The latest memories will be added in GREEN
for easier identification.
I was born at 74 Theydon Street Walthamstow on August 7th 1946 to Mr. Alfred Herbert Dunn and Mrs. Florence Mary (nee Arnold) and Christened Richard. I have an elder brother John who was born in 1943. (I later discovered that had either of us been girls, we would have been called Maureen).
Although Christened Richard, most of the time I was called Dick. If ever I was called Richard, then I knew I was in trouble.
Theydon Street is on the boundary of Walthamstow and Leyton off Markhouse
Road. It is one of many streets in Walthamstow that were owned by Warner
Estates Ltd. of Hawarden Road. The whole area in this Southwest corner
of Walthamstow, and some in Leyton consisted of properties called maisonettes
or "half houses". Two completely separate dwellings, one up
and one down (ours was down) with their own front and back doors, but
sharing a garden. Above us lived Mr. George Williams (a local milkman)
and his wife Violet. Vi used to do machining to earn a few extra coppers,
and when she started her sewing machine, the noise in our back room was
extremely loud. Mum would then declare "There goes old Vi on her donkey!"
I hasten to add that this was said with affection rather than annoyance.
At the back of the house were allotments which were flanked by St. Saviour's Church and school to the East, Verulam Avenue and Tudor Court to the North, and the "Dagenham Brook" (affectionately known as "The Ditch" , as it was, and probably still is, unbelievably smelly). I can now confirm that it is still very smelly! To the West, on the opposite bank of the ditch are the back gardens of Markmanor Avenue.
The allotments were to become a favourite adventure playground for most of the children in Theydon Street.
My earliest recollection (being about four years old) is waking up feeling unwell. Evidently I had wandered into the living room saying, "I feel funny", and promptly fainted smashing the single bar electric fire with my head, and setting fire to my hair. All much to the dismay of my mother who managed to put me out in seconds by rubbing my hair with a towel. (Today, I wonder if this is why I am follicly challenged!!)
When I about six I remember tinkering on Grandma Arnold's piano at 1A Sybourn Street. (Grandma Arnold was my maternal Grandmother whom John and I called "Bammy"). Mum walked in and asked if it had been me playing. I remember replying, "Yes" but thinking it rather an odd question, as I was the only one in the front room at the time. I discovered years later that she was amazed by the fact that I was actually playing the Andy Pandy theme more or less in tune.
Major discovery Number one, I have an ear for music.
I often wondered where my musicality originated. I later discovered that
my paternal grandmother (Nanny Wright) accompanied silent movies on the
piano at the "Savoy" on the Corner of Church Road and Lea Bridge Road.
Nanny Wright had re-married, as my dad's dad died when he was quite young.
I never knew either Grandfather John Arnold or step Gradfather William
My Aunt Ivy (dad's sister, who incidently was married to my mum's brother Uncle John) was a superb pianist. Aunty Ivy and Uncle John also lived in yet another Warner's maisonette at 42 Hitcham Road. Although this was actually in Leyton, it had an E17 postcode. Behind the back gardens of the even numbers in Hitcham Road was Liden's Furniture factory of Lea Bridge Road where Uncle John worked. Ivy and John Arnold had a daughter named Betty who is about 9 years older than my brother John. In 1949 my cousin Betty met Ron Cantwell (Who incidently, you'll never guess, lived in a Warners maisonette at 17 Clementina Road Leyton).
Ron was in the R.A.F. and occasionally when an aeroplane would fly over particulaly low, John and I would be encouraged to 'Wave to Ron in his plane'. Ahhh.
At the Lea Bridge Road end of Hitcham Road were a few prefabs that were built after a bomb had destroyed the original buildings. These have since been demolished and replaced with modern housing.
My next memory was starting (or rather not starting) school at Thomas
Gamuel Infants in Gamuel Road. I remember being taken by my mother and
as we rounded the corner from Boundary Road into Gamuel Road I walked
smack into a lamp-post! However I did start school the next day and all
went well until my mum came to pick me up at lunchtime, and I cried because
I wanted to stay to school dinners.
After that things are bit hazy. That is until the day that I was falsely accused by a fellow pupil of damaging a reading book. The teacher (I shan't mention her name) did no more than remove the stick from a small flag and caned me across the hand with it. My mum wondered why I didn't want to go back after that, until eventually I told her what happened. I believe the teacher was dismissed, as I never saw her again, and I never spoke to the pupil who accused me again either.
Odd things that I remember, like the little oblong books with squared
paper in which to do "sums".
The rest of the time at Gamuel infants was OK.
There are two parks in Walthamstow that played a large part in my childhood. St. James's Park in Essex Road, and Queens Park (the smaller and nearer of the two.) situated between Queens Road and Longfellow Road. Opposite the Longfellow Road entrance was Thomas Gamuel Junior School. When I was about six, John took me to Queens Park to play as we often did and I took it into my head to climb the railings that separated the park from some allotments in Queens Road. Unfortunately I was unaware of the barbed wire along the top, and I slipped and caught my face in it. John wasn't sure what to do, but took me to the park keeper "Parky", blood pouring down my face. Parky suggested that he took me home and "get it seen to"! I suppose I should have had stitches but didn't, and you can still see a faint scar from the corner of my mouth to my right eye.
There was no bathroom at Theydon Street at this time. Every night before we went to bed mum would sit us one at a time on towels that were placed on the dining table with a bowl of hot water and wash us down with a flannel and soap. I remember John used to hide under the table and keep me guessing where he would pop his head out from next and say, "BOO". Ah, little things!
We used to have to be in bed by six o'clock. There was a mail plane that flew overhead about that time and mum told us that it was Father Christmas checking up on all the children to make sure that they were tucked in. If they weren't, no presents! Well this worked really well. However, one evening, John was a bit late and heard the plane coming. He ran down the passage and gashed his leg open on the pedal of his bike that was there.
On my seventh birthday I remember standing on a chair to look at the calendar and shouting with excitement, "Look mummy, I'm seven on the Seventh! Can I got to bed at 7 o'clock now?" I also remember the answer. "NO!"
If you'd like to press the play button, you could hear the sound now!
I discovered electricity at a very early age. Somewhere in the garden
I had found a large metal staple and it was just the right size to fit
into a five-amp two-pin socket. I suppose what happened next could only
be due to my musicality and impeccable timing. Dad was up a ladder painting
the passage and was cutting-in round the fuse box. It was at this moment
I made three monumental discoveries; (1) The staple fitted the socket:
(2) Electricity had power, and (3) It hurt. I just remember an almighty
flash and I was thrown across the front room. In the passage my dad had
involuntarily painted a beautiful arc on the wall as he took the short
cut to the floor as the fuse blew in his right ear! When dad had sufficiently
recovered, he came rushing in to see what had happened. There was I cowering
in a heap on the opposite wall with my hair standing on end. He tried
to pick me up, but I was still charged with electricity. He ran out, found
some newspapers and wrapped me in them, took me into the garden and stuck
my fingers in the ground. Evidently my hair fell back to my head, and
all was well.
Major discovery number two, I have an avid interest in all things electrical.
In 1951 my Uncle John was on his way home on his moterbike and pulled
up at a junction in Dalston. Behind him was a lorry that failed to stop,
ran into the back of him and broke his neck. He was taken to a hospital
in Blackheath where he was in traction for nearly six months. I can't
possibly imagine what that must have been like, but it was that, or wear
a plaster collar for the rest of his life.
The programmes that stick in my mind are "Muffin the Mule" with Annette
Mills, "Whirligig", with Mister Turnip and Humphrey Lestocq, and "Billy
Bean". (Is there anyone else on this planet that remembers Billy Bean
except me and my brother John?)
"Billy Bean built a machine
Then there was "Watch with Mother" at about four in the afternoon.
Monday "Picture Book" with Patricia Driscoll
On one birthday, (I can't remember which) I received a Hornby Tinplate
train set. Now I was in heaven! It was 'O' gauge, and had an oval of track,
a clockwork engine and a couple of coaches. It seemed that I preferred
to push the coaches round by hand than just watch the engine do it.
By now I was at Thomas Gamuel Junior School. I don't really remember
much about these years at school, except that I didn't like Mr. Russell
with his very round face and ruddy complexion and ginger moustache. There
was also Mr. Malyon and although I remember him at Gamuel (I spelt Straight
wrongly and he made me write it out fifty times correctly), he played
a much more important roll in my life later in my life.
We were given swimming lessons at Walthamstow baths.
They were situated next to the Central Library in the High Street where
the 'square' is now by Selborne Walk. We were taken by either one of two
old motor coaches. One had a flat front and hard wooden seats. The other
had a bonnet, and padded leather seats and gave a far more comfortable
ride. I used to watch in anticipation to see which one would turn the
corner. Flat front, or bonnet!
As I mentioned earlier, sport is not my forte. For example, my only ever swimming certificate was awarded for coming LAST in the "walking the width" race. Just about sums it up really!
In spite of him working overtime, I think we were quite poor really. I know I kept asking if I could have piano lessons, but the answer was always the same. "Not yet Dick, we cant afford it." I once took a friend home after school and asked mum if he could stay for tea. She agreed, but there was a horrified look on her face. But she managed to scrape up some bread and jam and we were quite happy with that.
Another oddity that I recall is the "Pig bin". As well as the normal dustbin in the back yard, there was also a much smaller bin with a twist-lid known as a "Pig bin". This was a very early attempt at recycling. All the waste food such as vegetable peelings, leftovers etc was placed in here and collected and as far as I can gather, was to sent to the farming industry to feed their pigs as there was shortage of feed just after the 2nd world war.
On Sundays, we usually had a roast dinner. It was also the only day of
the week that we had 'afters'. John and I used to argue over who would
have the pudding plate with a ring round the edge. It was known as "The
Ring Plate" This went on for years, and in the end mum came up with the
idea that whoever didn't have the ring plate would get the skin of the
custard. And so it went on until one day to our absolute horror and astonishment,
there were two identical ring plates, and we had half the skin each. Nothing
to argue over! Even now we have no idea how or where she found that second
After lunch was Sunday school at St. Saviours Church. This was held in
the school next to the church, and it was here that I gave my first ever
public performance on the piano. I was asked to play "Holy Holy Holy".
All by ear of course, as I had no idea how to read music. I have never
been so frightened in all my life. (Tell a lie. I was in 1979 when I found
myself half way down a 3000-foot mountain in South Africa in a stationary
cable car amidst a thunderstorm!) Anyway, it was all rather plonky and
horrible, but I gave it a go and every one else seemed to think it was
Affiliated to the church was the 7th Walthamstow Cubs & Scouts. John
was a member. Because we couldn't afford a proper scout shirt, mum had
bought an ordinary khaki shirt with only one pocket. She cut off the tails
and made a second identical pocket.
I must, at this point, tell you about the man who used to ride round the streets on his horse and cart. He would ring a hand bell shouting "muffins and crumpets" in the hope that you would buy some.
Well on one occasion, the Sunday school went for a special service at St. James' Church, situated where the Doctors surgery is now in St. James' Street. During the service the verger started ringing a hand bell. Well I could contain myself no longer and shouted "muffins and crumpets!" much to the dismay of my brother. I wasn't caught, and we both had the giggles after that. We still chuckle over it now, and if ever I hear a hand bell…….
Monday was washday. There were no washing machines then, and no hot running water. Mum had what was known as a "copper" It was a basically a large gas boiler. I remember the huge gas ring under it and when mum lit it, it used to light with a great "vrrrrrrrrump" sort of sound that frightened the life out of me. She would then boil most of the washing in it. Then rinse it at the sink, using a washboard and scrubbing brush, then put it through a mangle, then hang it on the clothes line to dry in the back garden.
Friday was bath day. We had a long thin zinc bath that hung from a nail on a fence in the back garden. This was brought indoors and placed in front of the coal fire in the back room. Mum would then fill it with hot water from the kettle and various saucepans. After the bath she would sit us on the table as in a normal washing session and dry us off. The rest of the week, the bath made a great boat in which to play.
Three types of delivery service served us in Theydon Street. There was the Co-op Baker, a coalman and "Horry" (short for Horace I suppose) the United Dairies milkman. Both the coalman and the milkman had horse drawn carts. Well, on one sunny summers day I was making a fuss of Horry's horse as I had done on many occasions, when he took it upon himself to take a bite into my chest. Well, luckily enough for me, he didn't break the skin, but I had a lovely set of teeth marks for a couple of weeks! I didn't go anywhere near him after that.
Our main form of heating was from coal fires, or as previously mentioned, an electric fire. The coalman called about once a month in the winter, and would deliver the coal in sacks, thrown over his shoulder, protected by a leather flap attached to his hat and went half-way down his back. He would come in and empty the sacks into the cupboard under the stairs. There is a unique smell to coal dust, not very pleasant on it's own, but mix it with the smell of boiling water and hot oil...............
As mentioned earlier, Mum's mum, Jane Arnold, Lived at 1A Sybourn Street.
This too was a Warner's maisonette and was upstairs but unlike, the others
this had an outside toilet. Now when you live upstairs, this could be
a bit of a nightmare. Well, in 1955 she fell ill and couldn't stay there
on her own, so she came to live with us. She had the front room. My dad
had rigged up an extension speaker off the radio for her, and was massive.
It must have been two feet in diameter.
I don't know what happened to all the things in Grandma's house, except the piano which now took pride and place in our front room.
In 1952/3, Warner Estates "Modernised" two properties in Hawarden
Road as show flats and invited tenants and councillors to inspect them.
Having been modernised, Warners made a slight increase to the rent and
although it wasn't much, it was enough to warrant Mother taking a part
time job at the London Rubber Company along the North Circular Road. This
extra income had another advantage. I had been asking my parents for years
if I could have proper piano lessons. The answer was always the same.
"Sorry, we can't afford it."
My first piano teacher was Mrs. Davies who lived at 34 Springfield Road
Walthamstow. I remember walking to my first piano lesson armed with a
music case (the type that has one handle and metal rod that went over
it) full of one pencil!
Getting back to the modernisation programme from Warners: The hot water boiler needed to be fuelled by coke and not coal. This could be obtained from the Lea Bridge Gas Works, but you had to go and fetch it. So every so often, John would venture off on foot with an old pram chasis to which was fixed an old wooden box with our empty sacks to be filled up with coke. After a while, I asked if I could go with him. Mum agreed and off we went. Well, Lea Bridge gas works was next to Lea Bridge Station on the line to Cambridge. As we were getting closer and closer to the works, this sound that I had heard for years whilst lying in bed was getting louder and louder. I said to John "Can we go to the Station and see what's making this sound?" he agreed and off we toddled. When we arrived and looked over the bridge, I was totally in awe of what I saw. There were many little steam engines chugging about shunting of goods trucks and huge engines arriving with long trains of trucks. The sound that I'd been hearing all this time was the sound of the truck's buffers bumping into each other. What I was looking at was Temple Mills goods yard. I beleive it was the second largest marshalling yard in the country at the time. I didn't want to leave there, but we had to get back with our supply of coke. So reluctantly we returned to the gas works where our sacks of coke were filled up and weighed and we set off home. Needless to say, I accompanied John to Lea Bridge Gas Works as often as I could.
I am now at my last two years at Thomas Gamuel Junior School. Mr. Malyon has left and gone on to pastures new and Mr. Russell was still on the warpath. I remember one particular day in Mr. Russell's class: I must have been doing something wrong, as he shouted "Dunn, go and get the stick and the book."Now, for those of you who don't know the implications of these words, let me enlighten you. Basically it meant that you were in for a caning!! The stick being the cane, and the book was needed for the teacher to register your corporal punishment. Both were kept in the Headmaster's office, so you were undoubtedly going to get it in the neck from him too. Remember, Mr. Childs was rather biased towards 'sporty' pupils, and I wasn't sporty!
So quick thinking was needed on my part and as I had no shame in squirming,
I squirmed. As I got to the door I put my head back round and uttered
It is now 1956, I'm 10 years old and preparing to go to senior school.
As yet, we don't know which school we would go to.
I have absolutely no recollection of leaving Gamuel Road School. Whether I was sad, happy or feeling any other emotion. I just left.
In June 1956, cousin Betty and Ron were married at the Emmanuel Church at the junction of Hitcham Road and Lea Bridge Road and set up home at 282 Old Church Road in Chingford opposite the "Green Man" pub.
After what seemed to be an eternity, I was informed of the secondary school to which I was to attend.
That was a relief as I didn't really fancy Gascoigne and as it turned
out, that is where most of my class at Gamuel ended up.
So, summer holidays are here. Now, for fun stuff.
Of course, there was a jigger to build (I think they're called go-carts now?) Three of us were having a go at this. Rob Howell at 70 Theydon Street, Michael Sales at No. 56 and myself. We built it of the usual old pram wheels (or should I say perambulator, as I now know the answer to that 11-plus question!), a plank on which was placed an orange box as a seat and a piece of rope tied to the front axel to steer with. This was built under a huge oak tree in the grounds of the allotments at the back of Rob's house. It is still there and must be coming up to 150 years old now. I have been told that it is listed.
I very frequently climbed that tree, and on as many times as I climbed it, I failed to get down and had to call John to help me!! However, on one occasion I had taken a pair of binoculars with me and climbed higher that I have ever done before, and you could see for miles. Then it caught my eye. Smoke! Steam! I could see a railway that I'd not seen before ever. There were so many tracks and signals and trains. These binoculars must have been very good as I could even see the numbers on the side of the engines. In modern texting terms I thought "OMG"!! I had to find where this place was. So, full of excitement, I descended the tree and in my usual manner was unable to get myself down the last hurdle. "John", "Johhhnnn", "JOHHHHNNNNNNN" I yelled hysterically. But there was no John. He had gone out. Now I panicked. There was only one thing for it. I had to get down by myself. After what seemed an age, I eventually mustered the courage, and grabbing the lowest branch swung round and dropped to the ground. Now I know what you're expecting. I broke an arm and smashed the binoculars, but no. I survived in one piece, as did the binoculars, and I thought. "Hmm. That was easy". Now. Where is that railway?
During this summer break John played in several
local football matches some of which my parents would watch. I didn't
if I could help it! On one occasion there was to be a match on the playing
fields at the end of Coppermill Lane. I think it must have been a final
of at least a match of some importance. So it was inevitable that John
wanted us all there. So we did.
My times here were very happy. Oh!, except on two occasions. Any body who knows Coppermill Lane will know that there is a very low bridge under the railway to connect to Springfield Marina and Walthamstow marshes. Well, on one visit on my bicycle, I forgot to duck! The other was when I had inadvertantly sat myself down on a red ants nest.
Opposite the crossing was a cottage which I believe
was the home of the signalman and his wife. I'm sure that she was telepathic
because if you put just one foot on the gates to lean over, she was there
shouting. "Get off the gate sonny".
Now days you can hardly see a thing as it all overgrown. You can see this on the "Coppermill Junction" page comparing the two video clips of Class K1 and Class 317.
We did most things that families do through the summer. No proper holiday though, we just couldn't afford it. We did however manage to have weekends away thanks to the kindness of our neighbours. Vi & George Williams (upstairs) had a chalet at Leysdown and Eileen and Reg Howell had a caravan at Maylandsea.
September was drawing near and I was starting to be a little nervous about starting a new school.
So here we are September 1957 and off I go to Markhouse.
I don't recall how I went to school. I don't think I walked with my brother, but arrive I did and I arrived at the same time as many others most of whom I didn't know. We were ushered in a side door (never to be used again without permission) close to the main road and assembled in the lower hall. There I saw Brian Foord, my old pal from Gamuel. The scene was very much like that in Harry Potter when the first year students arrived. There we all were waiting to be given our form rooms.
It turned out that Brian and I were selected to be in the same form. 1B. When we arrived at our class, our form master was waiting by the door. He saw Brian and myself and exlaimed "Oh no. Not you two again"? It was Mr. Malyon who had left Gamuel a year ealier. Actually, Mr. Malyon was a teacher here, at Markhouse, before he went Gamuel.
Now we weren't the only only newcomers to Markhouse that year. It was also the new Headmaster's first year. Mr. Leslie Smith. The previous Headmaster was a Mr. George Easton who had left for pastures new along with quite a few of the teachers.
It's time for me to recall the teachers that were there. For some, it was their first year too.
I'll go round in room number order.
Rooms 10 to 18 were downstairs which were once the Boys' section.
Rooms 19 to 22 where in the infants block along with the Woodwork and Metalwork rooms which had no numbers.
to be continued.................