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Plumstead Common Reminiscence

One of the effects of the Second World War was that thousands of factories were vacated by their normal occupants so that the premises could be used for war production; and when the war came to an end such factories were empty. One of these was Tealedown, near Bounds Green Underground Station in North London. Tealedown was the brand name for bed covers. Ultimately, this company would be resurrected, but for several years the premises were occupied by a new division of Standard Telephones & Cables Ltd., employers of Doug Johnson, who joined them because of his experiences in the Royal Corps of Signals, and now lived in an 1899 house in Walthamstow.

By 1951 Tealedown were re-organised and wanted their factory back, so Standard Telephones moved to Footscray, south of the river. Travel by coach was arranged for about nine months, to give staff time to move. After that, travel had to be by train and bus, so for the Johnsons, still trying, removal was becoming urgent. There weren't many houses on the market in our price class. We'd tried maisonettes, but these were usually upstairs, with outside concrete staircases, lethal for a four-year-old boy and difficult for a pram, and main bedrooms so small that a double bed would overlap the fireplace. Then came a real prospect - a three bedroom house in Plumstead! We had doubts about it -Plumstead had the reputation of a district with poor housing and lots of bomb damage - but the price was low.

We walked up the hill from Plumstead Station, and the houses were impressive, the footpath lined with trees. At the top of the hill there was a wide stretch of grass. We stopped at a drinking fountain and asked for directions. "Pegwell Street? Up the lane from the Slade, past the Who'd a Thought It."

This is Plumstead Common, green space stretching a long way in both directions. One path goes past the bowling greens and tennis courts and miniature golf, with hedges around them, a pavilion and a teashop with seats in a little garden! Then that magnificent avenue of trees, leading to the Co-op, a big shop with many departments. One bus route terminates here. There are three or four pubs, a church, a first class school, a ravine, a paddling pool. There are high-class toilets, a play area, and superb plane trees everywhere.

Pegwell Street was comparatively modern, built on the gardens of older houses, and No. 3 was what we wanted. Plumstead Common was like the ideal village green, with a pavilion and a cricket pitch. There was a school about two hundred yards away. Because of a small garden, the price of the house was only £1,895; but could we afford it? We had worked so hard modernising the Walthamstow house that we had £400 to use as a deposit, and all the people we dealt with were kind to us. Our Prudential agent arranged the endowments for the mortgage. On February 29th 1952 we travelled with all our possessions in the back of a van through the cobbled Blackwall Tunnel, able to see nothing but the surface of the road. Our son Tony was intrigued, but it was good to get out.

We couldn't be luckier. Rates were low. Woolwich Borough Council had libraries, baths, social centres, concert halls. The local school, run by the London County Council had a superb head teacher, the commons and the woodlands stretched in all directions, maintained by park keepers in brown uniform. There were seats and shelters, teahouses, toilets, sports facilities, pavilions and gardens. There were five major hospitals. Leisure activities were widespread. We had some good years.

Douglas Johnson, aged 91

Thanks to the Plumstead Common Environment Group for their kind donation of this story.

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