This is a blog that is all about a good old friend of mine ‘Derek Sparrow’. In this blog Derek tells us all about his life-story from his birth in 1939 right up until 1973, when I first met Derek – and is titled –
“The real Del Boy’s London”
Hello there – let me introduce myself – My name is Derek Sparrow – I am 81 years old – and although I am formally named ‘Derek’ I have always been known as ‘Del’.
I was born and bred in east London and I’m very much a proud East-Ender.
This is the story of my early life in the east-end, that has been put together by young ‘Geoff Clements’, a lad I first met in 1973 when he started work as a junior member of staff at Barclays Bank 839 High Road Leytonstone-London E11, where I was the ‘First Cashier’ at that time.
I was born on the 4th October 1939 in the upstairs bedroom of my parents home at number 8 Colchester Ave-Manor Park-London E12. I was their youngest child, and I had 2 older brothers.
At birth I only weighed just over 2lbs, and for the following few months I was kept and slept in a drawer of a piece of furniture in my parents bedroom, until I gained sufficient weight to be able to be placed in a cot.
My dear old mum admitted to me, later in my life, that, when she found out she was pregnant with me, she did not want a 3rd child – and so did her best to abort me, by drinking Gin and having hot baths etc
My dad was ‘Walter John Sparrow’. He had 14 brothers and sisters, who all lived in a house in Walton Road–Manor Park, until such time he married my mum – at which time they moved into a rented flat at no.1 Colchester Ave, just across the road from no.8 Colchester Ave, the house that eventually became the family home-where I was born.
My dad Walter had to scrape a living, and would ‘caddy’ for wealthy gents, at the local Wanstead Golf Course. Dad knew where all their bad shots had landed, and so would go and find all the ‘lost’ golf balls and then sell them. Times were very hard back then, and sometimes dad had to go before a Committee to try and obtain handouts to enable his family to survive-no such thing as State Aid in those days.
During WW2 my dad was an ARP Warden, and his look-out post was at St. Michael’s Church on the corner of Toronto Ave E12, and the Romford Road – just 3 streets from our Colchester Ave home.
Although I was only a nipper, I can clearly remember my dad taking me to his look-out post at the Church, and one occasion when he had to start the air-raid siren to alert the local public of an in-coming attack from German bombers – so that they could prepare to take shelter.
Later in life dad worked full-time as a steward at Wanstead Golf Club for 12 years, looking after all the wealthy members, such as doctors and lawyers etc – keeping all their golfing gear clean and tidy.
Eventually dad left his job at the Golf Course and went to work for Ford Motor Company in Dagenham. The Golf Club were sad to see him go, as they thought a lot of him there – and they gave him a glowing letter of recommendation, which some years ago I gave back to the golf club for their museum archives.
My mum was ‘Amy Georgina Robinson’. She was born in Hackney-London E8, then at some stage, her family (which also included 14 brothers & sisters) moved to Walton Road–Manor Park, where she met my dad. Mum was and remained a housewife and had no other job, other than running the family home and looking after me & my brothers.
Memories of Colchester Avenue – When walking into Colchester Ave as a youngster, I clearly remember there was a corner shop on right hand side, that we used to call “Rumbles”. It was run by a Mrs. Rumble and she used to sell hay to the horse & cart drivers, travelling along the Romford Road, doing their deliveries etc. She was a remarkable lady as she did all the loading of big heavy bundles of hay herself, and continued this for quite a number of years, until no longer able to.
The eldest ‘Rumbles’ brother was a really lovely man, and when I was young, somewhere around 5,6,7, I used to go and join him at 5am every morning to help mark-up the daily newspapers for the delivery boys, who had quite a number of rounds all around the Manor Park area.
Years later when I was about 9 or 10 one of the brothers caught me stealing comics from them – and quite rightly, I remember getting into serious trouble about that.
The shop next to ‘Rumble’s was a newsagent called “Fileks”, which was handed down by the parents of 3 brothers to run. I can clearly remember that 2 of the brothers always ended up having fist fights with each other, that sometimes spilled out into the street. Us kids used to watch their fights through the gaps in the shops door – great entertainment for us.
About 50 yards from our house – there was a small mews building, where people took scrap iron and old clothes in exchange for a few pennies. That business too was run by 3 brothers who again always seemed to end up having physical fights among themselves in the middle of the street – so amusing to us youngsters.
Further on down Colchester Ave, not far from our house, on the bend on left hand side – there was a firm called “Knott’s Wood Yard” that made furniture etc. You can still see the gap where the yard used to be, but today there are now a few residential houses built on the site.
Another clear memory I have of my childhood is that every Sunday the Salvation Army used to come to our street to play their music and preach to us.
There were very few cars around in our poor deprived area when I was a youngster, and so home deliveries were made to households for essential groceries such as flour – milk – bread etc, all delivered by horse drawn carts.
At the very eastern end of Colchester Avenue, there stood a massive milk depot. All day long the delivery horses and carts used to come in and out of the Depot, and us kids used to shovel up the horse manure off the street, and then try and sell it to the nerighbours for a few half-pennies, so they could use it for their gardens.
Today the milk depot site houses a load of council flats.
My School Years:
My first school was my Primary School and was known locally as ‘Walton Road School’ – and conveniently, it was only a few minutes walk from my Colchester Ave family home.
I was only at the Walton Road Primary School for a short while, as the place got bombed out, and so all us kids were moved across to the Fourth Avenue School, which was still an infants school. By the time I had reached junior school age, my previous Walton Road School had been rebuilt, and so we all moved back over to there again for the rest of our schooling. By that time the ‘Walton Road School’ had been re-named ‘The Jack Cornwall School’ – named after a ‘local’ lad who had lied about his age to join the Royal Navy, and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravely manning his ship’s guns, when all was lost.
Today, there are a number of landmark references to Jack Cornwall, such as street names etc – in commemoration of his bravery.
I attended The Jack Cornwall School from the age of 11 until 15 years old – at which time I left for good and started full-time employment.
Growing Up – Memories:
Every Sunday I used to have to attend St. Michael’s Church in Toronto Rd at its junction with the Romford Road (the church that had been my dad’s look-out post, when he was an ARP Warden in WW2) and had to listen to the Reverend Webb’s sermons.
Near the bottom end of Colchester Avenue, there was an opening to a narrow alley-way, known locally as the ‘Butts’. This alley went under the railway bridge on which trains to and from Liverpool Street in the City of London would travel back and forth. The Butts pathway went right through to the far corner of the massive City of London Cemetery – and then further on to ‘Wanstead Flats’, an area of public grassland that was the ‘playground’ for all us east-end kids.
As kids we used to play on the sand hills of Wanstead Flats, and used to go across its pond to a little island in the middle of the lake. Many families used to have picnics on the ‘Flats’. Also situated on Wanstead Flats, there used to be a bandstand, with brass bands playing at weekends. Even after the end of WW2 for a few years, barrage balloons could still be seen floating in the skies above the ‘Flats’.
My mates and I would always be playing football on the ‘Flats’, sometimes up until 10pm at night, and would often get ‘a-clip-round-the earhole’ for staying out late, and worrying our parents.
Apart from Wanstead Flats, the other local ‘playgrounds’ where me and my young mates would ‘hang-out’ were Wanstead Park – Valentines Park in Ilford & Barking Park just down the road from Ilford. Also – us youngsters (including the girls) used to play on the old “bomb sites” scattered throughout the local streets close to my Colchester Avenue home.
As a youngster, all I only ever to wanted to do was play football, usually in our street (until we broke somebody’s window that is). Very few cars around in those days.
I became captain of the school football team- as I was lucky enough, although being quite small in height and size, to be born with a natural talent where most sports where concerned. Other than football and sport, I had no real hobbies as such, but I did like girls!!!.
I clearly remember the day when the old King died – my abiding memory of that day was me and my mates walking home from Jack Cornwell School at the end of the days lessons, and an older guy we knew, going the opposite way called us across the road to specifically tell us the news, his words were “Your King has died” – its funny the things you remember.
I also used to really enjoy going to ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ with my friends. I loved all the cowboy films starring Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, and also the cartoons of Tom and Jerry etc. One outstanding memory I have is of going with my parents to see Tarzan films, Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and his chimp sidekick. The queues for the cinema used to be massive, and there used to be a uniformed doorman at the front of the cinema, to allow you in. Interestingly, my Saturday Morning Pictures cinema eventually became a Bingo Hall, with card tables. My eventual wife Ann worked as a croupier on one of the tables, and once even acted as bingo caller there.
Another childhood memory that has always stuck in my mind, is just after the war, when quite a few American Servicemen started visiting Manor Park & the East End – and because I was a skinny, ginger haired kid, they seemed to quite like me, and would give me chewing gum and sweet treats, plus the odd coin or two.
When I was about 7or 8 me and my mates would play marbles in the gutters of Colchester Avenue. Not being essentially health conscious in those days, we used to pick up cigarette dog-ends discarded in the gutters, and then smoke them (nearly everybody smoked in those days). At that time my dad was working night shifts at ‘Ford Motors Co’ in Dagenham, and would often have a smoke before he went to bed in the mornings – so I would often smoke his dog ends when there was nobody else around.
As a young teenager at The Jack Cornwall School, I would rush home – buy 10 cigarettes & then go to the cinema, known locally as the ‘Flea Pit’, that was situated between Grantham Rd and Walton Road. There was a pub next door, which at that time was the local drinking den for my mum, dad, aunts and uncles – so I had to keep my wits about me, to make sure I didn’t get caught out.
My Uncle was the landlord of the “Golden Fleece” pub in Capel Rd, right on the southern edge of the Wanstead Flats common ground.
After the WW2 when I was about 7 or 8, my parents and extended family members, used to often go to my Uncle’s pub for family gatherings and get-togethers – where there would be ‘after hours drinking’ in his large flat upstairs above the pub. During that time, all the players from West Ham United would be there, so it was great for me, meeting all my heroes.
Working Years: – I left school at 15 and went to work at ‘Selwyn Press Printers’ in Plashet Grove-E.6
My salary was £2 a week, from which my mum took £1.10 housekeeping, leaving me with only 10 shillings to last me the whole week, from which I had to pay my bus fare and my nights out ‘on the town’.
My job at the Printers was to emboss freshly printed flyers by putting them through a machine, which if you did not put it in straight, the material caught fire. I was so nervous and shy in those days, so there were many times when I did set these flyers on fire. I also had to take all the printed stuff to the Finishing Room before it was sent out to clients. This Finishing Room was staffed by all girls. I’d never really ever had anything to do with girls before, having gone to an all-boys school and having no sisters. So I hated going in there, as I used to blush like mad. I only lasted about 6 weeks at the Printing firm, when my brother who was 15 years older than me, said there was a vacancy for a post boy where he had worked – the CWS (Co-op Wholesale Society) in Leman Street–Aldgate-London E1.
When I handed in my resignation at the printers, the bosses offered me a rise of 5 shillings a week to stay – but I had decided to join my brother, as the wage at the CWS was about was £3 a week.
As a ‘post-boy’ at the CWS, I had to take internal post to the typing pool, where there were about 30 young girls worked. Again I hated it, as I was still shy and had no confidence in myself. I stayed at the Co-Op for about 18 months, before deciding to leave, as I was always being told I was not up to the standard of my elder brother.
A close friend of mine from school, worked at a stockbroking firm called ‘Osborne-Smith’ based up near the old London Stock Exchange building in the City. One day he was asked by his employers to try and recruit someone who had gone to the same school as him, as the stock broking firm needed a new junior. My friend asked me if I would be interested, and I jumped at the chance, to commute each day to the City, as the wage was a massive £16 a month plus 2 yearly bonuses. I could not believe that after only 6 weeks working there, it was bonus time, and they actually gave me £15 – I was over the moon. This practice of recruiting old school mates, carried on for the next 10 years – it was a fantastic job and I really loved it there.
However, this all changed when the then Labour won the General Election, and started stinging all the rich people, like pop stars etc, with 90p in the £1 income tax – which then resulted in a mass exodus of skilled people such as doctors, consultants and innovative entrepreneurs leaving the country – which had a massive negative impact of the stockbroking business as a whole.
By this time it was the mid 1960’s and I had 2 small children Carol & Gary, and needed to earn more money to enable me to provide for my growing family.
At that time, my brother-in-law worked at the Ford Motor Co. in Dagenham and he told me that Ford’s needed semi-skilled staff for their production lines. Although it was unsociable night-shift work, that was totally alien to me, it was too good a job to turn down as it was good money. Every other week I was paid time-and-a-half rate, plus 2 hours per day overtime. Saturday overtime and time and a half – Sunday mornings was double time. I was only at my new job with Fords for about 6 weeks, when much to the dismay of men who had been working there for 20 years or so, I was given a cushy, although boring job, that they had all wanted – so I wasn’t the most popular bloke on the production line – but it was good money, which I wasn’t in a position to turn down.
Doing night-shift work at Ford’s was a killer though. When I used to come home from a night-shift, I envied all the people I saw all dressed up going to work, while I was going off to bed – and so I asked my wife Ann to look in the Evening Standard job adverts, and to keep her eye out to see if any Banks were recruiting.
It was now 1967. and after about 16 months at Fords, I answered an advert by Barclays Bank who were looking for new clerks, and so I attended an interview and got accepted.
With my stockbroker experience, I fully expected to be selected for a City branch…….but instead I got 839 High Road-Leytonstone-London E11 – and the rest, as they say, is history, because that’s where I remained until I took voluntary redundancy in 1992.
When I worked at Barclays–Leytonstone, I often used to go to my uncles pub, the Golden Fleece at Wanstead Flats (as mentioned above) for lunch with my work colleagues. I was very much a law unto myself in those days, and it was not uncommon for me to ‘stretch’ my lunch break to 2 hours or more!!!
As a teenager – my main recreational venue was the ‘Ilford Palais’ located in Ilford High Road, where heavyweight golden-boy boxer Billy Walker was a bouncer – and Jimmy Saville was the manager.
Monday nights at the Ilford Palais was the main night for records to be played, and dancing to be had – but not by me I’m afraid, as I was far too shy. On Saturday nights at the Palais there was always a band playing and the place was always packed to the rafters.
Fights were always breaking out at the Ilford Palais, but I kept out of the way of them – although one of my older brothers always loved a good fight and was often involved in them in one way or another, especially when it came to sorting out the notorious ‘Canning Town Gang’.
Because the Ilford Palais didn’t sell alcohol to the likes of me & my mates, we often used to get a ‘pass’ out of the Palais, and go over the other side of Ilford High Road to the General Haverlock pub, as the bar staff there were far more lenient to us under-aged drinkers.
In Woodgrange Road, off the Romford Road and just down the road from my Colchester Avenue home – there was another nightclub/dance hall, that was only open for one year, but in that short time, the activities that took place there, the bands that played there and the characters who frequented the place, meant the venue has gone down in the archives of history. The ‘Upper Cut’ Club was owned by George Walker, the older brother of British Heavyweight contender ‘Billy Walker’ (who I knew when he was a ‘bouncer’ on the door of the Ilford Palais). George Walker went on to be the head of the massive Brent Walker business empire, prolific throughout London in the 1970’s & 80’s.
In its short life, the Upper Cut Club hosted all the big rock/pop stars of the day (e.g. The Who – Jimi Hendrix – Otis Reading etc) – making the venue a very popular place for not just punters, but also notorious London gangster types such as the Kray Twins and other similar characters, who all wanted to be ‘seen’ out and about at the venue with Billy Walker and other ‘faces’. As a young man I only ventured to the Upper Cut a few times, as it was a place notorious for a bit of trouble, and the atmosphere could at times, be quite intimidating.
Another dance hall/club I attended regularly was the Lotus Rooms in Woodgrange Road–Forest Gate – just down the road from my family home in Colchester Ave – but again, there were always too many fights at the ‘Lotus’ for my liking – so I used to try and keep my nose clean and out of the way. Today, the Lotus Club is a Poundland store
Pubs I used to drink in:
The William the Conqueror, on the Romford Road in Manor Park – right close to my Colchester Avenue home.
In the same area was the famous Three Rabbits pub, which I frequented regularly – there was no entertainment there in those days-but in later years it went on to become one of East London’s most popular pubs for ‘live’ musical entertainment. In fact at one stage local band ‘Brian Poole & the Tremeloes’ played a residency there. Today, the Three Rabbits pub is a chemists!!
The Two Puddings pub on Stratford Broadway, just a mile or so further west, down the Romford Road– was another well-known East End drinking den that I used to regularly frequent. It was such a rough pub that it used to be know locally as the ‘Butchers Shop’ because blood was often spilled there. When I used to drink at the ‘Puddings’, there were certainly times when it could get very intimidating in there, particularly when the Krays Twins were around.
I also used to drink in the famous Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel. In fact, me & my mates were drinking in there the week before Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell in the main bar – again, it could be a very intimidating pub.
Another of my regular drinking den’s was the Coach & Horses pub near Ilford Broadway, just down the road from Ilford Police Station – My dad used to tell me the tough guys drinking in the pub, would wait for the coppers to come past on their beat, and would rough them up, it was that type of area in those days (& still is now by all accounts). A couple of the Coach & Horses regulars were caught in a sting when trying to do a very large robbery at Heathrow Airport and were jailed for a large number of years.
The Red Lion on Ilford Broadway, was probably my favourite regular ‘drinking hole’. A friend of mine from school used to be the pianist there – and also, it has special memories for me as it was where I held my stag-night there in 1962.
When I first met Ann, she was 15 and still going to Brampton School-East Ham-E.6. I had just turned 18.
A friend of mine had invited me to go on a coach trip to Clacton-on-Sea on the Essex coast, and that’s where we met.
We got married in 1962 at a church in the Barking Road, (now demolished), and had to use a friends address, because Manor Park, where I lived and East Ham where Ann lived, were not in the church’s Parish.
In those days, prior to getting married, you had to attend the church you were getting married at, 3 Sundays on the trot to hear your ‘banns’ being read by the vicar.
Leading up to the marriage you used to have go and see the vicar for 1 evening per week for about 3 weeks, and the purpose of the meeting was so he could explain to you how you made love etc.
Anyway – we had been told by our ‘already married’ friends, that the vicar would always give his talk while sitting on the floor, giving him the opportunity to look up the skirt of the bride-to-be. It turned out to be very true, because that’s exactly what he did throughout our pre-wedding meetings with him – very amusing for us.
We held our wedding reception at the School of Building–Aragon Road–East Ham-E6 where Ann’s dad was the resident caretaker. It was just round the corner to West Ham Utd football ground, so for many years my mates and I would park our cars in the playground, while we went off to watch our beloved Hammers.
To give an example of how the value of things has changed re cost – Ann & I had joint savings of £850, and £500 of that, had been put aside for the deposit for our first house at 17 Sheridan Road-Manor Park.
For our wedding reception we had a sit down 3 course meal for quite a number of relatives, and then in the evening all our friends attended for the evening buffet and free drinks – all of that, plus paying out for a small band to provide musical entertainment – cost us about £150 in total, which was quite a lot of money in those days. On top of all that we also had to fork out the costs of the bridesmaids dresses and the presents for them – the flowers and the wedding cars etc.
The money that was left over was used as deposits for the furniture & beds etc. for our new home.
Ann’s Mum & Dad were very poor, that’s why we paid for everything. Because we had no money for a honeymoon, Ann’s parents hired a caravan for us at a site in Clacton-on-Sea-Essex, costing just £10-so small but was well meant. Again, as with a lot of occurrences in my life, we experienced a funny scenario on our honeymoon. A married couple a few years older than us, latched on to us in the caravan site clubhouse, and we became friendly with them – only to find when they invited us to their house sometime later, it turned out that they were wife swappers – so that was the end of that short friendship.
As I mentioned above, I lived at 8 Colchester Ave from my birth in 1939 right up until 1962, when I got married to Ann.
In 1962, immediately after me and Ann got married, we moved into our very first home at no.17 Sheridan Road-E.12 – roughly a 10min walk from my family’s home in Colchester Ave. In 1963 our daughter Carol was born, followed by our son Gary in 1966 – both children started their life in our Sheridan Avenue home.
We lived at our 17 Sheridan Avenue home until 1973, when we finally left the east-end of London and took a big step by moving out to Basildon in Essex, where we have remained happily in the same house ever since.
Meeting Geoff: – In August 1973, this cocky, mouthy little 16 year old by the name of Geoff Clements, started as a junior at Barclays Bank 839 High Road-Leytonstone-London E11, where I was employed as ‘First Cashier’. He clearly thought he was a ‘jack-the-lad’ but I soon put him straight – and today, it is Geoff, via his ‘London Shoes’ who has taken my ‘story’ from my cradle up to that point in time. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it……………..Cheers – ‘Del’.
Footnote to “The real Del-Boy’s East London” – by Geoff Clements
As the above story says, I first met Del back in August 1973, when I started work as a junior at the Barclays Bank branch in Leytonstone-London E11.
I was just 16 years old, and like most young lads that age, I thought I knew it all. I believed that I had already been there, done that and worn the t-shirt, as they say – but I soon found out that I actually knew very little about life. Del was a generation older and had ‘been there & done it’ long before me.
Del grew up in Manor Park, just 10 mins down the road from Ilford where I grew up, and what specifically fascinated me about Del’s ‘story’ was that he had more or less experienced and frequented the same places that I went to in my youth (eg parks, football, pubs & nightclubs etc) but obviously a generation before, when quite frankly, those places appeared to be more interesting and exciting than they probably were when I frequented them.
I originally started this piece of work back at the end of January this year, and it has been put together following a string of many e-mails between Del & myself, and then a number of days with me being out ‘on-the-road’ (pre-lockdown of course) tracking down and photographing all the various ‘landmarks’ relating to Del’s past.
Del is now 81 and its fair to say that he isn’t as fit & healthy as he once was, and doesn’t get out and about as much as he would like to – and with the current situation as it is, he (as with everyone) obviously has to be particularly cautious – and so I hope that this piece of work, brings some joy, not only to Del but also the rest of his family.
Its the first time ‘London Shoes’ has ever created a blog of this kind, and it has been such great fun to do – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience & its been my pleasure…………..Geoff Clements
Below is the complete gallery of ‘all’ the photos taken, that relate to this “The Real Del Boy’s East London”