Happiness and tragedy as estate came of age

IF YOU go down to the northern end of Grafton Road today and look south your view will be blocked by dozens of cars, trees, and satellite dishes. When George Williams s family moved in to number 20 way back in 1926 it was a very different matter. They wer

IF YOU go down to the northern end of Grafton Road today and look south your view will be blocked by dozens of cars, trees, and satellite dishes.

When George Williams's family moved in to number 20 way back in 1926 it was a very different matter.

They were one of the very first families to move into Dagenham's newly built Becontree Estate and George, now 87 and living in Macdonald Road, is one of the few who still remember what it was like in those early years.

"In 1926 we moved here from Lewisham where we had a two room flat overlooking the railway," he said.


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"Grafton Road wasn't quite completed yet and it was the days before cars. You could see from Green Lane right down to Wood Lane.

"In those days it was known as Becontree, not Dagenham. Dagenham was the few streets around the Village. It was somewhere you went for an afternoon out, like a different world."

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His dad Bill kept his job at a biscuit factory in Bermondsey and used to commute there and back every day by taking the bus to Barking and a train to Surrey Docks.

"Some people who moved here from the east end or south east London missed having the affinity of the pub on the corner. A few left the area but my parents loved it here straight away."

As a newcomer to the estate George was one of the first pupils to attend the brand new Charlecote School in Charlecote Road.

He still remembers his first day. "My mum took me up to the school in the morning and left me there.

"When we got to play time I went out into the playground and saw the gate open. I just walked out and went home! My mum was a bit surprised when I turned up on the doorstep.'"

As was normal in those days the school was divided between boys and girls with the girls' entrance in Windsor Road and the boys entering from Charlecote Road.

George remembers the teaching to be very much of the no-nonsense approach, but effective nonetheless.

"If you couldn't read and write by the age of seven I think they sacked the teacher!" he recalls.

"In those days there were large families. Three boys and four girls wasn't unusual by any means.

"We had three big families at the school, the O'Sheas, the Wilkinsons and the Days. There was always a few of them in the football team.

"We had about 50 children in a single class. There was the cane as well, and believe me it was used."

A school magazine from 1932 shows that football was something of a speciality at Charlecote Boys.

The editor proudly writes that the junior team won "two trophies out of a possible three".

And the seniors recorded a string of victories, including an 8-1 demolition of Green Lane School and a 7-0 trouncing of Whalebone.

Sadly, Charlecote School has now been demolished and its site is occupied by a new housing development.

Among all the fond memories from his Dagenham childhood there is one which is not quite so happy.

George remembers: "We used to go up to the chase, it was lovely there. Little gangs of us would march up there along Halbutt Street.

"There was a little lad who lived next door to me who was only about 10. While we were at the Chase one day he ate some deadly nightshade berries.

"He fell ill when he got home and I remember his mum coming around crying and saying he'd turned a mauve colour.

"It was very sad indeed. He died and the family left Dagenham and moved back to Canvey Island."

Like many of Dagenham's older residents George well remembers one of the town's most famous sons, World Cup winning football manager Sir Alf Ramsey.

"He went to Beacontree Heath School and came from an Old Dagenham family. Old Dagenham people had their own accents, but when the rest of us moved into the new houses they started talking like we did.

"The Ramseys used to live in a cottage near Five Elms. I remember Alf worked for the Co-op as an errand boy and played in a Thursday afternoon football league.

"He was a lovely lad. I was so proud of what he achieved. We all were.

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