Here are the transcripts from the digital stories we have made

A huge thank you goes out to our storytellers for sharing their memories with us

Bob's Story

My parents were involved in the parish of St. Josephs in Leighton, which is part of the diocese of Brentwood and at that time this would of been late 50s / early 60s. They would try to raise money to build a mission or a hostel for the seafarers, for when they stayed in the docks in London. So my parents were involved right from the start.

When the Anchor House was opened about 1962/63 they became voluntary helpers here. Subsequently my mother became a bar maid, for want of a better word, working behind the bar at lunchtime.

As I got involved my mother used to bring me down there, then subsequently I’d come by bus. Sometimes in school holidays I’d work with Father Heecan, who was the deputy priest here and we'd do all kinds of maintenance work in the rooms. Then I progressed to being a glass washer and bottle collector for the barman, or whoever it was at the time, sometimes my mother. Then I progressed all be it underage at the time, to being a bar man and many evening I would run the bar on my own and the dance hall.

In those days in the ballroom we would have a band or a disco down. And sometimes, my brothers band would be along, that band was called the Royal Blue Dance Band. The band leader's wife used to play the bass guitar and she fell pregnant. Whilst she was pregnant having a baby I stood in for her, for a bout 6-8 months and I played the bass guitar. So I actually played in a band here.

My brother was also involved here as well, not so much on the bar side or that type of work. On a Sunday he would drive the coach to London. This was a, I can't remember,  38-40 seater coach and on a Sunday lunchtime we would leave here and we'd take any of the interested seafarers to all the sites in London. During the week the coach would be used to ferry in voluntary helpers / workers, mainly young women from Whippscross Hospital or St Louis's Hostel in Westminster. And these people would come in to be company for the residents at Anchor House. Strictly controlled, there were no liaisons allowed, no dating was allowed. Although that's where I met my wife, she came down on one of the coaches with her friends one evening. And she saw this barman behind the bar working there and thought oh, he's a good looking bloke, have to get know him. Little did she know at the time, she thought I was over 18. But one of the bands who used to play here, on a subsequent  Saturday they announced one evening that there was a special dedication to Bob the barman and proceeded to play Happy Birthday Sweet 16. It was my birthday that day, and my then girlfriend was not impressed.

As my wife and my relationship developed, we moved away from the area. My mum and dad were still involved with Anchor House, but I moved out to Chelmsford and I wasn't so involved then. It wasn't until as a chairman of governors at Campion school in Hornchurch, way back in, must be 2003-4. Monsignor John Armitage was a guest speaker, one night at the annual school prize giving. And we were chatting away reminiscing about what we each used to do and at the time he was principal and chairman at Anchor House. They were looking for people with involvement or history or enthusiasm, to come and help work with management team here. So Monsignor John Armitage being the sort of man he is, persuaded me to join and I’m know a fully fledged trustee. And possibly look for retirement in the next year or so, let the young people takeover. So in a nutshell that's my kind of story.

Kathy's Story

Well my friends, I think first if I’m right in this, my friends cousins used to come up here and then she said why don’t we come along, because the dances, you know there wasn't really anywhere to go around here.  So we thought why not. The only thing is you've got be a nurse, so if anyone asks you're nurses. So I’m thinking we're alright then as long as no one has an accident or resuscitating, because we wouldn't know what to do. We was fine, we'd come up till about 17 or 18, yeah it was good fun.

If they were on leave or on a ship, they'd come in and have a look around, see what they wanted. If they were actually on leave I suppose they had places to go or family to see. But it was a good place for them to come because then they could just let their hair down and really enjoy themselves. Then again they liked to go out. I mean if they are away for six months and they've got their money they just want to blow it all. But yeah I think it was a good place for them to come. Yeah, you know the foreign ships we used to get in, the guys there they were probably only in for one night. And they got time off, so they want to make a phone call. So they walk down to Anchor House and they can make their phone calls or go down to the bar or the ballroom so that's it. I believe a lot of them, some of them met their wives here and some of the hostesses met their husbands here, so that sort of thing. So they ask you, you know they come up to you and ask if we can dance. Because you were actually hostesses, in the nicest possible way. Not in the way it's interpreted in the way it is now. You were just there to dance with them if you were asked to dance, which you had no problem with. The only snag we got bored with is, we had to dance with them every time they asked you.  And if there was a slow one, the one song I hated dancing to was Heigh Jude , because it went on for so long. So you think right I’m going out to the loo because I don't want to dance to this one. So of we'd go and come back just as it finished.

A lot of people today it doesn't start till like 10 o’clock at night. You know they don't get ready to go out till like that time. Whereas we'd be getting ready at 7 o’clock to go out. You know then like 11 o’clock it's fine you're back home or there abouts, the time it finished, what ever you were doing. But now the nights don't start till 10 o’clock, then it just carries on till 3-4 in the morning. Becomes the stage where you can't keep up till 3 or 4 in the morning.

Where it would be buzzing in the ballroom, you'd slowly see the numbers going down. So it wasn't that buzz, the bar would be open.  But could you sustain a bar, you had 2 bars. There was a massive big one in there, and then you had the one in the lounge. And then again you got the guys who didn't like dancing and wouldn't go in there if there weren't many girls around, so they'd sit outside. So maybe even if the docks hadn't gone, it might of just been, when something out does its usefulness. We were here when it was still going strong, so I can't really give gauge to what time when it started to. But the next time I heard, I think they were having boxing here at one time, just to keep it going. Otherwise because it was such a huge ballroom and such a lovely place, you just couldn't think of it disappearing all together.

Les's Story

Well it was part and parcel of Anchor House entertainment for the seamen who arrived, from you know all over the world. And a lot were staying there and a lot were staying in the Royal Docks but they'd come up to meet other seamen that they may of sailed with. So the ones who didn't want to socialize in the ballroom stayed in the lounge, you know not every seaman is a dancer you know. But to the younger ones, the hostesses who came in from the local community to dance, they were attracted to the ballroom, because of the female company.

It was marvelous to run into people you hadn't seen for years. And as I said there were other people who walked into Anchor House for a limited period, before they joined their next ship or they'd be on a ship in the Royal Docks. With a thousand ships arriving every week, from all over the world you know it was a busy area. When you take into account all the Dockers unloading the ships manually. I worked in the catering department, two important people when you join the ship, who's the captain and who's the cook. Two very important people because the cook, you know you're gonna have 3 meals a day and if he doesn't have a very good reputation, you think oh no not him again. He burns everything you know. And of course when you went for 3-4-6 months food is very important you know. It upsets the harmony if the cooks got no imagination and then it's just what we call Board of Trade.

Well I was born in New Zealand and my  Father was at sea, and when he passed my Step-Father was at sea. And I decided to come to England when I was 20 in 1961 to join the British ships. Because as you appreciate I was on, for about 18 months on New Zealand ships going around New Zealand and then Australia, Pacific Islands, Canada and America. So every port you went to in New Zealand, there was ships from home the expression at the time was ' home the old country', not in England or the UK as we say today. So in every port there was all these shipping companies from England and it was the dream that someday i was going to go there. It was my Step Father coming from London, and we didn't have television in New Zealand, you had television in England 13 years before us in New Zealand, we only had the local cinema. So every film started with Big Ben being chimed and that sort of captivated me. And me stepfather encouraged me he said ' yes yes, you must go back and meet my family' so I arrived here in the 60's and within a fortnight I was on a brand new ship going to South America. Which was interesting at the time from a Seamen’s point of view because it had single combination, you didn't have to share with anybody, which was really unusual. And I had a hand basin, very forward thinking. So then, since then 61, I retired in 2000, say 40 years at sea travelling the world.

Mary's Story

My memories of Anchor House started with Father McGuiness arriving in our parish St Margaret’s Canning Town. This priest announced his arrival by giving a sermon at church saying he was there to raise funds for a hostel, for the apostleship of the sea which would support the sailors and merchant seamen who came into the local docks. It would support them physically with accommodation, funding for spiritual support and whatever they needed.

Anyway I was only a kid at the time so my memories are pretty patchy but I was about 10 years old. And my family were all heavily involved in the docks, with dock workers in the family, all sorts of association with living nearby. And soon after this they started holding dances for the seamen who were in port, and these dances were to get them involved in the new project and offer them initially contact with the local Chaplin who was Father McGuiness. I started to attend the dances with my older auntie who was only 8 years older than me, I was about 10 years old and soon realised most of the people that came, most of the merchant seamen were from Goa and what lovely bunch they were. I would go there on a Sunday evening with auntie who was only 18 and we were there to just socailise. But I found I was the most popular person in the room, these seamen obviously missed their families. They would queue up to dance with me, they were never threatening, they were friendly, they were respectful all they wanted to do was see kids, be around children. They would get their pictures of their families out, show them to me and I just enjoyed myself. A little girl being twirled around the room by very nice, gentle, friendly seamen. And those dances carried on until Anchor House opened and they were transferred to the new ballroom. Which was a bit further away from where I lived and of course I was getting older and going to secondary school and I stopped going. But my family kept on the involvement with the apostleship of the sea, they helped fundraise, my grandfather even went to work there.

Yeah very happy memories of these lovely gentlemen. We carried on our association with the apostleship of the sea for many years. Grandad worked there until he was about 84, he was the porter at the front door. And I would often visit and attended a few of the functions there. But they just left me with many happy memories of the place.

I now live in Clapton and I look at the sea every single day out of my window. The first thing I do in the morning is to stand at the window and stare out at the North Sea. I've got some real attachment with water, that's because I grew up next to the river. From my earliest memories are the ships at the end of the road, it was only about 100yards away, we had a fence then past the fence was the dry dock. We moved to Canning Town near Anchor House, within yards of Anchor House and you could almost see the river if you looked past Anchor House to the left. Never very far from a river or water and that's followed me through out my life. And I’m never going to move from water and the river, it's in my blood, as they say in your DNA.

Terry's Story 

Was born and bred in Plaistow, really boring life. I've been living, I was born in the house I live in. So I’m 65 now, so I’ve lived in the same house for 65 years, I’ve been married for 44 for of them maybe 45 - may get a slap. And as I say I worked here 47, so 47 years, so everything in my life if is here it I stick with it that's pretty much it.

I was working on the buildings for first couple of years after leaving school, I was a plasterer. I met Lyn who I married a few years later we wanted to save up to get married. Me father got me a job in here for more money than I was getting for plastering, just to come in and start doing maintenance, so as I was saying that  was 47 years ago. I started off as just part of a team of about 5 or 6 of us and then it slowly dwindled down, they started cutting people until there is now only 3. But I was put in charge about 17-18 years ago, so I’ve been the maintenance manager since then. And then I was given the task of running the floors and the kitchen and then going off to qualify to do health and safety risk assessments, so I had all that as well. So there is a lot to pass on to whoever is going to takeover from me in a year or so's time. There has been a lot of learning to do in the last 47 years and it never never stops.

Yeah the day I walked through the door was very much an eye opener, I don't think I’d ever met a gay person before in my life until that point. And then as I say I walked through the door and at least 30% of the people who were staying in the building were gay. Some very nice people and a lot of them have become friends, unfortunately most of them have passed on now. But yeah it was a very different culture for me to walk into this building. We had a priest who actually run the building back in the day, called Father McGuiness who was very strict. Because at some point, in the evenings I was not here but they used to have dances every evening. And evidently they used to try come down fully dressed, a lot of them in ladies clothes, which he wouldn't allow. As I say most them worked on the big shipping lines, like the QE2 or whatever was around back in the days, Blue Starline. They used to go off, then they come back and they never seemed to have families because they come back and they stopped here. Where as a lot people came in, they just stayed here for a night or two when they was on leave and they went off home. But I say the gay community just hang about Anchor House till their next ship was in and they went off. Most of the seafarers that come in here, they loved the drink. Now see you're back in the day we had a bar and it was the bar that kept the building running because of the profits we made off of the drink. But I remember one day coming out of the back lift and there was 2 old seafarers, they was old then one called Bo he had just come back . And I seen him earlier at the bar and he had brought his brother back a couple of sabres, real sabres. And I’d gotten out of the lift later on in the afternoon and I was going to walk through the lounge, and there he was with another seafarer having a complete fight with these 2 sabres. It was a wonder they didn't kill anyone, but they was just too drunk to know what they was doing. It was a full on sword fight with these two sabres, as I say it was amazing that no one got hurt.

Terry's Story 

Was born and bred in Plaistow, really boring life. I've been living, I was born in the house I live in. So I’m 65 now, so I’ve lived in the same house for 65 years, I’ve been married for 44 for of them maybe 45 - may get a slap. And as I say I worked here 47, so 47 years, so everything in my life if is here it I stick with it that's pretty much it.

I was working on the buildings for first couple of years after leaving school, I was a plasterer. I met Lyn who I married a few years later we wanted to save up to get married. Me father got me a job in here for more money than I was getting for plastering, just to come in and start doing maintenance, so as I was saying that  was 47 years ago. I started off as just part of a team of about 5 or 6 of us and then it slowly dwindled down, they started cutting people until there is now only 3. But I was put in charge about 17-18 years ago, so I’ve been the maintenance manager since then. And then I was given the task of running the floors and the kitchen and then going off to qualify to do health and safety risk assessments, so I had all that as well. So there is a lot to pass on to whoever is going to takeover from me in a year or so's time. There has been a lot of learning to do in the last 47 years and it never never stops.

Yeah the day I walked through the door was very much an eye opener, I don't think I’d ever met a gay person before in my life until that point. And then as I say I walked through the door and at least 30% of the people who were staying in the building were gay. Some very nice people and a lot of them have become friends, unfortunately most of them have passed on now. But yeah it was a very different culture for me to walk into this building. We had a priest who actually run the building back in the day, called Father McGuiness who was very strict. Because at some point, in the evenings I was not here but they used to have dances every evening. And evidently they used to try come down fully dressed, a lot of them in ladies clothes, which he wouldn't allow. As I say most them worked on the big shipping lines, like the QE2 or whatever was around back in the days, Blue Starline. They used to go off, then they come back and they never seemed to have families because they come back and they stopped here. Where as a lot people came in, they just stayed here for a night or two when they was on leave and they went off home. But I say the gay community just hang about Anchor House till their next ship was in and they went off. Most of the seafarers that come in here, they loved the drink. Now see you're back in the day we had a bar and it was the bar that kept the building running because of the profits we made off of the drink. But I remember one day coming out of the back lift and there was 2 old seafarers, they was old then one called Bo he had just come back . And I seen him earlier at the bar and he had brought his brother back a couple of sabres, real sabres. And I’d gotten out of the lift later on in the afternoon and I was going to walk through the lounge, and there he was with another seafarer having a complete fight with these 2 sabres. It was a wonder they didn't kill anyone, but they was just too drunk to know what they was doing. It was a full on sword fight with these two sabres, as I say it was amazing that no one got hurt.

Kevin's Story

Well, I was born in Canning Town, I lived in Croydon Road for the early part of my life and my family home, well my mother’s family lived in the house and then I was regularly going there for the next 15 or so years. All throughout the 60s and early 70s. And we used to do the market Rathbone Road every Friday, then on a Saturday obviously to Anchor House. It was a bit of a mystery what lay behind Anchor House. It was always you know whenever you went to the market there was always something different or new outside. And then later on in life as I progressed into the voluntary field and working for different charities there, I obviously began to learn more about what Anchor House was all about. In those days, in my early days it was very much a rest place for seamen from the docks. A lot of people from the docks were around here, all of my family were Dockers, and it was all part of the heritage of the area really. And then in later times I worked directly with Anchor House, with regards to seeing homeless people and working with them and that, and we sort of liaised on different projects and ideas.

So it was really just from growing up and seeing this place and wondering what it was and being in awe of it in a way. Sort of one of the landmarks in Canning Town, you know it's in the era of the 60s, early 70s. To actually learning quite a lot about it working with them in partnership on projects, I’ve kind of gone full circle.

Growing up around here the docks were what the area was all about, when you went down to the docks it was like a town within a town. So my father, my Granddads all worked in the docks in one way or another. You'd have to a go a long way around here to find someone who didn't have a connection with the docks in those years. And when you went down it was just fascinating, you could see 30 odd ships laying up in the middle of the dock waiting to go in once they came out. Everyone had a nickname no one was called by their first name, so everyone all had a nickname, it was whole culture of their own really. They had their own eating-places, pubs and stuff in the area. And you know we're talking 30,000 men and it was mainly men in those days. They had a hospital, Albert Seamen's Hospital, which is still there now it's an old peoples home.

I used to go down there quite regularly, when my father had to go collect something or another. He used to take me down there, as my day out you know, he'd bring me these big bunches of bananas that come across. Sides of lamb they used to carry off the ships by hand. And you know in those days they could turn a ship around in a couple of days by hand or with the very small cranes that are still there now.  Very hard job, very hard working people actually. Tough, very tough. You know in those days they used to do things like, shovel asbestos out of barges and stuff like that with out protection, so they used to come home like snowmen. My Dad would come home like a snowmen, you know because he's been busy shoving asbestos and stuff like that. Yeah, but a really happy life way of life, though it's hard. And in the earlier days there was no guarantee of work of course. They had to go in there and wait to get their turn and stuff, with the onset of the organisation and stuff, it became much better working practices and so on.     

Eva's Story

I was sitting the other day and I’m suddenly thinking we lived down Silver Town and the club, we used to have a club there, we started having a go and they said we are coming now.  And I wonder then if that not exactly coming there was the real start of it, but was it behind like what how it materialized in the end. I don’t know why I suddenly thought about that.

It’s funny enough when they used to have dances and that; I never really went to them because I used to look after my mum. And I used to work and look after my mum so I never really saw much of the dances. I know it went a long and a whole while; never really heard anything bad, well father was the type of priest where it had to be right you know he didn’t stand any old nonsense. My younger sister who died of cancer, she used to be involved in a lot things like getting money for Anchor House and all that, my youngest sister that was she died of cancer when she was 51. 

I can remember that before it was built, it used to be a doctors underneath and you had the ceiling here all the time and because when that was built, that was what they made for. They used to have one down on the Victoria Road. But Anchor House it really was a good place you know, but I think there used to be some jealousy between them working in there you know, when one was getting paid a little more attention than the other. It was well, you never heard of fights or anything like that going down there. For one thing I know Father McGuiness wasn’t there, but I forget who the other bloke was; they wouldn’t have stood for it.      

 

Brian's Story

Well I was born and brought up in Newham, Canning Town and Plaistow; you know that side of the Newham borough.  My family goes back about I think five generations there, basically connected with the gasworks. I grew up in the area, went to school in the area and also started youth work in the area as a kid. That led me to being in academia, being a lecturer; I studied with people around the world, worked with people around the world doing this sort of thing now. 

Teaching, work, also related to identity studies around part of my background in the world, which is gypsy and traveller heritage.  Most of my family were around Bidder Street area of Canning Town, that’s where they were based. My grandfather and great grandfather worked at the gasworks around there.  So it was like a cultural hangout, it was like the place where almost anything started, in terms of my social life as a young teenager. I think I was a  little bit too young, it’s nice to say that at my age, to really know Anchor House in what of might been it’s hay day. 

For us Canning Town was the Bridge House and maybe go across the bridge to the Iron Bridge Tavern later on, also the other pubs.  Were really from the ages of about 14/15 when we hangout, it was mostly because of the music. Anchor House by that time was a little bit dowdy, a little bit run down; it seemed not one thing or the other.  I did go into Anchor House several times really just out of curiosity, as I said it seemed to be for older people at that time, older than my age group anyway, but anyone at 15/16 thinks people look old over 25 I guess. 

It was a very vibrant community around there still quite late in the 20thcentury. My father and grandfather had stalls in Rathbone Market, later moving to Queens Road Market. It was hustling, bustling place, if you go there in recent years it’s a bit of a wasteland compared to what it was. The church was very active, the Catholic Church across the road to Rathbone Market, it was a bustling area. So my memories of Canning Town are nearly always of a crowded place, a place where there was always something going on. It was place with what you would know called character, in the kind euphemistic sense. I’m a bit disappointed about the heritage of Canning Town it is associated with a lot of negativity around racism/ homophobia and I think that has been coming partly from the media, partly from the Afghani days. People forget that was a satire written by a local bloke Johnny Splat out of Herman Road as derision of bigotry and small mindedness. 

Now that’s not saying the place Canning Town was free of racism it wasn’t or homophobia or any of them things. But what it was, it was a melting pot very early on, it’s close to the docks, and well it is in the docklands. It’s one of London’s oldest black communities, the Falashas for instance the first place they got off the boat, well kicked off the boat were places like Canning Town and Lime House. The same thing goes with the gay community. Really gayness in the 60/70s and before was part of the landscape in that area and this connection with docks and the seafarers, things like that. I think what Canning Town had and has been forgotten is a level of tolerance, not tolerance I think accepting, embracing life, I think people in a funny kind of way accepted life multi-faceted.              

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