Forest Gate Cycling Club, and life on the road at the end of the C19th

Saturday, 19 August 2017



We have covered cycling in Forest Gate at the end of the nineteenth century on this site a number of times before. Notably, when we traced 14 cycle building workshops in the area, here; when we described, in detail, life inside one of them, here; and when we looked at some of the events taking place around cycling at the time, here.

This post, unapologetically, returns to the subject. It puts the Forest Gate cycling boom of the time into a bit of historical context and dips, briefly, into the life of the Forest Gate Cycling Club of the time.


Forest Gate Cycling Club sign - c1897
We are immensely grateful to vintage cycling enthusiast, Tim Dawson, and his excellent blog, here for the inspiration for much of this, and to the indefatigable Mark Gorman for some of the sleuthing that makes the account possible.

The second half of this article consists of extracts from the Forest Gate Weekly News (FGWN) of 1896, at the peak of the cycling boom. The editor of the paper was a cycling enthusiast and wrote a weekly column of snippets about life in the saddle locally, with some side cycling-related glances at wider social issues.

The extracts are, by turn, informative, amusing and frankly sexist (hardly surprising for the period). Some of them suggests that a number of  modern problems on the road go back rather a long time. Comments on the perils of Centre Road may seem very apposite today, given recent issues on that road.
Much of this article focuses on 1896, which is, fortuitously, the year for which we have the FGWT snippets, below. It was a boom year for cycling - possibly the height of its popularity in the Victorian era.


Woodford Meet 1903 (Photo: Harry Gulliver)
The pneumatic tyre was invented in 1888, but wasn’t widely available until the early 90’s. It was a few years before the tyres became reliable, easy to fit and repair ( see FGWT snippet 14 August, below). Forest Gate had its role to play here, too.  John Allen, another cycling enthusiast follower of this website, some while ago wrote to say, that at a later date:
One particular well-respected and still sought-after parts manufacturer was 'The Constrictor Tyre Company' that was housed in Nursery Lane, off Upton Lane, approx behind the Odeon Cinema, which, of course fronted on Romford Road.
With the widening popularity of pneumatic tyres in the mid 1890's, bicycles began to be easier to ride, and popularity increased greatly. Many realised the health benefits of cycling.

A big factor in 1896 was that society circles began to ride bicycles, including the royals. Parading along Rotten Row in carriages was replaced by riding a gleaming bicycle sedately around Battersea Park. The peak year for this was 1896. 

Cycle manufacturers increased their capacity and the market was saturated as early as mid 1897. Prices had to be drastically reduced to clear stocks as cycling fell out of fashion, and many companies went over the next few years. Not long afterwards the motorcycle and motor car became the thing of fashion - not that you would guess it from the FGWN extract of 11 September 1896, below.

Forest Gate Cycling Club

Tim Dawson, a keen collector of early cycling mementoes, wrote to us a couple of months ago to say that he had picked up a most unusual sign (see below), for the Forest Gate Cycling Club. He continued:

Over 25+ years of collecting, I have never seen a cycling club sign, other than the usual CTC (Cycling Touring Club?), Clarion etc.. About as rare as rare can be, it must be a one-off, and was probably attached to the front of a pub or hotel in the area, where the club had their headquarters. It measures 32 x 24 inches.

It transpires that the club met at the Forest Glen Hotel on Dames Road - now the site of a controversial music "venue". The club itself is referred to under its previous incarnation, as the Glen Cycling Club in the extract from FGWN 19 June 1896, below.  The pub's location - at the entrance to Wanstead Flats and then Epping Common - made complete sense, as a starting point for ride outs.
The club changed its name in 1897, to the Forest Gate Cycling Club (FGCC), and appears under that name in a number of programmes for the Woodford Meet (see below) and in some press articles (also below).


The Forest Glen on Dames Road - home
 in the early 20th century to Forest Gate
 Cycling Club.  Home in the early 21st
 century to a rather dubious "music venue"
The first press cutting suggests that by 1904, the FGCC seems to have established a number of branches, but all farther out into the (then) countryside than Forest Gate. This may have been for the same reason that the Essex Beagles athletics (now Newham and Essex Beagles) club moved its HQ from Mile End to Forest Gate, and then further out into Essex as housing development progressed in the 1890s-1900s.

The FGCC and the Woodford Meet

We covered the Woodford Meet- a large local meeting of cycling clubs at the end of the nineteenth century -  in a previous post, here. Tim and Mark have unearthed more fascinating details about some of the apparently strange activities and games they embraced and encouraged, as seen in the programme extracts and press cuttings below - with particular reference to the FGCC.


Woodford Meet programme June 1900
The 1912 article (from the Preston Herald) shows the club still in existence and attending the Woodford meet, but by now under a slightly different name. It is unclear what "St James" refers to - could the club have become attached to St James' church in Forest Gate or moved HQ to Walthamstow?


Preston Herald 20 June 1912 showing
 expansion or relocation of Forest Gate Cycling Club
The members of the FGCC provided some amusing sounding entertainments at the Meet. For example, in 1902, they provided a "Ping-Pong" tableau. Quite what that may have been sets the mind racing! They also appear to have participated in a concert and other entertainments opposite the Royal Forest Hotel, in Chingford.


Woodford Meet programme 1902, with
 Forest Gate Cycling Club and Ping-Pong tableau
In 1904 they provided the "Forest Gate Non-Slipping Band" - more mind boggling, here - with some members being mounted on a "Quad" (a four seat cycle), others on a "Trip" (a triplet, or three seater), playing such musical instruments as the Cyclophone, Piccalooloo and Kazoone!


Woodford Meet programme 1904 with
Forest Gate Non-Slipping Band Tableau
Tim's blog covering the FGCC  and Woodford Meet can be found here . We are most grateful to him for allowing us to share it with you.

Victorian cycling in Forest Gate, from FGWN June - September 1896

The editor of this short-lived publication was clearly a keen cyclist and wrote a weekly column of snippets on his views, on a whole range of local cycle-related activities.  Below we provide a sample of them - without comment - which appeared under the column title Hum of the Wheel, and written under the nom de plume: The Skipper.

Enjoy!

5 June 1896
I wish the tryo would confine himself (or herself) to the side roads for practice. On the Flats road (ed: today's Centre Road) the learners are a danger to themselves and everyone else.
Never pass a lady cyclist on the near side if it can be avoided. It is a bad practice at any time, and eminently distressing for the fair sex.

Elston, Forest Gate cycle maker, catalogue 1899
 12 June 1896
The ordinary pedestrian still retains his antipathy to cyclists. We are a long-suffering race, and so long as the cyclist-hater confines himself to bad language, we pass him by in silent contempt, but really should, for his own sake, stop there. I hear a bit of a "dust-up" with some of these "road hogs" Aldborough way, in which our friends at the wheel acquitted themselves like men, and effectively silenced the foul-mouthed fraternity.
The cycling constable, or, as our American friends would say "the bike cop" must surely be a journalistic joke. We are seriously told, in a London morning daily, that "on many of the roads leading out of London, plain clothes policemen, mounted on machines, are stationed. These men give chase to any trouble-some cyclists, and are of great use in maintaining order on the public highways" It's too comic! Fancy the joy of the young scorcher at  being "taken on" by one of these heavy fliers, and then the denouement of them both being summoned in another district for road racing.

The Woodford Meet, seen through
 the eyes of FGWN in 1897
 19 June 1896
The Glen CC is one of the wheel clubs of the district, for although it has only been established about three months, it has a roll of some 63 members. Dr Collier of Manor Park is the President and Mr E Davies of The Forest Glen Hotel and Mr W Maggs of Woodgrange Road are among the vice-Presidents. ...
Glen Cycling Club, predecessor
of Forest Gate Cycling Club
(Essex Herald 18 August 1896)

A very pleasant run is taken by the Glen Cycling Club on Saturday afternoon to Keston Lakes, or as they are known locally, "The Fishponds" (ed: these are on the edge of three commons: Hayes, West Wickham and Keston).

10 July 1896
I notice with much satisfaction the increasing growth in the popularity of the tricycle. There was an age when this type of machine seemed positively doomed; and what few were in use appeared to be ridden chiefly by old gentlemen, who dared not risk a single track.
Things have somewhat changed since those days; no longer is the tricycle confined to the ranks of the aged and the feeble, but we find both the young and the old, the strong and the infirm, the robust and the dyspeptic taking to the three tracker; and little wonder, for only those who have thoroughly mattered the tricycle can really appreciate to the fullest all the delightful sensations experienced in the riding of it. Then here's to the further success of the tricycle!

One of the fancy dress tableau on show
 at Woodford Meet in 1903 (Photo: Harry Gulliver)
 17 July 1896
I had the recent report of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which states that a new form of cruelty has recently been brought to light, under the action of the Society, consisting of over-taxing the strength of dogs, when running with bicycles over long distances at high speed. Some dogs will rather die than stop when following their masters, and this has actually happened without the knowledge at the time of the owners. It has already come to the knowledge of the Society that hundreds of dogs have been lost in country places, consequent on bicycle riders out-running them on roads where no trace of the course they had taken been left.

24 July 1896
I would advise that the new riders who contemplate taking their machines with them for the summer holiday to make sure that the roads in the vicinity of their chosen resort are sufficiently good to make it worth their while doing so. This applies more especially to the fair sex, who, after having been mulcted heavily by railway company porters and cabbies, at last arrive with their beloved bike at a sea-side town only to find that the hobbly, flinty roads in the immediate neighbourhood render the pastime anything but an enjoyable one, and their trusty mount a veritable "white elephant".

31 July 1896
The gross incompetency displayed by some of our local authorities over the simplest matters makes one long for the power to regulate the salaries of these gentlemen. The Flats road, for instance, was such a purgatory for cyclists a few years ago that most men went round by Dames (or as it was then called the Leyton) Road to avoid it, and until the Wanstead Board took it over in compassion, and made up the road properly, the standard plan of pitching down granite periodically, and leaving it to work in or out as it pleased was very regularly pursued. Now, one is inclined to wish that they would dismiss the new Road Surveyor and his staff and hand us over en bloc to the Wanstead parish. Then perhaps Woodgrange Road would be attended to properly.

Advert for Clark Bros cycles, FGWN 1896, the
largest of the area's 14 cycle manufacturers, 1896
 7 August 1896
The carriage of bicycles by rail is becoming so general that before long the railway companies will be compelled to provide increased accommodation. I would suggest that a special van, with supports for cycles, be attached to all long-distance trains in the summer season as a means of overcoming the existing difficulty. Considering the way we are mulcted in fares we are surely entitled to some additional measures of safety to ordinary passengers' luggage - and milk cans.
The lady rider is more in evidence than ever, and it is interesting to notice the civilizing influence she exerts over her masculine attendants. Their handle bars go up, and their coats are buttoned and some of them are actually deluded into wearing a collar and tie. In time, maybe, the influence of the "cock and hen" parties may even regenerate for the "bounder", but that, perhaps, is too much to hope for.
Cycle built for "a lady" by Forest Gate
cycle manufacturer, Elston, c 1899

 14 August 1896
The modern cyclist is of a very effeminate, luxurious disposition. He complains of his saddle, the roads, his gear, and what not, so often that I am sometimes lost in wonder as to what this tender individual would have done in the good old days of 60lb ordinaries, with their iron seats, short cranks and "trawl" brakes. It is interesting, by the way, to recall the advent of the "Spider" as we named it, and the days of the BTC (ed: British Touring Club?) and its Lincoln green uniform. There was a Spartan-like severity about "learning to ride" then, which puts to shame the age of air tyres and riding schools.

21 August 1896
Despite all statements to the contrary, I adhere to the opinion I have before advanced, that a brake is quite unnecessary on the machine of an experienced rider. Any hill that you cannot hold a light machine on is much better walked down, as the surface is sure to be bad for the tyres. For the full roadster type, of course, a brake may well go with the mud-guards, pump, cyclometer etc, that some riders load themselves up with. 30lbs may be within a rider's control, whilst 45lbs, may, perhaps, be beyond it.

28 August 1896
Many of my readers may like to know of the foreign cycling tours which have been successfully organised of late. A week can be spent in Normandy for £5, 15 days in Brittany for 9 guineas and other parts of the Continent are catered for on a like scale. Sewell and Crowther of 41 Gracechurch Street will supply all details to anyone desiring fresh fields and pastures new.
I am glad to see that the absurd charge of "furiously riding a bicycle" brought against Miss Mildred Clark of East Ham was unsubstantiated. Perhaps the public will begin to realise that the bicycle is a vehicle in the eye of the law, and perfectly entitled to a use of the road, when a few more of these frivolous charges are dismissed.

4 September 1896
There is only one real safeguard against having your bicycle stolen, and that is to look after it. So many thefts have occurred lately that it seems necessary to remind riders that nowadays when the "man in the street" can ride, it is unsafe to let your machine go out of sight except placed under lock and key.
Vaseline, and plenty of it, is the one and only preservative from rust. It is a good plan to carry a small tin in one's satchel, and then if one is caught in a shower, the worst effects, at any rate, can be avoided.

Edmund Hussey, another of the
 contemporary Forest Gate
cycle builders, 1896
 11 September 1896
After 14 November the various auto-car, motor-car, horseless carriage companies will have no excuse for delay in showing the British public generally, and their shareholders in particular, what they can do. I doubt, myself, if they will succeed in placing upon the road a machine capable of maintaining a speed of 14 miles per hour, with credit to themselves and comfort to the public, for some considerable time to come. The specimens at work at the Crystal Palace do not favourably impress me at all.
Then we shall have to find them a new name for general use. The essays in this general direction have been rather clumsy up to the present, "auto-car" being the most euphonious, though not etymologically correct.
I am constantly being asked what I think of this or that make of American cycle. I cannot understand why riders want to go outside the large range of choice they have in the English manufacturers, who are, after all, the oldest makers and the best judges of what is most suitable for English roads and climate. It must be to that craze for "something new" which lies dormant in human breasts that the Yankee manufacturer appeals.

Three authors write on WW2 air raids in Forest Gate

Friday, 11 August 2017


This article looks at the way in which World War 11 air raids in Forest Gate have been approached and described from three very different perspectives. They are from the local fire chief of the time, a school boy, recollecting later in life and from the fictional work of an author born in West Ham.

The Fire Chief was Cyril Demarne and we have quoted from his work about Forest Gate before, here. The school boy was actor and film director Bryan Forbes, who spent his childhood in Cranmer Road and the novelist is Mike Hollow, who has authored three books about the Blitz Detective, DI Jago. Full details of the books can be found in the footnotes.

We have covered air raids in Forest Gate in previous articles, here and here, but not directly in the words of victims/witnesses.

Bryan Forbes' autobiography  - Notes for a Life


We covered Bryan Forbes' recollections of Forest Gate life in the 1930's in a previous blog (see here). Part of his childhood recollections focussed on his experiences of air-raids experienced from his Cranmer Road house, in 1940 - before the family moved from the area.

What follows is a graphic and direct quote of recollections of youth, from his first autobiography.

The early nights of the Blitz were not all that frightening. I felt curiously, irrationally secure in the fetid darkness of the small shelter and devolved a method of determining the distance from our own house of the bomb blasts. I would put my cheek against the sweating concrete walls and calculate by the intensity of the vibration carried in the earth.

We listened to Lord Haw Haw in the Anderson, searching the dial of the wireless until that arrogant, rasping voice filled the small enclosure. 'We shan't be dropping bombs on Earlham Grove tonight' he said once, in a reference to the Jewish Quarter of Forest Gate, 'We shall be dropping Keating's Powder.' Keating's was a brand of dustbin disinfectant. In repeating the remark here I am not trying to perpetrate that distant vicious smear, I merely wish to record the absolute amazement and fear I felt at hearing my own locality mentioned by the remote voice of the enemy

On the Saturday afternoon, when the second phase of the Blitz began in earnest I was inside the Odeon, Forest Gate, watching a matinee of Gaslight. Half way through the performance the audience became conscious of what seemed to be a hailstorm beating on the roof. The projector lamp died and the house lights came up. The limp manager, in black tie, came on to the stage and announced that the audience should disperse in the interest of safety.

We trooped without undue haste into the bright sunshine outside and stood in groups on the pavement watching pattern after pattern of sun-silvered Dorniers winging high overhead. Urged on by the police and wardens I ran the length of Woodgrange Road and along Godwin Road straight into the arms of my distraught mother.

We went immediately into the Anderson and except for hurried forays into the house for food and the use of the toilet during the rare lulls in the bombardment, we stayed in the garden shelter for the best part of two whole days and nights. During the night hours the sky was swollen red enough by the monstrous Dockland fires to make the regulation blackouts meaningless.

Sticks of bombs fell across Wanstead Flats, cutting a path through Cranmer Road at the top end, but the Anderson never shifted.

Our experience was nothing out of the ordinary and we were far luckier than most, for when the last bomb with our number on it found its target the Anderson shelter still held, but our life in Cranmer Road was over forever.

Cyril Demarne's Fireman's Tale

This short memoir was published almost 40 years ago. Cyril joined the West Ham Fire Brigade in 1925 and spent the much of the war serving in the district. He was later appointed Chief Fire Officer for West Ham and was made an OBE in 1952.


The book describes life as a fireman in the area during the war. Below we reproduce two extracts about places very familiar to Forest Gaters.
Writing of July 1944, Cyril says he got a radio call:

"V1 explosion in Blake Hall Crescent, Wanstead, sir. Your car has been ordered"

Oh, God: here we go again. What frightful scenes should we encounter this time? We had become accustomed to rows of shattered houses and shops and the back street factory with a dozen girls entombed; to the heart-rendering cries of the bereaved and to children screaming for their parents; to the torn and hideously mangled bodies to be recovered from the debris; and to the little corner shop, a heap of ruins, with customers slashed by flying glass, laying amid bundles of firewood and tins of corned beef.

I asked my driver if she knew where we were going. Yes, she knew, and we were there in a few minutes. All the trees in the vicinity had been defoliated by the explosion and the pungent smell of chlorophyll mingled with the musty odour of mortar and other dusts. Only the stench of blood was missing, something, at least, to be thankful for. A number of houses had been demolished and women and children were being removed from the debris.

As we toiled, several V1's roared across the sky and there came a chorus of "Seig Heil, Seig Heil," from hundreds of German throats in the POW camp a few hundred yards along the road. How I prayed for one to come down smack in the centre of that compound, but my prayer went unanswered and the bombs flew on, to crash in Poplar or Stepney, or points west.

The houses in Blake Hall Crescent lay in a hollow which restricted the area of the blast. Casualties, relatively, were light and we were able to clear up rather more quickly than usual and make our way home. There was no knowing where or when the next buzz-bomb would dive.

The POW camp came near to disaster about a week later, when a flying bomb crashed on the anti-aircraft rocket installation on the opposite side of Woodford Road (ed: near the current Esso garage, on Aldersbrook Road), killing a number of gunners and ATS girls. The blast set fire to dry grass on the site and it was by a narrow margin only that the NFS (National Fires Service) stopped the fire before it reached the magazines, crude corrugated iron sheds, with openings screened with hessian curtains protecting the rockets laid out on racks.

It was a close shave.


Cyril Demarne
And the second extract, describing events a little later that month:

It was during the scalded cat raids, when fast flying aircraft roared over London, dropped a load of bombs and hared away as fast as possible. A number of isolated fires had been started in Manor Park - Forest Gate area - and I found myself in a temporary fire station, manned by part-time fire crew, at midnight. The firewoman on duty reported that her crew had been ordered out to a fire at the Manor Park Cemetery and had been gone for three hours. I could not imagine a fire in a cemetery occupying a crew for anything like that time and I passed the place twice during the evening, observing no sign of fire. However, I had better investigate: it was not unknown for a fire pump to have become engulfed in a bomb crater.

The cemetery gates were wide open and we drove in, following the main drive until it narrowed into a single width road and terminated in a sort of roundabout, with four or five paths leading in different directions.. The glow of the distant fire was the only light we could see as we stopped. I got out and had a look around and there was no sign of a fire or the crew. ...

I was soon out of sight of the car and I started to hear a voice out of the silence of the night.

"I wouldn't go down there", it said, "something has come down" It was the cemetery keeper. I shone my torch ahead and saw a number of shining incendiary bombs, none of which appeared to have fired, lying scattered over graves and paths. I picked up two of the bombs, and walked back towards the car. The keeper told me that firemen  had been in the cemetery some hours ago to deal with a fire in a heap of discarded wreath frames but had left before the second fall of incendiaries. ...

The missing pump turned up, eventually. It was manned by a crew of part-time firemen, who attended for duty one night per week. ...  After dealing with the cemetery fire they chased after another showing a light at Manor Park; then to another, arriving home at their station about 1 a.m., tired out, but happy with their evening's performance."

The Blitz Detective series of novels, a review by Sandra Walker

I found this series enjoyable and very surprisingly, rather compelling. I can happily recommend it to anyone interested in WW2 east end, ‘popular’ social history (especially local Newham people) who likes an ‘easy, undemanding, lightweight’ read. Mike Hollow, the author, was born in West Ham.

Mike Hollow
The stories are full of local interest, with housing and historic building references and descriptions including car journeys along roads that no longer exist - during some of the bombing raids of the Blitz which actually destroyed them. Descriptions, venues and events are based on Mike Hollow’s family oral histories and local and national topical news at the time.  The author successfully conveys a sense of the hardship, stoicism, humour, disruption, trauma, community and ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude with which we have become familiar and associate with the events of the time.

Conscientious objectors, fifth columnists, local council corruption, inequality, early feminism, the evacuation of children, poor quality housing and healthcare, food shortages, harsh living conditions, lack of sleep, trauma of witnessing dead bodies and the impact on local communities as they are disrupted and fractured forever are just a few of the issues the reader is confronted with – this in addition to ‘murder most foul’. Yet this is skilfully woven into stories of day to day life (and murders) which continue in spite of and add to the difficulties and horrors.


I found myself quickly comfortable and easily able to relate to the somewhat familiar stereotype   principal characters of the ‘Old Bill’ of the time. The emotionally repressed bachelor, DI Jago with WW1 baggage who is our principal character is immediately likeable because he is so sensible, rational, fair minded and indeed forward thinking for his time (for example regarding women’s inequality and what the post war future holds for them). 

Jago’s trusty, novice, sidekick DC Cradock is uncomplicated and keen. The awful pompous, bumbling  DC Superintendent  ‘Soper of the yard’ and the faithful old Victorian Cockney Copper Tomkins, hauled out of retirement for desk sergeant duties are all stereotype characters readers  of a certain age will immediately recognise. 

The plots were credible however some of the relationships and links which assisted in discovering clues and gaining information were frankly rather ‘incredible’ or unlikely –very  lucky strikes!


There is, of course, the potential for  romance - provided by attractive, exiting, confident, worldly wise, female American journalist, go getter Dorothy and dependable, maternal, East Ender cafe owner, Rita. Both likeable ladies!
Originality? Well, dare I mention two similar series here; Anthony Horowitz’ Foyle’s War for characters and plots and Barbara Nadel’s local Newham based WW2 amateur sleuthing by troubled undertaker Francis Hancock for local interest?

All said and done, I liked the series and I will certainly be reading the next book scheduled for release in 2018.


Footnote  The books reviewed are The London Blitz - a Fireman's Tale, by Cyril Demarne, now out of print, but originally published by the Newham Parents' Centre (now Newham Bookshop - who may still have copies buried away) in 1980. Bryan Forbes' autobiography Notes for a Life, was published by Collins in 1974. The Three Blitz Detective novels by Mike Hollow are: Direct Hit, Fifth Column and Enemy Action, they are published by Lion Hudson

Forest Gate-born Bryan Forbes recalls his local origins

Monday, 31 July 2017


One of Britain's cinematic greats, Bryan Forbes, was born and brought up in Forest Gate, as this site recalled, when it marked his death in 2013 (see here).

He first hit the entertainment headlines as question master for BBC's Junior Brains Trust in the 1950's, was later head of production at EMI, and founder of a film production company, Beaver Films.

It was however, his role as actor in and writer and director of such films as The League of Gentleman, The Railway Children, Whistle Down The Wind, The Stepford Wives and the L-Shaped Room, that he is best remembered.

This article provides a potted biography of him and in particular of his roots in Forest Gate. It relies heavily on his first autobiography: Notes For a Life and his Wikipedia entry (see footnotes for details). He used his autobiography as an aide-memoire to pen an article for the short-lived Forest Gate Times in 2011, which is also quoted, below.


Bryan Forbes' first autobiography,
 upon which much of this
article is based
He was born, John Theobald Clarke on 22 July 1926: "in the sullen aftermath of the General Strike", as he recalled in his autobiography. He had a sister six years his senior and the family lived at 43 Cranmer Road - "destined to be destroyed in the early days of the Blitz" - he told the Forest Gate Times


43 Cranmer Road, today. Forbes
 told the Forest Gate Times that it
 was "destined to be destroyed
 during the Blitz". Hmm ...

His stage name, Bryan Forbes, was chosen at random by the man who gave him his first professional job, as Equity rules at the time required that he could not perform under his birth name, as another actor was already registered under it.

He went to Godwin Elementary School, as it was then called, and later recollected. "That establishment was approached through a long corrugated iron covered way which held more dread than all the tombstones in Wanstead Cemetery (ed: he probably meant Manor Park Cemetery)." 


Godwin school - Forbes' first
After winning a scholarship, he went to the old West Ham Secondary in Tennyson Road, Stratford.

His grandparents lived in Odessa Road, where he went once a week for family tea. Writing of the street and house in the 1930's, he said in Notes for a Life:


This was a dismal thoroughfare, bordering at one end on the London and North Eastern Railway, which ran, below street level behind a blackened wall, topped with jagged bottle glass. ... Pollution being then undiscovered, the belching tank engines were merely an accepted fact of life, menacing every wash-line and delighting only small boys - for to remain fearless on the wooden pedestrian bridge while a train shuddered beneath it was a considered a supreme test. One of the punishments meted out to the bullied (of which he was one) was for the victim's face to be pushed between the wooden floor slats of the bridge while a slow goods train passed jerking and clanging below. Apart from the terror produced by the noise, the sufferer was choked by thick yellow smoke which took minutes to disperse.
He later told the Forest Gate Times, that his grandparents' house was:
A humble house, sandwiched between two other identical houses with front gardens just big enough to take a pram lengthways, separated from the road by a privet hedge, the stems cankered by years of vintage dog pee, the leaves sooted and crisped to the texture of dried holly.
Writing of his own, Forest Gate home during childhood, he said: 
The gentle flow of life in Cranmer Road were seldom disturbed. It was a peaceful neighbourhood with pretensions to what used to be called the 'genteel' : neat, undistinguished but solidly built rows of terraced houses, carefully painted every year on the outside, and the women used to hand striped canvas sun-blinds during the summer months to protect the front doors.
Of Forest Gate, in the 1930's, he wrote:
Forest Gate was a pleasant place to live in those days. Originally a hamlet lying to the north of Upton at the edge of Wanstead Flats, it was as its name denotes, the southern entrance to Epping Forest.
He had this to say about Wanstead Flats:
Cranmer Road bordered on the Flats, the savannah of my formative years which I was forbidden to explore beyond a certain limit and which, in consequence, appeared to me to be as mysterious and boundless as the entire continent.
In reality it was a large area of sparse grassland dotted with irregular plantations of thin trees and some sand hills humped around what I assume must have been a derelict gravel pit.
 It had a pathetic boating lake, like something out of Toy Town, with half a dozen rotting paddle boats for hire, and a small bandstand where, some Sunday evenings, we were taken to hear the music, sitting on hard slatted seats and surrounded by discarded peanut shells. I thought it was one of the most romantic places on earth.
Bandstand on the Flats, a few years
 before Forbes was taken to hear
 music on Sunday evenings
 Running parallel to Cranmer Road", he noted:
were four other roads named after the martyred bishops - Latimer, Lorne, Tylney and Ridley. They were considerably posher than my own, and Lorne was the poshest of the lot.
My dallion days on Wanstead Flats were for the most part totally uncomplicated: it was football in the mud during winter and cricket until the light faded in the summer.
Bryan Forbes had his first - unwanted - sexual encounter on Wanstead Flats, when he was approached by a flasher, who offered him 6 pence if he co-operated. Forbes ran off, cutting his thumb on a broken bottle as he stumbled and later recalled:
The gentleman in the raincoat proved to be an escaped lunatic (it would appear that Forest Gate had more than its fair quota in those days) and apparently, was swiftly apprehended.
The episode was completely erased from my mind until 1969 when I went back to Cranmer Road with a BBC camera team who were shooting a biographical Man Alive programme around me and visiting my childhood haunts to capture celluloid nostalgia. 
Bryan Forbes on a return visit to
 Forest Gate, in the 1950's
I stood again on Wanstead Flats, the limitless vista now reduced to its true scale, shivering in the winter dusk while hoards of turbinated immigrants played hockey in the Giant's Basin - not the canyon I had remembered, but just a slight dip in the arid terrain. It was only then that the memory of the naked man returned, though the physical scar has always whitened the skin beneath my left thumb.
Bryan Forbes recalled fascism in Forest Gate, during the 1930's
Mosley came to Wanstead Flats some Sunday evenings. He came in a sealed truck with a wire cage set into the roof. Surrounded by a black garland of close-cropped, scrubbed and wax-like body guards, he stood within his cage and screeched his British upper-class impersonation of Streicher to an audience that mostly consisted of children, derelicts and policemen.

Oswald Mosley, a visitor to Wanstead
Flats in the '30's - caged in his white van
I remember listening without comprehension (ed: Forbes would have been about 10 at the time). It was merely a strange, but not unwelcome diversion from the sameness of everyday life. I can remember seeing bottles breaking on the white cage close to the thin drawn face of Mosley and hearing his lunatic-amplified voice bouncing back from the houses behind him.
Mounted police waited in the shadows beside the empty bandstand, edging their restless horses forward as the bully boys started on the really important business of the evening. Mosley looked like Mighty Mouse in his mobile cage and departed the scene as battle commenced to spread his gospel to another corner of a foreign field.
His early encounters with the cinema were in Forest Gate
Most of my contemporaries patronised the 'Tuppenny Rush' at the Splendid, alongside Forest Gate railway station. (His Forest Gate Times article embelished this a little: I also haunted the old second hand bookshop close to the cinema. I have no idea how the old bookseller kept his head above water, because he operated on a barter system.) There on a Saturday afternoon, we would rush the doors to tread the threadbare carpets inside that dark and welcoming cave. For three pence you could join the ranks of the elite and sit upstairs in the balcony, a privilege which carried with it the bonus of being able to hurl your ice cream carton on the unruly audience below.
The Splendid cinema - Bryan Forbes'
introduction to his later, illustrious, career
To this day I can recall the agonising delight of those afternoons, the bliss of coming out of the darkness into sunlight and crossing the road to Paterson's (sic) Dolls' Hospital on the bridge, to spend what remained of our pocket-money on a penny bomb. This was a small, but effective device, made of some cheap alloy and shaped like a hand grenade.... There was a satisfying explosion when it fell to earth.

Pattinson's Doll's Hospital, mentioned
 by Bryan Forbes, above - facing Forest
 Gate train station. Note correct spelling
The simplest and most effective ploy at the poor old broken-down Splendid was to raise money to buy one ticket. Once inside, the owner of the ticket would then work his way to the remotest exit, carefully open the door, where his partners in crime would be waiting outside. 
They would dart in like rats and occupy the nearest vacant seats., The aged usherettes were too bored and poorly paid to give chase, but from time to time a new manager (pathetically attired in some second-hand dress suit) would brush the dandruff off his collar and attempt a purge.
But if the Splendid was my village church, the Queen's at the top of Woodgrange Road was my Westminster Abbey. This superior palace, glorifying the Cunnard liner of British cinema architecture, demanded greater respect and the collection started at six pence. It was there on Friday nights, that blissful childhood day of the week, when school can be pushed to the back of your mind, that I became addicted.
The Queen's cinema, Romford Road -
bombed during WW11 - Forbes' "Westminster Abbey"
 His main local enthusiasm, apart from the cinema, seems to have been his membership of the St John's Ambulance cadet force. He wrote:
I joined the St John's Ambulance Cadet Force, since the uniform had more attraction to me than the Boy Scouts. Albert Herbert accompanied me to a series of lectures at Barclay Hall, Green Street ...
On other occasions I did duty with my father at Upton Park. Football crowds seemed just as violent then and I always considered myself lucky to be on the touchline with the police.
An abiding, and unfond, memory of the area, was the railway:
Trains from Forest Gate were appallingly dirty, the third class being little better than upholstered cattle trucks, and it was quite normal to have eight people standing in bleak proximity in each crammed compartment.
His last local connections

He was evacuated for the first time in 1939, but his parents soon brought him home:
It was now, when the war seemed suddenly much closer, that my parents decided I should return to London. I thus went back to Cranmer Road just as the Battle of Britain was beginning, a piece of timing which perhaps perfectly illustrates the most baffling piece of our national character.
My second exodus from London took place in September in September 1940. This time I travelled with the bulk of West Ham Secondary School to Heston in Cornwall.
Bryan Forbes went on to describe life in Cranmer Road during the Blitz. We will draw on these writings in our next article, which will be looking at how three writers described Forest Gate during that period.

And so ended his local association.

Post Forest Gate life


Nanette Newman, Bryan Forbes's
 second wife, who survived him
Bryan Forbes went to Hornchurch Grammar school, after his family left Forest Gate. He then trained, briefly, as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.  He did four years of military service in the Intelligence Corps and Combined Forces Entertainment Unit, 

After completing his military service in 1948, he began to act, appearing on stage and playing numerous supporting roles in British films, in particular An Inspector Calls (1954) and The Colditz Story (1955). 

He received his first credit for Second World War film The Cockleshell Heroes (1955), while other early screenplays include I was Monty's Double (1958),and The League of Gentlemen  (1959), his breakthrough. 

In 1959, he formed a production company, Beaver Films, with his frequent collaborator Richard Attenborough.

Forbes's directorial debut came with Whistle Down the Wind (1961), again produced by Attenborough, a critically acclaimed film about three northern children who conceal a criminal in their barn, believing him to be a reincarnated Jesus Christ.

The L-Shaped Room (1962), his next film as director, with Leslie Caron in the female lead, led to her gaining a nomination for an Oscar, and winning the BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards. 


Bryan Forbes at the height of his fame
Forbes wrote and directed Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), and the same year he wrote the third screen adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel Of Human Bondage

In 1969, he was appointed chief of production and managing director of the film studio Associated British (soon to become EMI Films).

Under Forbes's leadership, the studio produced The Railway Children (1970). His tenure though, was short-lived and marked by financial problems and failed projects. Forbes resigned in 1971. 

From the early 1970s, Forbes divided his energies between cinema, television, theatre and writing. 

Forbes returned to Hollywood to direct The Stepford Wives (1975), it featured his wife Nanette Newman and was to become his best-known film. His final film as a screenwriter was Chaplin in 1992.

In 2004, he was made a CBE for his services to the arts. In May 2007, he was the recipient of a BAFTA tribute, celebrating his "outstanding achievement in filmmaking". 

In 1951 he married Irish actress Constance Smith and the couple travelled to Hollywood in the early 1950s. They divorced in 1955. Forbes went on to marry actress Nanette Newman the same year.

Forbes was diagnosed with MS in 1975, however, he revealed in a 2012 interview that it had been a misdiagnosis. He died at his home in Virginia Water, Surrey, on 8 May 2013 at the age of 86, following a long illness.

Footnotes and sources
1. Notes for a Life - Bryan Forbes , Everest Books 1974
2. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryan_Forbes
3. Bryan Forbes Remembers Forest Gate, from The Forest Gate Times,  2001