January 2019


Decade to remember


Join historian Nick Dobson on a trip back to 1950s London at Wanstead Library this month and discover a decade during which wartime austerity gave way to growing optimism

It is tempting to look at the 1950s as the dull decade bracketed by the battlefield of the forties and carnival of the sixties. If the London of the 1960s is in glorious psychedelic colour, then surely the fifties remain in drab black and white? However, the decade which started in austerity ended with Harold Macmillan telling us we had never had it so good! It was a decade of steady progress towards new confidence and prosperity; a march towards modern Britain, seen with greatest clarity in London.

At the start of the fifties, the average weekly wage for a man was £9-5s-11d, but meat cost an average of 2/- per pound, butter 4/- per pound and tea 2/6d a pound. All of these items were still rationed in those days. Food rationing ended in Britain by 4 July 1954. A packet of cigarettes cost 3/6d and around 80% of adults in London were smokers.

There were some landmark events that took place in London in the 1950s. The South Bank Exhibition was the centrepiece of the 1951 Festival of Britain, held to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and shaking off the dust from war-torn London in the process.

Travel back to 1951 and see the South Bank skyline dominated by a cigar-shaped, aluminium-clad steel tower supported by cables, the Skylon, a symbol of the Festival of Britain. The Skylon was demolished in 1952 but other legacies from the Festival endure, such as the Royal Festival Hall. And, of course, had you been in London in the early summer of 1953, you could hardly have failed to be swept up by the wave of public euphoria that greeted the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which took place at Westminster Abbey on 2 June: a new young monarch and a symbol of hope for a brighter future. The event really kick-started the sales of TVs in Britain – the number of TV licences shot up from 763,000 in 1951 to 3.2 million in 1954.

Not everything was positive. There was the Great Smog of London in December 1952. Air pollutants, mainly from coal fires, caused a smog so thick it brought London traffic to a halt and killed 4,000 Londoners in a week.

However, overall, the fifties in London was not so colourless as they are sometimes remembered. Along with the Queen, other aspects of the decade endure, such as Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, still enjoying its initial run, which started in 1952. The 1950s also saw the foundations laid for a London that burst into bloom and became ‘the scene’ in the following decade.

In many ways, the fifties started London along the path to the modern capital it is today.

Nick’s illustrated talk will take place at Wanstead Library on 26 February from 6.30pm to 7.45pm (free; booking required). Call 020 8708 7400

Floating ideas

DSC_4428-q©Geoff Wilkinson

Rising at Molehill Green in Essex, the River Roding passes through the Wanstead and Woodford area en route to the Thames, bringing with it a very real flood risk to local homes. In the first of a series of articles charting the ideas and hopes of the River Roding Project – which aims to reduce that risk – Laura Hepworth from the Environment Agency is keen to seek community support for the project. Photography by Geoff Wilkinson

The River Roding has a long history of flooding. Flood events have been recorded since 1926, occurring in 1939, 1947, 1974, 1988, 1993, 2000 and 2007.

In 2000, over 400 properties flooded in Woodford. Charlie Brown’s Roundabout was shut for over a week, impacting access to schools and supermarkets. Broadmead Baptist Church on Chigwell Road was out of use for 18 months. Do you remember the floods? We would like to hear from residents who have been impacted.

There are currently over 1,500 properties with a ‘high’ chance of flooding within the River Roding catchment between Stansted and the River Thames.

In the next few editions of the Wanstead Village Directory, we will be telling you different ways you can prepare for flooding. First up, you can check the government website to find out if your property is at risk and where it may flood in your local area. If your home is at risk, you can then register to receive free flood warnings, which come in three levels of severity:

Flood alert, which means you should be prepared by organising a bag of items you must have if you need to leave your home, such as medicines, insurance documents, warm and waterproof clothing, phone charger and torch.

Flood warning, which means you need to act: turn off gas and electricity supplies, move things upstairs and take family to safety.

Severe flood warning, which means you need to take survival steps and contact the emergency services if you are in immediate danger.

The Environment Agency are working with Redbridge Council to reduce the flooding risk to homes and businesses in the local area from the River Roding. We have identified options to achieve this but we can’t do this without additional support.

We estimate the project will cost approximately £14m. So far, we have secured nearly £10m from central government, the council and other sources. However, the project will not progress unless we can find the additional £4m.

If it goes ahead, the River Roding Project will reduce flooding to over 600 homes, local businesses, the M11 and Charlie Brown’s Roundabout. We will be engaging with communities and local groups throughout the catchment to keep them informed. In summary, we want to:

  • create a better place for people and wildlife that is more resilient to the impacts of flooding and climate change.
  • work with communities and our partners to help us deliver a jointly funded project.
  • improve our understanding of flooding in the River Roding catchment.
  • work with local communities to improve their understanding of flooding and how they can be better prepared.

How you can help us:

  • champion the project locally and help identify sources of funding.
  • tell us how you have been impacted by River Roding flooding and tell us your local environmental knowledge.

Click here to find out if your property is a flood risk.

Click here to register for flood warnings.

For more information on the River Roding Project, click here or call 0370 850 6506