Folk of Forest Gate

Rachel writes…

In the summer I was contacted by Eastside Community Heritage, to ask if I’d be interested in taking part in a project they were running about the oral history and leisure activities of people in Forest Gate. Those who have met me in person will attest to my being a chatterbox, so it was with alacrity that I accepted and spent a very happy hour or so being interviewed about my leisure time and experience in Forest Gate (we spent some time discussing campaigning and political activity, which I’d never thought of as exactly ‘leisure’ before, but there you go…)

They are still looking for people to participate, and I thought I’d give them a quick plug here. Please do contact them and volunteer your experiences, and be part of a wonderful project to preserve our history in a way that is entirely non-onerous.

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‘Folk of Forest Gate’ is Eastside Community Heritage’s ongoing project to chart the history of leisure in Forest Gate by collecting the memories and stories of local people. By seeing how leisure activities have changed, we can get an idea of the different communities that have moved through Newham in the last 70 years. We’ve already had some fun and fascinating interviews, but we are keen to speak to more residents or ex-residents to get as many perspectives as possible. Whether you have lived in the area for a long time or a short time, whether you moved away or if you’ve only recently moved in, we’d love to hear your first impressions and lasting memories! To get involved please contact francis@ech.org.uk or call 0208 5533116.

Hackney band, Sounds like Six, playing in a competition at the Forest Gate Uppercut Club, 1967. The club hosted many of the biggest bands of the 60’s but was only open from 1966-1967. Before then it had been a popular skating rink. It later re-opened to host punk and reggae gigs.

I didn’t hang around much in Forest Gate, though I did in one coffee bar in Plashet Road. I used to like going in there because they had live music, which was skiffle. So I enjoyed that. You know, the drums, and the guitars and things. And it was very amateur. You knew that when you were listening to it. And the way they played it, it was very amateur… They’d play live in all the coffee bars and the theatres and everything. Skiffle more or less took over the theatres. Instead of variety shows, it’d be skiffle shows, you know?” – Keith

Green Street residents partying in their home

I remember one, one day I was playing at home or colouring, and I had all this green ink on my hands from the pens that I was using. And my mum said, during the afternoon, that, ‘We’re going to go to the cinema’… And I couldn’t wash the green ink of my hands. And I was really worried because I thought, ‘When I get to the cinema…’… I think we were going to the Queen’s that time. They used to have commissionaires outside. A person used to stand there in a uniform to guide the queues and to manage the queues. And I thought, ‘If he sees my hands being green he won’t let me in!’ I stood there with my hands clenched so tightly so he couldn’t see the green ink!” – Harold

Before television sets became cheaply available Forest Gate was home to many cinemas. This photo of the Odeon, taken in the 1980s, is after it closed as a cinema. It became a bingo hall and later a snooker club, and is now an Islamic cultural centre.

I just remember a load of noise. I’m sure they were wooden wheels on the wooden floor. I think I was quite amazed that I came out and my bike was still there! I mean, if you wanted to go roller skating you’d go to Forest Gate or Alexandra palace. Everyone had skates. Everyone could skate… I think I actually used my skates in the end and made a box car. That was all the rage. You put a pair of skates on the back and big wheels on the front… Sounds a bit stupid really, but that’s when my skates landed up!” – Kevin

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