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The Return Of Sue Hadley

September 29, 2022
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for my tour of Spitalfields THIS SATURDAY 1st OCTOBER




Sue Hadley returned recently for an afternoon to revisit some of her childhood haunts and I had the privilege of accompanying her.


“From the age of three, I grew up here in James Hammett House on the Dorset Estate in Bethnal Green. It was a good old Labour council and each of the buildings was named after one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Architecturally they are quite special, designed by the Tecton partnership. I used to slide all the way down the handrail of the spiral staircase, which is similar to the one they did for the penguin pool at the Zoo. We lived at the top of the building, on the tenth floor, and we were the very first residents to move in in 1957. But I stayed up at the top, I was not allowed to come down and play for many years – which was a disappointment. Once I was old enough to be allowed down, then the whole of the estate was my playground. Mum was a machinist working from home and Dad was a leaded light maker working in the Kingsland Rd.”

Sue on the balcony at James Hammett House

“This is Jones Dairy where I used to come with my Mum to do our shopping – cornflakes and tins. It was a proper traditional grocer with a man behind the counter in a white coat, Mr Evans. If you asked for a packet of cornflakes, he would get out his stick and stretch up to the shelf for it. My Mum was uncomfortable shopping here because she did not like people to know what she was buying.”

“At four years old, I started nursery school here at Columbia Rd School. I could see it from my house and I used to walk to school once I was old enough. It was a good school and I had a good education. The East End was being elevated then and we were lucky to have some excellent teachers. It was quite disciplined and I got told off once for being late for morning assembly. I got in with two children who said, ‘Shall we go to the sweetshop and buy sweets instead?’ So I spent my sixpence pocket money on sweets and then I went to school and I got told off. I was placed in front of everyone in the hall and my wrist was slapped several times as punishment. I wasn’t too riotous, I think I was quite academic. English and Art were my best subjects. I still have one long-standing friend, Carol, who I met here. My parents were completely thrilled when I got a place at Central Foundation School and  I left at twelve.”

“Round the corner from us was a bomb site known as ‘the black buildings.’ Subsequently, I found out it was the Columbia Rd Market founded by Angela Burdett Coutts. It was an open bomb site and the most dangerous of places to play. We used to dare each other to go in because it was so creepy. There were dead cats and boys threw things at you. It was a place of mayhem but it was fun.”

“When I was eight years old, my sister who was twelve years older than me, got married here at Shoreditch Church. My Mum made the bridesmaid dresses but my sister splashed out on a proper bridal dress from Stoke Newington. It must have been quite a stretch because my sister paid for most of her own wedding. She still has all the original receipts! I remember thinking how boring the service was, it just seemed to go on for ever and ever. They went on honeymoon to Canvey Island. It was a successful marriage, they were married almost sixty years until she lost her husband last year.”

Sue stands central as bridesmaid at the wedding of her sister Barbara to Ron

“When I was a kid, the most exciting thing to do on a Sunday was to come here to Sclater St with my Dad. He would buy sensible things like boxes of broken biscuits and tins with no labels on, he was quite a cheapskate. Afterwards, I would drag him down here to the shops with birds in cages. There was donkey for sale here once and people brought their puppies to sell. It was all a bit dodgy which was why they shut it down eventually. However, for me it was the most exciting thing because I could play with the puppies and kittens although I never got to own one. We always had a budgie at home, it was always called ‘Jackie’ because we had a succession of them. We didn’t keep it in the cage, our bird was free the fly around the flat. Some escaped.”

“Central Foundation School For Girls was prestigious and I had the best education, with the broadest range of subjects. It was the time of the equal rights movement and our teachers were quite right on. The hall was where we did sports and I remember playing volley-ball and smashing one of the lights. I did fencing and my teacher was in the Olympic team, she did well.

I was completely daft because I got engaged at fifteen when I was still at school. Although the world was moving on, in the East End we never quite got it. My parents’ aspiration for me was that I should not work in a factory, so I worked in an office. I left school and went to work at Central Electricity Board in Newgate St as a copy typist. It was clean, it was a step up. I also got married and moved to Gravesend, but it all fell apart after two years because I hated being away from London. I felt like a fish out of water and I came back. When I walk these streets, I feel like I belong.

Ten years ago, I became a Blue Badge Guide. I have always been interested in history, so I did an Open University degree at forty. I have Huguenot ancestry and am descended from Sarah Marchant who was buried in Christ Church, Spitalfields, in the eighteenth century.

It all came good for me in the end because I have so much knowledge in my head and it really helps me doing my guiding. I love it.”

Sue in the fencing team at Central Foundation School for Girls

You may also like to take a look at

The Return of Norah Pam

The Return of Doris Kurta

15 Responses leave one →
  1. September 29, 2022

    That’s a really great story. It’s always an adventure to go back to childhood. I have often done something similar. I still remember the little Konsum supermarket where I bought my comic books (which I still have today!).

    I stood 60 years later in the very room of the flat where I celebrated my first birthday with my parents. This house, built in the year I was born, has since been demolished. Sad for me.

    Love & Peace

  2. September 29, 2022

    I love reading these stories about my new neighborhood and it’s interesting past for the everyday residents!

  3. Georgina Briody permalink
    September 29, 2022

    I read with interest: this lady might be connected to my Huguenot family!

  4. Jill permalink
    September 29, 2022

    Token biscuits, tins with no labels and often dented, a mail order joblot of clothing- my dad (bless him) was also an original “scrimper” – xxxx that was all part of sixties living for some

  5. Jill permalink
    September 29, 2022

    Broken ? biscuits

  6. Maureen Corcoran permalink
    September 29, 2022

    What wonderful memories. Spitalfields and the East End has changed so much in our lifetimes
    Great to see that decent housing and a good education stood Sue in good stead.
    Sue Hadley is the real deal. She is a brilliant qualified London Badge Guide.
    Plus she is a born and bred East Ender. She does fantastic tours everywhere in London and her East End tours are great because she can draw on her personal experiences to enrich the tour. Highly recommend her. If you click on her name at the beginning of this article it brings up her details, including email and you can contact her to give you a tour. Well worth it.

  7. Andy permalink
    September 29, 2022

    An outstanding story that makes me feel proud to come from Stepney.

  8. Barbara permalink
    September 29, 2022

    Thank you so much for your article.

  9. Debra Sewell permalink
    September 29, 2022

    I loved this post. Sharing her memory trip was wonderful and i am happy for her so many places from childhood are still there !

    thank you

    Debra Sewell

  10. Cherub permalink
    September 29, 2022

    Another interesting life to read about, great to hear Sue eventually used her knowledge to become a blue badge guide. Her mum must have been an expert in dressmaking, the bridesmaids dresses look beautifully made.

    My late dad was another scrimper – brown paper from parcels, string, broken things gaffer taped together, all sorts. I think it came from being from a big poor family, the depression years and then the war. He was the original make do and mender which annoyed my mum no end because she loved all things modern, shiny and new ?

  11. September 29, 2022

    This is a very interesting story. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Susan Hare (Radley) permalink
    September 30, 2022

    Hi Sue. My story matches yours even my name which was Radley. We’d always lived in Baxendale street as a family. My grandparents were there through two world wars. I went to Columbia road & Central foundation. Left school at 16 & married at 20. We’re still together & living in a village just outside Brentwood. Fond memories remain of the area which was like a village really with everyone knowing each other. My dad John Radley was the ‘man from the Pru’ he still had his group of friends from there until they all popped off.

  13. October 2, 2022

    Excellent piece about the lovely Sue H. I too am a London Blue Badge Guide, but unlike Sue, I did not grow up in London. I always have a little spot of the imposter syndrome and part of me wishes I had that real background.

  14. Barbara Rose permalink
    October 3, 2022

    As I am very interested in the East End of London, I was thoroughly enthralled to read this article about Sue.

    Please could I be informed as to what street Jones Dairy is in situated please.

    Many thanks.

  15. Marcia Howard permalink
    October 9, 2022

    What a great story, together with the photographs. Sue’s braver than me. I could never have slid all the way down those stairs as a young child. Did she do an action replay for you Gentle Author?

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