This particular London Shoes blog is rather special – as it is certainly one of the most enjoyable and interesting of the 300+ blogs I’ve published on the London Shoes website (& Facebook page) to date.
As any follower or reader of London Shoes work will know, all my blog postings are accompanied by literally hundreds of supporting photographs.
Within these photos, there are many that are of ‘Listed’ buildings.
A ‘Listed’ building is one that’s protected by certain laws to ensure that every effort is made to preserve the building. Any buildings with a ‘Listed’ status cannot be demolished, extended or altered, without special permission.
So – imagine my delight when, in March this year, London Shoes received an e-mail from a lovely lady by the name of ‘Marion’ who informed me that she had actually lived in a specific ‘Listed’ building that she had seen in one of my London Shoes blog.
In July 2019 Shoes’ published a blog entitled “Bow-London E3-its amazing History & Historic Landmarks”. Within that particular blog content, I had mentioned and photographed a pre-Victorian building known as ‘Pelican Cottage’ – an old residential house in ‘Fairfield Road’ Bow – it’s a building that has survived over 200 years’ worth of massive social change, industrial revolution, WW2 bombings plus all the extensive redevelopment that has taken place in the buildings and streets surrounding it – and is still in situ and use to this very day.
Marion told me that she had lived at Pelican Cottage with her family, for 13 years from 1953 until 1967, from the age of 7 to 20, when she married and moved away. Marion never returned to Pelican Cottage & Bow again, once her family had moved away the following year in 1968.
So – Marion was absolutely delighted early this year, when browsing the internet, to stumble across London Shoes ‘Bow’ blog, and to find that Pelican Cottage, the happy family home that she grew up in, and had assumed would have been demolished long ago – was actually still standing and had been mentioned and photographed in the ‘Bow’ blog.
Following her initial e-mail contact, Marion then very kindly shared with me, a number of wonderful photos of Pelican Cottage during her time there.
To actually be contacted by someone who physically lived in a ‘Listed’ property that I had covered-off in one of my blogs, was an exciting ‘first’ for London Shoes. Feeling that this was just too good an opportunity to let go, I asked Marion if she would be happy for me to produce a blog of her memories of growing up in Pelican Cottage. Marion is a private person, with absolutely no involvement or interest whatsoever in ‘social media’ – and although reluctant at first, Marion was happy to share her ‘story’, after we agreed on how interesting and educational it would be to capture and share this particular amazing ‘snapshot’ of social history
So – following weeks of ‘fact-finding’ e-mail traffic between myself and Marion – along with me spending a couple of days out on-the-road in Bow photographing all the numerous landmarks/locations relating to Marion’s ‘story’ – followed by hours of us collectively ‘proof reading’ the material – it is London Shoes honour, privilege and pleasure to present and publish:-
“Pelican Cottage-Bow-London E3……..Marion’s story”
Hello – I’m Marion and this is my story……
I was born in 1946, and for the first 7 years of my life I lived in Barking with my Mum-Ethel, my Dad-Dick and my older brother-Alan.
My Dad had worked for a company by the name of ‘William Press & Sons Ltd.’ since 1929; it was a civil engineering firm with a Depot situated in Fairfield Road, Bow, London E3. I can’t be absolutely certain, but I understand they were involved with the construction of PLUTO, ‘Pipe Line Under the Ocean’, but I am certain that they were known for ‘digging holes in roads’, I believe in connection with laying pipework.
The move to Pelican Cottage:
In 1953 my Dad was promoted to Yard Foreman at the Bow Depot of William Press Ltd.
Within the site there was a residential property called ‘Pelican Cottage’, the address then was 94 Fairfield Road, Bow, and so that year my family moved into the William Press & Sons premises.
I don’t remember the move being any problem for me, but for my brother Alan it was quite a big deal, he was 13 and was still going to be attending his school, Park Modern Secondary travelling back to Barking each day.
The layout of Pelican Cottage -(1953 to1967):
As Pelican Cottage was situated inside the William Press Ltd site, we just went out into the yard from our front or back garden gate, then out through the yard gates onto the street during working hours, and used the small side door alongside the main gates after hours.
Although in effect we had two front doors, we only ever used the back door; everyone came and went that way. In fact, I never had a need for a door key until I married in 1967 when I had my own front door!
At first sight, Pelican Cottage seemed to have been built in 3 stages – from its Fairfield Road frontage down Douro Street towards the back garden, each stage with a slightly different roof level.
Beneath the house there were cellars of a fair size that were apparently used as air raid shelter during WW2 by family living there at that time. These cellars could be reached from both inside and outside the house.
The ground floor room with its unusual oval window was used as an office by the Manager of the Depot, with a further room beyond also for his use.
The room above the office was Mum and Dad’s bedroom and the room beyond theirs was used as tv/sitting room by the family. The small window was the bathroom with basin and bath, the toilet was downstairs. Behind the front door was a nice sized hall, but we never actually used this door. This section of the house could best be described as a two up/two down but with cellars.
The second ‘stage’, which appeared to have been added going out towards the back garden at another time, was about six stairs down and had two bedrooms.
Down another flight of stairs which turned back into the main building brought us to the ‘office rooms’. These were accessible from our side but were always kept locked. In due course both these office rooms were vacated and became our front room and Mum’s ‘sewing room’.
Down another short flight of stairs and we could access the cellar door, a small hall and ‘our’ front door, again never used!
From the hall we went into our main living room where we ate, gathered and generally lived, this room was beneath the two bedrooms that were in the second ‘stage’.
In the third ‘stage’ were the kitchen/scullery, toilet, small hall and back door.
I believe that the original lay-out of Pelican Cottage dates back to the early 1800s when the house was first built – and as I’ve said, it would appear that throughout the decades additional stages were added.
My early memories of Pelican Cottage:
I do remember being excited when we first moved in because I had the bedroom that was bigger than my brother, although in later years we swapped and I had the smaller bedroom with the bay window overlooking the back garden.
As a youngster I was excited by the yard and all the comings and goings, the lorries, the carpenters shop, the piles of wood and the huge piles of builder’s sand. I was always in trouble for playing in the sand when the yard was closed, because my white ankle socks would be bright orange when I went back indoors, or having splinters that needed removing if I’d been climbing on the stacks of wood.
Sammy, our much loved dog, wasn’t allowed to have the run of the yard when it was closed because the petrol and diesel spillages from the lorries, burnt his foot pads quite badly on the one occasion he did manage to escape!! He was however quite happy being in the front garden because Dad had cut a hole ‘Sammy head size’ for him to poke his head out so that he could watch all the comings and goings, often getting a fuss and having his ears scratched from anyone who happened to be in the yard and passing by.
Once the gates were closed for the day, we had the run of the yard even if Sammy didn’t!
We were never allowed to have fireworks due to the petrol, diesel, oil and wood stored in the yard, especially after the one and only time when Dad did relent and we had a few in the back garden, we sent a rocket up and it went straight through the little bedroom bay window where Mum was sitting watching with the dog – Dad wasn’t best pleased, Mum even less. Fortunately no injuries!
Drey horses used to be pulled up in Douro Street alongside the railings by Pelican Cottage for a break after delivering supplies to the local pubs. Those big, beautiful horses would come rumbling down the street and because every street had cobble stones back then you could always hear them coming, they made quite a noise. They would have names like ‘Thunder & Lightening’, ‘Pride & Prejudice’, always names that ‘linked’. I understand that originally William Press Ltd. had horses in our yard to pull the supply carts, although they were long gone by the time we moved there.
A little way down Tredegar Road was the railway goods depot and whenever one of the trains left the depot it passed under the road immediately where the house stood, the noise was quite noticeable and sometimes you could feel the house vibrate a little, we took no notice after living there a while, visitors found it slightly alarming the first time they experienced it!
One night there was a huge fire in the Goods Depot opposite the yard, I remember the flames and heat being so fierce, we could feel the heat from behind our windows
Thinking back, it must have been really strange for both Mum and Dad, having him working just a few yards away opposite the house in the Site Office and coming in for breakfast and lunch.
All our friends would come in the back door and if we weren’t in evidence, they had permission to work their way upstairs calling out until someone answered, they were then usually issued with the request ‘to put the kettle on’ before coming up to where we were. (Dad would have spotted them coming in the yard and knew them all so there was never any risk).
I loved living and growing up in Pelican Cottage, my brother and I would often talk about our childhood days there and how different it was to our friends’ houses.
My memories of the streets surrounding Pelican Cottage:
As well as the railway goods depot nearby there were rows of terraced houses in the streets around, some of them a bit posher than ours, but looking at Geoff’s recent photos from the ‘Bow’ blog, on his London Shoes website – l can see that much of the area has been replaced with blocks of flats
Just over the road from us in Tredegar Road on the corner with Parnell Road was ‘The Bridge House’ pub, I believe it was so named because the goods rail track which ran under the road necessitated a definite ‘hump’ in the road (ie a bridge of sorts), today it appears to be shown marked as a mini roundabout directly in front of Pelican Cottage.
A little further down Tredegar Road was a sweet shop/tobacconist and I think it was called ‘Diables’.
Then there was the Seaman’s Mission, I remember the front of the building always looked sort of ‘shut’, I never knew why that was but maybe it was to give privacy to the folks using it.
Further down Tredegar Road on the left hand side was ‘Neals Electrical Shop’, a bit further still and I seem to recall a United Dairy.
Tredegar is quite a long road and further down on the left is Mostyn Grove, where at the bottom of the road, was, and still is, ‘Tom Thumbs Arch’, a low bridge that we would use as a cut through under the railway line, using Malmesbury Road and Addington Road up to Bow Road. The surrounding streets are all different now, but Tom Thumbs Arch is still there today.
Before Mostyn Grove was Morville Street and a little way along this street there was a small shop, which to me back then seemed as if it had been created in the front room of the house, it was very handy for everyday needs, milk, bread etc. I don’t remember whether it had a name, I think we just referred to it as ‘the dairy’ or the ‘corner shop’ although it wasn’t actually on the corner.
On the right hand side of Tredegar Road, past Parnell, Usher, Vernon Road’s and a few others (it’s a long road!) you reached St. Stephens Road, we would turn right up it until the junction with Roman Road. Alternatively we would walk up Parnell, which was just over the ‘bridge’ to home, to the Roman Road junction, depending which end of the market road we wanted.
In 1953 at the age of 7, following my family’s move to Bow, I attended ‘George Lansbury School’ situated in Atley Road, this was a fair distance north of Pelican Cottage, but as with everyone else in those days, I would walk to and from school. I remember being told that my Grandad had gone to the same school.
The thing I most enjoyed was country dancing, particularly enjoyable on May Day when we had the Maypole to jig around.
Once I had my own pair of roller skates with rubber wheels, my friends and I would use the school playground during school holidays to practice as it was the smoothest, flattest surface we could find, cobble stones in the streets were not so enjoyable to skate on! (Previously I’d always borrow my brother’s skates and they had metal wheels – even worse on cobbles!!).
Looking at current day maps, it would appear that Atley Road no longer exists – (the old school site now seems to be a Screwfix Depot).
My senior school was much further afield; it was ‘John Howard Grammar School’ in Laura Place, Clapton, E5. I would catch the 208 bus from Fairfield Road, the bus stop being conveniently near home.
When I first started there I was obviously nervous, but I can remember the biggest worry I had was being unhappy with the fact that my new school blazer was far too big for me – but in those days uniforms were bought with a view to one ‘growing into it’!!!.
The school building seemed quite impressive to me, but the thing that impressed me most was a lovely wooden staircase in the entrance hall, and being told most definitely, that it was strictly out-of-bounds until such time as we were in the 6th Form.
I made some very good friends at senior school and still stay in touch with two, Sue and Val to this day. There are others whose names I still recall but have lost touch with, but still fondly remember them and our days at John Howard Grammar.
My memories – of growing up in Pelican Cottage Bow
As kids, when the weather allowed, my friends and I would always be out playing, usually in Douro Street which ran down the side of Pelican Cottage. If we heard the ‘rumble’ of the brewers drey and the sound of huge hooves hitting the cobble stones, we would drop our skipping ropes, stop sitting on the kerb, doing handstands, playing tag or whatever we were doing at the time, and wait while the horses and carts were ‘parked up’. Such huge animals, quiet and gentle, they would stand patiently until, having had a short break; they would carry on delivering to the local pubs.
Similarly, when walking past Bow Road Police Station, I would take a look at the police horses that were stabled in the yard behind the police station in Addington Road, still lovely animals but on a rather smaller scale!
‘Grove Hall Park’, in Fairfield Road going towards Bow Road, was another ‘local’ place where we could be found playing on the swings.
I was briefly in the church choir at the old St. Marks Church, St. Marks Gate, Victoria Park, not sure how I got picked for that, I think I must have been there to make up the numbers!
I attended a local dance group called ‘Bettys Babes’, the classes were held in a building at the very end of Kitcat Terrace, a street off the Bow Road, not very far from Bow Road Tube Station. We were taught the rudiments of ‘tap & acrobatics’ and on one occasion we performed at Poplar Town Hall on the corner of Fairfield and Bow Road.
Much as I loved the dancing, I did not enjoy getting splinters from the hall floor during one particular practice session, we had to do the splits as part of a can-can routine! My Dad spent some time removing them from the backs of my legs!
When I was a little older, with my friends, I would go a bit further afield to the Bethnal Green Museum and the York Hall Swimming Baths.
But the place where I probably had the most fun was Victoria Park. When the weather allowed we would go off to the park and be gone for most of the day, taking our ‘picnic’, in my case a jam sandwich and a little bottle of very diluted squash, and if I was lucky, if Mum had recently been baking, a cake.
We would spend most of our time in the playground, and a favourite piece of ‘equipment’ was ‘the maypole!, this had chains with rope loops to put your wrists through, then we would run, gathering speed until we took our feet off the ground, swinging and spinning about, it was great fun, but I was always in trouble when I got home because I would have ‘rope burns’ on my wrists so my Mum and Dad knew what I’d been up to.
Another favourite was the bandstand in Victoria Park; it was another great place to roller skate.
There was the Lido in the park but I wasn’t allowed to go there on my own at that age, and I seem to remember there was a children’s ‘animal corner at one time.
Shopping with my Mum
At the weekends I would go shopping with my Mum, usually to Roman Road where all the market stalls were, it wasn’t ‘gated’ way back then.
I remember a shop that was called ‘Caters’, and if you bought eggs they were put in a paper bag.
We would go to a hairdresser called ‘Stephens’, and I think there was a ‘Batas’ shoe shop, and another called ‘The Shoe Box’.
Sometimes we would go to Stratford to do our shopping, usually the ‘Co-Op’ which was more of a departmental store in those days, and occasionally we would stop and have a cup of tea in ‘Lyons’.
Even more exciting and rare, was getting sixpenny (old money-2.5pence today) worth of chips when we got off the bus, and eating them from the paper, sharing with Mum, as we walked back home down Fairfield Road to Pelican Cottage.
When I reached the age of 14, it was expected of me to go and get a Saturday job.
I started working in a ladies wear shop, which I think was called ‘Charmaines’, the owners also had a chemist shop near enough next door within the parade of shops, so my time was divided between the two.
The shops were located on Roman Road just along from its junction with St. Stephens Road. On the corner of these two roads I recall there was a cafe/pie & mash shop, and again close by, a betting shop.
None of us had much spare cash in those days; I only had my Saturday job wages – 21 shillings old money, – £1.05p. (9.00am – 6.00pm.)
My friends and I would mainly spend time at each other’s houses, going for walks, parks maybe, learning the current pop tunes and dance steps etc. Now and then we might go to the cinema, one was the Mile End Odeon that was directly opposite Mile End tube station, the other one which was known locally as ‘the flea pit’ or ‘the bug hole’ was The Ritz in St. Stephens Road, off Roman Road.
Although it was the ‘Swinging 60’s’, I didn’t frequent clubs or pubs in my later teenage years, my parents would not have been happy with me going to those places and anyway it wasn’t really ‘my scene’, plus by this time my boyfriend and I were trying to save up with a view to getting married.
My brother Alan had started his motor mechanic apprenticeship the same year I started senior school, so the friends he made then were always around our house from the time I was 11, the same applied with my friends and him. Our home was always ‘open house’ to our collective group of friends, and if any of them were there at meal time our Mum would just put out extra plates and share the food, we all had something to eat, just a little bit less than it might have been!
When I was considered old enough, I enjoyed riding pillion on my brothers motor bike, he was 6 years older, so Mum and Dad trusted him with keeping me safe, but I had to wear a crash helmet, it was an old one with a big peak and because the bike had dropped handlebars I used to slip forward and he would receive a jab in the back from my peak! It was exciting going through the Rotherhithe and Blackwell Tunnels, what with the engine noise bouncing off the walls and leaning into the bends…I loved it!
My brother raced his motor bikes and would travel to tracks such as Llyd, Brands Hatch, Snetterton or wherever he could compete. If his friends, and/or Dad couldn’t go with him, sometimes we (my boyfriend at the time – now my husband) would accompany him.
When it entailed an overnight stay, it was not the most comfortable place to be sleeping in the back of a Thames Van, me being the smallest squashed between my brother and hubby, when one of us wanted to turn over we all had to shift, the condensation dripping from the roof of the van was an added feature!!, and of course I got the job of cooking breakfast!
My first full-time job
In 1963 I started work as a Shorthand Typist at a Finance House in Kingsway, High Holborn, London, WC2.
To start my daily commute I would walk from Pelican Cottage, through the back streets and short cuts to Bow Road Tube Station, or, if I was lucky, my brother would give me a lift in his van to the other end of Fairfield Road and then I had a short walk along Bow Road to the station.
On my first day at work, I couldn’t believe how big the offices were, but the girls on the section I was to be on, were very kind and helpful to me, although I was puzzled that they asked me if I was ‘a temporary’, I had no idea then that staff were sometimes employed from agencies on that basis.
On day one I happened to notice a young man in the office who was to become my hubby.
My Wedding Day:
My husband Dave and I were married in February 1967 at St. Marks Church, St. Marks Gate, Victoria Park, just off Cadogan Road.
There was a minor gathering at the gates to the William Press Ltd yard and Pelican Cottage when the wedding car arrived to pick me up. Folks were used to seeing, lorries and tankers going in and out of the yard, not a beautiful shiny Daimler with white ribbons on the bonnet,……..we couldn’t afford a Rolls Royce.
With it being February and the church organist being in his 80’s, we were advised by the Curate to find somebody who could play the organ for the Service, because, if it was cold or there was snow on the ground, the poor old organist probably wouldn’t make it, as he had to cycle across the park to get to the church.
Anyway, we found out that my future mother-in-law’s – insurance man could play the organ (how that had cropped up in their conversation I’ve no idea!), so he kindly stepped in. He did come and have a dummy run just to be on the safe side and it turned out the organ had quite a few ‘bum’ notes so he had to improvise, quite a lot, on the day – it was great fun though.
Cadogan Terrace ran alongside Victoria Park, and at the far end of the Terrace was St. Augustine’s Hall, home to the Victoria Park Harriers Athletics Club, and that was where we were holding our wedding reception.
My brother Alan, who was our Best Man, was so anxious to get everybody organised and sent off from the Church to the Hall at the other end of the park that he left himself without transport to get there! Fortunately we eventually noticed he was missing and sent someone to pick him up…..no mobile phones in those days!
I found out recently that the original St. Marks Church where we were married was pulled down in the 1970s and replaced with a smaller building. I believe that it’s now a Montessori education centre.
It’s such a shame that the old St. Marks was pulled down – perhaps it never quite recovered from me being in the choir, our getting married there, or maybe the organ gave up entirely!! (or a combination of all three perhaps??).
Leaving Pelican Cottage:
Having got married, my new husband and I had a nice new maisonette to move into in Kent that we had saved up so hard to buy.
I was sad to leave the Pelican Cottage home I’d loved growing up in, and of course my family and the family’s cats – but I was excited at the prospect of having a front door key for the first time ever, or any door key for that matter – and starting a new chapter of my life.
My Dad retired not long after I got married and my family moved away and so I never had the need to ever return to Pelican Cottage.
When I moved away, what I missed most about Pelican Cottage and Bow, apart from my immediate family – were the people, the comings and goings, the business of the William Press Ltd yard, my brother building his racing bike in the hall of Pelican Cottage, him and Dad working together on the car, Alan’s van and bikes when the business yard was closed -and also packing up the van for his race days.
Throughout the years, I was always curious as to the changes being made in the Bow area, which I’d heard about or read about on the internet, but I had no wish to see for myself, as I knew that I’d be upset if my old Pelican Cottage home had been wrecked.
It was only when I happened to stumble across Geoff’s ‘London Shoes’ blog about my home town of Bow, that I became aware that my Pelican Cottage childhood home, was actually still standing, and had not been pulled down like most of the other buildings in Bow from that time– and to find out that Pelican Cottage now has a Grade II Listed protected status – pleases me even more.
Looking back I have always felt that I was so lucky living and growing up in Pelican Cottage – my surroundings were so unique and different to everyone else’s – I have only happy memories, and I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.
Thank you to Geoff’s London Shoes for making this blog happen
The above article contains only a few photos relating to “Marion’s story” – See below, the extensive gallery of photos accompanying this “Pelican Cottage…Marion’s story” blog