Tony Banks, in his own words: a recollection of Forest Gate's much missed local wit, sage and MP

Friday, 19 December 2014


There are few British politicians, living or dead, who could be relied on to light up a room with their utterances. In an era when blandness is the hallmark of Westminster MPs, Tony stood apart from the greyness, and was one of that rare breed.

He was the local MP, for Newham North West (later renamed West Ham) from 1983 - 2005, and lived, for most of that time, in Sprowston Road, pretty much opposite Romford Road's former Live and Let Live pub. He retired as MP when his old constituency was abolished and became Baron Banks, of Stratford. He died of a massive heart attack just a few months later, while visiting friends for a Christmas break, in January 2006.

As we approach the 9th anniversary of his death, it seems an appropriate time to recall some of his wit and barbed comments - and so, perhaps, add to the jollity of the festive season.

Potted biog

First, a quick potted biography.

Tony was born in April 1942, the son of a diplomat (whose language he never quite learned to master). He went to school in Brixton and university in York and the LSE.

He joined the Labour Party in 1964 and was elected to the Greater London Council in 1970 - on which he sat until 1977, then from 1981 until its abolition in 1986. He was a member of  Lambeth Council from 1971-4.

Banksy - as he was known -  was Assistant General Secretary of the Association of Broadcasting Staff (AGS, ABS) from 1973-83. In June 1983 he was elected MP for Newham North-West, with a majority of almost 7,000. He was chair of the GLC in its last year of existence, after which he was elected chair of the group of London Labour MPs. He held a number of shadow portfolios until Labour formed the government in 1997.

Tony quickly became known for his forthright language and acidic utterances; and it was a considerable surprise (not least unto himself and the party's prince of darkness, Peter Mandelson) when Tony Blair appointed him as Minister of Sport in May 1997. He was in heaven.


 



Tony, swearing his oath of allegiance
to the Queen, with his fingers crossed - one of
many gestures that got him in trouble

But his sharp tongue and unwillingness to toe the line lead to the inevitable: removal from office two and a half years later, after one gaffe too many, to occupy the non-job of "Prime Minister's envoy"  to win the 2016 World Cup bid. The bid, of course, failed, as did his attempt to become the Labour candidate for the London mayoralty in 2004.

He left the Commons a year later and was dead within another twelve months.

His last few years must have seemed like failure to the outside world, but he was characteristically philosophic about it - as will be seen, below.

He had trenchant and colourful views on many of his contemporary politicians, as the following illustrate.


On Margaret Thatcher

 


"She is happier getting in and out of tanks than in and out of museums or theatre seats. She seems to derive more pleasure from admiring missiles than great works of art. What else can we expect from an ex-spam-hoarder from Grantham, presiding over the social and economic decline of the country."
"She is as about as environmentally friendly as the bubonic plague. I would be happy to see Margaret Thatcher stuffed, mounted, put in a glass case and left in a museum. She believes that anybody who opposes her - whether the Opposition or one of her friends - must, by definition, be wrong. She is a natural autocrat surrounded by a bunch of sycophants, many of whom have betrayed everything in which they once claimed to believe. She is far more influenced by Attila The Hun than Saint Francis of Assisi. She is a petty minded xenophobe who struts around the world interfering and lecturing in an arrogant and high-handed manner."

 
But Banksy was considerably less ambiguous in his views

"She is a half-mad old bag lady. The Finchley whinger. She said the Poll Tax was the government's flagship. Unfortunately for the Conservative Party she keeps bobbing up again. Her head keeps appearing above the waves."

On the Poll Tax:
"It was a tax which was drawn up by some half-wit in the Department of the Environment. A tax which was unfair, unloved, unclear - a good description of Margaret Thatcher's government."

On John Major

 


"I have always found it a personal advantage to loathe my political opponents. It is not usually difficult, but the Prime Minister is certainly not one of those. How could I? We both grew up in Brixton. We both like beans on toast. Where on this conjoined road of shared experiences did the Prime Minister go so badly wrong and become a Tory? I think it was when he got turned down for the job of bus conductor. He had his heart set on punching tickets and helping little old ladies on and off the bus, but he was spurned. At that point he vowed hideous revenge on us all, but to be able to get it, first he had to punch the little old lady from Finchley off the bus. Having achieved that he has now turned his attention to the rest of us. Our fate is to be even more horrible than to be frog marched out of Downing Street. We are to be buried under charters." (19 Nov 1991)

"He was a fairly competent chairman of Housing (on Lambeth Council). Every time he gets up now I keep thinking "What on earth is Councillor Major doing?" I can't believe he's here and sometimes I think he can't either." (24 Apr 1994)

"Throughout the year, he stood like the little boy on the burning deck of the Titanic, with his finger in the dyke, an apple on his head and his foot in his mouth" , awarding John Major, 'Survivor of the Year.' (27 Dec 1996.)

John Major, like Tony, was an-ex Brixton
boy, former Lambeth councillor and
Chelsea FC and Surrey CC fan

On other, contemporaries

Kenneth Clarke:


"In his usual arrogant and high-handed fashion, he dons his Thatcherite jackboots and stamps all over local opinion.  He's like Hitler with a beer belly.  He is a pot-bellied old soak." (21 Jun 1994)


Michael Portillo:
"At one point Portillo was polishing his jackboots and planning the next advance. The next thing is he shows up as a TV presenter. It is rather like Pol Pot joining the Teletubbies." (Oct 1997)

Taking as good as he gave

The Banksy abuse was not a one way street. Every sharp pen in Fleet Street and beyond rose to the challenge of trying to emulate his invective, as the following indicates:

The Times :



"Banks' lip, his street cred suits and streetwise insults bring the flavour of Newham to the corridors of Westminster"


Over Land and Sea - West Ham fanzine:
"The Newham Nutcase" , (Oct 1997)


Evening Standard :
"The names Peter Stringfellow and Tony Banks rarely appear in the same sentence. After all, one's a sharp-dressed, silken-tongued smoothie and the other owns a nightclub" (21 May 1996)


Daily Telegraph:
"Everyone knows that Banks was going to be the cabaret turn in Blair's government; first there was the record of his parliamentary brawling, then there was the way in which he was blissfully unprepared for ministerdom - he hit the ground stumbling. On his first day, he bounded in half an hour late in jeans, having had to find out where the ministry was, and proceeded to lead the press upstairs to inspect his pokey office. To fantasy footballers everywhere, it was brilliant - as if the fans were bawling national anthem's in the directors' box. To the civil servants used to stiff-collared subtlety, it was disconcerting." (18 Aug 1997)


Matthew Parris:
"A total ape, baboon, buffoon,. clown, harlequin, jackass, jester, joker, monkey, pantaloon, pickle-herring, scallywag, tomfool, half-wit, barmpot, headbanger, eejit numpty."   (The Times)

Chelsea  fan

Tony was a huge - and unswerving -Chelsea fan, from the days when it was an unfashionable club. On being appointed Minister of Sport, he said he would give the job up if he was required to be impartial, and on the occasion when Chelsea were at Wembley, during his period in office he sat with the fans, rather than in the royal box.

On being selected to stand for Parliament in Newham, Tony was asked by the Newham Recorder if he was going to switch his political allegiances from Chelsea to West Ham, to which he replied. "In life, you can change your religion, wife and even politics - but never your football team." He lived that sentence, almost to the letter!

And the club were never far from his thoughts, so in Parliament:



"When I first heard about this new drug Viagra, I thought it was a new player Chelsea had just signed." (30 May 1998)


He even portrayed his role in government, in self-effacing Chelsea terms:
"My role is to serve as the long-stop, for those who are cricketers, or as a sweeper for those who are interested in football. I see myself as perhaps the Ruud Gullit of the government team, although the Honourable Members will probably notice, I am considerably shorter, I am not black and I do not have dreadlocks." (27 Jun 1997)


To his amusement, he shared his support with John Major - who he was always pleased to say sat at the opposite end of Stamford Bridge to him, and the completely loathsome David Mellor, whom, quite inexplicably, he quite liked .

The slimeball Mellor was, of course, caught up in a sleazy affair with an  "actress" Antonia De Sancha, which resulted in claims that he  had sex with her, wearing a Chelsea kit - memorably recreated by the ever-helpful Sun (see photo). On seeing this, Banksy quipped, of his mate:
"I couldn't possibly emulate the feats of one D Mellor. Since the great days of Jimmy Greaves, it's the only time anyone's managed to score four times in night in a Chelsea shirt. The question we are all asking is, of course, did they change ends at half time?" (Aug 1997)

David Mellor, the ugly face of politics,
Chelsea support and taxi passengers

Newham

He was characteristically blunt, when discussing his views on his constituents:

To Private Eye, - describing the children in his constituency, he said that they were: "More likely to be out nicking TVs than watching them." (Feb 1990)



"I seem to represent some of the dirtiest constituencies in the country, and what's more I say so in the local papers. That was the gist of my New Year's message to the good folks of Newham - that they were a pretty filthy bunch who should clean up their act." (1994)

"I have a personal concern about blight; the (Channel) tunnel goes immediately underneath my house. I am quite happy about that, but is there any compensation in this for me? My property, along with many others, has been blighted; its value has gone down. People do not want to buy a house over a tunnel" (Nov 1995)

"Although the tunnel will go immediately under my house in Forest Gate, I cannot wait to sit in my front room and hear the rumble of the trains on their way to Stratford." (29 Feb 1996)

"For the benefit of those Hon Members who think that I live in a concrete jungle I should point out that many cattle once wandered on Wanstead Flats, which is in my constituency, and it was a delight to see them. I have not seen them around recently, but I suppose they have gone the way of all flesh" (13 Nov 1996)

In his own words:




"I am a vegetarian. However, I am nobody's turnip. I came to vegetarianism fairly late in my somewhat dissolute life; it has been a journey of discovery ... I am however, no food fascist. If people wish to eat meat and run the risk of dying a horrible, lingering hormone-induced death after sprouting extra breasts and large amounts of hair, it is, of course, entirely up to them." (8 Mar 1995)


"I'm personally going to be pushing very hard for synchronised nose-picking. I think it has a great future, judging by the number of MPs who indulge in it." (1 Feb 1998)

On cash for questions:
"Since I was elected, I have tabled 6,919questions. If I had received £1,000 for each of these, I'd have netted a cool £7million, which would have meant that I could have faxed this speech from Mustique." (13 Jul 1994)
Tony was just like Ruud Gullit
- except he was shorter, not black
and didn't have dreadlocks


On sex:
"I certainly didn't manage it until I was quite a bit older than most people. It really annoys me, even now, when I realise that so many of my most creative years were wasted in an unnecessary and unwanted celibacy."


To fellow Newham MP, Nigel Spearing, in the Commons, on a debate on drugs
"If my Hon Friend wants a spliff, I will no doubt be able to supply him with one, but it will not be one that I have rolled myself." (9 Jun 1995)

"I was totally and utterly gobsmacked when I got The Call (to be Minister of Sport). I mean that. I'm not just saying it. It was a complete and utter surprise. Because I had no reason whatsoever to expect a call. Perhaps, some might argue, no justification.  So, when I got the call I thought it was a spoof. Then, when I heard the very efficient voice on the switchboard at Number 10 Downing Street, I thought: 'Oh, no, I'm going to get told off."' Perhaps the lavatories were blocked or something. Could I possibly come round with me plunger. And then it turned out it was Himself, saying 'I'd like you to be the new Sports Minister ... I actually said 'Fuck me!' Then I said 'I don't quite know what to say', except then, of course, I managed to say 'Yes'. There wasn't much of a pause. Nanoseconds. I went for it." (19 Sept 1997).


He was equally blunt on the role of local MP, when discussing his retirement , with the BBC's then political editor, Robin Oakley:
"To be honest I found it intellectually numbing, and tedious in the extreme. I most certainly won't miss the constituency work. I've got to tell you that honestly. It's 22 years of the same cases, but just the faces and the people changing. It might sound a little disparaging to say this about people's lives and their problems and we did deal with them ... but I got no satisfaction from this at all. I really didn't. And all you were was a sort of high-powered social worker and perhaps not even a good one at that."

Last words

"My epitaph will be: 'He Was a Complete Tosser'"

Footnote

Thanks for much of the material to West Ham fan, Tory, broadcaster and publisher, Iain Dale, the source of many of the quotes, above, from his jolly little stocking filler, published in 1998 The Wit and Wisdom of Tony Banks - a Tribute to a Parliamentary Character. There's much more of a similar nature in there, so if the above has tickled a rib or two - get the whole cage in motion by purchasing, or otherwise acquiring, the volume!

Happy Christmas - one and all!

St Antony's tops Forest Gate junior school 2014 league table

Friday, 12 December 2014

Ofsted has recently published its national junior/primary school league tables. Wearing our ever-parochial hat, we thought we'd publish a Forest Gate extract from them. The Ofsted results cover seven E7 junior schools and they show the performance of 11 year-olds who took the National Curriculum tests this year.


St Antony's - top of local mini-league

 
They are good.

Column 1 shows the percentage of students who met or exceeded the government's level 4 score in reading.

Column 2 shows the percentage of students who met or exceeded the government's level 4 score in writing.

Column 3 shows the percentage of students who met or exceeded the government's level 4 score in maths.

Column 4 shows the percentage of students who met or exceeded the government's level 4 score in all three subjects.

Column 5 shows the "Value Added" by the school to the relevant cohort of pupils. 


Elmhurst - second in local league table


A score of 100 indicates that the school obtained the results it would have been expected to, given the previous attainments levels of relevant students. A score lower than 100 suggests that the students fared less well than would have been expected; and a score in excess of 100 suggests the school added more "value" than could have been anticipated from the relevant students.

The schools are listed in order of "Value Added", as this would seem to measure the effectiveness of the school rather than its pupils.

To put local results into context: nationally, 79% pupils reached Level 4 in all three assessed subjects (all local schools bettered this, locally). 82% of London pupils reached Level 4 in all assessed subjects (all bar William Davies bettered this, locally).


Sandringham - bang on average, locally,
with slightly better than expected performance


Schools are regarded as "failing" if fewer than 65% pupils hit the Level 4 in all three subjects level. Last year that "failure borderline" was 60%; next year it will be 85%. No local schools come anywhere near even the higher target figure, set for next year.

In summary: St Antony's not only provided the "best" results, but added the most "Value". Only St James', locally did not add more "Value" than could have been expected - and only by a fraction of a percentage. There was little to choose between Forest Gate's other five junior schools, in terms of "Value Added".


St Antony's read: 100, write: 93, maths: 100, all: 93, value added: 103.0


Elmhurst
read: 94, write: 94, maths: 98, all: 92, value added: 101.8

William Davies
read: 87, write: 97, maths: 83, all: 80, value added: 100.5

Sandringham
read: 88, write: 91, maths: 92, all: 82, value added: 100.4

Earlham Grove
read: 93, write: 95, maths: 88, all: 85, value added: 101.1

Godwin
read: 91, write: 86, maths: 94, all: 83, value added: 101.0

St James'
read: 90, write: 90, maths: 88, all: 83, value added: 99.6


St James' - bottom of local mini league,
with results slightly below expectation










Park Ward in 1907

Friday, 5 December 2014



This is the second in our three-part series looking at the Forest Gate area just over a century ago, through the eyes of social researchers, Howard and Wilson, who set out to describe conditions in an outer London area, in their highly-acclaimed  West Ham - a study in industrial problems

The book looks at the whole of the borough and painted pen portraits of each of the local authority's electoral wards, in 1907.

Below is their description of Park Ward (see map for the extent of the boundaries). Details of their portrait of Forest Gate ward can be found here.

 


Park Ward, 1907

In 1901, Park Ward had a population of 17,000 - the time of the census just before the authors conducted their survey. Howarth and Wilson described the ward, thus:
The southern part of the ward is occupied by West Ham Park, a space of 73 acres, which belongs to the Corporation of London.
In the Romford Road, which runs east to west through the ward, are large houses in which doctors, clergy, and prosperous business people live. Many of these houses are of the type built at the beginning of the last (19th) century, and till twenty years ago had long gardens with orchards. Gardens of the size of a tennis court remain.
The sites vary from 150 feet upward to 300 feet in depth, and there are back entrances in many cases. Such houses were numerous in Stratford twenty-five years ago, but most of them have disappeared to make way for smaller property.
To the north of Romford Road, near the Forest Gate station are five roads, which until ten years ago were the best part of the borough, and were inhabited by middle-class people, such as lived on the Woodgrange Estate in the Upton ward until a few years ago, when a great many people of this class moved to Ilford or father east. Westwards, towards Stratford, the houses are rather smaller, and the tenants are artisans and small tradespeople.
  
Earlham Grove, 1911, one of the five roads
Howarth and Wilson descibe as formerly having been
"the best part of the borough", but now
suffering from an exodus to Ilford

This part of the ward contains the Central Free Library, which is a large building and the Technical Institute. The houses between Maryland Point Station and the Technical Institute are let at rents varying between 12s to 14s a week, and are inhabited by clerks, foreman shop assistants, and people of small means. In The Green are some old houses like those in the Romford Road, with rents ranging from £60 to £80 per year.
In the roads just to the east of this part, the rents run from £30 to £50, and the tenants are clerks, salesmen and managers of works, and retired businessmen; while towards Forest Gate some of the houses are more expensive, varying from £30 to £70 or £80.
The streets between the Park and Romford Road vary in character. Vicarage Lane, which forms part of the west boundary, contains several shops at the northern end, and at the southern houses let at 8s 6d to 11s per week.
The roads between it and the Park contain houses at about 12s per week for six rooms and a wash house, the majority being let by the agent in halves at 6s or 6s 6d. They have been divided within the last eight years, and are inhabited mainly by artisans and small tradespeople, with a certain number of clerks.
 

One of the large houses ( no 244) on Romford
Road, to which the authors draw attention

A group of three streets in the north-west of this contains houses rented at 9s for four rooms and a wash-house. They are inhabited by mechanics, regular labourers, dealers and others, who often take in a lodger, because they prefer a respectable neighbourhood, notwithstanding a rent which is high in proportion to their means.
Houses in the Matthews Park estate, which includes the houses to the north of the Park, are let at 14s a week, and have six rooms, a wash-house, and in many cases a bathroom. The roads between this estate and the eastern boundary of the ward contain houses of the same type let at 13s a week, and in most cases adapted for two families by the addition of a kitchener and water upstairs.
Two streets on the eastern boundary are occupied by business and professional men, and are of a better class. The houses are mostly let by the year and rents vary from £26 to £40. In the road which faces the north side of the Park, the houses are let by the year at rents varying from £30 to £36, exclusive of rates and taxes. Two of these, near the Upton Lane, are rented at £60. They are occupied by professional and business people, and contain seven rooms, a bathroom and a wash-house. A few have seven, eight, or nine rooms."
As we stated in our previous article in this series (see here for Forest Gate ward), the above description focuses mainly on male occupations, elsewhere in their book, however, Howarth and Wilson consider female employment, which would appear to have predominantly in the clothing industry.

Water fountain at West Ham Park -
controlled by the Corporation of London -
accounting for 73 acres of the ward, Photo c 1900 -
the time of the survey


They have a few observations that relate to the area,, for example:
Many women work to meet some definite part of the family expenditure, such as children's clothes or boots and a considerable number of girls in Forest Gate and Upton Park make underclothing in order to pay for their dress.
Looking as specific aspects of the rag trade, they have the following to report:
 
About 75 per cent of the workers employed in blouse-making live in the better parts of Plaistow, West Ham and Stratford, and in certain streets in Forest Gate and Upton Park where the rent is often 12s to 14s a week. It is noticeable that those who live in Forest Gate and Upton Park, a considerable number live with their parents, while others have several brothers or sisters living with them, who are occupied in various ways, often as clerks.
And finally on costume making, about half those employed in the trade were single women:
The majority were found in the better class streets in Stratford, Forest Gate and Upton. One or two rented their houses by the month; but on the other hand, one woman was living in a single room. The work is mostly of a good class, and is only entrusted to the superior type of home worker. All the workers in this group appeared to own their own machines. In some cases materials and models are sent by West End firms and the work is largely done by hand. The costumiers sometimes do private work, and are practically private dressmakers, who eke out their means by taking private work from shops.

Forest Gate in 1907

Friday, 28 November 2014

 This is the first in a three-part series looking at the Forest Gate area just over a century ago, through the eyes of social researchers, Howard and Wilson, who set out to describe conditions in an outer London area, in their highly-acclaimed  West Ham - a study in industrial problems.  The book looks at the whole of the borough and painted pen portraits of each of the local authority's electoral wards, in 1907.

Below is their description of Forest Gate Ward (see map for the extent of the boundaries). Their portraits of Park and Upton wards will be posted over future weeks.
 

Boundaries of Forest Gate ward, 1907
 In 1901, Forest Gate Ward had a population of 21,000 - the time of the census just before the authors conducted their survey. 
Howarth and Wilson describe the ward, thus:
 
The ward lies to the north of the Great Eastern Railway to Ilford. The eastern part is divided from the western by the Woodford Road, a main thoroughfare connecting the southern part of the borough with Wanstead Flats, which adjoin the northern boundary. The two parts are different in character. In the eastern the houses are larger, and many of them are owned by the occupiers, or let an annual or quarterly rent.
  
Chestnut Avenue and Avenue Road, which lead from Forest Gate Station to Wanstead Flats were built about 1875. The houses are detached or semi-detached, and are let by the year by the year or by the quarter at rentals varying from £28 to £50 per annum. The tenants are chiefly business people and clerks, whose work lies in the City.

Chestnut Avenue c 1911


 A change has overcome Avenue Road property during the last five years. The houses are difficult to let, and although the tenants are of the same class as formerly, they belong to a rather lower grade. On the other hand, some of the Chestnut Avenue property has largely increased in value. The reason of this is a demand in this district for houses with gardens. The lease of one of these with four rooms and a wash-house, was sold for £230, whereas it fetched £175 twelve years ago.
In Godwin Road and its neighbourhood the homes contain five, six or eight rooms, and are inhabited by clerks, warehousemen, shop assistants, school teachers, and a few retired tradesmen. Some of the largest houses are the property of these last.
Land east of the Woodford Road was acquired by the British Land Company and sold to them by the Manor Park Cemetery Company, who developed this district, except the part between Woodford Road and Chestnut Avenue.

Woodford Road c 1905


A great part of the western section of the ward, that between the Woodford Road and Tower Hamlets Road, belonged to the Dames estate. In 1855, it was sold in plots of 75 to 80 feet by 100 to 110 feet, but was developed very slowly, a few houses being put up at a time. In about 1866 it was bought by a land company, and the development became more rapid. Londoners, such as Curtain Road (Shoreditch) cabinet makers and inhabitants of Whitechapel, often bought plots for gardens.
They used to put up huts and spend the week-end in them, and many built houses at a later time. A large number of the plots were bought by the Conservative Land Society and United Land Company, who cut them up into smaller plots and resold them for sites. Building ceased about 1880.
In Dames Road, which for the most part runs northward from Woodford Road, are some new flats, with separate front doors. The accommodation consists of four rooms and a wash-house downstairs, and three rooms and a wash-house upstairs. They were built in 1903, and are inhabited mostly by newly married City clerks.


Dames Road


These flats are very strictly kept, as they are in great demand. The rest of Dames Road, which was built in 1878, is chiefly inhabited by clerks and businessmen in the City, and has shops on one side of the southern end. The rents vary from 8s 6d, per week to £40 per year. The houses have maintained their level up to the present time, but the shops are difficult to let.
Vansittart Road, which is mainly inhabited by carmen (drivers of vans, or carts - at this time, usually horse drawn)and casual labourers, runs from Dames Road to the cemetery. It was built mainly about 1878, and consists of six-roomed houses, which are now let in halves, though originally meant for a single middle class family. The type is a common one in many parts of the borough.
Downstairs there are two rooms with folding doors, a kitchen, and a wash-house; and upstairs, two rooms and a kitchen, supplied with a range and a sink. The rent of the lower flat is 6s 6d; and that of the upper 6s.
In some of the shorter roads off Dames Road the houses are mostly four-roomed, and are let at 9s; but there are also some six-roomed houses at 11s, which are occupied by two families. The tenants are builders, joiners, stone masons and other artisans, with a few clerks.
The Forest Gate and Tottenham Railway, which is raised above the ground level crosses all these roads. It was built in 1891, and is said to have caused a depreciation of property, 15s house rents having fallen to 11s. It has only been within the last eight or ten years that houses in this part of Forest Gate have been let to two families.
The inhabitants of Field Road and Odessa Road, which date from 1854, are less well-to-do, being mostly artisans earning a low wage, carmen and labourers. The houses generally contain five rooms at a rent of 9s, and the tenants usually sublet.
 
One of the artisans/carmen of Odessa Road,
described by Howarth and Wilson

From St James Road to the western boundary of the ward the houses are usually of a better class. They are occupied by men employed by the Great Eastern Railway Works (in Stratford, on what is now Westfield and the Olympic Park), and are the better paid artisans. Private speculators purchased land in this part, and estates in the neighbourhoods east of the Leytonstone Road were bought by the National Freehold Land Society.
Forest Lane, which is the southern boundary of the ward, faces the Great Eastern Railway. It contains several large houses, but laterally some shops have been built at the Forest Gate end, because the present inhabitants of the district, less prosperous than their predecessors, demand shops within easy reach of their homes.
Part of West Ham Cemetery and an Industrial School belonging to Poplar occupy a considerable space in the ward."
The above description focuses mainly on male occupations, elsewhere in their book, however, Howarth and Wilson consider female employment, which would appear to have predominantly in the clothing industry.
 
They have a few observations that relate to the area,, for example:
Many women work to meet some definite part of the family expenditure, such as children's clothes or boots and a considerable number of girls in Forest Gate and Upton Park make underclothing in order to pay for their dress.

Sebert Road, 1910

 Looking as specific aspects of the rag trade, they have the following to report:
About 75 per cent of the workers employed in blouse-making live in the better parts of Plaistow, West Ham and Stratford, and in certain streets in Forest Gate and Upton Park where the rent is often 12s to 14s a week. It is noticeable that those who live in Forest Gate and Upton Park, a considerable number live with their parents, while others have several brothers or sisters living with them, who are occupied in various ways, often as clerks.
And finally on costume making, about half those employed in the trade were single women:
The majority were found in the better class streets in Stratford, Forest Gate and Upton. One or two rented their houses by the month; but on the other hand, one woman was living in a single room. The work is mostly of a good class, and is only entrusted to the superior type of home worker. All the workers in this group appeared to own their own machines. In some cases materials and models are sent by West End firms and the work is largely done by hand. The costumiers sometimes do private work, and are practically private dressmakers, who eke out their means by taking private work from shops.
 

Charles Ward: Forest Gate designer, printer and politician

Friday, 21 November 2014



Newham Council's archives host a collection of original drawings, samples and commercial artwork of Charles Henry Ward, a local designer, printer - and later politician. They constitute the samples book and folio of a fine Forest Gate art-nouveau craftsman.






Self-portrait cartoon of Ward,
perhaps reflecting how he saw
himself, as a leader/Leo
Some of his splendid work would have added considerable panache to the promotional material of many a local and national business, in an era when all artwork was hand crafted - before computer software made us all instant (and usually poor) designers.

Charles was, additionally, a local politician of some significance, eventually becoming a Freeman of the Borough of West Ham. What follows is a brief account of his work and public service, pieced together from a number of sources.  We would be delighted to hear from any of his descendants, with whom it would be great to share more information about him.

Charles was born in Walworth, South London in 1874, the son of Frederick, a print machine manager, whom he followed into "the print". He was indentured as a compositor's apprentice to T Scott, in South East London in the late 1880s.

By the end of his apprenticeship - the quality of his work was being recognised by the professional press, for its "excellent workmanship".

Attracting favourable attention
from printing trade press, 1890's
Ward later moved to Forest Gate, and by the time of the 1901 census  was living in Thompson Road, West Ham, where he was described as an overseer print compositor.



It would appear that he became a business partner of a Mr Whiteway and they established a printing company at 98 Woodgrange Road, which designed and produced work, of a high standard for local and national businesses and organisations.


Letterhead, of the Ward, Whiteway partnership
 and the local papers  they produced, dated 1890s

Well-designed promotional literature,
when still in partnership with Whiteway

Ward later became the sole proprietor of the company. Those premises are now the Jamia Darussunah mosque(see photographs, below).


Poor reproduction of photo
of Ward's business premises
at 98 Woodgrange Road (undated)

The business premises today
- a local mosque

In addition to the jobbing printing work, as the letterhead indicates, the company produced a couple of local newspapers, the Forest Gate Gazette and West Ham Herald. They also had a branch office at 190 Fleet Street, which presumably was used for copy gathering from agencies.  Unfortunately, the only publicly available copies of these publications is in the National Library of Australia!

What follows is a selection of some of Ward's artwork held in Newham archives - to whom thanks are given for being able to access the material.

Much of it consisted of what would normally be mundane work for a local jobbing printer - business cards and stationery, letterheads, invitation cards, adverts etc for local traders - but incorporated unusually high design standards of design for such a press.

Local advertising literature - better
than a bog standard leaflet! (1)
Local advertising literature - better
than a bog standard leaflet! (2)
 He also did some high quality programme-type work for local entertainment venues, including the Forest Gate School of Music  in Earlham Grove (see here for full details of this innovative organisation).


Forest Gate School of
Music party programme
School of Music social soiree
programme, 1899

Well designed tickets for small local event

Programme, for similar event
One of Ward's less successful designs,
 perhaps.  Suggesting he was promoting
 the activities of a Raper and Lothier!
Ward's reputation and quality of work was such that, although operating a relatively small local printers' business, he was commissioned to produce material for a far wider range of clients, in London and elsewhere in the country - some for high profile and high status organisations, as the following selection indicates:


Reputation and work beyond Forest Gate (1)
Reputation and work beyond Forest Gate (2)


Reputation and work beyond Forest Gate (3)
Reputation and work beyond Forest Gate (4)
 
The innovative company not only produced materials for others, but was an early developer of greetings cards, which it published under its own imprint.


The medium is the message,
some years before Marshall McLuhan!
Assorted Christmas cards - 6 a penny!
Early producers of greetings cards
And blotting paper!
Possibly the Victorian world's
most stylish jam jar cover labels
The materials, unfortunately, are undated, so it is difficult to track the progress of his artistic development.

By 1911 he had moved, with his family, to 26 Clova Road - one of the more salubrious roads in Forest Gate (see photo of the house, today - below), and the company was  transformed into a limited company, the Woodgrange Press, in 1913.
26 Clova Road, Ward's
house, post 1911

It is unclear when it moved a little further up Woodgrange Road to the rather splendid Art Deco building, next to Wanstead Park station - but presumably in the 1930's. The company continued trading there until 1991, when it was dissolved. The lovely building (see below) was knocked down in 2008 to make way for Raymond Chadburn House, which clumsily attempts to incorporate elements of the former Eagle and Child pub into a block of flats.


Art deco print works on Woodgrange
Road, into which Ward and Co moved,
probably in 1930s. Demolished in 2002.
Thanks to Carol Price, for the photo.


We do not know what kind of World War 1 Charles Ward had, but he turned to local politics at the onset of peace and was elected, briefly, as a West Ham Councillor in 1919.  He was re-elected in 1925, for at least a further 20 years.


Charles Ward, 1926
He was a member of the Municipal Alliance, the name under which Conservatives stood in local elections in West Ham, at the time - perhaps not surprising for a small businessman seeking election to an overwhelmingly Labour local authority in East London.

One of the issues that seriously divided the Labour Party and Municipal Alliance on the local council was their attitude to poor relief (over which local authorities had a large say).

The early 1920s saw a great deal of local distress and unemployment in East London, which councils were charged with addressing. This put huge pressure on their budgets, because the rates' yield was low and the demand for poor relief high.

There was a requirement on councils, from the central government, to 'balance the books' a near -impossible task, without punishing the poor, by reducing council staff wages and cutting the dole to local unemployed people.

Some councils, most notably Poplar, under George Lansbury, fiercely resisted these demands, and were indeed jailed for their civil disobedience in doing so.

There were pressures to resist in a similar fashion in adjacent West Ham.

In 1921, for example, the Minister of Health, Sir William Joynson-Hicks said, while struggling with the Poplar Council rebellion that:  "Poplarism is an infectious disease. The infection is already obvious in London Unions, such as Bermondsey and West Ham".

The Municipal Alliance, representing the interest of business ratepayers and the more prosperous of West Ham was fiercely opposed to the kind of civil disobedience being undertaken by Poplar Council, and by implication and spread of it to West Ham.

Charles Ward was very explicit in this opposition, when in an election meeting in 1922 he said "The Municipal Alliance does not believe in doles, and if the candidates were returned, they would do their best to stop this out-going of public funds".
 
Reactionary attitudes like this almost sounded the death knoll for the Alliance in West Ham, and Labour almost obliterated it at the election (Labour 18 seats, Municipal Alliance 6). Ward, however, survived, representing the Forest Gate ward, the most prosperous in borough, for many years.

In 1925 West Ham councillors and Poor Law Guardians were summoned to the Ministry of Health, to account for the £1.8m deficit they had run up on the borough's poor relief account. Ward was a member of the delegation that met the then Minister of Health, Neville Chamberlain.


Ward, second right, at the delegation
to the Ministry of Health, 1925
An Evening News cartoon,
lampooning the Municipal Alliance
attitude to relieving poverty in West Ham
It is unclear what his role, or contribution at the meeting, was as he was opposed to the existence of the deficit - as shown in the quote from his 1922 speech, above.

One consequence of the meeting was, however, that the Board of Guardians was removed from office by Chamberlain, the following year, for having defied his edict to move towards the elimination of the deficit. We will return to this affair in a later post.


No money for poverty relief,
but some for a silver spade
presented to Ward in 1931,
when flood relief work started
on the River Lea
Charles Ward, despite his contrary opinion, remained on the Council at least until 1945, when he was granted Freedom of the Borough, "in recognition of his distinguished local public service". We have almost no further details of Ward and his work, unfortunately.


Certificate commemorating
Charles Ward's Freedom
of the borough of West Ham, 1945
We do know, however, that he published a book on West Ham around the year 1923, of which we have been unable to obtain a copy from any library, or on-line source. According to an oral history interview, long-time Newham councillor Arthur Edwards gave to Eastside Community Heritage a decade or so ago, this book was regarded for many a year as the definitive book on the area, being "historically and socially accurate".

And finally .. probably Charles Ward's longest lasting tribute to the area he did business in and represented on West Ham Council:



We would love to hear from anyone who may have access to Ward's book or any more details of the life of the fascinating local character and gifted graphic artist.


Updates to previous blogs

Friday, 14 November 2014

From time to time we come across images or additional material that adds significantly to earlier posts.  This article is a collection of some of those items.
 
We have added the relevant sections as postscripts to the original article, for ease of access for future visitors, and added, at the end of each section, the hyperlink to the location of the original article, with its post script.


We know that this site can only be a first draft of bigger stories for each of the short articles we produce, and are always keen to hear of more information about the subjects covered.  Please feel free to add memories to the comments section of any blog, or send in details of further information, that we will be happy to acknowledge and display, in future update round-ups.


Forest Gate Industrial School fire, 1890




Illustrated London News 11 Jan 1890,
Industrial school fire, dormitory
where children suffocated (1)

We have recently come across a copy of the Illustrated London News of 11 January 1890.  This included sketches of the fire at the Forest Gate Industrial School, on the previous New Year's Eve.

We reproduce these, below, which should be viewed in conjunction with our article on the fire, in May of this year.





Illustrated London News 11 Jan 1890,
Industrial school fire, general view of building
 The original story, with the sketches added as postscripts, can be accessed here.
Illustrated London News 11 Jan 1890,
Industrial school fire, dormitory
where children suffocated (2)


Forest Gate cinemas

A Cinema Miscellany no 24 (2003) by Brian Hornsey has provided valuable additional local material about a few of the local cinemas covered in our history of them in our Every Picturehouse tells a story feature, of July 2013. We thank him for his painstaking research.

The Imperial Palace (also known as the Regal and Rio) was for a while, around the outbreak of World War 1 known as the Forest Gate Electrical Theatre ( shortened to The Electric).

The Forest Gate Public Hall etc. In its early days had 1,000 seats, but following refurbishment around the outbreak of World War 1 they were reduced to 750 - suggesting that the earlier seating was on benches, replaced by single seats after the refit.  Prices for show around the start of World war were from 5d to 1/3d (depending on sitting within the cinema).

The Queen's.  Millionaire A E Abrahams had had such success with his Manor Park Coronation Cinema (built, nor surprisingly in 1902) that he built this - a sister cinema to it, near his Forest Gate home. Following its 1928 refit it became one of the first cinemas in the area to show talkies (introduced that year) and full length feature films.




Queen's Cinema
Poor reproduction of photograph
 of interior of Queen's Cinema
Another poor reproduction photo
 of Queen's Cinema exterior

The Odeon. It was opened on 1 March 1937 with "Thank Evans", when prices ranged from 6d to 1/-, with continuous showings from 12.30pm, daily. After the emergence of Odeon the two main cinemas in Forest Gate were it and the Queen's - operated by two of the country's major cinema chains. From this time, these two cinemas tended to show the major recent releases and the other local cinemas were left showing re-runs and 'B' movie feature films.

World War 11 and local cinemas. All places of entertainment - in Forest Gate, and nationwide - were closed on 3 September and all but essential staff were laid off (without compensation). When it became clear that the threatened invasion was not about to happen, cinemas reopened gradually, after about two weeks. There were four local cinemas operating by October 1939: The Odeon (1,800 seats), The Queen's (1,700 seats), The King's (600 seats) and the Splendid (550 seats). The Kings closed first, in 1940 (the circumstances are not clear). The Splendid, dropped its curtain for the final time, around then.  The Queen's was badly bombed on 21 April 1941, and its near neighbour the Odeon less severely hit.  The Odeon was repaired, but the Queen's was now gone for good.

So, by the end of the war the Odeon was the sole surviving local cinema, brining to an end a frantic half century of openings, closures, name changes and mergers locally.  The Odeon was fully restored and operating at its peak level by 1950. It was fitted with a Cinemascope screen in 1954.

Original article, with these notes and photos added as a post script, can be accessed here.


Wag Bennett and Arnie Schwarzenegger's gym

One of the most viewed articles on this site was the first (it's been all downhill since!), on the fire at Wag Bennett's gym, on Romford Road in April 2013.






Wag's house and gym (1), November 2014
The post has been viewed by a large number of both body builders and Arnie fans, as far as we have been aware. Not all of them will pass the sorry state that is the building, eighteen months after the fire.

The building has been squatted and vandalised, but has more recently been boarded up and secured.  Quite how effective this will prove to be, without a roof (!), remains to be seen.


Wag's house and gym (2), November 2014
So we are producing a two photos taken a couple of days ago, primarily for the benefit of blog visitors from beyond our local boundaries.

The original article, with these photos as a postscript i can be accessed here.



The Upper Cut Club



 
As visitors to this site may feel, we have an almost unhealthy obsession with this club, which ran for a single year in 1966/7 on Woodgrange Road.

We have recently come across a couple of gems that can be added to our regular coverage. Paul Osborn, who has an interest in the former pirate radio stations, of the 1960's, contacted us with a fascinating MP3 recording, attached, below.

The Club used to host regular sessions of the Giggle, Goggle, Guggle Club - essentially a disco held on Sunday afternoons, hosted by DJs from the pirate radio stations. Tony Blackburn and Ed Stewart, among others appeared.

The You Tube clip, below, is from an advert broadcast on Radio London ("Big L") on 12 August 1967. It was promoting an appearance at the Upper Cut Club, by DJ Mike Quinn, who could be seen for "Half a crown"!




Pete Drummond on Radio London reading
an advert during the morning show for the
Giggle, Goggle Guggle Show, at the
Upper Cut Club, on Saturday 12 August 1967.
 
Click link:  to hear. Thanks to Paul Osborn for the link



We have placed this as a postscript to the article on The Summer of Love, we published in August this year. It can be viewed here.

Prominent Rock music journalist, Peter Guralnick produced a book, published by Penguin, Sweet Soul Music in 1986. It includes photos of both Sam and Dave and Otis Redding, appearing at the Upper Cut on 18 March 1967. Close inspection of the photos shows posters on the wall of the club, adverting the event.

Sam and Dave at the Upper Cut
 Club, 18 March 1967


 Guralnick credits Fred Lewis for the use of these photos.  We have been unable to track Mr Lewis down, but would like to thank him, for our ability to use them. Any other, similar photos, would be very gratefully received! We have placed these photos on our article on the Stax Tour, of April this year, which can be accessed here.
Otis Redding performing at the
Upper Cut Club, 18 March 1967