I used to visit Ilford in the 1980s mainly for the shops, as a change from the ones in Romford. At that time traffic was already being diverted away from the High Street round to the back of the town hall in an attempt to pedestrianise the shopping area. I recall discussing this at the time and fretting for Ilford that a ring road would affect the High Street in the same way as had happened in Romford making the town centre a desolate, almost scary, no-go area in the evenings.
Last Monday, 20th March, I happened to be in the Barkingside area so after a wander around Gants Hill roundabout, like you do, I walked through Valentines Park and continued south to Ilford town centre to check out what it looks like now.
|Valentine's Park – And all at once I came upon ... floor tiles at the front of Valentine's Mansion "ADAMANTINE, CLINKER REGD" – note the letter N is reversed every time|
Exting the park it was nice to see the lovely old terraces above the shops in Cranbrook Road with many Edwardian and Art Deco façades hinting at its busy retail history.
|Cranbrook Road 1920s and 30s statement architecture. I haven't the time right now to find out the original owners of these sites, though the style of the third building is really familiar.|
Moving closer to the station I found that Lloyds Bank are no longer within their understated Art Deco masterpiece. I recall the cashpoint there was one of the first I ever used when £50 was the maximum withdrawal. And the bank on the opposite corner with its lovely clock (Midland?) that was for a time a Santander branch, is also empty at the moment. But the old Dunn&Co men's outfitters shop (now Zee&Co) still retains some of its original windows which is great because I have noticed that these have been completely stripped out at their other sites. Dunn's windows were the most colourful thing about the whole company – everything they sold was beige!
|Lloyds Bank, Midland(?) clock, Dunn&Co window|
With trepidation I moved closer to the station, daring myself to hope that Bodgers was still there and assuming it to be long gone.
Whoo hoo! It's still in business – 127 years and still going. Though the inside resembles a mad closing down sale at the moment (it isn't; I asked). Some of the original ArtDeco steps and metal bannisters are still in place at the main entrance. I had hoped that the wide curving stairs at the centre were still intact as well. But the internal parts of the store appear to have been totally renovated and an escalator now sits where the old stairs used to be. These were the stairs on which my mum saw a teddy bear and asked for him to be taken out of the display for my 2nd birthday present. I still have him; he's a Merrythought with bells in his ears and a cute, quirky expression.
Further along the High Street I found that Harrison Gibson's old furniture and furnishings store is surrounded by scaffolding with demolition signs on it.
Signage for the store is still visible along with 'Penthouse' a nightclub that used to be at the top. In the 1980s my friends and I twice went to 'The Room At The Top' an earlier disco up there. It wasn't our kind of place really. The biggest thrill was getting the lift up to the top.
My father served his upholstery apprentice at HGs and then worked there for a time before starting up a business of his own in nearby Goodmayes in the early 70s. I think I recall my mum worked in the admin department at HGs for a while. And when I bought my first property, it was from HGs I bought my first carpet. I had forgotten all of this until now.
Just west of the Town Hall is a lovely Art Deco building which was the original Woolworth's shop with faience tiles curved verticals. Strangely, it's now occupied by the Burton Group, yet Burton's original building at the far end of the High Street houses a gaming centre at ground level, and Woolworth's last site in Ilford was where Wilko is now, opposite the station. How confusing!
|Burtons building, Woolworths building, Wilko|
Speedy update: I recall the old covered market arcade was under threat of was demolition in the 1980s – there is now a tall glass building on the site. Most of the High Street is indeed pedestrianised with a small modern precinct added (I didn't enter; not my kind of space, man). And, I very much doubt even Ilford residents are aware that Chapel Road at the centre of the one-way system is so called because it circles the only medieval building in Redbridge; the old hospital chapel