Uncle Joe knew where you lived!

Thursday, 22 March 2018

A timely post, as the media is awash with stories of Russian spies.

Newham Bookshop and the Wanstead Tap recently hosted a great evening of author John Davies talking about his recently published book, The Red Atlas (see footnote for details). We were delighted when he agreed to write an article about it - and its references to Forest Gate, in particular for this website.

In the article below, John tells the story of the book, in relation to East London.

At the foot of the article, there is a small section specifically commenting on Forest Gate, through the eyes of the cartographers.  In all cases, it should be possible to increase the size of the map on your screen, by clicking on it - to follow the captions.

John writes:


If so, then during the Cold War, Uncle Joe (that’s Churchill’s ironic nickname for the Russian dictator Stalin) – and all his successors through to Gorbachev, certainly knew all about your district, your road, even your house.

For Aldersbrook, Forest Gate, Manor Park, Wanstead and Leytonstone (as we know them) were among the places featured in incredible detail in a series of maps created and maintained by the Red Army throughout the period from the end of the Second World War until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.

Forest Gate area, with Aldersbrook and
 Manor Park named in Cyrillic. The
 Central Line is labelled ‘
метро’ (metro)
 and Leyton station is marked with M,
 unlike the stations on the other lines.
The four-sheet map of Greater London, for example, from which these extracts are taken, was compiled in 1980 and printed in 1985. It is at the scale of 1:25,000 (about 2½ inches to the mile, the same as the familiar Ordnance Survey Explorer maps), with a supplementary booklet listing nearly 400 ‘Important Objects’, a street index, a descriptive essay detailing the topography, climate, demographics, industry and economy of London, and a diagrammatic map of the Underground network.

Sheet 2, north-east London, is a large sheet of paper, measuring about 1 metre by 1.1 metres, printed in ten colours, covering an area from Blackfriars Bridge in the south-west corner, north up the Lea Valley to Enfield and east as far as Aveley and Upminster. The other three London sheets extend as far as Watford in the north-west, Weybridge in the south-west and beyond Orpington in the south-east.

Leytonstone and Wanstead. Both tube
 stations marked M. The symbol indication
 electrified railway is seen just north
 of Leytonstone station, before the road bridge
Depicted on these maps is information not shown on British Ordnance Survey or commercial street atlases of the time, such as annotation indicating the width and surface material of highways, the European road number of major routes, the load-bearing capacity of bridges, the names and products of factories, the distinction between ‘metro’ lines and stations (ie the Underground) and national railway lines and stations, the distinction between electrified and non-electrified lines – and even in some cases showing on which side of the tracks the station building is located. 

Part of the geographic diagram of
‘metro’ lines appended to the map,
showing also major roads named
as Forest Road, Woodford Avenue
and East Ham & Barking By-Pass
The maps use colour-coding to identify ‘Important Objects’ which are numbered and listed in the accompanying index. Objects of military significance are coloured green, governmental and administrative objects in purple and industrial, utilities or transportation in black.

The information is exceedingly well researched and few errors are found. One such error, presumably ‘lost in translation’ is object 263, coded purple, which is listed as ‘the residence of the queen and prime minister’ but is in fact Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket in the West End.

Central London, showing River Thames in upper
case letters (indicating navigable river),
ticks along the embankment indicating vertical
sides suitable for mooring, arrows showing
direction of flow of river and direction of tide,
cross-hatching on railway bridge indicating
metal construction, tunnel running north from
Waterloo Bridge (the Kingsway tram subway)
and showing ‘metro’ stations. None of this
information appears on contemporary 
 maps. ‘Important objects’ are colour
coded and numbered, including 28 Charing
Cross station, 240 Treasury, 246 Ministry
of Defence, 263 (see story), 283 Greater
London Council, 351 HQ General Staff.
London was not the only British city mapped in this way; at least 100 other such maps are known, most of which are the larger scale of 1:10,000 (about six inches to the mile) and include such places of relative unimportance strategically as Gainsborough, Lincolnshire and Dunfermline, Fife. 

The earliest known are 1950 maps of Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock, the latest is a map of Falmouth dated 1997 (after the demise of USSR). Some of the maps overlap, particularly in the industrial areas of Lancashire and West Yorkshire. In fact, Aveley and the Dartford Tunnel appear on the overlap of the London map and the 1:10,000 Thurrock map of 1977.

Other local maps include Southend-on-Sea (1985), Colchester (1975) and Luton, which was mapped in 1973 and again in 1986.

Debden showing the M11 labelled
as M11 and E112 (a Europe-wide
numbering system for major routes which
was not adopted in UK and which did
not appear on any British maps) and
also annotated as 11x2
Ц – indicating
2 carriageways 11 meters wide with
concrete surface. Note also the contour
line with spot height 46 just west of the
railway. This ‘closed’ contour has ticks
indicating which side is lower, a useful
convention which is not used on British maps.
The maps are labelled Secret and were produced by VTU (the Military Topographic Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Army - Военно-Топографическое управление Генерального Штаба Советской Армии). 

Their existence was unknown to Western military and only came to light in the shambolic circumstances after the collapse of USSR, thanks to exploits worthy of a John Le Carré spy novel; in some cases stocks of maps were sold as ‘waste paper’ to save the cost of destroying them; in other cases semi-official sources desperate for dollars clinched black market deals with eager American dealers.

This was in the early 1990s, the era before the ready availability of the kind of geo-information freely available today, such as online maps, street views and satellite images.

Commercial map makers in Britain wanting to produce and sell maps would have only three choices in deriving the necessary source information:  do their own survey (time-consuming), use out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey maps (at least fifty years out-of-date), or pay licence fees to OS (expensive).

Dartford Tunnel as depicted on 1977
Thurrock 1:10,000 map and on 1985
London 1:25,000 map (south-east
sheet). The tunnel is annotated as
having a length of 1600 metres
on the earlier map.

The sudden influx of cheap, accurate, modern mapping looked like it would change all that. At the time OS was engaged in a long-running dispute with the AA over alleged copyright infringement (which it eventually won with a £20 million out-of-court settlement in March 2001) and was determined to avoid this potential undermining of its business model.

Thus, the OS declared that the Soviet mapping ‘is almost entirely an adaptation of Ordnance Survey Crown copyright material. It was produced without the permission of Ordnance Survey and thus it infringes Ordnance Survey's Crown copyright’ and went on to demand that anyone in possession of the maps hand them in and to threaten legal action against anyone importing or offering for sale or reproducing any part of the maps.

This statement, although not quite the truth, was sufficient to suppress any interest in the Soviet maps in UK until recently. In fact, although information derived from OS maps can be seen to contribute to the Soviet maps, OS is only one of many sources that were used. Others included satellite images, trade directories, railway timetables, tourist guides, street atlases, and observations by agents on the ground.

Forest Gate - in detail

Above is the Forest Gate detail of the Soviet map surveyed in 1980 and printed in 1985.  By clicking on it, it should be possible to enlarge it for a closer view.  If so, and you live in Forest Gate, you will probably be able to see your house marked - so, Uncle Joe really could have known where you lived!

There are a few points of particular interest.  This section of the map is clearly dominated by Wansted Flats; but the area is marked Aldersbrook. This is confusing to the casual viewer, but apparently quite common for map makers to do - they often label blank spaces according to the nearest housing development. 

It is interesting, though without explanation, that the two sections of the Flats adjacent to Centre Road (see below) are predominantly shaded white, whereas the sections near Dames Road and north of Cann Hall Road are predominantly pale brown. There are no obvious explanations for this. The lakes/ponds, tree clusters and banking by Alexandra Lake are all well and accurately marked.

The two other largish areas without a light brown background are the cemeteries - Manor Park with a mixture of white and green (for grass) backgrounds, the West Ham and Jewish cemeteries with simply a white background - indicating no large grass areas.

Just south of the West Ham/Jewish cemeteries is a cluster of buildings, with a name.  The word is "hospital", from the days (accurate when the map was plotted) that what is now Gladys Dimson House, was then Newham Maternity Hospital.

The road markings are strange.  Romford Road (the A118) is quite clearly the most important, strategic and busy road covered by this section of the map, but it is given a lower status - by colour - than both Leytonstone and Aldersbrook Roads. We have no logical explanation for this.

Other roads, clearly marked, in the Cyrillic script are: Earlham Grove, Forest Lane, Odessa Road, Ramsey Road, Cann Hall Road, Dames Road, Capel Road, Cranmer Road, Sebert Road, Godwin Road, Ridley Road, Windsor Road, Katherine Road and Sherrard Road.

Centre Road is wrongly marked as Blake Hall Road, with the map maker, wrongly assuming that Centre Road was simply a continuation of Blake Hall. 

In terms of the Woodgrange estate, it is interesting that Windsor Road is shown as wider than the other lateral roads, and is the only one of the four of them to be named.  Equally strange, Richmond Road is marked, rather than Balmoral as the road at right angles to the lateral roads on the estate. Strategically, Balmoral is more important, as it offers a through road in and out of the estate, and Richmond doesn't. Quite why Richmond and not Balmoral was marked is not obvious

What, at first sight, appear to be the railway arches along the Goblin line, are not the arches, but railway embankments.

Towards the top right hand of the map is a wiggly line.  This is the 15 metre contour line. There is a 13 metre spot height indicated on Aldersbrook Road and a 14 metre mark on Capel Road.

Happy map-gazing!

Footnote: John Davies lives in Woodford Green and is co-author of Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World http://redatlasbook.com/   recently published by University of Chicago Press and available online or at The Newham Bookshop. John can be contacted at author@redatlasbook.com

Redevelopment proposals for Woodgrange Methodist Church

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The congregation and pastors of Woodgrange Methodist church, together with the national hierarchy of the Methodist tradition have been working, for about 5 years,  on redevelopment plans for the site. These are at an advanced stage and subject to pre-planning consultation.

Architect view of how the new development
 would fit in to Woodgrange Road - nb, this
assumes the proposals for 39a-49a -
opposite - go ahead as approved

The existing buildings, although only about 60 years old, are looking tired and unfit for purpose, so the Methodists have appointed a series of external professionals to help them re-develop their physical position within the local community.

They held two consultation sessions - totalling eight hours - within the church premises, over a cold February weekend. We went along, and this is what we found.

The consultation event was fronted by Alaistair Watson of Broadchurch Asset Management - about whom, more much later.

The proposal is to knock down the existing church and supporting buildings and replace them by a new church and around 33 flats. The consultation leaflet said that the proposed development will provide:

  • a new high quality visible church on the northern side of the site
  • variety of community spaces
  • around 33 new homes
  • retail accommodation
and that "The site has been designated as suitable for residential-led mixed use development (enabling the Church) in the Borough's Local Plan."

Bird's eye view of how the proposed
development would appear

Mr Watson promised copies of the display boards on show at the consultation event to share with readers of this blog.  He has failed to honour this commitment, despite repeated reminders and requests. As and when he chooses to do so, we will happily update this post and add them to it.

Only about 25 people had attended the consultation event half way through its opening hours, so few members of the local community will have had much of a chance to see what is proposed for one of the focal points of the local community.

The original Methodist church, built at the
 conclusion of construction of the Woodgrange
estate - in the early 1890's. The new proposals
seek a similarly dominating tower/spire

 In summary, the church's physical position on the footprint of the existing  site will be switched from abutting Claremont Road, to being adjacent to Osborne Road. The church will have a tall spire/tower - as the original church on the site had, before it was bombed during WW2. The spire, itself, would be dominated by a huge cross.

This literally towers over other buildings in the area, and may now be deemed out of character - even with the taller residential apartment buildings planned for the opposite side of Woodgrange Road (see here).

The original church, in ruins,
following bombing during WW2

The church, itself, will occupy about 50% of the land on the site - the other 50% will be devoted to housing. Mr Watson was frank - 'it is the sale of the flats that will pay for the rebuilding of the church'. But, the proposals only anticipate that 6 of the proposed flats will be for 'social housing'. The other 27 would be for sale.
The consultation leaflet stated that further information about the proposed development could be found here. At the time of writing, this website offered no more information than the leaflet available at the consultation event, other than the information that "The site will be developed by Pigeon Investment Management."

Pigeon's website: www.pigeon.co.uk says:

Pigeon was established in 2008 and has assembled a management team with extensive knowledge of the regional property markets and a powerful combination of business and property skills.

Pigeon manages commercial and residential property on behalf of its investors with a projected end value of over £250m and is currently promoting land for over 15,000 dwellings for its land partners.

Herein lies a potential problem for both the developers (Pigeon and Broadchurch) and for would-be Newham Labour Mayoral hopeful Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz. Cllr Fiaz, in her manifesto for mayor plan, aims to get 50% of new-build homes in Newham under council ownership and let at fair rents.

The church, today, occupying space the
developers propose is used for 33 flats
- 80% for sale at market prices

Clearly both ambitions - the 80% flats for commercial sale proposals of the developers and 50% council-owned by the potential mayor - cannot be met, unless weasel words can be conjured up.

The rebuild proposals would see the church side of the development as a large multi-purpose space that could be used to host a number of community activities, and open up to make it an inviting facility for local community use.

The Grade 2 listed Peter Peri's sculpture, The Preacher, (see here for details), currently facing Woodgrange Road would be relocated to face the corner of Woodgrange and Osborne Roads in the new proposals.

Peter Peri's sculpture will be moved,
but remain as a significant feature of the
new church - under current proposals

There were a number of elderly members of the local congregation present at the consultation event and they are very keen on the proposals.  "We pray every day for their success" we were told. 

They were keen to point out that they do not want the new development to have walls or fences around it - both from a perspective of being welcoming to the local community, but also because they do not wish it to become a centre of anti-social behaviour (litter dumping, street drinking, needle discards etc).

Mr Watson said all concerned were working to what sounds like an incredibly ambitious time table. Planning permission within two-three months and project completion with about 18 months. The congregation would co-locate with the Manor Park Methodists for the duration.

Alaistair Watson and Broadchurch Asset Management

The consultation event was hosted by Mr Watson, in the name of Broadchurch Asset Management.

The company's name is a potentially misleading one, because in financial circles "Asset Management" companies are those who look after/invest large holdings of other people's money - like pension and sovereign wealth funds. Broadchurch is small beer - with almost no assets - either of its own, or apparently managing.

Alaistair Watson, 53, is the only current director of Broadchurch-am, which was established in 2013, and doesn't appear to have done much trading since. He has been involved with a string of other property companies (33 at the last count - though only currently active in 4) and has been involved with projects in Essex, the Isle of Wight (see ,here and here) and Suffolk, where he lives. He  appears to be a bit of a vintage car enthusiast (see here). 

Broadchurch, together with Pigeon, do, however, have plans for a significant development in Hadleigh in Suffolk - see here.

In 2005, under the name of Thamesgate Regeneration, Mr Watson managed a big and controversial development  in East Tilbury. It attracted a fair bit of press coverage, not least from The Guardian, due to its plans to build a 14,000-home new town on greenbelt land.

Colonnade Holdings, another company managed Mr Watson, has run a few successful projects in the Isle of Wight over the last decade or so. But he and this company didn’t have a good time of it when developing a shopping centre in Basildon in 2009, according to three separate reports in the local paper (see here, here and here).

Some of the filth currently outside the
church.  The congregation, and local
people want to see an end to this.
Mr Watson - please note
The congregation at Woodgrange Methodist church, and Forest Gate residents more generally, will be disappointed to hear that there were complaints were about filth, rubbish, graffiti and broken pavements in the area under development, causing accidents and discomfort, for which Mr Watson had to publicly apologise.

Minnie Baldock's active suffragette life in letters and photos

Thursday, 8 March 2018

This article is published on International Women's Day, one hundred years after women first achieved the parliamentary vote in Britain. It brings together a small collection of photos and papers, held by the Museum of London, concerning prominent Forest Gate suffragette, Minnie Baldock.

We have written before about Minnie and her role in the local suffragette movement here and here.

These documents and photos, many published for the first time today, give a glimpse of the involvement of Minnie in not only suffragette politics in London, but also in the wider sphere of radical Edwardian politics, in the early years of the twentieth century.

She was at her most active, politically between 1905 and 1911, when the onset of cancer enforced her early retirement from campaigning political life.

Below, we provide a short synopsis of her life, accompanied by relevantly dated photos, letters and other material related to it.

c 1864 - born in Polar, later to become a shirt maker

1889 - married Harry Baldock, a general labourer, also of Poplar

1890 - birth of oldest son, also Harry - who later is employed in the ship-building trade

1891 - census - living at 23 Oak Crescent, Canning Town - now an unbuilt upon grass area - see photo

Oak Crescent, Canning Town today
1896 - birth of second son, John Francis Baldock (known as Jack), who also was later employed in shipbuilding industry

1890's - became a member, along with her husband, Harry, of the recently formed Independent Labour Party (ILP) and a comrade of local MP, Kier Hardie

1901 - 1907 - husband, Harry, becomes ILP councillor for Tidal Basin of West Ham Council

1903 - Minnie, with Kier Hardie organised political meetings in Canning Town about low pay for women in the area

1905 - joins Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and becomes active in demonstrations

1905 - successfully contests election to become a Guardian of West Ham Workhouse

Minnie's leaflet for her
successful campaign as ILP
 candidate for West Ham
 Board of Guardians, 1905

1905 - December, heckles Chancellor of the Exchequer Herbert Asquith at a meeting in Queen's Hall, Langham Place

1906 - leading suffragette, Annie Kenney lodges with the Baldocks in Canning Town, when she moves to London

Late 1900's - moves to 447 Green Street (see envelope address, and the house as it is today)

447 Green Street address of Minnie
 Baldock in late 1900's

The house, today
1906 - July 4, Minnie speaks at WSPU rally in Hyde Park, in support of Teresa Billingham. She and Minnie had led a demonstration to Chancellor of the Exchequer Herbert Asquith's home, in Cavendish Square. The resulting altercation with the police lead to several suffragette arrests, including Teresa Billingham. The subsequent conviction became the first occasion on which 
a London suffragette was sent to prison. She received the longest sentence available - two months in Holloway - although an anonymous donor later paid her fine and she was released 

Handbill for a demonstration in Hyde Park,
organised in support of arrested suffragette
Teresa Billingham. 

1906 - July 15, Minnie speaks at WSPU rally in Victoria Park. The meeting was provoked by the arrest of  Adelaide Knight, Mrs Sparboro and Annie 
Kenney on 19 June 1906 for protesting outside Asquith's home.

 The leaflet announcing Minnie as a speaker.
The reverse (below) of the leaflet
spells out the WSPU's case against 

"Squiffy"  and for Votes for Women
1906 - November, imprisoned in Holloway, for the first time. We have no details of the incident surrounding the imprisonment, but a fragment of a letter from Minnie to her husband survives, in which she shows herself to be a loving wife and devoted mother, clearly greatly upset at the separation imprisonment had caused the family. See text and copy, below

Prison letter

Minnie's prison letter to her
 husband - transcript below
From: Lucy M Baldock, Holloway Prison Nov 6 1906

My dear husband and comrade,

I wanted to say a great deal to you.  But am reminded of the fact that all letters will be seen by someone before you receive them.

Therefore, I cannot say quite credibly what I would like.

As your opinions we cannot blame anyone for that, only those who make these rules. The first time for 18 years dear that anything has come between the sacredness of our married life. Not to kiss each other, or shake each other by the hand for even a few times seemed to me very hard indeed. But I must not complain, I have seen you and that is something to make me glad and know that things are going alright is a great blessing. You understand how much I miss you and Jack. 

But I cannot mention this. The xxxx have xxx the great cause of the Emancipation of Women. A Miss Robinson, a lady from America visited us the other day and promised she would write to Jack. Tell him  (document fades) ... Tell him that ... I know he misses.  Tell him I will make it up ... (the text fades, but clearly displays a great concern for the welfare of her younger son, Jack - by now aged 10).

1906 - December
Leading members of the WSPU, including
 Flora Drummond and Minnie Baldock

Suffragette leaders Christabel Pankhurst,
 Minnie Baldock, Edith New

1907 - January, Minnie protests at a meeting in Baldock (sic) in Hertfordshire.

The Luton Times and Advertiser of 11 January 1907 reported that Minnie and fellow suffragette, Mrs Flora Drummond of Manchester:

"made matters rather hot for the Honourable Member (ed: Julius Bertram, MP for North Hertfordshire), the complaint against him being that he was responsible for killing the Women's Suffrage Bill, when it was before Parliament."

Mrs Drummond was ejected from the meeting.

"Then Mrs Baldock tried to speak, but she was instantly put into the street. After the exciting struggle, the meeting proceeded on its normal course."

1907 - photo of Minnie handing out leaflets in Nottingham

Minnie handing out leaflets in Nottingham

1908 - no exact date, but Minnie becomes a paid organiser for the WSPU in Forest Gate

Minnie in 1908

1908 - 13 February, with nine others, arrested in demonstration outside Parliament and convicted for obstructing the police. The demonstration occurred on the day that it was discovered that there was no mention of women's suffrage in the King's Speech. 

Given the choice of a £5 fine, or a month in prison (for the second time). She, like the other suffragette demonstrators, chose imprisonment in Holloway, to gain publicity for their cause.
Arrest of Emmiline Pankhurst, accompanied
 by Minnie Baldock and Gladice Keevil.
Emmiline was sentenced to six weeks in
Holloway for the part she played in the

Suffragette leaders Christabel Pankhurst,
accompanied by Annie Kenney and Minnie
Baldock leads delegation to Parliament,
 the outcome of which was Minnie's arrest
Press reports at the time, described her as a WSPU organiser of West Ham.  The Daily Mirror said that she went round: 
"with a megaphone and shouted 'Votes for Women' as far up the stairs of the St Stephen's entrance (of Parliament)as the megaphone could send the words."
Bound over letter

Bound over letter - transcript below

Metropolitan Police
A Division, 
Cannon Row station

Take notice that you, Minnie Baldock are bound in the sum of two pounds to appear at Westminster Police Court, situated at Rochester Row at ten o'clock a.m. on the 14th day of February, to answer the charge of wilfully obstructing Police in the lawful execution of their duty at Victoria Street 13.2.08. and unless you appear there further proceedings will be taken.

Dated this 13th day of February One thousand nine hundred and eight.
Signed  Officer on Duty.

Holloway discharge letter

Discharge from Holloway letter
transcript below

HM Prison Holloway
7th March 1908

Minnie Baldock will be discharged from this prison at 8.30 a.m. on 13th March and I shall be glad to hear whether you intend to meet her at the prison gate. She wishes you to know that she is in good health.



1909 - Involved in recruiting for the WSPU in the West of England
While there, Minnie has a letter published in the Western Daily Press, see below, suggesting that the WSPU views of women Members of Parliament, at this time, were not very demanding, as per the last sentence in the letter: "We are today fighting for the vote, and we are not asking for seats in Parliament."

Western Daily Press May 29 1909

A Correction
 Sir, I wish to contradict a statement which you made in reporting my speech at Roke yesterday afternoon.
You stated that I should say it was when they had a Parliament composed of men and women they would have perfectly fair and just administration, instead of which I stated it is only when women as well as men could send their representatives to Parliament that we should have perfectly fair and just administration.
 We are to-day fighting for the vote, and we are not asking for seats in Parliament.
 Yours truly
 Minnie Baldock

Minnie in 1909
1911 - contracted cancer and was treated, successfully in the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital in Euston. This effectively signalled the end of her active political life.

One of a series of postcards produced by
 the WSPU, of their organisers and leaders (undated)

1911 - census, the family were living at 490 Barking Road. (see photo, below).

490 Barking Road, today
Minnie was not present on the night of the census, but her husband and younger son, Jack were. She could either have been away from home campaigning for the suffragettes, or possibly have been confined to hospital with the cancer that she contracted that year.  After the operation, she went to Brighton for a time, for convalescence.

1911 - recovery from cancer

One of the surviving letters in the archives, suggests that she had recovered from the cancer operation by August that year. The letter and text are shown, below.


Recovery from  operation letter

From: C d Mountford, 
22 Elmhurst Ave, 
Forest Gate, 

My dear Mrs Baldock,

I am so pleased to hear the operation was successful. I have just received the news from Mr Balcock, who ??? is is pleased to think you are on the road to recovery.

What a brick you are, dear. I wish I had your courage.

You will be sorry to hear that I have been laid up with my old complaint and still in bed, so will not be able to come to see you tomorrow, but will come as soon as I can.

How we have all prayed and thought of you. My sister sends her love and hopes to see you soon.

I have to go out tomorrow so will be able to come and see you very soon.

And that God may soon restore you to perfect health is the sincerest prayer.

Yours very sincerely,

C d Mountford

1911 - evidence of reputation of effective trade union organiser and promoter of women's rights at work.

Two remarkable letters survive in the archives testifying to Minnie Baldock's reputation as fearless and effective organiser around Women's rights. The first is from J Hopkins,  of Tower Hamlets Road, Forest Gate,  the parent of a laundry worker at the Forest Gate Sanitary Steam Laundry in Upton Lane (see photos, below). In it, s/he explains the parental concern for the daughter, the author of the second letter, below. The two letters make pretty grim reading of conditions in the laundry, at the time.

Women's Union organiser - Forest Gate steam laundry (1)

Letter, from the parent, accompanying letter, of "a laundry girl", below

33 Tower Hamlets Road

Forest Gate

18 August 1911

Dear madame,

The reason my daughter is writing the enclosed letter to you is this. Yesterday I was discussing with a friend the conditions under which laundry girls worked and on them not being able to get anyone to take up their cause. The remark he made was you want a lady like Mrs Baldock to take it up, if she could not, I have no doubt she would be able to let you know of someone who would. I asked for your address, but he could not give it to me. He told me if I wrote to Mansfield House, no doubt it would find you.

If you could in any way help the laundry girls, I would be very thankful indeed. I am sending you my name and address, which for the moment I am asking you to keep private, for we know if it reaches the firm, who it is agitating, it means being discharged at once.

Trusting I am not taking a liberty in writing to you.

Yours respectfully

J Hopkins

Trade Union organiser - Forest Gate steam laundry (2)

Above and below, letter from "a laundry girl" asking for Minnie's help in organising the women to fight the dreadful conditions at the Forest Gate Sanitary Steam laundry, Upton Lane


Dear Madam,

I am writing to ask you if you can help us laundry girls of West Ham get more money and fairness to all. Most of the girls are willing to do something, but they are unable to as they have no leader or anyone to speak for them, so I thought of you, who I know would help us if it were possible.

The girls from other laundries say they will do something when "The Forest Gate Steam Laundry of Upton Lane" start because that is the largest and I thought I would be doing no harm in writing to ask you to help us.

Our grievance is we want more money. In one laundry there is a class of girls called Packers and because they are a little more refined, they are allowed every privilege, they do the easiest work, they work in the coolest part of the building, they are allowed a week's holiday and paid for it and at the end of the year they are given a Christmas Box, while the girls in the machine room who are in the steam all day long (most of whom only earn 5/- (ed: 25p today) a week, the rate of 1d per hour (ed: 1d = less than half a penny). They have to do there (sic) dirty work and if they ask for a day off (that means they are the loser) they are refused and if they take it off they get the sack, or else a lecture.

Why should there be so much difference made when we are all working girls(?) Other factories have come out and got what they want, why can't we(?).

We have not our grievances before our mistress yet because nobody seems to have the courage enough. I thought if they heard someone who could put things in a proper manner, they would find the courage to speak up for there (sic) rights.

I hope you will excuse me writing. Thanking you in the hope of you being able to send someone to help us.


a laundry girl

1902 photograph of the Forest Gate Sanitary Steam
 Laundry, Upton Lane - to which the letters, above, refer

Forest Gate artists, Eric Dawson's depiction of 
the laundry, which eventually closed in 1964.It 
was located between Studley and Whyteville Roads.
  The site is now occupied by a fuel service station
1913 - Minnie with her husband, Harry, moved to Southampton - the home town of her mother. She later moved to Poole in Dorset

Postcard of Minnie holding a baby girl. On
 the reverse, handwritten in pencil:
"Two suffragettes come to wish you a happy
 time this Xmas and always.
 Lucy Minnie Baldock. Her name Millicent
 Mary Lucy Baldock" c 1916.

The photograph above seems likely to be Minnie and her grand-daughter, Millicent. Ancestry records show that a Millicent Mary Lucy Baldock was born on 14 October 1915 in Southampton. This is the only person of that name recorded in Ancestry's 2 billion records.  The location accords with what we know of Minnie moving to her mother's home town soon after leaving West Ham. 

Presumably Millicent was the daughter of one of Minnie's sons, Harry or Jack. She married George Ernest Pomery in 1939 and died in Swindon in 1986. Whether she ever knew the part her grandmother played in the women's suffrage movement is unknown.

1954 - died in Poole, aged 90. National Probate Records show:
Lucy Minnie Baldock of 73 Lake Road, Hamworthy, Poole, widow, died 10 December 1954. her estate was valued at £1,810 8/8d. The executor was Emily Clark, spinster
Evidence from Jean Bodie who knew her towards the end of her life, as recorded in comments in this blog (see here), suggest that she was feared by local youngsters, because of the long black dresses she wore  and they thought her to be a witch. Sarah Downing, who has also written to this blog (see above) was one of her great grand-daughters.  She believed that Minnie left her land to the Local Labour Party.

Minnie, aged 90

2011 - Poole museum, produce a short video, celebrating her active political life (see here)

Still from Poole Museum's video of Minnie