Muriel and Doris Lester &
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DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 1
I’m recording on Friday the 3rdt of April 2009 and it’s Louise Joly and I’m
interviewing Sylvia Bishopp in Mayfield Road in [Speaking together] Sanderstead in Croydon so I just want to begin really Sylvia by if you just tell me your full name and any previous names that you’ve had and your name of birth?
Well I was born on the fourteenth of January 1925, and my name then was Sylvia
Winifred Parrott, which I rejoiced in! Erm, that was, that was me. I was born in
Fulham, not in Bow, and we moved back to Bow when I think I was four. My sister
was born two years later than me and she was a rickety child and needed a lot of care
and looking after, so my mother and father moved back to live with my grandmother
in Bruce Road in Bow. So Cynthia was er, Cynthia was four and I was two. First of
all we lived in Powis road which is opposite Kingsley Hall, the house that was
opposite Kingsley Hall, and then we moved later we moved round to Bruce Road and
we lived upstairs in my grandmothers’ house when my mothers’ brother married and
there were rooms vacant upstairs. So we had three, three rooms upstairs at erm and
that was the first...I don’t really remember living in Fulham at all. I remember Bow
and living with a Mrs Barton and her son Clifford, yes Clifford, and not liking that
place at all because I got locked in one of the rooms once and it gave me
claustrophobia for years, because I hated going in a room and shutting the door in
case it got locked. They had to get the fire brigade to come and unlock the door and it
was just terrifying to me. But we were still, we were still living there until the war,
living with my grandmother. She died...probably I think when I was about nine, I’ve
got the funeral card somewhere, but I can’t remember the date.
What was your grandmother doing living in Bow?
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 2
Oh they were, my mother was born in Bow. Her...my mothers’ mother was born in
Three Mill lane, and the grandparents, and the great grandparents and all. As far as I
know lived there. And er, that’s erm, and then when mum left school at 14, she went
into service, somewhere over in Hammersmith or whatever, and that was where she
met my father and married, and then they came back as I say when Cynthia was so
poorly. Mum needed help in looking after me and we moved back to Bow living
upstairs with Mrs Barton.
I just want to pick up a bit about the family in Three Mills Lane, what where they, what were their occupations?
I don’t know, I know his name, my mothers’ grandfather...my mothers’ maiden name
was Baker, but her grandfathers’ name was Joy, they were the Joy family, and erm...I
imagine that he had something to do with the mills because they lived in the last
house before the canal, the very last house there, and erm...what was his name...Ernest
Joy I think. And erm, I say my grandmother was born there with as far as I know a
fair number of brothers and sisters, but then she married Arthur Baker who was also
from Bow, but I don’t know an address for him. We haven’t done any family history
properly research, nothing like that. But he...they married and had four children; my
mother was the eldest and then two boys and a girl after that. When we moved back
to Bow there was only my mothers’ younger brother living at home, and its always
been a puzzle to me because when we went to live there, there were three rooms
upstairs, the big room in the front which was our living room -
down four little stairs there was a room over the kitchen at the back and that was the
room that Cynthia and I had. Downstairs there was the front room, Grandmas’
parlour, and then there was the middle room, which was Grandmas bedroom, a
kitchen with the erm, fire and the [incomp], and then the scullery -
Uncle Henry sleep? We do not know, we just don’t know. When he...when he
married and I was the bridesmaid...we moved in upstairs I think... we were certainly
living there then, but...yeah...my memory goes a little bit fuzzy there, for dates and
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 3
whatnot, I know I must have been about nine when he married, so we’d been living there longer, oh it doesn’t matter. But when we came back to Bow I started school cos I was four, and I started at Old Palace infants school and Cynthia went into the nursery at Children’s’ House, I was too old, but...I think the leader of the Nursery School was Miss Osbourne I think her name was Mary, I’m not sure.
At Children’s House?
At Children’s’ House, yes. Because I don’t know how mum had got to know Muriel,
but she did know her, and when she came back to Bow she plunged absolutely into
the life of the Hall and I think Muriel Lester made all sorts of things easy. She helped
mum on her way because I think she was very interested because mum was very
ambitious and she wanted to better herself, and I think she really had brain and would
have got a scholarship except that she had an illness when she was thirteen or
something, and she never got the chance to sit the scholarship and of course in those
days you couldn’t have a second chance and that was that. She had to leave and go
off into service and when she came back she was very keen to live more like Kingsley
Hall precepts and whatnot you know, so our life completely revolved around the hall.
It wasn’t a Bow life at all, that was erm...
So the life at Kingsley Hall was...
...very different to the living surrounding it?
Oh yes, of course it was, yes! It was a cultured life; it was a life of the spirit you
might say, or of the mind. Whereas Bow was definitely, well Bromley really,
technically we weren’t in Bow we were in Bromley -
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 4
grotty place it was. People didn’t have much education at all it was very slummy and sleazy and erm...men, many of the men were very feckless and drank all their money and so forth, you know just what you think of as slum dwelling, but Kingsley Hall was not like that. The people that came there to work, the posher people -
We...home live was very cramped because we only had the one room upstairs that we
lived in. We had no water upstairs, no bathroom or anything. There was a tap on the
landing outside the big room and everything, all the water had to be carried
downstairs by my Dad when he came home from work you know. And it was, to go
to the Hall was like going into a paradise, because it was so big and spacious, and
light, airy and modern, erm...with real...art and pictures and things around, you know
absolutely different, and [pause].
What sort of art and pictures did you see in the Hall, can you remember?
Well, the thing that made the biggest impression on me was the frieze in Children’s
can’t really remember exactly the pictures, but sort of in the line of French
impressionists and things on the walls -
my mother’s...in our house we had two pictures I think that they were given as
wedding gifts. One was called erm...”Wedded Bliss” I think, and I can’t remember
what the other one was called... it was “Engaged” or something and it was two Greek
draped figures sort of yearning over each others shoulders, horrible! Proper Victorian
slop! But we had good books to look at at Kingsley Hall, and you know we were
introduced to things that we would never have heard of otherwise, which was erm
food and drink to me, I loved it.
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 5
What sort of books did you read?
Well we had “Pilgrims Progress” erm; “The Life of Helen Keller” was a terrific
influence to me. I don’t know whether that came to me from Kingsley Hall, or
whether my mother already had it, but I can remember sitting on the floor in the big room, our big room, and just getting lost in it, and I think I must have read it dozens of times and its still up on my bookshelf. “Mary Jones’ Bible” things...improving stories you know. That sort of thing...
We used to...now I’m just thinking further back. We always went to the Hall when
we weren’t doing anything at home. Later on when we were going to school by
ourselves, we always knew if no one was no one in when we came home we came
round to the Hall and joined in whatever mum was doing, whichever class or
whatever she was attending. But the first real memory is standing on the, in the
window of the house in Powis Road and looking over the hall and seeing Gandhi and
that was when he stayed in 1931, and we used to stay...my mum used to watch him, to
walk with him you know when they did the long walk round the canal and so forth,
and they’d all go trotting off, and we’d be sitting indoors sort of half thinking “Ooh
mum’s gone out we don’t like that” -
sort of sit at the window there waiting, waiting, waiting, for them to come back.
How long did they for go for on the walk?
Out at least an hour -
So do you know where they walked?
Oh yes, you go up to Three Mill lane, in there to the canal and then all along the
towpath and you come out at the end at Stratford by the Yardley factory -
thing there. And I think they would probably walked back, probably down Bow Road
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 6
and back down Devons Road into...I don’t know as I wasn’t there. But that was the
walk; we used to go on that walk every Sunday. Dad used to take us out to keep us
out of the way while mum could dinner of course, traditional you know. I imagine
that would be the same. They would...a company of them -
think, Muriel, I don’t think Doris went...don’t remember her. There was Muriel and
quite a lot of Kingsley Hall members that were interested. I know mum used to go
and there were quite a few other...more women than men I think although there were
some men and they would be quite a company of people walking, you know quite a
big group. Everybody else was dressed according to the weather, but Gandhi just had
his little leather sandals and the dhotis, so not...and a staff he would carry and walk
along bare headed, just as though he was in India, it was fabulous, he was a
real...magical figure. And he came to the nursery school and he spoke to the children and came to Kingsley Hall and spoke to people, just chatted with ordinary people he was a very human person and I think most people who belonged to Kingsley Hall felt they knew him. He was a person...because Muriel knew him so well, it was like she had just brought another friend along.
You were quite young when he visited? You were six weren’t you?
Yes I was six.
Did you know who he was there or what did you think about?
Not really, no. I know now, but I didn’t know then. No he was just well...some
people called him Uncle Gandhi, or called him Mister Gandhi, I can’t remember what
we called him, I just can’t remember. I can remember him talking to us children
when he came to the Sunday school and I can remember him blessing me, putting his
hands on my head and saying something like “Bless you my child” or whatever. I
can’t remember the exact words, but I do remember that. We do have a photograph of
my sister in a group of nursery school children taken in the clubroom -
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 7
in Kingsley Hall. I think the political import was lost on me I mean, I didn’t have a
very...well I don’t think my mother thought it was suitable for us to learn too many
grow up affairs. She wanted us to learn about the world and so forth, but I think
politics were not for us, you know we were kept a bit sheltered. I don’t think he was
there all that long?
It was 12 weeks.
Yes, probably all through the summer wasn’t it?
I think it was September to December 1931 roughly I think...
Yes, date and time doesn’t really mean much when you are six
Not really, no.
No, I must have still been at Old Palace School because you changed to the junior
school when you were seven plus, and then I changed to Marner Street which was at
the other end of Devons Road, quite a, quite a long walk actually from home.
So tell me a bit about Old Palace School.
I can’t tell you much because I honestly don’t remember very much at all except that
we had sand trays to write, and you had this little -
sand in it, and she taught us to do our letters tracing them in the sand with our finger,
and then if you had done it properly OK, otherwise you had to swoosh it out and start
again. And I can remember that and thinking how grown up we were when we went
to Marner Street in the juniors and we had slates and slate pencils and they squeaked,
that was a great promotion because when I went up to Marner Street Cynthia was still
at Old Palace and she so was there with sand trays [laughing], I can remember that,
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 8
but I don’t really remember much about the school or don’t remember any of the names of the teachers, it was too early.
Marner Street I can remember, the mists begin to clear a bit and I can remember the
names of the teachers and which classes we were in and what we did there, but not so
much at Old Palace. I remember more about Sunday school at Children’s House
Sundays because we used to go every afternoon at three o’clock, Sunday afternoon at
three o’clock. We didn’t go to the services at Kingsley Hall. I think probably my
grandmother was left in charge and we stayed home. But we did go to Children’s
House, and there was always...you came in and the Piano was playing, nice, good
music sort of thing and we’d come in and sit down on the little chairs with the little
tables and you’d sing a hymn and then there would be a sort of a talk. I don’t know
who would normally give the talk or bible story or something. My best memories are
when Muriel came to talk, when she’d come back from India and she’d tell us about
her life and what she’d done and so forth and I remember being absolutely sort of
transfixed with hero worship and whatnot and my devotion to India started right there.
And I always thought I would go to India one day. Didn’t really ever think I would,
but that was the determination, the bright star. After the story we would have
expression they called it, you had sheets, lovely clean white sheets of paper and
crayons in a pot on the table and we’d all do our drawing or whatever of the story, and
then come back and have another hymn or two, and erm...or there must have been
time for taking the offering. We were clutching our penny, which we used to have
two and halfpence pocket money when we were that age. And we were allowed to
spend a halfpenny every other day to spend one and a half pennies, but the penny had
to be kept for Sunday school and it was a bit of a wrench to let that penny and go and
put it in, because I wasn’t always convinced that I wanted to. I thought I’d like to
spend this penny in the sweetshop because sweets weren’t very frequent. I don’t
think we ever did, I think we were always good girls, we weren’t rebellious or
anything, we took it for granted that yes, this is what you did with that penny. And
then mum and dad would go to service in the evening, the evening service and
sometimes there would be a class or something afterwards or discussion that they
would stay to. But we didn’t take much part in it; there was such a lot of things going
on. There were classes, there were singing classes I know that mum went to, and
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 9
sewing classes, and discussions, and they had the Joy nights on Saturdays where
people came and just were social together and my dad was always the man on the
door. He took the thrupence or whatever it was, to come in, he was always there. And We used to be allowed to go and just inside the clubroom door was a table which had soft drink, because of course there was no alcohol, and we were allowed a glass of
Tizer between us and we used to sit on the floor under the table with our glass of
Tizer and think we were in seventh heaven, it was really a treasure. While the grown ups...it was simple sort of parlour games and dancing not too much dancing, but
country dances as well, all sorts simple amusements, and people were all very happy together. I don’t think...I think Doris was mostly at those, but of course Muriel wasn’t because she was out travelling. They were great.
So did your...did all of your family get involved with Kingsley Hall?
Oh yes, yes. Mum and dad, and well we went along willy nilly [laughing]. It wasn’t
optional on our part, but actually I always wanted to go you know. I think Cynthia
did too, I think we both, we both enjoyed it because when we came home from school
we’d beadle round there as quickly as we could cos there was, you’d go up the stairs
and if there was...whatever class was going on there was always somebody in the
kitchen making tea, and there was usually a biscuit or a cake or something for the two
children that came it and we thought it was great. But we did go quite a lot into the
household part of the hall, we had entry there, we used to go into the household sitting
room, and later on... when...I was probably been about nine again, I began to very
very sensitive about having to go the public baths at Empsom Street. And I hated
walking through the street with my towel and going along to the baths, and I hated the
atmosphere of the baths, it was so... noisy, steamy, and the women frightened me, the
bath woman frightened me to death, and in the end I think I must have told mum how
I felt. She had a word with Muriel and we were allowed to go, it suddenly happened
that were allowed to go to Kingsley Hall, and we used the household bathroom and
have a bath every -
which was bliss. [Incomp] to know that you could go in the bathroom and shut the
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 10
door and nobody would come banging and beating, that was good. But the same must
have been, it must have been a rare favour, I don’t know if anybody else was given
that privilege. I can’t think they could have done, there’d have been too many
children in Bow to accommodate wouldn’t there? And we used to go upstairs to the
roof, to Muriel’s roof garden and take tea with her, she’d give us a cup of tea or
whatnot, and conversation and sit on the edge of the pond and see the fish and look
out over the rooftops, it was another world, another world. Because in Bruce Road
there was a very little yard, but my grandfather was still King of that, and it was just
bare earth with a few Irises down the side of the house, and it wasn’t used as a garden,
it was a yard really...I think my grandfather must have been retired by then he had
been a carpenter, but we didn’t see any evidence of that. All I remember of him is
sitting in the back kitchen with a drop on the end of his nose and his cap on, and
smoking. Grandma sort of bustling around doing, getting meals and working around.
Granddad I don’t remember ever seeing him walking actually, I think he was
permanently sitting person, we didn’t really know him. It wasn’t the time when
grandparents took a lot of interest in their grandchildren...
These were your mother parents?
What about your fathers’ parents?
My fathers’ father was dead, and he had had a sister who died when she was twenty-
one of TB. My dad would have been...my dad was born in 1899, and mum was born
in 1900. Grandma Parrott was a rather a fiercesome figure, she had aspirations.
She had been a ladies...Lady John Taylor’s housekeeper, and thought that she had a
bit of a position and she used to come...no, we used to go over to Hammersmith to see
there we had to sit under the table, under the Chenille table cloth and be seen...not
even seen, but definitely not heard, while mum and grandma talked, and I don’t really
think grandma ever felt warm towards my mother. I think she resented the fact that
shed taken Bertie away, you know because having lost her husband and the daughter,
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 11
my dad was all she had left, relations between grandma Parrott and my mother were
very limited, but with my mothers mother, Grandma Baker -
friendly and she used to take us out and well she looked after us when mum was
doing something else or at the hall or whatever and she looked after me when Cynthia
had to go to, cos she had rickets, and all sorts of, you know, ills, a squint, and I think
Muriel put her onto Tavistock House where they had a lot of very forward thinking
medical people there, and we were introduced to vegetarianism, and we grew up
having all the nutmeats and all that sort of thing and lots of salad very unusual diet for
Bow people. Marmite, and so forth...all as a result of Kingsley Hall really you know,
Muriel and Doris’ influence, so made it...much broader than it would have been
otherwise, you know.
We weren’t allowed to play out in the street, to play with the children across the road
who were not deemed worthy. We were actually, we were brought up to be quite
snobs. I regret to say it now but I think you know, I think my mother was probably
wrong to keep us so, so far apart, but the biggest threat she could ever give to us was
“You don’t want to be like them. You don’t want to work behind the counter in
Woolworth’s, do you? You don’t want to go into Bryant and Mays” you know, and
we didn’t. That was the fate worse than death that we were threatened with, which I
think was probably not the best thing, you know, a bit uncharitable on her part, but
she was determined that, that we would esc...she couldn’t escape Bow, she hadn’t
made it, but she was determined that we would, and she dressed us in that fashion.
We always had clean white socks, and my dad used to shine the shoes every night,
and she used to go to Liberty’s and buy remnants and make us smock dresses...not
Bow children [laughing]. And we had little...little velour coats with velvet collars,
and a little hat, a sort of bonnet hat that matched. We’ve got photos and mum used to,
she was a very good needlewoman and she made these beautiful dresses, and designed
them herself and there we are looking like fashion plates, but...
So what did the other Bow children make of you? Did you have any contact with
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 12
Oh yes, they called us -
were not really, we were friendly with the children of other people from Kingsley
Hall, that was alright, you know we had our own little social circle, but it wasn’t the
street life, no. When I was sevenish my mother made, she must have got a length of
beautiful orange angora material, probably the colour of your jumper, and she made
me a dress that had very advanced fashion. A silk collar that fastened at the back,
plain at the front, and it was faggoting stitched round the edge, with a bit lapped on.
And she made me wear this to school, and the other kids all the time “You got your
frock on back to front!” you know, “Turn it round” because nobody had ever seen a
collar going that way before. Well, with hindsight I probably looked very nice in it, it
was a, it was a beautiful dress and she’d obviously put a lot of care and pride into it,
but the misery it caused me at school, she never knew [laughing]. She did quite a few
things like that, she would make things that were just not...not acceptable in school,
and we had to wear them. There was a pale blue dress with silver knobbly buttons
down the front. People didn’t have that, you know, that wasn’t ordinary. Most, most
children at school wore an old skirt and a knitted jumper, probably fairly raggy, and
erm, certainly down...sort of socks all falling down and down at heel shoes, whereas
we always had our shoes cleaned every night and we went off spic and span. And it
wasn’t, wasn’t appreciated by the rest of the class, no, no, not really. But when we
went to, when we went to Kingsley Hall, the other members, their children would be
not quite like us maybe, but much more that line, that’s what you’d expect, it was
civilised and people, you know had good manners, and they didn’t push and shove or
anything like that and they didn’t swear, whereas the life of the streets was anything
but. It was definitely much more down to earth we were protected from that.
So it sounds as though your family was a little island...
Oh it was, yes
...that was linked to Kingsley Hall, but not really to the rest of the community?
Oh no, we didn’t...
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 13
But what about cousins? Did you have cousins living in the area?
No, my mothers -
somewhere, and that’s [incomp] house, and he only had one daughter and we didn’t
like her anyway, and, the next, the Henry, the second brother married a lot later, so his
children were much younger than we were, and the sister, the youngest sister married
and went to live in Maidenhead, so we didn’t have relations nearby. Our nearest
relations were at Leytonstone. And we used to go to Auntie Carries for celebratory
occasions because she had a bit bigger house, she had a whole house, and it had a bay
window at the front and three bedrooms upstairs, and a bathroom that, it was posh.
We quite liked going there, but no, in Bow we didn’t have any close friends, we were
kept separate and if mum went round to visit one of her friends, we would go and we
would be dutifully told, play with Irene, or play with so and so, and practically, and
universally I think these chosen children were children we didn’t like! [Laughing]. I
thinks that’s automatic, if your mother tells you your going to be friendly with so and
so, your practically certain not to, so and of course when as we grew up we were, we
were bright children and we both got scholarships, which took us even further away.
We went to the grammar school, and most of the others went to the senior school and
we lost touch, we didn’t really know people in Bow at all.
So where did you go to Grammar School?
Coburn, Coburn School for Girls, which was on Bow Road in those days, its not
Coopers Coburn and its down in Upminster, cos the Coopers, the Coopers company’s Boys School was a Grammar School, and the Coburn was the sister school, and that was on Bow Road just along from Bow Road Station, you probably know it?
Yes, I do.
Yes you do, yes, and erm...
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 14
So you went there from when you were aged?
Until I left, until seventeen. We started in Bow of course in 1936, but in 1939 the
War came and we were evacuated to Taunton. I stayed there until I left school, and
my sister stayed there until the end of the War, she was there six years, quite a long
time to be away from home. I stayed there until I left school and then I went to
University, and then I was drifted into War work and went into the met office and I
was away in Dunstable, and so I never came back to Bow, until I married. And then
my mother was at that time living in Electric House opposite Bow Road station and
she remarried, cos my father had died, and she went to lived in Rayleigh, Essex, and I
was able to take over the tenancy of the flat, and so my husband and I came back to
Electric House where we stayed for eight years until...we then had four children and
going up [incomp] fifty stairs was not much fun, carrying the pram up and down, that
was, we didn’t live in, we didn’t live in Bow again [pause]. We lived in Electric
house, but again we didn’t know anybody, we were very separate.
So what year was it that you moved to Electric House?
1941, when Bruce Road was bombed, and the house was deemed irreparable and they,
the council moved mum and dad because we were away to Mariner court, which is in
Alfred street, opposite Bow Road, on the corner of where Electric House is, and we
were there for I think probably three years, until I came home, and then my, my
fathers mother, grandmother, came to live with us because she was too...no my
father was too frail. He had a men...brain tumour, he’d had meningitis during the war
and it left him with a brain tumour, and he got very simple, he regressed. Grandma
came to live with us, and so they, the council gave us a flat, a three bedroomed flat,
instead of a two bedroomed flat, because there was mum and dad, there was Cynthia
and me, and there was Grandma. And so we moved into electric house. And when I
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 15
took over the tenancy they said they “You know you won’t be able to stay there if
somebody else needs it, you will have to move, because there are only two of you.”
But actually we never got moved, and I filled it with children, so, you know, two, four
six, eight they just came. So we just stayed there until we until we...well I couldn’t
stand it any longer. Heaving the pram and all the children up and down stairs, we
decided that we’d push the boat out and we moved to Croydon. Well Coulsdon, and
that more or less severed the connection. My mother and sister still, they were still
going to Kingsley Hall, it was still going on under different leaders, erm, but I
didn’t...I didn’t really know any of the leaders after Muriel and Doris. Except, the
Eastors, Bernard and Amy Eastor, I knew them quite well. I was home that was when
I was living at home in Electric House.
I’m interested in getting the rough years. So in 1941 your family moved to Electric
And then you took over the ten...you got married in what year?
OK, and then you took over the tenancy in
Yes that’s right, in fifty-
And then you lived there for another eight years, until 1960?
That’s right, yes, and we moved to Coulsdon in 1960, I think it was just the end of 1960, beginning of...it was have been February, it was when my eldest daughter was eight, and that would have been in the February.
You mentioned about Doris and Muriel not being in there and somebody else taking over Kingsley Hall
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 16
So what, tell me a bit about that, when did that happen, why?
Well the years are very hazy. I can’t tell you exact dates, but it will all be in the
records won’t it? I can’t really remember the order, but I know, I think the first
people that came were...Godfrey Payne and his wife whose name I can’t remember
and two children, Forest and Carol, girls about our age. And they were there as
wardens for a while and then there was [pause] was it er...that was Godfrey Payne,
Geoffrey Tear, and at some point or other a bit later I think Patrick Figgis, Guy
nineteen... the fifties, the early fifties, yes they would. They later moved to Caterham,
and we got in touch with us again here, so we resumed friendship, but we didn’t ever
get back to Bow to know anybody there, until I just sort of got the feeling that I
wanted to go back and see it all again. And we called and we met David, and he
made us very welcome and showed us round and everything, and then we’ve tried to
keep in touch ever since, as it so...it means a lot to be able to go in and walk around
and think, oh golly, yes, its all there.
So in the fifties then when you were brining up your family in electric house, were you going to Kingsley hall very much at that point?
No, no I didn’t...with, with four little ones to go along I transferred my allegiance to
the Methodists, actually just opposite, and I went there, you know for as the, as the
[incomp]. I was married in Kingsley Hall, the first two children were christened at
Kingsley Hall, but the last two were not, they were at the Methodist and so forth. I
can’t remember who would have been the warden then, but it wasn’t anybody I really
knew and I didn’t feel any connection, I hadn’t...none of the old people were left.
And I think there wasn’t so much going on, I don’t know, was it, had it closed down a
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 17
I don’t know, that was a bit later, but I think we don’t know an awful lot about what happened in the fifties, so its quite interesting to at least get some names.
I’ve got names, and I’ve got quite a lot, I’ve made a list on a piece of paper, of all the
names of people I can remember, you know my mothers’ friends, people who would
have been living in Bow at that time, and would probably be more Bow-
were. The people who were on the committee of Kingsley Hall, and would have
taken more, erm executive part of deciding what happened and so forth. But the
fifties I wasn’t there, you see I was away. That was...I left school in forty-
was in Cambridge until forty-
come back to Bow until I married and that was fifty-
don’t know. I know Kingsley Hall was still going on, people were still going to
Rachel Cottage, cos we’ve got photographs of my sister and [incomp] the staff and so
Tell me about Rachel Cottage, what’s that?
Well that was a house. It was called a cottage, but it was really rather more than a
cottage, it was a decent sized house, and it was one I think that Muriel and Doris
bought, probably with money from their father, I don’t know. But anyway, and I
think it was named Rachel Cottage because that was their mothers name, and they
used it...it was at Buckhurst Hill, Loughton, and Kingsley Hall used it as a respite
home really for outings for Bow people to go, and I know mum and my sister and I
went there two or three times. They had a housekeeper I think there, and you would,
people could go and you could stay and use the room and be looked after and have a
rest, and good being right by the forest, children could play. It was a place of freedom
and they used to go for day outings from Sunday school, not camp quite, but out for
the day and you know general beano, and it was a, it was their garden where we,
where they hadn’t got any ground in Bow there it was. It was a great asset to
Kingsley Hall because it made them able to do so much more, it was. That was really
more Doris’ domain cos she was more the housekeeping one, and Muriel was the
brain. Yes she was the...evangelising one or whatever, she I’m very unfair often
when I think that because I always think slightly erm...scornfully of Doris because,
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 18
you know, she was the plain one and she was the homebody, and I have much more
respect for the brain, and when I’ve written a couple of memoirs for my
grandchildren. I’ve written one about Muriel and Doris, and I’ve always said Muriel
was silver and Doris was gold. To me the silver was the one I sort of hitched my star
to. I think my mother did too, I think she was more, more Doris’ friend...than, erm
Muriel’s’ friend than Doris. Doris got on with things and she was very good with
ordinary people, and I think Muriel was more for erm leaders and people in charge,
and my mother would have been like that -
not that she wasn’t a shirker, she rolled her sleeves up and got down to baking cakes
and doing all that sort of thing as well, but her real interest was in the organisation and
making sure everything ran smoothly, and was doing the best that it possibly could
I don’t remember my mother a lot of what you would call social service. She didn’t
go round helping people, or helping people to clear up or tidy up, and a lot of people
at Kingsley Hall did. They went to alleviate the grim circumstances that lots of
people find themselves in, but I don’t think my mum had really the interest in that, but
erm, I maybe a bit uncharitable there I don’t know, but I don’t think she did. We only
visited people who were upwardly mobile [laughing] you know. Kingsley Hall
members but you had the same international looking and so forth, they were whoever
mums friends were, not with the ordinary people [pause]. Have to sit and recollect
and sort of get it sorted out again, at times you know it comes back and you think oh
I’m taking about this, but I shouldn’t be, that’s all in the wrong order.
You can’t help it because it bubbles up, erm when you are not expecting it actually, quite funnily.
I wanted to go back and ask you about vegetarianism and about that, and how you managed being vegetarian in Bow in nineteen, in the 1930s.
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 19
Quite easily. The thing was when Cynthia was so poorly, she was rickety and
undernourished and we were certainly very pushed for money, I mean, I think
probably...thinking about it, as Bow went we were probably slightly better off than
many because my dad was, he was working for Joe Lyons at Cadby Hall and he was
earning three pounds a week, which, was a reasonable wage in those days. He was a
mum liked to live a slightly higher standard than usual, and she was. Cynthia was
sent to Tavistock House and mum was sent there because she worked herself I think
almost into a nervous breakdown trying to keep everything upsides and spic and span,
and she was transferred to the care of a Doctor Eleanor Montgomery who was there,
and for psychological problems really, counselling and whatnot. The vegetarian diet
was recommended, and a nourishing diet, and Cynthia had to have a two-
cream every day, and they gave her, my mum ideas of how to incorporate it into the
diet. One of the most favourite things was a grated raw apple, chopped up dates,
bound together with cream -
what was it? Granola, and granose nutmeat, vegimeat, and vegi sausages, and all
those things you bought as a packet, dry and then you mixed with water and then
fried, rissoles and rissole nut. All these vegetarian products they all came home. I
imagine she must have bought them at Tavistock House because you couldn’t have
bought those in Bow. All the salad -
vegetables; the emphasis was on that, and as I say, grated raw carrot and raw beetroot,
all sorts of things. And we used nut butters, we didn’t use ordinary butter, we had
peanut butter, probably before it was really known, and nut butter, and I cant
remember what it was called but it was a equivalent of lard but it was vegetarian.
Trying to think of the name but I can’t, and we did eat meat, we weren’t entirely
vegetarian, but my sister was awkward, because when mum would cook a dinner,
Cynthia would say, “What meat is this, what animal is this mum?” or, “What is this?”
And mum would say “It doesn’t matter,” Cynthia would say “I can’t eat it if I don’t
know what it is” and she would be about six “I can’t eat it if I don’t know what it is”,
so mum would say, “Well its rabbit”, “Oh I can’t eat rabbit!” She couldn’t eat it if
she didn’t know, and she couldn’t eat it if she did. So it made life rather difficult, she
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 20
was a natural vegetarian, and so when mum produced all these vegetarian things,
Cynthia was in. she liked it you see, well I liked some and not some. We had a lot of fish, we were vegetarians that included fish. But I was quite happy to eat lots o f
things that Cynthia wouldn’t. I think mum must have been at her wits end sometimes with these awkward kids.
What about your dad, what did he eat?
He wasn’t there most of the time. He used to go to work, he would probably leave
home about seven in the morning, because he used to go on the district line all the
way to Hammersmith, which is quite a long journey, and he would have his main
meal at the canteen at Lyons of course, and then he wouldn’t come home, I think, my
memory is that he would get home about seven. We always had tea when we came
home from school, which was always two slices of bread and butter, compulsory,
before you were allowed any cake, and you could have jam on one slice of bread and
butter, but not on the other. You had to have your plain one first, and then your jam
one, and then you earned your cake if you were, if you were...and the cake was
them now just didn’t exist. If you went to a Lyons teashop you could buy fancies
from the pastry cakes and things like that, but they didn’t come to Bow. You might
get a current bun and that sort of thing, but not elegant. But [pause] I imagine dad
must have had a meal, but we were already in bed, my mother believed in early bed
for children and we were always in bed at six. All the other kids would play in the
street outside, but not us, we were in bed. Partly because I think they wanted to go
out to the things that were on at the hall, which started probably half past seven or
eight and we had to be tucked away and in bed so that grandma could be downstairs,
and not be bothered and we would be safely asleep. I can remember lots of times cos
I was nervous and “Mum, are upstairs? Are you there mum”, a voice would come
down, “Yes of course we are, be quiet, go to sleep”, and then when I knew she’d gone
out I’d say “Grandma are you downstairs?” And sometimes she’d come up and she
was easier than my mother and she’d come up and say “It’s alright now, I’ll leave the
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 21
light on for you”, and er that would -
the bedroom door shut and black, there would be a light, and that would suit me
better. Cos we had the one bedroom, we slept in the one bed, people didn’t have
separate rooms, separate beds in those days, it was unheard of. You got the whole
family sleeping top to tail, we were very lucky to be only two, two little girls too, and
to have a room that was ours, we did know we were fortunate in that, we knew we
were lucky to have what we had, yes, we did. And, improving toys to play with,
games, mind games, but which lots of children just didn’t, they just, they played with
what they found, cans and made their own amusements, we had things like ludo, and
snakes and ladders and things were bought, which was rather different. The
children’s treat would be knocking a tin can, hiding and rushing round and playing
knocking down ginger, naughty games, which we didn’t know.
I was just thinking about this idea of the difference between Kingsley hall and the
people that went to it and the rest of the community seems much more marked than I thought it was.
Oh I think it was, I think it was very marked.
It was obviously a stable group of people using the hall?
In terms of bringing the community in, did that happen much in terms of, so the general populace did come and were using the hall?
Oh yes, but they were all, then having been in, they were on an improved level
compared to the people who hadn’t been in. You could tell. If you looked at a group
of people, I think that anyone from the outside would be able to separate the layers,
the people who had no contact with Kingsley Hall, would be really rough, probably
bad language and behaviour. The ones that had contact with the hall would be, they
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 22
would have some sort of notion, and the ones that were really members of the hall
would be fully converted and they would be, you know like Muriel and Doris
themselves, like they wanted, enlightened people. It had a terrific impact I think, you
know [dog barking]. Relatively limited because transport -
You couldn’t go very far, so it was really mostly I would say Bromley, not even as far
as Bow, and certainly not over into Poplar. I mean now you think of Bromley-
Bow, Poplar, nothing, could you can just jump on a bus, or railway, and you’re there.
But it wasn’t, it was much much further to go then. When you walked. I know when
we walked to school; I mean to go to Marner Street for us as children was about a half
an hour walk each way. Well people wouldn’t think about walking half an hour now.
They’d just jump on the bus, but you know they weren’t. Transport cost money; you
couldn’t afford to go on the bus. When we went to Coburn, mum used to give us a
penny a day for the tram along Bow Road up to the school. But. Quite often my
friend and I we were given our pennies and we would say, “Let’s spend it”, and then
of course mum would say, “Where’ve you been, you’re rather late?” And we’d say
“Oh we had to wait a long time for the tram”. We hadn’t really completely absorbed
the lessons of always telling the truth, we had a few white lies you know [pause].
I don’t think Kingsley Halls influence really stretched as far as Bow station, not
really. I think it was Devons, up to Devons road, it was that area round there, round
the Seven Stars and whatnot, mostly, I may be wrong. But I think it was a nucleus
there of people, and erm [pause]. And the people became the household, erm, they
would live there and they wouldn’t go very far away, they’d be living and working in
the area, and it was more, not so much going out into the community, but trying to
bring people in, and running classes that people would want to come to and want to
join in. I know mum got a lot of, a lot of satisfaction from the singing classes. She
had quite a nice voice, and they learned all these traditional songs, and things you
know, good songs, and they listened to music, they had classes where someone would
come in gramophone records, I suppose it would have been then, and they listened,
cos I can remember there wasn’t the radio. The radio, the wireless was there, but we
had a radio, but it wasn’t always on. You could only have it when the batteries were
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 23
charged up. We had to take them to the shop and get them charged, that was horrible.
But, I think the hall introduced mum to classical music and foreign artists, because
one of her favourite people was Elisabeth Schumann singing, and I can remember
hearing her and thinking mm? We weren’t really keen on that, not then, but they went
into literature and they had a lot of people from the hall -
people to come and lecture and give talks, and so they met lots of interesting people,
and people that were well known in the world of theatre and poetry and things like
that, which would have been out of reach of a Bow person. People used to come and,
used to come to Sunday school as well and give us talks, people who’d done
something in the world, who had made a name for themselves. We probably didn’t
appreciate it all then, but it was all bringing, bringing the bigger world to people who
wouldn’t have found out about it [pause].
Were you aware about the other Kingsley Hall in Dagenham when you were young?
When it started, yes! We knew it was there, but it was definitely not proper.
I mean well, because I wasn’t the real one, that was the...they didn’t have Muriel and
Doris. It wasn’t the real thing. It was somebody sort of...we didn’t really think then
that these were real Bow people that had gone out. The slum clearance probably, I
don’t think my mother would have accepted going in the slightest degree. Her roots
were in Bow and she wouldn’t have wanted to go even for a house with a bathroom,
she wouldn’t, but I get the feeling that Kingsley hall Dagenham was always “second
best” definitely, not the real thing -
we were taken there, but I thought huh, no. It didn’t have the same atmosphere really
it was too new and untried, whereas, the hall itself was so different from any other
building in Bow and it had that sort of atmosphere about it, it had more to it because it was a place that people lived. I don’t think they ever had a household living there at Kingsley Hall Dagenham did they?
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 24
I don’t know.
I don’t think so. I can’t remember ever being taken to see any living quarters there.
Why were you taken there?
Oh, probably Sunday school, to communicate with people who used to live in Bow and so forth, wed go to...sometimes it would be a party or sometimes it would be a Sunday school sort of outing to go and see what [incomp]. I don’t know whether they had Camp Fire girls and that there?
I think they did.
They probably did, then we probably did meet because I know we were the only camp fire girls in the East of London, there weren’t any others, there were guides, but there weren’t Camp Fire girls -
So tell me about Camp Fire girls.
Well I wasn’t a camp fire girl for very long. They were introduced I think, I cant
remember whether it was Beryl Whathurst (check), or Ethel Gaverter (check),
somebody started up what would you call then, a group? Troop? Tribe? [laughing]
Whatever, but it all seemed, it was all good to one another, because being so strongly,
strongly pacifist, they wouldn’t let us have anything to do with Guides -
military, patrol and soldiery. No, no, no. But Camp Fire girls were native, and
feathers and beads and things and that was all right. But it was really like guides, we
worked for badges and I can remember the, the watchword was Wo, Hi Lo -
health and love, and the uniforms were brown with a leather belt, or something -
similar to Guides in a way, but it was all on country pursuits and whatnot. We used to
go...that was probably a bit later than me. I think was probably a bit old when they
started, I don’t remember getting very involved and Cynthia was a bluebird that was
the junior bit. But id been going to camp with Sunday school for two or three years
before, before Camp Fire. I never went away with Camp Fire, I didn’t go out and do
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 25
things with them I don’t think, I probably was too old. The last camp I went to was, they used to bring us. Muriel had connections of course with notable people, Lord this and Lord that, and we used to go and stay on their estates with tents, we used to drive from bow in a lorry and have the tents in the back and pitch them in a field, we went down to...aah...[pause] not Westcliffe...by Seaford?
Where the cliffs are...there’s a steep cliff
There’s a bay, and there’s a steep cliff with an iron ladder that you had to climb down to the beach, was it Seaford?
Seaford has a very steep cliff at the end.
It probably was, and we were camped in the downs behind there and the most
terrifying thing was climbing down the iron steps to get to the beach. But we had
great times on those camps, we would probably be a week we’d be away and go off,
and it was a real summer holiday. Build the fire and cook your food over it, really
like boy scouts and that, we did it all. The last one I went to was at Oxted, and I got
sunstroke, and that put paid to that summer cos I was in bed for the whole of the
summer flat on my back in a darkened room and they thought I’d go rheumatic fever,
and I hadn’t, and then they thought I had diphtheria and I hadn’t, and I was in bed
until about a week before I was due to start Coburn, and not allowed to do any gym or
games after that.
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 26
Oh they had a medical school at Kingsley -
must have had a medical service for all sorts of people I know I had to go, Cynthia didn’t, but I did. Took me to be checked and done.
The last time, the last big outing we had, we went to Holland, and we were there
actually to my mothers horror, we were there in 1939 in the summer and we didn’t
come back home ‘til the day before the war started. You know she was, she was on
tenterhooks I think -
border, with Hitler poised ready to pounce. We were unselfconscious. We didn’t
know about that because being so determinedly pacifist I don’t think they were
really...giving enough erm...weight to the fact that death and destruction could come
down at any minute. I don’t think so. I don’t remember any sense of urgency about
trying to get us back home. We were rollicking about in the sunshine, we were
camping and erm. The name of the man was Casebooker (check spelling), and it was
on his, in the grounds of his church and it was near Utrecht, so it was quite far over
you know. We were, we were going about and being taken round Holland,
sightseeing, as if there was nothing wrong, but I think with hindsight again, I think
golly if I had two of my children wandering in Europe at that time I would sort of be
How long were you there for?
I think we were there a fortnight. It might have been only a week. It was our summer
So the threat of war hadn’t stopped it happening.
No, no we’d gone. I think there were about, probably about two dozen of us, it wasn’t
a very big company, we went with Hilda Mary Payne and Ethel Gaverter, they were
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 27
the youth leaders at the time, running the youth club, and it was all girls, It wasn’t a boys group, it was just girls.
Was that Camp Fire girls a separate outing?
No, It wasn’t...we weren’t in uniform anyway. It might have been Camp Fire girls,
but no I don’t think so. I think it was just...i think it was still called Play Hour, I don’t
remember belonging to anything else. Or just might have been juniors group or
something. I know my sister came as well, we were both in -
in the same group, as normally at two and a half years younger than me, I was in one
stage and she was at the one down, but this one she certainly came and she is in the
photograph. We all thought we were doing on a mighty adventure across the water,
on a boat across the sea. It was something, well I think these days people cant
imagine how insular Britain was cos nobody went outside Britain. What? To go to a
foreign country? Very strange -
well after the War. We came, we came back and when we got back to England on the
first of September and we, my mother sent us straight down to Maidenhead to my
aunt, we stayed there and we came back the next day and we were evacuated then,
and so from that day I never lived at home. That was just the end of childhood really;
you know just like that -
leaving home at all. People saying all the crying and the tears when children were
evaluated, well I supposed I wasn’t really a child at fourteen, but all I remember was
“oh, we are going somewhere good” and the longer we were on the train and the
further away from London we went the better we felt. I don’t remember ever feeling
homesick and wanting to come back to Bow, no. It was a big upheaval... it marked a
big in everything that had been, to what was coming, very. If you chop your life up
into parts, you know you’ve got childhood when you really are a child and then so or
emerging and then grown, and that was sort of chopped that part up cos really, we left
home when we shouldn’t have done because we still needed guidance from parents a
lot, and I don’t feel that the school took care of our mental welfare at all, they didn’t.
They were very good in the education line, but in pastoral care, no, they left us
lacking a lot I think, a lot of our, my age group insecurities derived from that really,
from not having the background and people round you to talk to. Because although
DRAFT Sylvia Bishopp Page no 28
the teachers said “If you’ve got any worries you can come and talk to us dear”, you don’t when you are that age, you don’t go and tell your teachers. They are the last person you’d say if you had any problems. And you don’t tell your mum, you sort of button it up inside yourself, and I think that was, that was a big thing that happened, and probably, changed the pattern of so many peoples lives. Or changed the sort of person they would have become, I think [pause].
I think we might stop there as I think it’s a really good place to stop.
[End of Track 3]
Oral History Transcript – Sylvia Bishopp
|Doris with children|
|Lester Family Tree|
|KH Bow Constitution|
|KH Bow Building|
|Tour of KH Bow|
|Bow 90th Birthday|
|"Mad to be Normal"|
|Sydney J Russell|
|KH Dagenham Buildings|
|KH Dag Buildings Plaque|
|Childrens House Mural|
|Evening with Muriel Lester May 13, 2015|
|Oral History Summary Daphne Harris|
|Oral History Summary Emily Saville|
|Oral History Summary John Roberts|
|Oral History Summary Ruby Wood|
|Oral History Summary Sylvia Bishopp|