Joe Haines, journalist and former press secretary to prime minister Harold Wilson, has recorded his memories of Rotherhithe.
His latest book Kick ‘Em Back is a surprise in containing not just new inside information on Downing Street and Robert Maxwell but equally valuable reminiscences of Rotherhithe.
Joe spent most of his childhood and teens in Rotherhithe. He writes of Sun Alley where the sun rarely shone. Fresh air was to be found in ‘the green magnificence of Southwark Park’.
Pre-war Rotherhithe was docks with dockers looking for work along a rat infested riverside. There were no yuppies or tourists. The Mayflower pub was still The Spread Eagle.
Although the population rarely strayed far it could be well-informed. Everyone knew when far-flung Riga was frozen because timber did not arrive in Surrey Docks. This meant no work.
His mother Elizabeth was a cleaner at St Olave’s Hospital whilst his older sister Emma had a permanent job at Crosse & Blackwell in Bermondsey’s Crimscott Street.
He recalls moving from a slum to new flats where neighbours included union leader Dick Barrett and Max Bygraves who was then called Wally.
Life was made better by the trees planted in the streets under the direction of Cllr Ada Salter and the mission to youth of Clare College.
About this time Joe’s mother took him to his first political meeting at Millpond Bridge, the junction of Paradise Street and West Lane, next to Millpond Estate.
Joe writes that he never deviated from his ambition to escape the drudgery and poverty which was Rotherhithe but adds that leaving Rotherhithe did not mean Rotherhithe left him. He married local girl Irene Lambert from Abbeyfield Road at St Mary’s Church.
The paperback’s title comes from advice given to him as a boy by his mother.
When he landed the top job at 10 Downing Street he received congratulations from old friend Dick Barrett in Guy’s Hospital. Towards the end of the book he raises the prospect that Maxwell had bought a flat in Tooley Street.
On Rotherhithe today, where his Swan Lane has become Swan Street, Joe Haines reflects: “The material gains have been immemse, the community ones are less obvious.”
Kick ‘Em Back: Wilson, Maxwell and Me by Joe Haines (Grosvenor House; £8.95).