An Upton introduction

Thursday, 21 July 2016

This website has focused almost exclusively on Forest Gate north of Romford Road and neglected the fascinating history of the part of E7 located south of that main road - SoRo, as the hipsters would have it - Upton.

This post is an introductory taster to Upton life. Future, occasionally
published, blogs will cover, in detail , many of the fascinating people and places that have shaped its past and present. We are indebted to a great local history website, Hidden London (here), for prompting this article.

Upton was first recorded in 1203 as Hupinton, then in 1290 as Hopton and in 1485 as Upton. The name derives from the Old English words Upp and tun, meaning higher farmstead. There is a slight rise in the otherwise low-lying area, which was once marshy terrain.

Chapman and Andre's map, 1777 -
showing Upton as a significant settlement
By the 17th century Upton had become a prosperous hamlet. It was within easy coaching distance of the City of London, and so provided a rural retreat for some of London's wealthy elite. The ward of Upton had 25 dwellings in 1670. Ten of these houses had at least five hearths (generally considered a minimum necessary for genteel living) - a very high proportion for the era.

One of the houses in existence at the time was an already ancient timber-framed structure, said to have begun life as Henry VIII's Forest Gate hunting lodge, what is now the dilapidated Old Spotted Dog public house (see here for a full history of the building).

The Dog is the oldest non-ecclesiastical building in Newham. It is on English Heritage's "at risk" register, and is now in the hands of new owners (see above link for details). The grounds surrounding the pub house one of England's most famous non-league football clubs - Clapton FC (see here and here for details).

1908 postcard of The Old Spotted Dog,
 in better days for the pub
Amateur cup winning photo of Clapton FC,
 1909. Walter Tull, second from right, front row
Another house assessed for the Hearth Tax in 1670 was Rooke (or Rookes) Hall, which dated from the mid 16th century and was later renamed Upton House. In 1762 Admiral John Elliot sold Upton House to Dr John Fothergill, who enlarged the grounds on which he built greenhouses and populated them with rare and exotic botanical species.

Dr John Fothergill - 1712 - 1780

Dr Fothergill was one of as number of Quakers to settle into Upton in and around this time; many of whom were linked by marriage with the Pelly family - West Ham's then principal landowners.

Prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, who
 lived in The Cedars, in the
 grounds of  Ham House
Upton House was renamed Ham House in the late 1780's, which helped avoid potential confusion with a different Upton House, that by then stood on Upton Lane, at what is now the corner of Lancaster Road. Joseph Lister, who pioneered antiseptic surgery, was born at Upton House, which is shown in the watercolour, below.

Upton House - birthplace of Joseph Lister
- later site of St Peter's vicarage, now site
 of Joseph Lister Court, Upton Lane

Joseph Lister - 1827 - 1912

The Quaker banker and philanthropist, Samuel Gurney, bought Ham House in 1812. He stayed there for the rest of his life - and members of his family stayed there until its demolition.

Samuel Gurney's older sister, the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, lived in a house on the edge of the estate from 1829 to 1844. In 1842 she entertained Frederick William IV of Prussia there (after whom the Edward VII pub in Stratford was originally named).

Samuel Gurney - prominent banker,
 philanthropist and Upton dweller
Ham House was demolished in 1872 and two years later its grounds were transformed into West Ham Park. Since its inception, the 77 acre park has been owned and managed by the City of London Corporation. The site of Ham House is marked by a cairn of stones, near the main entrance to the park.

All that remains of Ham House, a cairn
 consisting of debris from it, located on the
 site of the house, in West Ham Park
West Ham Park, 1904
James Thorne in his 1876 book, Handbook of the Environs of London wrote "The pretty rural hamlet of Upton is a little more than a mile north-west of West Ham church". No sooner had these words been penned the area became engulfed by the rapid housing development that lead to the emergence of Forest Gate as a sizable London suburb; providing terraced housing for the factory workers of the rapidly expanding borough of West Ham.

Having once been a country retreat for prosperous eighteenth century Quakers, late nineteenth century Upton became a significant focus for East London's rapidly growing Irish Catholic community. The area's surviving Roman Catholic institutions include: St Angela's (see here), St Bonaventure's and St Antony's schools and the church of St Antony of Padua.

1953 ariel view of St Angela's school
One of the more prominent surviving buildings in the Upton area is the Red House, on the corner of Upton Lane and Upton Avenue. We have written extensively about the house here. It began life in the 18th century as the home of a Dutch merchant.

St Antony's church
It became the home of Britain's most prominent Trade Union banner manufacturer - George Tutill (see here) and was extensively remodelled in the 1880's. It later became a Catholic social club, and despite some recently externally funded refurbishment of its exterior, its interior is in a sorry state, today.

The Red House, Upton Lane - now social club
The Anglican church of St Peter's was erected in the grounds of Upton House in 1893, and the house, itself became the vicarage, for a while. That church's parish was merged with Emmanuel, on the corner of Romford Road in 1962.

The church, itself, was later demolished and the vicarage (Upton House) was pulled down in 1967-8 to be replaced by the bland Joseph Lister Court development of flats.

Megg's Almshouses were built at the same time as St Peter's church, in 1893, facing West Ham Park, and remain today as sheltered accommodation for elderly people (see here, for details).

Upton Lane board school opened in 1894, at the corner of Doris Road, but was destroyed by bombing during World War 11. In 1959 the site was used for the Stratford grammar school, which subsequently became the Stratford School Academy, which itself has recently been rebuilt.

Upton Road school, bombed 13 August 1944
A few older houses in the district have been demolished in the post-war era, along with some bomb damaged premises, and replaced with blocks of low rise flats. Since then, Upton's built environment has changed very little, except for the upgrading of some of the schools within it.

Murdergate (1)

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

We have recently come across a website dedicated to providing details of every reported murder in London since the time of Jack the Ripper ( The authors accept it is a tall order, but they have made significant steps in tracking most murders committed over the last 15 years.  The reports on the site are based on court records and press accounts.

The site's search engine is pretty effective, and so we've tracked details of 18 Forest Gate murders, most of which have been solved, since 2003.  We present the findings, complete with photos of most of the victims and those convicted, over two posts.

The reports are pretty gruesome, but throw up a number of interesting conclusions.

Firstly, Forest Gate has averaged a murder and a half, per year since 2003, and it is somewhat reassuring that all but 3 of them has been "solved", in so far as the perpetrators have been found and sentenced. Two of the three "unsolved" cases have identified suspects, who are awaiting trial.

The UK national "average" murder rate is currently approximately one murder per 100,000 of the population. Forest Gate's population is approximately 45,000, suggesting that the local "murder rate" is approximately three times the national average.

Although this murder rate may seem high, for a relatively small district and population; the area, as such is not "dangerous". The headline figure of numbers disguises the fact that there are very few "random" murders, with victims being completely unknown or unrelated to the killer. 

So, disturbing as the rate is, the chances of being randomly murdered in the street, by a stray bullet, for example, is thankfully incredibly low (odds of more than one million to one).

Unsurprisingly, the most frequent explanation of the murders (five of the 18 cases examined) was a domestic dispute. The six people convicted of these five murders were sentenced to a total of 128 years imprisonment.

The most shocking thing about the other cases is the relatively inconsequential nature of many of the "motives" for the murders, and the heavy price paid by the perpetrators for what was often a moment's madness.

So, a row over a pinched bottom in a nightclub saw two people murdered and two convicted men receiving jail sentences of 68 years, in total. A row over a parking space resulted in the murder of two victims, with the convicted killer receiving a 26 year prison sentence. Two victims were killed because of drug debts.  Their killers received 15 years and an indefinite sentence in Broadmoor, respectively.

One victim was clearly "the wrong man"; his killer received 30 years.

Most shockingly, perhaps, was that one young man was killed as part of a robbery for his mobile phone and his killer received indefinite detention, and another young man was killed over an unpaid £15 debt.  His killer was given a 15 year sentence.

In this, the first of two posts, we provide details of the first (chronologically) nine of the area's 18 murders.

1 and 2. Amarjit Singh Tiwana and Rajinder Singh Tiwana : Date of murder:29 Aug 2003, solved (parking place)
Businessman Amarjit Singh Tiwana, 52, and his nephew Rajinder Singh Tiwana, 25, were shot dead with a sub-machine gun in broad daylight, as they  were visiting the Forest View Hotel at 227 Romford Road, which they jointly owned, on 29 August 2003.

But this wasn't a gangland killing. They were murdered over a trivial parking dispute. Unable to get past a Volkswagen Golf blocking entry the back of the hotel on Atherton Mews, they left their van across the end of the road.

Victims: Rajinder Singh Tiwana
 and Amarjit Singh Tiwana
When the driver of the Golf, 20 year-old Mohammed Ayub Khan, returned from Friday prayers at the mosque, he was unable to get out and began beeping his horn. After an argument with the Tiwanas he left the scene, only to return with two other men a few minutes later to attack the van.

When Amarjit and Rajinder ran out to confront the group they were gunned down using a Mac 10 machine pistol. The attack was witnessed by Amarjit's 26 year-old daughter Harjinder, who was able to identify Khan as the gunman.

By that time Khan had fled to Pakistan. He was placed on the Met's Most Wanted list in 2004 but was not arrested until he travelled to Bangladesh in August 2010. On 12 December 12, 2011, Khan was convicted of both murders at Woolwich Crown Court and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 26 years before parole.

Detectives are still appealing for help identifying the two other men involved and locating the murder weapon.

Convicted: Mohammed Ayub Khan
DI Yeats said: "We are still seeking two casually dressed Asian men wearing hooded tops in their late teens or early 20's. They ran away from the scene during the busy period after Friday prayers and turned right into Norwich Road, crossed Romford Road and continued south in Margery Park Road where they may have got into a parked vehicle".

3. Rizwan Darbar: Date of murder: 7 Oct 2007, solved (robbery)
On the afternoon of 7 October 2007, A-level Student Rizwan Darbar was hanging out in West Ham Park, listening to music on his friend's mobile phone. Kirkland Gayle approached the group and snatched the phone, adding: "I haven't seen you around before."

They asked for it back but a second youth, 19 year-old Anthony Maina, appeared from the bushes with a knife in his hand. He quickly jabbed Rizwan in the stomach, severing a major artery, after being told: 'Poke him.'

Victim: Rizwan Darbar
As the killers ran off with the phone, the victim screamed 'I've been juked' and bled to death.

Maina was arrested on suspicion of murder but released on police bail - and then took part in a robbery which left the Hackney Matalan store manager Jamie Simpson stabbed to death.

In August 2009, Maina, from Beckton, was convicted of the murder of Rizwan Darbar and locked up for a minimum of 14 years.

Anthony Maina, convicted of murdering
 Rizwan Darbar and of manslaughter
 in Matalan robbery
Gayle, from Stratford, was cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter and robbery and jailed for eight years.

Maina was later convicted of manslaughter for his role in the Matalan robbery and given an indefinite prison sentence in March 2010.

4. Karl Gbedemah: Date of murder:1 Aug 2008, unsolved (unknown cause)
Karl Gbedemah, 47, was killed in the head by a stray bullet (in a moment of supreme irony) as he stood near the Live and Let Live on Romford Road in the early hours of 1 August  2008.

It is thought the murder weapon, a converted Baikal pistol, was fired during a clash between two groups of men in nearby Sprowston Road.

Mr Gbedemah, known as ''Kudjo'', was taken to hospital at 3.45pm but was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

DJ Emmanuel Sakyi, 22, was charged with murder and stood trial at Woolwich Crown Court but claimed he left the pub before the shooting.

The jury cleared him of all charges in June 2010.

5. Michael Wright: Date of murder:19 Feb 2009, solved (argument between associates)
Student Michael Wright, 17, was stabbed to death when he asked his friend to pay him back £15. He had lent 16 year-old Bradley Walters-Stewart the cash to pay the entrance fee to a nightclub six days earlier.

In the days before his death he made a series of visits to Mr Walters-Stewart's home in Forest Gate, At 10pm on 19 February he knocked at the house again but got no answer and kicked the door in frustration.

Victim: Michael Wright
After contacting him by phone, Michael managed to arrange a meeting with his friend - known as M-kid - outside Maryland train station in Stratford. During the confrontation, Walter-Stewart was heard shouting: "Who the fuck do you think you are coming to my house like that?".

He then stabbed Michael in the abdomen with a knife he had brought from his kitchen. Witnesses heard the victim plead 'don't shank me' as Walters-Stewart pulled out the knife.

Bradley Walters-Stewart - convicted of murder
 and sentenced to a minimum of 14 years
The killer then walked away 'slowly and casually' as passers-by rushed to the victim's aid. Police found Walters-Stewart hiding in the loft of his mum's flat two days later.

During the Old Bailey trial he claimed Michael fell on to the knife when the two boys started fighting in the street. He was convicted of murder at the Old Bailey and sentenced to detention for life in June 2009 and ordered to serve a minimum of 14 years behind bars.

6. Syed Shazad Abbass: Date of murder:7 Sept 2009, solved (drugs debt)
Syed Shazad Abbass was kidnapped and tortured over a suspected drugs debt on 7 September 2009. He was bundled into an Audi A3 outside his home in Earlham Grove, Forest Gate at around 3.30am.

Mr Abbass, who ran a window fitting business and traded in second hand cars, was found dressed only in his boxer shorts on a pavement in Flanders Road, East Ham, east London, later that morning.

He was taken to hospital with a brain haemorrhage but was pronounced dead the next day. He had also lost or broken several teeth, suffered a broken nose and eye socket, a lighter burn to his thigh and a series of small puncture wounds across his back.

At 6.15am police were called to Royston Gardens in Ilford, where they found the victim's burnt out Audi. A search of Mr Abbass' second car, a Honda, revealed crack cocaine and heroin in a door panel.

Blaize Lunkulu, of Weymarks, Weir Hall Road, Tottenham, and Vikar Khan, of St Stephen's Close, Walthamstow, were originally charged with murder. They pleaded guilty to manslaughter, conspiracy to kidnap and pervert the course of justice on 2 August 2010.

Blaize Lunkulu - imprisoned for
public protection, minimum of six years

On 27 October 2010 Lunkulu was sentenced to imprisonment for public protection with a minimum of six years and four months before parole and Khan, who claimed he did not take part in the violence after the initial abduction, was sentenced to nine years imprisonment.

Judge Stephen Kramer QC said: 'The circumstances of the offences are truly horrific. 'You and the deceased were involved in the drugs scene. He apparently owed drugs and cash. That was the start of the violence, humiliation and torture of the deceased. 'You were then both involved in trying to destroy evidence.'

7. Mahmood Jama: Date of murder:6 Jan 2010, solved (drugs related)
Mahmood Jama, 21, was shot at the Whyteville House block of flats in Upton Lane at around 1am on 6 January 2010.

Mr Jama, a British citizen born in Somalia and living at Boundary Road, Plaistow, died two hours later in hospital of a shotgun wound to the chest.

Victim: Mahmood Jama
The Old Bailey heard he had been involved in a feud with a teenage drug dealer in the run up to the shooting.

Witnesses said the gun went off as the two men tussled over the weapon on the first floor lift bay.

On April 19, 2011, Mohamed Farah Ali, 19, was convicted of manslaughter. Two months later he was locked up indefinitely at Broadmoor Hospital under sections 37 and 41 of the Mental Health Act.

8 and 9. Patrick Ford and  Eugene Brown: Date of murder:29 May 2010, solved (argument in club)
Two men were shot dead outside the now defunct Sugar Lounge nightclub, Katherine Road, on the morning of 29 May 2010.

The first victim, Patrick Ford, 36, died at the scene after being shot in the chest in Katherine Road. His friend Eugene Brown, 27, died in hospital from a bullet wound to the head five weeks later on July 7.

Victims: Patrick Ford and Eugene Brown

The gunman, Michael Smith, was also shot in the head, shoulder and buttock after being chased through the street by Kevin Powell but survived. All three shootings were captured on CCTV footage.

Two men were charged with both murders: Michael Smith, 27, of Beaconsfield Road, Canning Town, east London, and Nana Oppong, 30, of West Road, Stratford, east London. Kevin Powell, 34, of Harlesden Road, Willesden, was charged with attempted murder.

All three first went on trial at the Old Bailey on 22 March 2011. The prosecution case was that the incident started when Eugene Brown fired four shots into the ceiling of the club after a man groped his girlfriend's buttocks.

Convicted: Michael Smith.
Sentenced to a minimum of 34 years
Oppong, who was celebrating his 30th birthday that night, was said to have handed a gun to Smith and pointed out Mr Brown outside the club. Smith opened fire, shooting Mr Brown in the back of the head. Mr Ford, who was trying to take away Mr Brown's gun, was hit in the chest by a stray bullet and died of a fatal injury to his heart.

Powell then grabbed Mr Ford's gun and chased Mr Smith down the road, repeatedly opening fire. Smith managed to get into a car containing Oppong and was taken to hospital
Smith claimed he opened fire in self defence thinking Mr Brown was still armed, Oppong denied involvement in the murder and Mr Powell also claimed he acted in self defence.

Convicted: Kevin Powell.
Sentenced to 34 years
In June 2011 Smith was convicted of two counts of murder. The jury were unable to reach verdicts on Oppong and Powell and a retrial began on 9 May 2012.

The second jury convicted Powell of attempted murder but were unable to reach verdicts on Oppong. On September 21 the prosecution announced they would not seek a third trial and Oppong was formally found not guilty of the two murder charges. He was jailed for two years for perverting the course of justice by lying to police.

Smith was jailed for life with a minimum of 34 years before parole and Powell was sentenced to 34 years imprisonment.


The Murder map website (here) is run by volunteers and receives no official funding. They would be grateful for any donations, to keep their project active. Details can be found on the site.  We express our thanks to them for their meticulous work, which has enabled this post to be written.

A nod at our neighbours (3) - The Bridge House, Canning Town

Friday, 1 July 2016

Regular readers will know that we have featured a number of spectacular music venues in Forest Gate (The Upper Cut and Lotus Club, both on Woodgrange Road and the Earlham Grove Music Academy) on this blog on a number of occasions.  This post strays a little further afield, to the sadly departed Bridge House pub/venue in Canning Town, whose heyday was a decade or so after Woodgrange Road's at their prime.

The large east end boozer this blog features is long gone - having mainly been replaced by the expanded Canning Town fly-over and associated road works. It sat on the banks of Bow Creek and was the first pub a traveller came across, leaving Tower Hamlets and entering Newham on the A13.

The pub had a long history as a drinking spot for local gas works' employees and ship builders from nearby sites, before Terry Murphy took it over in 1975.
This post is heavily dependent on Murphy's  book The Bridge House, Canning Town: memories of a legendary rock & roll hang out  (see footnote for details). Terry put together his story of the venue with the help of Newham author and resident, Brian Belton.

Terry Murphy, Bridge House
 landlord, impresario and book author
This blog is grateful for their work and presents Murphy's contemporary recollections of names that featured at the Bridge House. Not all of which, perhaps, have stood the test of time!

Like the Walker brothers at the Upper Cut and the Johnson brothers at Woodgrange Road's Lotus club, Terry Murphy came from a boxing tradition - indeed, he, himself was the first British boxer to fight "live" on Independent Television, when it started in 1955.  The "being able to look after yourself" that boxing gave these venue promoters did much to ensure there was little or no trouble in them from large crowds of alcohol fuelled young men and women who frequented them.

Murphy's family has become a fusion of boxing and show biz traditions - his son, Glen, was later to have a starring role in the London's Burning, television drama series. Other members of the family have played key roles in pop music, music promotion and record production.

The cavernous Bridge House was an ideal location. Its hall was licensed for just under 1,000 people, although at its peak as a venue in the late 1970's, almost double the number squeezed in. The pub became an important rehearsal venue. 

The logo that signified the Bridge
 House record label, based on
 representation of the pub
Murphy recalls: "One afternoon we had Manfred Mann's Earth Band on stage, Paul Young's Q Tips on the first floor and Remus Dawn Boulevard in the cellar."

Under Murphy's watchful eye, the venue promoted gigs and gave many well-known names in pop and rock their first, or an early chance. The pub launched its own moderately successful record label (Bridge House Records) and its memory survives through this web site.

Laurie O'Leary, former manager of the west end's legendary Speakeasy Club had this to say about the Bridge House:

U2, Dire Straits, Iron Maiden, Squeeze, Q-Tips, Tom Robinson, A Flock of Seagulls, Rory Gallagher, Remus Dawn Boulevard, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Huey Lewis, Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Chas n Dave and a host of others all have a history of appearances, both playing and watching their mates in this biggest and best of all London pubs.
Terry Murphy was always on the look-out for talent and wasn't afraid to experiment: "We moved through Heavy Rock, Funk, American West Coast music, to Blues, Punk, New Wave and Psychedelic", he reflects.

Below are some of his recollections of the life and times of many who featured at the Bridge House:

Iron Maiden: a good band. A really well behaved crowd too. Very heavy metal.  "I'll book them again". In fact, they went on to appear over 40 times at the Bridge House.

Iron Maiden at the Bridge House
U2: "A nice band, worked really hard. No chance of making it, not different enough. I might be wrong though (!), have to wait and see.  Yes, I would give them another gig". They made their debut at the venue in 1979, with a total audience of 18.

U2 played to an audience of 18 at
 the Bridge House in 1979:
 "no chance of making it"

Meanwhile, a small pub in
Limerick claims the first siting!

Murphy gave the north London pub band Dire Straits a gig and says their influence "changed the Bridge House from a Heavy Metal joint to a Blues-type pub".

Annie Lennox: was in a band called The Tourists before she became half of The Eurythmics, which had its first gig at the Bridge.

The Damned: "Played a few gigs for us (in 1977) - always quite good".

Alison Moyet: "We helped Alison, she sued us" (over a record release).

Steve Marriott: After The Small Faces and Humble Pie, he put together Blind Drunk and they played at the Bridge.  One night the police came to arrest him (on a fraud charge - which was later dropped).  They were persuaded to let him do the gig first, or risk a riot from the 800 or so who had turned up for it.

The Troggs: "Only attracted small, small audiences ... were loss makers".

Lindisfarne: - fought on stage - not a great success.

Nashville Teens: Really disastrous night.

Chas and Dave: "They played many times for us and were sensational". They recorded a live album at the Bridge.

Joe Brown: he had wired the pub as an electrician in the 1950's and returned in the 1970's to do a few gigs. His daughter, Sam, also played, accompanying Jools Holland, whose first band Squeeze, also played the Bridge a few times.

Billy Bragg: Terry Murphy says he gave Billy an early break - but the favour wasn't returned.

Tom Robinson Band: Murphy gave the band an early gig at the Bridge House, but was wary of the reception they may have received in the east end, with their explicitly gay messages, in the 1970's. He needn't have worried, Robinson recalls, in the book:
We had a storming show, and by the end of Glad to be Gay most people had gone: 'hey, brave stance, fair play to 'em' and applause-wise, the song was one of the high spots of the night.
Tom Robinson Band: "Bridge House
 one of the warmest, most responsive
 audiences" ever played to.
Ironically, I remember that night taught me exactly the same point the song was supposed to be making; don't pre-judge people or make ignorant assumptions about what you think they are going to be like. The Bridge House actually had one of the warmest, most responsive audiences TRB ever played to.

Blues scene and heard

Terry Murphy became close friends with Rory Gallagher - sharing an Irish heritage - and had him playing to crowds at the Bridge a time or two, to ecstatic audiences.

The inimitable Rory Gallagher on
 one of his flying visits to see his
 friend, Terry Murphy, at The Bridge House
Nine Below Zero: Still one of Britain's top jobbing blues bands - stared life at the Bridge, almost as an offshoot from Rory Gallagher's band, and were originally called the Stan Smith's Blues band.

Ex-Manfred Mann front man, Paul Jones, would come along and blow his harp, and gradually put together what was to became the Blues Band at the venue. They became regulars at the Bridge House, and recorded a live album there.
Alexis Korner, Paul Jones
 and Gary Fletcher, jamming
 with the Blues Band
 at the Bridge House
They, in turn, attracted others to the venue, including the legendary Alexis Korner and band member Dave Kelly's sister, and blues chanteuse, Jo-Anne Kelly.

Forest Gate connection

Let Terry Murphy tell the story:

"John Bassett was another regular at the Bridge. He played guitar, wrote songs and managed bands. He also had his own music studio in Sebert Road, Forest Gate. We used his studio a lot. Depeche Mode did their first recordings at John's studio and Steve from Some Bizarre recorded there, as well.
A very youthful Depeche Mode, with
 Terry Murphy, about the time they recorded
 their first tracks - in Sebert Road!
Chas Thompson produced some great demos for Wasted Youth (a Bridge House favourite band, which included a young Murphy) at John's place. In fact, we used some of them as masters and released them. Chris captured their sound quite beautifully.
Site of John Bassett's studio, and
 launch pad of Depeche Mode, today
Footnote 1 When the Bridge House was CPO'd ready for the A 13 widening scheme in the late 1990's, it was clear that it would remain empty for a couple of years, before demolition and the roadworks begun. Newham Council arranged for it to be used as a hostel for homeless families during this period. The facility was operated by the Renewal Programme, under the management of Alan Partridge. The entertainment connection, however, did not prevail, as this was not the ex-presenter of Radio Norfolk.

Footnote 2 This site is grateful to the source of most of the content photographs, above, which we freely accept are copyright of Geoffrey Young and others mentioned, although not specified by individual photo, in the  Terence Murphy's book: The Bridge House, Canning Town: memories of a legendary rock & roll hangout, published 2007 by Pennant Publishing. This post offers only a glimpse of the wealth of stories and recollections contained within the highly recommended book, available at Newham Bookshop and other outlets.

From Forest Gate to Irish Taoiseach, via the Easter rising

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

This is a follow-up post to last week's account of Forest Gate and Irish Independence. It weaves together much of the romance associated with Irish nationalism, through the life of local lad, Desmond FitzGerald. 

Desmond FitzGerald
He attended what is now St Bonaventure's school in Forest Gate, became a committed nationalist, was active in Dublin's iconic O'Connell Street GPO building during the Irish rising of Easter 1916, was a minister in the first Irish government, fathered Garret Fitzgerald, Irish Taoiseach, in the 1980s, and, as he retired from politics, switched to poetry, as a friend and associate of of Ezra Pound and WB Yeats.

Born in Stratford on 13 February 1888, Desmond FitzGerald was the youngest son of a family that had arrived from Ireland during the 1860s. His father was a stonemason from Tipperary, and his mother was from Kerry. Desmond was born Thomas Joseph FitzGerald, but changed his own name during his mid-teens, as a schoolboy at West Ham Grammar School (This was the name of the modern St Bonaventure's school from 1908 - 1944), to reflect his Irish heritage. 

His older brother, William Francis Fitzgerald, was also born in Stratford. It is likely that he, too, changed his given names.  William is a hated name within the Irish nationalist community, because of its association with King Billy and the Battle of the Boyne.  

FitzGerald family home, 9 Reginald
 Road, Forest Gate, 1901
"William" appears to have dropped this first name, and adopt his middle name (Francis), as his preferred chosen name, when he became involved in the nationalist movement.  For a fuller account of his own extraordinary local activities, see our earlier post, referenced above.

There was also an older sister, Katharine. 

The 1901 census shows Thomas (later Desmond) junior living with his parents, sister and brother at 9 Reginald Road E7 (see photo, above).  Thomas’ elder brother’s name is in this census is given as William F. FitzGerald, aged 16 in 1901. He is described as a “commercial clerk”. By 1911 Thomas Fitzgerald senior had died, and the family was living at 8 Upton Avenue Forest Gate (see photo, below). 

8 Upton Avenue, family home in 1911,
 clearly an upgrade in accommodation
 from 1901, for an upwardly mobile family
Francis Fitzgerald (the former "William") was described as a “commercial traveller, druggist and chemists sundriest”. Desmond was described (under his birth name of Thomas) as a merchant’s clerk. Katharine was the headmistress of a Council school in West Ham. This was clearly an aspirational family, where the children of migrant parents had received a good education and were beginning middle class careers. 

They were also politically and culturally engaged. The Forest Gate Irish community in the early 1900s was supporting a lively and well-organised branch of the Gaelic League, dedicated to promoting Irish language and culture. 

Over 100 young men and women regularly attended weekly evening classes at Earlham Hall in Earlham Grove, and it is easy to imagine the FitzGeralds joining in the League’s activities. As last week's post showed, Francis, indeed, lived opposite Earlham Hall and the paper, the Irish Exile, advertised classes there in Irish culture and celebrated a sporting achievement by one of its women's teams.

In addition to the classes there were musical events and regular summer outings to Epping Forest.

Desmond travelled to Brittany at the age of 20 and was fluent in many languages. Upon returning to Britain, he joined a group of London poets, including Ezra Pound, called the "Imagists".

He first visited Ireland in 1910 and the following year married Mabel Washington McConnell - a nationalist and republican of Ulster Protestant descent - having met at a Gaelic League Irish language class. It is reported that Mabel became a Catholic on her marriage to Desmond. 

Their son, the future Irish Taoiseach, Garret (see below), later described his political objective as the creation of a pluralist Ireland, where the northern Protestants of his mother's family tradition and the southern Catholics of his father's could feel equally at home. A pluralism fostered in the streets of Forest Gate, no doubt!

A sketch of Desmond, as he was circa 1916

Mabel was born in Belfast, the daughter of a distillery manager. She went to Queen’s University where she joined the Gaelic League, and later moved to London, where she became  involved in radical feminist politics through membership of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU - the formal name for what is commonly called the Suffragettes). 

She briefly became George Bernard Shaw’s secretary in 1909, but did not share his views about the relative importance of international socialism and Irish independence (Shaw was very dismissive of many Irish nationalist activities - including the Easter rising). Mabel was an ardent nationalist, and may have affected Desmond’s politics. 

Desmond first went to Ireland about 1910, and in 1913 became involved with the nationalist movement, joining the Irish Volunteers and becoming a local organiser. Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald moved to Irish-speaking west Kerry, where their knowledge of the Irish language was extended further. 

In January 1915, Desmond was expelled from county Kerry, having convinced the Royal Irish Constabulary that he was signalling to German submarines from his home on the western peninsula, six months after the outbreak of World War 1. 

His consequent move to Bray, county Wicklow, and the organisation of a branch of the Irish Volunteers was curtailed by his arrest and sentence to six months imprisonment for a speech discouraging recruitment to the British army.  

He and Mabel were at the GPO during the Easter 1916 Rising. Desmond was a staff captain and was in charge of the commissariat.  He features on the GPO Roll of Honour, for his involvement. He escaped the firing squad, but was court-martialled and sentenced to 20 years’ penal servitude, later commuted to 10. Desmond's son, Garret (see below), later described their role:
Both my parents were in the GPO in 1916. My mother was there for the first two days but after Patrick Pearse had sent her on a futile mission on the Tuesday to bring a flag to fly over Dublin Castle, which he wrongly thought had been captured, he told her to return home as he did not wish my elder brothers to lose both parents.

Dublin devastated by Easter rising, 1916
My father, who had just completed a 6 months sentence in Mountjoy for seditious speech, was there until the Friday, when he was ordered to bring the wounded to Jervis Street hospital, a block behind the GPO - from there, after many adventures, he got home to Bray, where he was later arrested.
Desmond was transferred to Dartmoor, then Maidstone jail, chained by the feet to Eamon de Valera, who, as an American citizen, had also been spared.

FitzGerald was released along with other 1916 prisoners in July 1917, but rearrested in 1918 and jailed for 10 months in Gloucester prison.

Clearly an intellectual at home in literary society, Fitzgerald had a play, The Saints, produced by Dublin's famous Abbey Theatre in 1919 and published books on poetry and the philosophy of politics.

At the election of December 1918, Sinn Fein swept Ireland, winning 73 out of 105 seats, with many of those elected “absent, imprisoned by foreigners”, as the roll call put it. FitzGerald was among them. After a campaign led by Mabel, he took the Dublin Pembroke constituency seat for Sinn Fein. 

University College, Dublin - location
 of the FitzGerald archives
FitzGerald’s was appointed Director of Publicity for Dail Eireann in 1919, and was also editor of the Irish Bulletin. His role was to counter British propaganda and use his contacts in London to forge channels to journalists from overseas and secure a republican narrative. 

He was again arrested, but released in time for the Truce.

He used literary contacts in London to make overtures to the foreign press, inspiring his friend Ezra Pound to write of him in Canto VII
The live man, out of lands and prisons, shakes the dry pods     Probes for old wills and friendships, and the big locust-casques. 
He was part of the negotiating team which signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Britain in December 1921 which established the Provisional Government.

FitzGerald supported the Treaty (Mabel was strongly opposed - wishing to see a full 32 county independent Ireland) and served first as Minister for Publicity and later Minister for External Affairs, at a time (August 1922) when Southern Ireland still existed as part of the UK.

He was a TD (MP) for Dublin County from 1922 to 1932 and then for Carlow County until 1937. He was a member of the Seanad (the senate) from 1938 until 1943, the year he retired from politics, aged 55.

FitzGerald drifted to the right politically, and was less active in politics after the defeat of the Cosgrave government to de Valera in 1932.  

Ed Vulliamy (see footnote, below) described him:
Even before [1932], though, the man whom Michael Collins had described as a “stiff shirt” was seen as over-intellectual by some of his cabinet colleagues. 
Throughout the 1930s, FitzGerald’s interests took him back to poetry and towards philosophy, markedly that of St Thomas Aquinas, and his views embraced a kind of mystic fascism, along with many of his kind including his friends Pound and Yeats. 

Desmond FitzGerald died on 9 April 1947, though his family continued to play a role in Irish politics. One of his sons, Garret Fitzgerald, became a prominent Irish politician between 1969 and 1987.
Garret FitzGerald - son of Forest Gate's Desmond
 and later Irish Prime Minister
Garret was elected to the Dail in 1969, and lead his party Fine Gael between 1977 and 1987 - holding the post of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) twice in the 1980s, when his principal opponent was Charlie Haughey. 

In a strange quirk of Irish politics, Garret's first post in government was as Minister of Foreign Affairs in Liam Cosgrave's government, fifty years after his own father, Desmond, became a Minister of Foreign Affairs in Cosgrave's father's Irish government!

As Taoiseach, responding to his own "mixed family" origins, he clashed with the Catholic church in Ireland, as he tried to loosen the links between church and state, with even the Pope being called to try and deflect his objective. 

Perhaps as controversially, he was very unsympathetic to the cause of the hunger strikers, at a key time of tension in Northern Ireland, but played a very key role in preparing the ground - against opposition from many sides - for what, eventually, was to become the Good Friday agreement..

On his death, in 2011, the Irish Times described him as 
An extraordinary Irishman who fashioned our future in so many ways.
And, Barrack Obama said this, of possibly Forest Gate's most famous grandson, he was:
Someone who believed in the power of education, someone who believed in the potential of youth, someone who believed in the potential of peace and who lived to see peace realised.

1. Huge thanks to Mark Gorman for great detective work in putting the bulk of this fascinating post together.

2. Thanks, also to E. Vulliamy, ‘My family’s link to the Easter Uprising’, (Observer, 27 March 2016), and University College Dublin archive: for much of the detail.

3. Other useful sources include: The papers of Desmond and Mabel Fitzgerald, University College Dublin archives, G. Bell,  Hesitant Comrades: the Irish revolution and the British Labour Movement (Pluto Press, 2016), has references to the IDSL. and  D. Fitzgerald, Rising: Memoirs of Desmond FitzGerald 1913 to Easter 1916 (London, 1968). Contains some of Desmond Fitzgerald'’s poems. The GPO Garrison Easter Week 1916: A biographical dictionary, Jimmy Wren pub 2015, obituaries in Irish Independent and Irish Press, 10 April 1947