When Godwin school went to Paris - 1912

Monday, 27 February 2017


We have featured the history of Godwin school over a number of posts., over recent months (see here, here, here, here, and here for details). One of the most memorable events in that 130 year history is when a choir from the school visited, and won two first prizes, in a singing competition in Paris, in June 1912 (see here) for reference to this.

The competition was well covered, over a number of editions by the Stratford Express at the time. We are extremely fortunate that they published a diary of the Godwin visit, written by one of the staff accompanying the pupils.  We reproduce this diary, in full, below.


The 150 West Ham children (including
 50 from Godwin) on the steps
 of Vincennes Town Hall
Wrapped around this verbatim account of this visit, we provide some context.  This is a lengthy post - but a fascinating snapshot of a quite extraordinary event in the history of Godwin school, and some of its pupils.

Context of the competition


Stratford Express headline of a very
 detailed account of the Paris trip
The Stratford Express of 29 May provided the context of the visit:

One hundred and fifty boys and girls have been taken to Paris this Whitsun. They feel they have been somewhere, have seen something, and they certainly have had an experience the memory of which will live with them for as long as they live.
 Beckton Road Girls' school, Godwin Road Boys school and St Paul's Boys school had the honour of supplying each a choir of 50 voices to represent West Ham in the great International Music Festival organised by the Paris municipal authority ...
In all there were some twenty thousand entries from England and the Continent for the various choir and band contests, but none were more eager and expectant than the children from our elementary schools.
 To visit Paris was an idea almost too good to be true and it can easily be understood that the long-looked-for journey, with all its experiences, has filled the minds of all the fortunate children who formed the special choirs of their respective schools.

What follows, below, is a fascinating verbatim account of the trip to Paris, from the Godwin perspective, penned in the Stratford Express, by an unknown teacher (there were only 3 on the trip, Mr Herbert, the Head, Mr Earle, the choir master and a Mr May).

Godwin Road in Paris Day by Day

The long-looked-for visit to Paris has come and gone, and not a hitch of any kind has occurred to mar the pleasure of the success of the project. Godwin went primarily to sing, but much more has been done, and the pleasant remembrances of the visit will remain in the memories of those who took part for many years to come.

The boys and their teachers lined up at Forest Gate station at a quarter to seven on Saturday morning, and many parents of the boys came to see the choir off, and wish the party bon voyage. At Liverpool Street two buses were waiting to convey the boys to Holborn Viaduct. By a quarter past eight the Godwin party was comfortably settled in two saloon carriages communicating with each other and at 8.25 the train started in highest spirits.

The ride to Folkestone was of great interest and pleasure to the boys who showed themselves keenly anxious to see Chislehurst, where Napoleon III resided after the Franco-German war on 1870. Arriving at Folkestone at 10.15, the party with other West Ham schools, went aboard the Empress, which also conveyed the LCC (ed: London County Council) choirs to Boulogne. It was a brilliant morning, the sea was smooth, and things augured well for a grand crossing.

The air was keen and invigorating, but soon signs of mal-de-mer began to manifest themselves among some of the boys. As we neared Boulogne a slight twisting pitch and roll made it necessary for some of the youngsters to go below. But the scene at Boulogne harbour soon pulled everybody together, and put the boys in the highest of spirits. The quay was lined with French; bands played the National Anthem and the Marseillaise by turns, and indeed everybody seemed en faite to welcome Les Anglaise.
One of the first sites in France to greet
the boys - a near contemporary post card
 of Boulouge-Sur-Mer railway station

When the boys were seated in the Paris train, His Worship the Mayor of West Ham (Mr Alderman JP Hurry), and those accompanying him, worked with the teachers like Trojans (ed: for American readers: not what you are thinking!)in distributing lunches to the West Ham schools. While this was going on, the French dames distributed dolls, flags and favours to the youngsters, and scenes of wild enthusiasm prevailed everywhere.

Godwin's section of the train stood opposite the entrance to the buffet, and here a group of French and English stood listening to the remarks of the young people. Very amusing it was, after some of the boys had been "chipping" them for some time to hear the French manager retort with: "Get your hair cut and sing up". This was the signal for the boys to pipe out the Marseillaise.

In a short time the train steamed out of Boulogne station and the first idea of the French country occupied the attention of the boys. The first stopping place was Amiens. Here many alighted to stretch their legs, but soon the train was off again.

As the party proceeded, the attention of the children was called to the historic incidents of the district, such as the battles of Crecy and Agincourt and the crossing of the Somme by the English under Edward III. Nothing of importance occurred from Amiens to Paris, and the party contented themselves by looking out on the well-wooded and cultivated country.

Arriving at the Gare-du-Nord about 5 o'clock, Godwin's party was met by Mr Lawler, the English master at the Institute Commercial, where the boys were to be put up at Vincennes, about four miles outside Paris. His services during the whole of the visit were invaluable, and most generously accorded.


Vincennes Town Hall today
 - a French listed building
leaving the Gare-du-Nord, following the placard "Godwin Road School" a dense crowd was encountered. It soon appeared that it was impossible to find a tram to convey the boys to Vincennes, and Mr J T Meadows-Smith, secretary of the British Chamber of Commerce, Paris very kindly came forward and accompanied us to the Place de la Republique.

The party alighted at the Institute. Here a royal reception awaited the boys. "Welcome", in huge letters, was over the entrance, drums were beat, and the young foreigners prepared to get settled into their new conditions.

On Sunday morning all were up early, for the municipalite of Paris had arranged for the West Ham schools to go down the Seine to St Cloud at 9 o'clock.  Breakfast over and prayers having been said, the boys started for the Hotel de Ville, from which point the schools were to embark. Here they were met by Mr Boumaire, the agent of the festival, our Mayor and Councillors, and the others accompanying the children. As the boats proceeded down the Seine to St Cloud, our destination, the various buildings of interest were pointed out.


A near-contemporary photo of Notre Dame,
 as the boys would have seen it.
Our Mayor, busy as usual for the good of the West Hammers was occupied by changing the boys' money into the French coinage. On the return the other schools were on the first boat, and so Godwin alone occupied the second, and the boys enjoyed themselves well, as they well know how to do.

In the afternoon a reception was held at the Town hall, Vincennes. Our Mayor, robed at the "Institute" and the members of the party followed by the boys of St Paul's and Godwin proceeded to the Town Hall. On the steps of the building, the two schools lined up on either side, while the Mayor's procession entered.

At the reception speeches of good cheer were made, and the school children of the various schools sang. Godwin's item was Wake up, my merry masters, all. The room was getting very crowded and Godwin's choir retired to the vestibule, and resumed their position later on the steps to meet the return of our Mayor, who, by the way, expressed the sentiments of the entente cordiale in such kindly terms that one of the French dignitaries said afterwards he felt ready to cry with joy.

To leave the boys for a moment, at the dinner of the house-party in the Institute, Mr Herbert, the head master proposed the toast to the Director of the Institute, Dr J Delapace O.I. and expressed the gratitude of the visitors for the good feeling manifested towards them, and at the same time reciprocating it on behalf of those located in the Institute.

Later Godwin's choir sang a number of hymns and Crossing the bar, an elaborate composition by Mr FE Wilson FRCO, of Ilford, a former teacher of Godwin, who was also one of the party.

Monday was a great day for sight-seeing, so far as Godwin was concerned, for Mr Herbert had arranged for a drive for the boys around Paris.

At ten o'clock three brakes (ed: buses) drove up, and soon they were all aboard. The first place visited was the famous Pere-le-Chaise cemetery, and here under the guidance of Mr Robert Kyle of Messrs Cook's Tours (ed: Thomas Cook), the chief great monuments were pointed out. Proceeding the party next visited Notre Dame, and the items of interest were pointed out.

After this the Parthenon, with its beautiful pictures were inspected under Mr Kyle's lucid explanation.  By this time Mr Kyle was a Godwinian, and the boys seemed like his own children; nothing was too much for him to do. Driving on, we passed the greatest shop in Paris on our way to the Champs de Mars, with that always fascinating object for boys, the Eiffel Tower.


The recently erected and "always
 fascinating object for the boys"
Eiffel Tower
Here the conveyances left us for a rest and the party proceeded to the Trocadero. Getting just a glance into this building, for a concert was about to take place, the party ascended the tower by lift, a concession Mr Kyle secured at a greatly reduced rate. Arrived at the top, all Paris was before us. The air was beautifully clear, and Mr Kyle pointed out and explained from this point of vantage all the chief buildings of Paris.

By request, the boys sang that charming part song composed by Mr HH Donald, Summer Longings. They will never forget it, surrounded as they were by the beautiful city of Paris, the glamorous Bois de Boulogne and the Avenue des Acacias, the fashionable drive of fashionable Paris.

The next objects of interest visited were the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, the Alexander III Bridge and the tomb of Napoleon. Here the crowd was very thick, and it was with difficulty the boys were kept together. On the steps the party were photographed for the papers.

The next move was to the Place de la Concorde. The crowd was very great, and from this site our way through the Tuilleries and along the Rue de Rivoli, through lines of soldiers keeping back the people assembled to see the President. It was a wonderful sight and one the boys will ever recall.

By six o'clock all were safely back at Vincennes and so ended a unique day in Paris. Visit one of great pleasure and educational value.

Tuesday was Mr Earle's day, for the choir was due to sing at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre at 8.30. Godwin was the first choir to sing, and made an excellent start. Many choirs, English and French sang during the morning. While this was going on, the choir crossed to the Theatre Chatelet, to sing the sight test.


Location of the boys' great triumph
 - a near contemporary post card
 of the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre
Shortly after noon the awards were announced and imagine the joy of Godwin when the judges declared that Godwin Road, West Ham was awarded one of the first prizes. We learned on the boat coming back that a first prize for sight singing also fell to Mr Earle's choir.

In the afternoon the choir went to an invitation show of pictures at the Hippodrome, and returned well pleased with the day's performances.

At dinner in the evening a very pleasing episode took place. In consideration of the kindness of Madame Delaplace and Mademoiselle Delaplace. Mr Herbert, on behalf of Godwin, presented Madame with a beautiful bouquet and Mademoiselle with a large box of chocolates. In acknowledging these the doctor made a delightful speech.

He said:
Never in my life before have I regretted so much that I cannot speak to you in English. This gift has touched us profoundly, as it happens to be the 20th anniversary of our wedding day. In embracing my wife I embrace you all. The boys have sung with French children the Marseillaise. This is not a song of war, but a hope the time is not distant when the children of the nations will only unite their voices in the songs of peace and goodwill. I ask you to raise your glasses in the cause of the Entente Cordiale.
The speech was ably translated by Mr Lawler.

following the gift to Madame Delaplace, Mr Earle, on behalf of the Godwin boys, who had made a collection of their own, presented Mr Tooth, an English student from Surbiton with a fountain pen. Mr Tooth had fairly captured the affection of the boys, and had rendered excellent service as a guide and interpreter during the visit. He had sold them chocolate, helped them to change their money, and in every way had been at the boys' beck and call.

Thoughts now began to turn homeward. On Wednesday morning, the boys went to buy presents and get ready for the return. During the morning, his Worship the Mayor and Mayoress of West Ham visited the Institute and concluded the final arrangements.

All through the visit his Worship has been most assiduous in his efforts for the comfort of the West Ham choirs, and merits the warmest gratitude from  all. His task has been most difficult, and the thanks of Godwin to his Worship are most heartily given.

Immediately before starting the house party with Dr Delaplace, Madame and Mademoiselle and the Mayor and Mayoress were photographed. The return was but a repetition of the outward journey, enthusiasm everywhere; but perhaps the warmest of all was at Forest Gate.

The Broadway was full of well-wishers, anxious to congratulate Mr Earle, Mr Herbert, Mr May and all who had seen the project through. The choir assembled around the fountain from the steps of which Mr Herbert addressed the crowd.

He thanked all who had been helpers in sending the choir to Paris. He said that all had returned safely. No accident had occurred, the first two prizes had been won.

The boys then sang two verses of a hymn and cheers were given. Thus ended this memorable episode in the history of Godwin Road school, satisfactory alike to the teachers, the boys, the parents and well-wishers of the school in Forest Gate.
Aftermath

Following the visit, J Trant of 6 Knighton Road, Forest Gate, wrote to the Stratford Express (see extract, below), expressing his appreciation for the efforts of the staff accompanying the trip. He wrote:

May I through the medium of your paper thank Mr and Mrs Herbert, Mr and Mrs Earle and Mr May for their kindness and attention to the boys of Godwin Road's School, during their recent visit to Paris to compete in the great musical festival. No accident, no boy left lost, no boy tired out, plenty of riding accommodation, everything for their comfort, which speaks well for the organisation of Mr Herbert and Mr Earle. I write as a parent of one of the boys.

Six weeks after the event, the local MP, Baron de Forest, hosted an event at Stratford Town Hall for the winners in the competition.  The Stratford Express covered the event in some detail (see extracts, below).


Stratford Express headline to the
presentation evening report
Edited extracts from the report, include:

Wednesday evening at the Town Hall was an occasion long to be remembered in the annals of West Ham school life, for on that evening the prizes and certificates gained by the West Ham choirs in Paris at the International Musical Competitions, were presented.

Each of the choirs received two beautifully framed certificates. The awards were: Godwin Road Boys. gained first prize for glee singing and first prize for sight singing. ... The prizes consisted of gold crown of oak and laurel leaves in the case of  Godwin Boys ... for glee singing. For sight singing Godwin Road ... received silver plaques.

The children (from all West Ham schools), numbering 150, each received a certificate, at the hands of the Mayoress, the framed certificates and prizes being presented to the conductors of the choirs by Baron de Forest MP. ...

The Mayor said that it was appropriate that the Baron should be there, because he assisted some of the choirs financially to make it possible for them to take the trip to Paris, a trip which most certainly had tended to improve the cordial relations between England and France.

No child or teacher would ever forget the experience. ... Best of all was the magnificent singing they all heard and the splendid success of the West Ham choirs. When one thought and knew they competed against all comers one felt proud of the singing abilities of the children of West Ham. ...


Baron de Forest - the area's last
 Liberal MP. He helped fund the
 Godwin trip and showed why in his
 speech - a dedicated internationalist
 who sought to prevent war via
 international friendship exchanges
Baron de Forest said ... 

'When he was first approached to assist, he did so with great pleasure, first of all because he knew many of them (the parents) were anxious the children should go to Paris, and secondly because he saw in the whole enterprise a step forward in improvement of their relations with foreign countries (Applause).
Although relations with France were very good at present, they need fear no war with the country, still he hoped that these events might encourage a series of similar festivals with other European countries, and he was hoping for an occasion when their children should be called to Berlin to participate in similar activities (Applause).

Afterthought

We were left wondering, at the end of writing this piece, just how many of the Godwin party, who had such a joyous time,  would have returned to France over the next six years - and not come back?

The street where you live (8) - Sebert Road

Thursday, 16 February 2017

This is the eighth in an occasional series of articles by local historian, Peter Williams, who specialises in Newham housing, maps and local history. In each he looks, in detail, at the history of particular streets in Forest Gate.

Peter has complemented his own knowledge by accessing the increasingly digitised national newspapers' collection - which can be found here - and has added extracts from this that refer specifically to the roads he features. 


Looking east about 1908
 from junction of Avenue Road

Sebert Road early 2017 looking west – a wintry
 scene the tower of the massive former congregational
 church  contrasted with the Manhattan Loft
 Corporation under construction in Stratford
and recently in the news for spoiling
 views from Richmond Park.
The origin of the name 

It may be the only such road name in the UK. Sæberht, Saberht or Sæbert (d. c. 616) was a King of Essex (r. c. 604 – c. 616), in succession of his father King Sledd. He is known as the first East Saxon king to have been converted to Christianity.


1863 Ordnance Survey map, published 1873 (here)

Hamfrith estate 

In 1787 Hamfrith Farm, the site today of the Godwin and Sebert Roads and of Manor Park Cemetery, belonged to John Greenhill, whose home was Hamfrith House. This was built about 1800 and demolished in 1891; it was known from the 1860's as West Ham Hall (see below), now the site of Woodgrange School in Sebert Road.

The land was sold in 1851 to Samuel Gurney, d. 1856 (see here), brother of Elizabeth Fry the prison reformer (see here). In 1872 his grandson John Gurney sold much of Hamfrith to the British Land Company who two years later sold it to the Manor Park Cemetery Company.


In 1877 a house in Sebert Road was 
constructed for just over £400 (here).

The Cemetery was established in 1874 (see here). Initially opened purely as a cemetery, the original chapels, lodge and main entrance were built in 1877.

Only the tower of the chapel survived when it was hit by enemy action on 23 July 1944 (see here). The rebuilt chapels, incorporating crematorium facilities, were opened on 2 November 1955.

Manor Park Cemetery has full records from 1875. The first internment being one William Nesbitt who was buried on the 25 March 1875. His grave can still be seen on the right hand side of Remembrance Road.

Manor Park has the honour of having the youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross buried in the grounds. John Travers Cornwell VC (see here for a Pathe news clip of his funeral) was only 16 when he died of wounds received at the Battle of Jutland.

The memorial to Mary Orchard who died in 1906 was erected in grateful memory by some of Princess Alice's children whom Mary served for forty years (see here). These were Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenburg, Elizabeth, Grand Duchess Sergius of Russia: Irene, Princess Henry of Prussia, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, Alix, Empress of Russia.


Ordnance Survey 1898 (see here)
The area, in the map above, has now been almost fully developed but the cemetery is very prominent. The cemetery company originally wanted to use the whole area between Forest Gate station and Manor Park station for burial, but this was turned down by the West Ham vestry (effectively the local government body) and a compromise reached where they would develop about half the area for housing.


Institutional buildings on Sebert Road


West Ham Hall



In about 1890 this was acquired by the Tottenham and Forest Gate Junction Railway (see here), which was then building its line from Wanstead Park to Woodgrange Park. The company put it up for sale, together with other surplus land, and the house was acquired by West Ham School Board.

The Board later demolished the house, sometime after 1893. In 1966 the site was a depot belonging to Newham Council. It was then used to build the Woodgrange Primary school in 1986.

The wall of the old house survived at the front of the school until a redevelopment a few years ago. The coach house survives in Cranmer Road and is now a small workshop. The now demolished school house was Forest Gate Boys club in the 1950's.

Jireh Chapel , 133 and 244 Sebert Road



This is right next to the entrance to the cemetery but is nothing to do with it.

Jireh chapel, Sebert Road, originated in 1888, when Mr. Allen began to hold meetings in a small building attached to Jireh Lodge, no.133 Sebert Road (see below).

In 1921 the more recent one was built at no. 244 with materials from a chapel demolished at Woburn Sands (Bedfordshire); the membership was then about 20. In 1965 Jireh had a membership of a not very sustainable 2.

We don't know a great deal about the origins of this chapel, but Jireh Chapels elsewhere in England are Calavanist/Presbyterian places of worship.


244 Sebert became a refugee housing project till a few years ago.

The original Jireh Lodge (no 133) was sold after 1921 and later was used for a time by the Seventh Day Adventists. In 1965 it was occupied by a builder. 

It was destroyed in an early morning fire on 1 September 2010 – the extended family living there were cooking using a gas cylinder which malfunctioned. 


The wreck has remained like this ever since.
 The remnants of the old chapel can
 be seen protruding above the hoardings,
 on the left of the photo.
Here is the official London Fire Brigade account: 
Four fire engines and around 20 firefighters fought a fire in a two storey terraced house on Sebert Road in Forest Gate, yesterday morning.
Most of the ground floor, the first floor and a roof was damaged by fire. Around five people left the building before the Brigade arrived. A gas cylinder was found in the property and a temporary hazard zone was set up around the affected area as a precaution as some cylinders can explode when exposed to heat. Around 125 people were evacuated from the affected area as a precaution.
The Brigade was called at 07.25 and the fire was under control by 09.48. Firefighters from Leytonstone and Stratford stations were at the scene. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Fortunately nobody was seriously injured. In 2012 there was a planning application: “Demolition of fire damaged property and erection of three storey building with basement comprising 4 x 3 bedroom maisonettes with amenity space for each to the rear and parking to the front for each flat.” 

This was refused but then the following one was approved in 2013 “Demolition of fire damaged property and erection of 2 x 6 bedroom dwelling houses with amenity space.”  This has never been built.


A large London Fire Brigade aerial ladder platform
 capable of reaching 32m. makes its way carefully
 along Sebert Road outside Woodgrange infants
 school on 1 September 2010, to attend the above
 incident and deal with the fire in the roof timbers.


Congregational Church


See here for a history of this church, perhaps
 the most significant building on Sebert Road

A collection book from the late 1890s
 to get donations from local residents
 to pay off the debt on the new church.
 For more on this church see here 

Individual houses on Sebert Road


The house, above, looks like a terraced house, in fact, it is detached. If you look very carefully there are gaps on both sides. Notice the chimney breast.  It is not clear why houses were built like this but there are several in Sebert Road. It must have been a considerable building feat to construct the second house - as its outside wall would have had to have been built from the inside.

234 Sebert Road


An advert from the 1890s placed by the
Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway selling
 off dwellings surplus to their requirements.
 This was after they completed construction
of the overhead railway.
234 Sebert Road today backing 
on to the Barking Gospel Oak line

The Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway, built on a huge brick viaduct despite substantial local opposition, opened on 9 July, 1894. It was a joint project between the Midland Railway and the London,Tilbury and Southend Railway, the Midland contributing by far the bulk of the capital.


Some houses were left extraordinarily close
 to the viaduct like this example in Sebert
 Road. Building of the line provoked controversy
 and protests.

The line left the Midland and Great Eastern joint line at South Tottenham and ran via Walthamstow and Leyton to Barking. It joined the Forest Gate to Barking line at Woodgrange Park. The railway (which is now part of the London Overground Barking to Gospel Oak line) provided connections into Moorgate and St. Pancras and confirmed Forest Gate as a haven for City workers.

The junction with Woodgrange Road


Sebert Road at the junction of Woodgrange
Road (on top of the current dentist).
This sign “Market Place” is clearly original
and about to be restored by Newham
Council. It is not clear why this wording
was here, as contemporaneous photos
show no sign of a market on the site.
About 5 years ago a community market was initiated by Forest Gate Women’s Institute. For more on this market (see here).


Forest Gate fire station Sebert Road,(see here)
6 Sebert: In 1915 was Joseph Borheim's
 furriers, who were victims of anti-German
 riots in the area, following the sinking
 of the Luscitania on 7 May 1915. See
 here.


Picture showing on the extreme  right 
Coffee7 (no 10)when a florist 1900's. 
The same view today


14 Sebert: John Bassett had a music
 studio there in the 1970's - 80's, and
 it was there that Depeche Mode
 did their first recordings. See 
here.
16 Sebert: 1896 a bootmaker and repairer

1 Sebert Road

 At the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries Forest Gate was a cycle manufacturing locality of some significance (see here and here). One of the more prominent local manufacturers was J Elston, whose Rose Cycles company was based there - see cover of 1899 catalogue, below.



The address later became the studio of Forest Gate's premier Edwardian studio photographer, see backing from a family portrait from the first decade of the twentieth century.



Former residents of Sebert Road and their occupations

The Commercial Directories like Kelly’s reveal what was going on in any particular road: most of the records below are from the late 19th century:

2 Sebert Road - Thomas Hood, ham and beef dealer
3 Sebert Road - Fanny Lane, dressmaker
6 Sebert Road -  insurance office (and, see above)
8 Sebert Road -  Hobbs, builder (now The Emporium)
16 Sebert Road - Charles Ward bootmaker
18 Sebert Road -  Hollands sisters, grocers and wine merchants
20 Sebert Road - James Phillips, plumber
21 Sebert Road -  bookseller in 1920s.
29 Sebert Road -  Henry Homever, decorator
31 Sebert Road - Occupied in 1927 by James Lansbury brother of the famous George Lansbury MP. Previously it had been occupied by Ernest Goodwin, hop merchant in 1890s (see press cutting, below).
36 Sebert Road -  Lily Hopkins, dressmaker
115 Sebert Road - Richard Jones, insurance agent
125 Sebert Road - Whistler - boys private school
155 Sebert Road -  was sold for £750 in 1933.
183 Sebert Road - Thomas May, stonemason
236 Sebert Road - James Remmington, land and estate agent
242 Sebert Road - Elizabeth Wilson, laundress


This house on the corner of Lorne Rd was
 refurbished about 3 years ago and the
 owners erected this high fencing at the
 front. Enforcement action by Newham Council
 meant they had to take part of it down,
 as 2m high fencing like this is not
 permitted at the front of dwellings.

Press cuttings featuring Sebert Road


Sad Sebert Road - related suicide - 1883


Essex Herald 25 June 1883
Libelous comments about an affair - 1886


Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper,
 1 Aug 1886

 Suicide on railway line - 1890


Essex Newsman 1 November 1890

Practical joke goes horribly wrong - 1898

Chelmsford Chronicle, 25 March 1898

Grisly death of George Lansbury's brother - 1927


Dundee Evening
Telegraph 31 Jan 1927
 Footnote – If you have any suggestions for new streets to tackle contact Peter at pows.wanstead@gmail.com. 

Forest Gate's first Polish community

Sunday, 5 February 2017


The Polish Educational Society in Forest Gate was formed siixty years ago - in November 1956 - and became the first Polish organisation in East London.  It was the local branch of an organisation (Polska Macierz Szkolna), originally formed in 1905 in Warsaw. This is the story of the Forest Gate branch's early years.

The local society comprised 15 families - 30 members - when it was established. Jerzy Gradosielski was its first president. The Society's first task was to organise the Polish Saturday School, for Polish studies in Forest Gate. 

The school was named Queen Jadwiga's, at the AGM in 1968, after the first queen of medieval Poland. It had an initial pupil roll of 15, and began its life in St Anthony's church Lower Hall (see below for details of this and other school locations).

Queen Jadwiga - Poland's first medieval
 queen - after whom the local Polish
 school was named.
The school's main purpose was to teach the children of the members about Polish culture, faith, its 1,000 year history and traditions, in the Polish language.

This was important to the members, as many of them became partners in mixed marriages and their children did not necessarily speak the language at home, and certainly not at day school. A secondary purpose was to provide a social and cultural focus for the whole local Polish community, by organising events, outings and celebrations of the nation.

The Polish community that established the school had mainly arrived in Britain after the second World War, many having flown from Nazi persecution and others from Soviet domination, in a country that suffered the full ravages of that conflict.

St Anthony's church host to the first
 local Polish Catholic community
Danuta Gradosielska, wife of the first president of the Forest Gate Society (Jerzy, who had died in 1989) - see above - was interviewed in the Newham Magazine, in 2002,  about her original journey to the area and her local experiences here. She said:

We moved to London in April 1949, and then to Forest Gate in September 1949 with my husband and first daughter ... We are still here in Forest Gate, after 53 years! ...

When we came here in 1949 there was a large Polish community in West Ham and East Ham. Gradually it increased, mainly ex-servicemen who feared persecution if they returned to Poland. There were enough families to be able to organise social activities, centred around the Catholic Church, including a Saturday morning school to teach our children the Polish language and culture.

The school rapidly expanded its numbers, as other members of the ex-pat Polish community were attracted to it, and its aims. These were to encourage an appreciation of the Polish cultural heritage and traditions among their children, most of whom had been born in Britain.

Jerzy and Danuta Gradoslieska, stalwarts
 of the first local Polish community,
 reviewing the organisation's achievements in 1980
The school was the only Polish organisation in East London for the first seven years of its life, and embraced fellow countrymen and women from Poplar and Leyton to Romford and Upminister.

Thanks to the work of this Society, Polish masses were said once a month at St Anthony's from the summer of 1963 and a Polish Catholic parish was established in Forest Gate (covering the same geographic territory as the Society). Masses were soon said every Sunday, and the church appointed its own Polish priest, in December 1963. The first was Father Jerzy Frankowski. The parish supported a choral association.

By then, the Society had 148 members, with 54 children attending school, taught by four teachers. This school was supported by a small annual grant (in the region of £100) by the local authority - eventually Newham Council, after it had been incorporated in 1965.

The school's work was recognised in 1966 at the AGM of the Polish Educational Societies Abroad, as a centre where worthwhile work was being undertaken.

The school continued to grow in the 1960's, and by the end of the decade had 96 pupils, from the Society's membership of 155.

Second generation Polish children,
 celebrating the country's millennium
 in national costume, in Forest Gate,

in 1966
The Society, however, lacked a permanent base to call its own, so a building fund was started - supported, in its early days, by the proceeds from successful social functions.

In 1973 the parish bought a house - 2 Ashgrove Road, Goodmayes - and extension work was carried out. The resultant building provided a home for the parish priest, acted as a Polish cultural centre and later began to host Polish Saturday school classes.

St Chedd's catholic church in Goodmayes -
 now plays a more prominent role in
 the East of London Polish community
As the younger generation of people of Polish heritage grew up in Britain, they began to assimilate into the host community more (see later), their ties with the Polish Education Society began to weaken, and the organisation fell into decline. It did, however, try to foster organisations to cater for the young, including the establishment of a scout troop and a Plomien (Blaze) Youth Circle, teaching national songs and dance to its members.

Booklet, celebrating the first quarter
 century of East London's first Polish
 community organisation - based in Forest Gate
Danuta Gradosielska, interviewed by the Newham Recorder in March 1980, estimated that at the time there were around 200 Polish families in East London - about half of them in Forest Gate. She said:

However, there are a lot that we do not know about, as I discovered in my work as a social worker with the Polish community.

The editors of a booklet written to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Polish Educational Society in Forest Gate (in 1981) - see illustration of its cover -expressed a little sorrow at the reduced impact of the Society, but noted with some pride what the resultant assimilation had meant:

Many ex-pupils of our school go on to higher education and obtain degrees and other academic qualifications and hold important positions in the life of this country.

The story of our school is a faithful reflection of the story of the Polish community in East London.

Commemorative stamp, celebrating
 the first fifteen years of Forest
 Gate's Polish Educational Society

The Polish Education Society's 30th annual report, in November 1986, reported that due to a fall in numbers (only 21 pupils in 1984-5) and an increase in fees for using the school rooms at St Bonaventures, the society decided to switch to conducting the school in the Parish House, in Goodmayes.

By 1988, the Society was able to record that in addition to running the school, through which 260 children had passed, it had organised 270 events, published 75 newsletters and contributed towards the costs of publishing a book on Polish history.

Commenting on the activities of the first local Polish community, and its descendants, in 2002, Danuta Gradosielska, said:

Polish national holidays are celebrated with stage performances by children reciting poetry, singing folk songs and dancing in national costumes. Over the years, many people have moved away, but I still meet my Polish friends at church and other social functions, which nowadays mainly take place in Goodmayes.
According to the Polish school website (www.polskaszkolailford.co.uk):
The next stage in the life of the school was the start of the new millennium. In May 2004 Poland became a member of the European Union, with an influx of new families having children, the Queen Jadwiga School experienced the start of a new flourishing.
The numbers of children in the school grew, and classrooms were spread over three sites.  The Parents' Association decided to hire a building from a local secondary school.  In February 2006 the school moved to the Downshill Centre in Seven Kings, in buildings belonging to the Ursuline High School.


New generation of Polish migrants
 come following Polish membership
 of the European Community in 2004
In a quirky co-incidence, the local Polish school having started in Forest Gate, once it outgrew its original base has has moved into space owned by Ilford's Ursuline academy, which itself had grown out of Forest Gate roots (see here, for details).

According to the school's website; "In the school year 2015-16 lessons will be attended by some 500 boys and girls". There is now a teaching staff of 42 (teachers and assistants, under a director/headmistress), with 24 classes, including 2 infants.

In November 2016, the Polish Educational Society was proud to celebrate its 60th anniversary in East London.

Some additional notes on the Society's parish and locations, and some observations on the differences between the nature of the original Polish community and that of their latter day followers.

The Parish today

It is now the Parish of Forest Gate/Ilford with Waltham Cross, and it has a website (www.parafiailford.fc.pl), but unfortunately there is no history section on this.

The Parish house continues to be at Ashgrove Road, Goodmayes.

It seems likely that Polish masses stopped being said at St Anthony's in the 1990's. They are now said at St Cedd's in Ilford on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

A note on Forest Gate locations and buildings used by the school

In its early years, the school used two parish buildings: St Antony's Hall and St Columba Hall.  The former was very large, on two floors, with high ceilings. It was situated behind the church on Lancaster Road.  The school used one or two rooms off the main staircase. St Bons used the main hall for assemblies. The building was demolished in the 1990's and the area is now occupied by housing.

St Columba Hall was very much smaller - a single story parish hall on the north side of Upton Park Road (no.99). It was set back from the road, with an entrance between the houses on either side. It has long since been demolished and its site is now covered by part of the Elmhurst school complex.

At times both halls were used by the school, as well as St Francis' hall, in the church. This created organisational problems.

From September 1966, the classes were brought together under one roof and on one corridor, in the old St Anthony's school, next to the hall on Lancaster Road. This building, itself was subsequently taken over by St Bon's school, with a new St Anthony's school opening on Upton Avenue.

That remained the site of the Polish school until its move to Goodmayes.

The older and newer Polish communities

Unlike most of East London's other substantial immigrations, the post-war Polish one was for political, rather than economic reasons (rather like the earlier Huguenots and post 1880's and 1930's Jewish settlements).


Two distinct migrant Polish communities,
 united by one national flag

Consequently, there was quite a large middle class element, and many went on to resume their careers and professions in London. Few returned to their homeland.

In contrast, the newer generation of Polish immigrants are primarily economic migrants, and their pattern of settlement may turn out to be very different.

Note If any members of the area's Polish communities would like to add detail, or anecdotes to this account, we would be delighted to incorporate them in the article, above.

We would be delighted to run similar features on the history of other migrant communities to Forest Gate, like this and our earlier one on the Jewish community (see here, for details), should any community wish to have its history and presence featured in this blog.

Update - November 2017 - the Gradosielka family today

Elizabeth Olsson, daughter of Jerzy and Danuta Gradosielka has been in touch with details of her mother's extraordinary life, which we will feature in a future article on this blog.

In brief, however, Danuta is now 92 and alive and well and living in Sprowston Road in the house she bought with her husband in 1959 (see here for a pen portrait of the street).

Builders' plans for the construction
of 23 - 25 Sprowston Road - 1876

23 Sprowston Road in 2005
Aged 14 she was deported from her home village in Poland, soon after the Russians invaded the country - in 1940. She later drove a truck during the Italian Campaign, during WW2 and fled to Britain at the end of the war. 

She ended up in Forest Gate and lived in Dames Road for 10 years, before moving into the house she still occupied in Sprowston Road. Having settled in Britain, she spent some time employed as an interpreter. Her full and remarkable story will appear later on this site