I was born on 21.08.1941 and raised
at Woodhurst Road, Abbey Wood, SE2.
I went to Church Manorway School (infants),
then on to Bannockburn Junior School and then back to Church
Manorway Senior School.
I had four brothers and two sisters
but, sadly, in the summer of 1949, my eldest sister, Margaret
(then 12 years old), met with a tragic accident at the level
crossing in Abbey Wood. She had been fishing with one of my
brothers, but came back early, leaving him still fishing for
newts and frogs. On the way back, she had to walk along the
grass verge at the edge of the railway line where, unbeknown
to the public, the signal wires ran through the grass. She caught
her toe in this wire and fell straight onto the live rail. She
was burnt to death instantly.
That day, a beautiful summer's day, our family had all decided
to go over to my dad's allotment and have a picnic on the grass
close to their shed. There was mum, aunt Ann, me, my little
sister Marion, only two years old, and youngest brother Edward,
six months old. As we walked down the road to that same level
crossing, there were police, lots of people and an ambulance.
Mum and aunt Ann were saying, "I wonder what's going on.
Perhaps someone has been run over by a train." As we got
nearer, a lady said to my mum that a young woman had committed
suicide. My mum's brain immediately kicked in, realising that
Margaret was in that vicinity, and she began to cry, fearing
the worst. Someone took us all into their house and gave us
tea and my dad was summoned from his allotment.
My little sister and I were whisked
off to a friend's house, where we played happily until later
in the evening, not realising the impact of what had happened
until we got home and the household was in such distress. My
dad shut himself in the bedroom but mum, of course, consoled
constantly by aunt Ann, had to carry on, get the tea and generally
see to the family. Dad went to the hospital in the ambulance
and had to identify her body, which, of course, was very badly
He was never the same after that. We
could not mention her name in his presence ever again. Mum was
able to talk about it but none of us ever really got over it.
I inherited her little silver ring that she had bought with
her birthday money and I have passed this on to my beautiful
Needless to say, we were never offered
compensation, nor was there any admission of bad practice or
blame on behalf of British Rail and Mum used to say that no
amount of compensation would bring our Margaret back anyway
Just recalling these events in this story has made me cry, even
after all these years.
Anyway, on to better memories:
Before Margaret died, all us kids often
took trips across the Woolwich Ferry and visit the park in North
Woolwich. We used to love the old ferryboats where we could
go down and view the engine room and smell the grease and the
heat. We found it so fascinating. The smell of the river and
the white foam around the boat, the wind in our hair and our
jam sandwiches and bottle of lemonade in a shopping bag-what
freedom we had.
After Margaret died, I grew up very
quickly and had to take responsibility for my three younger
siblings. Not that this happened too often as mum didn't work
(not with seven kids to see to-and she was a wonderful mum)
but if we went roaming the streets or over the railway bridge
at the bottom of Church Manorway and into the fields beyond
or to the park in Blithdale Road, I had to look after the others.
I think I went from eight to fifteen years old in a very short
After leaving school I went on to commercial
college to learn typing, shorthand, book keeping etc., getting
my first job at the age of 17.
By then I was courting a young man
from Charlton who was doing an apprenticeship in the Woolwich
Arsenal. His name was Tony Gibbs and we were married in September
1961 at St Nicholas Church, Plumstead. Our marriage lasted for
During that time, I worked in offices,
just opposite the Arsenal Main Gate, overlooking the market
and was there for about four years before starting my family.
All four of my brothers, Jim, Donald,
Tony and Edward, all went to Wickham Lane (affectionately known
as "Whack 'em College"). Bostall Woods virtually backed
onto this school and all of us have great memories of roaming
the woods, picking bluebells (and getting chased by the keeper),
collecting chestnuts in autumn and picnics on the grandstand.
It was our playground. I spent some of my courting time in the
woods too, but I won't go into details on that one!
My eldest brother, Jim Bradford, now in his 70's, (2006),
used to get bullied somewhat until, that is, he had a friend
called Johnny Beadle. John was a very strange boy (in a nice
sort of way). He was the strong, silent type and he and my brother
were bosom pals for many years. John, I am told, lived on cheese
sandwiches and was so strong that he could lift the back end
of a car off the road with one hand (or was that my brother's
slight exaggeration). Anyway, he was very powerful. One day,
on the way home from school, Jim was being pursued by some boys
who used to bully him. But this particular day, they were in
for a surprise as Johnny was lying in wait up a tree. Jim obviously
led them to that tree and at the appropriate time, John dropped
from the tree, onto one of the other boys and proceeded to give
him a pasting. Jim was never bullied again!
Tony Gibbs and I used to go to ballroom
dancing at evening classes and we have some great memories of
that too. I still do ballroom dancing, even though I am in my
middle 60's and riddled with arthritis, but it helps keep the
old body mobile and I love it. Some of the music we dance to
is very evocative of those early days at night school, when
all the girls used to rush to the cloakroom to put on our make-up
out of the sight of our parents, do our hair for the umpteenth
time, and then join the rather impatient boys in the school
hall ready to start our dance lessons.
I am sure there are lots more memories
still dormant in my brain, of Abbey Wood, Plumstead and Woolwich,
the parks, the woods, the ferry, the cinemas where we went once
a week, Saturday morning pictures at the Century Cinema in Plumstead
and walking home through the back streets; buying lingo fizz
(a kind of sherbet that fizzed on your tongue and was so acid
that it must have caused untold damage on our teeth).