Found Memories

Before Christmas I found a collection of old photos in a junk shop on Hainault Road, E10 which had come from a house clearance not far away in Leyton. The first handful I dragged out of the 1980s Marks and Spencers carrier bag contained these pictures of a bike shop on Church Road Leyton, Graystone’s, and what looks like the gathering of a cycling club.

The date “1938” is written on the back of this photo. When I zoomed in, one of the posters on the wall behind reads, “HANGED BY HIS OWN FATHER”. The name of the road is also clearly visible – Capworth Street.

They look such cheerful bunch – I wonder if they were worried about the events in Europe. At the beginning of 1938 the government announced that all British schoolchildren would be issued with gas masks. I bet the kids loved it, but as a parent, I can imagine that would have created a real sense of anxiety, a fear of what was possibly to come. Maybe it never crossed their minds – they were too busy flirting and showing off – discussing the best route to take through Epping Forest.

This is the site of Graystone’s on Church Road now. Although there is no sign of the shop you can see the detail around the front door next to it has survived and the exterior of that house looks pretty much the same.

And Capworth Street seems little changed – although a large group of cyclists posing for a photo in the middle of the road would soon be shunted out of the way by an aggressively driven customised car.

You can’t help wondering what happened to them during the war. I know that the owner of the photos was in the navy and obviously survived – but the rest? 

This photo looks like Marsh Lane Fields from the view of the gasometer behind the line of trees, augmented by the proximity of the house to Marsh Lane (and also to Graystone’s). There’s no date, but another one from the same set is dated 1953, the Goon Show was on the radio, Christie committed his murders at 10 Rillington Place and both Stalin and Dylan Thomas went to their graves (not together of course).

It feels odd to be in possession of somebody else’s memories. Aside from the few photos of local interest the majority of them are classic family snaps – weddings, birthdays, holidays, spanning at least 50 years.

I’m curious to know why some member of the family didn’t want them when the owner died and there was the inevitable sifting through of possessions. Some of them seem to date back to the early part of the century – you’d imagine they’d be treasured heirlooms.

My wife finds them “creepy”, and although I disagree I can see what she means – we weren’t supposed to see these photos (this is well before the Facebook age of obsessively sharing every moment of our lives with a legion of tangetial virtual ‘friends’). The people in these photos are ghosts – not half-remembered school mates.

My Mum’s family were naval folk so I was familiar with the names neatly written on the backs of these photos – Alexandria, Malta Harbour, Gateway of India.

But this one has a different story begging to be conjured out of its fading ink. The writing on the back (in ink this time rather than pencil) says:

“WE THREE”, Nathanya Camp, Palestine Nov’ 1945

From what I can glean online Nathanya Camp was a ‘leave camp’ for British forces serving in the middle east during the war. In November 1945, when this picture was taken, President Truman announced an inquiry “to look into the settlement of Jews in Palestine”. In November 1945 Zionist guerilla fighters were carrying out violent attacks on the Palestinian Railway system leading to the death of a British soldier.

But this is probably the most curious of all the photos. The huge (plastic?) swan, dancer emerging from a grotto on an isolated jetty – it is Lynchian, a still from a discarded work by the Blue Velvet director found in a faded, crumpled Marks and Spencer carrier bag in a junk shop in Leyton, east London.



  1. Janet Tocqueville   •  

    Stumbled across this while googling for the name of the coffee bar/burger joint that used to be at Knotts Green. I love old photos, especially those from areas I’m familiar with. If you have any details of the family who abandoned their photos in the old carrier bag you could try posting them on Dead Fred’s genealogy archive. In the past I have managed to find living family of abandoned pictures. I work in a charity shop and find it so sad that people would just ditch pictures of their family. There’s always at least one genealogist there somewhere who would love that old dog earred photo of Great Aunt Ethel!

    Oh, before you ask, I remembered it was the Minuet bar.

    • JohnR   •     Author

      Thanks for the suggestion- I’ll take a look at that website

  2. Sarah   •  

    I know the shop on Hainault road where u found the photos as it is close to my house and have got lots of great stuff there over the years and like to chat to the man who runs it…..but I often find it a bit upsetting /poignant when there’s been a house clearance and u see a persons worldly goods laid out esp family photos that nobody wanted or things in original boxes that were being saved for “best” and never used.

    The photos you found were really interesting …can u go back to the whoever cleared the house and find out who is dealing with the estate and maybe trace a relative that way. (My mum is currently acting as executor for a deceased relative and the house clearance people have promised to return any photos they find to us and said they never throw photos out so maybe something has gone wrong here esp as they were stuffed in a bag rather than an album)

  3. spangled99   •  

    My gt gt gt grandfather Joseph Gurney Barclay used to live at Knotts Green up until around 1900

    • JohnR   •     Author

      Thanks – is that the Gurney-Barclay banking family? I’d be keen to learn more

  4. Ron Nicholson   •  

    My name is Ron Nicholson and as a child, I lived at 132, High Rd, Leyton. I was at Downsell Rd Primary school and later, Goodhall Rd Secondary. My grandparents were William Charles and Susan Browning and following the war, my parents, RonNicholson and Irene Browning moved into one room and a bedroom in their house. The property is still standing. As a kid, I remember the shop on the ground floor changing hands. I remember it being a horse meat shop at one time and a bicycle shop. I lived in that house for the first thirteen years of my life until we were rehoused by the council to Brentwood in Essex. My dad worked for London Transport as a bus driver out of the Lee Bridge Rd garage. I am now 72 years old and living in Oulton, Suffolk. My memories are still fresh.

    • JohnR   •     Author

      Thanks for sharing that Ron

  5. Dave Moore   •  

    I’m admin on the Facebook group, I’M FROM E10/E11/E17. I’d love to see these photos shared on there.

  6. Norman Partridge   •  

    I stumbled across this very interesting web-site whilst browsing. My parents lived in Plaistow and I was born in Stratford but spent my childhood living in the High Road at Woodford Bridge where the River Roding was our main playing area for my mates and I because it was normally so shallow under the road bridge.

    I went to Ray Lodge School in Snakes Lane until it was bombed then had to travel by coach to St. Anthony’s Catholic School on Woodford High Road before going to St. Barnarbus Secondary school as the war ended.

    I have nasty memories of a certain Nunn who shall remain nameless at that school but was sorted out after TWO visits made by my Mother.

    I was in Guy’s Hospital London suffering with Polio when the war started and have vivid memories of workmen painting the tall high windows with glue before covering then with green netting to prevent the window shattering if the building was bombed as it was BUT not before the children’s wards were evacuated to Brighton. London Transport did the same with similar netting that had a small hole so that passengers could see when they had arrived at their destination.

    Talking of L.T., my Dad was a bus driver working out of Forrest Gate Garage in Green Street and late one night as he was riding his bike home across Wanstead Flats, he was blown off his bike into a ditch full of water by the blast of a bomb he was thankful not to be injured but didn’t enjoy the rest of his journey home in a soaking wet uniform.

    I can remember the Brighton Hospital was high up in the hills overlooking the Town and still in my bed, I used to get pushed out onto a balcony where I watched our wonderful Airforce bombers paying back what Germany were doing to us.

    Like many, many others of my age, I could write a book about growing up in my war-time childhood but can never find the time to do it.

    Oh! well, such was life in the war years BUT, thanks to Churchill, we never lost hope and we never lost heart.

    After all, who was this nut Hitler who thought like a kid of Six years old thinking Germany could rule the world?

    The idiot was even a German.

  7. Norman Partridge   •  

    P.S. I meant to say Hitler was NOT even a German. He was Austrian.

  8. Nick Jung   •  

    I lived at 15 Capworth St. My Mum and Dad were members of the Leyton Eagles cycling club and were friends with George Mitchell VC (the school is named after him). I went to Sunday school at All Saints church, Capworth St.

    • JohnR   •     Author

      Thanks for the info Nick – great to put a name to the cycling club

  9. viv doncaster   •  

    Fascinating how things go, on my local neighbourhood site there was an old picture of Fairlop Road and curiosity led me to look up this road as my sister-in-law lived there in the 60s going down it on the map I came to her house, but I thought there was a school opposite somewhere, but could not find it there were some new apartments with a railing around in the front of them so wondering if this may have been the site of the school anyhow looking further on the net led me to your site which I also found interesting. If anyone can confirm that there was a school on Fairlop Road back in the 50s/60s it would be nice to know I did not imagine it. This is a great read nevertheless so thanks for all the info.

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