‘Clean Clothes on Sunday’ is a charming story of Edwardian childhood, published in 1974 by Terence Dalton Ltd of Lavenham and long out of print. The author, Celia Davies, was born in Woodford Green in 1902 when it retained much more of its rural character. From checking old directories it seems Celia’s family lived at “Meads” in Broomhill Road, on the south side of the Jubilee Hospital.

The Green became her childhood playground “a sort of No-man’s land between the security of home and the wide, wide world”. As an infant Celia would crawl in the grass while her mother settled herself under a shady chestnut tree to read a book or do some sewing. Occasionally a motor-car would pass along the High Road on the far side of the Green although most of the traffic was horse-drawn in those days. On one never-to-be forgotten day King Edward drove past on his way to Newmarket although much to Celia’s disappointment he was wearing a bowler hat instead of his crown.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: A photograph from the book shows Celia, left, and her sister Barbara with their mother in 1904.A photograph from the book shows Celia, left, and her sister Barbara with their mother in 1904.

Seen through the eyes of their young daughter, Celia’s parents were lively and loving and they were a happy, close family. They were not rich but comfortably off and able to employ a cook, a parlour maid and a nanny who figures large in Celia’s early years in the nursery. They had a solid family history which makes a fascinating contribution to Celia’s story. One of her great-grandfathers was a hay merchant at Bow, farming land beside the Mile End Road. However in 1816 the Regent’s Canal was cut through his fields and although this was resented at first, the family was able to benefit from this development. One chapter in the book focuses on another great-grandfather, a ropemaker, who invested in shipping on the Thames and Celia describes his involvement with the creation of the London Docks.

Celia and her older sister Barbara were often invited to parties and occasionally these invitations came from Miss Jacobs, sister of the Bishop of St Albans, who kept house for him at Highams, which served as the Bishop’s palace at the time. Celia recalls the highlight of the day: “Sooner or later we would play ‘hunt-the-thimble’ and this was when the real fun began. We children would be sent out into the hall while Miss Jacobs hid the thimble. The moment the door was shut Barbara and I, often followed by a stream of other children, would dash up the wide staircase, straddle the stout mahogany banisters and come sliding down to the hall, swishing round the corner at a tremendous rate. Not only was it an exhilarating sport, but the timing made it exciting. When Miss Jacobs opened her door she would find us all demurely awaiting her summons”. I wonder how many other young ladies have longed to slide down that banister since the house became Woodford High School.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Little girl with a doll. From a Victorian Christmas card.Little girl with a doll. From a Victorian Christmas card.

Christmas was a special time for Celia, spent at Lytton Lodge (24 The Drive, South Woodford) the home of her grandfather. The family moved to Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire in 1909 but the warmth and comfort of Lytton Lodge, together with the wonderful smells from the kitchen, made the long journey well worth while. The family would enjoy turkey, plum pudding and all the traditional Christmas fare and even the children were allowed a little of grandfather’s splendid 1847 port. Celia’s description of these festive occasions make the Edwardian era come alive again, and I particularly enjoyed her memory of an elderly couple “…great-uncle Alfred and great-aunt Emma. We never saw these two except on Christmas Day and they seemed to be seasonal characters like Father Christmas himself, who had no real existence during the rest of the year… Aunt Emma looked like a faded Victorian doll… and it was easy to imagine her being packed away in a box, together with the Christmas decorations, till the season came round once more”.

Georgina Green has been involved with local history in Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Epping Forest area for 40 years and is the author of several local history books. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2021.