Happy days living at 'Sandy Beach'

SIXTY years before there was any talk about Olympic ambitions or major developments on Barking Riverside, disused soldiers huts offered convenient and affordable housing to residents. The Riverside, which failed in its bids for either the shooting event

SIXTY years before there was any talk about Olympic ambitions or major developments on Barking Riverside, disused soldiers' huts offered convenient and affordable housing to residents.

The Riverside, which failed in its bids for either the shooting event or the badminton and gymnastics events in 2012, was once the home of the anti-aircraft unit - and that of a pregnant young woman.

Around 14 to 15 huts accommodated the soldiers who kept vigil on enemy planes.

After the war, the unit became redundant but offered rent-free housing to cash-strapped residents.


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Joyce Webster, who was born in Creekmouth Village in 1930, was one of them.

At the tender age of 17, in 1947, she got married and moved into one of the bunker huts.

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She said: "I lived there in one of the huts for the soldiers for five years - until I had my second child."

It must have felt like moving into a seaside resort full of happy childhood memories, because the Riverside was where residents used to go there for a day out.

Mrs Webster said: "When I was a little girl, we lived in the village.

"We used to go to Sandy Beach, that's what we called it back then.

"There was an ice cream man.

"It was a day out. People used to go with their children, with a paddle, and play in the sand or to watch the RMS Mauretania go up the river."

Nine years later, when she lived in a Riverside hut, Mrs Webster had her first child.

She said: "They were called squatter huts. A number of people from Scotland lived in them for some time.

"It was lovely. The huts were very large and they were built out of concrete.

"We had running water, electricity and an outside toilet."

In that respect, the "squatters" were privileged as Creekmouth village did not yet have electricity.

Friends would come over to watch TV, although they did try to avoid going to the Riverside on wet days.

Joyce's sister, Shirley Dickerson, 74, said: "The road finished at the end of the power station.

"After that, you would be ankle deep in mud."

For Mrs Webster, there were only two drawbacks to living in the huts.

She said: "We didn't have any telephones there.

"In those days you had to ring the ambulance when you were in labour."

That is why, two weeks before she delivered, Joyce had to move to her mother's house in Creekmouth village.

Another inconvenience was the remoteness of the huts. They were about three and a half miles away from Barking town centre.

"It was a very, very long walk from there.

"I was lucky, I had people in the village, so I could stop and have a cup of tea.

"There were buses in those days, only where the Barking Power Station used to be.

"When I was 22, in 1952, I was expecting my son and I had to move back to the village.

"The council offered me a prefab in Holly Square, next door to the Cape Asbestos factory.

"It would have been better to know what we know now [about abestos] but, luckily, we're all right."

For future residents of "Sandy Beach" - or the Barking Riverside - the views are still as breathtaking as ever.

"You're overlooking the river. It's a wonderful view. People often forget that," said Joyce.

It is something that developers will hopefully remember when designing the Barking Riverside development.

Planning permission for the first phase of the project has just been granted and paved the way for the construction of the first 3,300 homes on the site as part of the Thames Gateway Development.

These homes may come on a slightly bigger scale than the squatters' huts, but they will fulfill the same purpose.

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