Trams in Forest Gate: 1886 - 1940

Friday, 23 January 2015

We are deeply indebted to a group of tram enthusiasts for recollecting and recording, in detail, this fascinating part of Forest Gate's historic public transport past. See footnote at end for the sources of much of the information and how to get further details.

One of the earliest surviving photos of local trams.
It is of  horse drawn vehicles, from the 1880's
and was taken at the top of Red Post Lane,
in what is now Katherine Road. We are indebted
to local historian, Carol Price, for use of this rare
and unique photo.

Trams first came for East London in 1871, with a horse-drawn line running from Aldgate to Stratford, to provide cheap transport for East End City workers, for 1d per journey. The Manor Park to Stratford route - one of the most significant in the network - was added in 1886, after the completion of the Woodgrange estate, and other similar late-Victorian developments in the area.

Turn of century horse-drawn, open-top tram on Romford
Road. Note women using parasols, to keep off the sun

Each horse cost £8 per week to feed and stable. To cuts costs, experiments were tried, replacing them with steam-driven trams, compressed air locomotives and  battery driven vehicles, but these were all unsuccessful, at this time.

Trams became truly "public" transport in east London, from the late 1890s, when they became a local authority managed, operation, at a time when local councils played far more significant roles in shaping the life chances and social conditions of their communities than they are allowed today.

Tram outside Forest Gate Station c 1910

Civic pride soon featured and the trams were resplendent with highly polished wooden and brass exteriors, varnished paintwork, with local authority crests in evidence. The original colour scheme of the West Ham fleet was Munich Lake and pale cream, but was later changed to maroon and deep cream.

Incidentally, the first manager of the West Ham depot was Herbert Blain (later Sir Herbert), who was a founding member of NALGO - the former local government trade union.

Souvenir brochure, for the opening of the
West Ham Council tram depot, in Greengate
Street, Plaistow, 1906, built at a cost of £30,000

The life of a tram driver was not easy; they had to stand for all of their working hours, in all weathers. There were no windows on the front of the tram, so in summer they could get badly sunburned and in winter, snow and rain would beat into their faces as they drove the vehicles.

The drivers worked a 10-hour day, Monday to Saturday, and eight hours on Sundays. They were paid 7.25d (3p) per hour; and after a year's service, received 13 days holiday per annum.

Corner of Romford and Woodgrange Road (1905)

From the turn of the century the pressure was on the tram industry to replace the older horse-drawn trams with electricity driven, and so much faster and generally more reliable, vehicles. East Ham became the first local authority in London to adopt them.

West Ham Council entered the electrically-driven era in 1904 and trams were soon running from Wanstead Flats. In 1909 the Aldgate to Ilford route was opened; operated by three different authorities :the London County and West Ham and Leyton Borough Councils.

Tram outside Old Spotted Dog,
on its way to Wanstead Flats

West Ham Council ran trams 21 hours per day, starting at 3.30am, until 12.30am, every  day of the year. In 1912 the local transport department had 118 tram cars, operated on 11 routes and provided 41 million passenger journeys.

Plaistow to Wanstead Flats service, c 1910

By 1913, the following routes served different parts of Forest Gate:

• Route 4: Wanstead Flats to Victoria and Albert Docks
• Route 5: Wanstead Flats to Canning Town
• Route 8: Bakers Arms to Victoria and Albert Docks, via Forest Gate
• Route 10: Stratford Broadway to Boleyn via Forest Gate
• Route 63: Aldgate to Ilford

Trams became a vital transport link for those engaged locally in war work, between 1914 - 1918, travelling to and from the docks and munitions factories within the borough, and beyond.

Wanstead Flats tram terminus, 1905 in Woodford Road.
The trams stopped where the houses ended, just
at the borough boundary. The turning on the left
is Forest Road. When larger numbers of passengers began
to use the route, additional lengths of track were laid
in Forest Road and then to the western end of Capel Road

Women were employed on public transport to replace many of the men ("substitutionism" as it was often called)who enlisted or were taken up with other war work, both as "clippies" and, in a few cases, as drivers.
Unfortunately, we have no details of how this significant opening up of a traditional male job preserve to women impacted on the diversification of employment opportunities in our area at this time.

War activity clearly took economic and practical precedence during this time and few improvements were made to the tram rolling stock or network, apart from essential maintenance, for the duration of the conflict.

Car 15 in Forest Road, looking towards
Wanstead Flats, 1927

Extensive fleet renovation and upgrading were therefore necessary at the end of the war, and were introduced, locally, in the 1920's. These included the replacement of open top trams as the main priority.  Motor buses soon emerged as serious competition for trams; and later, trolley buses joined the more mixed economy of local public transport.

In 1925 East Ham Council proposed to replace the tram service with a trolleybus route from Wanstead Flats to the Royal Docks. The transport authority, however,  soon backed off  after protests from service users, who feared the replacements would mean the end of cheap workman's fares. Both West and East Ham councils consequently refocused their transport development efforts into upgrading the tram rolling stock.

Route map for West Ham Corporation trams,
dated 1925. It gives the fares for the various
routes, expressed in route miles and yards covered

An integrated, co-ordinated,  London-wide public transport network was mooted in the late 1920's, and  the London Passenger Transport Board (London Transport) was created, as a result, in 1933.

Tram approaching Princess Alice on Romford Road,
about to cross, what is still a nightmare off-set
junction, into Upton Lane, in 1930s. The crossing
had previously featured a "grand union" curved
junction, much loved by tram enthusiasts!

The Board compulsorily purchased the rolling stock and routes of the West and East Ham corporation transport departments - with West Ham contributing 134 vehicles to the new company.

The new London Transport Board began to rationalise routes, and by 1934, the following tram services operated in the Forest Gate area:

• Route 10: Circular - Stratford, Forest Gate, Green Street, Plaistow
• Route 63: Ilford Broadway to Aldgate
• Route 73: Royal Docks to Wanstead Park
• Route 95: Canning Town to Wanstead Flats
• Route 95a: Upton Park, Boleyn, Wanstead Flats.

This is a former West Ham corporation tram,
shown resplendent in London Transport livery
- still working local routes - after the establishment
of the London-wide transport operation.
It was built for West Ham Corporation in 1900

In 1935 London Transport began to replace trams with trolley and motor buses, across the whole of the metropolis. As a consequence, by 1937 trams had disappeared from all local routes, except those that continued to run to Aldgate.

Car 211 by the ponds and trees of Wanstead Flats
- October 1936, waiting to leave one of the last 73
services. Unusually, this route was not converted
to trolleybus

By 1940, even those two routes - the 63 and 67 - were replaced by motor buses. The last trams trundled through West Ham in June 1940.

Model of car 119 on the Wanstead Flats to Canning Town
route. This model was exhibited at the Wembley Exhibition
in 1924, was at the Science Museum in Kensington and
later at the Old Station Museum, in North Woolwich,
until its sad closure

One or two of the old local trams survive today at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.  Most, however, were sent to the scrap yard in 1952.

Tram on Romford Road c 1936. The route was
replaced by a trolley bus the following year.
The tram is passing the West Ham Municipal baths,
recently demolished. The baths were opened
in 1934.

Trolleybuses, themselves, began to be withdrawn in 1959 and electric street transport finally ended in 1960, locally, with the closure of the West Ham Depot. This will be the focus of a later blog.

This old West Ham tram can still be seen
at the London Transport Museum, in Covent Garden

• Footnote. Further information on this topic can be found in East Ham and West Ham Tramways, by Robert J Harley.  The book is published by the Middleton Press and is available priced £17.95. Thanks also go to the Newham Story, and Robert Rogers, in particular, for memories and some fine photographs and images.

A nod at our neighbours: chronology of Wanstead House and Park

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The delights of Wanstead Park, just beyond the Forest Gate borders are one of the real, little appreciated, joys of living in this area.

They and the buildings that have stood within them have a fascinating history, laden with riches, royal scandal, landscape and architectural splendour and infamy that should fascinate any historian.

Below we produce the flimsiest of chronologies, hoping it will arouse enough interest for you to delve further into the pleasures of this part of our locality.

1042 - Wanstead Manor, conferred by Edward the Confessor.

1078 - Held by Bishop of London, and let for 40/- per year to Ralph Fritz Brien.

1217 - Let to Sir Hugh de Hodeing.

1271 - Let to Sir John Huntercombe.

1368 - Death of Sir John Huntercombe, junior.

1446 - John Tattersall, who had purchased the Manor, died and house remained in his family, until ...

1457 - William Keene became lord of Manor.

1487 - Sir Ralph Hastings becomes Lord of the Manor. Succeeded by Sir John Heron, who was followed by his son, Sir Giles Heron - son-in-law of Sir Thomas More. The Herons created  the Park's Heronry - which remains - as a pun on their name.

1531 - Sir Giles Heron - accused of treason by Henry V111, and had his estate confiscated, because of his adherence to Catholic faith.

1549 - Manor granted by Edward V1 to Lord Richard Riche, who rebuilt the Manor House, (then called Naked Hall Hawe).

1553 - Queen Mary stayed there on her way from Norwich to London, to assume the crown. She received Princess Elizabeth, who rode out from London to meet the queen, attended by 1,000 knights, ladies and gentlemen, on horseback, at Wanstead.

1578 - Queen Elizabeth paid a five-day visit to Wanstead Hall, as it was known at the time, then owned by the Earl of Leicester, who had purchased the house from the Riche family. Leicester was widely assumed to be a lover of the so-called "virgin" queen. He greatly enlarged and improved the house, and married the Countess of Essex in this year.

Robert Dudley, later 1st
Earl of Leicester, Wanstead Hall
owner and royal lover 1

1588 - Earl of Leicester died and Wanstead passed to his widow, who the following year married Sir Christopher Blount. An inventory of the house, contents and grounds, at the time valued the estate at a mere £1,120.

1603 - Sir Charles Blount created Earl of Devonshire.

1606 - On the death of Earl of Devonshire, the manor passed to the crown.

1615 - James 1 stayed at Wanstead.

1617 - James 1 revisited the house, which was purchased and occupied during his reign by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham - widely rumoured to be the king's lover - the second royal lover to occupy the house. Is there something in the river Roding?

George Villiers - 1st Duke
of Buckingham,
Wanstead Hall owner
and royal lover 2

1619 - Wanstead estate sold by Duke of Buckingham to Sir Henry Mildmay (after whom parts of modern Islington are named), one of the judges by whom Charles 1 was subsequently condemned. Sir Henry was succeeded by his son, Sir John, from whom the estate was taken by Charles 11.

1662 - Wanstead sold by James, Duke of York, to whom it had been given by Charles 11, to Sir Robert Brooke, who held it until 1667.

1667 - Pepys writes:

Sir William Penn (Quaker, and founder of the US state of Pennsylvania) did give me this afternoon an account of his design for buying Sir RW Brooke's fine house at Wanstead, which I so wondered at; and did give him reasons against it, which he allowed of, and told me that he did intend to pull down the house and build a less, and that he could get £1,500 for the old house, and I know what fooleries. But I will never believe he intended to buy it, for my part, though he troubled Mr Ganden, to go and look upon it, and advise him in it.

The manor was however, bought in this year by Sir Josiah Child, a goldsmith, Governor of the East India Company and founder of Child's Bank, which was taken over by William and Glyn's in the 1920s and is now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Child greatly improved the house and grounds. In another piece of local punery around Wanstead House names, the Child name may have been incorporated in Forest Gate's former pub, the Eagle and Child.

Sir Josiah Child (1630 - 1699)

1678 - Josiah Child created baronet.

1683 - John Evelyn wrote: "I went to see Sir Josiah Child's prodigious cost in planting walnut trees about his seate and making fish ponds many miles in circuit in Epping Forest, in a barren place, as oftimes these suddenly monied for the most part seate themselves."

Pre 1715 Wanstead Hall, residence of Sir Josiah Child

1699 - Sir Josiah Child died.

1715 - Sir Richard Child, son of Josiah, pulled down Wanstead Hall and built the mansion, in the Palladian style, that remained until 1822, which a contemporary writer , of The Complete English Traveller, described as "more magnificent than Blenheim", and "one of the most elegant in England - both for the building and the gardens".

Fortifications, Wanstead House, 18th century

1718 - Sir Richard Child created Viscount Castlemaine.

1732 - Viscount Castlemaine created Earl Tylney (hence Forest Gate street name).

1748 - Peter Kalm, a Swedish botanist, having visited the house described it: "My Lord Tylney's magnificent house resembles a royal palace rather than a private man's home ... many rooms furnished in the most costly way ... one room was not like another".

1749 - Earl Tylney died and succeeded by his second son, John, who brought many art treasures from Italy to Wanstead.

1764 - House guests included George 111 and Queen Charlotte, escorted by the Light Horse cavalry.

1775 - Horace Walpole wrote: "I dined at Wanstead. Many years had passed since I saw it. The disposition of the house and prospect are very fine".

1784 - Earl Tylney died, succeeded by his nephew, James Long, who became the second Earl, Tylney-Long.

1794 - Second Earl died and succeeded by his daughter, Catherine - a minor, with an estimated wealth exceeding £1m and an annual income of £80,000. Some Bourbon aristocrats, fleeing the French Revolution, took up temporary residence in the house.

Catherine Tylney-Long

1810 - John Britton wrote:

From the entrance to the park in the west, through the main gates, the road to the house is skirted by rows of fine elms, and winds round a circular piece of water, extending considerably beyond each extremity to the mansion, from which this approach has an aspect of much grandeur ... Near the River Roding is a curious grotto, constructed by the second Earl of Tylney, at an expense of £2,000, independently of the cost of materials.

The grotto was constructed of shells, pebbles, rare stones, fossils, looking glasses and fine painted windows, with a domed roof.

1909 postcard of the ruins of the grotto

1812 - Marriage of the very eligible Catherine Tylney-Long to the feckless William Pole-Wellesley (son of Lord Maryborough, later Earl of Mornington; nephew of Duke of Wellington).

Wanstead House and gardens, looking east

1813 - Pole-Wellesley makes an abortive attempt to close a public footpath through Wanstead Park. He was a profligate playboy, who soon ran up considerable debts.

The feckless William
Pole-Wellesley (1788 - 1857)

1815 - Pole-Wellesley holds a grand fete in Wanstead House and its gardens to celebrate his uncle, the Duke of Wellington's victory over Napoleon. The Prince Regent attends along with a number of other royals and over a thousand leading dignitaries.

Wanstead House, c 1820

1822 - Sale by auction of the furniture and contents of Wanstead House, in over 6,000 lots - which lasted thirty-two days - for £41,000, for the benefit of Pole-Wellesley's creditors.

Catalogue for sale of Wanstead
House furniture, 1822

1823 - Wanstead House pulled down, and sold piecemeal, for £10,000, for the further benefit of Pole-Wellesley's creditors. After the house was pulled down, the grounds were leased for shooting. The grounds were allowed to grow wild, to improve the habitat of the game.

1825 - Catherine Pole-Wellesley died, aged 35.

1851 - Sale of Tylney-Long family portraits by Christies (including some by William Hogarth).

1859 - Earl of Mornington (formerly Pole-Wellesley) died, aged 69, not before marrying for a second time a "noble" woman who ended up in the workhouse, as a result of his reckless ways. One obituary described him thus:
A spendthrift, a profligate, a gambler in his youth - he became a debauchee in his manhood. Redeemed by no single virtue, adorned by no single grace, his life has gone out, even without a flicker of repentance.

1882 - The 184 acre grounds of the house were purchased by the Corporation of London, for £8,000, and turned into Wanstead Park, which was opened to the public. The Corporation then built roads to connect the park to Leytonstone and to Forest Gate railway station (Centre Road).

1884 - The grotto was burned out.

Unemployed relief, dredging Lake in
Wanstead Park, 1909. Grotto ruins in background

Today - Some remnants to be seen:

• The two stone pillars at the entrance to Overton Drive - facing Bush Road on Blake Hall Road were originally the entrance gates to Wanstead House. The monogram RC that remains on the pillars, refers to Richard Child, who had the 1715 house built, at a cost of £360,000.

Gatepost with Richard Child's monogram,
at entry to Overton Drive, today

• Sir Josiah Child's memorial can still be seen in the chancel of Wanstead church.

Monument to Sir Josiah Child,
still in chancel of Wanstead church

• The stables of the estate survive today, to the east of Wanstead church, housing Wanstead Golf Club.
• The Temple - built c 1760, has recently been refurbished in Wanstead Park and acts as a visitors' centre.

The Temple, built c 1760, recently
refurbished and now visitor centre for Wanstead Park

• The ruins of the Grotto, now being renovated.

Ruins of the grotto, today

• The lakes and waterways and eco-systems within Wanstead Park (see below, for details).

For more information about Wanstead House and Park, including publications, videos and events, contact the excellent Wanstead Parklands Community Project 

Crossrail and Forest Gate

Monday, 5 January 2015

 Crossrail is Europe's largest construction project, currently employing 10,000 people, on over 40 sites, along its route from Reading in the west to Shenfield in the east. It will deliver a major new, heavy-duty, suburban rail service for London and the south-east.

It will connect the City, Canary Wharf, the West End and Heathrow airport to commuter areas to the east and west of the capital.  See maps, for the routes and the table at the end of the blog for the projected journey times to each of the other 39 stations, from Forest Gate.

The complete Crossrail route - source: the company's website
It will, of course, be stopping at Forest Gate, which is one of the reasons for the upsurge in interest in E7 as a des res area, and accounted for the preposterous, and thankfully rejected, Obsidian proposals to build a 19 story block of flats adjacent to the local railway station, a couple of years back.

Forest Gate will be one of the first areas to benefit from the new rolling stock to be introduced to the line - with the Shenfield to Liverpool Street section likely to become fully functional in May 2017, two years ahead of the completion of the whole 100 km project.

What else can local residents expect from this huge transport development?

Property prices will continue to boom, as the completion date approaches, and doubtless there will be further attempts to resurrect plans to build on the projected Obsidian footprint - Earlham Grove and parts of Woodgrange Road - including the almost planning blighted row of shops between Forest Gate station and the hideous Durning Hall sprawl.

Forest Gate Plaza (1) - an artist's impression - source: December Newham News
The new properties, and incomers ,will doubtless accelerate the changing social profile of the area, as young, middle class commuters displace recent, poorer, immigrant communities who found the area attractive because of its relative cheap, and often rather poor, housing stock.

So, gentrification will continue, and with it more upmarket food and shopping options, no doubt.

Environmental changes

The £15bn Crossrail construction costs includes a proposal to make Forest Gate Station disabled-friendly - by offering step-free access to platforms, and will almost certainly spruce up the rather shabby and dull appearance of the platforms and current staircases.

The project is also investing £2.3m in transforming the open space around the station, before the Crossrail becomes fully functional in 2019.

Consultations on what the upgraded station environs should look like will begin later this year (2015). Crossrail's environmental architects and designers have come up with a couple of sketches of what the area could look like - to assist with the consultation process, and these are shown in this blog.

Their current thoughts are to:

• Improve pavement width, outside the station;
• Remove the slip road to Woodgrange Road, from Forest Lane and replace it with a revised, raised, signalled T junction, with improved facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, and create a new public space; and
• Introduce a 20 mph speed limit in the area, to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety

Forest Gate Plaza (2): source: Newham Council website

Service improvements

Passenger levels at Forest Gate have increased enormously over the last few years, as Stratford has expanded and train frequencies have increased.  Six trains an hour is now the norm, for all but very off-peak times.

This level of service will more than double, once the new rolling stock is introduced.

Crossrail trains will be 200 metres long and carry 1,500 passengers, about twice the number catered for on existing London Underground services.

There will be 12 Crossrail trains per hour (every five minutes) in peak periods, and six per hour in off peak times, going through Forest Gate station.  There will, additionally, be four non-Crossrail trains per hour stopping at Forest Gate - presumably the longer distance trains on the main rail network, by whichever company has the franchise, then.

Journey times

Below are the projected travel times to each of the 39 stations on the Crossrail route, from Forest Gate.  All journeys are direct, except the four stations on the south-eastern spur (Custom House, Canary Wharf, Woolwich and Abbey Wood), when a change of train is required at Whitechapel.

Crossrail's north-east spur - source: the company's website

The time of the Whitechapel change would need to be added to each of those four journey times, set out below:

Abbey Wood - 25 mins  (plus Whitechapel change)
Acton - 28 mins
Bond St - 20 mins
Brentwood - 26 mins
Burnham - 54 mins
Canary Wharf - 14 mins (plus Whitechapel change)
Chadwell Heath - 12 mins
Custom House - 17 mins ( plus Whitechapel change)
Ealing Broadway - 31 mins
Farringdon - 15 mins
Gide Park - 19 mins
Goodmayes - 10 mins
Hanwell - 33 mins
Harold Wood - 22 mins
Hayes and Harlington - 40 mins
Heathrow (terminals 1,2,3) - 46 min
Heathrow (terminal 4) - 52 mins
Ilford - 5 mins
Iver - 45 mins
Langley - 47 mins
Liverpool Street - 13 mins
Maidenhead - 62 mins
Manor Park - 2 mins
Maryland - 2 mins
Paddington - 23 mins
Reading - 72 mins
Romford - 15 mins
Seven Kings - 8 mins
Shenfield - 31 mins
Slough - 50- mins
Southall - 37 mins
Stratford - 4 mins
Taplow - 57 mins
Tottenham Court Road - 18 mins
Twyford - 66 mins
West Drayton -  42 mins
West Ealing - 33 mins
Whitechapel - 10 mins
Woolwich - 10 mins (plus Whitechapel change)

For regular progress reports on Crossrail developments , see here. We will provide further updates on significant Forest Gate -related proposals.

Upton Ward in 1907

Sunday, 28 December 2014

This is the third 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 Upton Ward (see map for the extent of the boundaries). Details of their portraits of Forest Gate and Park wards can be found here and here.

Upton ward in 1907

In 1901, Upton Ward had a population of 19,000 - the time of the census just before the authors conducted their survey.

Howarth and Wilson describe the ward, thus:
The two main roads in the Upton Ward are the Romford Road, running from west to east and Upton Lane, from north to south. In the Romford Road are large houses with gardens, many of them old, similar to those mentioned in the Broadway and Park Wards. Many old houses with gardens, fields, and orchards, were formerly to be found in Upton Lane, and one or two still remain, though much of the land round them has been used for building.
Their place has been taken by houses let at £25 to £50 a year. The southern part of this road faces West Ham Park, and in the northern end are good class shops similar to those in Woodgrange Road, which lies to the north of the ward across the Romford Road.
Most of the roads are broad and straight, and in addition to the part of West Ham Park, which lies within the ward there is a football ground at the Spotted Dog Inn, and a large open space round a convent in St George's Road.

Clapton FC, whose ground is the oldest in London,
at the Old Spotted Dog pub, on Upton Lane,
in the Upton Ward at the time of the survey
. This Clapton team won the amateur cup in 1909 and
boasted war hero. Walter Tull, second from right,
front row, as an inspirational member

Practically the whole population of the ward belongs to the middle-class, and a large proportion has some unearned income. The few artisans and labourers are for the most part in constant work, and live chiefly in four-, five- or six-roomed houses, the rents of which range from 7s 6d to 10s 6d a week. Such houses are to be found in various parts, and chiefly in Neville, Upton Park, Belton, Stukeley and Wellesley Roads, which however, contain some businessmen and a considerable proportion of clerks.

Claremont Road, 1913, in Upton ward in 1907,
but surprisingly, along with the rest of the
Woodgrange estate, not mentioned
in Howarth and Wilson's book

Chestnut Road contains self-contained flats with separate doors, two rooms, kitchen, and wash-house; these are let at 7s. The houses at Sylvan Road, one of the oldest in the ward, are rented at 8s and 8s 6d, and contain four rooms and a wash-house; while at the roads to the north-east of the ward the accommodation is five rooms and a wash-house, and the rents vary according to the designs of the fronts. Where there are no bay windows the rent is 9s; other rents are 9s 6d and 10s; and six rooms with a wash-house can be had for 10s 6d and 11s.
In one of these roads houses of a good class have been put up, where five rooms, a bath, and a portable copper in a small wash-house are to be had for 11s 6d. These let well and are occupied by foremen and men in business in the City. Ferndale, Oakdale and Elmhurst Roads, and St George's Square contain six roomed houses at 10s or 11s a week, with concrete fronts. The tenants are mostly artisans or shop assistants, a few only go to business in the City.
The same is true of Beauchamp Road, where half the houses are let at 6s 6d; the rent for the whole house being 12s or 12s 6d. Even in Khedive Road some houses produce 6s 6d per half-house, while others let at £30 a year, but in general the tenants are well-to-do people.
Between this road and Upton Lane is an estate of a superior character, comprising Lancaster, Kingsley, and neighbouring roads, in which eight-roomed houses are let at 13s a week; and a similar neighbourhood, lying north of this, where seven rooms and offices are rented for 14s a week of 33 a calendar month. These houses are seldom unoccupied if they are in good repair. An old estate with larger gardens comprises Palmerstone, Westbury and Victoria Roads.

Undated photograph of Upton Lane

Westbury Road was formed before 1860, but the first houses were built in 1861-62. The remainder of the state was developed in 1865. Here the rents vary between 11a a week to £30 per year, and the tenants are well-off middle class people. In Glenparke Road, which is close by, rents vary from 11s to 14s a week.
As we stated in our previous articles in this series (see here for Forest Gate and Park wards), 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.
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.
Pre World War 1 photograph of Upton Park Road
 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.

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


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'"


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!