The Lower Clapton Tales resurrects stories of naked wrestlers and Millfields Road’s disinfestation station
- Credit: CC
Carolyn Clark tells Emma Bartholomew about her book, The Lower Clapton Tales, which recounts the past century of what used to be known as Clop-Ton.
The Disinfection and Disinfestation Station, the greyhound stadium and the Mother’s Hospital were key institutions for those living in Lower Clapton a few decades ago.
They’re detailed in a book based on the memories of present day inhabitants.
One of them, Ron Edwards, caught scabies mites when he was evacuated from Hackney during the Second World War. When he returned, he attended the disinfestation department daily for the nurse to paint him all over with an ointment.
He was one of 3,000 people treated for scabies in 1944 at the building in Millfields Road, which is still standing.
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The station was “an unsung hero when infectious diseases, bed bugs, lice and vermin were as much a part of Lower Clapton life as sparrows and butterflies on Millfields”. Thus says community historian Carolyn Clark in The Lower Clapton Tales.
More than 50 people – the eldest in their 90s – have shared stories and family photographs for the book.
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It was conceived last year, when conservation group Hackney Historic Buildings enlisted volunteers to research and gather stories to build up a picture of Lower Clapton life over the past century.
The Lower Clapton Heritage Project culminated with a party for 500 at the Round Chapel in November 2016.
But there wasn’t enough room to display all the fascinating material that had been gathered – and many more stories were collected from attendees on the day.
So the HHBT decided to commission a book to pull it all together.
Carolyn was a natural choice to put together The Lower Clapton Tales: she published The Shoreditch Tales in 2009 when working for the Shoreditch Trust.
She told the Gazette: “I think everyone loves stories. They really bring the past alive. There’s nothing like having a picture and a story that goes with it.
“I’ve worked in lots of different places and they’re always interesting. You start unpeeling and layer upon layer comes out.
“But what I found out about Lower Clapton is it had a lot of regional significance to the wider area, because of institutions there like the power station, the electricity showrooms, the dog track and the Mothers’ Hospital – plus the Lea.”
One of Carolyn’s favourite things in the book is the photo of a muscled man wearing only leopardskin pants. It was taken by Naomi Games’ grandfather Joseph, who had a photographic studio in Lower Clapton Road.
“What more could you want than a half-naked man?” joked Carolyn. “We think he was a wrestler. He could have been a showman, but this is where the historical knowledge comes into it.
“Wrestling and boxing were big locally in those days, and used to take place in pubs in about 1910 or 1920. Looking at his muscles, he’s more likely to be a wrestler than a boxer. I think it’s unlikely that he was from a travelling circus passing through.”
Carolyn also loves the old ads.
“You can learn a lot from adverts and they bring the past to life,” she said. “There’s an ad for a shop that sells firewood, and there’s an early ad for a cycling shop. People now think cycling is fashionable and it’s all over the place, but there were quite a few of them back then, too.”
A section on the war is one of the “most moving”, Carolyn added.
“Joan Hardinges brings it home what it was like during wartime,” she said. “There’s one story where she was a little girl and playing with her mother’s lipstick and her friend said: ‘I’m going to wear lipstick when I grow up.’ And of course she never did grow up. There was a lot of bombing in the area because of the Lea and the power station.”
One thing that didn’t make the book is the significance of the hill from which Clapton’s name is derived.
In old English Clop means “hill” and Ton means “farm”.
The book contains 140 photos, maps and illustrations from Victorian times to the modern day.
It’s on sale in shops and online at £9.95.
“It’s an interesting perspective on the history of Hackney in general and Lower Clapton in particular,” said Carolyn. “It will rekindle memories if you know Hackney and if you’re new to the area, it’s a great way to find out about the local history.”