Tuesday, 29 December 2009

My Early Life

The above shots were taken at Hampton Court, a wonderful Tudor castle just to the west of London. One of the shots is of my wife, Meg, my daughter Ruth, and my grandson, Charlie. The other one gives some idea of the glorious borders and shrubberies that abound there.
I have taken this opportunity to write something about myself, starting with my family background. If readers find my efforts interesting, and not too egotistical, I shall add other extracts, including my memory of the war years and my periods of evacuation.

I was born in the East End of London on 30th December, 1935. The address was 220 Brunswick Road, Poplar, a road that has been demolished to make way for an extension to the Blackwall Tunnel. Both my parents were East Enders born and bred, as were all of my family for several generations back. In fact, they all seem to have come from a fairly small area of Limehouse. This area was bounded by the Mile End Road to the north and by Burdett Road to the east. To the south were the docks and the Limehouse Basin. According to the researches of Charles Booth it contained streets that were among the poorest in London. It was known locally as Limehouse Fields

Dr. Barnardo, who had opened mission schools in nearby Copperfield Street in 1877, wrote a few years later concerning this depressed area, that it was a “thickly populated region covered with houses containing three or four rooms each, many of them with ceilings so low that an adult of full stature can hardly enter them without stooping. The streets are narrow with numerous side courts, alleys and squares. The population is largely a riverside one, but it includes many hawkers, costermongers, fish-curers…..and such like.” The children who attended the schools were the poorest of the poor. “They know what it is to have no fire in the grate and no bread in the cupboard; and we find in many cases that food is more essential to the boys and girls than education."

At that time my father was working at the Lloyd Loom factory, or Lusty’s as it was known in the area, making cane furniture. He seemed to have enjoyed the job, perhaps the only job he ever enjoyed throughout his working life. Before marriage my mother worked at the Black Cat, a building that made a brand of cigarettes that were popular at the time, Craven A. She was a hard worker, with deft and skilful fingers that could pack an enormous number of cigarettes in the time allotted. For the time she earned good money. This money would be spent in good-quality fashionable clothes.

My father’s family were reasonably comfortably off for that time in comparison to surrounding families. This was due to the fact that there was only one child. My grandfather, Henry Davis, known for some obscure reason as Moss by his wife, had a steady job at Bow Sawmills as a lorry driver. He got his job years before it was necessary hold a proper licence. He worked there till his retirement in 1945.

How can I describe my grandfather? He was born in Carr Street in 1880, which according to Booth was known locally as Donkey row. It was a street full of haddock-curers and carters. He was short and slightly built and had very little hair. As was usual in those days, he never went out without his cloth cap. His personality was truly attractive. He was always kindly and friendly. My father said that when he misbehaved his mother would often hit him, once with a metal plate; but his father only had to administer a mild rebuke to reduce him to tears. Sadly after his retirement he suffered a serious stroke that left him bed-ridden and incapacitated. He lingered like this for a number of years, yet he never complained. Towards the end of his life I spoke several times to him about the love of Jesus. On the day of his death he said, “Liz, he is coming to take me this afternoon.” My prosaic grandmother was at a loss who this visitor might be. I think he had an angelic visitation just prior to his death.