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My Riley Family History in Plumstead

To begin we have to go at first back to Audley in Staffordshire, where in 1842 my Great grandfather - Frederick Riley, was born. He is then recorded in the 1891 census as living in Barth Road Plumstead, and his occupation then was as a labourer at Woolwich Arsenal. In 1888 he married Isabella Pearson in the Parish Church of Holy Trinity, Woolwich on 14th of January that year.

On the 15th February 1895 my Grandfather – George John Riley was born and the family were living at No 42 Barth Road. George John then went on to join the Royal Navy, at least until 1928, a spell as a stoker in the gas works, no doubt due to the experience gained in the navy. Finally working for the Matchless Motor Cycle Company until his death in 1961 aged 65. On the 30th December 1922 he married Isabel Maud Houghton at St Margaret's Parish Church. She was born 30th April 1901 at 48 Elm Street, Plumstead. His favourite drinking places were: The Prince Alfred, Raglan Road, and The Plumstead Radical Club, where he was a member.

My father George John Edgar Riley was also born at 42 Barth Road, Plumstead, on the 16th December 1923. The eldest of four (Frederick, Molly, and Jean).

The Riley Family in 1935 showing George  and Fred, Isabel, Maud with Jean and Molly
The Riley Family 1935
George and Fred
Isabel Maud with Jean and Molly

George Riley's leaving school (Ancona Rd) letter.George (my father), was educated at Ancona school, Brewery Road, Plumstead.
The headmasters name was Mr F.A.W. Greengrass and his leaving date was 23rd December 1937.


During the war years George was in the Royal Navy and served on the H.M.S. Kent as a cook, but his action stations was on the “Pom-Pom” guns, and saw action on the Malta and Russia convoys, also to Iceland and to the States.

He was discharged from the navy on the 27th July 1946. By this time the family address was 34 Hudson Road, Plumstead SE 18.

George met and married my mother Irene Susan Wright who lived locally in Hudson Road, on the 3rd January 1948 in St Margaret’s Church, Plumstead, and then moved in to No 37, this was where I was to start my early years.

I was the second of four children, Brian being born in hospital at Pembury, Kent, 1951. Then myself in St Nicolas’ Hospital, Plumstead in 1954. Alan followed in 1957 (St Nicolas’ Hospital, Plumstead) and Julia, the last in 1958, born in the British Home for Mothers and Babies.
When Alan was born there was a mix-up and we nearly had a baby sister (Stella Allen), there was a friendship there between mothers and later I would be best pals with the son Stuart Allen, of which there is more later.

We enjoyed our years in No 37 which was a three story house shared with grandparents on my mother’s side. Nearly opposite we had our grandfather (No 34), in No 29 (five houses away) our aunt Vi and uncle Alf and two cousins Lynda and Heather. Further up the road lived the Davis family, my brother Alan was to marry one of the family (Terry Davis).

Brian was Christened in St Margaret's Church as was most of us, as this photo shows:

George and Irene Riley with brian at Christening Jean with Alf Wright and Linda (Left) Heather (Right) and Brian
George and Irene Riley with Brian at Christening.
Jean with Alf Wright and Linda (Left) Heather (Right) and Brian. Jean and Alf were probably Godparents to Brian.

Jean married Eric Hearne in November 1955 and moved to Windsor.
Molly married Reginald Marriot in Sept 1957 and moved to Genesta Road, No 35 if I remember correctly.

Alan, Brian and peter Riley (1959-60) 29 Hudson Rd. Brian, Peter, Alan Riley with Lynda (1959-60) 29 Hudson Rd.
Alan, Brian and Peter Riley (1959-60) 29 Hudson Rd. Brian, Peter, Alan Riley with Lynda (1959-60) 29 Hudson Rd.

When my grandfather died in 1961 we moved across the road into No 34 and lived quite happily there until 1967.

Primary School
What can I remember about my childhood? Growing up in Plumstead was great, I went to school first to Earl Rise Primary School. Friends there included Stuart Allen, as I’ve already mentioned, Lionel Jeffreys, Peter Smart, Terry Williams, Valerie Riley (no relation) Cheryl Roberts, and more who’s names escape me. Teachers I remember were: Mr Donelly, Mrs Poulter – (made us do Italic writing – ink went everywhere), Headmaster Mr Smith.

Some photos from our school trip to Hindhead, in Surrey.

Mr Donelly - Surrounded by the boys Stuart, Alan (marked x)
Summer Camp again. Lionel (Jeffries?) Right

Circa 1964 Summer Camp
Peter Smart - X

Circa 1964 Summer Camp
Terry Williams

We had the usual exercise of country dancing, cricket and football in the playground, swimming at either Plumstead or Woolwich baths.

Sunday School
As youngsters we were all taken to Sunday School, The Richmond Gospel Hall in Vicarage Road. It was overseen by the superintendent Mr Jenner. My uncle Reg was a teacher there so slipping off was not an option. 3pm on a Sunday for an hour learning about the gospels and the bible in general. Also there were Mr R Kemp and his wife, they were the organists for as long as I can remember, more memorable though was Susan their daughter.
Local kids included the Tadds (see scouting), the Barrett sisters, Linda and Sylvia from Vicarage Park Road. The Cowling family from Hudson Road, a whole host of them, including David, Ronnie, Susan, and others I’ve forgotten, and the Davis kids as well.
Mr George Lycett who lived in Genesta Road taught there and bought along his boys. George had a very serious limp to one leg, however that did not stop him riding a motor bike and side car. The Gospel Hall relocated to Brewery Road and is still there to this day. Memories include the first hall being very cold in the winter, trips were organised to take the children to Margate and Ramsgate where we had a service on the beach, more important to the kids was the swimming and the sand, also we got a taste of Dreamland at Margate with its rides.

I joined the Scout movement at the East Plumstead Baptist Church, Griffin Road, the 12th Woolwich. I started as a Cub and enjoyed the life immensely. I made lots of friends there, Tony Robinson from Heavertree Road, from Robert Street – Phillip and Stephen Tadd, Tony Keeler from Durham Rise.
I usually suffered in a most peculiar way with my dad when Scouting, I asked for a rucksack to go camping – did I get something modern, no – he purchased from the army surplus store (Sam's) in Woolwich, something I swear was used by the Desert Rats. When I asked for a knife for Scouting, expecting something to cut twigs and peel an apple, I got a 6 inch sheath knife almost like the type you see in the Rambo films. Scared everyone in the troop!

I progressed to becoming a patrol leader and was able to choose my patrol name, so chose the Kestrel, my favourite bird ever since.

Camping was great, as mentioned elsewhere, we went to Meopham, where I saw my first grass snake. Also I remember one bank holiday we were asked if we’d visited the “thunder box” yet. As I hadn’t I got a dose on Andrew’s powder. That on top of about 24 prunes still did not have the desired effect. I managed when I got home…..
The troop used to have tents that were open at both ends and could sleep about eight boys.
I got up one night to water the nearby bushes, and went back in, thinking the other lads were messing me about as my kit was at the wrong end. I got every one to wake up and move. It was in the morning I realised I’d gone out one end and back in another – sorry lads.

Most holidays were spent visiting relations, I had folk in Ramsgate, Sheerness, and Hastings. So school holidays saw us packed off for a week or two. A most memorable holiday though was to Bournemouth with Molly and Reg before they had their own children. We travelled down squeezed into his sidecar. My brother Brian remembers the trip for other reasons to do with swimming and waves. I also remember getting rather sun burnt and knickerbocker glories.

Senior School
Progress from Earl Rise was to follow in the footsteps of my brother Brian, and go to Bloomfield Boys Secondary Modern. The first 2 years were in the Lower school in Plum Lane. After those years you progressed to the Main school in Bloomfield Road, for another three years in my case. I made some close friendships there, notably with Les Kinsman, John Wood and John Stewart, who I still am in contact with some 40 years on. Other I remember are: Elton Rothwell, Graham Springhall, Keith Pratt, George Sparrow, George Elliot and quite a few more that are mentioned on the Friends Reunited web site. Teachers Mr Cuff – English, Mr Williams – French, Mr Coutts – History (and that famous moustache).

In retrospect I believe we had a great upbringing living in Plumstead, we had a great time exploring the many open spaces in and around the area, Plumstead and Winn's Commons, Bostall and Abbey Woods, Woolwich Common and the great Greenwich Park. In 1967 we moved to a new house in The Oaks (No 87) in Burrage Road, my sister Julia still lives there to this day. A quiet estate back then. It was easy also to jump on a No 51 bus to get to the countryside (well Farnborough in Kent) for a day in the orchards and fruit fields.
Burrage Road seemed to go on for ever, from Plumstead High Street up for at least a mile to Plumstead Common Road. It contained superb three or four story Victorian town houses at the top, to two up two down at the bottom.

After leaving school I worked, first of all, nearby in Belvedere, then in central London, and moved away from Plumstead. For a number of years I travelled back weekly to visit and to go to the Woolwich Photographic Society which at the time met in the Clockhouse Community Centre in the Woolwich Dockyard. I remember the Society had a fantastic collection of glass plate slides that often came out of hiding to be either viewed or to part of a competition, “Then and Now”. Old and Modern side by side. I was lucky enough to become President of the Society for a few years before finally moving away to Leicestershire.

I do get to visit because of family links, but unfortunately I cannot wait to return home. The area seems to be so crowded now, Even with its good transport network the car seems to have taken over. To manoeuvre through streets that were not built to cope with the volume of parked cars is quite a change from those years gone by when the car in a street was an event.

Maybe it’s just my age.

Peter Riley-Jordan

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