Lovely Laindon (Part 8) (1 of 9)
(Chapter 1: The Beginning, East Ham)
It really all started with young Fred.
Fred’s dad was Thomas (“Tom”) Henry Vickery whose east London roots went back to Poplar via Bromley-by –Bow, were he had been born. He was to marry Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Pryer, the eldest daughter of a near neighbour, and Lizzie, too, had been born in Bromley. Their marriage had taken place in Bromley- by- Bow church in 1900. This is the church that once sat close to the bridge across the River Lea and between the tram tracks that took the trams running between Stratford and Aldgate Pump, the closest point they were allowed to get to the City of London. The church still sits in the middle of the road, at the foot of the complex crossover and elevated flyover which now carries heavy traffic both to and from the city and to and from Blackwall tunnel.
Bromley-by-Bow Church is also one of the churches that has caused, over time, a considerable amount of confusion among Londoners. It is argued that to be a true Londoner and therefore a “cockney”, it was considered necessary to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells. The confusion that arose about this was related to the problem of deciding to which of the two churches bearing the name “Bow” that this rule should be applied; was it Bromley-by-Bow or St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside?
Whatever the correct answer to that conundrum might be, Tom and Lizzie always regarded themselves to be, as the now generally accepted convention demands, through and through East Enders. Not that their style of speech was a possible clue to that fact. I cannot recall ever hearing either of them use that style which employs rhyming slang as a mark of their early origins and is said to be the mark of the true Eastender. To the Vickerys, “apples and pears” were stairs, “plates of meat” were feet in their vocabulary. Probably, the only nod in the direction of their common roots was the fact that Tom Vickery invariably expressed his preference for “The Hammers” when it came to considering the football results. For many listeners, there seemed to be a slightly superior inflection inherent in the way they spoke, an inflection that seemed to rub-off onto several of the next generation of Vickerys in particular.
It might appear that this seemingly vocal effort to appear “posh” is a criticism. This is not the case. There was never any conscious effort on their part to, in any way, deny their working class origins nor to attempt to create the illusion that they had, somehow, come” down” in the world. The reality was that they long recognised the true value to the individual of, firstly, hard work and, secondly, education, the latter virtue to be, should it prove necessary, the fruits of self-instruction. Born themselves into an environment that did not exactly encourage education in particular, both my grandparents were determined that their children should have as good an education as was possible. In pursuit of this ambition, because there was a considerable degree of assistance in such matters to be found in the Borough of East Ham, they deliberately moved there shortly after they married.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, East Ham had the reputation of being a “progressive” place to live. That reputation seemed to be well deserved. Presenting to the world what seemed to be a new venture (“new”, that is in 1900), the suburban estates of the East Ham area also represented the expansion of London ever further eastwards from areas like Poplar, Plaistow and West Ham. However, these new suburbs, not only preserved the ethos that had moulded those older areas to the west, but had become intent on developing an ethos very much of its own. There is little doubt that the thinking of persons like William Crooks and George Lansbury who, in 1892, had been elected to the Poplar Board of Guardians, the body responsible for overseeing the operation of the Poor Law in that part of expanding London, played an important influencing part in East Ham’s development of that particular ethos. Both these men were assuredly “working class”, Crooks, in particular. He had personal experience of how the Poor Law was applied, based, as it was, on the concept that the provision of economic assistance to the poverty stricken should only be given dependent on the recipient’s ability to work. Crooks had spent time as a child in the Workhouse.
Crooks, a Fabian, in any case had had long associations with London’s docks, and was often outside the East India Dock addressing crowds on Trade Union matters. Lansbury, a more recent immigrant from Suffolk where he had been well schooled by his radical mother, had endured rough labouring (coal humping) in Bethnal Green and Whitechapel. His political career began when he elected to serve as agent for Jane Cobden who, in defiance of convention, sought to be a female representative on the newly formed London County Council. Lansbury’s stint on the Poplar Board of Guardians is of particular interest because it was his influence on the American philanthropist Joseph Fels that led to Sumpner’s Farm at Dunton becoming the Dunton Farm Colony.
Both Lansbury and Crooks were supportive of and supported by another philanthropist, this time John Passmore Edwards. Edwards, Cornish born and of humble origin, made his considerable fortune by buying into, as well as creating, the Press at a time when the Newspapers and the like was the sole widespread form of media. Despite his wealth, Edwards remained a lifelong champion of the working class. His extensive philanthropy was applied nation-wide but both Cornwall and London’s East End received special attention. In his support for the Worker’s Educational Association he bestowed “free” libraries on St Georges-in-the-East, Limehouse, Poplar, Plaistow, West and East Ham as well as being instrumental in establishing a hospital at the latter location. In 1903 it was John Passmore Edwards who was the celebrity who ceremoniously opened the newly built Town Hall on the corner of Barking Road and East Ham High Street South.
East Ham had been made a County Borough which meant it administered in its own right on matters that, elsewhere in Essex, were a shared responsibility; both County wide and Locally. Considerably radicalised, the new Municipal Council, trying its best to live up to its reputation, went ahead with arranging to provide its community with facilities that often did not exist elsewhere. It placed great emphasis on the value to be gained from various attributes of education together with both sport and recreation. The Council provided a considerable number of playing fields for sports or games, as well as a Municipal swimming pool and baths. Evening educational classes were introduced and the local schools, most of which were under the local authority’s direct control, were regarded as being of high standard. East Ham was among the pioneers when it came to the question of housing; the Council building and fostering some 200 cottage homes in the Beckton area where the giant Gas, Coke and Light Company was an ever expanding undertaking.
It was into this forward looking, progressive social environment that the Vickerys brought up their children, two boys and four girls. Because the parents were so much imbued with the ethos of the district they had decided to inhabit, so too did their children become, the political atmosphere they grew up in staying with them for the rest of their lives. As Tom and Lizzie’s eldest grandson, I was very much made aware of this from an early age, having had very frequent contact with all my aunts and uncles and, in turn, their progeny. There was an awareness in all the family that an imperfect world could only ever be improved by positive, progressive thought and action. Whenever the various elements of the Vickery family came together, which was frequently, debate on such matters was both lively and on an academic level.
1 of 9