The following article about our Chairman appeared in the Barking and
Dagenham Post in April 2012
I actually owe my parentage to
the Post! During World War II my mother Joyce Warren read a piece in the Post
by the Mayor Cllr Mrs Evans criticising local girls for not doing enough for
the war effort and urging them to write to the troops serving overseas.
Mum sent letters as requested and one was passed randomly to Don Blake of
Arnold Road, Dagenham. They were pen-pals throughout the war and met when Dad
was demobbed in 1946 and married the same year. I came along two years later –
maternity beds were at a premium during the baby boom years that followed
the war so like many Dagenham infants at time, I was born at the East End
Maternity Hospital in the Commercial Road. We lived with grandparents in
Halbutt Street and Arnold Road before the council gave us a prefab on the
Limbourne Avenue estate. My brother Jim was born there in 1950. It was a very
close knit community and I remember the wonderful street party we had for the
Queen’s Coronation in 1953. By today’s standards, the estate was a shanty
town, but the prefabs had fridges, separate bathroom and toilet, heating and a
big garden. Although they were intended to be temporary, they were not
demolished until 1959 when we were moved to Chadwell Heath, an area that has
remained my home ever since. One thing that greatly overshadowed our
childhood was my mother’s epilepsy, which was a result of her being buried in
an air-raid shelter along with her parents and siblings when their home in
Eastfield Road received a direct hit from a German bomb. We had long
periods of quiet as mum recovered from her seizures.
I attended the old Beacontree Heath Junior School until 1959 – it was a
run-down Victorian building well past its sell by date. During the war it had
been a mortuary for bomb victims and was more suited for that purpose. It was
far too small and when all my classmates were in attendance, some had to
sit on the floor- not an ideal learning environment to say the least. It was
not a good start to my education. When we moved to Chadwell Heath I went to
Warren Junior and Secondary schools, which were a great improvement on
the previous school, but there was a heavy emphasis on craft skills like
woodwork and metalwork and I did not excel in such subjects. In my final year I
was became library prefect – little did I know the impact that would have
on my life! I left school without any qualifications although I was awarded the
lower school art prize and the upper school history prize.
Like most kids in the 60s I had a job long before I left school – I had a
gained a post with Hampstead Council (later Camden) as a library assistant. On
the daily commute from Chadwell Heath I started to use the time reading up
subjects we had never touched on at school – politics, economics,
commerce, constitutional law. Within four years I had got myself through O and
A levels. Working in the library was great fun and as Hampstead was a great
area for the good and great I got to meet lots of interesting people. I
spent five years working in Camden’s Housebound Library Service. It was one of
those jobs when the unexpected always happened - one very amusing incident I
remember was when I visited an elderly retired nurse who mistook my book
carrier for a doctor’s bag and started to undress – it turned out that she was
expecting a doctor to examine her – just as I was persuading her that to
replace her clothing, the real doctor arrived! I could not get out of her
flat quick enough!
In 1966 I got my first taste of foreign travel when an uncle invited me to join
a youth delegation to East Germany and the divided city of Berlin. The East
Germans had made a mistake with our visas and on the last day of our visit we
were there illegally – we waited anxiously at a railway station at the
border, when two guards armed with sub-machine guns came towards us – they took
us to a room where we were not interrogated as we feared, but invited to watch
the Germany-England World Cup final!
By 1972 I was beginning to get itchy feet and decided to try for a totally
different career path –I got myself a seasonal job as a white coat at Butlins
Camp in Ayr, Scotland. People are always impressed when I say I was a white
coat, until I explain that I was a kitchen skivvy and my choice tasks
included sorting out food for the pigs swill. I survived three seasons, before
I saw the error of my ways and returned to librarianship – I never strayed
again! My next career moved was to Barking College as a senior library
assistant where I remained until 1979 when I achieved a my ambition of gaining
a place at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth where I gained a joint honours
degree in librarianship and international politics. I became a chartered
librarian in 1982. During my vacation periods I worked for Barking and
Dagenham Library Service and I have very happy memories of working at the old
Whalebone and Central libraries and I returned there when I graduated in 1982.
The following year, much to my surprise, I went back to Barking College as
Deputy Librarian where I remained until my retirement in 2009 having spent a
total of 32 years at the Rush Green site.
Volunteering has been very rewarding for me and I have made some great friends
– I started on the Barking and Dagenham Talking Newspaper for the Visually
Impaired in September 1988 as part of the Barking College team – the TN had
been founded by college staff and has always supplied a team of readers.
I have been on the committee of the Chadwell Heath Historical Society since it
was founded in 1994. I am also very proud to have been a founder member of the
Friends of Valence House and was on their committee for 11 years and
museum volunteer for 12. Currently I am chairman and secretary of the Barking
and District Historical Society. I took on the post for 1 year in 2000 to help
them out and have been there ever since!
Any spare time I have is spent reading, doing crosswords, travelling and
enjoying the company of friends.
I describe myself as one of nature’s plodders, but I always get there in the
end. I have reached that stage in life when the bits have started to drop off,
but probably more content with life than I have ever been.