A day at the beach
As it turns out very few people actually swam in the Thames, as paddling in the shallow water was generally preferred by the beach visitors.
And if not paddling, then Eastenders would go to their local beach and enjoy a bucket and spade, sitting in a deck chair or collecting shells, bones and bits of clay pipe.
Memories of ... paddling
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‘You’d take your shoes and your socks off and then go by the wall at the back, with your market bag or shopping bag, and then you’d get your dress, tuck it around, pull your knickers up, put your dress inside so it wouldn’t get clothes wet, and then you’d get into the water and you’d paddle. You’d paddle up to … near enough to your knees.’
'The beach was very dark grey, almost black, but this didn't bother us. My sister and I spent most of the time paddling in the Thames. There was a bit just along the edge for paddling, and we knew we mustn't step over the barrier which we could feel under the water, because on the other side it was really deep.
We couldn't see the barrier, and we couldn't see our feet and ankles either, because the water was black as ink. If we wanted a change, we all went up on the grass by the Tower, sat on the cannon, and fed stale bread to the pigeons, and I remember doing that as well, though I can't recall ever getting fed up with paddling.'
'Tide's coming in'
The tide famously caught people unawares with how quickly it came in. For about two hours each day it was low enough for people to go on the beach. It felt like much longer to youngsters.
Children would line up at the gate to the beach, waiting to be let on once the tide was low enough. Some children would find out the times in advance (their fathers being dockers), others would read the sign by the gate which listed what the coming tides would be, whist some would just turn up on the off chance that the beach would be open.
Memories of ... the tide
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The guard ‘was always there walking up and down. He used to say "come along children, tide’s coming in" and right away you just did as you’re told and you went up there. You had faith in him. He was the same man every time. And you just went up the stairs, everyone else went upstairs and that was it.’
‘I can remember the tide coming in and out. I think to begin with it was slow and then all of a sudden the waves would come in big.’
‘You spent all afternoon there … then the tide used to come in and everybody used to run upstairs to get away. It was a very narrow staircase; you know with the railings each side. Everybody rushed up in single file, upstairs, mothers pulling their children along. It was lovely that, it was nice.'
Listen to amusing, surprising and touching experiences of residents who visited the beach in its heyday.
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