I was born in India, third generation of the Great British Raj! I have always known that I was a mixture of English, Irish, French and Jewish but what I didn't know, until fairly recently, was that on my mother's side I was a direct descendent of William Reeves, the English supplier and maker of artists' materials, who began to sell the first paint boxes worldwide in 1766. The Reeves factory was based in Islington. My maternal great grandmother was a Reeves and she left England when she was given a commission to become matron of a big army hospital in India. My dad's family has its roots in Buckinghamshire, although his particular branch of the Wingrove family tree has strong links with Islington too. His great great grandmother was born in Islington, as was his great grandfather and great grandmother. It was his great grandfather, however, who went to India to work as an engineer on the railways.
In 1950, shortly after India was given its Independence, my parents came to England with their 4 children (myself and 3 brothers) and settled in Islington of all places. This was quite a coincidence, as my parents didn't know anyone in the area and were unaware of the detail of their respective family histories. They left India on British passports with full British citizenship, something they had always been very proud of. Post war Britain in the early fifties, however, was not the multi cultural society that we know today and the subtleties of our "nationality" was lost on the natives of Islington. We were born in India, so were Indians! This loss of identity came as a huge shock to my parents and was something that would plague them for the rest of their lives. For me and my siblings, however, it was not a major issue, although we did get into scraps at school until we were accepted.
Gifford Street was another shock for my parents, who had been used to a life of relative luxury. Here there were no cooks or servants, no social life and no money to speak of. We were cramped in 4 rooms (2 rooms x 2 rooms on a split landing) on the first floor of an old tenement. There was no running water, the cooker was on the landing and we shared an outside toilet with 3 other families. Next door was a bombed ruin and this was our playground. Mum had to climb a flight of 15 steps to fetch water from a sink on the second landing and with 6 young children (my youngest brother and sister following soon after our arrival in Islington), cooking, washing and bathing must have been a nightmare. Dad was an apprenticed carpenter and had been managing a saw mill in India, but the only work he could get in London was as a "chippie" in the building trade. This didn't pay enough money to keep the family (and especially when my youngest brother and sister were born). Mum did early morning cleaning, so that she could be back home to see us off to school before dad left for work. In the evening, she would go out cleaning again when dad got in from work; her day started at around 5.00am and finished at 10.00/11.00 at night. Like so many other families, we lived on soups and stews made out of bones and ate the cheaper cuts of meat, such as breast of lamb. Curries were made out of nothing and there was always bread - with dripping, sugar or jam. I remember the daily spoonfuls of malt, cod liver oil and concentrated orange juice, given after a breakfast of lumpy Quaker Oats! I have never been able to eat porridge since! Despite the hardships, I don't ever remember being hungry or feeling deprived. Although me and my brothers didn't get too many cuddles (and had our fair share of wallops), our parents were always at home and we knew that we were loved. There was no television to start with, that came later. In the winter, we played board and card games and in the summer were taken on picnics to the park.
Islington might not have been a "district of delight" for those on the outside looking in, but for me, it was a great place to grow up in - both as a child and a young adult. There was always someone to play with in the street and somewhere to go as a teenager. School was difficult to start with, particularly for my brothers, who were always getting into fights because of being called Indian. However, the more scraps they had, the more friends they seemed to make! For me it was not quite so bad, probably because I was a girl and having 2 older brothers helped. Besides, I was quite feisty and not easily bullied. Islington was, in any event, very multi cultural and in Gifford Street the children all played together - whether they were English, Irish, Italian, Polish, Greek, Cypriot, Jamaican, whatever. There were quite a few different nationalities, but most of my friends were English. Looking back, I think this might have been because foreign girls were not allowed the same freedom, once they started secondary school.
I joined Risinghill in 1960 from Gifford Street Secondary, which was a mixed school. Boys were not, therefore, an unknown quantity, although the ones in my Tutor Group and Class (3A) were quite different. (I'm not sure how I came to be put in this class, as I don't remember being particularly bright at Gifford, although I suppose I must have been). Margaret Hunter was my best friend at Gifford and on joining Risinghill, but it was with Lynn that I bunked off school and enjoyed the mad freedom of that first year. We both opted for things like woodwork and metalwork, rather than cookery and sewing, and to have these choices was just great. I must have enjoyed the sport also, as I remember playing netball for Johnson House and winning a Tournament; hence the photo on the website. (Must be something in the genes, as my youngest daughter is a very talented netball player and was an England international from the age of 16 through to 24). I settled down once I got into 4CS, as I enjoyed all the subjects, apart from Maths. My nana came to live with us at this time and as she was a competent shorthand writer (in both Pitmans and French) I had lots of help at home. The commerce teachers (Geoff Roland and Ann Ovendon) were always very supportive, as was Dr Rawson, who taught me English. If it were not for the encouragement of such teachers, who took a genuine interest in what I was doing, I doubt that I would have stayed on that extra year to take my exams and then go on to North London Day College to do an advanced secretarial course. So for me Risinghill was a good school that gave me choices and opportunities that I might not otherwise have had. I certainly would not have gone on a school trip to Spain from Gifford! My two younger brothers, who also went to Risinghill, did not find it quite so good however. They experienced a side to the school that I did not really see i.e. the delinquent behaviour, rooky teachers and staff shortages towards the end of 1964/5. My youngest sister went to Starcross, but was not there very long, as my parents moved to Wembley in 1966/67.
Since leaving school, I have worked as a Secretary/PA, Personnel Administrator and Office Manager and have never been out of work, thanks to the basic skills acquired at Risinghill. Like Lynn, I too have come across people in my working life who, because of their educational attainments, have landed jobs that I know I could do just as well, if not better. Unlike Lynn though, I have not gone back and obtained a degree or professional qualification, largely because I have not had the time and/or the financial resources to do so. I have always had to work. As is the case with most working mums, I valued the time spent with my children and was always doing something with them in my free time. Studying would have compromised that and for me it was not an option. I am now retired and up until recently was spending quite a bit of time looking after my mum, who died in March 2005. I have the grandchildren quite a bit, which is a real joy. They are aged 12, 6 and 7 months and I have just started looking after Aaron (the baby) for 2 days a week while his mum is at work.
If it were not for the Risinghill project, I probably would have looked at doing a part-time course in something, as I'm not one for sitting around, but I'm not sure that I would be brave enough to do what Lynn has done! I do have a little job, as Clerk to the Governing Body of a local middle school. The staff and Governors are really nice and so appreciative of everything that I do, which isn't a great deal! I took the job (which involves attending half a dozen or so meetings a year to take the minutes, prepare papers, etc) before meeting up with Lynn and before deciding to embark on this project. I have learned so much in just one year and it is all useful experience for the book!
I am enjoying working on the research for the book, where some of my administrative skills are proving quite useful. I have yet to discover my literary talents though, and am looking forward to writing 'Risinghill Revisited' with Lynn albeit with some trepidation! I hope that, when people log on to the website, they will join in the project, as the more ex pupils who participate, the better. John and Alan have been particularly helpful through a difficult patch and it has to be said that, without them, we would not have got this far and certainly would not have seen this web site up and running. So thank you guys, you have been great. A very big "thank you" has to go to John, who has worked tirelessly to produce such a wonderful tool for us. I'm sure this web site is going to make a huge difference.
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