Have you ever remarked, or heard somebody say, "All cars look the same nowadays"? Not surprising really, since there are so few manufacturers and different brands are often built around the same basic shell. It wasn’t always like that though, was it?
There were still plenty of horse drawn vehicles in use in Barking in the forties and fifties. All local deliveries were made by horse drawn cart: United Dairies had a horse that knew the route as well as the milkman himself. The greengrocer, the rag & bone man, the coalman all had horses; Barton’s baker delivered from an enclosed cart that looked like a small handsome cab, which the deliveryman had to draw himself. Imagine anyone doing that today. Even builders used a hand drawn cart, which usually had a pile of sand and a ladder on it, plus a bucket hanging from the back. The first ice-cream deliveryman to appear in the late forties used a bicycle with a box in front. He would slice off half an inch of ice-cream, from one of the Birds Eye blocks, and put it between two wafers. That was a thrupenny one. For a tanner, or sixpence, you got an inch if you were lucky. The trouble was that he usually couldn’t cut straight. He didn’t have a 90db loudspeaker and a recorded jingle to announce his arrival in the street. Instead, he used an old school hand bell. It was just as effective and far less irritating.
Coal Delivery Cart &
There was a small café at the top of our street and lorry drivers and deliverymen would sometimes leave their vehicles in our street while they had a cuppa. There was one enormous wooden cart that used to stand there. The wheels were very big and the horse was one of those magnificent animals with whiskers that hang around their feet like bells on a Morris dancer's legs. I think they are called Shires. The cart was so big and high that you could never see into it, but we had our suspicions. We thought it was used to cart away the muck that had been dredged out of the Maysbrook stream that ran parallel with the Arterial road, but we were never sure. What we did know was that it smelled, which is why it was known as the stink wagon.
It wasn’t just the horse drawn and hand drawn vehicles that varied so much. There was every kind of motorised vehicle as well, even coal fired and steam driven lorries and, of course, steam driven road rollers we called steamrollers. The war had effectively put a stop to car production and after the war nobody could buy a new car. The waiting list was very long. Not that people in our street could afford one. All car production went to export, so the cars that were on the road were all from a much earlier period, mainly the thirties and even some from the twenties.
We were not well off, but my dad bought his first car, an old 1920s Jowet, just before the war started. At the start of the war he put it into storage for safe keeping in Dean’s Garage on the corner of Gascoine Road and the A13. I never got to see that car or ride in it because Dean’s garage received a direct hit one night during the Blitz and that was the end of dad’s driving days for a while.
Buses were always a little boy’s fascination and I was no exception. Each route seemed to be allocated a particular model or age of bus and my mother could never understand how I knew the number of a bus even though I couldn’t see the front. I kept that secret to myself. The 23C that came from the Creekmouth was the oldest and my favourite. It had an open staircase that wound upwards around the back of the bus, a sort of throwback design to the horse drawn buses of a few decades earlier. Interestingly, there is a nod of recognition to that design in the latest version of the Routemaster, which has a glass window that winds around the back, just like the old open staircase used to do.
Trolleybus overhead wires
All buses had to pass Blake’s Corner where the inspectors always stood, with timetable in one hand and pencil in the other. They kept a very close eye on the clock and ran a tight schedule. Blake’s Corner was an important hub of the London Transport system. Trolley busses terminated at Barking and there was a complex system of overhead wires above the centre of the crossroads. Trolley bus conductors were obliged to collect a long pole and lift the two contact arms on the top of the bus from one set of wires to another as the bus turned the corner from London Road into East Street. Trolley busses were very comfortable to sit in and were very quiet, but drivers were notorious for accelerating too quickly. If you weren’t holding on to something you fell over. Old ladies with shopping bags were constantly complaining. When the conductor called out " Hold very tight please, ding, ding" you had to take it seriously.
Barking was well served with public transport and trips to neighbouring East Ham or Ilford were common. Each town had its own specialities. For some reason, East Ham had more shoe shops than would be normal so that’s where you went for shoes. Ilford, on the other hand, was where you went for clothing or household goods. Of course both had their share of other shops and markets just as Barking had its furniture and shoe shops, but Barking was above all the place for food shopping. There were so many butchers, for example, that two were located side by side at the top of Ripple Road opposite the old library. One Christmas around 1967 my newly acquired wife, whom I had just brought back from Sweden, was amazed to find butchers standing outside each of these shops challenging passers-by to compare the size of the turkeys in their respective windows. Shopping in Barking could be very entertaining.