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So Long, Marge Hewson

January 15, 2013
by the gentle author

Marge Hewson died yesterday, and today I am republishing my pen portrait of her as tribute to a woman who lived her life on Brick Lane and was loved by generations of pupils at Christ Church School, where she was Nursery Nurse for over forty years.

Marge Hewson, Chicksand House, Spitalfields, 1959

On any school morning in Spitalfields, you may always rely upon spotting Marge Hewson between eight thirty and nine o’clock – traversing the streets from Greatorex St to the Chicksand Estate – trudging around in all weathers, ringing doorbells and collecting up her beloved charges until she has acquired a crocodile of as many as twenty small children, that she ushers safely to Christ Church School in Brick Lane where she has been Nursery Nurse for forty years.

As a consequence, she is one of the most popular people you could ever meet, cherished by generations of local people for whom Marge’s benign presence is an integral part of their childhood landscape. “As big as they are, they’ll still stop me and ask for a hug in the street, even teenagers.” she revealed with a proud blush, as a significant indicator of the outcome of a life lived at the very centre of her community.

“I must admit I have never got away from here, but I am not unhappy with it,” confided Marge upon quiet consideration, when I dropped by to visit her at the school yesterday after four o’ clock, once it had emptied out of pupils and peace reigned. “You can’t really put into words what it was like,” said Marge to me, with characteristically shrewd reserve and a self-effacing smile, before proceeding to evoke her Brick Lane childhood with lyrical ease.

“I was brought up in Flower & Dean St just off Brick Lane – the “Flowerie” we called it. Just a few small shops and tenements, all pulled down now. You knew everybody and everybody knew you, and nobody had any money. You learnt to stand on your own two feet, I think I had a very happy childhood.

Children don’t have freedom now. When I was ten, me and my friend would take a picnic and go to Victoria Park and spend the whole day there. We were often out on the street until ten o’clock at night. There was a policeman on the beat and we used to stand around the lamppost until he came at nine thirty, and he’d say “It’s time you went home.” So we’d stay until he came back on his round again later and then we’d all run home to bed.

We weren’t allowed to go up Brick Lane beyond Princelet St because of the Maltese cafes with prostitutes standing outside. We used to try to bunk into the Mayfair cinema across the road if we could get in the back door. At the bottom of Osborn St was a bomb site called the Chimney Debris where we played, and we went to Woolworths to buy bamboos, and make bows and arrows, and played Robin Hood there. There was no TV, so I went to the library every day. I used to go swimming every day too, at the Goulston St Baths and I balanced my little brother with his bottle where I could see him in the changing rooms, so I could keep an eye on him while I swam lengths. Then we’d buy stale cakes from the bakery on the corner afterwards.

Every Saturday we played Bagatelle, or Newmarket with the four kings, and we had a jar of pennies and my mother would turn them out, and as a family we’d all sit down together. I’d see all the boys come on leave from National Service on Saturday night to visit their girls. They’d all go up Whitechapel Waste to Paul’s Record Shop, where I was too young to go –  the boys in their suits and the girls all dressed up. And on Sunday mornings, there was always an escapologist in chains who escaped from a sack on the corner of Wentworth St, it was lovely to go and watch him.”

Christ Church School is a hundred yards from Flower & Dean St where Marge grew up and – while her contemporaries have moved out of the neighbourhood – apart from a foray to the Isle of Dogs, Marge has chosen to live within walking distance of her old territory and she finds it suits her very well. In  her time, the East End has transformed through slum clearance and rebuilding, and the movement of peoples in and out of the neighbourhood. And although she would never claim it, Marge through her emotional presence at the school over four decades has become part of the consistent identity of this place as a magnanimous harbour to newcomers, carrying forward the best of the old into the new East End.

“I began here at the school in 1979 before East Pakistan became Bangladesh, there wasn’t too many Bengali children here then but as others left and more arrived it became 100% Bengali. Now I see another change, we have more children of different races, including Colombians and Eastern Europeans which makes it a truly multicultural school. When the Bangladeshis first came there wasn’t much English spoken, they used to turn up at all times of the day and with layers and layers of clothing against the cold.

At first we had only one big classroom and fifty children with just me and one teacher. A lot didn’t speak English and sometimes I would take a child home but the mother wouldn’t answer the door because she didn’t understand the language, so then I’d have to grab a passerby to translate. Conditions were hard for Bengalis, with families living in one room in tenements, and we worked as a team to help with their problems, taking them to hospital or the doctor if they didn’t speak English.”

I realised Marge Hewson was reluctant to talk about all the work she did, because she chooses discretion when speaking of the past disadvantage of those who are her community today. Instead she wanted to confess how much it means to have this role at the school which has given her such profound emotional reward and sense of belonging.

“I came here for six months and I stayed forty years, and there are children here now – I knew their parents when they were little. I like this school, I know all the people and I know this area back to front. I’ve got a lot of affection for the families round here. If I lost my purse, or I needed anything, I could knock on any door and they would help me, I know. I love my life in Brick Lane.”

Chicksand House 1959 – Marge on the right, with Sandra her sister-in-law and Mary her mother-in-law.

Marge at Chicksand House with her first child, 1961.

Marge enjoys a knees up at a wedding in the sixties.

With a class at Christ Church School, 1977.

In the school playground with her husband Philip, a cab driver, in the nineteen seventies.

Marge Hewson, Nursery Nurse

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26 Responses leave one →
  1. January 15, 2013

    a beautiful life, well-lived, at the center of the world. thank you, mrs. hewson.

  2. January 15, 2013

    I’d only recently read this, following Rosie Dastgir’s post on her husband last week. How sad. It sounds as though she worked at the school still, and will be much missed.

  3. January 15, 2013

    What a wonderful tribute to a truly wonderful human being. We need more Marge Hewson’s in the world! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Susan Goldman permalink
    January 15, 2013

    Marge sounds like a lovely and truly inspirational lady. How very sad to hear of her passing. Rest in peace Marge.

  5. Ariel permalink
    January 15, 2013

    Baruch dayan ha-emet. My condolences to Phil, Danny & Mark and their families. Wishing you all long life.
    - Ariel J Friedlander.

  6. Ray Bethley permalink
    January 15, 2013

    Marge will probably be the most inspirational woman I have ever met. Your life is a huge loss to society. I will hold my fond memories of you so close. Never tired and always willing. Thank you Marge. Rest in peace

    Thank you so much for reposting this article It is wonderful.

  7. annie permalink
    January 15, 2013

    So sorry to hear – RIP Marge and thoughts and condolences to Phil.

  8. Catherine permalink
    January 15, 2013

    It was sad to learn of Marge Hewson’s passing; I enjoyed reading about her the first time this was posted and I was struck again with how each ordinary life is singular, unique and valuable. That’s what I love about all these posts–being reminded of that fact with every story.

  9. Melanie Williams permalink
    January 15, 2013

    Marge, what a star. She will terribly missed; condolences to her family.

  10. Shaaamie permalink
    January 15, 2013

    A wonderful tribute … Quite wonderful …

    Thoughts and prayers …

  11. sprite permalink
    January 16, 2013

    a sudden urge
    to listen to Pie Jesu -
    peace heroes
    not sung enough but
    still… all in good time

    sprite

  12. January 16, 2013

    Our thoughts, prayers and feelings are with all people who knew this wonderful woman and especialy her husband and family.

    lets remember Marge as a friend, sister, mother, and especialy us being blessed by having known such a wonderful person. I am a parent of ChristChurch Primary School, and wish to express our saddness and greif. Marge will be missed extremely by all who knew her. Marge has touched alot of peoples hearts. Parents cannot forget how a great person she had been. Children and Parents found her comforting and easy to talk to about everything. Marge was community spirited and a friend to all community regardless of the colour or belief, marge will not be forgotten. Marge will be the queen of Christchurch Primary School. A very speacial person. I am sure she is smiling from heaven and looking down to see how everyone knew Marge are saddened by loss and can see how she effected us all. I think Marge will say its not goodbye as she will be in our memories, not sure if she can be replaced, I’m sure she will disagree. Marge was a gift to all, we are blessed to have shared her love and known her in this life. (from all parent of Christchurch: Allah bless you Marge, you can rest in heaven now and keep smiling and let Angles serve you.)

  13. Marge's grandaughter - Mark's daughter - Lauren permalink
    January 17, 2013

    Marge was one of the most important people in my life.
    Always been there for me and others showing her support.

    Gonna miss you so much nanny.
    Love you always and forever xxxxxxxxxx

  14. Ahmed permalink
    January 19, 2013

    RIP Mrs Hewson. I remember she used To treat everyone the same, like her own. And I love the fact how all through college I used wait for her in the mornings till I got out of bed 8oclock on the dot she used to come shout evey childs name and ring all the doorbells to collect them for school including my sister and every now and then I’d go pick my sister up after school Marge used to give me a big hug and she would tell me remember when you was in nursery and used to cry and I used to Hold You till you stopped. My mum doesn’t know a word of english and she even loved her. I think everyone knew she had a pure heart and genuwinely liked to help people. I’m seriously gonna miss this wonderfull woman. May God rest her Soul XXX.

  15. Phil Hewson permalink
    January 19, 2013

    Marge was my wife until three days ago when she died of cancer. Even I didn’t realise how many charities she supported over years and years, never mentioning a word, quietly doing good works for animals and children. Thank you all for such kind words. My heart is truly broken. I loved her and will never stop. I hope to be with her again one day .

  16. Marianne Carson permalink
    January 23, 2013

    Dear Phil, I am sorry for your loss. Marge sounds like a very special person. This is a lovely report on a very special lady.

  17. Islam permalink
    January 27, 2013

    She was my teacher, one of the best persons i have ever met i still remember talking to her in argos the other day. Miss you will be missed. I am lost for words she taught everyone i know, you are a legend. You will always be in my heart.

  18. September 12, 2013

    Mrs hewson was my nursery teacher in 1979! som how i thought of her today and decided to look for her online and found out she is no longer amongst us. A truely amazing person no words can describe her may she RIP.

  19. Monwara Miah permalink
    March 22, 2014

    I’ve just come across this website. I know im really late commenting. But Rip Mrs hewson . She was my nursery teacher . Still have vivid memories of her. God bless xxx

  20. April 22, 2014

    I was walking past Chicksand House the other day and happen to notice a purple plaque. So i went to have a closer look. When realised whose it was, i was immediately struck with a deep sadness – for she was my nursery nurse in the early 70′s, who never forgot me and calleed out my name every time she saw me. I shall never forget her. I have vivid memories of our time together in the classroom. I can still see her walking down Brick lane with all those kids. She did a lot fort those kids.

    My belated condolences to her family and may she rest in peace.

    Sham

  21. Helen Hattersley permalink
    September 6, 2014

    I found this article about the lovely Marge and it was wonderful to read.
    I worked with Marge from 1984-6 at Christchurch. One thing that I remember well is that we had Snuffles the rabbit who was in an Opera at Covent Garden and Marge took it with Phil to the stage door every night to drop it off and pick it up again. We had a designated pupil whose job it was to sweep up the pellets every day ( a very prestigious role to have at the time). This would be banned now due to health and safety regulations. I can hear Marge tutting now. She loved animals and was always kind and caring with them. The children loved her and I can hear her chuckling now at all the funny incidents that occurred.
    If a child who was at the school called Abdi reads this (Reception class 1984) then we both adored you especially as you were so naughty!!!
    I stayed in touch for a while as Marge was SO lovely to work alongside. It was in my first year of teaching and she was my mentor and rock.
    We both loved the kids in the school and I have loads of happy, funy and poignant memories of our time together.
    This tribute to her is wonderful and well deserved. I am still teaching in North London and Marge sent me on my way into the profession with enthusiasm and skills that I still use.
    I send my love to ALL her family and wish that we hadn’t lost touch. I would’ve liked to have a laugh with her just one more time!
    From Helen Hattersley

  22. Peter Croft permalink
    January 3, 2015

    I was at Christchurch between 1966 and 1973. Good memories of a time long gone. RIP Mrs Hewson. Peter Croft

  23. September 24, 2015

    I was a student at Christchurch from 1974 to 1980 and loved the mere presence of Mrs Hewson. She knew me from the age of 5 to the age of 11. I am now 46 and still remember her fondly.

    Rest in peace lovely lady.

  24. colin permalink
    June 20, 2016

    she was my nursery teacher such a lovely woman very sad.heart her family.

  25. Marjanah permalink
    November 21, 2016

    She used to be my favourite nurse when I was in spital fields, we also shared the same name.
    Thankyou for being a wonderful women, R.I.P

  26. Halima permalink
    March 20, 2017

    It brings a tear to my eye when I think of how much I wish I could just see Marge again, give her a hug, and tell her that it’s my birthday so she’d laugh and pop out a 20 pence coin like she did for each and everyone of us every single year. I miss giving her a helping hand during the break time shop we used to have and pile on cookie boxes, and I’ll never forget how she’d always give us a huge big wave and smile encouraging little me that we’ll see each other in school soon as I wasn’t allowed to follow along Marges line of children at the time

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