After a dismal time trailing community art and wondering how the word “mediocre” morphed into “brilliant” I was pleased to get my teeth into the history of Earlham Grove’s Durning Hall in Forest Gate. Throughout my whole research my maternal grandmother appeared up in my head in her mink or pine marten stole talking about voting for the local North London Conservative candidate because she wore a mink coat and that was in 1955. Even then I sensed she was a silly-billy. Durning Hall in Forest Gate was opened in 1959 so my grandmother was around then and probably about forty looking a hundred and certainly dressed in the same way as the women in the press photos of the time.
I went to Durning Hall doing a reccie for Up Your Street members. My chums had gone to Toynbee Hall in Old Castle Street E1 for an ageing and wellness course and there is incredibly a link between the history of both halls. Argh, I nearly ran away at the state of the building and the vague welcome by the reception staff. It’s a highly secured place and is scabby-looking in and out. The toilet is okay at least. Upstairs where the House of Love sessions take place all about companionship and alleviating isolation is dreariness itself. The walls impose in their 1959 wallpaper of gloss, dirty pale lemon and swirls. There are doors everywhere and one could say it’s a rabbit warren. The shock was seeing an amazing large brown-coloured hall complete with parquee floor. My eyes would have revealed my inner thoughts termed “potential”.
A woman was in charge of boxed pre-loved board games, fresh Madeira cake, the blaring CD player and the register which was a heap of fallen away papers. What a scene.
She explained the lack of clients due to the lack of a lift. I believe her even though there was only one other woman there who would never remember that I came and that we shook hands.
What a to-do. Mend the lift Aston-Mansfield Charity people! What a place. Only Up Your Street folk could liven it up. It’s easy for Leyton and Stratford seniors to get to. 58 and 308 buses stop outside. There’s Wanstead Park and Forest Gate stations and many buses up from Stratford.
Instead of eating dinner more and more recently called lunch then I Googled for the “E7 Now and Then” reports about The History of Durning Hall. Do it. Read for yourself. Then into the spotlight came Miss Theodora Durning-Lawrence. She was a spinster so inherited her double-barrelled name from her uncle who himself had acquired Durning by Royal Licence before he became a Baronet. She inherited wealth beyond our dreams but despite getting to church in a Daimler, lived her life in a seedy hotel. Strange but true. Takes all sorts. A good name to have, eh, as it smacks of a mega- wealthy Liverpool family? Lawrence is pretty cool too: My paternal grandma’s name by marriage.
I’ve commissioned my clever sister to find out if ole Theodora were hands on with the women in the local women’s settlement or whether she was just the purse.
I doubt if she were that philanthropic but I’ll welcome a surprise.
This is another story really of the rich of Forest Gate in those days and how they were all tied up in politics and being elected mayors and how church and synagogue were prominent features in their and every citizen’s life then. There was abject poverty up to and between the world wars. Earlham Grove’s rich tenants fled during the east end bombings and their houses were converted to flats. This according to E7 Now And Then was the beginning of the demise from grandeur into scruffiness.