This is, or was, Norah Street. It’s name is forever deleted from the street atlas of London, it no longer exists. I grew up in Norah Street, born in 1946 and lived in our little house until I left for Switzerland 20 years later. There were two squares of Norah Street, and this wonderful peaceful looking lawn was where my square would be. My square was the lower square with approximately 30 houses, each one attached to the next. They were built in 1884, according to the writing on the wall, and were demolished some time in the 1970’s. I left Bethnal Green, London in 1966, where this lawn replaces my memories.
Nothing more is left to evoke memories. It is no longer my square with the lampost in the middle where we kids would hang a rope and swing on it. The uneven paving stones, each one with its own colour, cracks and markings no longer exist, just the memories. Each houshold had its own door step. Door steps were an important part of East End slum life. It was the step that mum kept clean and scrubbed at least once a week. Some even painted them a special colour, usually red. Ours was worn in the middle from the feet of the many that walked into the house for almost 100 years. My grandfather and grandmother moved into No. 45 when they married and remained until they carried grandad out in a wooden box, I was then about 14 years old and he was something over 80. In their three rooms on the ground floor they raised 4 children, my mum, my two aunts and uncle. Eventually the top floor was vacant and mum and dad rented it when they married.
Eventually mum and dad got the good news that they could leave this reminder of the olden days with no running hot water and no bathroom and move to one of the new settlements built on the Eastern edge of London. Our relations had been moved some time ago to the same area. Dad had been working in a place called Dagenham for many years, in the Ford motor works, and of course the choice fell on Dagenham. I was no longer at home, had already decided to explore the world and was settling down in Switzerland.
Of course the old house was full of old memories. My little bedroom which had only space for a bed and a few cheap cupboards that were issued to the people after the war, was all I left behind. My cupboard was full of my old school books, books I had written in the six years I attended grammar school in London. They were the basis of my education. When mum and dad moved, they left in the house what they no longer needed. No longer needed were the memories from my childhood life. We never had money to spend on luxuries and my childhood possessions were a reflection of this. Nothing was built to last. I was in Switzerland, and that was my decision and somewhere on the garbage heap of time my school books were disintegrating. Perhaps a demolition worker read a few pages of what I left, but I do not think that the Pythagoras theorem would have been interesting, or the would have read my notes on various works of literature such as Shakespeare or Jane Austin. They were gone forever. I asked mum on a visit to London, before I met Mr. Swiss, whether I could take my old school books back with me to Switzerland. She looked quite shocked and eventually admitted they no longer exist. They left them in Norah Street when they moved on.
What could I say? It was my decision to move away from Bethnal Green, and quite honestly I would have gone anywhere at the time. My family is no more, and you cannot take anything with you when you go, but I would have liked to have kept my schoolbooks. This newspaper cutting that mum sent me is all I now have to evoke the memories of how it was. This was not my square but the top square, but they both looked the same.