Iris Jones-Simantel returned to South Oxhey for the first time in many years, to speak to a crowded room about her new book “Far from the East End”.
Iris was evacuated to Oxhey on May day in the 50s and she spoke about a clear memory of “a sea of mud” which your feet would sink into and you couldn’t get out. Her best friend from Dagenham, Sheila McDonald, and her sisters Maureen and Kathleen moved there too. Her mother put up sheets at the windows to stop people looking in.
They thought they were in heaven because of all the woods and fields, where they gathered armloads of bluebells, it was “the happiest summer of my life”.
There were no shops and she used to go to Braziers Farm with an old pram to carry the shopping back in. They used to use the pram to go to the gasworks to fill it up with coke. Barkers van and the Co-op van came next.
There were no schools when they arrived so she started at Watford Fields, where her teacher was Mr Handiman. She used to get the bus from Oxhey Lane. She remembers tripping and falling, and breaking her arm at school.
Iris then went to Victoria School for Girls where she was taunted by the other pupils. The headmistress told them that as “council girls” they would not be there long as they would soon have their own school, and good riddance. They experienced the worse discrimination from the other children.
Hampden was a wonderful school however, and Iris loved it. She, Myra Austin and Sheila McDonald all got the cane, but did not tell their parents, they dumped Miss Chater the gardening teacher in the compost heap.
Life after school
Iris’s first job was in Jax Womenswear shop in Watford High Street. Then she went to work at Odhams. Her mother blew tea out of her nose when Iris told her that she had met an american soldier, and got engaged on her 16th birthday. She got married in Oxhey Chapel as the new All Saints Church was not yet consecrated. After she had moved abroad with her new husband, her parents would wait by the phone box in Little Oxhey Lane for her weekly phone book on a Sunday night.
Would you like to read more about Iris’s life? Then why not read her book FAR FROM THE EAST END