Shirley and Margaret’s Memories of the Hall and Woodford

Shirley went to school at Nightingale Primary and does not have happy memories of the Headmaster in the junior school – Mansell Davies was a “nasty piece of work”. When she leapfrogged over a child in the playground and dislocated her elbow he was very unsympathetic. When she was caught pulling another girl’s hair he rapped her over the knuckles using a wooden ruler. She liked the school dinners though, especially the chocolate crunch pudding! On passing the 11-plus she went to Leyton County High School until she left at 16.

Margaret went to St Augustine’s in Barkingside. Her secondary school was the newly opened Trinity High School. The school was formed of St Paul’s secondary modern and St Mary’s grammar school. It was a good school and she loved it there.

Both Shirley and Margaret spoke of a haberdasher’s shop on George Lane, probably where the Red Mantra bar is now. The shop used the system of brass canisters and overhead wires to send money and invoices up to the cashier’ s office, a system quite common in shops at the time – 1950s?

Hedges was a curtain shop which is where the HSBC on George Lane is now sited. The bank moved there in 1973 – it had to move when the A406 was under construction. Previously it was on the High Road near Gates’ Corner. It was knocked down during the construction work.

There was a London Electricity Board showroom where Pizza Express stands today. During the 3-day weeks of the 1970s Margaret who had got a job at the bank in 1968 as a 16 year old remembered that someone from the bank would have to go up to the LEB to find out when the power was about to go off for the day. This was very important as the bank relied on electricity for its adding and calculating machines (there were no computers then). Once the electricity was shut down the machines would have to be cranked by hand to perform calculations. Both Shirley and Margaret confirmed that there were only typewriters and adding machines. Most of the work was done by hand. Ledgers were kept manually and statements were posted by hand. Cheques had to be sorted by bank clerks according to the customer’s name – it was important to be able to recognise a customer’s signature as cheque books were not printed with his or her name. A great deal has changed since then!

Shirley worked for a merchant bank in the city. When a computer was finally installed it was huge – twice the size of an average sitting room. Information was loaded onto the computer by means of punched tapes. A machine like this would not have been installed in a local bank at that time.

Both Shirley and Margaret left school at 16 and it was not expected by their employers that they would stay long in their jobs. It was assumed that they would leave once they married and had babies. The boys who joined the bank were sometimes offered the opportunity to study for the banking exams but this was not generally offered to the girls. It was easy to move jobs in those days (the late 60s). One could leave a job on Friday and easily find another for the following Monday. Shirley remembered going up to London to an employment agency and being given a stack of jobs to choose from. On one occasion she left a job after a couple of days because she did not like it and found another easily.

Both Shirley and Margaret confirmed that the demographic in Woodford has changed over the years. Both Shirley and Margaret remember going to school with black girls but that was fairly rare. One women remembered her mother seeing a black women with blonde hair in South Woodford – that caused quite a sensation. In a school photograph dated 1965 Shirley identified a Greek Cypriot pupil and an Indian pupil. This was at Leyton County High School for Girls, where pupils who had passed the 11-plus came from various surrounding areas. There were also quite a lot of Jewish girls.

The slowly changing demographic was only seen at secondary schools, not the primary schools.

Dr Barnado’s’ Sunshine Home had some black and Asian children. Some of the Barnado’s boys were in the local primary schools. One child was placed in the home before the Second World War. She had never known who her family were and was due to be sent to Canada at the age of about 13 but was not sent and lived in Woodford all her life.

Margaret’s grandfather had worked as a chauffeur and drivene King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they visited Barnardos

One of the women worked at Forest School for a while, in the Library. Next to the Library was the archive department, which she remembers was full of items relating to William Morris. Her boss, Gerald Wright, was very keen on Morris’ work. Morris had designed a stained glass window for the school.

Shirley and Margaret used to take part in pantomimes at the Memorial Hall, from 1973-78, the first one being Robin Hood. The pantomimes were very popular, Tickets would cost 30p for children and OAPs and 50p for adults. Some performances were for charity but did not make a great deal of money. The pantomimes took an enormous amount of work as everything had to be made from scratch – scenery, costumes etc. Work would start in August and Shirley could remember scenery being painted in someone’s front garden. The Hall was hired from George Bunyan for dress rehearsals and performances. About 25 people used to take part; this included the cast, the director, the lighting people and the stage manager. The after show parties were also great fun. Margaret remembered a participant drinking beer from a vase taken from a cupboard in the hall. During the Robin Hood production Shirley played Maid Marian and had to pretend to play a lute and sing a song – this did not go quite as planned! A man called Peter who was very artistic made the scenery and designed other items. The lighting crew were also very good using coloured filters to create different effects. There was a lot of talent and enthusiasm, but also a lot of arguments and sometimes people would walk out.

Shirley eventually married a member of the cast. She had met him through the Young Conservatives, where a lot of people met their future spouses. There were several branches of the YCs in the area during the 70s. The Wanstead branch, which Shirley and Margaret attended met in the Eagle pub in Snaresbrook. The South Woodford branch met at the Railway Bell and the Woodford branch used the Memorial Hall for a while but then moved to Packfords Hotel.

The YCs were regarded as more of a social club than a political organisation in those days. When teenagers left school at 16 it enabled them to have a much bigger social circle. Often members would go to someone’s house for coffee after a meeting and it was all very friendly. There were lots of activities on offer: parties, dances, car rallies for example. Speakers would be invited to meetings; Christine Truman was the speaker at the first meeting Margaret went to, which impressed her greatly. There was also an annual dinner dance, a black tie event, held at Chasneys in Station Road in Chingford; Patrick Jenkins MP would sometimes be the guest speaker.

At election times the members would go out canvassing, but never in Woodford – it was considered a safe seat, so members had to concentrate their efforts in Ilford North, which was a marginal. Both women went knocking on doors in Ilford canvassing, which they did not enjoy. They used to go down to Ilford for the count to hear the results of the elections. Shirley and Margaret have very happy memories of those times during their teens and early 20s. They were part of a group of about 15 YCs who sometimes went away on holiday together.

One particularly memorable event the YCs organised was a pram race around South Woodford. One pram was named “Morning Cloud” after Prime Minister Ted Heath’s yacht.

Shirley and Margaret did various things at the Memorial Hall  to include  the pantomimes. Occasionally they went to dances there. They remember the fire which destroyed part of St Mary’s church during the late 60’s and remember seeing the fire hoses stretched across the High Road. Margaret attended ballroom dancing classes at the Hall as well.

Shirley and Margaret also have memories of the auctions and antique sales which were and still are held at the Hall. When Shirley’s great aunt died her effects were sent to an antique sale at the hall, which made £150.

During the late 60s and 70s Shirley and Margaret went to the 2 cinemas in South Woodford. The Plaza, where Sainsbury’s is now sited, was known as the “fleapit” because it was generally quite grubby. The film would often break down and customers would be given a ticket to return to see the film the following week. The Plaza was small with a circular frontage. Customers went in one side of the building and exited through the other side. The other cinema, the Majestic, is now the Odeon. There was a fish and chip shop a few doors along the road where you could buy 6d worth of chips after the film. Shirley would prop open the exit doors, near the Ladies toilet, so that her friends could sneak in to see the film for free! In those days films were classified as U, A or X. If minors wanted to see some films they would approach an adult queuing to go in and ask if they could go in together so that they could watch horror films without being challenged to prove their age – that would be unthinkable now!

A couple of local Coffee Bars were not considered nice places for teenage girls to frequent. The Bamboo Coffee House was used by Mods and the atmosphere was felt to be slightly intimidating. Another was near the Horse and Wells pub and was considered to have a bad reputation, possibly because it was frequented by rockers.

The car park for the George is now Zizzi’s restaurant and flats. In the parade of shops down from the George, going towards Snaresbrook, there used to be a record shop called the Pop Inn. Shirley still has vinyl albums purchased there.

Shirley and Margaret recalled several famous residents of Woodford. Lonnie Donegan lived on the Firs Estate and girls would go and stand outside his house, which had distinctive guitars on its metal gates. Margaret went and stood outside Lonnie Donegan’s house on one occasion and after sometime, she was approached by someone from the house who asked her to “please go away” and she very politely did.     Neither Shirley or Margaret ever actually actually saw Lonnie Donegan. however.

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