Daily Prompt: Evoking Memories of the past

Norah Street Park between Pollards Row and Squirries Street in Bethnal Green

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.

The End of Norah Street

Daily Prompt: Evoking Memories of the past

18 thoughts on “Daily Prompt: Evoking Memories of the past

  1. This is why my Pa avoids his hometown when he comes here. It is now part of the vast urban sprawl of the Santa Clara Valley. He knew it when there were only a few thousand people there. My parents old home is still where I remember it to be, but the town, San Tomas Aquino, has been cut up and annexed into the towns around it, mostly Campbell and San Jose. All the orchards are gone.
    It bothered me even when I was in my 20s and too young to remember the good old days. Yet, my great grandmother, who had lived through nearly a century of local history loved progress and sharing the Santa Clara Valley with a million other people. She had such a great attitude about it. I just do not get it.

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    • Places change so fast today, it is hard to keep up. When I arrived in Switzerland 50 years ago I lived in Zürich for two years. Today I do not recognise the place, everything has changed. My home town London, is no longer London. Everything has been replaced. it has grown so large I am completely out of touch. One of the reasons I love living in my little village in Switzerland. There are laws again using agricultural land for building so the changes do not happen so fast.

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      • I still want to go home to Los Gatos, even though it is some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and I do not like many of the 30,000 people who now live there, or the million others who live in San Jose to the north. Sadly, the place in only half of it. The time is the other half, and I can not get that back. I am staying in Felton now, just a few miles to the south, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. My paternal grandparents lived here for a while before my time. Although it is not my home, it sure feels like it is because it is familiar. It still looks like it did when I was a kid, with only a tolerable bit of modern development.

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    • Although my photos of Bethnal Green are very incomplete. I don’t know what shows up on Google. I have a few photos of mine on Flickr and also some borrowed from other places. If I visit Bethnal Green today it is unrecognisable. The street names are in various languages and the population is now ethnic minorities, which are actually majorities. It is no longer my Bethnal Green. It is becoming a bit of a hippie place as well, with artists and such moving in forcing rents to be unaffordable.

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  2. The house in which I grew up is also gone, plowed under and there are three homes on the same property, all much more expensive that my house. It’s better to not go back and look, I think. The memories are better when we let them remain in places.

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      • My brother always mourned the loss of his trains. Garry still mourns the loss of his baseball cards. And then, there were all my dolls and books. But that’s what happens. We leave, our stuff is left behind and it disappears. It’s the true end of childhood.

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  3. My mother always used to say it was better not to go back to an old home. i have visited the two council houses where we lived in Romford and as I didn’t have strong feelings for them it was interesting to see them again but if I went back again and they were not there. Well that would probably feel different. I’ve never revisited the house we lived in for 25 years in South Australia although I’ve seen pictures of it. It has been extended and doesn’t look like our house now.

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    • When my father was still alive I would visit once a year and sometimes I visited the area where I grew up, but I felt like a tourist. London has changed so much. I know Romford quite well, I stayed in Hornchurch when I was in London, but so much has changed. There was once a small village called Havering which had now grown to become Romford.

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  4. I moved from New Jersey down here to Florida before my parents sold our old home. Before they left, my mom had a huge yard sale and sold all my books, dolls, records, even the old dishes of hers that I would have liked. I was upset that she never told me, but….who needs all those old things now anyway?

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    • It’s true you cannot take it with you. I kept my son‘s toys waiting for my grandchildren. it was a long wait, but now I am a grandmother and gradually the large box of LEGO and the playbig toys are being taken, as well as the wooden trainset. They are toys that are still good today and my son was so pleased that they still existed. I was determined that I would not make the same mistake as my parents by just disposing of everything.

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  5. My parents moved around so much, that when they did settle, they stayed put for over 60 years and I have now moved back into the house, which I have inherited. Our suburb, Plumstead, was named after Plumstead in London and my dad’s parents were married in the London Plumstead and my parents in the Cape Town Plumstead!

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    • My mum was born in the house that I grew up in and only moved when it was demolished. In London it was the only house I ever lived in. In Switzerland I have moved a few times, but those days are now finished. We bought our place 20 years ago. I know of Plumstead in England but have never been there. A coincidence that your parents also married in Plumstead, even if it was a different country.

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  6. I grew up on an orchard which later became an oil refinery. A railway cutting goes through the place where our house was and the rest is oil storage tanks. The only thing in the area that hasn’t changed is the little cemetery that is surrounded by gum trees and is slowly filling with the people of my childhood.

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