The hand-written diaries of a long-term Collier Row resident provide the kind of personal insights that you will never read in the history books.
The remarkable memoirs of 104 year-old Louisa Alice Perris throw a unique light on the family life of an everyday girl who became a woman and survived two world wars in London and the surrounding areas.
The diaries were discovered by staff at Romford Grange care home, where Mrs Perris is now a resident. The home is in Collier Row, close to the border between Essex and Metropolitan London, an area which has for many years been popular with Londoners who are looking for a more suburban place to call home, but are reluctant to travel too far from their beloved city.
Growing up in Wartime Britain
Many of us are old enough to remember growing up during the second world war, but Mrs Perris is one of the last remaining people in the country who has memories of World War One.
She remembers the Silvertown munitions factory explosion that took place in January 1917 and claimed the lives of 73 people, and paints a vivid first-hand picture of armistice day on 11 November 1918. “We all knew something lovely had happened, because everyone was so happy. We were all sent home with a piece of red, white and blue chalk to draw Union Jacks,” she writes.
The Great Flood of 1928
In her mid-teens, the young Louisa experienced the last major flood to affect central London before the construction of the Thames Barrier some 50 years later. But again, while anyone can read the facts and figures of the disaster, her diaries present the kind of personal experience that helps us to understand what it was really like.
Living in a basement at the time, Louisa and her family were always certain to feel the full force of the flood. Yet it is impossible not to smile as we read her memories of the day: “Poor Micky our cat was clinging to the back of Mum’s basket chair which was floating round our living room.”
War and Tragedy
By the time World War Two broke out, Louisa had married and moved to Battersea. Tragically, her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and passed away in 1940 aged just 26.
Louisa has many memories of the blitz, and amid the chaos and destruction, we can see the light and hope of a young woman living her life in the most tragic and terrifying circumstances. In 1943, she met her second husband, and they went on to have two daughters.
A Life Like Any Other
Over the years, Mrs Perris’ life has been full of the everyday happiness, sadness, love and loss that is common to us all. And perhaps that is why her diaries strike such a chord in everyone who sees them.
She was widowed again in 1969 when her second husband suffered a sudden heart attack just before their 25th wedding anniversary, but today as she sits in her Collier Row home, she looks back across the years with happiness.
Both of her daughters are also have houses in Collier Row, and live close at hand. They put their mother’s longevity down to a healthy diet and no drinking or smoking.
Image: Collier Row Lane after being devastated by bombs. Photo by Peter Watt: “Havering vs Hitler”