Golden days of climbing trees and guarding the king
PUBLISHED: 12:22 01 December 2009 | UPDATED: 09:08 11 August 2010
FROM climbing trees in the Dagenham countryside to protecting King George VI - a former borough resident has spoken about his childhood on the Becontree Estate, and the years he spent as a soldier. Arthur Rowlinson came to the borough with his mum and da
FROM climbing trees in the Dagenham countryside to protecting King George VI - a former borough resident has spoken about his childhood on the Becontree Estate, and the years he spent as a soldier.
Arthur Rowlinson came to the borough with his mum and dad, brother and two sisters in 1931. He spent his first eight years in Camden and Hamstead. But as the family grew in size it was decided the Rowlinsons needed more space.
They were offered a three-bedroom home in Bromhall Road, on the sprawling Becontree Estate, so packed their bags and headed for Dagenham.
Moving from their cramped quarters in Hamstead to a spacious new house on the estate was a welcome change, says Arthur.
"It was very exciting. We were the first family to live in that house. And it seemed so big compared to the one we had lived in before.
"But oddly, the place had no bathroom. Instead they put the bath in the kitchen. You would think that if they were going to go to the effort of building new houses they could have built bathrooms.
"My dad actually made a wooden top for the bath. And when the table was laid out for a meal he would put the top on the bath and us kids would sit on it while we were eating."
Arthur says he struggled initially with the dialect of his fellow Becontree inhabitants.
"Many were from the East End, and when I first got there I couldn't understand half of them.
"I remember someone said "We're going 'oppin" and I didn't have a clue what they were talking about. I was later told it meant they were going to pick hops.
"It was quite common in those days for families from Dagenham to go hop-picking in Kent. I never did, but it always seemed like they had a jolly time together."
Arthur, who joined Bifrons School, soon settled into life in Becontree and enjoyed plenty of fun with the other children in and around the estate.
"We used to climb trees and play cricket in the fields. In those days you could go wherever you liked and feel safe.
"Sometimes I'd be out until dark and watch the sky turn red above the Ford plant. Though I never knew what made it go red. Maybe it was the furnace doors."
He says there was a real sense of community on the estate and recalls everyone getting together for the coronation of King George VI in 1937.
"It was a lovely day. We put trestle tables up in the street and all the mothers brought something to eat."
As was normal at that time, Arthur left school at 14.
"I was top boy in woodwork so my teachers helped me get a job at a cabinet-making shop in Old Street. It was normal then for the school to get you your first job.
"I'd cycle all the way there and back every day, five and a half days a week. I enjoyed the job, but it was hard work. And I was only paid £1 a week."
Arthur says his family didn't have a lot of money but he never felt poor.
"My mum was at home with the children and my father was a wheel tapper at St Pancras station, where he'd tap the wheels of incoming trains to check if they had any cracks in them.
"He only earned £3 a week."
In 1938 the family moved back to Hamstead so Arthur's mother could be closer to her mother.
A year later the war broke out.
By this time his heart was already set on joining the army.
"It was something I'd wanted to do since I was a young lad. When I was 16 I told my mother I was planning on joining. I remember she was washing clothes in the sink at the time and burst out crying."
But it was another two years before Arthur signed up and in 1941 he volunteered for The Life Guards, the senior regiment of the Household Cavalry.
The young soldier was posted to the Middle East, and a year later, Italy. After the war ended he also served in Holland and Germany.
On his return Arthur took part in Trooping the Colour in Whitehall, and acted as an escort for King George VI.
"I spoke to the King once, but I called him 'sir' instead of 'your majesty' which you were definitely not supposed to do."
Arthur left the army in 1950, got married, and a few years later moved to North Wales, where he and his wife, Glenys Mai, still live today.
They have two children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
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