Barbaresi & Round

Homes and housing

 

ŅHot water, a bathroom, an inside loo, a view over the whole of the city and Victoria Park. We could have a firework display on the Thames, commentary on the radio and we would sit on our balcony with our wine and cheese.  It was gorgeous.  And in six months it was hell.Ó

 

We are interested in the affects that varying housing stock have on inhabitants – and how they habitate. E8 has a unique spectrum of housing, from Georgian townhouse to Victorian terrace to pre-war  walk up to post-war  tower block to post-welfare state starter home rabbit hutch.

 

We joined a coffee morning at The Building Exploratory in E8 to meet some older residents and talk about some of the dramatic changes in housing over the last sixty years. We wanted to know about their memories, opinions, and direct experience of the area.

 

Our work uses housing density statistics that have been reconfigured to interpret the use of space in different parts of the postcode. This prompted us to think about the overspill and the move out to respectable suburbs or a new town like Basildon. We have been visiting these places and made some wall drawings using gathered imagery.

     
       
             

 

 

 

Brenda

I was born on the Kingsmead estate which was built during the war.

Rachel

I wouldnÕt have thought there was much housing going up during the war.

Susanna

Whereabouts is Kingsmead Estate?

Brenda

Right beside Hackney Marshes. It used to be farm land.

Susanna

So it must be interesting to compare how it was then to how it is now? Do you still live nearby?

Brenda

Not far - IÕm now in E8. Well I started in Kingsmead, moved to Morning Lane and then E8. I lived at Kingsmead for thirty odd years and so theyÕre brick built. TheyÕre still there whereas some of the new developments that sprung up in the sixties have been demolished but Kingsmead is still standing. ŌWalk upsÕ they used to call them.

Rachel

So theyÕve got the outside walkways?

Bella

TheyÕve got balconies. You go up the stairs and then walk along the balconies.

Brenda

The thing about Kingsmead was the size of the rooms. They were good sized rooms.

Bella

I can remember that people used to be cleaning those stairs.

Brenda

You had to.

Bella

You cleaned your window sills on Friday. You cleaned your doors and your outside loo. And Kingsmead was really in that era wasnÕt it.

Brenda

Well my mother obviously – cos I was born in Õ41 – so my mother went into it with my elder brother and elder sister. She died when I was eighteen but I remember her saying that when they moved in as part of the rules you had to take it in turn. So each tenant had to clean down the sixteen stairs to the next landing and you had to keep everything clean.

Rachel

ThatÕs amazing. ThereÕs really a sense of community in that.

Bella

And then later you found that people didnÕt want to live in Kingsmead anymore because it wasnÕt the same. Would you agree?

Brenda

I was a toddler during the war, and everyone was working class and not very well off, but the community pulled together and there wasnÕt really a lot of crime. We all had our piece of string with the key on it behind the letterbox so when you came home from school you could pull the key out and open the door. It was only as years went by that people changed and people used to shimmy up the drainpipes to get in the back windows, or get in through the front windows because they used to rob the electric meter or the gas meter. But I got to probably over twenty which would have been about the sixties and then gradually, with the move out of peopleÉ Different people came in, whereas we grew up during the war and all the parentsÉ you never knew if you were going to be alive the next day.

Susanna

Do you think that added to the sense of community?

Brenda

I think it did you know. A lot of people had obviously been bombed out and came from dwellings which didnÕt have an indoor bath or toilet and so it was an improvement for everyone. Gradually I think with the change of people, all different kinds of people, it did become bad.

Rachel

Where were people moving to?

Brenda

Well in those days, people moved out to Chingford and Basildon – new towns – to get out to the country.

Bella

You have to remember, in the days when we had the key on the lock, nobody had anything. You were all the same. And so after the war things changed because there was work, and money started to come in. And people moved out to the new towns who were more affluent.

Susanna

So that makes for greater social divisions.

Bella

People had things that could be taken. And then television arrived – well – people could sell that. So people now had possessions that the ŌungodlyÕ as it were, could help themselves to. And that generation found it very difficult to understand why we canÕt leave our front doors open any more.

Susanna

Do you think that happened quite quickly?

Bella

I donÕt know.  All the time we lived in the Wick we never had break-ins did we? Until that new development came and then everybody was having them. And even today, weÕve just had re-development and IÕve been reminding people, this is when they break in as they know youÕve got new things. And theyÕre so clever today that theyÕll take it this week, and they know next week youÕre going to get it replaced so theyÕll come back again.

Rachel

And it was people coming from outside the estate?

Bella

I donÕt know that it was, because, you know, youÕd got families growing up hadnÕt you, and their attitudes had changed to the people going before. I can assure you that my daughter is nothing like what we are in the sense that her values are very different.

Rachel

So thereÕs no longer that community spirit, and sharing the cleaning of communal areas, and pulling together?

 Bella

No.

Richard

Communities were being broken up because people were being decanted from other parts of town.

Bella

GLC brought them in from over the other side of the water – completely different people.

Rachel

WeÕve grown up with that. People moving around; our friends going to live in other countries; its assumed that people wonÕt stay in the same place for very long at all. It sounds as though youÕve lived with the sense that you do stay in the place that youÕve been brought up. Or perhaps that was just more likely to happen. You were less likely to move around.

Brenda

The council or social services started putting in what you would call Ōproblem familiesÕ. Now when you grew up in the war, I had many friends whose fathers had been killed in the war, so they were single parent families as the mums were widowed. Its not a question of single parent families, but problem families were deliberately put in because you had all the people who were living together well and it was working out alright and you put a bad apple in and thereÕs fifty other people, and theyÕre supposed to see how the other people live and become like them. But they just used to make life hell for everyone else.

Bella

I totally agree. And itÕs interesting because we come from completely different parts of Hackney.

 

We lived in the modern tower blocks on the Trowbridge estate in the top floor flat. But we made sure they came down. I went to see them.

Rachel

And theyÕve since come down?

Bella

Oh I made sure they came down. I went to see them.

Rachel

So when you first moved there what were your expectations?

Bella

Hot water, a bathroom, an inside loo, a view over the whole of the city and Victoria Park. We could have a firework display on the Thames, commentary on the radio and we would sit on our balcony with our wine and cheese. It was gorgeous. And in six months it was hell. They were prefabs on sticks and they couldnÕt keep the water out. And when I tell you that one morning we got up because they said it was going to rain and I went into the hall and I screamed Ņits not rainingÓÉ We painted our hall ceiling dark brown, everything else white, because our ceiling, it looked as though thereÕd been a murder. We had seven bowls collecting oil from the boiler room. You can see why I was incensed enough to talk to my friends and get togetherÉ

Susanna

When you say Ōget togetherÕ you  mean to get the tower blocks pulled down?

Bella

Yes.

Rachel

And at what point did you do that? Was it quite soon after they were built?

Bella

No, no, no, you tolerate quite a lot donÕt you. And you donÕt realize that its possible to do anything. But then something says Ōwhy donÕt youÕ.

Kay

When did those blocks come down?

Bella

The first one – Northaird block – came down on 3rd November 1985.

Susanna

What was the block called that you used to live in?

Bella

Deverill Point. But there were seven.

Rachel

And they all came down?

Bella

Oh yes. Really, a stage in the famous Hamlet cigar advert that came out the day after the demolition. Because it didnÕt come down. The first one only came down 10 floors.

Susanna

Did they do it with dynamite? Down in one?

Bella

Yes, and the interesting thing was – no one was hurt – we all stood there crying because it hadnÕt come down.

Susanna

So you were all standing watching the building come down?

Bella

Of course.

Richard

We were all on the marsh and there were tents with refreshments laid on and so on. All of a sudden there was a big bang and dust rolling towards you across the marshes.

Bella

What had happened was, the GLC, weÕre now Hackney Council because Hackney Council took over in 1982. It was all handed over wasnÕt it? So we then had to work with the GLC and they had said that they were unsafe. Well of course when it didnÕt come down they said that one wasnÕt unsafe. Really they had to come down on social grounds. The anti-social living was incurring big problems.

Rachel

And was it the residents that campaigned for this?

Bella

Yes, it was the residents.

Susanna

Where did you live after that?

Bella

I stayed there didnÕt I? Because I was so involved in it. You couldnÕt appear to be running away because theyÕd say ŅOh youÕre alright nowÓ so you had to stay.

Rachel

So you moved into another building?

Bella

Eventually, in 1985.

Rachel

And you stayed in the same area.

Bella

Oh yes, we wouldnÕt move out of the area would we Richard?

Richard

I would!

Susanna

So do you feel that itÕs the structure of the tower block thatÕs the problem, or if a tower block was well maintained and the social elements worked it could be fantastic? You were talking about when you first moved there and you had hot water in your bathroom and how wonderful it was. If things had happened differently could that dream have become a reality?

Bella

I think the different construction might have worked. They were an experimental estate and it depended which way the wind blew whether you would be in trouble today or somebody else. If somebody had, for instance, a leak in the water lets say, now on the 11th floor youÕd expect it to affect the 10th, but it might not, it might go down to the 7th. The people on the 7th floor have a leak and thatÕs got to be traced. So they were not a good example of high-rise flats.

 

Once a place had a reputation you couldnÕt get rid of it. Kingsmead had that problem. But now the Kingsmead residents have taken over as self management and TMC and the money that theyÕve generated with collecting the rents and everything theyÕve put back and in their own way, IÕm not sure, but theyÕve made defensible spaces, people have got gardens, and the place is clean again. Because people feel ŅThatÕs my areaÓ. But it takes a long while for that stigma to go.

Susanna

So itÕs nice to know that things can be turned around.

Brenda

Yes, and that KingsmeadÕs still standing and the Trowbridge development all had to go.

Bella

But the tenant management – itÕs the tenants that generated it. TodayÕs residents that have generated it.

Rachel

ThatÕs good isnÕt it. ThatÕs very positive.

Bella

You have to remember that when we did this we were young. And to see it happen again is very good.

Brenda

Plus some people have bought the flats under the right to buy so they have more of an interest. I think as well so many people now donÕt have to pay any rent because obviously they get benefits theyÕre entitled to and its right. But sometimes theyÕve got no feeling in the housing, they donÕt really care. They donÕt care if its dirty or whatever. But if you love your home... Because some of the estates, people say ŅI wouldnÕt want to live thereÓ, but the people that have lived there for a time, they keep their homes nice and look after them, and when you get people saying, ŅOh, I wouldnÕt move in thereÓ, you think Ņbut theyÕre not bad people living thereÓ. It just gets a reputation.

 

I suppose both Trowbridge and Kingsmead, theyÕre both on Hackney Marshes, youÕve got wide spaces, youÕre not right near built up spaces, its an ideal situation.

 

   
     
         

 

This section wasnÕt included in the publication

 

Brenda

The area where IÕm living now would have been row houses originally. They were destroyed by cluster bombs. So after or during the war they then infilled with new houses. They were ground floor and then two floors above so theyÕre loaf-backs and then on the other side they create cul-de-sacs, building inwards and that is where I live now.

Rachel

So when did you move there?

Brenda

My mother-in-law moved in there because whatever house they were in they got bombed out. And they landed up in a pre-fab after the war up near St MichaelÕs church and so they actually saw these built. So when people were bombed out in those days it was a case of you had to walk around and see as developments were going up and then attempt to get one. These are 3 bedroom houses so you had to have 3 children to get one.

Rachel

And did it help if youÕd been bombed out of that particular area where the development was being built?

Brenda

Well – yes – because they were only a bit up here and people didnÕt have cars, my ma and pa worked off the Kingston Road – and so they had to have 3 children because they had 2 bedrooms a similar size and then one small one. So my ma and pa had two boys in one and then the girl in the other one. Its just interesting the way the bombs must have dropped because they went across like this and demolished that whole area and yet the whole of Lavendar Grove is intact.

 

Although these were council houses we put in to buy under the right to buy and my husband was the guarantor as my father-in-law was getting on, so as my mother-in-law and father-in-law died we eventually came in it.

 

There is a grass area next to our house and weÕre responsible for it and the idea is to build a 2 bedroom house here. WeÕd lose the garden. WeÕve got outline planning. This has been going on since 2004. It can take years.

 

My daughter has got a 13 year old girl and a 10 year old boy in one bedroom so you could imagine especially with Becky being teenage yearsÉ So they could be counted as the socially deprived I suppose when you think about it. Or theyÕre deprived children.

 

The idea is that they live off of Morning Lane at the moment but theyÕll move next door to us.

Rachel

It would make a huge difference to them.

Brenda

The block theyÕre in went up – we moved in when my daughter was 8, when it was new – we went from Kingsmead to this one in 1972 or something. It was heaven. But everything changes so it was heaven in the beginning. To have this little private balcony.

Rachel

So sheÕs now living in the flat that you were living in. And thatÕs off Morning Lane.

Brenda

Yes. Scotney House.

Rachel

So you lived in the place that your parents used to rent at Kingsmead, then you moved into Scotney House and after that you moved into the house that your in-laws used to rent in E8 so your daughter moved into your flat. It seems as though the tenancies are passing through the family. I suppose it was good for you because it helped you to get into good accommodation.

Brenda

ItÕs probably good and probably bad. Because my parents died when I was a youngster and my mother died when I was 18 and then my father died and so I had no one. I was there as an 18 year old having to support myself, pay the bills, pay the rent and so I had very little money. If IÕd had my family then when I met my husband we wouldnÕt have been able to live there. WeÕd have had to have move out. So its good in one way that we had a home but we might have done better. I donÕt know. Its strange the way life works out. We havenÕt left Hackney!

 

Interview with Tex

 

Susanna

Tex could you tell us about some of your experiences of the area? How did you come to travel to the UK?

Tex

I had 2 brothers in the RAF, I thought I would like to come and took the chance. I was too young for the RAF, I used my FatherÕs name. If they had my real name they would have take me out.

I left Jamaica on a ship that brought me to Scotland. From Scotland I went down to Yorkshire by train, where I started my training for RAF. From there I left and went to Leighton Buzzard operational training unit.

Susanna

When was that?

Tex

1944

Susanna

When did you come to Hackney?

Tex

I come to Camden Town (Ō58), stayed with my brother for about three months. Then come to Hackney for a mate of mine.

Susanna

Can you think of some differences between Hackney then and now?

Tex

I would say we had more entertainment more music joints. People used to have house parties at weekends.

Susanna

What about the mix of people?

Tex

In Õ58 quite a few people came from Jamaica. Some in Hackney, some over Brixton side, some down country.