A life in the day of a Tower Gardens resident

Charles Roberts

Tower Gardens Estate c1974 courtesy of Haringey Archives Department

About Charlie

This personal history is based on an interview with Charlie and June Roberts, undertaken and written by Ruth Crowley, a Tower Gardens Resident. Ruth is also the initiator and organiser of the annual Tower Gardens London Open House, held on the third Sunday in September.

Charles (Charlie) Roberts is the eldest of 2 boys. He moved to Tower Gardens in 1946 at the age of 12.

Awlfiend Avenue today

Charlie lived in Hoxton with his mother, brother and father. During the Second World War Charlie was evacuated. The family house was bombed during the war and Charlie’s father was injured during service. His mother had tuberculosis (TB) - quite a common illness during the war years which has virtually been eradicated over the last 50 years.

Many other families from Hoxton moved to the Tower Gardens and Tottenham areas due to the fact that bombs damaged a lot of the East End and City during the war.

Bombs did of course land in North London. Apparently one dropped at The Roundway end of Awlfield Avenue on the Tower Gardens Estate and people were killed. Thankfully that appears to be the only one that fell on this area.

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Green fields and clean air

Tower Gardens was originally an area surrounded by green fields and farms – Broadwaters Farm was one of the last working farms in the area. It was for this reason that Charlie’s family were moved to Tower Gardens - it was near green fields and the air was clean, which was supposed to help those suffering from TB. Charlie’s brother was sent to boarding school as he was five years younger than him and had no mother at home as she was ill.

In later years, Charlie used to say he had a home in the country as fields surrounded the area.

Tower Gardens Park todayNot long after moving to Tower Gardens, Charlie’s mother was admitted to St. Ann’s Hospital in Tottenham. At the time it was an isolation hospital that specialised in TB patients. During the time that his mother was ill, Charlie used to cook dinner for his father, who then went off on his bicycle to see his wife in St. Ann’s. Sadly, she remained in isolation for the rest of her life and died in the same year that Charlie married in 1957.

June - Charlie’s wife - moved to the Tottenham area when her father bought a home for his wife and five children. Their previous house was too small. Her father was a professional gambler who, when he passed away, had a funeral that had most of the gambling community turn out to pay their respects.

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A close community

Waltheof Gardens c1928 courtesy of Haringey Archives Department

Memories that come back to Charlie and June are of a very close community. Front garden competitions were a regular feature. Tower Gardens Park (known as 'the Little Rec') was the setting for school sports days. People were not normally permitted to walk on the grass and a park-keeper was a regular feature in this local park. The building at 100 Tower Gardens Road used to be the rent office. You always knew who hadn’t paid their rent as their belongings would be stacked up outside the house.

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Places to play

Lordship Rec housed a great cycle track for children to help them learn how to ride bicycles and understand road awareness. It used to have traffic lights and was called a Model Traffic Area, with a miniature road setting and layout. Canoes, rowing boats and deck chairs were a common feature in the Rec. There was a water feature running over steps and a kiosk nearby selling tea and coffee. All this made the 'Big Rec' an essential visit on a Saturday.

Lordship Recreation Ground today

Football has always been a feature in Tottenham. Rowland Hill School had their football pitches which backed onto the 'Big Rec'. They had one of the best football teams in London. They had eight members of their football team play for Tottenham Boys and three members of their team playing for London Boys. Needless to say Rowland Hill won everything! Dick Moss was the sports teacher at Rowland Hill as well as its football coach. He used to do the scouting for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club– he is still around today.

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Risley Avenue School, near Tower Gardens, was opened in 1913. St. Francis de Sales was another local school, which was a Catholic school.

Tower Gardens Estate c1974 courtesy of Haringey Archives Department

Charlie passed his 11+ which meant he could attend a Grammar school. There were two Grammar schools for boys in Tottenham; the Tottenham Grammar School near High Cross, and St. Ignatius at Stamford Hill. As he lived with his grandmother, she said he should go to Rowland Hill School. This school opened in 1938 following the development around Lordship Lane. The Grammar Schools had uniforms.

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Prefab housing

The junction of Tower Gardens Road and Balliol Road today

Most of the houses in the area had separate pantries in their kitchens. These consisted of a cupboard with an air brick and thick stone shelf and tiled floor to keep things cool. Fridges were not as yet common place. All the houses had a butler sink - which of course is now de rigeur for a ‘trendy’ property.

To get water for a bath you had to put wood into a burner, light the burner and pump it to get the water from the burner to the bathroom. June remembers doing this whilst heavily pregnant with one of her sons. After the burner, people progressed to gas and then fully modern bathrooms - which are a complete luxury in comparison.

The junction of Tower Gardens Road and Balliol Road  c1974 courtesy of Haringey Archives DepartmentPrefabricated houses were single storey houses built specifically to house people as a short term measure when their homes were destroyed during the Second World War (1939-1945). The local prefabs in this area were in White Hart Lane. Mike Reid the comedian was a local boy and lived in one of the prefabs; he went to Rowland Hill School. The prefabs were designed to be up for around two years, but people liked them so much that the local ones were still standing and used for many years before being pulled down.

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Vibrant social life

In the Tower Gardens area was the Waltheof Club. It was situated were the William C Harvey Special Needs School was formerly located in Waltheof Gardens. The Waltheof Club was a popular local social club that also had a football team.

Most of the people living in Tower Gardens were real East End characters who had moved there because of bomb damage in the East End of London. There were professional people such as teachers, bank clerks, police officers and councillors.

The pub in Lordship Lane used to be a Sainsbury’s food store, which had individual counters for each type of goods. They used to pat their own butter at the dairy counter.

There used to be an open-air lido just off Lordship Lane, which was an essential visit in good weather. This venue was a main focus of the community, with its restaurant being a popular venue for weddings. The lido is no longer there, but Lido Close has been named in its honour on the former site.

Tottenham High Road todayTottenham High Road was a top spot for shopping and had really good quality shops. Such was the variety that you did not need to venture to other shopping areas like Wood Green. Tottenham High School for Girls was also there, opposite the police station, next to the ‘Tottenham Royal’ Dance Hall and the Palace Theatre.

Saturday nights often saw everyone in the area going to the Tottenham Royal in Tottenham High Road. Sadly The Royal is no longer there. With its feature revolving stage, all the top bands played there. Everyone seemed to meet their future wife or husband there too – that venue has a lot to answer for! It is also the place where Charlie and June met.

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If you are interested in finding out more about the history or photographs of Tower Gardens, please contact Bruce Castle Museum and Archive to make an appointment in the Search Room.

For more information, email museum.services@haringey.gov.uk

Page last updated:

June 6, 2023