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Harold Hill Estate: An Oral History Project


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A new member of the Forum is developing a website on a “People’s History of the Harold Hill Estate”. Several members of the forum lived on the estate and so I thought it would be a good idea to use this thread to collect our impressions of this place.

I arrived on the Harold Hill estate in 1963. I was eighteen at the time and this was the family’s fourth council estate. We had originally lived in Chingford. One of the boys in the street was Colin Lacey, who went onto become Professor of Sociology at the University of Sussex. We later became friends and talked about our time on this council estate. Colin passed his 11+ and went onto write Hightown Grammar, a book that helped to persuade the Labour Government to bring in comprehensive education.

We then moved to the Debden estate. The standard of the housing was fairly good and the estate had a good community atmosphere. The local schools were uninspiring and all of my mates, including myself, failed the 11+. My father was killed in a road accident in 1956 and my mother decided that it would be better if we moved away from Debden. It was a strange decision that she still finds difficult to explain.

We moved to a prefab on the Dagenham estate. These tin huts had been built as emergency housing during the Second World War. The area had been heavily bombed as Dagenham was the site of factories involved in the war effort. The plan had been to pull them down after the war but the government never got round to it. The prefab was extremely cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. Mum was very excited by the idea of the built-in fridge, but one could soon see why this innovation had been included.

The local school was appalling. I cannot remember any of the teachers trying to teach us anything at Campbell Road School. The main reason was that the teachers found it difficult to create an environment where learning could take place. Most of the teachers were former soldiers (there was some sort of government scheme where members of the armed forces could teach in schools like ours without qualifications). However, as they were not able to use their weapons on us, their army training was of little use in keeping us under control. Only our Maths teacher, Mr. Jones, could control us. He was an intelligence officer who interrogated German soldiers during the Second World War. He told us he had been taught how to make people cry by staring at them. We believed him and as crying in front of your mates was the worst thing that could happen to you - we behaved in his lessons. Not that Jones used this control to teach as anything. He seemed completely bored by Maths and only became enthusiastic when he told us about his war experiences.

It was not possible to take exams at the school and so was not allowed to carry the title “Secondary Modern”. I left at fifteen to work in a local factory. Soon afterwards Campbell Road School was burnt down. Clearly, I was not the only one who was unimpressed with the school.

In 1963 my mother moved to the Harold Hill estate to be close to her mother who had a bungalow on Farrington Road. It was a flat in Cardigan House. It was not as good as our house in Debden but was far better than the prefab in Dagenham.

I did not know anyone from the estate. Most of my mates were from work or from the football team I played in. One of my football mates, Jimmy Sewell, lived close to the estate, and heard about a disco being held by the local Catholic Church. Jimmy was a Catholic but I considered myself to be an atheist. Jimmy got me into the disco and that night I met a local girl, Judith Harris. Her mother was very religious and had sent her daughter to the dance to find “a good Catholic boy” and was not too pleased when I turned up. However, as far as I was concerned, it was love at first site.

Judith did not have the same accent as the other girls from the estate even though she had lived there for the majority of her life. She did not get this from her father who came from the East End of London and worked in the docks. As the eldest daughter of six children Judith had developed a very close relationship with her mother. Her mother was from Plymouth and she clearly had subconsciously mirrored her accent. In fact, her mother was a bit of a snob and constantly picked up the children on how they spoke. Her father had come from a middle-class background but had died when she was young. My working class accent and my lack of religious beliefs did not make me the ideal future son-in-law.

At around this time I had got interested in politics. This was mainly because of a man I worked with. At this time I was serving an apprenticeship as a printer. Bob Clark had lost his only child. He was a man looking for a son. I was a man looking for a father. He had also left school without qualifications but had educated himself by joining the local library. We used to spend most of our dinner-breaks discussing politics. Although I came from a Labour voting household, I held fairly conservative views at the time. I have to admit that I was initially shocked by the political opinions of the older men in the factory. They had served in the armed forces during the war and were part of that generation that had elected the Labour Government in 1945. They were still socialists who felt betrayed by the Conservative government that took power in 1951. They all seemed excited by the possibility of a Labour Party gaining office. This was 1963 and Alec Douglas Home was prime minister. Harold Wilson was leader of the Labour Party and everybody seemed fairly confident he would win the next election.

The journeymen in the factory taught me how to be a printer. However, more importantly, they taught me about the world of politics. Soon after I moved to the Harold Hill estate Bob suggested that I joined the Young Socialists. Mrs Harris was a member of the Labour Party and she found out where they met from the man who collected membership subscriptions. It was the Old Folks Club in Bridgewater Road. It was at a place which had been built for the senior citizens on the estate.

There were only a handful of people at our first meeting. I later discovered that most were the sons and daughters of local councillors and were not actually terribly interested in politics. That was not true of Jim Smith who was chairman of the Harold Hill YS. He was younger than me. I think he was about 16 or 17. Although he was fairly shy he obviously felt very strongly about politics. If Jim had not been there I doubt if we would have gone again. However, I was very impressed with Jim’s knowledge of politics and despite his age, I suppose like Bob Clark, he became one of my mentors. Other members included John Stephenson and Pat Dodge.

As membership was so low, we sometimes had joint meetings with the Romford Young Socialists. This included Tony Reid, Dave Verguson, Terry Ward, John Riley, Tony Gordon, Dave Rugg and Simon Ridley. At the time they all seemed very posh. They had been to grammar school and were on the verge of going to university. They were all very left-wing and were constantly quoting from the works of Leon Trotsky. My immediate reaction was to argue against them. They all knew far much more than I did and so I took Bob Clark’s advice and joined the local library.

Jim Smith told me he got most of his information from the Guardian. I therefore started buying the Guardian instead of the Daily Mirror. I found it difficult to read at first. One of the problems was that the articles assumed that you knew about the history of every subject. The language was also difficult, but with the help of my mentors, I gradually got the education that my schools had failed to give me.

In retrospect, I am pleased that I got my education in this way. It was something that had evolved rather than imposed. I am convinced that it is far healthier to be self-educated. What I had previously found to be boring was now exciting. The more I read - the more left-wing I became. Although, unlike some members of the group, I remained highly critical of communist governments that ruled China and Eastern Europe. I saw people such as Lenin and Stalin as betrayers of socialism. Trotsky’s actions against the Kronstadt sailors in 1921 was enough to stop me from becoming a Trotskyite. In fact, I was convinced that if he had taken over from Lenin, his rule would have been just as authoritarian as that of Stalin. Within months of joining the Labour Party I was describing myself as a libertarian socialist. My views have not changed over the last 40 years.

Despite our different views, we all worked for the Labour Party in the 1964 General Election. As far as we were concerned, Harold Wilson’s government was far too right-wing and we spent a lot of time and effort trying to get critical resolutions passed by the Romford Labour Party. Our main enemy was Ron Ledger, our local Labour MP. We conspired with left-wing councillors such as Harry Packham and Arthur Latham in an attempt to remove Ledger as our MP. Central Office reacted very badly to this moves and the conspirators were threatened with expulsion.

Our main objection to Harold Wilson was that he refused to condemn US policy in Vietnam. It is my generation of Labour Party members who felt so strongly about Tony Blair’s decision to join forces with Bush in Iraq. Blair of course was busy pursuing a career in pop music during the 1960s but according to Francis Beckett’s biography of Gordon Brown, he was active in the anti-Vietnam Movement. However, life has taught me that to get to the top in politics you have to abandon most, if not all, of your political principles.

We also thought Wilson should have been urging the United Nations to take action against the racist regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa. We were also highly critical of the huge amounts spent on defence spending. Nor did we like the way the government tried to keep down the wages of the poorly paid public sector workers. On reflection, Wilson did a good job of redistributing wealth in Britain. When compared to Blair and Brown, Wilson was indeed a left-wing prime minister.

After the election victory in 1964 we picked up some new members. This included Bill Eldridge, Jim Reid and Linda Benjamin. I also persuaded my younger brother to join. David was a reluctant member at first so we made him secretary of the YS. We also had visits from Roger and Anne Richards, who had met and married while at university. As far as I remember, they were the first university educated people I had encountered. Roger was a Trotskyite and I had very passionate arguments with him about politics. I thought I did quite well in these debates and I remember thinking at the time, if I can do this than maybe I was bright enough to go to university. However, as I was working in a factory and saving up to get married and as I had no paper qualifications it had to remain a dream at this stage of my life.

We became community activists. One campaign involved trying to unionize local schoolchildren. We also helped young people who were being victimized by the local police. This included Del Smith who had drugs planted on him. This involved making contact with organizations such as “Release”. I remember one very interesting meeting with Caroline Coon in London who had established the organization in 1967. I was very impressed how this student at university had been able to establish her own pressure group.

http://www.carolinecoon.com/

The Harold Hill Young Socialists also began producing its own magazine. I was chosen to be editor. This was a strange decision as I was virtually illiterate at the time. However, the other better educated members agreed to read through the articles and correct them, so I agreed to do it. I soon discovered I loved writing and churned out regular articles for what became the Target Magazine. I still have copies of these magazines but I am not brave enough to re-read the articles that I wrote during this period.

I also carried out interviews for the magazine. This included an exclusive interview with Jack Dash, a shop steward who was leading an unofficial London dock at the time. He had been vilified as a communist agitator and was refusing to talk to the mainstream media. A friend gave me his phone-number and after a long discussion he agreed to give me an interview.

I also interviewed Arnold Shaw, the Labour MP who represented Ilford South in the House of Commons. He had also been my uninspiring history teacher at Campbell Road School. In the interview I discovered that he lived in Stepney during the 1930s and as a young Jewish man became involved in politics in opposition to the fascists led by Oswald Mosley. Not that you would have realized this from his teaching of history. If he had been passionate about this subject in the classroom, maybe he would have got me interested in history when I was at school.

I left the Harold Hill estate when I got married in 1966. We moved to Dartford and although we joined the local Labour Party we were too old for the Young Socialists.

As a member of the Labour Party I joined the campaign to persuade Wilson’s government to create an Open University. I remember getting involved in heated debates at constituency meetings about the wisdom of this proposal. Members used to say it was a ridiculous idea of allowing people to go to university without “A” levels. Despite these criticisms Wilson went ahead with this measure. In his memoirs Wilson said that it was the most important legislation he introduced during his time as prime minister. I agree. I joined in the first year of its existence and it changed my life. I remember the tutor who marked my first essay saying that I wrote like a political pamphleteer and that I would have to change it I was going to be awarded a degree. She was right of course. My early essays took the form of Target articles. That is all I knew. After all, these articles were my “A” level essays and my fellow comrades were my teachers. I eventually changed the style of my essays as I wanted a degree as a passport to get me into another world. However, I refused to change my politics and became a regular contributor to Open Sesame, the OU newspaper.

I have fond memories of my time on the Harold Hill estate. It was where I got a decent education - although this experience had nothing to do with schools or universities.

In reality there were few working-class lads like me at the Open University. Most students were middle-class people who had for a variety of reasons had not completed a university education. I was therefore one of the first of a small batch of working class students to graduate. As a result of my articles in the OU newspaper I was seen as the representative of the working class and I was asked to give a radio talk on the subject. I was also asked to contribute an article on my feelings about getting a degree. I no longer have a copy of this article but many years later a quotation from it appeared in Roland Meighan’s “A Sociology of Educating”. It was in the chapter on assessment in schools (page 17). This was the passage that interested Meighan:

“I know that I was no more intelligent than the rest of the kids at my school… My case does not show how intelligence wins through. My case shows how, year after year, we allow the intellectual abilities of thousands upon thousands of children from the working class to go to waste.”

I added that unlike most working class kids, after leaving school, I had the luck to meet several people who helped me to obtain a desire for education. Most of those people were young people living on the Harold Hill estate.

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Hi John,

It's interesting that you bring up the autodidact tradition within the working class because I'm currently reading The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose.

It's also interesting that you mention Krondstat because I'm also currently reading Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary.

Both are recommended for a greater understanding of the respective subjects.

Del Smith has already dropped your name in an interview that is on the site in reference to a certain infamous article :rolleyes: - but I wonder if he's confused about that episode and really means your brother? I know that he was good friends with him.

The project started in 2003. It originally took about 18 months to piece together. It meant, not just interviewing people, but painstakingly going through, week by week from 1945 onwards, the Romford Times / Romford Recorder.

I still seem to be adding stuff.

Just this weekend I finally managed to add some older articles/essays written by others:

http://www.haroldhill.org/other-historians/historians.html

I grew up on the 'Hill but moved away, going to John Moores University to study history. (I attended an Access to Further Education Course at Havering college)

Moving back, I was invited into the setting up of a local branch of the Independent Working Class Association, and although I found myself for periods living in Hackney, Islington and Couch End, we had a very energetic three year existence, polling credible results in the 2002 local elections.

I stood in the Gooshays ward and ended up with 856 votes.

I was offered a council flat in Harold Hill and I've been living here ever since.

I knew that there was a story to tell when it came to Harold Hill, and I also knew that story simply couldn't be told in isolation from the historic events that happened both before and around its creation in the 40s/50s.

The site has been up for scrutiny for a few years now, and although I've reread it a number of times, I've only had to change a couple of minor factual points.

Another aspect of my intentions when originally writing it was to make sure that it was as near tas possible to 100% historically correct in tone and detail before it went live on the world wide web - I didn't want to embarrass myself by making major edits later on.

You mention the prefabs and finally I think I have found somebody who has photos of them!

There haven't been any around before and none could be found for the 40th and 50th exhibitions.

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As a result of this posting Del Smith has sent me this annotated photograph:

A, I think his name is Laurie, YCL

B, Linda Pugh, girlfriend of mine from Harold Hill

C, Me

D, Terry Ward

E, Paul White, Albermarle

F, Bill Divine, Albermarle

G, Dave Rug

H, Tony Gordon

I, Tony Reid

J, Terry Kent, Albermarle

K, Jim Smith

L, ????? You can fill this gap for me

M, Bill Eldridge

N, Jean Rugg

O, ??????? YCL I think

post-7-1195036226_thumb.jpg

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As a result of this posting Del Smith has sent me this annotated photograph:

A, I think his name is Laurie, YCL

B, Linda Pugh, girlfriend of mine from Harold Hill

C, Me

D, Terry Ward

E, Paul White, Albermarle

F, Bill Divine, Albermarle

G, Dave Rug

H, Tony Gordon

I, Tony Reid

J, Terry Kent, Albermarle

K, Jim Smith

L, ????? You can fill this gap for me

M, Bill Eldridge

N, Jean Rugg

O, ??????? YCL I think

L is John Stephenson. I cannot remember his name but I think "O" died of a heart attack a couple of years later. He was indeed a member of the YCL. I will phone Terry Ward up tonight. I am sure he will remember his name.

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It's also interesting that you mention Krondstat because I'm also currently reading Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary.

A great book. Serge is a more important commentator on the Russian Revolution than Trotsky. Serge, along with Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, had attempted to mediate between the Kronstadt sailors and the Soviet government. His account of the uprising appeared in his book Memoirs of a Revolutionary.

The final assault was unleashed by Tukhacevsky on 17 March, and culminated in a daring victory over the impediment of the ice. Lacking any qualified officers, the Kronstadt sailors did not know how to employ their artillery; there was, it is true, a former officer named Kozlovsky among them, but he did little and exercised no authority. Some of the rebels managed to reach Finland. Others put up a furious resistance, fort to fort and street to street; they stood and were shot crying, "Long live the world revolution! Hundreds of prisoners were taken away to Petrograd and handed to the Cheka; months later they were still being shot in small batches, a senseless and criminal agony. Those defeated sailors belonged body and soul to the Revolution; they had voiced the suffering and the will of the Russian people. This protracted massacre was either supervised or permitted by Dzerzhinsky.

You can find my page on Serge here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSserge.htm

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Del Smith has already dropped your name in an interview that is on the site in reference to a certain infamous article :pop - but I wonder if he's confused about that episode and really means your brother? I know that he was good friends with him.

Del has sent me the article by email. Although I had forgotten the article, once I started reading it, I realised that it was my work.

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As a result of this posting Del Smith has sent me this annotated photograph:

A, I think his name is Laurie, YCL

B, Linda Pugh, girlfriend of mine from Harold Hill

C, Me

D, Terry Ward

E, Paul White, Albermarle

F, Bill Divine, Albermarle

G, Dave Rug

H, Tony Gordon

I, Tony Reid

J, Terry Kent, Albermarle

K, Jim Smith

L, ????? You can fill this gap for me

M, Bill Eldridge

N, Jean Rugg

O, ??????? YCL I think

John, I can't open this attachment

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Here is the first of three photographs showing Young Socialist from the Havering area outside 10 Downing Street on the day of the large anti-Vietnam War Demonstration in London on 17th March 1968.

This picture shows me accidentally hitting the policeman outside No. 10 with my placard. To my left is Jim Smith, a fellow member of the Harold Hill Young Socialists.

I was lucky that the policeman I clobbered by mistake cooled down quickly and did not take the incident any further. The bloke on the following BBC website describes how he was not so lucky.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/witness...000/3516162.stm

post-7-1195163436_thumb.jpg

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L is John Stephenson. I cannot remember his name but I think "O" died of a heart attack a couple of years later. He was indeed a member of the YCL. I will phone Terry Ward up tonight. I am sure he will remember his name.

Terry Ward tells me that "O" is Dave Harvey. He indeed died of a heart attack in his twenties.

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L is John Stephenson. I cannot remember his name but I think "O" died of a heart attack a couple of years later. He was indeed a member of the YCL. I will phone Terry Ward up tonight. I am sure he will remember his name.

Terry Ward tells me that "O" is Dave Harvey. He indeed died of a heart attack in his twenties.

In his twenties! God.

I'm going to pilfer your demo photos and place them onto the website.

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Harold Hill: The Musical

Coming to the Queens Theatre in 2008.

I've just been chatting with the Queens Theatre and they are going to write and put on a special play to celebrate Harold Hill's 60th birthday.

They've asked me to get involved and help with the writing.

Any named Hollywood actors John you'd like us to approach to play you?

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