on this day…

April 20, 2012

On this day one hundred years ago my father, William Louis Philpot, was born in East London, son of Charles and Selina and one of ten children. His was a close family although widely spread around London, but we visited frequently during my childhood. The picture on the left was taken at my Uncle Fred’s magnificent tent near Maldon in Essex, probably in 1951. From left, Uncle Fred, Aunt Flo, Aunt Dolly, Mum and Dad. In front, cousin Henry, cousin Madge and me.

Dad died on June 5th 2003 at the age of ninety-one. Happy birthday Dad.

 

Generous he was and caring,

Never asking

but ever offering.

 

Quick was his eye to make a smile,

Ready his hand to stand a drink,

Sharp his mind to turn a card,

Slow his pen to select a horse.

 

Good was his day;

A good day to spend a pound,

A good day to sit with friends,

A good day to raise a glass,

A good day to share a joke,

A good day to share.

 

An independent man he was.

A man of means he was.

A lovely man he was.

A well loved man he was.

 

And now well loved he is.

William Louis (Bill) Philpot. 20 April 1912 – 6 June 2003

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On this day…

March 29, 2010

On this day ninety years ago my Mum, Winifred Edith Philpot, was born in Shoreditch, East London, daughter of Frederick Thomas Major and Mary Ellis Major. Mum died on 24th April 1981, aged sixty one, a year younger than I am now. A lovely lady.

Happy birthday Mum.

A family wedding

February 22, 2010

Our wedding on September 2nd 1967 is not an easy event to record, largely because I was quite mightily hungover from the stag night a little over twelve hours previously. Added to that it had been a stressful week for my nineteen year old self to cope with. I had been fired from my job at Phil Meyer’s studio three days before, and then had a disastrous interview for a new job the previous afternoon. So my memory of ‘the happiest day of my life’ is a little hazy.

It was held in Grays registry office and the guests drove in convoy until we turned off the high street and half the convoy, including the photographer, followed the number 370 bus and got lost. At the end of the service I was asked by the registrar for seven and sixpence for the licence but I had no money on me and had to borrow it from Phil Lloyd, my best man.

What we might laughingly call ‘the reception’ was held at Maureen’s dad’s house in Daiglen Drive and contained all the family rows normally associated with such occasions. I do remember Fred spending the entire evening sitting on his own in the kitchen. We didn’t know it at the time but it seems that Fred, much against popular belief, actually did have a sense of shame. The Wicked Stepmother, Rose, rang Maureen a couple of weeks later and asked for the deposit money on the bottles. Now, in itself I think this is quite a funny thing to do, but it gets funnier. Rose was labouring under the illusion that Fred had paid for the booze, but he hadn’t. Maureen had. So, naturally enough, Maureen told Rose where to go, but it transpired that Rose had given Fred fifty quid (a lot of money) to buy the party drinks and he’d gambled it away down the bookies. Brilliant.

Our honeymoon consisted of a week in Mum and Dad’s prefab, and then a few weeks decorating our flat at 46 Beverley Gardens, Hornchurch. I remained out of work for the first six weeks of our marriage.

From left: Tony Andreeti, cousin Maureen Andreeti, Alan Downey, Nick’s girlfriend (?), Dad, Alan’s wife Diane, Uncle Alf, Mum, Vince, Phil Lloyd’s wife Jan, Uncle Fred, me, best man Phil Lloyd, Maureen, Aunt Flo, cousin Peter, The Wicked Stepmother, June’s husband Jim, cousin June, Fred. I’m assuming that my friend Nick (George Nicholas) was the snapper.

Two families

February 18, 2010

This is the only photograph I have of the family on my mother’s side, gathered together in 1955 for my cousin Lily Cooper’s marriage to Billy Tucker. Next to Lily is her youngest sister Maureen, and behind Maureen is her mother, my Aunt Phoebe, my mother’s sister, and her husband Sonny Cooper, my Dad’s cousin. At the very back in the centre can just be seen the middle sister Winnie in a white coat. This family used to have some really wild parties at Sonny and Phoebe’s flat in Hyde Road, Shoreditch.

But next to Phoebe is my maternal grandmother, whose name I don’t know, and this is the only picture I have of her. She is also the only grandparent I ever knew, and then not for long. She died the year this picture was taken. I can remember being given a day off school to attend her funeral, and in the front room of the house at 7 Audrey Street, Shoreditch, London N1, I was lifted up to look at the dead body of my only Nan lying in the coffin. For a seven year old that was quite a memorable experience.

I have a few dim memories of Nan and the house in Audrey Street. The house was next door to a timber yard and time spent there was constantly accompanied by the scream of a bandsaw and the smell of sawdust. At the front of the house on the right of the passage was a drawing room which was never used (Except for funerals) then there was the living room and the very damp smelling scullery beyond that. Here was a brick floor, a stone butler sink and a single cold tap. The coal cupboard (where Nan hid from the tally man) was under the stairs next to the scullery, and outside in the tiny paved back yard was the toilet. Upstairs lived Aunt Elsie and a couple of cousins. They might have had a bathroom up there, which I can remember quite surprised me at the time.

Nan was very distant and, although quite a tiny woman, she was fierce and always to be obeyed as she sat me and my cousins down for tea. Standing by the table with a large loaf under her arm she’d spread a dollop of dripping on the bread then with the same motion saw off a slice that would drop onto my plate dripping side down.

Edit, February 19: My cousin Vivienne (on my father’s side of the family) has very kindly sent me the details from the 1911 census for my Nan’s family on my mother’s side. My nan’s maiden name was Mary Ann Ellis and she was born in 1888 in Whitechapel, East London. In 1911 she had been married to my grandfather, Frederick Thomas Major, for four years and lived at 131 Blackwall Buildings in Whitechapel. At that time she had three daughters: Ellen Edith b. 1907, Ethel Maud b. 1909 and Phoebe b. 1910. After the census these three sisters were joined by Elizabeth b. 1912, Frederick b. 1914, James b. 1917, Winifred (Mum) b. 1920, Henry b. 1922 and Lilian b. 1924. My grandfather, a docker at Brussels Wharf, died in 1925 when my Mum was just 5 years old, and I was told that he was killed falling from a crane. I believe Nan remarried in 1927 to George Baxter.

Edit, March 1: This weekend I received a copy of my grandfather’s death certificate and discovered that, yes indeed it is true that on 5th April 1925, at the age of 41, he died in Poplar Hospital after he “fell down hold on ship, fractured skull and lacerated brain. P.M. Accidental cause”. At that time he was a stevedore living at 55 Whiston Street, Haggerston. Where’s Haggerston?

I never knew my paternal granddad, Charles, who died in 1928 at the age of just 49, nor my grandmother Selina, known as Ada who was born in 1877 and died in 1933. They married in 1899 and had a total of ten children, although one daughter, Selina Maud, died at the age of two years. The surviving nine were Charles Sidney (1899-1971), Earnest Edmund (1902-1967), Winifred Kathleen (1904-1982), Lily Maud (1906-1996), Selina Louise (1908-1994), Henry Joseph (Sonny) (1910-1980), William Louis, my Dad (1912-2003), Frederick James (1914-1990), Alfred Leonard (1916-1971). So both my parents came from large families. The picture on the left is of my grandparents taken, presumably, during the First World War and the picture below is of my grandmother taken shortly before she died at the age of 56.

Houses and homes

February 15, 2010

Given that I only lived there for the first three or four years of my life you will not be surprised to hear that I have very few memories of 38 Clissold Road, except to say that it was a sort of semi-basement flat in a terrace of three or four storey buildings, probably Georgian, in a street that ran from Albion Road to Clissold Park in Stoke Newington, North London, at a time long before the area became fashionable. The flat was tiny and dark with green and cream walls. A passageway led from the front door through the kitchen at the back and out onto a small patio, then up some steps to a long, narrow back garden in which Dad kept chickens, as so many people did in that post war period after enduring years of eating powdered egg. I remember an occasion when one of the hens got her head stuck in the door of the run and the other hens fell upon her and pecked her to death. Mum was devastated, but Dad took a more practical approach, plucking and gutting the bird and presenting it for Mum to cook. But Mum couldn’t eat it. Imagine that! At a time when chicken was a rare luxury eaten once a year at Christmas, and all meat was rationed to a few ounces a day.

I can also vaguely remember attending the Salvation Army chapel and marching in the band playing a triangle. And I have a recall, accompanied still with a sense of alarm, of one of the neighbours upstairs giving out a warning that the tallyman was coming. The tallyman was the poor bloke given the task of collecting payments on household items such as radios and bits of furniture bought on the ‘never-never’. Doors would slam and people hid behind furniture (not yet paid for) until he was gone, and an eerie silence fell on the whole street. There is a family story about my cousin Johnny being sent by my Nan, who was hiding in the coal cupboard, to answer the door to the tallyman. “Hello, Son. Is your Nan home?” “No,” said Johnny, “She’s gone to the ‘ospital.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. What hospital has she gone to?” “Nan! What ‘ospital you gone to?”

Judging from the Google Earth image none of the houses remain in Clissold Road, and a sports ground now occupies the spot where the old house once stood.

But we then moved to a brand new council maisonette at 108 Araglen Avenue, South Ockendon, which was one of the very first houses built on what was to become a large housing estate not very far from the River Thames. In the picture on the left Dad and a friend appear to be building raised beds in the vegetable garden while Mum drinks tea and I have retired into my wigwam to commune with nature. The maisonette is upstairs at the top left of the picture. At this time there were few shops, and we were largely served by mobile grocers, greengrocers and fishmongers, a rag and bone man on his horse and cart, and, of course, the obligatory ice cream man, Bastiani’s. When Bastiani came round on Sundays Mum would send me out with a large glass bowl and I’d bring back the dessert to follow Sunday lunch. We also had a regular delivery of fizzy drinks from the ‘Corona’ lorry.

But for fun it was just a short walk over the railway bridge to wide open countryside and the deliciously dangerous sand and gravel pits of The Ham River Company where my friends and I would swim in the summer.

Dad’s army

February 14, 2010

The record of service (below) of 6475617 GNR Philpot W. L. shows that Dad was initially recruited into the Territorial Army on 26th July 1940, and served in the Royal Fusiliers until 31st October 1942. He then transferred to the Royal Artillery until 30th November 1943. A further nine months in The Queen’s Own Regiment was followed by another transfer back to The Royal Artillery until February 22nd 1946, when he was demobbed.

A medical report in his Soldier’s Paybook  says “Suggest that the regiment employ him as a driver. He has a disability which prevents him from marching fast for any distance, though can walk at his own pace.” This ‘disability’ was, I believe, flat feet, so Dad spent the war driving a bren gun carrier. But I really can’t imagine how Dad pulled off the ‘disability’ scam. After all, people with flat feet tend to walk all kind of flippy-flappy, if you see what I mean, but Dad certainly didn’t have any such afflictions. In fact,  he was quite sporty.

As far as I’m aware Dad trained mostly on the Isle of Wight which was as near to abroad as he got. According to the particulars of training he was ‘trained carrier personel’ in December 1941 and passed his trade test as driver at 160 infantry brigade workshops on 28th December 1943, then took a rifle course in January 1944. He also attended an A/TK gunnery course at Lydd in Kent from 31st July 1944 until 2nd September 1944.

A little piece of history

February 14, 2010

Dad’s National Registration Identity Card shows that before he married he was living at 10 Boreham Street, Bethnal Green, London E2, which was presumably his family home. On the 24th July 1947 he and Mum then moved to 38 Clissold Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 after they married. Dad kept the addresses up to date into the 1970s.

Mum’s ID card shows the family address as 7 Audrey Street, Shoreditch, London N1, a house that I remember from my childhood. None of the London houses mentioned here exist any longer; in fact Boreham Street itself has disappeared without trace.