Memories – 3


File:William Morris Gallery Walthamstow.jpg

id=”” align=”alignleft” width=”449″ caption=”William Morris Gallery – copyright David Gerard”

Life is something of a transient nature, nothing is permanent but ever-changing as we progress on our own personal journeys creating the history of tomorrow. We remember our childhood, our teen years, through to married life, middle age and if you are anything like myself, who has just touched the threshold of later life on reaching my 65th birthday, our thoughts turn to the next chapter awaiting to be written as it occurs.

As life changes, so does the environment we live in and Walthamstow is no exception to this. Although not quite in Walthamstow, I recall once seeing a series of photographs looking north,  taken of Leyton Green from High Road Leyton. Although I cannot remember the dates, the first photograph was taken in the late 1800’s and shows Leyton Green to be mainly open space. A few buildings at the top end of what is now Capworth Street can be seen. It is however the bend and line in the road that remains unchanged in each photograph which remains the same today. Over successive photographs, buildings arise obscuring the Capworth Street properties which were still there until recent re-development. What this series of photographs show is that out local environment is also of an ever-changing transient nature. A constant state of flux that goes unnoticed on a day by day basis. It is only memories or photographs that permanently capture the physical state of a location at any given period of time which hopefully will be passed onto future generations. Unfortunately, photographs rarely capture the essence of how life was, the public mood, practices or moral outlook of the time.

Although change occurs on a day by day basis, overall change mainly goes unseen if we live in a particular location. It is normally only those who occasionally visit a location after an absence of a few years that suddenly see changes to what their minds-eye and memories had anticipated.

It is possible however to still see a glimpse of how things looked in undeveloped sections of our shopping areas. Although shop fronts rapidly change as new products and traders seek to capture the public eye, the buildings above shop level rarely receive attention and frequently remain the same as when they were first built. Buildings above shop fronts can be compared to living photographs of our history. The next time you are in Hoe Street, the High Street or St James’ Street try to look at the scene from above ground level and a wonderful living history of Walthamstow, often unnoticed, will be revealed.

Although I no longer live in Walthamstow, the modern technology of Google Earth does present the opportunity to look at locations as they are today. It is possible to do a virtual walk around ones old haunts and reflect on changes and memories of times past.

I have been recalling some of the places and locations I either used to visit or that have substantially changed from what they used to be. None of which are in any particular time-frame order.

Jobstocks was a small business that attracted people from far and wide. Located at the St Mary Road/West Avenue Road junction, Jobstocks dealt exclusively with ex-army surplus equipment. Just as the handbag stalls in the street market seem to be honey-pot for attracting females, Jobstocks was a similar magnet almost exclusively the preserve of men. The windows were crammed full of what looked exotic equipment at the time, all normally coloured army olive-green or black. Switches, knobs and dials festooned most of the equipment, all of which engendered masculine thoughts of what I could do if only I had one of those.

The inside of the shop only sported a tiny space for customers to stand in front of the counter. The space being so small that two customers would form a crowd, both not daring to breathe in at the same time. There always appeared to be about three or four shop staff manning an equally small space on the opposite side of the counter, each one who would scurry away to rummage through vast unseen stock in back rooms to fulfil an order.  The remainder of the building including the back rooms appeared to sag under the voluminous weight of little brown boxes containing numerous unseen exotic items. It was not possible to even tell the content of the boxes as the labels only displayed WD markings and codes with an equally unintelligible abbreviated description of the contents.

I do not recall ever seeing the colour of the walls or even the walls themselves, as every square inch of the building was covered by waxy brown boxes stacked one atop of the other. I always felt certain the building would erupt like Vesuvius if it ever caught fire. No matter what one wanted, Jobstocks had it. Even if one did not really know what one wanted, it was only necessary to give a brief outline of  the task you wished to accomplish and a member of staff would soon find something that would do the job. Overall the shop always gave me a feeling of a subterranean cave full of goodies.

The thought often occurred to me why NASA spent billions of dollars putting a man on the moon? Possibly they were unaware that Jobstocks existed and could have supplied them with everything they needed. Looking at the building using Google Earth, it now appears to be a private dwelling with an upper floor seemingly to have been added to part of the building from what I recall.

In the early 1950’s car ownership was still something of a rarity. As a consequence the Bank Holiday traffic did not yet exist and frequently a family day out was much closer to home, sometimes almost on ones doorstep. It may be now difficult to visualise, but one such location people flocked to was the lake on Woodford New Road adjacent to the Rising Sun public house. An aerial view using Google Earth shows the lake to now be much smaller and giving the appearance of being no more than an overgrown bog. The lake was completely visible from the road but again it now appears to be completely obscured. However on summer weekends hundreds of people used to flock to this location. Deck chairs were available for hire as were rowing boats for use on the lake. Swimming and paddling were also popular features and a permanent refreshment kiosk selling teas, sandwiches and ice cream was located near the shallow sandy banks of the lake. This is a good example of the ever-changing and transient environment we live in that I mentioned earlier.

It was probably the coming of mass car ownership that sounded the death knell for the lake. People could now travel further afar to real sea-side resorts or the countryside. People simply stopped coming to this location and the boats, deck chairs and refreshment kiosk all disappeared without trace. The next time you have an opportunity to drive along Woodford New Road, spare a glance for the lake which may have gone unnoticed before. Try and visualise this sorry-looking bog which once rang to the sound of children’s laughter, sunbathers, swimmers and serene boating.

Close by to the Rising Sun lake and also part of Epping Forest was Whipps Cross Lido and the Hollow Ponds. The ponds originally created in 1905 as relief work for the unemployed and I believe the Lido may have been built about 1920 with the modern utilitarian look. During summer school holiday, large as it was the lido would be packed with swimmers and sunbathers. I do not recall any grass at the lido, just concrete which acted like a storage heater on hot summer days. Sailing model boats on the smaller of the Hollow Ponds was and I think still is a popular pastime, with boating on the large pond available for those is search of more tranquil and leisurely pursuits. Although the Hollow Ponds still remain, alas the lido fell victim to a combination of vandalism and falling numbers. Sadly the lido eventually closed and the land was returned to the forest.

I lived for some time near the Hoe Street/High Street junction before moving elsewhere in Walthamstow. Understandably I remember locations around that area reasonably well.

Selborne Park was my local playground and the park was divided into two sections separated by a long pathway lined with trees. One side of the park backed onto the library and old swimming baths and was also overlooked by the long closed Selborne Restaurant. This was the children’s side of the park with swings, roundabout and slide. A large grassed area also allowed a ball to be kicked about. As a child the slide seemed quite tall and was very slippery. On more than one occasion I got a sore bottom as I shot off the end of the slide and my backside made painful contact with the ground.

The opposite side of the park was for more sedate leisure activities. It contained a well manicured bowling green and an open air draughts board surrounded by wooden benches on three sides. Several huts around the perimeter allowed  shelter to usually elderly people, to while away the time with each other. Players moved the draught pieces using long wooden poles with flat bladed hooks fitted on the end. Flower beds adorned the outer perimeters of this section of park. Generally children were tolerated provided they were quiet and just watched the bowls or draughts. However children were never allowed to use the equipment. It really was a case of children should be seen and not heard in that section of park.

Alas with the redevelopment of the town centre the park had to go. The children’s side of the park is now a bus station and the adults side of the park is an open grassed area with pathways leading to and from the bus station and Selborne Walk Shopping Centre. The tree-lined pathway between both sections of park is the only feature to survive. I remember watching with great dismay the day a bulldozer tore up the bowling green.

The library still remains and from the outside looks unchanged but the adjoining swimming baths have long gone to be replaced by the new swimming pool in Chingford Road. I never used the new swimming pool but I do remember the old one quite well. A set of large permanently closed wooden doors separated a narrow walkway around one end of the swimming pool from the pavement of the High Street. The pavement was always wet at this location as dripping water from the wet feet and bodies of swimmers leaked under the door. Upper galleries with stepped seating ran along both sides of the pool but I never recall seeing the galleries in use. There were no real changing rooms just wooden cubicles with half height doors lining both sides of the pool. The cubicles allowed a view of changing bathers heads and feet. Females and males used the cubicles on different sides of the pool. I think one got about 45 minutes – 1 hour of swimming time for one’s money and although no tickets were used, our clothes were left in the small changing cubicles so attendants knew if anyone overstayed their time.

Opposite the swimming baths and library was the Congregational Church. This was set back a bit from the pavement of the High Street with a low boundary wall defining its perimeter. The entrance to the church had the fossilised remains of a tree trunk on display. I do not know the history of this tree trunk but I was always fascinated by this wood turned to stone feature. I believe the church once had a tall spire which was replaced by a more smaller squat shaped one more like a small circular roof. A pathway alongside the church led to a hall known as the Conway Hall. A youth club used these premises several times a week to play badminton. I went to the afternoon Sunday School at this church when I was young. I don’t think it was my mother caring so much for our moral upbringing, but more of a case of getting rid of the children for a bit of peace and quiet for a period of time.

Adjacent to the swimming baths and facing the High Street was an old school which housed the Youth Employment Service. I never really found out what this organisation actually did. A few months before I left school, I did receive a letter from the Youth Employment Service inviting me to attend an interview. When I arrived I was told by a smartly suited man sitting behind a desk in his office to “Find myself a job”. That was it, no advice, no nothing other than find myself a job. As job seeking was something I was already undertaking the advice seemed as pointless as the organisation itself. I am not certain if a Y.E.S. still exists but if it does, presumably they have changed their working methods from years ago.

Further down the High Street where Palace Parade now stands was the huge and towering edifice of the Walthamstow Palace. This was Walthamstow’s own theatre which had seen better days. I was  normally taken there by my mother during the pantomime season to watch a production. It always seemed to me that foreigners must have thought the English a very strange people with male actors dressing up as women and vice versa in a pantomime. I also recall seeing a production of a play called the Black Narcissus. The auditorium of the Palace Theatre was large but I always thought this monolith of a building looked a bit ominous when silhouetted against the skyline.

The shop I think I remember most in the High Street was Woolworth’s or to give its correct title blazoned on the outside of the building, F.W. Woolworth & Co.Ltd. Woolworth’s was located on the corner of Blackhorse Road and the High Street. The location of the building was the cause of an acute double bend between the Blackhorse Road/St James Street junction. The inside of this Woolworth’s was never subjected to the more modern and I think disastrous layout of its successor. This was full of long dark wooden counters everywhere, all manned by shop staff. Each counter was crammed full of the minutia of items needed for the everyday running of a household. This Woolworth’s always felt warm and welcoming. The big advantage of the low counters being it was possible to see from one side of the store to the other and I cannot but help think this is one things the planners got wrong in the new store.

An ironmongers shop used to be located in Hoe Street in the section between the High Street and Selborne Road. It was opposite a large Halfords cycle shop which Google Earth now shows to be a fruit and vegetable store. I cannot recall the name of the ironmongers, (possibly Colemans), but it was always manned by staff wearing long brown overall type coats. This was not a self-service shop but the staff were always quick and efficient locating ones requirements. I loved this shop and how I wish ironmongers of this type would return. Nails and screws were at that time sold by weight and not just a couple of nails in a cellophane packet. Normally one could buy a pound of nails quite cheaply and hear them clattering into the weighing scales. Normally the staff added an extra handful of nails just to ensure you were not short-changed. The inside of the store always had the aroma of oil and paraffin pervading the air. Paraffin was used a lot for heating prior to the wide scale introduction of central heating. One had to bring your own container and the paraffin dispenser in the shop was like two large one gallon glass jars encased in a metal box. One jar was always full and a hand crank was used to draw paraffin from an unseen reservoir into the empty glass jar. Graduation markings on the jar showed when the required amount had been reached and then by putting a hose into your fuel container, a valve was opened discharging the contents of the jar. As a firefighter I always though paraffin heaters were dangerous. Normally they worked well when new but neglect in maintenance over years of use caused problems. I unfortunately attended a number of incidents, some fatal, where paraffin heaters were involved. For some strange reason whenever paraffin heaters are mentioned, I always think of the “safe” indoor fireworks that were once advertised. As if there could ever be such a thing.

Further along Hoe Street at the junction with Orford Road was the Co-op department store. This was a veritable emporium of a store supplying everything necessary to furnish a home. I am not certain if it was at this store, but I seem to vaguely recall a system of wires running from counters to a central teller. Money would be placed in a metal container suspended on a tight wire. By pulling a lever a pinging noise was heard and the container shot along the wire over everyone’s heads to the teller. Change and receipts returned the same way. The  location of the store may seem a little strange being some distance from the street market but if one looks above shop level as I suggested earlier, the moulded relief near the roof shows the building was constructed in 1911. At that time the High Street market would not yet have developed to its full potential and the Hoe Street/Orford Road junction was an important crossroads leading to what is now known as Old Walthamstow.

Just across the old borough boundary of Lea Bridge Road  stood the Leyton Swimming and Slipper Baths in High Road, Leyton, the site of which now appears to be a large supermarket. Although I went swimming there on a number of occasions, my mother used to take me and my siblings there weekly when I was younger, to the slipper baths, when we lived with my grandparents in Leyton. I suspect the concept of slipper baths may seem a bit alien to a younger generation, but it should be remembered modern equipped bathrooms are still a recent historical development starting from about the 1960’s.

Much of the older housing stock prior to that time still had tin bath ablutions and outside toilets. Although I had always bathed in a tin bath prior to moving to my grandparents, with so many families living under the same roof, obtaining sufficient hot water let alone the tin bath was almost impossible. By comparison the Leyton slipper baths were pure luxury. For a small fee my mother would be handed a number of bath towels and we would enter a numbered tile lined cubicle with a voluminous enamel bath. There was a long line of these bath cubicles all in constant use. The bath had no taps only an outlet about the size of a drain pipe. An attendant who patrolled the corridor outside used a special key they carried to turn a tap outside the cubicle and fill the bath with hot water, a process that took less than a minute due to the size of the outlet. Prior to the slipper baths I had no experience of hot bath water completely covering my body as one had to make do with only a few inches of rapidly cooling water in a tin bath. Random calls from the cubicles resounded along the corridor for “More OT in number 4”. This was local vernacular language for more hot water in cubicle four.

The Vestry House Museum is a location I enjoyed visiting even with its creaking floorboards. My first visit was a school excursion and something of an eye opener. I find it surprising that little mention is every made in history programmes of the Bremer car at the museum which must be one of the earliest cars ever made. One room of the museum was converted into a Victorian parlour and it is amazing the amount of paraphernalia that was considered necessary for the well-to-do Victorian family to display. The thorough dusting of such a room and the laying of a coal fire must have taken some time and it is little wonder that so many maids were employed by those that could afford them. Sometimes I come across semi-historical objects in a museum that I have personal experience of using. It is on those occasions that I always realise just how much has changed in the world since my youth and that perhaps I may have reached my “sell by” date.

The other museum I liked visiting was the William Morris Gallery in Lloyd Park. I always found it fascinating to try to visualise the view from the house as it would have been in William Morris’s day. Splendid laid out gardens which now form the back bone of the park with much of the housing and shops in Forest Road yet to be built. I imagine the view in the mid 1850’s would have been of pleasant rolling fields leading uphill to Walthamstow Village. Although William Morris was a socialist, he certainly knew how to live in opulent style.

I suppose in about another 60 years or so, Walthamstow will have donned yet another new face as the relentless change we call progress continues ever onwards. There is probably a small child already living somewhere in this north-east London community who in future years will put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, or even more likely just their thoughts which will automatically appear in electronic form. What ever the method of committing ones thoughts to the media, those words will probably start, “I remember Walthamstow when…………”.


Roger King who worked in Coulston’s, the ironmongers shop I mentioned above, and also its sister shop, Cole and Deakin located towards the S James Street end of the High Street, kindly sent me his memories of working in both shops.

 

“I started working in the ironmongers shop ‘Cole and Deakin’ at the St James Street end of the High Street as a Saturday boy in 1957. I enjoyed the work so much I took on a full time job working for the boss, Douglas Cole after leaving William Elliot Whittingham school in 1958.

It was a family company registered as H.J.Cole and Son (Ironmongers) Ltd.

The company also had the branch at 220 Hoe Street, R.F.Coulston, a tool specialist, selling top quality branded tradesman’s tools.

As with tradition, the High Street shop was old, dingy and very cold during the winter months. I was the paraffin boy measuring the smelly liquid into 1 gallon measuring cans and pouring it into customers own carry home cans. This was before the automatic vending machines that you very accurately described in your article. Aladdin Pink was the brand. Another rather lucrative side of the business was the general overhaul and cleaning of paraffin heaters..As to the loose nails, I wouldn’t mind a penny for each time that a nail made my fingers bleed. No work gloves in those days.

Over the next five years or so I studied retailing in the tool and hardware industry and eventually became manager of the Hoe Street shop.

Why the High Street shop had Grey coats and the Hoe Street shop had Brown coats was a mystery to me. One of my first management decisions was to have all staff in Grey coats. Good decision, the staff enjoyed the change.

By the early 70s, the two old shops were looking very tired and needed modernising, and so over a 12 month period each shop was closed for a short time, while the buildings were gutted and a new shop front and internal fittings installed. The trading name of both shops was changed to ‘Coles of Walthamstow’

I thought the change was a bit of a shame as the tradition had been lost, however retailing was changing, pre packaged goods were coming in, everything was hanging on hooks, gone was the advice that we gave to our customers, we just became till operators.

I stayed with the company for 23 years,”

9 Responses

  1. During the late 40s and early 50s Jobstocks had a storage area in what would have been the stables behind a terrace of burnt-out houses in Hoe Street at the junction with Grosvenor Park Road. There were all sorts of goodies(mostly war-surplus)that us kids used to help ourselves to until the site was cleared and flats built.

    • Norman,

      I never knew Jobstocks were at that location and as I arrived in Walthamstow in 1953 I imagine they had only recently moved at that time to their premises in St Mary’s Road. Jobstocks was certainly something of an institution the like of which I fear we will never see again.

  2. The water supply for the Rising Sun Pond came mainly from a stream which flowed down from Woodford Green and the pond overflowed into another stream which passed under Woodford New Road and on to The Hollow Pond. When the North Circular Road was sunk below ground level the stream was cut off.

    • Norman,

      Many thanks for the information on the water source for the Rising Sun Pond. Your point about the rerouting of the North Circular Road would help explain why the pond seemed smaller than I remembered it as a child.

  3. “The shop I think I remember most in the High Street was Woolworth’s or to give its correct title blazoned on the outside of the building, F.W. Woolworth & Co.Ltd. Woolworth’s was located on the corner of Blackhorse Road and the High Street.”

    Was Woolworths not at the junction of Palmerston Road and the High Street (as opposed to Blackhorse Road)?…if not, it must have changed location, as it was in the centre of the market by Palmerston Road in my youth, as opposed to the bottom of the market by Blackhorse Road/St James St…..only saying cos I read your memories and try to place the location….

    • Jo, The original Woolworths was located on the junction of the High Street and Blackhorse Road and was quite a large store. As a young boy this is where I first knew it. The building did however present a problem as traffic got busier due to the sharp bend in the road followed by another sharp bend at the start of St. James’s’ Street directly opposite what was then the front entrance to Woolworths. The double bend was so acute it drastically reduced the flow of traffic and two large vehicles coming in opposite directions could get stuck completely blocking the road.

      Eventually a new Woolworths store was built as you say near the junction of Palmerston Road and the original building was demolished. This allowed a smoothing out of the notorious double bend.

      I must admit I preferred the old store as it was warm and comforting. To me the new store never felt like a proper Woolies and the eventual layout meant it was not possible to see across the store. I think a mixture of both the layout and moving away from their traditional household items made the new store feel just like another shop and may have been contributory to its decline.

  4. Hi,
    I have just found this entry about Jobstocks which I found fascinating to read. As a child in the 1950s we lived in Harlow and visited London on occasion, Return trips often involved a stop at Jobstocks for my father to pick up surplus radio bits and pieces – he built an oscilloscope among other things. I have no memory of the store – we waited in the car!
    A significant amount of this gear was transported to New Zealand when we emigrated in 1957 and he continued the hobby. Fortunately a friend of ours was in to vintage and military surplus radio equipment and relieved us of the collection after my Father’s death.

    • Hello Barbara. Many thanks for your comment. I imagine many other children found their fathers engrossed in similar hobbies based on Jobstocks ex-army surplus equipment. If your father built a oscilloscope he must have had a good knowledge of electronics. I always found Jobstocks a fascinating place when I was a small boy although I doubt whether it could have continued to survive in a modern electronics age.

      Harlow is a town I passed through many times when the main A11 road to East Anglia passed through it, but it is a town I rarely visited off the main road. I do have a cousin that lives there but have only visited twice. Now the M11 motorway has been built, a lot of traffic will now bypass the town.

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