Robert Gillespie at Hammersmith Library

To anyone who watched TV in the 1970s Robert Gillespie would be instantly recognisable for his appearances in such shows as Porridge, Rising Damp, Secret Army, Butterflies, and The Professionals amongst many others; (and as the long suffering police sergeant in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads!)

Hammersmith Library was very lucky to host a talk by Robert last week, coinciding with the publication of his first volume of memoirs, “Are You Going to do That Little Jump?”

Robert read passages from the book covering his extensive career on stage, film and TV, from his early experiences at RADA to his most recent role in director Mike Leigh’s upcoming film “Peterloo”.

Along the way we heard stories about such personalities as Richard Burton, Gilbert Harding, Spike Milligan, and Leonard Rossiter (in particular the classic “Gasman” scene in Rising Damp; a perfect example of great comedic timing!)

Thanks to Robert for his wonderfully entertaining talk from all of us here at Hammersmith Library.

David, Hammersmith Library

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Wartime memories

Armistice Day is commemorated on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year. Around this time, and of course on Remembrance Sunday itself, many people remember relatives who lost their lives in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts.

There are several websites where you can find numerous records of your ancestors, including Forces War Records, Genes Reunited, Find My Past and Ancestry (which you can access for free in the library). The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has an excellent website that is very helpful in locating graves of military relatives who died during both World Wars.

The BBC also have a superb website entitled WW2 People’s War which contains memories written by the public, several of which relate to our borough. The co-authors of one of the stories which is entitled ‘A Teenager’s Life in the Second World War’ were Joan and Charles Blake, who at one time ran the Shepherds Bush Historical Society.

And of course our libraries and archives are a rich source of books and valuable information about both World Wars.

WW2 identity card

As you get older and your grandparents and parents die and you realise that you had so many questions that you didn’t ask. So websites, like the BBC one, can often fill in gaps. But it is also a very useful exercise to write down some of the memories of your elder relatives for future generations to read.

So I thought that I would share just a few wartime memories of my late parents.
My mother’s father died 4 months before the start of WW2 leaving my grandmother with four children to care for. With the onset of war and with rationing to contend with, times were very hard. Even with five living in a small house she took in several lodgers to bring in much needed money.

My mother told me that grandmother also had various ways in which to make the ration points go further. Biscuits were sold loose from large tin boxes and she would buy the broken ones that were considerably cheaper. Bakers would sell cheap day old bread and she would wrap them in damp tea towels and put them in the oven to make them soft inside with a crispy crust. They even broke through the concrete in the back yard to reveal a small patch of earth to enable them to grow tomatoes.

Ration book for clothing

Prior to the start of WW2 my father had a very bad accident whilst working on the building of the White City Estate. His injuries put him out of work for around 18 months and as a consequence he was unfit when the war commenced.

My mother and her sister who were both teenagers and were doing war work at T C Jones, which was part of George Cohen’s 600 Group, in Wood Lane, Shepherds Bush. My father’s brother was also working there and when my father recovered from his accident he worked alongside his brother. The two brothers paired up with the two sisters and they went on to marry in 1943 and 1944 respectively.

My mother was a welder constructing sections for Bailey Bridges and she often joked that she earned more money than my father who was a general labourer.

George Cohen 600 Group

The above photo, taken in the 1950s, shows the George Cohen 600 Group headquarters and works. The headquarters building in the foreground is now offices for UGLI and the works area behind is currently under development. The area to the right is part of the new John Lewis development at Westfield.

Everyone old enough to work tended to work long hours during the day and then were often kept awake by the bombing through the night. Sometimes after working all day my father had do a stint of fire watching.

As with most of London, Shepherds Bush had some very bad bombing. There were direct hits on the Telegraph Pub at Shepherds Bush Green and the Sun Pub in the Askew Road, Blaxland House on the White City Estate, the Cleverley Estate in Wormholt Road and Westville Park School.

The Telegraph Pub, Shepherds Bush Green

That generation saw many gruesome sights; one day when she walking past a still smouldering bombed out house my mother noticed a severed finger complete with ring lying on the road. She pointed it out to an ARP warden who carefully took charge of it.

But there were funny incidents too; one neighbour recalls just arriving home when the sirens went off. With her sister they ran into the newly built communal air raid shelter, only to look up and realise the roof had not yet been put on.

As the war went on many residents became blasé and didn’t bother to take shelter during bombing raids. The cinema was a popular pastime and very often a film would be stopped to warn the audience that an air raid was in progress. Some would leave to take cover but most waited for the film to resume.

Not only did the blackouts create problems for getting around at night, the London smog added to the problem. One night my mother with her sisters and some friends went to the cinema in Acton. By the time they came out they literally could not see their hands in front of their faces. They started walking using shop fronts, fences, railings and brick walls to feel their way home to Shepherds Bush. But when they got to Bromyard Avenue the road curved round towards the Ministry of Pensions and they ended up going round and round in circles. A man called out ‘can I help you?’. It turned out that he was blind and he had no problem guiding them all the way home.

People tried to carry on with life the best they could. Most of the fit young men were away fighting so there was a real shortage of male interest for the young teenage girls. Apparently there was a small Italian internment camp in Becklow Road and lots of the local girls spent hours trying to chat to the young Italian prisoners.

In preparation for D Day on 6 June 1944, the country was flooded with American and Canadian soldiers. They could often be found mingling with the locals in many of the Shepherds Bush pubs. And after closing time parties often continued in local houses.
The war in Europe finally ended on 2 September 1945, four days before my mother’s 21st birthday.

Peter Trott
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer

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My memories of the White City Stadium

In a previous article I wrote about my family traditions of organising street parties in Shepherds Bush. And in another article I wrote about the 1908 Olympic Games that were held at the White City Stadium.

One of my earliest childhood memories is being at a 1953 street party organised by my parents. And by coincidence my other early memory is being at the Searchlight Tattoo at the White City stadium.

Searchlight Tattoo

Souvenir Programme – 1953

 

As a small boy the stadium was massive and I remember in the pitch darkness a flying saucer picked out by searchlights descended from the roof to land in the centre of the arena. I was not scared but it impressed me so much that even after 60+ years I can still picture it.

For the 1908 Olympics the centre of the stadium was used for field events (note the swimming pool on the right). Surrounding the field was the running track and also a cycle track. The following postcard gives you an idea of just how imposing the stadium was:

Franco British Stadium

I went to Christopher Wren Secondary Modern School (now the Phoenix Academy) and in the 1960s our yearly sports days were held at the stadium. I think that at one stage the stadium’s official seating capacity was 93,000 and our school of around 1,500 boys was pretty well lost in the stadium.

Although the stadium staged some very large and very important athletic meetings I don’t actually remember going to one, although I do remember going to at least one of the International Horse Shows.

Greyhound racing was hugely popular and the White City was home for the English Greyhound Derby, the Greyhound Grand National and the Greyhound Oaks, Although too young to bet I do remember going to several of the charity gala events. Between races film and TV stars would parade around the track. In 1964 there was a film called the Yellow Rolls Royce and in one of the following years it was driven around the running track with celebrities on board, one of which was Barbara Windsor.

It was at one of these meetings that I first encountered something called a hamburger. A company called Wimpy had a stall selling these unfamiliar fast food snacks. This was around 10 years before the first McDonalds opened in the UK. However, my favourite was a ‘Doozledog’ which was a 12” long hotdog. The seller walked around the stadium carrying a large wooden box, hung from his neck by a leather strap, shouting ‘get your Doozledogs here!’ It was the only place I ever saw them sold and I often wonder if they were really as tasty as I remember.

Stadium Guide

Hammersmith Borough Guide from the 1960s

 

A next door neighbour used to work as a steward on dog race nights and when I became old enough to bet I remember winning handsomely on a tip he gave our family for the Greyhound Derby.

In my late teens and early twenties there were too many other distractions and I went many years without setting foot in the stadium. One day in 1976 I was suddenly made redundant. Luckily in those days it was pretty easy to find a job, and in many cases you didn’t even need to have any experience. I sent off a numerous applications to a very wide variety of jobs, several of which called me for interview. One of those jobs was to be the Assistant Greyhound Racing Manager at the White City Stadium.

It was a strange interview somewhere in the bowels of a deserted very quiet stadium. Strangely, the Manager interviewed me wearing his bedroom slippers. The job would entail checking the dogs racing ‘passports’, overseeing weigh-ins and working on race nights.

Shortly after attending several interviews I was offered two very different jobs; the one at the White City Stadium and one in the Fingerprint Department at Scotland Yard. I took the latter as it seemed more exciting and glamorous.
Had I taken the job at the White City I would have found myself redundant once again when the Stadium closed in 1984.

As over 30 years have passed, many of you probably have no idea where the stadium stood so this map shows the location on the junction of Westway and Wood Lane.

Stadium Area Map

Stadium Location

By Peter Trott
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer

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Poor but loyal – the Coronation of King George VI

We are very lucky to have a dedicated team of Archives and Local Studies volunteers; this piece was written by one of them –

In 1937, as the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth celebrated the Coronation of King George VI, Fulham’s local newspapers found plenty of enthusiasm among local residents. Despite the harsh economic climate houses were festooned in red, white and blue, and many communities organised street parties. Interestingly. as the Fulham Chronicle noted, ‘it was the humbler folk that made the grander display of patriotism’. Walham Avenue’s banner read ‘POOR BUT LOYAL’

 

On the day of the Coronation (Wednesday 12 May) Fulham Borough Council laid on a fete at Hurlingham Polo Ground with a multitude of activities and free amusements, especially for children.  ‘On the occasion of the Coronation,’ declared my father (Cllr Morgan Phillips), who was organising the event, ‘we hope to bring some colour into the lives of the people of this borough’.

He and his committee had arranged for colour but not for good weather. To quote the Chronicle:

‘On Monday the ground was soft but with two good days it would have been in excellent trim for the great celebration. And then came Tuesday’s deluge. Lorries bringing the required goods and appliances began to churn the ground at the entrance in Peterborough Road. It was not long before the workers were ankle deep in mud. Consequently the lorries had to remain outside and everything had to be carried from the entrance to wherever in the field it was required.’

In spite of the difficulties the fete was ready on time. The first event was a donkey race, the two jockeys being my father and the Fulham Mayor, Alderman Chris Lancaster. Two decades later my father recalled it for me:

‘Unfortunately the two donkeys provided were used to walking together and did not understand the concept of a race. When prodded one would bound forward then wait for its partner. My main anxiety was to stay in the saddle during these periodic leaps, especially with hundreds of children watching. The race ended in a dead heat and I dismounted with relief.’

I did not attend the fete, which took place two years before I was born, but my sister Gwyneth, then six years old, presented a bouquet to Mrs Lancaster the Mayoress. It was one of Gwyneth’s first public appearances but she never suffered as I did from shyness. She later became an MP under her married name Gwyneth Dunwoody.

The children’s races occupied much of the afternoon and the Mayor awarded 150 prizes before the rain fell once more. There was enough free food for 15,000 youngsters and though some were deterred by the weather the attendance including adults exceeded 30,000. A torrential downpour finally brought the proceedings to an early finish, which meant that the firework display was postponed.

The street parties were held on various days right up to Whit Monday 17 May.  Fulham Court raised £100 (perhaps worth £3000 today) for its outdoor celebrations. No fund-raising was needed for Tamworth Street, where Mr Albert Moss paid for everything from his own pocket. Mr H Shell provided all the refreshments for Cassidy Road, including an enormous cake that took him ten hours to make.

For Whit Monday the Council had arranged the crowning of the May Queen in Bishops Park followed by a fancy dress parade involving hundreds of children. My father had better luck this time. The Air Ministry correctly promised a dry afternoon and there was no rain on the parade. As the winning fancy dress costumes were announced my father and his committee noticed the disappointed faces around them, and rushed to the pavilion to buy chocolates so that every entrant would receive a prize. Though there was a shower at 5 o’ clock the fine evening allowed the firework display to go ahead at last.

The 12 May had originally been earmarked for the Coronation of Edward VIII, and some of the decorations had been recycled with GR painted over ER. Edward still had his supporters. One Brecon Road house displayed his picture in the window with the message ‘Good luck, old comrade’. And the poor but loyal inhabitants of Walham Avenue organised yet another street party, this time to celebrate the wedding of Edward and Mrs Simpson on the 3rd June – by which date Fulham was experiencing a heat wave.

Most of this information comes from the Fulham Chronicle, which is available on microfilm in the Hammersmith & Fulham Archives at Hammersmith Library. The photographs show the cover of the souvenir programme; my father greeting the Mayor at Hurlingham Club; the donkey ‘race’; and the Betty Jordan of Kimbell Gardens being crowned as May Queen.

 

Photographs of the celebrations were collected for an album to be stored at Fulham Central Library. This album appears no longer to exist. Perhaps it was damaged because the individual pictures were later copied and placed in archive files. This means that people can check the index of the Archives to see if their street’s celebration is featured.

 

Morgan Phillips, Archives and Local Studies volunteer

 

 

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Volunteer with us this summer

Looking for something to do this summer? We are looking for volunteers to help deliver the Summer Reading Challenge in our libraries. Young people (14 to 25 year olds) are especially welcome to apply to volunteer.

The Summer Reading Challenge is a national reading initiative which encourages children to read for fun over the summer holidays.

The combination of fun, freedom, and creativity impacts significantly on children’s reading levels and confidence. Taking part in the challenge helps prevent the ‘summer reading dip’ which can occur when children are at home over the long summer break and, without reading opportunities, lose confidence in their reading.

We’ve had some fantastic volunteers, who’ve really helped make a difference and had some fun too. Here’s what a couple of them had to say –

If I had to sum up my volunteering as a Summer Reading Challenge Mentor, I would say the experience definitely made my summer! During the holidays, there’s a lot of time but not much to do. So what did I do? I took on the opportunity to be a Mentor and I loved it so much I volunteered at the same library again for 2 summers! Being a Reading Challenge Mentor is huge fun – you get to interact with young kids and really get a understanding of what books they enjoy. From science fiction to books about jam sandwiches (yes, there’s a book on that!), reading can be extremely exciting if you find the right book! I had a truly great time meeting with  young readers but also working alongside the friendliest staff around! The library staff are so welcoming and I truly enjoyed my volunteering . If you love reading and want to make a difference – this is the opportunity for you!

I had the pleasure of spending two summers in libraries around West London supporting the summer reading challenge. I loved interacting with all of the children and helping them to explore new genres and authors. Assisting with the planning and facilitation of arts and crafts sessions was definitely a highlight of mine. I also enjoyed helping to create in library displays to showcase the children’s work. I have always been passionate about helping children and young people. My work with the challenge inspired me to pursue a career within the education and charity sectors.  I would encourage anybody to take part in this programme, it was an amazing experience and has been an asset to my CV.

For more information or for an application form, email: Mandy.Charles@lbhf.gov.uk or ask for an application form at your local LBHF library.

Nick, Tri-borough Libraries Children’s Services Manager

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City of Stories – celebrating London’s writers and readers

We are very fortunate to be part of Spread the Word’s City of Stories project that invites Londoners to pick up their pens and create new stories. Spread the Word is London’s writer development agency.

To help these stories to be written, over 40 free writing workshops took place in libraries across the capital earlier this month. All were welcome to attend – whether they’d written stories already or were just starting out – and hundreds of people have got involved.

Nick Field

Writer and performer, Nick Field held two fully booked flash fiction writing workshops at Hammersmith Library. The sessions were very interactive, involving periods of writing along with lively discussions about what makes a good story.

Nick in action

All those who attended  have the opportunity to enter a competition run by Spread the Word. If their story wins, it will be published in the City of Stories booklet.

Another part of the City of Stories project, four London boroughs have their own writers-in-residence: Courttia Newland, Alex Wheatle, Bidisha and Irenosen Okojie. They were commissioned to write a short story inspired by their residency.

The stories have been made into beautiful films and celebrate different parts of London across different timelines; from the Dickensian era to modern-day, exploring – in intricate detail – the lives of everyday Londoners. Take a look –

David, Hammersmith Library

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Exploring other worlds with our children – it’s National Bookstart Week 2017

This week (Monday 5 to Sunday 11 June 2017), is National Bookstart Week and this year is an extra special celebration as Bookstart is 25 years old!

BookTrust, the organisation that administers the Bookstart programme, encourages children and families to read more. Over these 25 years, they have gifted more than 34 million books to children.

Bookstart currently gives free books and resources to every child in England and Wales, at two key ages before school, to help inspire a love of books and encourage shared reading.

This year’s special National Bookstart Week book is Ellie Sandall’s Everybunny Dance and many libraries will be reading this story and special rhymes to do with the great outdoors.  We have many copies of this book to give away.

Libraries are running special events to celebrate for babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and their families around this year’s theme, ‘Let’s Explore Outdoors!’

Tuesday 6, Thursday 8, and Friday 9 June, 10.30am to 11am at Hammersmith Library
Join us for our special under 5s sessions – and pick up a free book and set of rabbit ears!

10.30 – 11.00 am FREE

Wednesday 7 June, 10.30am to 11.30am at Fulham Library
We’ll be sharing our favourite rhymes and stories and you can also make some bunny ears to take home!

Don’t worry if you can’t make this session, we also run regular events for the under 5s every week across the borough.

It’s never too young to share a story or a rhyme with your young ones so come along have some fun and start or continue your child’s journey to a life of reading for pleasure. Sharing stories is of huge benefit to children, particularly when done from an early age.

Children who regularly have books shared with them benefit in lots of ways:

  • better emotional health
  • children develop longer attention spans and wider vocabularies
  • it builds their language skills
  • and in the long term helps them to be better readers and learners.

All this by sharing a book together for a few minutes each day. Just 10 minutes spent sharing a story with a child each day can have a lasting impact.

You can hear Lauren Laverne read Everybunny Dance on the Bookstart website.

Nick Fuller
Tri-borough Libraries Children’s Services Manager

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