Friday, 16 June 2017

Don't look back ... thoughts after finding Looking at Eltham, 1970

Front cover showing the High Street
Now Eltham is a long way from Chorlton but it was where I grew up and occasionally I am drawn back.

It is in south east London and was once in Kent.

It has an old Tudor barn long since converted into a restaurant, a medieval palace and a lot of my own personal history.

And I am back here again because of a tiny booklet dating from 1970 which I had entirely forgotten I had.*

I guess I must have picked it up on one of those trips to see the family and brought it back with me.

It was produced by the Eltham Society and was designed as a mix of history and current descriptions of the place.

But it is now 44 years old and so the contemporary accounts have themselves become old and dated which in its way makes it as much of a then and now publication as any which set out to mark the passage of time.

The High Street in 1910
And that is why I have come back to it, because here is a perfect time capsule, continuing old pictures of the High Street with what were once contemporary but are now also a record of an old Eltham long gone.

All of which is interesting enough to the historian but what is really fascinating is the section on  THE FUTURE for here the writers have taken the present and with a backward glance at past developments have speculated on how Eltham will change.

The High Street in 1970
What struck me was the preoccupation with the impact of the motor car both in the form of parking and congestion and of the coming motor ways.

"The motorways are not yet with us but the process of land acquisition is well advanced and corrugated hoardings and partly wrecked houses are already blighting our streets.  

It remains to be seen whether a town can survive the devastating experience of enormous engineering works which, when completed will draw a tight noose around its heart.”**

Of course the area did survive and remains a popular place to live and for many people they will not know any different.  And those like my sisters and friends who stayed have embraced the changes and still enjoy living there.

But when you are just a visitor it is different because although I missed most of the blight and certainly all of the building work when I do return I find the transition a bit odd and more than a little disconcerting.

It is a bit like someone has taken your best toy or better still your best memory and altered them.  Not enough to totally eliminate them but just enough to make them seem out of kilter with what was.

Advert for H.C.Payne
All of which is perhaps the best reason for not going back.

As they say nostalgia is a cruel thing which messes up the present and spoils the future.

H.C.Payne at 116 Eltham High Street was where I bought my first sports jacket, skinny knitted ties.  It was a place I loved and it is now a restauraunt.

So I will stick with the Eltham of 1970, after all I know what it was like I still have the book.

Location; Eltham, London

Pictures; from Looking at Eltham, Eltham Society 1970.  I haven’t asked them for permission to use the images and quote from the book but I hope they won’t mind.

* Looking at Eltham, Eltham Society 1970.  

** ibib page 55

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