Raised in Islington until in my early 20s, as young man in those days, I met a girl, a very pretty girl, and fell madly in love. How fickle she turned out to be? When she told me I was to become a father, we found a flat in a shared house with two other couples in Ferncliff Road, Hackney which was by any measure a slum area. I personally did not mind the cosmopolitan mix of peoples we had as neighbours, but there were more than a few instances of domestic violence that we could hear through the paper thin walls.
Eventually, that pretty girl I married, ran off with another girl she met and after a period of heartache a second wife moved into my slum with me. With serendipity, Hackney Council decided to flatten that slum home to build better slum homes on the site, but they offered a financial resettlement package to get our home as ‘vacant possession’.
Whilst looking for another flat I was back at Mum and Dads with my new wife and daughter from the first wife. I heard of a plan that the Council called “slum clearance and mutual resettlement” and asked if we could be considered. I basically bribed a housing officer with £50 to find us a new home ‘somewhere nice’ and within weeks a letter came with the offer of a new property in Harold Hill, in Havering. I had absolutely no idea where Harold Hill was and the address I was given wasn’t even in the London A – Z street directory.
With mixed expectations we drove through Hackney, and Wanstead, heading east until we got to Gallows Corner. The house was a newly built two bedroom and a box room semi-detached property in a cul-de-sac off Barberry Close, the area itself as well as the surrounding general area was open planned, with wide tree lined avenues and good local amenities such as parks, swimming pools, and community centres. We couldn’t wait to get to the Town Hall quick enough to sign up for the tenancy and within days I had borrowed an open backed lorry from work and moved our meagre possessions into the new house. Bedford’s Park was a particular favourite of ours where on most Sundays I would take the dog and explore the fields and hidden fishing lake in the woods. Over the next five years we had three sons so the three boys had the second bedroom and my daughter the box-room.
Both the wife and I loved living there in the country. The weekends (when I wasn’t working) were a real eye-opener – within just five minutes drive we and the kids could be in small country lanes with (can you believe it) fields by the roadsides – isolated friendly country pubs and to my delight hedgerow fruits and berries in autumn as a harvest of delights, I had never seen such beauty before in the street slums of Hackney.