Campaigning Against the Traffic, Early 1990s

Interviewee

  • Anne Morgan has lived in the same house in Mount Ephraim Road since 1985.

Q: Why did you move to Streatham?

I was living in Balham with my family when my father died. Mum had a heart condition and we needed a house for a family of 4 and my mum to live together, with a large garden for the children. Until mum died in1998, she had the two rooms downstairs and we lived upstairs. The house was built in 1930.

The house at the end of our garden (I think this is on Mount Ephraim Lane) is Grade 2 listed and the only flint-built house in the area. I think it was the gate lodge for the Magdalen Hospital, on the Magdalen Estate originally owned by Magdalen College, Oxford. (The Hospital started in East London as a school for penitent prostitutes (!) in the 18th century, moved to Streatham in the 19th century and became an approved school for girls in 1934. It closed in 1966). Perhaps that is why there were so few pubs in the area (see below!).

Q: What are your memories of working in Streatham?

I taught at Hitherfield School from 1990 to 1998 and at Woodmansterne School from 1998 until I retired in 2010. I taught in the infants and my husband also taught at Hitherfield, in the juniors.

In around 2007, the Electricity Company were concerned about the high level of energy consumption in the area around Hitherfield, and carried out a heat-seeking survey. They traced the cause to the basement of Hitherfield School, and the caretaker was prosecuted for running a cannabis farm! But the caretaker was such a nice, mild-mannered individual that we all thought he was taking the rap for someone else!

Q: What are your memories of shopping in Streatham?

When we first moved to Streatham, Pratt’s department store was open. After it closed in 1990, the High Road became very depressed. I’ve seen it go down and now it’s wavering back up and becoming less depressed. A number of local businesses depended on Pratt’s and closed soon after Pratt’s did. On Westbury’s parade alone there was a fishmonger, a butcher and a greengrocer. The greengrocer’s was a family business and that lasted longer.

For a long time there were very few pubs in Streatham. There was only the Genevieve, next to the cinema at Streatham Hill and the Coach and Horses opposite. Then there was nothing until the White Lion. The Manor Arms and the Railway were there, but they were both very rough.

Q: What are your memories of Streatham Hill Theatre

I lived in New Malden as a child and belonged to a church youth group. The leader used to take us to the theatre and when I was 12 or 13 she took us to see ‘West Side Story’ at Streatham (1961). We went by train from Malden Manor, via Clapham Junction. I believe Rita Moreno was in it, from the original West End cast. We sat way up in the Gods – the theatre has a very steep rake. ‘West Side Story’ was incredibly exciting compared to the staid musicals that were common in the 1950s, such as ‘Salad Days’ and ‘The Boyfriend’.

Q: Do you have any other memories of Streatham?

Problems with prostitution in Lambeth began around 1990 when the police in Wandsworth pushed the prostitution out to Lambeth, near Garrards Road. Some say that the tradition of prostitution on Tooting Common began during the Napoleonic Wars, when troops were billeted on the common and after the troops left, the camp followers stayed on!

When we moved to Streatham, there were lots of prostitutes on the common and all the traffic went straight down Mount Ephraim Lane, but when barriers were erected at the top and bottom of Mount Ephraim Lane, the prostitutes moved back into Mount Ephraim Road. Sometimes there were up to 10 prostitutes in front of our house and even on our drive. There was a massive traffic problem too, with kerb crawlers and voyeurs – we were constantly calling the police.

We formed METAG, Mount Ephraim Traffic Action Group, and successfully campaigned for speed bumps to be put in our road. We were keen to emphasise that we were not against the prostitutes as such, but against all the traffic associated with them. We also got Lambeth to agree to a night-time exclusion zone: no entry except for access between 8pm and 4am. But this didn’t solve the problem as the police didn’t enforce the zone.

Small action groups formed in each road as the prostitutes moved around: as they were forced out of one road they moved to the next. The kerb crawlers even approached mothers with young children and even schoolgirls in uniform!

Another group, WTA, Woodfield Traffic Action, also campaigned for speed bumps, but they became more militant and organised protestors in the whole area to stand outside in the road at 8pm every night for around 2 to 3 hours. We did this for around 3 months in the summer. The police weren’t happy, and did a kind of lock-down of the whole area, with some success.

One problem was that officers were allocated to the Vice Squad for only six weeks at a time, in an attempt to prevent corruption. They looked on the prostitution almost as a bit of fun, and felt sorry for the girls. They didn’t have to live with it. Once, we were all sitting in the kitchen eating our tea when a prostitute, escaping from the police, ran across our garden and climbed our back fence!

Fortunately for us, there was a change of command at Streatham Police Station and Cressida Dick, now the Metropolitan Police’s most senior female officer, was in charge. She listened to our complaints and extended the stints in the Vice Squad to six months. This meant that they were more committed and began sending warning letters to the kerb crawlers. I remember that in 1992 or 1993 there was a meeting with the police and local councillors at St. Leonard’s Church Hall. Cynthia Payne attended, although she didn’t speak. We chatted to her on the way out and she said that the only way to stop the problems was to legalise prostitution, but I wasn’t convinced then, and I’m still not. The police were very much on the side of the girls.

Eventually, another group, backed by a local councillor, insisted on CCTV cameras, and the women began to move away towards Brixton Hill. This would have been around 1995 or 1996.

Another, earlier campaign in Streatham was STAR – Streatham Against the Road. Campaigners, backed by local councillors, were successful in blocking a proposal to build a major road that would have had a major impact on Streatham.

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