Nostalgia: Dagenham Days

I’ve mentioned before about having a guest blogger or joining forces with another, so I was more than happy to collaborate, when Scott Redmond approached me about featuring some excerpts from his book that he’s currently working on, called Dagenham Days. It’s a collection of memoirs from Scott’s childhood growing up in the East London Borough of Dagenham, which of course is a subject close to my heart as it’s also my birthplace. This little chapter about the town’s local high street is particularly nostalgic, as the area has changed so much over the years, even from my childhood to now. I think you’ll agree that this is an interesting and poignant read:

“It’s hard to imagine a time when shops actually shut, not just at teatime but also all day Sunday. The shops were about 5 minutes away; the pavement from our gate was interrupted all the way to The Heathway. The Heathway was the main route that tore through Dagenham’s centre. The top end joined the A13, right by the high bay Ford warehouse, another proud entry for Dagenham in the Guinness Book of Records. Fords dominated the skyline, its presence sadly missing from the landscape these days.

 The Heathway falls in to two areas of my memory bank, pre and post the Mall being built in the early 80s. The days before the new shopping centre rose out of the ground like a massive legoland feature with its dark red brick structure are a bit less memorable to me. The main shops I remember are still there now, three decades later, just with different shopkeepers and more heavily fortified. Woolworths was one of the bigger stores, a place to check where your favourite record was in the hit parade, allowing you roughly to know when you needed to listen to the top forty to tape it on a Sunday, and the heavy clumsy buttons on the tape recorder always managing to mess up a perfectly clean pirate copy.

 A mixture of butchers, bakers, hairdressers and the odd electrical shop made up the tapestry of the Heathway. There were two electrical shops that I remember clearer than others. Rumbleows was the biggest, situated half way down the hill between Parsloes Avenue and the Heathway tube station that ran beneath us, the station itself sat dominantly at the top of the hill, its glowing underground logo always lit. Tandy was the other one, just beyond Rumblelows if walking down from the station. The shops were both very different when you went in. Rumblelows was your first stop for washing machines, fridges and TVs where Tandy’s was more geeky, things like remote control toys, CB radios and electrical components. If you bought something your details were logged and one of their catalogues appeared in the post four times a year, the Christmas one was always hidden.

 The corner store was Gipps, a fresh fruit and veg. store, well actually more of a market stall that appeared from behind the vandalised roller shutters, a bit like a pop up shop. The men on the stall always wore white overall jackets, in the summer the white cotton jacket was probably cooling, in the winter it needed scarves and fingerless gloves to prop it up. These were the last of the days where people only bought what they needed that day or so, the freezer revolution and the supermarket style of shopping was already choking these independent traders. Gipps always smelt fresh, fruit always looked appealing, you could touch it, feel it and they always rounded up the contents of the brass bowl on the Salter scales before it slid inside a brown paper bag with their logo on, which kept people happy whilst doing an otherwise medial chore of buying Granny Smiths and Jaffa’s.

 The opposite side of the road saw an old Odeon, it looked dated, unloved and ripe for rising from the ground, but instead B&Q opened a DIY superstore, its car park being part of the attraction I guess.

 A massive fire broke out one summer’s evening, I could see the top of the building directly from my single glazed bedroom window, smoke funnelled skywards at an alarming rate, and I run between the garden and my bedroom for about five minutes before heading to Heathway to watch the veteran building burn. This was like a major event, everyone was there, and all gawping and watching the concrete landscape go up in thick black smoke. It burned for hours, the fire brigade were unable to save the building, Johnny Diggines was off duty but appeared with his camera, no doubt hoping to sell a few shots achieved with special access from his fireman mates to the local rag. Which he did.

Photo courtesy of Scott Redmond

Back in the day…Photo courtesy of Scott Redmond

 The Mall was a much needed injection in to the Heathway’s arm, usually if you wanted anything more than a newspaper or some spuds you’d have to head to Romford or Ilford. The bus stop outside the tube station delivered plenty of Routemasters to assist in hitting these shopping meccas. I never really liked Ilford, no idea why, probably because my mum also opted for Romford I suppose, so I did the same. A 174 or 175 bus took you on different routes to the same place, a bus journey was a treat when a nipper but a chore when a teenager. I’d always sit upstairs, again when an infant at the front, imagining I was the driver, and then almost out of spite to myself at the back when the calling card of puberty arrived depositing me with spots on my face.

 Romford had all the big stores, Debenhams even had escalators! Littlewoods and BHS both battled for the middle classed pound, with Marks and Spencer’s later taking the Littlewoods store site after they lost! You didn’t have to want to shop, you could just hang around, and of course get up to mischief, the multi story cars parks were always handy for paying for the day trip…

 The Mall was like a pint sized Romford, the horseshoe type layout made it feel larger than it was, the shops weren’t traditional local business types, instead shops like H Samuels where most of my last minute Christmas shopping was done, I’ve no idea why they didn’t build a petrol station inside, after all we all like de-icer for Christmas. Rumblelows were the first turncoat store to leave the old Heathway site and go upmarket, well for Dagenham it was.

 The floor of the Mall was tiled, apply some rain that was swept in its well lit insides and you suddenly had a great BMX track, minimal effort on the pedals and a sharp rear brake helped to create long skids that didn’t wear your tyres out, if it was your bike or someone else’s..

 My mum’s daily trip up the shops continued, there was always something she’d forgotten or we’d run out of, her trolley often overloaded, my dad helped though, he chucked away the bag part and modified the flimsy base with a nice off cut of mahogany, well known for its lightness, not! It was ever varnished in special lacquer, he spoilt her at times. This allowed the maximum weight to increase say a pack of loo rolls in to something much more heavy duty, sacks of potatoes could now be transported at ease, she never moaned, because if she did nobody would listen she’d say, humour hides many a truth.” 

Scott describes himself as: “A 43 year old ex Dagenite. After years of messing around with motorcycles in 2007 I discovered writing and photography, I’ve freelanced since.
I enjoy perfecting the art of mooching, exploring my new found passions and avoiding salad.”

For more information or for freelance opportunities, please contact him at scott.redmond@sky.com

If anyone is interested in writing a little guest post for Essex and The City, feel free to let me know through any forms of media.

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