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Green Street Lives

Cab drivers on Green StreetGreen Street Lives is about the evolution of Green Street in Newham, East London, during the last 40 years. It tells the story of the street and documents the opinions and life stories of some of those who have lived or worked in Green Street. 

All the words and interviews are from and reflect the people of Green Street. There are different opinions and various backgrounds of those giving opinions and a plethora of different cultural attitudes. 

That, after all, is what Green Street is today. 

Green Street Lives: From Where?


I come from Gujarat, and I came here when I was three years old with my Mum. We came in 1959 from, Bombay on a ship. I think it took us about a month or so. We settled in Aldgate. Then my brothers were born in 1961in the London Hospital, then we moved to Whitechapel and from there we moved to Upton Park. I went to the local schools – Lister, Harold Road – I went to the local college. 

- CV 

We are Indian by origin, and went to school in India, but were born and bred in Baghdad, in Iraq. We had been established in Baghdad a long time, about 50 years, and it is a completely different world. My mother came over when Saddam Hussain took over. There was a revolution in 1967- 68, nobody was allowed to go back. 

- DD 

Baghdad was completely different from here. I was not working. I was a housewife. We used to have a driver, a gardener and servants. We never worked in our life time, we never even went into the kitchen. 

- DK 

My name is Beryl Riches and I was born in Oxford, in Ruskin College. The war had just started and for some reason they evacuated all the pregnant women. My mother was from Plaistow, and because my father was called into the army, she moved back in with my grandmother in Plaistow. 

- BR 

I arrived in England from Guyana in November 1962, it was so foggy. We were supposed to land at Heathrow but the fog was so bad we went to Gatwick. My husband was waiting for me at Heathrow. We were put on a coach to take us to Victoria and while I was sitting on the coach he came tapping on the window. 

- OC 


Green Street Lives: World War Two

During the war I remember we used to have an air raid shelter. One in next doors garden which we shared and one in the playground at Harold Road School. We used to go in it if there was an air raid. I can remember we used to go out after a raid, when we were children. We played in bombed out buildings and we used to go out after a raid and collect shrapnel, and exchange it with one another. We used to play in the debris of the bomb sites. There was a bomb dropped just at the back of us between Gwendoline Avenue and Donald Road. For years it was just left. There was bombing in Green Street – you had the old Duke of Edinburgh pub and the Queen’s and in Rochester Avenue at the back of the Queens a landmine dropped.
The other thing I remember about the bomb site in Gwendoline Avenue was celebrating VE Day, when they had bonfires and things. I had my two front teeth knocked out. I bent down to pick up part of an Andies (Andersons) shelter and someone jumped on the other end of it at the same time and it hit me on the mouth. When I got home I got a good hiding.
I can also remember during the war the Italian prisoners of war marching down the top end of Queen’s Road and me walking behind them. They were singing and seemed very happy.
Was I scared? I think it is like most things. When you are a child you take things for granted, and you just get used to things, anything becomes an everyday thing. I remember my father who was working down the docks at the time. He got to the stage where he would not go down the air raid shelter. He said if a thing is going to happen it is going to happen, and that was the way he looked at things.

- RW 

Green Street Lives: The Good Old Days?


Green Street, how it has changed from a shopping area of whites, completely white to a tiny dot of other races, now it is completely Indian. When we moved here we called Green Street our little ‘Oxford Street’ you could get anything in Queens Market, from furniture to jewellery. 

- BA 

The First school I went to was Credon Road, just off Green Street at the back of Queen’s Market, this must have been about 1938. Its now used as an administration centre for the Education Department, you can still see ‘babies’ marked above one of the entrances. 

Of course you had the big department stores there as well: British Home Stores, Woolworth’s, Marks and Spencer. There was a wide variety of shops – grocers, caters, Home and Colonial, Wal Memory, and quite a few butcher’s shop. I can remember going to the old market, Queen’s Market. It must have been in the 1950s, when they used to have gas lamps over the stalls, when it was an open market. I remember I bought my first 78 record down there. Yes, it was a Doris Day record, she was very popular then, and still is. In those day most of the market people were either local East Enders, who were mainly the people who did fruit and veg and the Jewish people who mainly did clothing. Yes, there was a Jewish community in the market. They used to open late, especially at Christmas time. We used to go there at Christmas Eve – it used to be quite exciting, especially with the old gas-lamps burning away. 

In those days you had steam trains stopping at Upton Park Staion. I remember catching one to Purfleet, when I was stationed there for a short time in the army. I used the entrance to the station that was in Harold Road, which is where the nursery is now. 

- RW 

Day trip 

Green Street was different to what it is now, obviously. There was a Jewish community, then it changed to West Indian and African and now it is Asian. 

There were traditional English grocer shops selling cooked meat, there was a sink unit place, the British school of Motoring. There used to be a bus garage and I used to serve lots of people from the bus garage. 

We used to be just an English delicatessen, years ago, where we used to sell cooked meat and bacon. We used to sell loose tea, loose butter – everything was loose, nothing was pre-packed. It was ham off the bone, bacon off the big slicing machine – you know the traditional English grocer. 

- H 

Employees outside workplace 

The community was very close then

Twenty-five years ago it was very nice, it still is. There were lots of English stores then as well. Marks and Spencer, Woolworth’s. They were all here. I miss them. There was one shop, it was baby clothing, it was owned by a nice Jewish man. I remember him because I bought my son’s first baby suit from him. 

- JS 

When I first came here, 22 years ago, Green Street was like a shopping centre. It was not Asian. There was a Marks and Spencer. The place was like a normal high street. It was white people who owned the shops. It changed very slowly. A few fruit and vegetable shops started appearing and then so many people started moving in. 

- IP 

Green Street Lives: Present Day

Well, it’s hustling and bustling now, especially on festivals and days like that. It doesn’t seem like an English street in a way. People are working hard and working till late hours, giving the community the service they need. Now you can buy anything up to 10pm.

- MM 

When relatives come over here, we take them to Green Street, they say “Oh my God” – they don’t think they are in London, because they expect only English people and English shops , not Asian shops and sari shops and shops with vegetables outside. It’s so busy you can’t go down Green Street in a car – it takes too long. 

It is a buzz walking down Green Street now, it is a buzz just looking in the windows – the different shops, the different varieties. 

- CV 

It is a buzz walking down Green Street now 

Green Street is my favourite street. I always go there, sometimes twice in one day. There are so many gold shops and all the clothing, very nice clothing. The women especially cannot pass one shop, especially the gold. They stay there and then the husband comes forward and says, “Sweetheart, let’s go”, and she says, “No, no, I want to go in the shop.” So that’s very nice. I watch, especially the women when they are passing through the shops. 

I buy Indian and Pakistani films in Green Street, and take them back to Pakistan. There are Pakistani films you cannot get in Pakistan, so I take them from Green Street. 

Nowadays there are so many shops in Green Street. It is full of shops and you can get everything from this street. I think it is famous, Green Street, especially in London, especially in England. 

- MD 

Green Street has changed tremendously. First it was a small centre, where only local people came, but suddenly it has transformed itself into one of the largest and busiest streets in the East End where people come from all areas to shop. I am proud to be part of it. 

- PK 

I love living around here, sometimes I feel it is like India because Indians run all the shops. It is like the Punjab, where people are selling things on the street, bangles and stuff. It is like a bazaar. You can buy anything – clothes, food, gold. 

- JS 

Top of Page 

Green Street Lives: Work

When I first came here I saw various jobs in the Evening Standard, and I went to the place and I found they were not very happy to give me a job because I had been running my own business in Pakistan. I knew about repairing radios and electrics. In those days there were chain stores and although they had notices in the window stating they needed engineers, when I went there they said fill in an application form and send it to Head Office. Then, if they felt like it, they would let you know.

I saw an advertisement for engineers in a company, which was in Kingsland High Road in Dalston. I was living near Arsenal stadium then in Higbury and nearby was Dalston. So I went there and was interviewed by Mr Burney who was in charge of the service section. He asked me a few questions and gave me a radio to repair, and I repaired it. Then he said “I’ll give you a job. How much wages do you want?” I said you must give me something that is worthwhile, so he started me on £12.50 a week. 

I was working six days a weeks. I didn’t mind, I was single and at least I didn’t have to go a long distance to get to work. After a couple of weeks they said they would give me a van. They gave me sheets of addresses to go to, to visit people and check their radios or televisions. If I could do the job I would charge them 15 shillings for calling plus the parts. 

But then restrictions on credit started and the sales went down and people started renting televisions and not buying them. And they forgot about radios and radiograms. So the business changed overnight and they were forced to say sorry to a lot of their employees. 

The old ones, they couldn’t make them leave because they were knowledgeable about the laws. I wasn’t, not having been long in the country. The manager called me in and he said, “Look, I know it’s hard, but the business has gone down. Let’s say you resign from the company.” I didn’t know there were certain rules and that they couldn’t sack me. I didn’t know these things. So when they said you had better resign from next week, I said alright, I took him at his word and I resigned. He said he would give me one week’s money. But in the meantime I had seen an advert by a company called Rentavision. They had a shop in Roman Road, Bow. So I went there and I spoke to the manager and he said, “Yes, we need engineers.” 

- Mr W 

Man on bike 

I remember my first job on the railway. There you do twelve to eighteen hour shifts. I worked 22.5 hours on one shift. The wages were so poor you had to do overtime. Back home you do not work that hard. 

- Mr M  


Green Street Lives: Time Out

We used to go dancing at Poplar Town Hall, and the old East India Baths Dance Hall. I used to go with Ivy, who had just left school, and one of her friends who we knew from our crowd. 

It was the type of crowd that had girls and fellows but anyone who was outside the crowd never knew who was with who, because it was very close. Ivy was just 15 at the time, but we got permission from her mother to go to the dance and I assured here I would bring her home safely. 

- RM 

A good night out was at Forest Gate Roller Skating Rink, at the back of the Princess Alice, you had two live bands, one a ladies and on a Tuesday night the ladies were given a free ticket for Thursday. On the way home we used to stop at the coffee stall in Upton Lane for a cup of Bovril and a cheese and onion sandwich. 

- RW 

There were a few Asians, not a whole lot in those days, but we would meet regularly at a cinema that used to show Indian films in Ilford. We used to meet regularly there, every Sunday. And that was all the kids and the families together. That was a social centre. Really. Then the families had dinner at each other’s houses. Any other form of socialising, like going down the pubs, wasn’t the done thing in those days. 

- DD 

Green Street Lives: Neighbours

Green Street is a busy street, with liveliness and community spirit. People get together. People talk to each other. You can talk to anyone, you can stop people and they will talk. That’s the main thing. 

- Mr M 

I feel comfortable in it. You can walk down the street and you feel you know most of the people around. It has an enormous buzz, especially in summer with the corn on the cob cooking and the music blaring.

- DD 

What I love about Green Street is that I can walk down the street and I know all the shopkeepers. Sometimes, when I am bored, I go and have a chat. I don’t feel strange and it’s the way I pass the time of day. My life style is limited, so it helps.

- JS