Turning the Pages of history

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


We've recently come across a great website, that specialises in getting hold of old postcards, putting them into a social and family context and relating their back story, and we are very grateful to them for inspiring this posting.

One of their subjects is a 1915 card from Dames Road - sent 100 years ago today, on 27 May. Their blog gives some fascinating details (see here) and we thought we'd paint a fuller picture, by putting it more firmly in its local context.

Below is the rather plain postcard, and it shows the shop front of TR Page, Bootmakers - with a young girl in the foreground.

Start of the tale: postcard
 of Page's shop on
 Dames Road, 1915
The second photo below, is a blow up of the image of the girl. The postcards' blog identified her as Ethel Page - daughter of the bootmaker. She was born in 1907, so would have been around 8, when the card was sent. As can be seen, she was well-dressed, including wearing a rather smart pair of boots - presumably made by her father, Thomas.

Ethel, proudly modelling her dad's boots
The recipient was her friend, Lily, in Crowthorne, Berkshire, an altogether more salubrious area than Forest Gate.

So, what can we add?

Well, Dames Road gets its name from, the Dames estate, of which it was part, until the mid nineteenth century.

The social commentators, Howarth and Wilson, in 1907, had this to say about the part from where Page traded:

In Dames Road, which for the most part runs northward from Woodford Road, are some new flats, with separate front doors. The accommodation consists of four rooms and a wash-house downstairs, and three rooms and a wash-house upstairs. They were built in 1903, and are inhabited mostly by newly married City clerks.

These flats are very strictly kept, as they are in great demand. The rest of Dames Road, which was built in 1878, is chiefly inhabited by clerks and businessmen in the City, and has shops on one side of the southern end. The rents vary from 8s 6d, per week to £40 per year. The houses have maintained their level up to the present time, but the shops are difficult to let.

We can assume, therefore, that Page's shop was constructed around 1878.

According to local trade directories, Thomas Richard Page, a boot maker, set up shop there in 1908 - around the time of the birth of his daughter, Ethel. The shop is long gone - see later - and was near the present Anna Neagle Close.

Page lived above the shop, in a four-room flat.  At the time of the 1911 census he was aged 34 and shared the accommodation with his 30-year old wife Eliza and 4 year old daughter Ethel.

Trade directories suggest that Page continued to operate as a boot maker from the premises until the end of the first World War.

By 1922 he moved his workshop a little further up the street, to 54 Dames Road, where he traded from for the next 30 years - but now as a boot repairer, rather than boot maker. Presumably  more highly automated factories in places like Northampton priced small local manufacturers out of the production of footwear. He must have felt deskilled by industrial progress.

While trading from 54, he could well have been a witness to one of the area's more dramatic events - in 1944. Although Dames Road was hit by three small explosions during the Blitz of 1940 (on 16 September and the 8th and 15th October), the damage was minor and mainly structural.

The Germans launched their much more vicious series of V1 attacks on London from June 1943, and Dames Road took a very direct and spectacular hit on 27 July 1944 - a little over 100 metres from Page's shop.

A "Doodlebug" hit a trolleybus at the junction of Dames and Pevensey Roads - by the Holly Tree pub, killing at least eight people.

Below we reproduce an extract from the following week's Stratford Express, describing the incident.

The extract is interesting, in that, apart from recording the incident (rather vaguely), it shows the level of censorship prevalent during World War 2 - designed to not give too much information to potential German spies about locations, and therefore assist in the accuracy of further bombing raids, but also in not fanning the flames of despondency and having an adverse affect on morale on local people.

Without a very detailed knowledge of local events and geography, it would be impossible to locate the bombing location referred to in the extract below. The incident was reported on an inside page of the paper, whose front page was filled with comparatively trivial local day-to-day civilian matters, and it is almost certain the newspaper underestimated (deliberately, or otherwise) the numbers of fatalities endured, in its report.

The extract below is from the Stratford Express of 4 August 1944. It may be difficult to read, so a transcription is supplied below it.

Stratford Express, 4 August 1944,
 recording the Dames Road
 trolley bus incident
Incidentally, the cinema referred to, again obliquely, as being damaged, in the headline, is almost certainly the Rio Cinema on Woodgrange Road, which was hit on 29 July (not that you would know if from the report!). It is now the location of the Durning Hall charity shop.

When a number of dwellings were damaged close to a public house (ed note: Holly Tree) and the edge of open land (ed note: Wanstead Flats); early on Thursday evening last, listening apparatus was employed by members of the rescue parties with a view to finding how many victims were trapped. It was a demanding voice, heard through a loud speaker demanding: "Quiet, please, everyone" which brought a strange silence on the scene. A moment before there had been all the noise inseparable from the aftermath of any "incident"; but the voice that came out the loud speaker altered that. Men perched precariously on debris were listening for sounds which would indicate the presence of survivors. The hush was a weird one, but it told the listeners all that they wanted to know, and in a minute came the voice again. This time it said "Thank you, carry on" and the resources were soon rapidly in progress. A passing vehicle (ed: the trolley bus) was wrecked by the blast and there was loss of life amongst those travelling on it. The dead included William Winter, Dennis Barfield, Thomas Driscoll and Reginald Hillman.

It is likely that the four mentioned above were passengers on the trolley bus, because four residents of Dames Road were also killed on that hit, according to Air Raid Precautions (ARP) records. They were: Gladys Blackman (aged 39), Wendy Blackman (aged 4), Abraham Ince (aged 76) and Edith Tilley (aged 41).

The eye witness account, below, from a very credible witness, suggests that the death toll was very much higher. No publicly available records confirm quite how many, but well into double figures, by the sound of things.


Eye witness account from
 Cyril  Demarne, later chief
 of  West Ham Fire Service
James Owen, author of Danger UXB - The heroic story of the World War 11 Bomb Disposal Teams, quotes Cyril Demarne's account of the incident. Cyril was a fireman of the time, and later became Chief Fire Officer of West Ham:

A particularly nasty, gory, situation confronted us, following a V1 explosion in Dames Road, Forest Gate. A trolley bus, crammed with home going workers had caught the full blast and the whole area was a sickening sight. Dismembered bodies littered the roadway; others were splattered over the brickwork of the houses across the way and the wreckage of the trolley bus was simply too ghastly to describe.

The roof and upper deck, together with the passengers, were blasted away. Standing passengers on the lower deck were also  flung against the fronts of houses on the other side of the road. The lower deck seated passengers were all dead. Although many of the victims had been decapitated, they were still sitting down, as if waiting to have their fares collected.

Demarne described the Dames Road bomb as "the most horrific thing I ever witnessed." Given the position he rose to in the service, and the number of incidents he must have witnessed in a long and distinguished career, that is some testimony to the horror of the event.

Thanks to local community historian, Carol Price, for pointing this reference out, and for confirming neighbourhood memories of the nature of the incident.

The houses in the photo, below, were built on the site of those destroyed by the bomb, post-war.

Junction of Pevensey and Dames
 Roads today - location of the
 trolley bus bombing in 1944
Back to the Pages of Dames Road. Thomas Richard Page ceased trading as a boot repairer at 54 Dames Road in 1952 - some 44 years after he began shop life in Forest Gate - aged 75. Presumably he retired, or died.

The business carried on, however, for another 15 or so years, in the name of Charles Thomas. We don't know whether he was a relative of Thomas, or had purchased a going business concern. Neither do we know why he ceased trading, but can assume that he became a victim of the throw-away society that would rather buy new than repair old.


The lower part of the eastern side of Dames Road was demolished in the 1970's for redevelopment, and the photo below shows the cleared ground, including what would have been Page's two shop locations, in 1984.

Lower part of Dames Road,
 undergoing redevelopment, mid 1980's
The area between Dames Road and Woodford Road is now covered by a small residential estate.


Amazing, where following the tale of a postcard can take you!

4 comments:

  1. another excellent post John. I have lived around the corner from the rocket impact for 26 years and never knew about it.

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  2. I lived in Bective Road through the war, Page was our local shoe mender. I also remember the V1 incident vividly, it was a sunny day, we children were all playing in the gardens, our mothers all chatting over the fences, when suddenly someone shouted, there above us was the V1, it passed us as we all scrambled into the Anderson shelters, it hit the top of a large Sycamore tree in Gobells Bakery breaking the top out, carrying on into Dames Road where the damage was caused. although we had little damage in our road we had plenty of real scares, with a prisoner of war camp a few yards away as well, our mothers were alway's on edge.

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  3. I was born in Pevensey Road in 1948 and my mother spoke about the doodlebug hit on the trolleybus. The eye-witness account really conveys the full horror of the event, which would have been hushed up at the time. Before the new houses were built opposite the Holly Tree pub, an infants school occupied the site, which I attended. Half of the playground was still a bomb site when I was there and I remember playing on it - great fun for a little boy!

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  4. My father was killed by that bomb. He was on the bus.

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