A few months ago I received message from a gentleman named Bernard. He outlined his long relationship with the estate which went all the way back to his birth on Finnis St (No 21) …
“..In 1928 , and in time went to Wilmot St. school. We then moved to Wilmot St.(No22) and I went to Stuart Headlam school, through the arch across Three Colts Lane,on the right hand side, opposite Barnsley St. From there I was evacuated to Suffolk until after the bombing stopped. That’s another story. After the war my wife and I lived in No.327 Corfield St. for a time”
He also responded to my post about a photograph I’d found of Wilmot St before or during WW2. His Message:
“A bomb did fall in Wilmot Street and although I was evacuated at the time, my mother told me about it.The bomb landed in the backyard and went under my parents bedroom at number 22. Fortunately, it didn’t explode. After this everybody had to leave. After a few days and before the Bomb Disposable people arrived my mother went back in she said ”to get the insurance books”. The air raid warden saw her and she got a severe ticking off ”Don’t you know that walking on that floor could have set that bomb off”
I dropped Benard a line and he very kindly agreed to talk further with me about his memories of the Waterlow Estate.
You mentioned that you were born on Finnis Street in 1928, do you know how long your family had lived there ?
I suspect that it was near enough from the time they were married in 1926.
What did your family do ?
My father was an iron moulder, which was an apprenticeship, so he must have started at about 14 yrs old. He was excluded from armed forces service because his job was in the exempt class. My mother in her early days worked as a ‘finisher’ for a baby clothes firm, then worked for Godfrey Phillips – the cigarette manufacturer – then on to Allen & Hanburys – the well-known pharmaceutical company as a cook in the Directors restaurant.
The rear of the Corfield Street buildings in 1966. Taken from the Allen and Hanburys carpark (now the Pillbox building). Reproduced with the permission of The Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.
Did you have any relatives living nearby ?
My aunt lived in Corfield Street on the corner with Ainsley St, and a cousin who lived near the top end of Wilmot St, not far from Phillip & Scoones, a drapers store.
How old were you when your family moved to Wilmot Street ?
I must have been around 5 or 6 yrs old when we moved to Wilmot St.
Can you describe your childhood when living on Finnis and Wilmot Street ?
I have very few memories of my time in Finnis St, just snatches of memory of Wilmot St School, although it was a period when I wore leg irons but still annoyed my mother in running around the yard there. I can’t remember moving to Wilmot St, but went to Stewart Headlam School from there. Was also evacuated to Suffolk, aged ten.
Can you tell me about your experience during the war ?
During the war i went to a small village and was billeted with 3 other boys. school was intermittent. after a time I learned I had passed the 11-plus exam, and went to the West Suffolk County School. Sometime, I think in l944, I came home and went to Parmiter’s School in Approach Rd. until the VI’s and V’2 – flying bombs and rockets – began to fall. I then went back to Suffolk, but to a different area.
Considering the size of the estate it’s amazing that it remained unscathed from the Blitz, was there a lot of damage nearby that you remember ?
I have mentioned elsewhere on the website about the unexploded bomb under my parents flat. A buzz bomb landed on the Francis of Assisi Church at the Cambridge Rd end of Three Colts lane.. but as far as I know that was the nearest damage.
You then mention that you married and that you and your wife moved into a flat on Corfield Street, which year was this ?
My wife and I married in 1950 and moved into a flat in Corfield St (No.327) and We lived in Corfield St for 7 yrs.
It’s quite extraordinary that you lived in nearly every street in the Estate. Do you remember the buildings themselves ? .. were they in good condition at that time ?, Do you know if they had been altered much from their original Victorian state ?
I certainly remember the buildings, and they were in very good condition, except in certain areas, for instance, we lived then in No.22, which was a basement flat and the front room was damp. I slept there and as a consequence became asthmatic in later years. There was no sign of any alterations to the original building having taken place.
Was the roof pitched or flat when you lived there ? .. were you able to gain access to the roofs ?
The roof was flat. Sometimes we played up there, and some of the residents hung washing on the roof.
Do any local characters or stories spring to mind ?
I remember that Sir Percy Harris was our Liberal M.P. and my Wife was at school with the Kray twins (dubious claim to fame, but says they were nice enough boys then).
Are there any particular local shops, businesses or pubs that you remember ?
Phillips and Scoones, the only apartment store in the district. Wastells, the local greengrocer in 3 Colts Lane. Three pubs, The Lamb on the corner of 3 Colts lane and Wilmot St.The Lion, through the arch opposite Wilmot St. The Good Shepherd Mission on the other corner of Wilmot St. Feganbaums, the fish shop at the corner of 3 Colts lane – who later moved business to the main B.G road. The third pub was at the end of Three Colts Lane and Dunbridge Street.
Were you still living in the area when any demolition or remodelling took place ? .. I’ve been unable to find much photographic evidence of the Finnis Street buildings so I’m not sure how they looked .. Do you remember if there were blocks on both sides of the road ?
No, I left before the changes took place. There were blocks on both sides of Finnis St, except were the school was.
When did you move away ?,
Have you been back and visited since you left ?
Yes,our family took us back for a visit 2 yrs ago. We couldn’t trace our flat as I believe they had been made larger by incorporating 2 flats into one and the numbers had been changed.
I’m also doing some research at the moment on the streets that were eventually demolished to become Weavers Fields, (Mape, Seabright, Viaduct, Sale St etc etc), do you remember this area at all ?
My wife and I remember those streets. She lived in Sale street until she was 16 years old and then moved to Loughton Essex. There was nothing memorable about them.
Photograph of Seabright and Cheshire Street, pre 1939. Reproduced with the permission of The Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.
I’m especially interested in Saint Andrews Church as no photographs of it seem to exist .. do you remember the church ?
I know of it. I was baptised there because somewhere I have a card that says so but I cannot find it.
Thank you to Bernard and his wife for taking the time to give such full and detailed answers. If you have memories of the area and would like to share please leave a comment below and I’ll drop you a line.