I suppose it is natural that I think of parents and times long gone, as I sit in the family house in Tottenham, North London, waiting for some people to come and view it. It will be a wrench to leave, as I was born here and have been around the place, one way or another, for fifty five years or more. I remember old friends and neighbours; some long dead, others just lost - as is the way of life. Looking out over the garden, I can see the neat paths, lawns, borders and rose bushes that were my father’s pride. Carnations, flocks, pansies, peonies, marigolds and chrysanthemums were separated from the vegetable plots by his greenhouse.  But it only takes a blink of the eyes and they are gone; replaced by the chaos of the long, uneven grass and the nettles and brambles, which hang on so tenaciously, overshadowed by the elder trees and the spreading hop vines. 

Looking out of the front room window, I can see Mr Perkins walking up to the shops leaning heavily on his stick; his daughter Janet goes off to work on her bicycle with the basket on the front handlebars. I remember Jack the pigman shouting and chasing a huge sow down the road towards West Green. It escaped from its’ pen at the piggery in the middle of Summerhill Road, after deciding to decline Jacks’ hospitality and to refuse the invitation to visit the slaughter house in Philip Lane. Other times, Jack can be seen driving cattle up to Philip Lane from the pens; strangely rural sights, only a couple of miles or so from the centre of London, in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The rag and bone man would slowly make his way up the street calling out for “old iron, any old iron”. Dressed in the same buttonless, tattered, grey raincoat that he wore year in, year out, summer and winter, and leaning forward against the bars, he pushed his two wheeled handcart piled high with bundles, bottles, pots, pans, old tin baths with holes and scrap paper. His coat was tied with a length of thick, rough string, and underneath a broad, brown leather belt held up a pair of grey pinstripe trousers, which must have come from his cart, unless they were a relic from a former, more prosperous life. Large, black boots, one without laces held him up and an old cloth cap of indeterminate colour held him down.   His sunburnt, grizzled face always had a couple of days grey stubble and a cheerful grin, come rain or shine. How he made a living, I do not know, but back in the 1950s’ I guess it was possible to live from his cart. I think we call it re-cycling now. Apparently, I was a puzzle to him; he could not decide where I would arrive at in life, as he always told me I had policeman’s feet and murderer’s eyebrows. 

Old Mrs. Meers would stand in her doorway waiting for the children to come home, to call one to run an errand for her to the top of the road. If we wanted to play we would try to creep by, hiding under the cover of the hedge to avoid the trip to the shops. When you are six and seven or so errands seem to take so long. She used to call out as we crept or ran past ‘Michael’ and I would groan and say ‘oh no, caught’.  We would be given a list of three or four things: eggs, milk, potatoes, sugar or whatever and the money, wrapped in a piece of paper in the shopping bag and there was always a halfpenny or a penny for going. Every other day the list would contain a bottle of Guinness. Imagine sending a seven year old for a bottle of beer these days, poor old Mrs. Meers would be served an ASBO for encouraging under age drinking. My Mum said it was her tonic and she would have had a glass a day for the ‘iron’, and I was never refused by the Off Licence. 

Musing on these and other familiar grey ghosts walking up and down the street, I jump as they are suddenly swept aside by a four-by-four shooting down the road, it’s hi-fi blaring and as I watch they gradually dissolve into a fine misty rain.  

I also remember a trip out on the motor bike with my dad when I was six or seven, as a result of a detour I had taken last night when returning ‘home’ from a trip to Clapham. I can remember sitting in the sidecar and, as it was one morning, it must have been a Saturday or Sunday – no school. I guess it would have been the Indian or Dad’s BSA M 20 pulling the ‘chair as I can remember the M 21 and Panther from my teens. He was really pleased to get the M 21.”Only another 100cc”, he said, “from 500 cc to 600 cc, but a lot more power”. This was quite true, as it turned out, since Mum didn’t have to get out of the sidecar any more, to walk up the hills, on our holiday trips to Devon. 

Although it was fifty years ago, and the memories are rather vague, a not too long a journey ended along a causeway running between what I thought were two lakes of water. Dad pulled up in front of a large building, parked in gear and we went in. It was the pumping house for the two reservoirs – “where our water comes from” – Dad told me. I was taken to the furnace room and shown the boilers and I can recall the blast of heat as the doors were opened for more coal for the fires. Either my Dad was a stoker there, or my Grandfather was, but I do not know which and now it is too late, by many years, to ask. Then it was time to visit the huge pumping engines, before going out to the bike and leaving for home, once the familiar ritual was over, of rocking everything back and forth until Dad got the engine out of gear for the kick-start. 

I have thought of that visit from time to time over the years and often wondered where the reservoirs were. They must have been in London and quite close to home in Tottenham. I seem to think they were not far from ‘Green Lanes’ for some reason, but have never seen them when driving along there. I supposed they had long been abandoned and the land turned into flats or houses. 

Last night I drove to London from Calver; down the M1, along the Edgeware Road and through the City around midnight. Having lived in Yorkshire for some years, I navigated around the Congestion Zone ‘just in case’ that particular night, charging hadn’t stopped at 6.30 p.m.!  Arriving in Clapham, Wendy and I had to wait whilst the youngest son (not at home as promised) sped back from some party or the other and tried his best to appear far more sober than he actually was, when he finally arrived. His last few boxes of belongings from home (and some of ours no doubt) were unloaded and then it was back across the City to Tottenham. I must say, the journey was worth it for the Christmas lights, which were really nice to see; trees, squares and lamps all decorated and lit up, and the stores with their bright window displays. 

I managed the route O.K. until I decided, at 1.30 a.m., upon a detour to show Wendy a church in Stoke Newington. It comes upon one as a surprise, does the Parish Church of St. Mary as it suddenly appears round a corner. It is very large, almost as large as some cathedrals, with its’ tall spire towering above the Borough with the crowded streets and houses huddled below. Of course, as with all short diversions, going on from there, I ended up somewhere quite different from Tottenham, but eventually arrived back home at about 2 a.m.

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Reservoirs - Green Lanes -Stoke Newington

This morning, I thought I would look in the A-Z to see where I had been driving the night before. There, in Stoke Newington and just behind Green Lanes, were two reservoirs divided by a road! Suddenly, the memories came flooding back and I felt myself in the sidecar, bowling along the causeway once again, feeling that .sense of excitement that always goes with a special trip. 

I had to go back, to see if the place on the map was the same one as I remembered. With the A-Z  I found my way along the road, and there, either side, were the two reservoirs! Not quite as I had remembered them, since the road between dipped below the water level and I suspect the railings either side were newer. But, two reservoirs, none-the-less. One was quite flat and calm and a dark grey colour in the image of the overcast sky. The other side was a hive of silent activity with sailing boats in all directions. I parked up and walked along a towpath and watched the boats on the water. Behind them was the spire of St. Mary’s clear above the rooftops and also to the right of where I was standing was the ‘Castle’; a tall ramparted tower next to large building, which must have been the pumping house. I made my way back to the car, and thought that to be on my way was probably quite sensible as I had heard at least three police cars race into the local estate in the ten minutes or so I had been walking and another one roared past with light flashing and siren wailing, went screeching round a corner with a puff of smoke from the tires and disappeared in the estate. I am glad I don’t live in London. 

 I found my way round the streets to the main entrance of the ‘Castle’ and discovered it was now the country’s biggest indoor climbing centre! I went in and explained I had been there 50 or so years ago and they let me have a look round. The boilers were still in situ, although walled off from the climbing areas. Everything else had gone. Judging by the size of the buildings I suspect the pumping engines were beam engines. I shall try to find out. I was not allowed to take pictures, in case the flash disturbed some of the climbers who were hanging from the ceiling, but I was told to contact the manager if I wanted to return and he might make arrangements for me to take pictures at a quiet time. I shall follow this up.

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Pumping Station - Green Lanes- Stoke Newington

Time always moves on and the pumping stations of yesterday become the climbing centres of today and our actions of today will be our memories of tomorrow. They are important to us, our memories, as they link us both to the past and to the future, since what we were, helped to makes us what we are and hence, what we will be. Thinking about the people and places I have known, makes me think about where I want to go in the years to come and what memories or regrets I will have then. It is the same for our heritage and it is the reason why preservation is so important. Saving our engines and artefacts, giving them a new lease of life, recording their histories, rallying them and displaying them is a very important facet of our society. These are our ‘industrial memories’. They link our industrial past to our industrial and commercial future; they remind us of just how far we have come and can make us wonder just how far we will go in the next fifty five years.

(These memories have been adpated for the website from the original notes written by Michael in Feb 2005)

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