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Real life in London's docks

PUBLISHED: 17:51 17 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:09 11 August 2010

The puppets of Gavin Skerrit bring home life in the east end

The puppets of Gavin Skerrit bring home life in the east end

In a unique celebration of a culture that only exists as a part history, Eastenda brings us the spirit of the docklands. This unique theatrical creation captures the essence of what it was like to live and work among the factories and shipyards, and is at

In a unique celebration of a culture that only exists as a part history, Eastenda brings us the spirit of the docklands.

This unique theatrical creation captures the essence of what it was like to live and work among the factories and shipyards, and is at Barking Broadway Theatre, next month.

Eastenda is the brainchild of Gavin Skerrit who grew up by the Royal Docks with his grandparents.

He spoke to the POST about developing the idea, Gavin said: "It came to me when I was listening to my family and their neighbours and the way they talk to each other.

"I thought to myself this dialect will soon be extinct, I should do something to preserve it.

"So I started recording people without letting them know I was doing it.

"I wanted their accents and conversations to be as natural as possible.

"The people who lived and worked in the docks have this very strong, unique accent.

"It's the sort of accent that anyone who hasn't heard it for themselves would never believe. And I definitely didn't want to try to impersonate it."

Gavin has taken his show across Europe to theatres and schools where people of all ages enjoy the lessons in history and culture.

The response has been terrific, especially in London where dock workers have praised him for the tone and accuracy of the production.

Gavin said: "Everyone in my dad's family was involved in the docklands some how and I wanted to honour that.

"My nan worked at the Tate & Lyle factory and my grandfather worked at the mills.

"As I grew up I became aware the area was dying and becoming a ghost town.

"There was massive unemployment and poverty. It was such an isolated part of London.

"My grandparents are dead now I'm sorry to say but their memories live on through the recordings I captured."

The docklands is an area that has seen massive change through the decades and is now emerging as the business capital of London.

Gavin's family tell the story of when it was an impoverished place, struggling to survive through the perils of World War Two.

He said: "Because it was such a tight knit community everyone knew everything about their neighbours.

"People helped one another but the area was very deprived and probably at the bottom of the living standard in London.

"My great grandmother had 14 children and when her husband died suddenly she had to find a way to look after them.

"She used to collect items from people to take to the pawnshop and they would give her a penny.

"Then when she brought them their money back she got another penny.

"My dad used to have a little penny grotto where he sold shrapnel he collected.

"He would wait for sailors coming off boats and then set out his wares on a piece of cloth.

"It's hard to imagine now but people used to buy these little twisted pieces of metal."

Gavin's show uses masks, puppetry and recorded sounds of war and conversations to tell the story, and afterward he will talk to the audience.

The show is on Wednesday July 9 at 7pm; tickets cost £4.50 call 020 8507 5607 or visit www.thebroadwaybarking.com.


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