Hainault Forest Website

Written, Designed and with Photographs by Brian Ecott

Social History

 Our Victorian Cottage in New North Road.
by Raymond Small

Peter Small and Joan Gildersleve met in Dovercourt and a holiday romance soon blossomed into true love. They married in 1954 and had three children, Elaine, Raymond and Rosemarie.

Peter was born in Isleworth, Middlesex in 1927. Aged 14, he worked in an aircraft factory that produced war planes. When the Second World War finished, he worked in a couple of bakeries, including one at Richmond Ice Rink. After meeting Joan he moved to London and needed a new job. There was a job listed at the Labour Exchange for a 'Restorer' in Hatton Garden. Peter thought the job was restocking a warehouse and applied for it. The work turned out to be restoring watch dials and Peter continued this type of work until his retirement in 1992.

Joan was born in City Road, near Old Street in London, in 1923. She had many jobs that involved working with children. This included Kingswood School, Hainault, where she assisted the Domestic Science teacher, Mrs Gray. Joan sometimes covered as a Home Help at the Marlyon Road Old Folks Home when the Warden went on holiday. A regular visitor to St. Paul's Church, Arrowsmith Road and a TocH group member. 

My family moved to Hainault after my mother, Joan, visited a friend and saw an empty terraced cottage at the top of New North Road. The Council agreed we could live there, but mentioned  that the property had no electricity and was due for demolition within a couple of years. Having previously turned down a flat in Bermondsey because there was "nowhere for the children to play", my parents decided this was a way to escape Central London. Tenancy began on 27th June 1966. The rent amounting to  3 9s 8d was paid promptly each fortnight at the G.L.C.'s Area Office in Manford Way. 

The cottage hadn't changed much since Victorian times. If light was needed in the evening, my parents had to turn a tap on a gaslight fitting and strike a match. This job was left to 'grown ups' because the fragile gas mantel, the bit that glowed, could easily be damaged. Light produced was not as bright as that from an electric bulb, but was adequate to read by.

We did get the last laugh when power cuts occurred. Neighbours would come knocking, puzzled by the light shining from our windows.

                        Cottages in New North Road 1967- Numbers went up to 700 End house. Photo   Peter Small 

To iron clothes, we placed a special flat iron on the gas cooker to heat it. The only way to judge whether it was hot enough was to give it a quick tap on the bottom with damp fingers. A sizzling sound meant it was ready. If too hot the item being ironed got scorched. 

A major project was started in the Sixties to convert premises to accept a new type of gas from the North Sea. Our gas cooker needed to be replaced, as did many others throughout the country. Pipes were laid along the edge of  Hainault Forest while this was carried out.  Seaflame vans appeared in every street 

A cold tap in the kitchen provided all our water. On bath nights, water was warmed in a gas copper heater. A galvanised metal tub hanging on a wall outside was carried into the kitchen and placed on the floor. When the water was hot, it was scooped manually into the bath using a bucket. With no luxury of a plughole, the dirty water had to scooped out into the sink afterwards.

                                                          Pipe Laying - Romford Road next to Hainault Forest. Photo Peter Small.

Two coal fires provided heat downstairs. Ash fell into a pan at the bottom which had to be emptied daily. Fireplaces in the bedrooms had been bricked up, so a paraffin heater was placed on the landing. Bringing coal from the bunker outside was a regular chore shared by the family when the temperature fell.

The outside toilet (the only one) was no place for arachnophobia sufferers. A hurricane lamp was left burning during winter, not just for light, but also because the small amount of heat generated helped prevent the toilet freezing up. Once we didn't go to school because the snow was deeper than our Wellington Boots. The School Board Man came calling to find out why we were absent. 

Dustbins were kept at the rear of the cottages. Each back garden had a connecting gate to the next.  On collection day the Dustmen entered the first gate belonging to Number 700, then walked through all the back gardens to fetch and return the heavy bins.

As a family, we would often go hiking when the weather was fine. Looking for wild animals, we found rabbits and squirrels commonplace, but occasionally we would catch a glimpse of a stoat, hedgehog or fox. Once we were lucky enough to see an adder crawling across a path. One creature never seen was a badger. I am told they exist towards Lambourne End, so maybe it will be crossed off my 'to see' list one day. Sometimes we would walk down the country lanes as far as Theydon Bois and Epping.  

The Old Hainault Oak. From a drawing by Rosemarie Khan

August was the month we went blackberry picking over Hainault Forest. On returning home, the blackberries would be spread out over newspaper and left overnight.  By morning all the wiggly creatures that were in the berries had crawled out onto the paper. My mother made the best blackberry jam I've ever tasted. 

I played football with friends in the field behind the original Old Hainault Oak Public House which was on the corner of New North Road. We pretended to be famous footballers, like Jimmy Greaves (who grew up in nearby Huntsman Road), John Radford and Peter Osgood.  Occasionally, we would hunt for discarded bottles over Hainault Forest and return them to the sweetshop to claim deposits. Money gained would be spent on sweets, or saved to buy cream soda and crisps from the Old Oak's off-licence, which was at the side of the pub. Before the computer game 'Frogger' existed we held toad races for real across Romford Road. Vehicles were few and far between so none were ever harmed. 

Opposite Huntsman Road stood Butcher's Wood. An elderly neighbour told me that a butcher
once hanged himself from a tree there and that was how the name came about. Butcher's Wood was replaced by Yellow Pine Way Estate in the late Sixties.

New North Cottages being demolished in 1971   Photos Peter Small

In 1968 my parents paid to have electricity installed for the costly sum of  200.  Two years later, notice was given that the bulldozers were coming and we had to move to another house nearby. Soon all that remained of our cottage was a pile of rubble. It may not have been up to modern standards, but our brief stay at 698 was very enjoyable.


When starting work in the Seventies I would purchase Red Bus Rover tickets from Hainault Station. 6 paid for travel on all routes throughout London for a whole month. At weekends and bank holidays it also allowed someone to travel with me for free. This seems an incredible bargain when compared to prices in 2015 where the minimum cost to travel one stop is 1.50.


Travelling on the top deck of an RT class bus was a great way to go sightseeing in those days. When these buses got withdrawn in 1979 a procession travelled through Hainault towards Barkingside to mark the event with a police escort. 

                            'There will be another one along in a moment!'. 1979  Photo   Peter Small



Peter, my father, enjoyed driving his mobility scooter through the forest when he retired. In 2005, he was dismayed to find new gates blocking the way. A letter to Forest Manager, Mr. Browne, brought swift action. Within a matter of weeks, the gates were changed to new ones that let mobility scooters through making an old man very happy. We adopted one of the new gates as our rendezvous point. When agreeing to see each other at 'Peter's Gate' we knew exactly where to meet.  

Sadly, Joan passed away in 1981 and Peter in 2007.

                                                                                         1967 Balloon preparing to land on hill in Hainault Forest. Photo Peter Small.

'Peter's Gate' has been installed August 2006.

Our album

1968 Mum Joan with Rosemarie and son Raymond.

 The outside toilet is on the left and the tin bath is hanging behind the trellis.

1968 Guy Fawkes night

1968 Mum Joan with daughters Elaine and Rosemarie in the

front room of our cottage.

1968 Our tub wasn't only used for bath night but great fun in the summer.

1969 Watch out! Snow in the forest.

1969 The Lake and Chigwell Row Church in background

2004 Our Father Peter feeding a blue tit  on mealworms

and wax worms.


All photographs Peter Small.

Thanks to Raymond Small for allowing them to be used.