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Jane May

The Isle of Dogs


LIFE IN 1929



I always felt somehow that people living in Stebondale Street were of a different breed to the neighbourhood of the newer estates that had sprung up around the 2o's.

It was an area where old Georgian and Victorian houses huddled together either side of a long, straight busy road of horse drawn carts, vendors, Coster-barrows and later, motor driven buses. We used just two buses, the 56 and 57, one to Poplar, the other to Stratford. (Trams were not running on the Island. They went from Burdett Road to the City.)

These old communities brought to mind stories of mystery and murders with Sherlock Holmes lurking with his notebook. Houses were built two stories high over the top of a below-ground area nicknamed the Airey. You accessed this from the pavement by stone steps, surrounded by black iron railings.

All railings during World War 2 were pulled down and melted for the war effort. It was not unusual for several families to share a house; parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren and the odd relative.

There were six rooms in all, scullery and basement floor. In the tiny back yard, there was a pigeon loft, chicken coop, rabbit hutch, perhaps a canary in a cage suspended on a large nail high on the back wall.

A house-cat always prowled around for mice and a pet dog lounged lazily on a sooty patch beneath a leafless tree or bush.

Beside the outside toilet hung a large tin bath which was brought into the back room every Friday night and the hot water came from the brick wash boiler stoked up regularly.

There was a rota for the bathers, but it was accepted as the normal routine of the week. Stebondale Street was noted for its neighbourhood fracas and family feuds were common - an entertainment for all. An outstanding case was of two women, one a money lender, the other a shop owner. It was well known that these women fought with their fists and thought nothing of pulling each other's hair out.

Religious antipathy was often a cause for street arguments and I believe it was this kind of atmosphere that my parents warned us to steer clear of, so different from the new estate at Chapel House Street and surrounding area. These were considered the last word in luxury and a far cry from Stella Street - the fictional but very authentic slum road in which the Allen family lived.


Jane May


Islander At War

Chapter One




Copyright 2000