Lost loves of Redbridge

The Ilford Palais in its heyday. Picture: Barrie Phipps.

The Ilford Palais in its heyday. Picture: Barrie Phipps. - Credit: Archant

Did you while away summer at Valentines Park splashing in the swimming pool or dance the night away at the Ilford Palais? The Recorder took a trip back in time and asked our readers to revisit some of their most loved leisure features in the borough.

Swimmers using the lido in Valentines Park in the 1930s.

Swimmers using the lido in Valentines Park in the 1930s. - Credit: Archant

The Odeon Gants Hill

With an art deco facade and plush red carpets, the Odeon in Gant Hills could make you feel like a movie star – and that was just while queuing to buy popcorn.

With many of you watching your first film in the building, this was one of the most popular sites that residents spoke to us about. Lots of people had memories of the semi circular “mirror room” in the ladies’ toilets.

The Odeon cinema in Gants Hill stood for 69 years and played a large part in supporting the local co

The Odeon cinema in Gants Hill stood for 69 years and played a large part in supporting the local community. - Credit: Eastside Community Heritage

After watching a film, you could fix your hair from every angle.

Tony Longhurst said he remembers the Saturday morning picture sessions, which only cost a few pence in today’s money.

“Cost me 6d to get in, which is 2.5p,” he said.

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“Happy days.”

Water feature in the Exchange shopping centre.

Water feature in the Exchange shopping centre. - Credit: Archant

Michael Woods said: “[I remember] seeing Star Wars IV at the Odeon back in 1977 and then for five days in a row.”

Ian Malter added: “Used to go to Saturday morning pictures, also best time of my childhood, my friends and I running around trying not to be seen by the ushers.

“Remember watching films like Captain Marvel and the Lone Ranger to name a few.”

“I remember queueing up with my mother and my brother to see Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo,” added Maxine Leckerman.

The Ilford Palais, in High Road Ilford. [Picture: Copyright Mr R Swain (1983) and courtesy of Redbri

The Ilford Palais, in High Road Ilford. [Picture: Copyright Mr R Swain (1983) and courtesy of Redbridge Museum/Redbridge Information and Heritage Service] - Credit: Archant

“The manager in his purple suit would come running in when everyone was misbehaving.”


Many of you wrote in sharing fond memories about Fairheads, describing it as the go-to place if you were in the market for a new pair of net curtains.

People queuing for Fairheads

People queuing for Fairheads - Credit: Archant

Located on Cranbrook Road, in its heyday customers would queue halfway down the road for sales.

Juliette Dodd, 48, worked at the store in the ‘80s, with the role her first Saturday job. She called the staff at the family-run store “really lovely”.

“All my friends had jobs with electronic tills, but when I worked in Fairheads we had to hand write the receipts – I sneaked a calculator in under the counter to double check my maths,” said Juliette.

“We had to enclose the money with the receipt in a tube which sucked it up and delivered it to the second floor where two people worked.

“They accounted for the

money and popped the change back in the tube for us to give to the customer.

“It was done quite quickly but there could still be a 30-odd second delay waiting for the change – I was nervous using it at first in case my hand was sucked up.”

Juliette was paid £7.12 for an eight-hour day and said the shop was popular with customers.

“I enjoyed working there, the people were really lovely and we didn’t have to wear a uniform, which I thought was a bonus.”

Ilford Palais and Room at the Top

The Ilford Palais put the town on the map in the 1960s and was a popular haunt for West Ham players to dance the night away.

The club changed its name several times over the years and residents expressed their upset when the building got demolished to built flats in 2007.

Mary Bruce visited the club in the 1970s and ‘80s and said she has fond memories of boogieing with friends there.

“I used to love Ilford Palais, and remember going there at two different phases of my life,” she said.

“When I was 14 I used to sneak in, though don’t know if I should be admitting that!

“In my early 20s, the club had a different vibe, but it was still good.

“We used to get a bottle of wine if we were first on the dancefloor – we had such a good time.”

Another popular haunt was the nightclub Room at the Top.

Located in the penthouse of the former Harrison and Gibson site, partygoers had to use an elevator to access the club.

John Dodd said it had a good vibe and played lots of 1980s music.

“There were bouncers on the ground floor and they were funny about letting groups of blokes in together, even if only three or four of you,” he said.

“You had to strategically queue up amongst a group of females as they were always let in.

“You only knew your evening started once you’d got into the lift.”

The Kugel

When the Exchange shopping centre, High Road, Ilford, opened in 1991, residents were excited at the prospect of lots of stores under one roof.

Many readers recalled eating in the food court on the third floor, getting their ears pierced in Gems and Scents and picking jelly beans at Alders.

A memory which stuck with a lot of people however was the marble ball water feature, officially known as the Kugel, on the ground floor.

Marie O’Donnell said: “It drew your eye, it was a bit hypnotic. It was meant to have water but usually it was dry and it never seemed to move.”

Tal Kaur said: “I liked to go and hang out when I was younger. Shame it went, it was pretty.”

Gabar Baba called it a “brilliant place” for her and her brothers to play while her mum had a break from shopping, and Lynn Abramovici described it as a “nice feature”.

Valentines Park swimming pool

Built in the 1930s, the open-air swimming pool was the place to be in the hot summer of 1976.

Located in Valentines Park, Cranbrook Road, many a friendship and romance started there and gave young people who went to single-sex schools such as the Ursuline and Ilford County schools a chance to meet.

Caroline Cruse said: [I remember] sneaking into the Valentines Park lido and Barking lido after dark, in my misspent youth.

“Don’t know if I should admit to that.”

Marie Palmer said: “I lived at Valentines lido and in the summer top cricket teams played on the green next to it, so if the lido was full you could watch cricket.

“Valentines was my back garden.”

Maxine Leckerman has great memories spending her summer holidays there with family and friends.

“I always remember the temperatures of the pool were freezing but we still went in,” she said.

“I think summer holiday temperatures were better in those days or maybe there were less wusses around.”

For nearly 20 years, Eastside Community Heritage (ECH) has delved into the past, collecting memories and pictures from bygone times.

Executive director Judith Garfield MBE said it is important to remember past features both for wellbeing and to ensure that they are not forgotten.

“People like to remember good times, it makes them feel better and it helps younger generations understand what has happened before them,” she said.

“If we don’t remember it will be lost.

“You learn from the good things but also from the mistakes so you don’t make them again in the future.”

Ms Garfield has fond memories of meeting up with friends and using leisure facilities in the borough when she was younger.

Speaking about visiting the Odeon Cinema in Gant Hill she said: “It was a beautiful building and was always a big occasion when you went.

“It great to remember the good times I had there, (leisure activities) improved our quality of life.

“It’s important to remember them so we don’t just have housing built on all the things we liked to enjoy.”

ECH are involved in a number of projects in the borough, including documenting Hainault Forest Country Park and Jewish migration in the 1960.

If you have memories and or pictures you would like to share call 020 8553 3116 or visit hidden-histories.org.uk.