We have gathered a few images of local people and events that give a glimpse into the area around Star Primary and Canning Town.
The School Building
The Local Area
We have gathered a few extracts from local people and events that give a brief glimpse into the many lives that have unfolded in the area around Star Primary and Canning Town.
Grace Johnson, attended Star from 1921
I remember something that I reckon very few people would have known about, the geese being used as guard dogs at Clark’s Coaches. There was one really funny incident with these geese. Before there were traffic lights at the junction of Barking Road and Hermit Road there was a policeman directing traffic. Well one day the geese decided to go walkabout and crossed the Barking Road on that corner. It was the funniest sight ever, the policeman was holding up the traffic as the geese marched across the road in single file on one of the busiest roads in England.
– Alan Howard
I started school in 1945 till 1951. It was during the war I can remember going to the cloakrooms and lying on the floor when the air sirens sounded. I lived in Percy Road right opposite the school gates next to the school in Star Lane. There is a sweet shop opposite which was a fish and chip shop.
– Bill Southgate
This photo was taken in 1964 at my home in Star lane. As you can see our window like many others were decorated to celebrate West Ham United 1964 FA cup win.
I did not got to Star Lane school because the part I lived in was at the Barking Road end, and came under the catchment area for Keir Hardie School. I spent 5 years at Pretoria.
I have been working for Newham for 30 years and have worked in your School, I am currently a Supervisor with the Electrical Section. I no longer live in the area, but still pass Star Lane school most days.
One thing we did do as kids, which would no doubt confuse some of today’s pupils, would be to stand on the steps over the Railway, (the old Peggy-Leggy steps) by the school and watch the STEAM trains pulling both passenger coaches from Stratford to North Woolwich and goods wagons. Some of these pulled coal trucks from the coal yard at the back of the school playing fields to the power station at Canning Town. When we got home we would be told off for getting covered in soot. O happy days!
– Robert J Rogers.
MEMORIES OF A CANNING TOWN KID
Long before the invention of mobile phones and two-way radios, Ships would talk to each other via Ships horns or steam whistles. The large ships would have a ‘bass’ sounding horn, while the little tugs that fussed around the big ships would have a high pitched ‘toot’. These horns would be heard on the wind and little notice would be taken unless a ‘stranger’ was heard.
A stranger was a ship that was either new to the port or a ship that did not normally come to ‘our’ docks. In these cases, I could not wait until my Grandfather who worked by the riverside came home to see if he know who She was (all ships are called She because they break men’s hearts). There was a simple rhyme to remember the basics for ship horns. “There are two bottles of red port left in the cupboard”. It means two blast on the horn meant the ship is turning left (Port), the red light is port side.
The other blast were,
1 – Going forward.
3 – Going Starboard (right) (green light)
4 – Going astern (backwards)
The sound you did not want to hear was seven long blasts, it meant Danger.
In memory of my grandfather, Albert Gregory who taught me to understand the river Thames.
Trips around the docks
I was only lucky once to do this trip, as soon afterward the docks begun to decline. The Port of London Authority (PLA) would arrange via the local schools, to let the children have a free trip on a boat around the Docks. This was my moment to shine because as I knew a little about ships, I could show off, naming flags and countries of Origin (I bet I was a right little pain!).
Cricket (and how to dodge it)
There were two seasons at Pretoria School, Football & Cricket; I did not like either.
My sport was Speedway Racing, so the fact that we had the likes of John Bond, Frank Lampard and the Charles brothers teaching us to play football, meant very little to me, although my mates were overcome by their ‘Heroes’. Running around in the cold and getting wet and dirty on Star Lane’s playing field was definitely not my scene.
Summer was a little better because at least it was warm and we would play cricket. On a very hot day, again running about was not good, so we had a little trick.
Adjacent to the playing fields was the coal depot, so to avoid too much exercise we would ‘hook a sixer’ over the fence into the coal yard and therefore have to go and retrieve the ball. This involved walking the whole length of the school around to the front entrance of the coal yard, then walking all the way back through the coal yard to get the ball, (which you would search for slowly) and then back to the playing field. eanwhile your mates have a 20 minute rest, lying in the sun.
You had to be careful not to do it to often, as even teachers would some times realise that you were ‘up to no good’, and would get your class mate running around the playing field instead. (In this case you would throw the ball back over the fence once you found it (quickly).
You would never be aloud to such things today because of Health and Safety, remember there were piles of bags of coal and railway lines (Trip Hazard), lorries and carts moving about (being struck by moving objects), the coal dust where you climbed over it (Dusty Environment), and worst of all, being hit by Railway Engines.
West Ham FA Cup 1964
Although as I said I was not a football fan, all of West Ham got fired up over the FA Cup Final, remembering the last time West Ham got there was the White Horse Final in 1923. But unlike today when you would just go and buy poster flags etc, a lot of items were made.
First thing was the team photo (normally cut out of the local Paper), to be displayed in the window. Then the window would be ‘dressed’. Your old football would be washed. Then a cup was found anything from one for growing roses to the 110-yard dash! It was placed on top of the ball. The local market (Rathbone) would have a clothes stall, which would supply miles of Claret and Blue ribbon. This would be used to make rosettes, and draped across the window. Windows were left open so passing people could hear the match on the radio (if you were lucky, somebody had a television).
When West Ham beat Preston North End it was like carnival time, total strangers spoke and shook hands. On the Sunday I think the whole of West Ham went to line the Barking road to cheer on ‘our team’.
Next year (1965) West Ham Speedway won what was equal to the FA Cup, which was the KO Cup, plus League Championship and the London Championship. But by now as West Ham United had won the European Championship and the fans were so used to supporting winning teams that no real notice was taken of this event.
Christmas Time in Rathbone Market
Christmas Eve in the old Street Market was a time of wonder. The stalls would be illuminated by gas lamps, which would splutter and spit. You had stalls selling hot chestnuts and sarsaparilla drinks. As the evening turned into night the stall would start to sell off the meat and fruit cheaper and large crowds would arrive. Despite this cheaper meat, some could still not afford it, so people would keep chickens and rabbits through the year, feeding them on scraps. At Christmas they would get somebody to kill them (the site of chickens & rabbits (and some geese) bodies hanging up after being plucked would turn anybody into a vegetarian!
On the subject of Geese, Clarks Coaches who were based in Beckton Road used to have geese guarding their yard rather than dogs!
Make Your Own Christmas Tree
As money was short with low pay and unemployment, you could not afford many luxuries, even at Christmas time. One of these luxuries was a Christmas tree, but my dad had the answer.
In the days of real trees, the market place would have loads of bits of branches lying around which the stallholders did not want. My dad would collect these large bits and make a tree!
Fruit in those days would come in thin wooden creates which were bound up with wire which was thrown away. Also the fruit was wrapped in coloured and silver paper, again thrown away. He used the wire to bind up the branches to form a tree, he would then roll up the coloured paper in to balls, with a little bit of wire as a hanger, and hang these from the tree. Finally a star would be made of cardboard and covered in silver paper.
In these days of dancing lights and a thousand and one different novelties, this may sound poor, but to a child this tree was fantastic.
In loving memory of my father, John Arthur Rogers (1924-1986) a Canning Town lad born and bred.
Re-cycling (or green policies)
The ‘new’ idea of being ‘Green’ and recycling items is not new, the East-end has done it for years!
Clothes would be passed on to younger members of the family. Once clothes have been patched up many times and were beyond all hope, they would be torn up and used as cloths. Young Girls would rescue some of these clothes and with a little needlework (taught in school), make dresses for dolls.
Tea would arrive in tea chest, and once emptied would be sold on for a few pennies. These would be made into dolls houses for girls and forts for boys. The scrap remains of wood would be burnt on open fires in the homes.
Some of the white clothing would be used as Pudding cloths and cheap meat or leftovers from Sunday dinner would be wrapped in thick puddings and boiled to make a very filling meal.
Heating in the Home
Before the days of central heating, open coal fires would heat the homes.
Coal was reasonably cheap, and the coal man on his cart (very often horse pulled) would deliver it. Very often this would be shot loose into coal bunkers, creating lots of dust. These bunkers would be very often open to the elements.
You would get up to a cold house in winter because you could not afford to keep the fire going all night. The fire would have to be lit which involved a lot of work. Coal would be brought in the previous night to dry. You would layer this coal along with paper and wood, and then light with a match. You would then stand with a newspaper over the font of the fireplace to allow the fire to ‘draw’ up the chimney. If you were lucky it would take first time, if not it could be a long job.
There were fireplaces in bedrooms, but the only time these were used were if somebody was very ill.
The coal would be brought in a coal bucket, which would be left by the fire and used to re-stock the fire. If it had been wet or snowing the last of the coal would be damp and would spit out when thrown on the fire. If you were not careful to much wet coal could put the fire out.
Before the days of ‘cut & paste’ on the computer, we would cut items from newspapers and paste them into scrapbooks. Whatever your interest, you could very rarely afford books. So the scrapbook was your pride and joy.
n my case it was Speedway. Your parents would buy a copy of the Stratford Express (because that way you got information on Hackney Speedway as well as West Ham).
Your would cut out the pictures, match reports and any other information and paste them in your scrapbook. If you were lucky and friends were going away to somewhere that had a speedway team you would beg them to cut anything out from the local newspapers where they were going to if it had speedway information in it.
Were We Poor?
The common theme through all these memories was being poor, but were we poor? It depends on what you call poor, I had loving parents who tried their best in a hostile world. We may have been poor, but so were most people around us.
We had cheap fun, you could buy a Red Rover Bus tickets for 2/6 (12.5p), and have the full run of London. You had trains and boats to watch on your doorsteps. You had vast spaces to play in without any great worry (that you were aware off).
In money maybe we were poor, but in memories we are very rich.
A timeline of events, people and places in Star Primary school and the local area.
|– Early 1840’s: Settlement began on the low lying marsh,
soon to be the Canning Town area.
– 1846: C.J. Mare’s shipbuilding works and the railway line opened.
– 1855: Victoria Dock opened.
– 1860: H.M.S Warrior, the very first ‘iron-clad’ warship
ever built was launched from the Thames Ironworks yard.
|– 1880: Royal Albert Dock opened
– 1886: First West Ham borough council.
– 1887: Tate Institute, Silver Town opened.
– 1889: William Thorne founder of the National Union of
Gas workers and general labourers fought for and won
an 8 hour day at the Bachlon Gas works.
|– 1895: Star Primary School opens
– 1896: Thames Ironworks football club
– 1897: Tate Institute Silver Town opened
– 1898: H.M.S Albion disaster
|– 1900-1909: Gainsborough school built.
– 1909-1910: East Ham United football club
|– 1911: The Dreadnaught H.M.S Thunderer, built by Thames Iron Works was launched.
It was the largest and warship built on the Thames and also the last.
– 1912: Thames Ironworks shuts, adding to the
unemployment problems facing the area at the time.
|– 1920: TV writer Johnny Speight born in Canning Town
– 1923: West Ham reach FA Cup final but are beaten by
White Horse 2 – 0;
Comedy actor Reg Varney attends Star Primary School.
– 1928: West Ham Stadium, Custom House, opened for
speedway and dog racing.
|– 1930: Actor Windsor Davies born in Canning Town
– 1933: Actor and comedian Marty Feldman born in Canning Town
– 1938: Boxer Terry Spinks born in Canning Town
|– 1940-41: The Blitz devastates the Docks and Canning Town,
one of the areas worst hit during World War II.
– 1944: John Charles, West Ham United football player born
in Canning Town
– 1960’s: The area is rebuilt after war damage.
|– 1972: Percy Dunlop, teacher at Star Primary school, was
the oldest working teacher in the country – aged 83;
West Ham Stadium closed
|– 1981: Royal Docks closed
– 1987: Mark Noble, West Ham United football player born in Canning Town
|– 1999: Jubilee Line Underground station at Canning Town
– 2000: ExCeL Exhibition Centre opened.
– 2012: Olympic Games.
– 2020: Covid Pandemic
Please contact us if you have any other interesting local events to add or if any information appearing on our history section in incorrect.