Women Make the Best of the New Estate
Women have often been a hidden part of history. Much of the East End mythology is predominantly masculine – gang warfare, industrial disputes, political riots – but the plight of women was often far worse, with back-street abortions and the common practice of pulling out teenage girls’ teeth to ensure no dental bills for a future husband.
Women, when arriving on Harold Hill, faced the hardships of daily shopping (no fridges, and no car for transport) and isolation from their own extended family, but for those determined to stay there was a sense of joy amidst the hardship:
‘How we laughed.’
‘We did laugh; we laughed an awful lot.’
‘We weren’t miserable; it was a good life.’
‘We used to go barn dancing, it was fun, all women, 400, 500 women and you get a caller there and it was fantastic, it was hilarious wasn’t it?’
‘Oh, we never stopped laughing, we went home with wet knickers, it was lovely!’1
For the new residents that decided to settle, there was an attitude of making the best of what was available. Many settled because of the superior housing; some yearned to go back for years but were unable to because they had no housing to return to; and many decided to stay because of their children. The process of building essential amenities was painfully slow – it wasn’t until the 1960s that the swimming pool and community centre were built. The main priority for the authorities was building housing.
For many, though, the change opened up new opportunities for them and their families.
Isbell, Carla: 'Boyhood Strong, Girlhood Graceful: A Study of Working Class Women’s Lives on the Harold Hill Housing Estate' ↩