Archive for July, 2008

Weaver House, the Golden Years

Shame

Weaver House is still standing, my friends still live there, amid a transformmed landscape. The new East London Line emerges from the back yard, and eyes level view of the formerly tranquil corner is summed up in the picture above. Amazing and what a shame.

A little while ago, I received the message below from Hamstall Ridware, resident of Weaver House back in the 80s, when rent went for the exorbitant £11/week. This was the Golden Age of Weaver House, a forgotten corner of pre-gentrified dreaming East London.

I used to live there in the 1980s when it was by and large used as a hall of residence for the nearby London College of Furniture. Originally a “council” house, it was by that time owned by a housing association based in Bethnal Green. Some couple of years before I lived there, a few of the residents were offered the chance to buy their flats under Thatcher’s “Right to Buy” scheme. The price of each flat was around £9,000. Nobody to my knowledge took up this offer (I bet a few have now though!) since rents were exceptionally low at around £8 per week, so the association embarked on a slow programme of refurbishment. By 1985 when I lived in flat 8, the rent had increased to £11, although this was the new increased price for a refurbished flat. You would be staggered at how many people thought this was extortion, but for this you received a newly fitted kitchen, modern but utilitarian bathroom with enamelled steel bath, heavy duty grey curtains and a rudimentary gas fire. Residents of non-refurbed flats hated the uniformity of it all, preferring their non-fitted kitchens, ’30s style bathrooms and Belfast sinks. Some flats were charming, some arty, some squalid, but all were cherished.

A fair proportion of residents were students at the London College of Furniture (LCF) which also had a musical instrument department. (The college is now part of the London Metropolitan University I think) A bigger proportion were ex-students who refused to leave. I could bet money that the violin maker is a hanger-on from those days. When I took up residence in Flat 8, I was asked to promise to leave after I finished college, although I don’t recall ever signing anything to confirm that I would. Since the LCF also had an interior design department, a certain artiness always existed at Weaver. Some flats were the epitome of shabby chic before anyone had ever thought of the idea, and outside were always a few interesting motors: the odd Citroen GS, a tatty VW Karmann Ghia, the obligatory Morris Minor Traveller and a couple of old BSA Bantam motorbikes chained to the railings.

The signal box on legs at Fleet Street Hill (the Hut of Baba Yaga!) was already by that time empty, and there was a yard beside it containing Pedley Street Autos, a genuine bomb-site car repairers. If you exited Weaver and looked to your left, there was a superb bit of graffiti reading “Try living here Jones”. AFAI recall, all the brickwork of this wall and all surrounding railway property was high quality grey/blue engineering brick. The reclamation yards must be making a fortune. The archway of the bridge at Fleet St Hill was home to many tramps and vagrants, most of whom got to know the bohemian residents of Weaver and knew they could call on them in times of dire emergency, otherwise they kept themselves to themselves. One such person was a scrawny woman of indeterminate age called “Skinny Jean”. Last time I looked on the webby, the signal box on legs had gone.

Gone! But not forgotten.

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