When we stumbled across these beautiful black and white photos of the Victoria Park Model Steam Boat Club from 1949, we were curious to find out the story behind them. We discovered they were taken by Sidney Rogers on his Hasselblad no less, and we spoke to his son David John Rogers about his memories of growing up on Roman Road.
David John Rogers was born in Bethnal Green Hospital in 1953. His childhood memories of living and visiting here are still strong in his mind.
‘My parents [Sidney Rogers and Marie Kendall] got married in 1949. They met each other when they were working at The Ardath Tobacco Company, which was in Worship Street in Shoreditch. Dad worked in the publicity department and mum worked in payroll’, he said.
‘Because there was such a severe housing shortage after the war with all of the bombing, many people that got married had to live with their parents. They lived with my mum’s parents, the Kendalls, at 347 Roman Road.’ This is where Rogers spent his infant years. You may know it more recently as the pet shop, Hounds of Bow.
He recalls these early days with affection. ‘Just before I was born, London was enduring the last of the chemical smogs. An awful lot of people died. My mum always had a thing about fresh air. As a baby, I was wheeled around Victoria Park in a pram every day, regardless of the weather.’
Looking at the photos posted by Rogers, his father’s photographic talent shines through. ‘My dad started as an amateur photographer and then got some jobs as a professional. The Victoria Park Model Steam Boat Club met every Sunday morning and he took quite a few photos of their activities. At that time, he had a really good Swedish camera, a Hasselblad. He must have saved up for donkey’s ages for it.’
This prized possession soon had to be sold. ‘In 1955 we moved to Stevenage because dad got a job with English Electric. Because it was a new town, he had quite a journey into work. Reluctantly, he sold his Hasselblad camera and bought a moped’, Rodgers says with a regretful tone. Despite being uncertain about the specific date of each photo, he knows that they must span between 1949 to 1955, as this is when his father owned the beloved camera.
Rogers and his parents moved back to East London in 1960. ‘Then, we were living at 11 Driffield road with my grandparents. You used to be able to walk straight through it, from Roman Road to Old Ford Road’.
‘I went to Chisenhale Primary School. At 11 Driffield road, we were back living with my nan and grandad. We were up on the first floor. The whole of the ground floor was lived in by Mrs Baker. I think she sublet to my nan and grandad. She was the aunty of East London-born minor pop star Brian Poole. I got a signed copy of every record that he brought out.’
Memories of 11 Driffield Road still linger. ‘It was a Victorian house. We had an outside toilet that was shared by everybody. Upstairs there were two bedrooms, a tiny little living room and a scullery. Although there was electricity in the house (old two pin sockets which were probably illegal even then), there was no electricity in the scullery. There was a gas stove and over it was a gas mantle for lighting. I used to go round to the oil shop on Roman Road to buy replacement mantles for when they had burnt out. It made a really distinctive rushing noise.’
Rodgers would spend a year living at this location, before moving out of East London for good. He now lives in Cheshire. ‘My mum and dad were looking for a house that they could possibly afford. They eventually found this house in West Norwood, and we lived there until I was 22.’
Despite moving away, Rogers fondly remembers religiously travelling back each weekend to visit his grandparents where a delicious home-cooked apple crumble would be waiting for him.
‘Both nan and grandad were quite accomplished pastry cooks. They worked as cooks at Bethnal Green Police station. I remember being taken around as a child and they would give me a Kit Kat. I remember seeing the stables for police horses at the back.’
Although the culinary treats were reasons to look forward to weekend visits, it is ‘fishing with grandad along Regent’s canal’ that Rodgers counts as his favourite part.
Laughingly, he recalls the ‘Bells Junior Angler Kit’ that his grandad bought him from Roman Road at the beginning of their fishing adventures. ‘It was useless for all purposes. We learned fishing together. I got books out of the library, taught myself and then taught Grandad.’
Memories of Victoria Park remain radiant. ‘It seemed huge. I remember there was an enclosed garden, with high hedges, and in the middle was an ornamental fountain with goldfish in it. We would hire boats there. My mum and I used to take an oar each and row around the lake.’
‘There used to be a fair that came quite regularly to the park and they used to give prizes of goldfish in a plastic bag. Kids were frightened to take them home to their parents, so they used to tip them into the canal. My grandad caught one once. It must have weighed about twelve ounces. He took it up to Club Row, at one end of Brick Lane Market where they would sell pets, and he got 10 bob for it. It made his day.’
The hustle and bustle of Roman Road Market is another memory that stands strong. ‘It was very busy. Stalls on both sides of the road. I always remember, at the start of the market, there used to be a little chap standing there with a long overcoat that reached the ground. He was surrounded by plastic bags, each one containing half of a Cos lettuce. That was all he was selling. They were quite large. He used to stand there, sometimes in the pouring rain with a cap on his head and an old overcoat, shouting “here you are lady, ‘alf a cos lettuce!”. I remember the live eels stall very well. My grandad, who had a bit of a dark sense of humour, said that when he was a lad, his friends used to make a game about which eel would last the longest.’
Rogers was last in Bow in 2008. ‘A lot had changed but a lot was still recognisable. When I was last there, I took a photo of the apartment block that used to be Kelly’s live eel company. They used to have all of their eels delivered there every week in a big tanker. The driver used to pump the live eels through the hatches into containers inside of the building. Even back as far as the 1960s, when I remember it, eels were becoming quite scarce in this country. All the eels that Kelly’s had were imported from Ireland.’
Our Living In Bow Facebook group is a place of nostalgia for Rogers. ‘That photo of the Roman Road branch library brought back memories. I used to borrow books from there regularly whilst living at Driffield Road.’ He wanted to share his father’s photos as his first post on the group to explain his connection to the area.
Despite moving further away from his birthplace over the years, this neighbourhood still holds a deep significance. ‘Always, wherever you go, the place that you started off holds some special meaning to you. Although, for me, it is only the memories. But, as you’ve gathered, they are quite vivid ones.’
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy reading about this very East End wedding.
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