But it wasn’t Strawberry Fields Forever for her. It was the hop fields, and all that entailed. For many families from Canning Town, Custom House, North Woolwich and Silvertown, working holidays were the thing. Everyone would join in and travel to ‘the country’ as we called it, to go hop-picking. It was a time for a taste of proper fresh air in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s for thousands from the Royal Docks area. A brief respite from the area… ‘where even the birds had coughs!’ For many youngsters, the entire six weeks school holiday was spent in the fields. “It was out time away from The Smoke,” said Hettie Stevenson. “We were in a place called Horsemonden, My main memory was of the last day when the farm worker with a lorry came round and would throw Bramley seedlings, great big apples to the kids to take home. We...
Forgotten Stories: Black Saturday

Forgotten Stories: Black Saturday

Attacks from the air during World War II had a devastating effect on London’s Royal Docks and the people who lived and worked in the area. The bombings began in July, 1940, but the start of what’s known as The Blitz was marked later that year by Black Saturday. It was reported that 348 German bombers, accompanied by 617 fighter planes attacked London on September 7, 1940. Around 1000 bombs and other incendiary devices were dropped on strategically important areas, like The Royal Docks. One hundred and forty six people were killed in East and West Ham alone, with the death toll across London reaching close to 500. Many stories of that dramatic first weekend of The Blitz were collected by London Borough of Newham Heritage & Archives. You can read this remarkable document here. Arthur Dance was 11-years old at the time of the bombings: – “I was down Rathbone Street; there was quite a mob of us and it was a red hot day. The planes came over and the bombs were falling before the sirens had even gone, and we just made one dash for it. We didn’t even know what was going on. We knew it was war but being kids of 11 we had never seen anything or heard anything like it before – it was quite a shock. “A sister of mine was running up Hermit Road looking for us; she dragged us back home; she threw us down the shelter. My sisters were lying on top of all us young ’uns and we lay there like that for two and a half...
Forgotten Stories: The Ferry Festival

Forgotten Stories: The Ferry Festival

Local journalist and historian Colin Grainger recalls some of the many Forgotten Stories from Ferry Festival events of the past. It means so much to everyone, even though it is one of the most recent of our stories. It is the community’s way of showing that an incredible spirit exists in our special place. It’s our way of – politely – sticking two fingers up to anyone who dares to suggest the soul of our community is lost. The event really captured the joy of the ‘good old days’ on our manor. The first Ferry Festival took place in 1974. It saw everyone coming together to celebrate the unique nature of the ‘island’ community in North Woolwich and Silvertown. It was by the people and for the people. And like many good things, it came about over a few beers In the early 1970s the Royal Docks area was finding it hard. The closures of the docks and many local factories changed the community – and also relationships within families. There was resentment that national and local governments weren’t doing enough for our area. But against this backdrop, the fightback began…in the most unusual of ways.   Locals decided they needed a fillip for the community. The idea was mentioned of having a local festival. One member of the first group that got together was Fred Bowyer, who sadly died a few weeks ago aged 80. Speaking 14 years ago, Fred said he and a friend Mickey Rutter, had seen a short video from friends in Poplar who had staged a community event. It then got mentioned over drinks...
Forgotten Stories: the miracle of Grenadier Street

Forgotten Stories: the miracle of Grenadier Street

Local journalist and historian Colin Grainger recalls the miracle of Grenadier Street, a Forgotten Stories gem amidst the horrors of war. Black Saturday and The Blitz bring many memories to different generations in the Royal Docks area. Even today, unexploded bombs are still being recovered as new communities are being created. Today the spotlight falls on the uninvited guest dropped by the Lufwaffe on North Woolwich 76 years ago. Thanks to the marvellous memory of one of the area’s oldest inhabitants, 91-year-old Joan Plant, we can record the remarkable tale. Locals had got used to the daily ritual of bombs attacking their neighbourhoods since the Blitz began in September, 1940. Within just a few months, hundreds of local people had lost their lives. Thousands of children had been evacuated to various parts of Britain from East London. These included Joan and sister Sheila, who had been sent away to Bath. Like many, they were missing their home terribly and kept in touch by letter. “We’d been told not to tell everyone where we came from (East London) and instead say we lived a short distance from Greenwich!” said Joan. Her parents Fred and Flo were still living in their home in Grenadier Street, North Woolwich. Next door, Grandad Grey, as he was known, lived with his daughter and three children Joan, Shirley and Robin. Bombs and rockets and planes flying over were something families had become familiar with. Then suddenly there was a new threat, parachute bombs or mines. These were naval mines dropped from an aircraft by parachute. They were mostly used in war by the Luftwaffe and frequently...
Forgotten Stories – the Great Flood of ’53

Forgotten Stories – the Great Flood of ’53

The magnificent Thames Flood Barrier at Silvertown protects London from flooding. But the communities around London’s Royal Docks were not always so lucky. We bring you Forgotten Stories that shaped the past and present of this iconic part of the capital city. What is often referred to as The Great Flood of 1953 began as a small amount of low pressure out in the mid-Atlantic. As it whirled around between Britain and Iceland, it grew to hurricane force on January 31. It moved to the middle of the North Sea and on February 1 the Spring high tide struck the lowest areas of Essex and Kent in the middle of the night. First to be hit was Harwich, then Jaywick, as the storms threw caravans and chalets around like toys. The sea rose more than 3ft in 15 minutes and 35 people were killed. The tidal surge swept up the Thames, with sea levels 10ft above normal. From Tilbury to Docklands, factories, oil refineries, gasworks and electricity stations were brought to a standstill. It was the area around Bow Creek, the tidal outflow of the River Lea, where London suffered most. Silvertown, North Woolwich, Custom House and Canning Town were the worst hit. The first warning to locals came at 11.40pm on January 31 when Southend police telegraphed New Scotland Yard that the water at Southend was 21 ft above the higher water mark and rising fast. The message was sent to all waterside divisions and constables were stationed as ‘watchers’ at seven selected points by the River Thames. The watcher for the police K Division was stationed at...
Forgotten Stories: Whale meat again…

Forgotten Stories: Whale meat again…

Local journalist and historian Colin Grainger recalls the childhood song that dates back to the day in 1899 when a 30-ton whale met its grisly end on the banks of the River Thames in North Woolwich. There’s a long tradition in East London both for children and adults of putting your own lyrics to popular songs…many of us still do it. In the age of phone apps, YouTube and social media, an industry now seems to have grown out of that tradition. Comics use it in their stand-up routines as well. The alternative verse we used to sing as children and teenagers and still do as adults to the wartime classic We’ll Meet Again from East Ham’s own Dame Vera Lynn. The ironic ‘Whale Meat Again’ used to echo round the dinner hall at Silvertown’s Drew School. It recalls the day a giant whale lost her way in the River Thames at North Woolwich, only to be rammed by tugs and attacked with hatchets and crowbars until she was killed. Current North Woolwich resident Joan Plant, who will soon be 91, said her mother and father passed down the story to her from the previous generation. “It created a bit of local history and apparently many locals went down to see the beached whale and some took souvenirs and posed for pictures on top of the animal,” she said. Former Silvertown resident Lottie Lowry, who passed away in 2012, often told her family stories of the event, passed down to her by her father. “I can remember being told stories of the whale being washed up on Bargehouse shore...