Former foreign secretary Jack Straw recalls memories of his childhood in Buckhurst Hill and Loughton in autobiography

LOUGHTON/BUCKHURST HILL: Jack Straw recalls Epping Forest childhood in new memoirs

Jack Straw, aged 13, in his Brentwood School boater.

Mr Straw's mother Joan Ormston in the garden of Pyrles Lane, in Loughton, circa 1961.

Mr Straw's family at Christmas in Pyrles Lane, circa 1975

Last Man Standing

First published in News by

FORMER Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sampled his first taste of political stardom on the front page of this newspaper in 1959, his newly-released memoirs reveal.

In Last Man Standing: Memories of a Political Survivor, Mr Straw tells of his childhood in Loughton - and of his media debut on the front cover of the West Essex Gazette, The Guardian's predecessor.

The budding politician, then a 13-year-old pupil of Brentwood School, had spent his summer holidays handing out pre-general election pamphlets for the local Labour Party in Debden and had been asked to make a speech at the group's election meeting.

"I was asked to supply a photograph for the paper. The only one we had was of me in my new straw boater," writes the MP for Blackburn.

"So there was young Straw, the budding socialist politician, on the front page, wearing one of the strongest symbols of privilege. It was yet another reminder of the two lives I led.

"I doubt the irony was lost on the readers of the West Essex Gazette."

The teenager's leafleting was in vain and Macmillan's Conservatives won the election - but Mr Straw has gone on to have a 33-year career in the Commons that has seen serve as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Lord Chancellor.

Mr Straw was born in Buckhurst Hill in August 1946, one of five children. The family lived in a two-bedroomed flat in Victoria Road, before moving to Pyrles Lane, Debden, in 1952.

In his autobiography, released on Thursday (September 27), he writes: "Out went their dreams of their own house in a respectable neighbourhood.

"In came the reality of 101 Pyrles Lane, a three-bedroomed maisonette on the first and second floors of a block of flats on a new council estate at the wrong end of Loughton."

Encouraged by his mother Joan Ormston - who went on to serve on both Epping Forest district and Loughton town councils - and inspired by his great-great-grandfather, who fought against enclosure and helped secure the conservation of the forest, Mr Straw began to deliver Labour Party leaflets around the Debden Estate.

It was there, on a rainy afternoon in 1959, that he was inspired to embark on a career in politics: "As I looked up at our block, I decided that being an MP sounded a great deal easier as a way of serving the Labour Party than delivering its leaflets in the rain. I would be an MP too."

Mr Straw recounts his parents' unhappy marriage - including his father Arthur's suicide attempt in the Pyrles Lane maisonette in 1955.

The couple went on to divorce, much to the distress of the Reverend Johnson at Buckhurst Hill Congregational Church, which the family attended every Sunday.

The book also tells of Mr Straw's love for his 'childhood playground', Epping Forest, in which he played with classmates from Staples Road Primary School - and of the dangers that lurked within.

"The sloping playground was entirely concrete, so I learnt little in the way of cricket or football. There was no playing field. But there was, directly opposite, the forest," he writes.

"We were all under parental instructions never to go into the forest alone. There were as many, if not more, 'dirty old men' of all ages (now called paedophiles) lurking in the forest in those days as there are now.

"Such men were encountered by us, promising payment to go into the bushes with them. We'd tell them to push off, with fruity language if needs be."

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Comments (6)

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5:29pm Mon 1 Oct 12

Cornbeefur says...

Oh Bless, who would have thought that he would have contributed to the Afghan and Iraqi wars as a result of which we have had lost and maimed hundreds of Servicemen and Women.
Oh Bless, who would have thought that he would have contributed to the Afghan and Iraqi wars as a result of which we have had lost and maimed hundreds of Servicemen and Women. Cornbeefur
  • Score: 0

8:18am Tue 2 Oct 12

UKIP-local says...

Notice how Socialists down play their backgrounds in order to appear disadvantaged; Straw has described his upbringing as modest and his future only saved by getting a bursary to a grammar school - some grammar school! Brentwood!

His fellow travellers have since then done their best and almost succeeded in destroying grammar schools. They want to make life for independent schools financially unviable. A fellow socialist tried to use the Charity Commission to impose heavy penalties on schools in pursuit of a class war.

The class war Straw has been engaged in seeks to deny to others of later generations the lucky break they themselves enjoyed.

As a student activist, Straw sought to bring down the economy which has paid for substantially all of his high salaries, perquisites of office and his tax payer guaranteed pensions.
Notice how Socialists down play their backgrounds in order to appear disadvantaged; Straw has described his upbringing as modest and his future only saved by getting a bursary to a grammar school - some grammar school! Brentwood! His fellow travellers have since then done their best and almost succeeded in destroying grammar schools. They want to make life for independent schools financially unviable. A fellow socialist tried to use the Charity Commission to impose heavy penalties on schools in pursuit of a class war. The class war Straw has been engaged in seeks to deny to others of later generations the lucky break they themselves enjoyed. As a student activist, Straw sought to bring down the economy which has paid for substantially all of his high salaries, perquisites of office and his tax payer guaranteed pensions. UKIP-local
  • Score: 0

4:02pm Tue 2 Oct 12

Simon P. Hughes says...

Oh dear, UKIP-local: “Notice how Socialists down play their backgrounds in order to appear disadvantaged”. He grew up on the Debden Estate, living in social housing - not exactly a privileged start to life!

As for UKIP-local’s ‘destroying grammar schools’ comment. Being a good right-winger, UKIP-local, will recall it was Margaret Thatcher as Education Secretary that started to convert Grammar Schools into Comprehensives – in fact she signed away more Grammar Schools between 1970 and 1974 than any other Education Secretary before or since!

Cornbeefur beat me to my comment! I too was going to comment: who could believe that this boy from such a humble background would go on to be part of the Government that introduced university tuition fees and launched an illegal invasion of Iraq!
Oh dear, UKIP-local: “Notice how Socialists down play their backgrounds in order to appear disadvantaged”. He grew up on the Debden Estate, living in social housing - not exactly a privileged start to life! As for UKIP-local’s ‘destroying grammar schools’ comment. Being a good right-winger, UKIP-local, will recall it was Margaret Thatcher as Education Secretary that started to convert Grammar Schools into Comprehensives – in fact she signed away more Grammar Schools between 1970 and 1974 than any other Education Secretary before or since! Cornbeefur beat me to my comment! I too was going to comment: who could believe that this boy from such a humble background would go on to be part of the Government that introduced university tuition fees and launched an illegal invasion of Iraq! Simon P. Hughes
  • Score: 0

6:11pm Tue 2 Oct 12

ClifftonX says...

Who could also forget him shaking hands with a lorry load of Chinese illegal immigrants rather than sending them back immediately. What an @rse!
Who could also forget him shaking hands with a lorry load of Chinese illegal immigrants rather than sending them back immediately. What an @rse! ClifftonX
  • Score: 0

9:50am Mon 8 Oct 12

PPHILLIPS61 says...

I am reading this week’s Guardian and I am incensed. Jack straw has written and article about his childhood and refers to his move to Pyrles Lane as “out went their dreams of their own house in a respectable neighbourhood, in came the reality of 101 Pyrles lane, a three bedroom maisonette on the first and second floors of a block of flats on a council estate at the wrong end of Loughton”

I am sad that Mr Straw feels that Debden was so beneath his family. Many families not a fortunate at the Straws were delighted to be given a home on the Debden Estate. In fact his Mother, when she was Mrs Straw, was my Nursery school teacher at Thomas Willingale School. I cannot believe a politician, whose party is said to represent the common man, the working class people, can speak of the area in this way.

Out goes many labour votes !
I am reading this week’s Guardian and I am incensed. Jack straw has written and article about his childhood and refers to his move to Pyrles Lane as “out went their dreams of their own house in a respectable neighbourhood, in came the reality of 101 Pyrles lane, a three bedroom maisonette on the first and second floors of a block of flats on a council estate at the wrong end of Loughton” I am sad that Mr Straw feels that Debden was so beneath his family. Many families not a fortunate at the Straws were delighted to be given a home on the Debden Estate. In fact his Mother, when she was Mrs Straw, was my Nursery school teacher at Thomas Willingale School. I cannot believe a politician, whose party is said to represent the common man, the working class people, can speak of the area in this way. Out goes many labour votes ! PPHILLIPS61
  • Score: 0

12:08am Fri 19 Oct 12

Loughtonlark says...

To most reading this suggests that he came from the L.C.C. Debden Estate, which he most certainly did not.. he infact lived in Buckhurst Hill then moved the Pyrles Lanes in Debden,which was then both part of Epping Forest District Council, (not L.C.C.) no wonder he felt part of the wrong side of Loughton, and was afforded a place at Brentwood School, no child of the Debden Estate would have had a sniff of... the L.C.C. residents, my family included, were originally families from the war torn East End of London, given a council house/flat in the state of the art housing in Debden Estate Essex, lovely green fields they had never seen and spacious housing that they were proud to rent, this wonderful Estate was a haven for them all, and they all took pride in their Estate, for them no wrong side at all, just their homes, there is council housing, and East end of London council housing, this is were the confusion ends., not to mention the original occupants of Epping Forest were very miffed to say the least that this wonderful housing was awarded to the East End families of which I was one, so most probably he was a snob! . who resented the new L.C.C. Estate,and their occupants and the fact he was so near them, in his E.F.D.C, housing.,and not near the private housing he knew well from his education. and incidentally his Mother was also my teacher..
To most reading this suggests that he came from the L.C.C. Debden Estate, which he most certainly did not.. he infact lived in Buckhurst Hill then moved the Pyrles Lanes in Debden,which was then both part of Epping Forest District Council, (not L.C.C.) no wonder he felt part of the wrong side of Loughton, and was afforded a place at Brentwood School, no child of the Debden Estate would have had a sniff of... the L.C.C. residents, my family included, were originally families from the war torn East End of London, given a council house/flat in the state of the art housing in Debden Estate Essex, lovely green fields they had never seen and spacious housing that they were proud to rent, this wonderful Estate was a haven for them all, and they all took pride in their Estate, for them no wrong side at all, just their homes, there is council housing, and East end of London council housing, this is were the confusion ends., not to mention the original occupants of Epping Forest were very miffed to say the least that this wonderful housing was awarded to the East End families of which I was one, so most probably he was a snob! . who resented the new L.C.C. Estate,and their occupants and the fact he was so near them, in his E.F.D.C, housing.,and not near the private housing he knew well from his education. and incidentally his Mother was also my teacher.. Loughtonlark
  • Score: 0

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