The Trebor story: Forest Gate's sweet success

Wednesday 30 April 2014

In 1907 four young men set up an enterprise to boil sugar, and make sweets, in Forest Gate - from sugar bought from Henry Tate in Canning Town.  They established a company called Robertson and Woodcock on Katherine Road. The four were: Thomas King, a wholesale grocer from Limehouse, William Woodcock, also from Limehouse and a sugar boiler, Robert Robertson, a retail grocer from Canning Town and Sydney Herbert Marks, a sweets salesman from Leytonstone.

Co-founder, Robert Robertson

They were to turn it into Forest Gate's most successful, ever, business and rename it Trebor. This is their story.

Co-founder, William Woodcock
The business was originally named after its two full time employees, the other two moonlighted for it, while employed by others, at first. There is a widespread misconception that the company later renamed itself as the reverse spelling of Robertson's christian name, Robert (Trebor). This, however, is merely a co-incidence.  There was already a Trebor House (built in 1891) and a Trebor Terrace on the Katherine Road site, on which they founded the firm (see photo).

Co-founder, Sydney
Herbert Marks

Trebor Terrace, predated the building
of the factory in Katherine Road
The original rent for the premises was £1 per week.  The year after the company was established the founders purchased their first horse and cart van (see photo) and paid the driver 23/- (£1.15, today) a week and his van boy 6/- (30p).

1908 staff photo of Robertson and Woodcock

One of first delivery vans for
Roberston and Woodcock, c 1910
The company was, in many ways, very forward looking - as will be shown, and it became one of the first businesses in London to purchase its own motorised transport, in 1915 (see photo).

One of earliest company motor
vehicles in London c 1915
The war was, of course, a challenge for the company - which had 16 employees in 1916.  It faced rationing of sugar, in 1917, but it rose to the challenge. It even produced products aimed at the troops, one called Army and Navy Paregoric Tablets (see photo), contained tincture of opium (!), for its soothing qualities. Other sweets produced at the time included Mixed Fruit Drops, Rock Allsorts, Pineapple Drops and Pear Drops.

Opium-laced product for
World War 1 soldiers!

The partners registered the name Trebor as a trademark four days after the end of the First World War, which effectively became its new trading name, after the retirement of William Woodcock, who was perhaps more interested in alcohol than sugar.

 Sydney Marks, son of one of the firm's founders ,also joined the company that year, on leaving the army, and was to be its driving force for over 50 years. Once sugar rationing ended, trade picked up, and the company quadrupled its workforce in a couple of years - to 60.

Trebor adopted electricity as its power source around 1920, which brought the end to hand production.  Marks visited Germany in 1925, amid much criticism of trading with the recent enemy, and returned recommending the firm bought very advanced production equipment from that country.

This revolutionised the business. It considerably improved the capacity of the business and the quality of its output.

One major effect was to enable to company to introduce products from compressed powder, rather than simply boiled sugar, and helped launch and establish the company's two most iconic products - Extra Strong Mints and Refreshers.

1935 label of consistent number
1 product: Extra Strong Mints
The company simply took off. By the mid 1930's it rebuilt its Forest Gate premises, by knocking down the existing one and four adjacent houses and built the Art Deco factory, in what is now converted loft apartments. (see photo).

Not satisfied with the rapidly expanding British market, lead by Marks, the company began to develop its huge export potential. In an extremely innovative step - that almost sounds commonplace today - the company became one of the first to develop "tie in" products to movies.  In 1937 they bought the rights from Disney to launch a range of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs sweets, following the launch of the film - for £150! - plus a price per ton on goods sold with the label.

Early, 1930's "tie-in" product

Soon, even the doubled size Forest Gate factory wasn't big enough to cope with massive demand, so the firm, again fairly innovatively, took advantage of some inward investment incentives (dare we say sweeteners!) to build a new production facility in Chesterfield, on the site of an old brewery.

Again, with a glance at the future, the company felt the Chesterfield plant would provide a production insurance policy in the case of bombing, expected in WW2.

Just as WW1 had proved a challenge, so did the second World War. The company faced sugar rationing, but fared rather better than most other companies in the industry, for a number of technical reasons, and some aggressive acquisition of other firms, thus being able to acquire their sugar quotas, as part of the takeovers.

The anticipated, and almost inevitable, happened on 18 April 1944, when the Katherine Road premises was hit by a bomb - see photo.  Fortunately it was mainly the warehousing, rather than the machinery and production side that was affected, but according to contemporary reports ""Luckily, few people were killed"!

WW2 bomb damage, note policeman
guarding premises from "sugar looters"
One minor consequence is that the bombed premises were guarded by the police for some days, as a deterrent to looters seeking sugar. The blow of the bomb, however, knocked confidence by the company in Forest Gate as a longer term centre of production.

As we have suggested, the firm was very forward looking, on many fronts, but the directors were extremely hostile to having a trade union presence within it. They could best be described as benign, paternalistic employers - so were an early developer  of company pensions schemes for manual workers (1930's), and set up a sickness and death insurance company for employees as well as a forward profit sharing scheme for all staff.  They were one of the first UK companies to make major use of external consultants to assist with a whole range of managerial issues, including so called "time and motion" matters.

Their take-over activity gained apace post war, acquiring more than 50 other firms in the late 1940's.

In the early 50's they built a new facility on the site of an old coachworks and warehouse on Woodford Road, Ilford - and established the company HQ - Trebor House, there.  It remained so until the firm was taken over by Cadbury's in 1989. By now Forest Gate was a very minor part of an increasingly large British confectionery company.

Following the reconstruction of the Forest Gate premises after the war, after the bomb damage, the building was painted white and the distinctive green 'Trebor Quality Sweets' lettering, that survives today was added to the facade. In 2003 the building was converted into 51 loft-style apartments.

The firm's directors continued to exploit every opportunity to advance the company's standing, and became one of the first confectionery companies to use the new and effective opportunity that TV advertising offered, when ITV was established in the late 1950s'.

Their huge export drive continued after World War ll, and in 1961 the company bought its largest UK competitor, Sharp's Toffees, of Maidstone. The two firms were only formally merged in 1968, to become Trebor-Sharps.

1960's aerial view of the Forest Gate factory

In 1978 a £15m major investment was made in a new production facility in Colchester, with a turnover 10 times that of the Katherine Road plant - it was to be the death knell of sweets production in Forest Gate, and the factory closed three years later.
At that time Trebor had 3,000 employees nationwide, at 4 factories and 16 distribution depots.  Forest Gate was but a sugar crystal in a large bowl - though unfortunately we do not have details of precisely how large it was, or how many it employed at the time of its closure.

Within seven years of the closure of Forest Gate, Trebor's was sold to Cadbury's for £146m, with its paternalistic owners continuing their tradition of taking care of the workforce, by distributing £20m of that to employees in loyalty payments - upto a year's wages. The gesture came too late, however, for Forest Gate workers to benefit from this final treat.

Cadbury's, themselves, were subsequently taken over by the American food giant Kraft, which in turn has been gobbled up by some faceless hedge fund.

In another sign of how times have changed, in 1936 the very much smaller Trebor outfit produced an astonishingly large range of 452 products, today what's left of the brand produces just four: Extra Strong Mints, Softmints, Softfruits and Extra Strong Mint Gum - which between them, today form a larger share of the UK confectionery market than the 452 lines did 80 years ago.

Just some of the 450+
product range from 1930s
On a final note, the loft apartments in the old Forest Gate works  are currently trading at around £250k each - valuing the development at just a little less than Cadbury bought to entire company for, 25 years ago.

Trebor factory, Katherine Road
We are wholly indebted to an excellent company history: The Trebor Story, by Matthew Crampton, published in 2012, for the information in this article. We would love to hear reminiscences from any former employees there - particularly their views on the working conditions and the paternalistic/innovative/anti-union management.

On reflection

Wednesday 23 April 2014

This marks the first anniversary of the establishment of this blog, so a bit of reflection and a progress report is called for.

We've published 50 posts, on a wide range of ... well, Forest Gate-related issues, past and present, to date.

We are upto an average of 200 -250 hits per day on the site, which given the relatively small geographic area of its focus and the fairly eclectic nature of the content, isn't bad.

We've established a complementary Twitter account (@E7_NowAndThen) which now has in excess of 380 followers.  This is used largely to announce new postings on this blog, and many of the Tweets are retweeted and favourited - many with generous comments - which is satisfying.

Although we always invite comments, suggestions, recollections, additions, corrections to Blogs posted,;we've had relatively little feedback, which is slightly disappointing.  All comments submitted are subject to being overseen by a moderator before being published. The ONLY ones which are screened out are attempts by (often dodgy) commercial organisations to hijack the site for their own purposes, or responses which are potentially unlawful, or abusive (very few).

Below is a list of the hyperlinks to the eight most viewed posts, together with photos representative of the article.

Upper Cut Part 1

First week's bill at the
Upper Cut - magic!

Christmas Day in the Forest Gate Workhouse

The Forest Gate Industrial School, later maternity
hospital and now flats - scene of description
of Christmas day in the Workhouse

Forest Gate good (and not so good) pub guide

Forest Gate Hotel - part of the local pub trail

Rise and decline of local Jewish community

The old West Ham synagogue, Forest Lane

Fire guts famous gym  This was the first blog

Arnie and Wag, outside Bennett's gym
(now, sadly in tatters) on Romford Road, c 1966

Booming Woodgrange Road

Saturday markets at the junction of Woodgrange
and Sebert Roads, early signs of the
Woodgrange Road boom
Spotted Dog, still under threat Another very early posting

An undated woodcut of the Old Spotted Dog

Food hygiene in Woodgrange Road

A long-established local eaterie,
featured in the food hygiene story

24-hour Forest Gate gourmet trail One of the most recent posts, which has had a relatively huge hit rate in its short time on the site

CoffeE7 - the beginnings of the Forest Gate gourmet
trail and still less than 18 months old

The titles of the posts are fairly self-explanatory, and eating, drinking and being merry seem to provoke most interest! Also, not surprisingly, older posts get quite high hit rates, because they have been around longest and so have had more opportunities to be viewed.

To reinforce the popularity of the eat drink and be merry point, the least viewed posts (by a long way!) are the two on Forest Gate's local cemeteries, and their inhabitants.  Clearly, not much merriment there, but we think they are interesting!

Perhaps surprisingly the local good schools guide, with summaries of the Ofsted and other inspection reports of all local schools bombed a bit, in terms of viewership. 

Our small number of posts on Clapton FC (Walter Tull, the club history etc) haven't attracted too much attention.  I guess the club isn't huge and they have their own sites etc - but the are local, and having their best season for years - so give them watch - on line, but more importantly in the flesh, while the good times are here (as I, do elsewhere, unfortunately). 

As regular visitors will know, we've produced a monthly update on who featured at the Upper Cut Club 47 years ago, each month.  This has provoked a wildly varying range of  numbers of viewers, which it is difficult to understand, other than because of the popularity of the acts performing.  The two biggest sets of interest have been over the Jimi Hendrix gigs and the Stax tour with Otis Redding, Sam and Dave etc that we featured recently. We have a couple of interesting photos to update these with.

The first is a poster of the first Jimi Hendrix gig (Purple Haze, written while waiting to go on stage), on Boxing Day 1966.  The Emporium, next to CoffeE7  is selling a limited number of these, in frames (all repro, of course), a photo is reproduced below, for aficionados.

Jimi plays the Upper Cut,
after writing Purple Haze
For real geeks, we are delight to post a photo of the (rather undistinguished looking) complimentary tickets for the Stax tour, previously mentioned.  These were sent to us by attendee Brain Lovegrove.  Thanks, Brian.

Ticket to ride - or at least see the Stax tour,
with Otis, half price!
We did rather wonder how much material there would be around for further interesting(ish) posts for the future, but the options and opportunities just keep growing - almost exponentially.  So, there's a good couple of years of weekly posts left before repetition, deviation or hesitation kicks in.

Additionally, we'll try and Tweet a couple of photos, from the archives, each week from now, as nudges to view older pieces and to bring the photos to the attention to new audiences, perhaps.

Finally, some interim thanks.  It's been great fun, and an opportunity to meet up and discuss all kinds of weird stuff with lots of interesting people.  We welcome all of this. Many thanks to the authors, whose books we've plundered for information - and we don't object if we are the subject of the same (though a touch of acknowledgement would be welcome).

A very special thanks however must go to the over-worked staff at Newham Archives, whom we drive mad on a regular basis - particularly to Jenni, now back from a period of absence.

Enough of the introspection.  Proper stuff and service will resume next week!

Fascists in 1930's Forest Gate

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Forest Gate played a small, but significant, part in the Fascist movement in Britain in the 1930s, hosting an area headquarters and a couple of regionally important fascist personalities. Read on ...

One of them was Millicent 'Scat' Bullivant, who lived at 94 Chestnut Avenue and was the daughter of middle class Conservatives from Norfolk. She was employed as the secretary to the sales manager of Yardley, the perfume and cosmetics manufacturer - the core of whose building remains on the approach to the Bow flyover, in Stratford.

Millicent 'Scat' Bullivant (centre) of Chestnut Ave,  
mainstay of West Ham fascists in 1920s and 1930s
  with Ulster Protestant Francis 'Paddy' Johnson to her left
Bullivant was a long standing, doctrinal fascist, having joined the British Fascisti, a forerunner to Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF), in the 1920's. That organisation had been a predominantly middle class, pro monarchist anti-socialist group, having been founded in 1923 (soon after Mussolini seized  power in Italy). The group contested the West Ham council elections in 1930, when its candidate, Reginald Dobson, fought the High Street ward on an anti-socialist platform, securing 198 votes against the winning candidate's 919.

Although the British Union of Fascists was established in 1932, there was little sign of its presence in the Newham area until the following year. There was a physical confrontation between communists and fascists in Thorpe Road, East Ham on 29 July 1933. Two months later, what the BUF press called "The oldest East London district east of Aldgate" was established, as the East Ham branch, at 1 Lloyd Road, until 1940, when the movement was banned.

Fascists, under police protection, Stratford 1936
June 1934  was a decisive month for the BUF, nationally and locally. In that month it held its infamous Olympia rally, when it adopted a harder fascist policy, amidst pseudo military pomp and violence and Mosley held a meeting in East Ham Town Hall attended by an estimated 500 people, including 100 describing themselves as paid-up fascist supporters. The following month the party began holding open air meetings in West Ham and established a branch in the borough, with Plaistow man, A Richardson, as its organiser and Bullivant as his assistant.

Two months later, Mosley and his party officially adopted a fiercely anti-Semitic stance and activity.

Following allegations of corruption within its tiny organisation, the West Ham branch underwent a major re-organisation, in early 1935. Millicent Bullivant survived and her brother, Richard Alvestone Bullivant, a former member of the Conservative Party and the Junior Imperial League and manager of Stone's radio shop on Ilford High Road, acted as District Organiser for the duration of the enquiry. 

Arthur Beavan

Millicent emerged from the re-organisation as West Ham's District Women's Leader, and a 34 year old Cardiff-born, ex-Communist and painter by trade, Arthur Beavan, was appointed organiser.  He was to dominate the party in the area for its remaining five years of existence.

Arthur Beavan, strutting his stuff.
West Ham fascist organiser in 1930's
Beavan later recalled his motivation for joining the BUF - and it was an attraction to violence. He said he had attended a BUF meeting in 1933 in Lewisham - prior to his joining the organisation and that he found Mosley's willingness to join in fist fights was inspirational to him:

We went to Lewisham ... that ended in a free fight. But the first thing that got into my mind was when Mosley came down off the platform and waded in with his men. He led.
Beavan joined the BUF and described what he found when he was appointed West Ham District Organiser:
... the funds were disappearing and I was sent down to West Ham. I took the blackshirt off, got digs and joined the branch as a new member. Having caught them out, got all the evidence, I informed HQ. We had an enquiry and the District Organiser and Treasurer were both kicked out ... After the two officials and their boozing pals had gone, I had about a dozen (members) left.

Arthur Beavan, fifth from left, with fellow
members of I squad, Storm Division, 1934
Beavan's father had been a Fabian socialist and chief statistician for the Co-operative Wholesale Society. The young Beavan had a restless early career. He served in the merchant navy from the age of 14 and the US navy during the First World War. He then settled in Texas and for a while served in the US cavalry.  On his return to Britain, he went to London looking for work and joined the Communist Party, with which he became disillusioned, he said, because of its lack of both patriotism and strong leadership. He was also concerned about what he later described as the "increasing number of aliens in its ranks".

Beavan was recruited to the BUF 1933, and claimed that "I found what I was looking for ... revolution and patriotism. That's what won me over."
He was soon recruited to join the movement's elite 'I' Squad division, a 'physical force unit, that became Mosley's praetorian guard'. He remained a militarist in appearance and outlook throughout his time in the BUF. Some of his contemporaries described him as "a bit of a fanatic, who liked uniforms".

He adopted an unquestioning devotion to Mosley and the party line, frequently working seven days a week in his endeavours to convert West Ham to fascism. 

He was a militant proletarian fascist who believed the backbone of 'the movement' came from the working class. He was, consequently intolerant of diffident middle-class Conservative suburban fascism, which didn't match his ideal of the 'blackshirt warrior.'

Beavan was a disciplinarian who demanded high standards of loyalty and commitment from the members. Contemporaries remember him as a "disciplinarian who used to sling people out right, left and centre". For him the branch was a political workshop, where members could enjoy conversation and recreation once the day's propaganda duties had been completed.

As soon as he was appointed West Ham District organiser, in 1935, he undertook a political canvas of the district and in July opened the party's district headquarters at 18 Woodford Road (see photo of premises, today). In the same month, he organised a controversial meeting in Stratford Town Hall meeting, where Oswald Mosley, against bitter opposition from anti-fascist groups, addressed his largest-to-date indoor meeting  east of London, which according to the Stratford Express required "several hundred foot police and 20 mounted men" to keep order, outside, as demonstrators taunted the fascists.

18 Woodford Road, local fascist HQ
in 1930's - serviced offices today
In October 1935 Beavan and his unit started to penetrate Canning Town, and began to organise outdoor meetings in Capel Road (on Wanstead Flats), among other locations.

There were attempts to frustrate the BUF's ability to organise locally.  West Ham Council, in common with a number of adjacent local authorities, refused applications from the organisation to hold meetings in their premises, and the Mosleyites responded aggressively. In October 1937, for example, they forced the abandonment of a Labour Party meeting at East Ham Town Hall, when, according to Labour Party documents, continual barracking amid scenes "unparallel in the annals of the Labour Party in East Ham" eventually forced future prime minister, Clement Attlee, the principal speaker, to prematurely terminate the meeting".

Denied access to public halls, the Mosleyites held outdoor meetings, which were frequently the subjects of clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators. In September 1937, 20 residents of Capel Road organised a petition to prohibit the BUF's regular Sunday meetings on Wanstead Flats, "as they were a nuisance and caused annoyance to householders living within hearing distance" from 8pm - 10pm, having reserved their speaking pitch on the corner of the Flats at 4 or 5pm in the afternoon. The residents were unhappy that the police seemed to turn a blind eye to the nuisance caused by the open air meetings.

Oswald Mosley addressing a large
crowd on Wanstead Flats in July 1938
At this time, West Ham Borough was divided into four parliamentary constituencies, but the BUF was too small to be able to organise effectively in each of them.  Beavan tried to control the BUF's activities of all four from the single base -18 Woodford Road - but had almost no success in the southern constituencies of Silvertown and Plaistow.  Most of he and the BUF's activities were concentrated in the Upton constituency and the Stratford one (in which the Forest Gate HQ was located).

Beavan found recruiting and organising in the southern two constituencies to be particular difficult, largely because of their overwhelmingly pro-Labour demographic base.  He conceded that the "ultra-Red" Plaistow constituency was most resistant to fascist penetration, and that the majority of his members there were policemen.

Consequently, according to Thomas P Lineham, author of East London for Mosley, source of much of the material for this article:

The primarily lower middle-class residents who lived in street locations in Forest Gate and in the Upton Division, traditionally hostile to socialism and West Ham's brand of municipal socialism in particular, were to prove particularly receptive to the propaganda of Mosleyite fascism.  BUF organiser, Arthur Beavan was quoted as saying:

"Well, Upton and  er .. Stratford were best Upton was the best of all ... It wasn't a working class area. There were so many people owned their own houses, and they were nice houses. And, of course they all ... everybody was against Labour. And the Tories had never ... never done good. So they were giving us a chance ... 'Course we played on that ... You'd get their financial support. You'd get their votes. Those are the things that matter in building up an organisation."
In May 1938 the BUF announced its decision to contest the Upton seat at the next general election, selecting ... Beavan, as its prospective parliamentary candidate for the division. Upton remained the only  parliamentary constituency in West Ham to be targeted by the BUF until February 1940, when it decided to contest the Silvertown by-election. Its disastrous election result in Silvertown, where it polled 151 votes as against the victorious Labour candidate's 14,343, reflected the unfavourable anti-fascist political climate generated by the war.

Arthur Beavan, third from left at BUF's
HQ c 1934. Moseley in centre
The BUF contested the Forest Gate ward during the November 1938 election, one of the few remaining centres of Ratepayers Association representation in West Ham. The result was equally disappointing in the principal location centre of BUF support in the borough.  Unable to seriously penetrate the Ratepayers Association vote, Arthur Beavan, the BUF candidate, finished third in a three corner contest with 158 votes. The BUF never managed to convince potentially wavering Conservative voters that it represented a serious electoral alternative to the Ratepayers Association, the RA candidate retaining his hold on the ward with 1,332 votes.

Anti-Semitic activity

Lineham, in describing the membership levels and activities of a number of BUF branches in East London and South West Essex, says:

The majority of BUF branches in South-West Essex (the BUF area in which the Forest Gate one was placed) were comprised of small groups of primarily committed ideological Mosleyites who often struggled to keep fascism afloat in the region. Large memberships and spectacular growth rates were not features of these branches. ... One explanation ... was the sporadic, uneven and qualitatively different nature of anti-Semitism in these outer suburban areas. Although there is evidence of both latent and open anti-Semitism ... its scale and intensity was far more limited than in the East End districts.
Nonetheless, there was evidence of anti-Semitic activity in the area from the time that Mosley adopted anti-Semitism as a core BUF principle, in September 1934.

The racially anti-Semitic Imperial Fascist League operated in West Ham, from 1934, and sought to attract dissidents from the BUF into its membership. A number of groups in Forest Gate engaged in latent anti-Semitic activities. In September 1939  a Board of Deputies' investigator reported that many provisions stores in Forest Gate displayed shop signs proclaiming that they were "100% British". Two shops were more open in their declaration, proclaiming that there businesses were "Not Yiddish". Lineham, unfortunately does not date, or locate these.

The open anti-Semitism of James William Higgs, a small "well known", according to the Stratford Express, retail furrier from Forest Gate, who owned business premises at 471 Romford Road (now, ironically an Islamic charity shop on the junction of Balmoral Road - see photograph), was of a more aggressive nature. He was described by the British Board of Deputies as being a "rather eccentric character", and placed numerous anti-Semitic advertisements in the Stratford Express.

471 Romford Road, James William Higgs' 
racist fascist furrier shop, in 1930's, 
Islamic charity shop, today
He made frequent references to rival traders as "aliens" and "foreigners" and described himself as the "Only real British furrier between Aldgate Pump and Southend".  Anti-Semitic posters and notices were displayed openly in his shop window in Romford Road, against which no legal action was taken, despite the fact that the shop was only a hundred yards or so from Forest Gate police station. 

 Higgs' aggressive advertising continued into 1936. That November he placed an advertisement in the BUF press describing his business as "The Real English Manufacturing Furriers", a trade in which, of course, there is a large Jewish presence. Mosleyite newspapers frequently targeted Jewish fur manufacturers and merchants, whom they accused of monopolising the trade and perpetuating "sweated" conditions in the trade.

Higgs was a member of the BUF, and his son, Dennis, was District leader of the organisation's Southend branch. The father died in 1937, although the fur business continued trading under his name, in Romford Road, at least the 1970's, when it was frequently daubed by animal rights graffiti

Other local members

West Ham BUF branch membership lists were destroyed by Beavan and co, at the start of the second world war, as they feared that the security forces would seize them and move against the members; so, there are no reliable indications of just how numerically large the local branch was. When asked outright by the Stratford Express in 1938 how strong the party was in West Ham, Beavan refused to answer.

There has, however, been some academic research undertaken on the socio-economic composition of other branches in the South West Essex area during the 1930s.  It is not unreasonable to assume that the West Ham membership profile would have been fairly similar.  That analysis suggests that 29% of members had broadly lower middle class occupations, that 18% were skilled workers, 15% unskilled workers, 6% self employed and 6% academics (!).

Lineman provides details of a few local members in his book; some of the names have been left disguised, presumably in exchange for obtaining information from those people who were still alive at the time he undertook his research - in the mid 1990s.

Among local members he identified  was John Rice of Evesham Road, Stratford, a onetime professional boxer. There was also an unnamed egg and potato roundsman who sold his 'best British produce' in the Wanstead, Forest Gate and South Chingford' area. He, according  to Lineham was selective with regard to his customers, declaring in the advertising section of the BUF press that he desired 'trade with British born customers only'. Charles Lewis, an electrician of Studley Road, was also a member, as was an unnamed dentist who practiced from his home in Odessa Road.

The BUF, according to their own publications, targeted busmen as recruits and Mosley held a meeting at the BUF headquarters in London attended by busmen from Dalston and Forest Gate on 7 July 1937.

Reginald Remington Swift, 'a very keen worker for the movement' and petty criminal was a street market trader in the West Ham area, who lived at 110 Vansittart Road. In September 1938, at the age of 36 he committed suicide by leaping to his death from the upstairs window of his home in Forest Gate and was described by family members at the inquest as being delusional and paranoid. Just prior to his death he had been imprisoned for not paying a fine for street betting, which was said to have affected him emotionally and psychologically.

During 1936 Frederick A Ralph, of 48 Knox Road, Forest Gate was appointed District Organiser of the Ilford Branch of the BUF. He was a local baker's roundsman, and according to witnesses "beneath his khaki roundsman's smock, he frequently ware a black shirt, tie, riding breeches and boots".

The war and after

Following the outbreak of World War 11, in September 1939, most South-West Essex branches of the BUF kept a low-profile, and their bookshops (including that in Woodford Road) were boarded-up, for protection. District headquarters were closed and open-air meetings suspended.

But in October, regular open-air meetings recommenced, including established BUF pitches in South-West Essex such as Beckton Road, West Ham and Kempton Road, East Ham, according to fascist publications.

The BUF began to operate more clandestinely, as the following example illustrates. Numerous anti-war slogans were painted on walls and buildings throughout Essex and London, whilst countless 'stickers' were placed on property owned or occupied by the BUF's opponents.

Charles Max Sakritz joined the BUF for a short period in 1939, at the age of 29 and was a jobbing tailor, who used a room in his house at 4 Margery Park Road as a workshop. He had Anglo-German parents and had lived in Germany between 1917 and 1932. He was known in Forest Gate as being "rather pro-Nazi" in his views.  He was sentenced to one month's imprisonment under Defence Regulations, in April 1940, for defacing a government war time poster in Upton Lane.

The BUF was banned by parliament in May 1940 under Defence Regulations, with 34 leading BUF officials and 750 activists detained without trial - including Arthur Beavan, who nonetheless continued to lead the BUF locally for the duration of the war. We are unaware of his eventual fate, or that of most of the other local members mentioned in this article.

We are extremely indebted to Thomas P Lineham's book The British Union of Fascists in East London and South-West Essex 1933 - 40, and the Stratford Express of the time, for much of the material in this article.

The 24 hour Forest Gate gourmet trail

Wednesday 9 April 2014

 Stuck for an idea for a  celebration? Don't want to travel too far? Fed up with fancy West End prices? Had enough of rip off late night taxi fares?

Stay local, play at home and join the 24 hour Forest Gate gourmet trail!

We tried it last weekend, and it was great! It was a celebration with a difference, but with a distinct E7 flavour - in more ways than one!
We started last Friday evening at about 7pm and popped into the Forest Tavern for an aperitif - and, inevitably, meet a friendly face or two for a natter, over a very pleasant, well presented and interesting beverage (a fine range of craft beers and ciders and some pretty decent wines on sale at non-exorbitant prices).

Aromas - fall into it from the Forest
Gate Tavern, and enjoy the meal!
Then, next door for a meal at the recently opened Aroma's Indian restaurant. "Unpretentious", the foodies would call it, and pretty basic in terms of comfort, with a fairly simple and very veggie-friendly menu.  But the food is GOOD: freshly cooked, flavoursome and served with a smile. It's a bring your own alcohol place, so a fortune can be saved there, for the drinkers.
Since the demise of the Empress on Romford Road and Sagor's at the top of High Street North, we've been a bit short of decent Indian's, locally - outside Green St, of course. And Aroma's plugs the gap. Cheap, cheerful - and delicious!

For these reasons, alone, it deserves to survive.  Not sure how it's faring businesswise - there weren't too many diners there at what is normally a peak time for restaurants - but it comes highly recommended from here.  Use it, before we lose it!

End of day one - pretty good. Then back for bed.

Day 2 - Saturday - started off with a stroll along to CoffeE7 for a great little breakfast.  A small, but very pleasing, veggie, menu, with a decent selection of drinks (the hot ones all excellently brewed). The place is busy, shabby, chic and a huge asset to the local community - particularly now it is running book nights, music sessions and hosts local artists.

CoffeE7 - epitome of Community Caff
Want a "community caff?" - they set the standard.

Then we tipped outside to the market and stocked up on organic eggs and vegetables (plenty of very good breads on sale too, if you want). We were too full to indulge in some of the hot food on sale - but previous tastings tell us that we could loosened our belts with a fill up of tasty fare, with no problem.  But, we couldn't resists a take away cake or three from the jolly WI stall - for later.  So, a bag of morning-baked goodies for us it was, then.

No stereotypes here - WI cake stall.
Fresh and delicious!
A stroll was now in order, to walk off some of the calories - so it was up Dames Road, to Winchelsea Road, and the railway arches.

Arch 352 is a must! Slightly off the beaten track (off Pevensey Road, behind the Holly Tree as the promo literature says).  But get along! It's the new HQ for The Wanstead Tap and Cafe. It's only been up and running for a couple of weeks - and is a delight, that will take off. It boasts the usual wide range of, we are told, interesting, locally brewed beers (you know, the ones with the daft and pretentious names) and ciders.
These will become much more freely available once they've ironed out a few problems in the locality (probably after the up-coming local elections when aspiring politicians aren't groping around for bandwagons to jump on).

Wanstead Tap - interesting alcohol, tasty
nibbles, good company - and very child friendly.
That's a big niche sorted!
In addition to the booze, they offer what they modestly (but accurately) describe as "great coffee, great cakes and loads of space for kids".  Yup, a really child friendly meet up point ("probably the biggest buggy space in Forest Gate"), with booze to ease the pain!

For the future, we are teased with offers of films and events, maybe a bit of posh dining in store - so watch this - and many - other spaces, for details.

Cake and coffee for us here (a kind of late elevenses in our day of nosh). Then back to the hub of E7, and a wander in to the Forest Tavern, to stick our head round the record fair (first Saturday in each month). Not much took our fancy, to be frank - but I guess we aren't their target demographic (as the marketeers would have it). But so much better to have, than not have. Keep spinning!

We resisted the temptation for a guzzle in the bar, so stumbled over Forest Lane to the small rotunda outside the railway station, that used to be a flower stall.

It has recently become - you may have noticed - Forest Gate's very own creperie. We couldn't resist. They were pretty decent and more than reasonably priced - particularly when taken in conjunction with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Armetis is the name. Give it a go! The guy who runs it is charming.

A creperie in Forest Gate? Surely not?
Yup, in the rotunda outside the railway station.
Give it a go - they are better than
pancakes, you know!
It is, however, very small - only room for one worker and with a trade selling freshly produced goodies (the crepes and the coffees),  service may not be of the quickest, and so the place avoided by the busy commuters who, I guess it hopes to serve. It would be a real shame if it went under - so, be like me - and become very patronising!

Suitably stuffed, it was a wander home for an afternoon's domestic activities (not forgetting a nibble of some of the WI's finest!), before setting out for dinner, to end the 24hr FG FoodFest, at the Forest Gate Tavern restaurant.

Forest Gate Tavern opened six months
and revolutionised local drinking and eating
Yet another local treat. A smallish, but delightful, menu in what pubs in this chain hate to be called a gastro pub. Very veggie friendly, very fresh food, imaginatively cooked and served by delightful staff. Excellent value and a must return venue, for us.

Thus bringing to an end, a good 24-hour local tour, nosh, nibble, and guzzle for two, all for about £100. Bargain!

A couple of things to ponder: firstly an apology. Stomach capacity prevented a visit to the Siam cafe, which a couple of years ago was about the only place worth eating at in the area, nor to the excellent Kaffine coffee shop - opposite the station.  Both are smashing little eateries in their own way, and would have been included if time, wallet and space for food permitted.

And secondly - as the previous paragraph suggests - all of the places on our trip have opened within the last eighteen months. Quite remarkable - from food desert to delight in less than two years.  How this place is changing!

Next week; altogether much more serious stuff. A fascinating insight into Fascists in Forest Gate in the 1930's - with names, activities, locations, photos etc! Don't miss!

Radio E7!

We were invited to join Pete Day for a chat about bikes in Victorian Forest Gate, last Thursday at the local radio station Nusound 92 FM.

You can listen to the clip (about 16 minutes) here.

Nusound broadcasts from Durning Hall seven days a week.  It offers a range of shows, mainly aimed at the local Asian communities, offering music and chat, at different time slots, in sub Continent languages. 

It is much loved by local taxi drivers - so the odds are that it is Nusound you are listening too when being driven around by an Asian taxi or mini cab driver.

Pete Day runs The Community Hour on Thursdays, between noon and 1pm.

Got a story that you think needs an airing, or an event that needs plugging? Pete is all ears: try him via

Support your local station!

Stax comes to Town - The Upper Cut club in March 1967

Wednesday 2 April 2014

We resume our monthly recall of events at Woodgrange Road's Upper Cut, 47 years ago - this time focusing on March 1967

Upper Cut banner,
rescued from demolition squad
The undoubted highlight of the month was the appearance of the Stax tour, mid month. Although we have covered Otis Redding's appearance at the club before (see here), this blog offers a little more flavour to the show, thanks to some contemporary reflections of it

Just for once - no exaggeration in the
claim of the Stratford Express Advert

A rare collectors' piece - the poster of the show!
One contemporary Soul Music website gives a little of the background  to the tour:

Stax Records began as a small regional record label in Memphis in 1957 by brother and sister team, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton (hence Stax) , with the simple intent of selling records by taking advantage of the immense talent of the African American singers the Southern US States had to offer.
The 1967 European tour was to open these markets to the Stax sound and take advantage of the growing interest in Black American music, especially in the UK. By the time the tour was finished music would not be the same.

Sweet Soul Music - with Arthur Conley
Stax management knew they had to tear it up every night if they were going to realise the commercial gains they wanted for themselves and their artists. So they stacked the tour with an all star team– Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, and Arthur Conley were backed by the legendary Stax house band Booker T. and the MG’s and there equally epic horn section The Mar-keys. This epic line up along with a good spirited competition to top each other made the show a raging success.

Black and white play Green Onions,
Booker T and the MG's
Yet no one launched their star into orbit more the legendary big man from Macon, Georgia– Otis Redding. With vocals that combined the delicate phrasing of a balladeer with the shouts of a deacon in church, Redding destroyed it in the UK. People still talk about Otis and his legendary performance in London–taking the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and giving it the Stax treatment along with his classics like “Try a Little Tenderness” and “These Arms of Mine”. This along with his now legendary performance at The Monterrey Pop Festival that same year made him an enormous international star.

Otis, promoting the Upper Cut gig
The tour ended and soul music and Stax Records was ascendant. A few short months later Otis Redding would pass away in a plane crash. Stax would continue to produce timeless hits and would last into the mid seventies before bad business decisions and changing musical tastes would cause it to go under.
When you look back Stax cast a long shadow. For a musician to have his or her music called “soulful” was the highest compliment. The singing, the dancing– literally performances that left it all on the stage– formed a connection between these artists and the audience that would set the gold standard.
For a beautiful and brief moment time back in 1967– Soul ruled the world.
The Tour bowled music lovers in Europe over, and fortunately the Oslo gig, two weeks after the Upper Cut one, was captured on film and has been preserved for posterity. It must have mirrored the Forest Gate show.
Here is a review of that video(available from the Stax Museum in Memphis):
The Norwegian audience, which gets generous camera time throughout, looks earnestly appreciative as Booker T. and the M.G.’s steam into “Green Onions,” with Steve Cropper flicking out vicious jabs of blues guitar.

When the singers take over, they don’t settle for head-bobbing and hand-clapping as a response. One after another, they knock themselves out. Just about every song ratchets itself up, drops back down and then pushes toward a double-time gospelly surge over the top.

Knock on Wood - Eddie Floyd
Mr. Conley praises fellow soul singers in “Sweet Soul Music,” twitching and hopping across the stage, insisting that the audience call out names like James Brown. Mr. Floyd, moving with a backwards, gliding step that looks oddly balletic, revs up the crowd during “Raise a Hand” until it swarms toward the stage, to be restrained by uniformed security guards. Mr. Floyd calls the men in uniform “soldiers on the front line” before inviting them to join in.
But they are only warm-ups for Sam and Dave and for Redding. Sam and Dave, flaunting the contrast and blend between Sam Moore’s pearly tenor and Dave Prater’s rugged baritone, volley vocal lines while they shimmy, twirl and strut all over the place. One well-chosen camera shot, amid the otherwise workmanlike direction of the old TV footage, shows the duo’s dancing feet alongside the synchronised steps of the Mar-Keys. During “Soothe Me,” even the TV crew succumbs to the frenzy; the camera starts swooping in and out, as if Sam & Dave were singing “Zoom Me.”

Soul Men - Sam and Dave
Redding would “slosh through puddles of Sam and Dave’s sweat to get out to the stage,” says the trumpeter Wayne Jackson in an on-screen interview, “and then he would add a gallon of his own sweat to the lake.” Redding arrives with a huge smile to sing about sorrow in “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).” He sounds plaintive and then exultant in “My Girl,” accelerates into overdrive for “Shake,” matches Al Jackson’s rat-a-tat drumming with stamping footwork in “Satisfaction” and carries “Try a Little Tenderness” from bluesy concern to soul catharsis.
To the bewilderment of the M.C., Redding struts offstage and returns again and again and again, barking out the chorus while the band slams away and the crowd seizes the chance to rush the stage. Moments later the show is over, and the Norwegian audience decorously files out — wondering, perhaps, what had just hit it.

In the Midnight Hour - Wilson Pickett at
another gig, backed by Jimi Hendrix

A bit of assiduous on-line research has unearthed an attendee of the Forest Gate show. He is Brian Lovejoy and he writes:
I was at The Upper Cut Club on March 19th. 1967 to see the Stax tour, I still have complementary entrance tickets. The highlights for me were Carla (Thomas) squeezed into a blue dress singing 'B A B Y' and Rufus (her dad), 'Walking The Dog' as well as Otis (Redding), Sam and Dave, Eddie (Floyd), Arthur (Conley) etc. I also saw Otis at The Ramjam Club 390-398 Brixton Road SW9 on the Sunday afternoon after he had been on Ready Steady Go live on the Friday but can't remember the date.
Brian has promised to send over scans of the Upper Cut tickets that he still possesses (which we will post on this site, when received). He is a huge Soul Music fan who drove up from his home in Reading in his Morris Minor, with three mates for the gig - struggling to find Forest Gate - as it was nowhere near the central London venues he used to visit for musical treats!

The music never dies, Brian continues to DJ in the Reading area, mainly Soul and Tamala music. Although he is in his sixties, he says he can't get his contemporaries out to his sets, but has a thriving audience of folk in their 50's!

Crass mismanagement and not a little corruption led to the financial collapse of Stax in the 1970's, but fortunately the studio has recently been revived in Memphis, partially as a tour attraction, but also as a working studio and music academy. We were fortunate enough to visit it, while in town last autumn.  The European Tour features prominently in its splendid museum display cases - though search as we could, we could not find a specific Upper Cut Club mention!

As far as the rest of March's offerings were concerned, it was very much a case of after the Lord Mayor's show, I'm afraid. The month hosted "Top Radio London DJ" Ed "Stewpot" Stewart, twice. He later went on to become a Radio 1 and Radio 2 DJ, before being discarded in 2006. His main claim to fame today must be that he is one of the few "personalities" of that era not currently attracting considerable police and court attention over child abuse offences.

Ed "Stewpot" Stewart - not currently
helping the police with their enquiries
If March at the Upper Cut featured one of the great shows of the era, it finished with one of the worst;  an appearance of what the publicity laughingly described as : "Top British comedian", Dick Emery. Inexplicably Emery was indeed a "popular" light entertainer, who managed to get an inordinate amount of TV airtime, in an era when the only effective option to watching him was to turn the TV off.

For the benefit of younger readers, his act was based around a number of "characters"; and from the perspective of the present writer these consisted of two main types: incredibly unfunny people with false teeth and incredibly unfunny characters without false teeth. He was cow dung to Paul Whitehouse's Einstein in the ranking of "character" comedians. With good reason, Emery suffered from low self esteem.

Two characters, Dick Emery - left: 
unfunny one with false teeth,
right: unfunny one, without false teeth
Regrettably, we do not know how many people were unfortunate enough to turn up and be unamused by the man whose act was marginally less entertaining than watching paint dry. Having learnt their lesson, however, the Upper Cut promoters didn't wander down this dead end of dross again, in their future show presentations.

The also rans - 
other Upper
Cut gigs for 
March 1967

Back catalogue

This site has published a number of articles on the history of the Upper Cut club: the first detailing the time when Otis visited it, in March 1967. This post was followed by two, recording the first six months and the final six months of the club's existence.

These posts were followed by almost monthy updates on who played at the club, that month, 47 years previously. The final blog is a record of a recent meeting with former boxer, Billy Walker, the name under whom the club exisited, on his memories of it and Forest Gate almost half a century ago.

Below is a list of those blogs: the hyper links are the titles of the articles, and when hit upon should give access to them. The dates (in italics) are the time covered by the blog and the date in bold are the months the blogs were posted.

Although the content, and some of the comments on the individual posts, is pretty definitive, we'd love to hear any memories readers may have of the gigs, or corrections they could make to the copy. Just post in the Comments box, below.

When Otis played Forest Gate (March 1967) May 2013

Upper Cut (1) - a summary of the emergence of the first six months of the club (December 1966 - July 1967) July 2013

Upper Cut (2) - a brief survey of the second, and final half year of the club's existence (August 1967 - December 1967) July 2013
Georgie Fame, The Tremeloes and Unit 4 + 2 - (September 1967 at the Upper Cut) October 2013

When Stevie Wonder played Forest Gate - (October 1967) November 2013

Mouthwatering musical fayre on Woodgrange Road - (November 1967) December 2013

Club bills for the Upper Cut's two Decembers - (Decembers 1966 and 1967) January 2014

The Upper Cut beds down - (January 1967) February 2014

Essex comes to Forest Gate - (February 1967) March 2014
Stax comes to town - (March 1967) April 2014

A mixed bunch at the Upper Cut in April (April 1967) May 2014

Upper Cut - May 1967 (June 1967) June 2014

Summer of Love in Forest Gate (Summer 1967) August 2014

Golden Boy, Billy Walker's Forest Gate memories September 2014