These are my mum’s parents – Thomas Bladon and Ethel Morris. Tom was born on 17 December 1897, in Southwark. The eldest of six children, his siblings in descending order of age were Betty, George, Harry, Bob and Len. Len was born much later than the rest, in 1920, and was more like a brother to my mum and her brother Tommy.
Tom was very gregarious and generous to a fault. He was a docker, like quite a few members of the family. He was hired one day at a time and his nature was very much to live for the day. He worked on the wharves behind my school in the Port of London (the part of the river between London Bridge and Tower Bridge). The boats were small by today’s standards, as they had to pass under Tower Bridge. They were mostly ships bringing foodstuffs from other parts of Europe.
The river was still a hive of activity when I was a kid. Cranes lined the riverside and there were lots of barges and small boats,. though the docks were small compared to those east of Tower Bridge.
I think Ethel’s family would have to be described as lower middle-class. Her mother’s brother, William Lockyer, was mayor of Lambeth (to the west of Bermondsey) from 1938 to 1945. It was an unusually important time to hold office, as there was so much going on: amidst the destruction caused by German air raids, people had to carry on with their lives as much as much as possible.
Ethel lost her only sibling, Daisy, in 1920 (she died giving birth), her father in 1923 and her mother in 1930. So by the age of 38 she had lost all her immediate family. Mum says she never spoke about it. Of course, until recent years British people hardly ever spoke about their feelings, and many still don’t. That’s one part of the national character I don’t miss at all. Hispanic people generally are much more friendly and open.
Tom and Ethel lived in the block of flats (apartments) next to ours (Crayford House). When I was small my mum worked, so I spent a lot of time at their flat. Strangely enough, I have very clear memories of the interior of their flat but not of ours. They were like surrogate parents and I still feel a strong emotional link to them.