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Vintage Stories: Chocolate Fudge Icing, A-levels and Friends

I first got chatting with Ann from Storr Cupboard when she shared a picture of a vintage cookbook on Instagram. I had a flashback to my mum making birthday cakes for my younger brother with the most amazing chocolate fudge icing recipe from the same St Michael book. My mum’s copy of the book is long gone but Ann kindly sent me the recipe and shared her vintage story with Olive Road:

Cooking is love and cooking is helpful and to me those two acts are intertwined.  I cook for my family, I cook for my friends. God help you if you turn up to my house and you’re not hungry. The Sundays of my childhood were church, dog walk, Sunday roast, homework.  Quiet days, family days.  Driving my parents nuts walking in and out and in and out of the sitting room, jarring the ill-fitting ceramic door handle each and every time.  Their sitting still and dozing quite un-nerving.

My mum’s few cookbooks lived, and still live, in a wall mounted shelf, high above and to the right hand of the cooker. My mum uses the Cordon Bleu cookery book, a couple of pudding recipe books.  That’s about it. She doesn’t need your trends; she can make caramel glazed profiteroles without a recipe, delicate apple tarts, angel cakes rich with raspberries and vanilla spiked whipped cream.

From about 8 years old, I started baking on a Sunday afternoon.  Just because, really.  Our one simple cookbook was St Michael’s ‘Giving a Children’s Party’. St Michael was the lifestyle section name of Marks and Spencer’s: your clothes were St Michael, the food M&S.  The slim cookbook would be hard to find against the 3 inch spine of the Cordon Bleu.  I’d have to look at least 4 times before I’d find it, climbing up onto the work surface, rummaging over and over again searching for it.  I felt at home rummaging through the baking things, little packets of nuts and dried fruits gently desiccating from one Christmas to the next. Flour and sugar regularly replaced. Butter in the fridge.  Never margarine, even in the 80s.  I learnt to add my own baking powder to plain flour, that storing plain and self-raising was a waste of time.  I saw how happy my brothers were when they saw a cooling rack heavy with cakes or scones.

Years later, when A levels approached, my friends clustered around my dining room table.  My parent’s dining room table is a big, thick mahogany beast, with space for my parents, three brothers, and me. Sometimes space for more. The room is formal: old family paintings and silver candlesticks. A fireplace with old postcards and a carriage clock. Huge antique dark wood dresser.

So round they came: Rachel, Elizabeth, Jo and Cips.   If it was warm or rainy, May or June, I don’t remember.  Just the weirdness of having the doors shut against my family and throwing papers into the bin and pretending that we were in ‘A Few Good Men’. The fever of panic against the reality of three separate three hour exams, of the futures we wanted, and the ending of the safe security of secondary school.  The futures we were too scared to want, too.   I’d been in the same form group as David Taylor for all 11 of my 13 years of education.  I went to the same school my brothers went to, that my mum volunteered at, that my dad had the oversight of.  That I’d visited since I was four years old, sitting at the head teacher’s desk with my Spot the Dog colouring in. I was leaving, so excited but utterly terrified.

I’d got in the habit of baking birthday cakes for my drama group, my friends.  Utterly wound up and anxious about my A levels, I’d default to the “milk chocolate birthday cake” and “chocolate fudge icing” from ‘Giving a Children’s Party’.  Everyone knew it by that point and I could make it at 10pm and not make a mistake.  The pages were rigid with smears. I promised Rae that if she studied, I’d give her a wedge of chocolate cake, studded with Milky Way Magic Stars.  She loathed the Gothic literature we had to study, so we’d cajole her onwards through thinking about vampires and ghosts while she frowned and scowled.  Those days are hazy in my mind’s eye, the adrenaline and, likely, the boozy nights that followed. We got there, we did okay in our exams.  We went to work or to uni, and we kept our little group little gang.  We were fused together 11 years ago when our dear Cips died suddenly, during an adventure in Beijing.  These friends became something more to me, to each other.

Twenty years on and I find myself sitting around Rae’s kitchen table, being frowned at and being told that my second ever (now lost to digital deletion) blog post just doesn’t cut it.  And I know it doesn’t.  “It sounds as though you’re terrified” she says.  And I am.  She tells me to send her a first draft before I hit send. I pick at my nails and screw up my face and stare at the table and tell them, “I want to be a writer” and “Christ, finally” they say, but know better than to hug me.

They have known me when I wore only a four sizes too large TopShop jumper (hey! 1994), a reversible Mickey Mouse sweatshirt (more M&S delights) and cut my fringe viciously.  Rae has literally picked me up off the floor in heartbreak.  We’ve seen each other post-partum blue and terrified by the shit that life slings out with fucking regularity.  So when they tell me I’m letting myself down professionally, I listen. Especially when it fucking infuriates me.

Life is busier now, but we still see each other to talk, work, share ideas, and even, sometimes, just to be together.  Each time I sit on Elizabeth’s back step and we take a sneaky peak into her neighbour’s windows through our third  glass of Prosecco, eat dark chocolate on Jo’s sofa, or get drip fed red wine and steak around Rae’s dinner table, I am so grateful for my friends. I trust them with every last part of me. And when I can, I bake them cake.

Ann sharing her passion for cooking on her blog sharing inspiring recipes she has created from leftovers. Sign up to her newsletter here to get inspiration directly to your inbox. Or follow her on Instagram @storrcupboard.

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Vintage Stories: The Allotment Girls

The rain was pounding against my window on a Saturday afternoon back in November 2015. I was deliberating whether to stay in my warm cosy flat or go to a  book reading at the Idea Store’s Write Idea Festival in Whitechapel. I’m so glad I decided to brave the cold as I met author Kate Thompson and her interviewee Sally discussing the real stories behind Kate’s first novel the Secrets of the Singer Girls. The book is based on a group of women rag trade workers set in Bethnal Green during WWII. Kate brings the women’s stories to life and had me in tears with both laughter and sadness.  A year later, Kate asked me to help her research her latest novel, The Allotment Girls. Set in my home of Bow, we had some fun afternoons pounding the pavements of East London that I didn’t even know existed; climbing locked towers of Bow Quarter that used to be the Bryant & May match factory and seeing where Gandhi slept in Kingsley Hall. The Allotment Girls is released today and Kate has shared her vintage story with Olive Road:

When a relative dies,  you might take some comfort in inheriting a treasured keepsake, a couple of faded black and white photographs of family events, perhaps even a little bit of money. When my grandfather, Alan passed away six years ago, at the age of 91, he bequeathed us much more than a dusty old photo album and a savings account. We inherited Twinkle – an ageing Jack Russell with melting chocolate eyes, ears as soft as satin and breath so pungent it could strip paint. I had just given birth to my second son Stanley and I worried how Twinkle would react to being around two young boys. Yet this old girl, whom we assumed would retreat miserably to her basket, to doze through her few remaining days on Earth before rejoining her master, has had a surprising effect on my family. She has brought calm, order and love while at the same time finding the joie de vivre of a dog half her years.

My grandfather had found Twinkle three years earlier on a charity website devoted to matching old dogs with elderly dog-lovers and they turned out to be a match made in heaven. Like him, she was a little rickety, very sedate and clearly relished the prospect of seeing out her twilight years snoozing on his lap. Every time we visited Alan, we found her gently snoring, her nose tucked under his arm as he stroked her soft, white fur and smiled benignly. offers to take her for a walk were swiftly rebuffed. ‘Twinkle prefers to stay in the warm,’ he would say, lovingly feeding her crumbs of luxury Marks & Spencer fruit cake. Twinkle proved to be the perfect companion, slotting effortlessly into a quiet and dignified life built around books, art, classical music and the odd glass of red wine. He’d relished the company of dogs all his life. Before my grandmother Joyce, a tireless charity worker and magistrate, died in 2000 they’d had a succession of hyperactive hounds – most memorably Sheba, an assertive Boarder Collie who would round up guests and trap them in a corner. A rather energetic Bedlington Terrier called Larry had kept him company after Sheba passed away. But after Larry died in 2008, my grandfather lived alone until Twinkle, a little dog with an unknown past, was delivered to a loving future in Wimbledon in April 2009.

‘I’m very old to be getting another dog, aren’t I?’ Alan remarked to the woman from the re-homing charity. ‘I don’t think you should deny yourself the pleasure’ she replied kindly. Twinkle was about nine, although she was a rescue dog so no one knew for certain. it took just five minutes to melt my grandfather’s heart. After he died, I admit, I feared the worst. You hear stories of loyal dogs simply losing the will to live after a beloved owner dies. I wondered whether Twinkle, bewildered by her new surroundings, not to mention the challenge of living with two rumbustious boys, might just fade away. But I hadn’t accounted for just how adaptable this feisty terrier was, or the rejuvenating effects of youthful company.

Within days, somehow our ageing hound was galloping around the house in hot pursuit of the boys, terrorising any neighbourhood cat that dared to stray into her garden; and greeting the postman like a sworn enemy. on trips to the park, her little legs were a blur as she tore across the grass to leap on dogs twice her size and half her age. An animal-loving friend explained the reason for her new lease of life. ‘She’s running with the pack’ he said. ‘She’s just adjusted her behaviour to living with young boys – she’s trying to keep up’. Twinkle, it seems, had found her inner puppy.

Twinkle is now a pivotal part of our family. My sons adore her as she does them. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank my beloved grandfather for his parting gift. There may have been 87 years between him and his grandson Ronnie but Twinkle truly captured both of their hearts. When Ronnie strokes here, I can see my grandfather doing the same thing and somehow, it eases our grief. His memory is being kept alive by the love of a tiny dog better than it could be by any photograph. I watched Ronnie this morning, hugging Twinkle and kissing her nose over and over – despite me pointing out that he has no idea where that nose has just been. ‘Why do you love Twinkle so much?’ I asked him. ‘Because she is just so strokey’ he said, and somehow I know Alan would agree.

Kate’s latest novel The Allotment Girls is out now. Head to her Author’s page on Amazon to read about all four of Kate’s novels. Each one is set in East London and brings to life real historic events such as the Blitz, the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster and the Battle of Cable Street. The Allotment Girls is set in the iconic Bryant & May factory where the famous Match Women’s strike took place in 1888. The story starts during WWII but there are many secrets reaching back to the factory’s darker past.

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Olive Road at Pop Up Vintage Fair this Saturday

You can find Olive Road this Saturday at Pop Up Vintage Fairs at the fabulous Walthamstow Assembly Hall, Forest Road, London E17 4JF. We will be there 12 to 5pm. I picked up lots of exciting of new (old) pieces on my recent trip to Melbourne and will be selling them this Saturday. Here is a sneak peak of some of the pieces you can find on our stall. See you there!

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Celebrating International Women’s Day

Last night, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham embraced International Women’s Day at a special event hosted by the Council’s Town Hall. A group of women, leaders in their industries, joined a discussion panel to discuss the situation of equality today. The council chambers were packed with an audience consisting of residents, community staff, volunteers and council workers.

Councillor Sade Bright, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Cohesion introduced the evening. ‘This is the fourth year that we have celebrated International Women’s Day. It is time to raise awareness of equality issues that still exist today and discuss how they can be overcome. Each year the programme grows, gets better and better and engages more people’.

The Young Mayor of Barking and Dagenham, Wesley Oparaguo, had only been in his position for a week and this was his first speaking engagement in his new role. He praises the borough for producing ‘brilliant advocates for equality in the form of the Ford Dagenham machinists. These women have had a resounding impact on gender equality. We can encourage such a movement by speaking to peers and let them know how we can bring about change.’

This years theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Press for Progress’ and the six,all female panel, took on this task led by questions from the audience. Councillor Margaret Mullins, Councillor for Village Ward in Dagenham states ‘women are still undervalued in the workforce. The biggest worry is the gig economy as this tends to be women. It is insecure work…they are not getting the financial rewards and it is a real worry’.

Dr Elizabeth Negus, Head of English Department at the College of North West London, says ‘The biggest challenge women face is the renewing of minds. Britain is deeping routed in patriarchy and stereotypes. Children’s minds are struggling to erase the past. The language we use in the classroom forms part of who we are in every sense of the way.’

The gender pay cap is at a national average of 18.4%. Sharon Quintana, Managing Director of Real Estate London at Barclays, suggests that the gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay and the reason for the disparity is that there are more men in higher paid roles resulting in them being paid more than women who traditionally are employed in lower paid roles. ‘The pay gap is 43% in Barclays and there is a long way to go in large corporate institutions. It is really important for younger women to see other successful women in senior positions. It is time to consider quotas in institutions such as banking [otherwise] I fear we will be in a similar position for years to come’. Rt. Hon Dame Margaret Hodge MP disagreed. ‘Women doing the same job as men are not earning the same as men. We saw that with the BBC report. Clearly the data is not good enough yet. It doesn’t go behind what leads to the pay gap’.

What is it like to work in a male dominated industries such as banking, property and the music industry? Stephanie Okato, joint Managing Director of John Samuel Estates believes ‘there is a perception of how women are referred to as a weaker sex. The most important thing I had to do was believe in myself, I had to stand out’. Stephanie goes on to say that it is important to empower other women and she organises women empowerment workshops within her industry. Folk songwriter and singer Lucy Ward is writing a women’s anthem for Barking and Dagenham this year to be performed at the Barking Folk Festival in June. Joining the debate, she says that being commented on her appearance ‘is so specific to being a woman. Women’s rights of passage are being oppressed form the word go. We have been told that “Yorkies are not for girls” and you are “crying like a girl”‘.

So how do women change and renew the mindset? An audience member asks. ‘Networking with other women has helped me. The onus is on us women who are older to support younger women who are growing and realising their potential. Dame Margaret Hodge (pictured below) responds. ‘Don’t be afraid, ask for the next job, ask for the pay rise. Seek out what you can do and how. You can do it’ advises Sharon Quinlan.

A Unison representative asks Dame Margaret Hodge directly ‘What piece of legislation would Labour introduce to improve women’s lives?’. Dame Margaret Hodge responds ‘There are still women in different sectors being discriminated for having children when I thought we had sorted out the law. Bring in legislation to deal with sexual harassment and flexible working. Never take the foot off the accelerator’. Lucy Ward agrees and adds ‘If we take our finger off the pulse for one moment, we just slide back. Challenge every seed of insipid sexism in every way’.

Sarah Jackson (photo above), co-Founder of the East End Women’s Museum, opening in Barking late 2019, was the evening’s key note speaker. She said the objective for the new museum is to ‘Re-balance the history books. You would be forgiven for thinking that women were not invented until the 20th Century. Fewer than 3% of statues represent real women. The others have been pushed to the margins and off the page’. ‘The Suffragettes created a women’s movement that is still with us today. I hope that the celebrations of this year help people to keep fighting. We want to celebrate those women who will never have a statue but deserve one’. Sarah Jackson tells the audience about a young school student she met at an event in Barking the previous year. When asking residents what they would like to see in a museum the student responded ‘my mum is a woman, she is important’. A confident student added ‘you need to save a space for me because I’m going to do something amazing!’.

Councillor Darren Rodwell and Leader of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council closed the evening ‘We are proud of women in this borough from what they have done in the past to what they will do in the future’.

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Vintage Stories: A Vanity Case of Memories

It was the first time my husband visited my grandparent’s house at Olive Road that I realised my family’s greeting to each other was unusual. ‘What’s ooo-oooh?’ Craig asked smirking. A pebble dashed house on the edge of a London suburban housing estate, I always entered around the back and sang out ‘ooo-oooh’ as we pushed open the door. All the family did. With the back door permanently open ‘perhaps it is a way to signal to Nan and Grandad that it is one of us’ my auntie Barbara offered as an explanation.

For over sixty years, my grandparents had lived in this end of terrace house, where they raised their five daughters. Being the eldest grandchild, my youngest auntie Lisa was only aged 5 when I was born. ‘I don’t want to go home’ I would whine to my mum as I battled through the rainbow coloured strips of rubber hanging from the door frame. Once through, I would be standing in a compact kitchen. How my nan cooked for seven in this tiny room was always beyond me. A formica table surrounded by a corner bench covered in terracotta vinyl took up most of the space. The bench doubled up as a storage cupboard so we would often have to stand up mid-mouthful so my nan could fish out the chocolate Angel Delight, a regular dessert favourite.

By the time my eldest brother and I had come along, all but one of the daughters had married and left home but they didn’t move far. A constant flow of visitors through that back door, our family grew with the arrival of an Irish family who lived in an identical house a short skip through the back gate. Two boys and two girls, the Rocks became part of the gang.

‘Better pass that over love, as it will be cold by the time you get round’ Grandad said dryly to my mum one Sunday afternoon. With us squashed in the kitchen enjoying a roast dinner, Grandad preferred his on his lap. This was the early 1980’s and Nan had bought a corner suite from the local Co-Op in soft grey velour to accommodate everyone. The problem was, it reached from one side of the room to the other with only a narrow gap to expertly navigate through to actually sit down.

To me, Olive Road was an endless supply of friends to play with. Living on a busy road, my brother and I were not able to play on the street at our own home. My Nan’s house was surrounded by quiet roads, children playing on every corner. Forty-Forty, kerbside, chalking up the pavement for hopscotch, British Bulldog and the endless cry of the ice cream van. We owned the summer.

With so many aunties, birthdays were full of gifts, one of them being a compact black vinyl vanity case from my Auntie Kay. Knowing how much I loved to stay overnight at Olive Road, it had just enough room for my rag doll, clean undies and a set of pyjamas. I would keep it packed, ready to go by my bedroom door. When my mum announced we were going to Nan’s, I was prepared for the ‘I’m not going home’ argument.

This little vanity case has served me well. Stuffed with samples of clothes I had made and accompanying me to fashion college interviews. Now it sits pride of place on my aptly named vintage stall, Olive Road. A small momento of the tiny house packed with so many memories and sadly no longer in the family since my grandparents died. Customers often ask how much the case is and I’m always quick to reply ‘it is not for sale’.


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March: Women’s History Month and the launch of a new museum.

March is Women’s history month and co-insides with International Women’s Day on the 8th March. However, 2018 could be renamed as the year of women as there are several landmark anniversaries this year. It is 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was passed on the 6th February 1918, enabling some women (those over age 30 who owned a house) and all men to vote. It is 50 years since the women of Ford’s Dagenham plant campaigned to be paid as skilled workers, leading to the Equal Pay Act in 1970. And this summer marks 130 years since the Match Women’s strike, when the all-female work force of the Bryant & May Match factory in Bow went on strike for better working conditions and created the first significant trade union.

On 24 January I made my way down Barking High Street trying to dodge heavy downpour to the Broadway Theatre, excited about the afternoon ahead. Just over two years ago I’d attended a lecture by Sarah Jackson, co-author of East London Suffragettes, when Sarah had first mentioned setting up a museum dedicated to the women of the East End of London. Sarah, Sara Huws and Judith Garfield have worked tirelessly to create the East End Women’s Museum. I was volunteering at their launch event, welcoming a wide range of guests from London Councillors, Library Managers, Archivists, Activists and community groups.

my fellow volunteers Liz and Thea

Speaking at the event, Sara Huws gave thanks to the general public ‘who have shared their personal and family stories. Our mission is to enable those stories to be told’.  After two years of creating awareness, curating pop up exhibitions and ploughing through all the admin involved in setting up a museum, the team were thrilled to announce that the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham council have offered the museum a space . At the end of 2019 East End Women’s Museum will have a permanent home next to grade II listed Abbey ruins. ‘We are very excited this museum is gong to be in our borough for everyone in London’ exclaimed Councillor Sade Bright, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Cohesion.

Dr Helen Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst’s Grandaughter, was guest of honour at the event and shared her enthusiasm for the museum. ‘We really do need the East End Women’s Museum to speak to us about the past and the future. I have a personal link with the East End because of Silvia and her work here and I was reflecting on, although she didn’t use that term, intersection. Her values actually epitomize that in the past and that is the spirit that the museum has. Feminism cannot stand with just a few white middle class privileged women, it has to be talking about intersection with other issues. History is part of activism, it is about what we do with it.’ Sarah Jackson thanked everyone involved and summarised a positive and enjoyable afternoon with a line from a Jules Gibb song, Nana was a Suffragette ‘Votes for women were just the beginning, you haven’t seen anything yet’. The museum is asking for donations during Women’s History Month to support their ongoing work, click here if you would like to make a donation.

Dr Helen Pankhurst speaking at the launch event
Sylvia Pankhurst in Bow Road

Years ago, I worked for the CEO of a national newspaper, a large print of Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest in Manchester adorned her office and we would talk about the Suffragette’s plight. It wasn’t until I went on Rachel Kolosky’s walking tour ‘Belles of Bow’ that I learnt about Emmeline’s daughter Sylvia Pankhurst. The WSPU were becoming increasingly militant and Sylvia was concerned that working class women were not being considered. Moving to Bow, Sylvia set up the East London Federation of Suffragettes, campaigning for the vote for all, including working class men who also didn’t have the right to vote before 1918. Rachel energetically led us round the streets of Bow and pointed out where the Women’s Hall (a cost price restaurant) used to be and the pub they renamed the Mother’s Arms, turning it into a creche. These were on the street where I live and I am immensely proud that my small part of London is home to so much women’s history. 

It is fitting that the day after the East End Women’s Museum event, I attended Rachel Kolsky’s book launch, hosted by the Women’s Library at the LSE. In Rachel’s jovial and animated style, she talked us through the places she selected for Women’s London – a guide to great lives and why she chose to feature these particular women, including Minnie Lansbury.  A supporter of Sylvia Pankhurst, one of her relatives came along to Rachel’s Bow Belles walks and invited Rachel back to her house to look through old photographs. Rachel describes Bow as ‘a tiny area of London with stories mingling. It is all about links when you go around London. A giant jigsaw puzzle waiting to put pieces together and there is nothing more satisfying when you connect a couple of people’. Rachel’s last story is of Phyllis Pearsall and I had no idea she invented the A to Z. I still prefer using my well worn copy of the famous book to navigate London as it gives me a sense of perspective that I can’t visualise with Google Maps on a small phone screen. Besides, Google Maps clearly doesn’t know London like Mrs Pearsall did as often misses out the small alleyways and back passages in London. I am in awe of a woman who walked around 23,000 streets personally documenting each one.

Rachel Kolsky speaking at the Women’s Library


There are many ways to celebrate Women’s History Month this March. I’ve compiled a comprehensive list on Pinterest but here are a few of my favourite events taking place around London over the next couple of months.

Women’s Library at the LSE celebrating 100 years of Suffrage.

Care International March for Women, led by Dr Helen Pankhurst on 4th March

Making her Mark: 100 years of Activism. In collaboration with East End Women’s Museum and Hackney Museum

Women on Strike: Idea Store, Bow

Women of the East End at Work, Sarah Ainslie photography exhibition, Brady Centre in Hanbury Street

Radicals, Rioters and Rebels in the Fleet Street Precinct – East End Walks with David Rosenberg

Museum of London has many events and displays celebrating #vote100. 25 March they host a discussion on the legacy of the Suffragette movement.

Match Women’s Festival on the 30th June, celebrating 130 year anniversary of the first known women’s strike