Tuesday 28 May 2019


1947 – 1954

I will always remember January 1947 in Tunnel Avenue, East Greenwich for several reasons. One was that it was my fourth birthday which also coincided with my family moving from an upstairs single bedroom flat with no bathroom into a wonderful three-bedroom house in Tunnel Avenue. Not only did I get lovely birthday presents but I got my own room to sleep in and a bathroom rather than an old tin tub in front of the fire. Our new home also had the luxury of hot water supplied by a coke fired back boiler which leads me to another memory of the winter of 1947.

About a week after we moved into Tunnel Avenue one of the coldest winters on record hit the country resulting in freezing conditions and massive demands on all types of fuel including coke. This therefore affected the heating in our house as we needed coke to keep the boiler running. My vivid recollection of that time is standing next to my mother with my baby brother in his pram queuing in the extreme cold.We had walked the length of Tunnel Avenue from the Fire Station at the top end down to the gas works which was close to the approach to Blackwall Tunnel. When we arrived, we stood for ages in line alongside the brick wall surrounding the gas works waiting to buy the coke which we either took back on the pram or possibly had it delivered. All I mainly remember is that it was a miserable experience especially as we did not have a car to make the journey but had to walk in the extreme weather. Thank fully the winter finished and we then spent several great years in the house in Tunnel Avenue.

My father was very ingenious and provided us with a magnificent view of the Metropolitan Gas Board sports ground which was located directly behind our back garden. Shortly after we moved in he removed the old wooden fence at the bottom of the garden.  Our favourite pastime was watching the cricket matches as the wicket was right in our line of sight. Except of course when the sight screen was moved across thus blocking our view of the proceedings. Thankfully this didn’t happen very often. Many happy summer days were spent watching cricket or the exciting athletics events that also took place.

Unfortunately, when the flyover was built to improve the road connections to Blackwall Tunnel it resulted in the end of the greenery of the sports ground and beyond to be replaced by modern retail and leisure outlets. However, that happened many years after we left. My memories will always be of the wonderful view across to the river where the old Thames sailing barges would often be seen plying their trade. Their red/brown sails could regularly be seen moving majestically up and down the major thoroughfare.Sadly, this sight has gone now however I can still picture it in my mind even now.

Just opposite our house in Tunnel Avenue was the East Greenwich depot of the British Oxygen Company (BOC). There BOC kept a large supply of gas cylinders which were distributed to customers around the local area. We could hear the clanking of cylinders being shifted around the depot or loaded on and off the delivery lorries. During one night in the early 1950’s there was a massive explosion at the depot. Luckily houses in the vicinity were not badly damaged and the nearest fire station was only a matter of yards away at the top of Tunnel Avenue. Therefore, the resulting fire could be tackled very quickly.

The sound of the explosion was heard miles away and broke windows in houses at Blackheath. It made headline news at the time. Of course, my family like others were all woken up by the incident    except for me.  Even though my bedroom was at the front of the house I had slept soundly through the whole thing. Something my parents were absolutely amazed at. Not only was there the sound of the explosion but all the bells and noise from fire engines, ambulances and police cars which attended the scene. Unfortunately, I believe several people were injured in the blast and that there were some fatalities.

One of the most famous methods of transport then were London trams which had been operating since Victorian times. However, the modern needs were overtaking the ageing system as the tramcars had changed little since the service had begun.

Tram tracks were laid in the middle of roads and passengers had to walk from the pavement to get on the tram. Car production was increasing and drivers wanted to drive more freely in the cities. Instead of updating the infrastructure to cater for this it was decided to close the tram system down and replace it with diesel buses. Under ‘Operation Tramaway’ which started in 1950,trams were being phased out and the last tram in London ran on 6th July 1952. It started in Woolwich and terminated at New Cross Depot. As a young lad I stood at the bottom of Halstow Road and waved to the last passengers who were on the last tram to run in London. I can still picture that memorable sight with all the banners hanging off the sides of the tram and everyone cheering.

June 1953, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place and in November a Royal Tour commenced which continued throughout the Commonwealth. In May 1954 the new Royal Yacht Britannia sailed up the Thames bringing the Queen, Prince Philip and their children back to UK. Tunnel Glucose had built a brand-new office suite which overlooked the River Thames. To celebrate the Queen’s homecoming the company invited the staff and their families to witness this historical event. On the day my parents, my brother and I were dressed in our Sunday best and journeyed down to the factory. By that time my father had acquired his second car. This being a new Ford Popular which replaced the old 1930’s Morris.

Unlike our trips down Tunnel Avenue in the bleak winter of 1947, we travelled in comfort and style to arrive ready and waiting for the Royal Yacht. I can remember well the excellent spread of food and drink that had been laid on by the company for all the families to enjoy. The room we were in I guess was the Board Room which had a large window that gave us all an excellent view of the river. As we were on the second floor, we could look out and see the Royal family standing and waving on the deck of Britannia. The Royal Yacht passed by very slowly and everyone was waving and cheering.

Compared with the first time I had seen the Queen in person it was a much more pleasurable experince. The previous time was when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were travelling across Blackheath. All the local school children were herded up to the heath and lined the main road close to the entrance to Greenwich Park. It was a hot summers day and we waited there for what seemed like hours. Then along came the Royal procession in their large cars. Unlike the slow-moving Royal Yacht, the cars sped past at a fast speed and it was over in a flash. We had seen the Queen but only a quick glance. Therefore, the much better memory was the wonderful time we all spent watching the majestic vessel sedately carrying the Queen and the Royal Family up the Thamestowards Tower Bridge.

 Later that year we moved out of our house in Tunnel Avenue and left London for a new life in Wiltshire which saddened me very much.I will always cherish my time growing up in East Greenwich, SE10.

Graham McDougal

26th May 2019

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