“Brixton had a reputation in them days… There were Teddy Boys beating up Black men.”

I came to London in 1963. I arrived in Victoria station from Grenada more than 50 years ago. I couldn’t get accommodation easy. In them days you never got houses, Black people never got houses. We found a place and a woman showed us round. She said the landlord (he was a Jamaican man, she was a white woman) wouldn’t want people with children. There were prostitutes renting the rooms because he could make more money that way. The woman rented us the room anyway, but when the landlord found out he was mad. But it was too late, we had the room.

I had three children and a baby in that room and a paraffin heater to keep warm. Me and my old man had to put a wardrobe across the room for privacy. Then, because I had a new baby,  the health visitor came and she said ‘you can’t live like this.’ She came back another day and said ‘I got something to show you‘ and she took me to see the place in Clapham Park Estate. So, I went in a three bed maisonette.

I didn’t know anybody in that area, I cried and cried. When you need something you take anything. It was £2.50 a week (£2/10s in old money) [the equivalent of about £50]. I didn’t like the area, Brixton had a reputation in them days, there was lots of troubles. There were Teddy Boys beating up Black men. They had Winkle Picker shoes with metal tips like knives and they would kick you with them.

I used to work and got £12 a week. The people was quite nice. It was all English people, not prejudiced, they looked out for me, they were nice people. 

Most places didn’t have baths in them days. Some places had a bath under a kitchen counter. We were lucky we had a bath and a long toilet with a chain. We needed to burn coal. The coal man used to carry the sacks up to the third floor. My children used to play outside. There were three butchers, two of them on New Park Road. There’s no shops now.

I don’t mind the area, I never had bad things happen here. Back then you could leave your door open, no one did anything. You would hang your keys inside the door so the kids could get them through the letterbox. You would leave your milk outside the door, you could leave your food downstairs when you was carrying shopping up and no one would interfere with it. But one time in the 1960s I washed my bra and put it out to dry and it went!

— Anonymous

Part of a collection of oral histories about regeneration and community change, as told by members of the Clapham Park Over 50s Club to Creative in Residence Stella Barnes.

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