Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 31 seconds
Everyone has a story. During February 2017 Islington Faces instagram account @islingtonfaces shares the story of David Hammond who lived at 212 Liverpool Road until he was 13 years old (from 1949-1961) until his family moved to a new house in Essex – with an indoor bathroom. Interview by Nicola Baird
David Hammond, 67, contacted Islington Faces because he was feeling nostalgic about growing up in Islington. “I just googled Islington. I found Islington Historical Society and that led me to your site,” he explained later by phone.
In that first email David provided a nutshell history of his Islington childhood. I rang him up and suggested he tried writing down his memories in an A-Z format. David seemed friendly on the phone (and Islington Faces still hasn’t met him), but pulling together your life history is challenging, so I wasn’t sure what would happen, possibly nothing. But within a week David had sent over 15 pages – nearly 10,000 words – of fascinating insight into what being an Islington working class youngster in the 1950s was like. You can look at 28 days of photos and quotes on @islingtonfaces February 2017 instagram #a2zmemorylane for some of the highlights.
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Now, over to David Hammond…
“I was born in 1949. From 1937-1962 my family lived at 212 Liverpool Road. It was a crumbling, late Georgian villa. Four families shared one toilet. There was no hot water. We had two rooms in the basement, plus a scullery and a wash house. The main basement room was used as a combined kitchen, dining room and living room. It has an original coal fired iron range where water could be boiled up. The other basement room was used as a bedroom. It had a gas stove.
“We also had two rooms on the ground floor. One was a bedroom; the other the front parlour. This was our posh room, which was only used on high days and holidays. Its main function was to accommodate the annual family and friends Christmas party. It contained a highly polished table and chairs, a three-piece suite and a piano. Everyone had a piano in those days. My mother could only play the black notes but she did learn the violin, which was somewhat unusual. Evidently she was so bad at the violin that my father inserted a cough sweet into it. So it was ruined.
The floor was covered in lino which mum would keep polished. You could almost see our faces in it.
We had a small backyard where my mates and I would play cricket using a dustbin lid as the wicket. My mates and I would play football on Highbury Fields. On the way back we played on the bomb site at Highbury Corner. The houses there had been hit by a V1 rocket during WW2 (27 June 1944). It was full of bricks, assorted rubble and pieces of metal. We looked for shrapnel, but never found any.
“On Saturday mornings we went to the cinema at the end of Barnsbury Street (now a garage). From the 1930s until the mid 1950s on most Saturday nights Mum and Dad would often go along to the Finsbury Park Empire. I have a vague early memory of seeing a show featuring Larry Adler who played the mouth organ. We stopped going when Dad purchased a TV. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Adler
“All the family and friends lived within a 20-minute walk and you knew all the neighbours along the road. Where I live now, near Brentwood, Essex I have a lovely garden but I don’t speak to anyone beyond our immediate neighbours. They’ve got their own lives. Then no one had telephones, so the only way to meet people was to go to your house. And Arsenal wasn’t just for football it was a way of engaging – of having a chat. It’s where everyone met.
“Just before we moved to Chingford in 1962 the landlord offered to sell our accommodation to my father for £400. He refused the offer saying it wasn’t worth the money. There must have been thousands of families, who, as a result of the slum clearance programmes made their way north up the A1 corridor to the new towns of Hemel Hempstead, Letchworth, Stevenage and Harlow.
“No one in my family had a university degree. I went to William Tyndale Primary School and then Sir Philip Magnus off Pentonville Road (no longer there). I completely underachieved at school. I was a baby boomer so the classes were very large – I hated it. When I left school I thought I’d carve out a career. I did a lot of study when I left school. I got the diploma in municipal administration (four-year course and a must for the aspiring manager) done on day release mostly at Tottenham Technical College in Tottenham High Road, not far from Seven Sisters. When I retired I was working at Hertfordshire County Council.
“It’s amazing how I enjoyed writing my memories,” says David, “and then your brain goes into other things you did as a kid. It’s quite therapeutic. I also laughed to myself as I was writing, for instance thinking about the chimney sweep with me waiting in the road to see the top of the broom coming out of the chimney. It sounds like a clip from Oliver but it was the 1950s, not that long ago, not Dickens in the 1850s.
“I got quite emotional as well – I welled up a little bit thinking of my parents and the Christmas party in our posh room, the front parlour. All these people would arrive and settle on the chairs – Dad would arrange them in a rectangle – and I was thinking of their faces. But apart from my older brother, John, there’s no one left.
Do you think you got lucky?
“I lead a comfortable life. I’m retired, I’ve got a pension, a good marriage and we haven’t got any children. We can do what we want – two cars, two holidays, eat out. When I think how my father was brought up, absolutely impoverished, with hardly any clothes, it’s just an amazing change. You can hardly quantify that. My father hadn’t got a pension, but he said it was fine because ‘I can pay my bills. There’s food on the table’. He remembered those far off days when the family was struggling. It meant he lived carefully.
Would you move back to Islington?
“No. I’d find Islington a bit oppressive. I’d miss the greenery. I went back five or seven years ago – just walking past where we lived at 212 and going to St Mary’s on Upper Street which was such an oasis for me as a child – and I found Islington extremely crowded.
“In 2008 while we were on holiday in Vermont, New England the phone rang in our hotel. It was the Essex police. They said that we’d been struck by lightning and there had been a very serious fire and you’re homeless. If we’d been upstairs when the lightning came through we’d have been killed. I get quite upset thinking about it.
“The roof and first floor were completely gone, the ground floor ruined from smoke damage. It took seven months to rebuild. And we lost all our personal effects – all the things you save as a kid, all the keepsakes that mean nothing, they’ve all gone…”
- See more about David Hammond’s lifestory on instagram https://www.instagram.com/islingtonfaces/
- Are you good at photography? Would you like to publish some of your Islington scenes on Islington Faces? If that’s a yes, please contact Nicola
- David Hammond and Nicola Baird plan to run occasional talks about Islington life – then and now. Again contact Nicola if you’d like them to be speakers for your group.
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com.