Thursday 19 October 2017
Linda and I had an easy trip to Ilford, thanks to the frequent trains to Shenfield (though the labyrinth that is Stratford Station does not make them easy to find) We had been to Ilford many times before, in the days of the buses, but we had never been to the museum. So we were pleased to see bus blinds of the old fashioned kind near the start on the Museum. Indeed, we toyed with the idea of catching the 25 all the way back to Oxford Circus, but decided against it.
We enjoyed the museum very much, mostly because it was so well set out: at the start there were some cases with different people's stories in them (these change regularly): there was a case about the Pearly Kings and Queens, centred on the only Ilford woman to have been a Queen. After that, we went back in time, decade by decade, each case telling one or more individual experience.
The 1990s featured a woman who had lost her council job (as a lollipop lady) for demonstrating against the M11 devastation of Wanstead Common, though she was later reinstated. We also saw images of Ilford's Millenium celebrations. The 1980s was about dockworkers. Between 1955 and 1985, 29,000 dockers lost their jobs, a level of devastation which comes close to matching what had happened to coal miners earlier, though the blame lies with the man who invented the container, rather that wth politics.
The 1970s had a case with an Ilford woman's wedding sari, and also a case about the opening of a school of Irish Dancing in the borough. In passing, I should say that we prefer this approach to the past experiences of residents to the 'newcomers to the borough' approach that we have seen in other local museums. A case about Selochrome and other film stock made in Ilford took us back to the 1960s, and the days before digital cameras; there was also the story of Ilford Jewish School, which moved from Stepney in 1970. We had been told a few weeks ago at the Spitalfield synagogue about how the Jewish population of the east end had moved out to the suburbs like everyone else, and here we saw the school following the pupils.
The 1950s also reminded us of a previous outing, since it was about the huge house building boom of the 1950s. We had been to Dagenham, and walked though the handsome Becontree Estate, built at the time when 30,000 people worked at the Ford plant. In addition, the 1950s had the story of the great Claybury Mental Hospital, one of many which ringed London until 'care in the community' became the norm. This featured a nurse who had worked there, as well as equipment and pharmaceuticals.
I approached the 1940s with some trepidation: every local museum has a Second World War section, of course, and I have frequently been depressed by minor inaccuracies. (Like what? well, showing a week's ration of food on a plate without mentioning that almost everyone had an unrationed main meal at midday, whether in school, factory canteen, service mess or office cafeteria. So that famous 'one egg, 4oz butter' was for the non-main meals of the week) . But Redbridge didn't annoy me: the cases were the story of an Air Raid Warden (well, a married couple of air raid wardens, actually) and soldier who had served in Egypt, Italy and Germany before being demobbed in 1947. The case mentioned that 300,000 British and Commonwealth service personnel had died. The third story was about evacuees from Ilford to Cornwall, but also to Oxfordshire, where boys were housed in a purpose built camp.
There was, of course, a case about the local (Woodford Green and Epping) MP. Winston Churchill and his work during the war. Less expected, and therefore particularly interesting, was the story of local resident Sylvia Pankhurst. Aside from campaigning for women's suffrage, she fought tirelessly for the underprivileged, becoming very unpopular during the First World War for pointing out that the poor suffer disproportionately both on the battlefield and at home. She was outraged at the League of Nations' inaction when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, and travelled there several times. When she died in Addis Ababa, she was buried in the graveyard of national heroes.
The 1930s saw a huge increase in the population of the area, and there was a fine reconstruction of a 1930s kitchen, complete with Spong mincer, washtub with dolly and washboard, mangle and and, scarily, a gas iron... Linda and I both wimped out of putting our hands in a hole in the wall, fearing rats.
The Royal Charter which made Ilford a borough in 1926, and the unveiling of the War memorial in 1922 took care of the 1920s, together with a case about the sextants and compasses made by Kelvin Hughes Ltd. There was little about the First World War; we guessed that this was because the Museum had recently had a special exhibition dealing with it. So we were into Edwardian times, with an Edwardian sitting room, and the fact that the borough had electric street lights by 1905, and trams from 1901, and opened its own electricity company to ensure a secure supply.
Then we were back before the 'march of bricks and mortar' to the time when the area was 'all sky and turnips'. We saw ploughing match medals, and a splendid feature about the Ilford Cycle Meet which, at its height attracted 11,000 riders and over 70,000 spectators, with decorated cycles, bands and all sorts of fun.
From the 1870s, Barnados was a presence in the area, with the large Girls' Village in Barkingside preparing girls for domestic service, rather than the lives they might have led had they stayed on the streets. This is where the dressing up clothes were....
Back into the 18th century, we read about Fairlop Fair, and had a go on a shove ha'penny board. We also admired the beautiful Kingsnorth Farrier's sign, and saw some information about local great houses, and early industry, like Howards, who made 'fine Chemicals' including quinine.
And finally, there was a brief account of Ilford's prehistory, which proves to have been exceptional: from 1863 onwards, the fossilised remains of 20 adult and 30 young steppe mammoths were found at the Brick pits in Upsall. Although these remains are in the Natural History Museum, a replica of a skull and tusks is on show to remind one that the interglacial period in Ilford must have been quite exciting: here are some pictures of what might have been found if Essex were still covered in permafrost.
All in all, we had very much enjoyed our time at the Redbridge Museum,
and hope that the charming primary school we shared the space with
learned as much as we did.