Branch Stories

Tree Stories for category 'Individuals'

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Will Thorne


Will Thorne is not a household name, even in Newham, but he is one of the most influential people to have made his home here. Born into a poor family in Birmingham in 1857, William’s alcoholic father was killed in a brawl when he was 7 years old. He had already started work a year earlier. He visited London twice in his mid-twenties, making most of the journey on foot. On the second occasion he found work as a stoker in the Beckton Gasworks and made his permanent home in Canning Town. Will was keenly aware of the harsh working …

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Rev Canon Ann Easter


The story of Ann Easter is an interesting and fascinating one. Ann is a local girl who was born in Upton Park, who has played a prominent role in the local community and within local churches and now serves as a councillor for Canning Town North. Recently, Ann became a chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen and in doing so became the first figure to carry out this role from Newham. This role and responsibility requires her to preach once a year at St James Palace.

From an early age, (aged 6) Ann had decided that she wanted to become …

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Professor Strom-Olsen


Professor Strom-Olsen was merely 32 years old when he was appointed Superintendent of the Runwell Hospital in 1937. At the time, the role was not only prestigious, but also carried a great deal of administrative power. Olsen was fully in charge of the hospital and in a position to make and carry out decisions that had an impact on the entire institution.

Despite his young age, it was the doctor’s first aim to create a nurturing environment for the treatment of patients and to encourage a proactive and advanced research approach. Following these cardinal principals, one …

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Dr Hannah Hedwig Streisow


Receiving the Outstanding citizen award in 2001 from Newham Council, Hannah Hedwig Striesow (née Kohn) is still remembered for her services and dedication to the Newham Community. As one of the first female GPs to practise in Newham in 1950, and continuing to work tirelessly as a full-time Doctor until she was 81, Hedwig Striesow is a truly inspirational figure who defied the barriers of both age and gender.

Hannah Hedwig’s journey to success is truly remarkable.Growing up in northern Bavaria, her journey to becoming a doctor was by no means plain sailing- and yet this …

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Mahinder Singh Puji


Mahinder Singh Pujji was born in Simla, in 1918 and became one of many Sikh fighters who volunteered to fight for Britain in World War II. In 1937 he qualified as a pilot and in 1940 aged 22, he volunteered to serve with the Royal Air Force in Britain after seeing an advertisement in the press. Mahinder was one of only seven Indians who were selected as fighter pilots and insisted on wearing his turban at all times - possibly the only Sikh fighter pilot to have done so.

He flew Hawker Hurricanes during the Battle …

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Maud Karpeles


In the 19th century Canning Town became home to the Mansfield House settlement at 143-147 Barking Road, a site that was used for a variety of social and community projects where state funds were non-existent. Organisations such as the Men’s Club, an Orchestral Society, a dramatic society and various sporting clubs all used the premises, and the organisation was also involved in providing shelter for sailors, dockworkers, or homeless people searching for work. One volunteer at Mansfield House was Maud Karpeles, born in London in 1885 to Jewish parents, and whose father was a German immigrant.

John Joseph Jones (1873 – 1941) – was a trade union organiser, councillor and the Labour Member of Parliament for Silvertown from 1918 until 1940. Known for his quick wit and promotion of socialist values, Jones fought throughout his career to defend the rights of the working class in West Ham and Silvertown and regularly gave speeches in the House of Commons supporting legislation to help the poorer sections of society.

Jones was born in Nenagh, County Tipperary and moved to London where he became a builder’s labourer. While working on the building sites he joined …

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Morris Streimer


In the late 1800s, confectionary became a popular consumer product, and companies such built factories in the area providing a great deal of employment in the local community. Streimers Nougat was set up by Morris Streimer, a Jewish immigrant from Austria.

Streimer was born in Brody (circa 1857), then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and moved to England around 1888. Streimer founded his nougat factory shortly after this time in High Street and Ward Road, West Ham and in 1898 moved to Victoria Street. He became one of the suppliers for Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to …

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Clive Charles


In 1972 West Ham became the first club to field three black players together: Clive Charles, Clyde Best and Ade Coker.

When the three first played professionally for West Ham they broke down a barrier in the game which has not been repeated for years. However, there was more pioneering to come, the three crossed over to America helping kick start the American Soccer League.

The collective impact of the three across America was explosive. Brian Belton, a sports writer and expert in West Ham’s history, claims it was the influence of these three which inspired him …

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Josie Woods


Employment opportunities for black women in the 1930's were few, and often the music hall provided the only escape from work from the drudgery of the local factory. Such were the facts of life in the case of Josie Woods (1912-2008), born in Canning Town to a docker from Dominica and a mother of reported gypsy origins.

Josephine Wood, became known as the Jitterbug Queen, helping to popularise the dance craze to young people in the East End. In the late 1920's, Woods attended an audition held by the African-American music hall entertainer Belle Davis for …

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John Charles


West Ham has provided the England football team with many talented black footballers. Perhaps forgotten by many though is full back John Charles who was the first black footballer to represent England when he was selected for the under 18 side winning 5 youth caps.

John Charles was born in Canning Town in 1944, to a white British mother from Silvertown and a Merchant seaman father from Grenada in an era when mixed race relationships were frowned upon by many. Aged 13 John was spotted playing for his school by a local scout and asked to …

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Harold Mugford


The First World War affected every community across Europe and beyond. Newham - or more accurately, the parts of East London that were to become Newham in the 1960’s – was no exception. Over fifteen million lost their lives worldwide, and the lives of millions more were changed forever. One of them was Harold Mugford, who was born on August 31 1894.

The second son of Richard Sandford (a Solicitor’s clerk) and Rose Mugford, Harold was born in Bermondsey and moved to East Ham at an early age, and went to Shrewsbury Road School. As a …

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Robert Whiting


Robert ‘Pom Pom’ Whiting was born in Canning Town in January 1884. He worked as a labourer and ship-builder in the local docks. He played goalkeeper for Thames Ironworks, later West Ham United. He moved to Tunbridge Wells Rangers and in 1906 was scouted to play for Chelsea, where his powerful goal kick earned him the nickname ‘Pom Pom’ after a long-range naval gun.

In 1908 he was transferred to Brighton and Hove Albion, making 320 appearances over seven seasons. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the government encouraged men from the same town or …

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Luke Howard


Luke Howard was born in 1772 into the Quaker family of Robert and Elizabeth Howard in London. In an incredible life Luke fought against slavery and was also a very generous benefactor to many good causes.

Luke was educated at the Quaker School in Burford, Oxfordshire. He married Mariabella daughter of Quakers John and Mary Eliot and they went on to have 8 children. In 1798 he went into partnership with fellow Quaker and pharmacist William Allen who owned the Plough Court Pharmacy in Lombard Street and was subsequently made responsible for the laboratory in Plaistow. …

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Reuben Goldberg


Reuben Goldberg’s career of fighting racism and fascism saw him on the frontline in both Bradford and Newham. Reuben was a member of the international Marxist group, President of the Bradford Student Union, and one of the original founders of the Bradford Ad-Hoc committee against racism and fascism. His background as an anti-fascist, a socialist, and a Jew meant he was often seen as a target by his enemies and was regularly attacked.

In 1975, Reuben was central to the newly formed Asian Youth Movement, stopping the National Front from marching through Manningham – the heart …

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Kristian Digby


Kristian Digby was a promising young TV presenter and an openly gay man that served as a role model for many young people. He actively supported them through charities such as the Albert Kennedy Trust and the Terrence Higgins Trust. His premature death in 2010 at the age of 33 in the house he built in Newham was a tragedy felt amongst many.

Although known for presenting property shows on the BBC, he also won a Junior BAFTA for his short film Words of Deception. He started out presenting Nightlife on ITV, and in 2001, he …

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Lonnie Donegan


Though his 'old man wasn’t a dustman', Lonnie Donegan’s influence on the British music scene of the early 1960s can hardly be overstated. Born Antony James Donegan in Glasgow in 1931 to an Irish mother and a Scottish father, Donegan grew up in Milton Road, East Ham, with the family sharing a one room apartment, and he caught rheumatic fever when he was four, a condition linked to poor housing conditions which left him with a damaged heart.

Lonnie would grow to become the leading exponent of the skiffle boom of the late 1950s, a homemade …

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Madge Gill


An outsider, a visionary, totally insane: all of these words have been used, at some point, to describe artist Madge Gill.

Born in East London in 1882, Madge Gill, born Maud Ethel Eades, lived a troubled, yet interesting life. She was placed in an orphanage at the age of nine, and shortly afterwards was sent off to Ontario, Canada. Here, she worked as a domestic servant in different households, loathing each experience and always craving to go back to her native London.

In 1900, at the age of 18, she was able to pursue …

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Professor John Corsellis and The Runwell Hospital


The Runwell Hospital was founded in 1936 and immediately began admitting its first patients. Originally located in the East Ham area of London, this institution was created exclusively for curing patients affected by mental health issues, and from the beginning, the Runwell proved to be a highly experimental hospital.

Although some of its practices would today be considered quite controversial, the Runwell was the first hospital to open an Electroencephalography Department and always possessed a cutting edge research team. It was in this new era that, following World War II, Professor John Arthur Nicholas Corsellis began …

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Amy Elizabeth Ryan


Amy Elizabeth Ryan was born in July 1924 in Canning Town. As a child she suffered many illnesses, including rheumatic fever which left her with a weak heart. Despite this, she had an impressive voice, and singing helped to exercise her heart and prolong her life. Aged thirteen she sang for an audience at the Royal Albert Hall.

During World War II, Amy sang for the American Red Cross. She travelled with the US forces and performed with Vera Lynn. In a 1944 letter from Dwight Deere Wiman, Director of Entertainment for the Red Cross, he …

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Ade Adepitan


In 2005 Ade received an MBE for services to disability sport. His achievements are not limited to charitable endeavours, and promoting disability rights. His work as a wheelchair basketball player have earned him a Paralympics medal and inspired a generation of youngsters to follow in his footstep. He has worked tirelessly to show and promote the achievements of disabled people, and has shown that disability sport and achievement is second to none.

Ade Adepitan was born in Lagos, Nigeria in March 1973. At the age of fifteen months Ade contracted polio, which left him unable to …

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Elizabeth Fry


Elizabeth Fry was a preacher and political reformer. She was born in Norwich in 1780 to the Gurneys, a wealthy Quaker family. Elizabeth became a member of Plain Friends, a strict religious sect who dressed modestly and refrained from singing and dancing. She was inspired by the preaching of William Savery to devote her life to helping the needy. She visited the sick, collected clothes for the poor and ran Sunday schools to teach reading. In 1799 she met Joseph Fry. They married in 1800 and she moved to his family home in Plashed, now East Ham.


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The Nine Black Stowaways


The outbreak of the First World War saw an increasing number of black men volunteering to join the British Army from all parts of the Caribbean. Some would even risk life and limb to "serve kind and country", as they stowed away on ships to Britain. However, their desire to serve the Empire was, at times, in vain, as they were often not welcome. The case of the nine Barbadian men, illustrates how these men were looked down upon, rather than embraced for their attempts to help Britain.

Nine black men – natives of Barbados, West …

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Natasha Hart MBE


Natasha Hart moved to east London from her native Russia 26 years ago. She had played basketball in her youth and as a mother she wanted to pass on her love for the game to her two teenage sons. In 2005, she took them to Balaam Park in Plaistow to give them an impromptu basketball lesson. Her sons loved it and told their friends, while other young people in the park asked to join in. Within weeks, 30 young people were taking part in the sessions.

The need for a fun, safe, healthy activity was obvious. …

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Joyce Baptiste


The borough of Newham is full of inspirational figures who are dedicated to helping and improving their community, and Joyce Baptiste is one such person.

Joyce was born on November 2nd 1952 in Grenada and moved to London with her siblings at the age of fourteen. It was in London that Joyce pursued a career in midwifery and eventually became an active member of her church and community. Joyce grew up in beautiful Grenada with her family but at the age of five, her parents decided to migrate to London in order to provide a better …

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James Keir Hardie


James Keir Hardie, a controversial political figure was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland on August 15 1856. He was the illegitimate son of Mary Keir a domestic servant, who later married David Hardie, a ship's carpenter.

Growing up in Scotland, James Keir Hardie experienced the woes of manual labour from an early age; working as a baker's delivery boy at the age of eight without any schooling. By the time he reached the age of eleven he was sent down to work in the mines, working twelve hour shifts. However, his stint in the mines was brief, …

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Dr John Fothergill and West Ham Parks


Dr John Fothergill, was a well-known physician, Quaker philanthropist, botanist, campaigner for the abolition of slavery, and the owner of one of the best known gardens in England.

Fothergill was initially from Yorkshire but after building a successful career as a doctor he purchased a house and thirty acres near West Ham. The purchase was made in 1762 and Fothergill began enlarging the estate and renamed the home Upton House. He created a grander garden where plants acquired from foreign lands were heavily featured.

A local legend states Fothergill had so little time to …

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Kamal Chunchie


Kamal Athon Chunchie was a Methodist pastor and founder of the Coloured Men’s Institute. He was born in Sri Lanka to a Muslim family on the 4th June 1886, and enjoyed an active childhood.

In 1915 he enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion and saw action in France and Selonika and was wounded twice. In 1917 he converted to Christianity and arrived in London in 1918. Towards the end of the war, he met Mable Tappen a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. They married in July 1920 and had one daughter, Muriel.

Anna Kingsford (née Bonus) was a doctor, writer, mystic, and women’s rights activist. Born on September 15 1846 in Stratford, her father, a wealthy London shipbroker, died when she was young and left her a large endowment which gave her the kind of financial autonomy many women at the time were not used to. She decided the conditions of her marriage when she married Algernon Kingsford in 1867, and though an Anglican clergyman, he accepted her conversion to Catholicism in the 1870s. Anna’s autonomy and her husband’s acceptance of it, broke socio-cultural standards.

Anna Kingsford was …

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Samuel Gurney


Samuel Gurney and his family were at the forefront of the fight against slavery - just one of the many battles Samuel fought during his notable life.

Gurney was born at Earlham Hall near Norwich on 18th October 1786. He then went on to marry Elizabeth Sheppard, the daughter of James Sheppard who had bought John Fothergill’s estate in Upton. When James died, the two of them went on to inherit the estate where they lived most of their lives. His older sister Elizabeth Gurney married Joseph Fry and went on to become the renowned Elizabeth …

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Linda Lewis


Linda Lewis, once described as the ‘Cockney-Jamaican Gracie Fields’, is one of Britain's most respected and talented singer songwriters, with a career spanning more than four decades. With her five-octave vocal range, she has fused folk, soul, pop and reggae into a unique signature sound that is now an integral part of the pop music landscape.

Linda Fredericks, a cockney-Caribbean mixed race girl born in West Ham in 1950, was only three years of age when she started attending a local stage school. Over the next few years, Linda was regularly cast in non-speaking TV and …

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Daisy Parsons


Daisy Parsons was born on May 25th 1890. She was born Marguerite Lena Millo, the daughter of Alfred Albert Millo, a dealer in jewellery and his wife, Emily Elizabeth née Moxley, a charlady.

When Daisy was eight months old, her parents moved from Poplar to Canning Town, where they decided to settle.

In 1902, when Daisy was just twelve, she left Beckton Road School to help her mother, who did extra work such as washing and charring to make ends meet, as Daisy’s father was an invalid. Leaving school was a hard decision for Daisy, but she did …

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Ashley Facey Thomson


Ashley Facey Thompson is an inspirational figure in the borough of Newham who excels as a table tennis player. Ashley was born on January 31st 1995 and moved to Stratford when he was a child. It was here that he found his love for table tennis at the age of 11. He was taking part in a practice lesson when his coaches immediately spotted his talent.

He was only participating for fun, so it was incredibly fortunate that his talent was recognised from such an early age. His love of sports extends beyond table tennis – …

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Ray Bulloch


‘Why choose a gay friendly builder when you can have a friendly gay builder?’

After facing twenty years of homophobia in the building trade, Ray Bulloch created and developed one of Britain’s first LGBT building business in Newham. Ray is originally from Tower Hamlets, and when I met with him, he discussed his life and how his building company R&G LGBT Builders became so successful. As the building trade has a strong sense of male dominance, it makes an uneasy environment for gay men. Ray has estimated that in Britain, there are only around 100 …

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Colin and Judith Marchant


Judith and Colin Marchant came to Newham in 1965 when Colin was invited to be Baptist Minister at West Ham Central Mission (WHCM) - now Memorial Community Church. They arrived in the year East Ham and West Ham became Newham, and are happy to have lived in the borough ever since. They have three children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They are included together because their lives and work are so closely intertwined.

Concerned about social justice and members of the Christian Socialist Movement, they were instrumental in setting up and running a number of projects …

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John Travers (Jack) Cornwell


At the age of fifteen, most of us were probably grumbling about GCSE exams and still shamefully incapable of boiling an egg, let alone knowing what job we would like to pursue later in life. Not John - or 'Jack' as he was commonly known - Travers Cornwell.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Cornwell – at the tender age of fifteen – armed himself with references from his headmaster and enlisted himself into the Royal Navy. He had left school at fourteen to become a delivery boy for one of Brooke Bond’s tea-vans, …

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Jack Petchey


Jack was born into a poor working class family in the East End in 1925. He left school at the age of thirteen with no qualifications. Jack joined the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm in 1943 during WWII and applied for Officer training, but was unsuccessful. On discharge from the Navy, he worked as a clerk for the Solicitor’s Law Stationary Society. He applied for management training there and was told he would never become a businessman! Investing his £39 discharge gratuity from the Navy, Jack bought his first second hand car and started a taxi business.

He worked hard and …

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