LOUGHTON/BUCKHURST HILL: Jack Straw recalls Epping Forest childhood in new memoirs (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Former foreign secretary Jack Straw recalls memories of his childhood in Buckhurst Hill and Loughton in autobiography
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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