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Patricia Niven’s Golden Oldies

December 13, 2010
by the gentle author

It was a bold gesture when they built the Golden Lane Estate in a progressive modernist style upon a bomb site after World War II, and gave new homes to local residents who had previously inhabited the old tenements and poor housing that once defined this area at the edge of the City of London. The Estate is now fifty years old and, in celebration of this, photographer Patricia Niven set out to take portraits of long-term residents accompanied with interviews by novelist Sarah Winman. I enjoyed the privilege of meeting with Patricia and Sarah – themselves residents of the Estate – to enjoy a cup of tea with Doris McGovern, one of subjects of their portraits, at her flat in Stanley Cohen House in the Golden Lane Estate that she shares with her old cat Mischief.

Doris told me that the Estate was all young families when she moved in half a century ago, then as the years passed and the children left home it grew to be mostly old people, but now another change is happening as a new wave of younger people are moving into the flats. “I’m eighty-five myself and I’ve always taken care of my elderly neighbours because I enjoy looking after old people, but now I have young man in the flat next door, he can take care of me,” suggested Doris with a twinkle in her eye. The enduring sense of community in the Estate is a tribute to the visionary architecture of this housing development, containing a social club, a school,  playgrounds,  tennis courts, a pool, and shops, all within elegant sympathetic spaces where the residents feel comfortable.

I am delighted to publish Patricia Niven’s exemplary portraits. They are compelling, vibrant images, exploring the beauty, the poignancy and joy of this great mystery of ageing – an essential part of the human experience that we all come to know in time.

Doris, age 85

When I moved onto the Estate, I was married to Lawrence and had two small boys. My hair was dark brown.

After spending the first four years of our married life in rooms with gas light, and carrying a pram up five flights of stairs, you can imagine how wonderful we thought our new flat was – It had central heating, hot water and a bathroom! We were very happy there. I did not think I’d still be living on the Estate fifty years later.

Lawrence and I used to love walking along the Embankment to the park with the children, playing on the swings and enjoying a cup of tea.

My aspirations when I was younger were to marry and have children, both of which I did. My husband passed away ten years ago. Next year would have been our sixtieth.

Today, I still like the Estate and my home. Most people are friendly and easy to get on with.

I enjoy playing bowls, keep fit, and attending the Ralph Perring Club. I also like to go to church on Sunday mornings.

Iris, age 77

It was 1974. Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and I had two boys at school. My hair was brown.

We often used the club on the Estate, where there were dances and other entertainment. I wore long dresses, loved make-up! My hopes were very clear at that time: For my husband to get on in his new job, and for my children to get educated and to get good jobs too. It all happened.

I am on my own now. It was lonely at first. But I have a lot of good friends and life is once again good. I still use the club and go to St. Luke’s.

I enjoy reading, swimming, yoga, television, theatre.

Lilias, age 89

I was a redhead in my day.

When I moved onto the Estate twenty-six years ago, I had just retired from the NHS’s Chapter House Chambers, where I’d worked as a manager for ten years. I then went on to do a year’s work for the Women’s Voluntary Service.

It was the first time I’d ever owned my own flat. I was happy, very fit and even went to work at the St. James Club in the West End for another ten years. I was living life to the full.

I enjoy reading and watching television and am comfortable in my home. I do not mix well with others because of my disability. I love a gin and tonic every night.

Maureen, age 79

I moved onto the Estate in 1987 with my husband Ted. I was still working at St Bart’s hospital at the time and my hair was brown.

We’d come from a very old tenement flat and here we were in this lovely, modern flat with central heating and a balcony – it felt like heaven. (Sometimes though, I missed the old flat; simply because I was born there and had lived in it for fifty years).

I loved living on the Estate. There was a very good social club which we made great use of. My hopes at the time were looking forward to more grandchildren – I had just one then and seven more were to follow – and thinking about their future and that of my children.

Most people liked the look of these flats and I did think that I’d still be here now, because we are not people to move about much. I still love it here and think it’s the best Council Estate in London. And London is the only place I want to live.

My main aim is to keep well and to keep fit, and to go out socially as much as possible and to enjoy life.

Joan, age 83

I was a single mother when I moved onto the Estate. My hair was brown. My aspiration at the time was for my son to get a good education – first of all at St. Luke’s Primary, and then at Woolverstone Hall Grammar.

Our flat was well-planned out: light and sunny, with good storage, and best of all, with central heating. It even had a balcony. I loved that view from Hatfield House.

The world seemed quieter and cleaner then. People cleaned their windows, swept doorsteps.

I’m in Great Arthur House now – ideal because there are no stairs. The Owner’s Association provides a strong sense of community. I hope the Residents’ Association will grow.

I’m still very interested in the Associations and the young people who’ll continue to care for the Estate.

Ted, age 83

I moved onto the Estate in 1987 with my wife Maureen. I was a proofreader at the time. My hair was auburn.

I thought the modern flat we moved into was very nice. I still do. I loved my way of life; believed the world was a more gentle world then, but badly governed.

My hopes were to live to retirement and to play with my grandchildren.

I hope to live to an old age.

Elsie, age 90

1976, my husband and I moved onto the Estate when we took up the position of Stewards at the Licensed Club.

My hair was light auburn.

We hoped for an easier life than we’d had before – we used to run a pub in Watford, and though the flat we moved into was smaller than where we’d previously lived, it was easier to maintain.

People were friendly. My neighbours and I were all of similar ages and we socialized together. I think it was a better world than today. I loved the music of the time – ballads and Rod Stewart, and when we weren’t working we’d have a night in, fish and chips around the telly.

My flat today is self-contained and comfortable and I don’t want for much. I didn’t think I’d still be alive, let alone still living on this Estate! – Guess hard work keeps you going.

I love listening to the radio in the morning, reading romances, doing quizzes, watching the telly and being with my good friends – the ones who are alive. I used to go to the Ralph Perring Club where I was Secretary and then Treasurer for twenty-six years.

Doreen,  age 78

It was 1957 and my hair was brown. Everything was G plan and three piece suites! I loved holidaying and shopping, and my main aspiration was to be a mother.

What did I think of the flat that I moved into? It was the tops. Number one! And fifty-two years later, I still feel the same. I love my home and the community I am part of.

I enjoy reading, shopping, line-dancing.

Doris, age 81

It was 1960. I was a mother of a 4½ year old son and working at Mencap. My hair was fair.

My husband and I used to go to the dog track at Walthamstow. Also to a nightclub at Smithfield, where there were drag performers. I loved music and dancing. I wore cerise lip stick, always loved to be ‘with it’.

At the time we hoped to own our own flat, but like so many others, we couldn’t afford it. We moved onto the Estate from Kentish Town – a world away from our new modern home.

This is a good community. It’s been wonderful having the new kitchen and bathroom installed. I have lots of friends. Sad part is that at this time of life, some are dying.

I still like to go out and enjoy myself – anything I can go to, I’ll go to! I spend time with my friends, and enjoy the estate’s social clubs. I like Bingo and card games – especially Hoy – and the dog track in Kent.

Maureen, age 90

When I moved onto the estate I was still working at St Bart’s hospital. My hair was brown.

I was on night duty then and had been living over the Gatehouse which I shared with two vicars and a security officer. Heating was minimal and the bathroom was three floors down in the basement. To move into a modern flat that had heating and a bathroom and a little fridge all under one roof, was amazing. But everyone thought the flats were amazing. People even came from China to take photos of Great Arthur House. It was something special.

I loved my work and wanted to do as much work as possible: at the hospital or helping my sisters. I could never stay still. The time I did have off, I’d go to Lyons Corner House; afternoon tea with live music.  I loved reading, especially books by John Galsworthy and always took books on my travels to the Holy Land, Rome, Greece and Lourdes (eight times).

I didn’t think I’d live to be ninety, let alone still living on the Estate! I’m very happy in my home in Crescent House. I do not think the community is as good or friendly as it used to be. No one has time for others any more. Or maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.

I love reading and visiting my sister in Bognor. I like watching television especially debates and “Question Time.” I love Irish authors, if only they weren’t so fond of swearing.

Tegwyn ‘Tom,’ age 89

It was 1962 and I was the personnel manager at the Post Office on Old Street.

I remember seeing the top of Great Arthur House for the first time and wondering if it was an aeroplane wing. I knew straight away that I wanted to live on the Estate and on my next visit put my name down for a flat. I was lucky enough to get one. I moved in with two chairs that I slept on for months. I enjoyed the gradual furnishing of my flat, the making it my own.

My hair was grey. Even then. It happened when I was forty.

In those days I’d go to the theatre or to the ballet – you could go to Sadler’s Wells for a shilling. Often I simply enjoyed the walk into the West End. I travelled, too – Europe, Spain.  My hopes at the time were to live a happy life and to enjoy as much of it as I could, which I have done.

Today, people don’t seem to take the same amount of care and interest in their homes: A sign of the times, I expect. In winter, my flat gets very cold due to the windows.

I love life. You must live your life to the best of your ability. I go for a walk every day – often to Epping Forest to feed the squirrels. I like to read and watch television too.

Jean, age 80

I was called ‘Blondie’ in my day.

I was a widow when I moved onto the Estate and had just retired from managing a public house. I loved the scent ‘Evening in Paris’, music, a game of bingo, the Pictures, and visiting places I’d never had the time to visit before.

I’d heard the Estate was a good place to live and I wanted to be involved in all that was going on. I knew I’d be here for the rest of my life.

As Chairman of the Sir Ralph Perring Club, I hope to keep it going for as long as I can.

Fred, age 95½

My wife and I moved into a two bedroom flat on the Golden Lane Estate in about 1960, after a mutual exchange housing programme. It was so good not to have to commute anymore. I was a technician for the medical trade, and then became a messenger for a bank in the City. I did that until I was eighty-two.

My hair was brown.

My wife loved the city after previously living in Kent. I liked meeting different people, and being inquisitive about the world. I liked dancing. I also enjoyed travelling, especially in Australia.

I think people were friendlier then.

Your body slows down as you get older. My daughter visits regularly and cares for me, and my neighbour brings me my newspaper. I should probably be in a care home, really.

I love nineteen seventies’ music and films, especially “The Green Mile” (it has amazing jail scenes), “Along Came a Spider” and “Return of Jaws.” I think there’s a load of rubbish on TV. It’s all repeats.

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

Patricia Niven: Golden Oldies II runs at Exhibit from 17th December until 29th January at Golden Lane Estate, 20 Goswell Rd, London EC1

14 Responses leave one →
  1. December 13, 2010

    Lovely post – great pictures and stories.

  2. December 13, 2010

    A wonderful series of images and interviews. I particularly love reading about what their hopes and aspirations where when they first moved to the estate.

  3. December 13, 2010

    A marvellous post – and superb photgraphs!

  4. Anne Forster permalink
    December 13, 2010

    Read each one, lovely reading about their lives and aspirations.

  5. Rachel Wheeler permalink
    December 14, 2010

    These are wonderful profiles. Will they be published as a book somewhere?
    As a ‘younger’ resident of Golden Lane Estate, I was amazed by the friendly welcome when we moved here four years ago. We know all our neighbours, which is not something to be taken for granted in London.

  6. Pam Mossman permalink
    December 14, 2010

    Very positive images about local people and their lives, really enjoyed reading them all, and lovely photos.

  7. Christine Cliford permalink
    December 16, 2010

    Beautiful portraits and wonderful self descriptions. I hope I am as fit and alive at the same age of some of these people. I live on the Golden Lane Estate and love it.

  8. December 20, 2010

    What a fascinating piece and a lovely idea. It’s nice to hear their stories and for them to have a say in the area they live in. Merry Christmas!

  9. December 29, 2010

    What lovely portraits. The stories they tell are absolutely wonderful. Thank you and a Happy New Year to all.

  10. Roland permalink
    January 4, 2011

    Thank you so much for that article!

  11. Karen permalink
    March 6, 2011

    What a lovely exhibit of photos and so nice to read about the lives of our late Aunty Elsie’s friends, some of whom we had the privilege to meet last week. Elsie loved living on the Golden Lane Estate and as much as she enjoyed coming to see us in the country, she was always glad to get back to London to see her friends. What a great social life she had and the on-site club has been a lifeline, especially for those living on their own.

  12. March 16, 2011

    Pasty these pictures are so lovely.I’m just reading about Late Elsie. I always looked forward to our chats while we did our massage.she was a very special lady.Who always gave me lots of sound advice. being with Elsie and the gang at St lukes .They really made me understand the Importance of Community and how we have lost that because we move so quickly now.

  13. Kenneth permalink
    April 22, 2014

    Such a beautiful story! I’m so proud of Patsy she has the innate ability to meet people and find their inner voice and give it a photographic vehicle. She is the artist and they are transported via the medium. It’s about finding the subjects real voice and this is apparent. I love it….

  14. Elaine bosy permalink
    May 26, 2017

    These people all look beautiful,I’m shocked at some of their ages. Beautiful pics and wonderful tales of times gone by.

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