The Campbell Road series of books has been an absorbing journey for me. I have learned much about my ancestors and their toughness and resilience and I feel pride in my roots in the worst street in north London.
As children growing up in Tottenham, North London, I and my three sisters and two brothers always new that my maternal grandmother had a 'hard life'. It was some while before we fully realised how dreadful had been her upbringing in a slum in Islington nicknamed The Bunk.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s an historian began researching the social history of Campbell Road, reputed to have been the worst street in North London. He contacted ex-residents of the street and my grandmother was interviewed and her recollections incorporated into a book he was compiling. On its publication in the mid-1980s my nan was presented with a copy. By that time Campbell Road was no more. In 1937 it had changed name to Whadcoat Street and finally slum clearance in the 1950s brought about the demise of the notorious Campbell Bunk.
My nan was born in 1901, just around the corner to Campbell Road, but she remembered having moved to the street when she was still an infant. Her family resided there, in cramped rooms in various dilapidated tenement houses, untill she was a grown woman. She finally escaped in 1922 when she married my grandfather, but members of her family remained there for many more years. Her mother, my great-grandmother, lived there until the Second World War when she died in a tragic and rather mysterious accident.
The majority of bunk dwellers suffered extreme hardship like my ancestors yet some ancedotes hint at their ambivalence about the place. Community spirit and camaraderie seemed to unite them in a way that justified a wry pride in their infamy. From my grandmother's narrative it's clear her regular claim to be ' a tough old bird ' was no idle boast and undoubtedly accounted for her longevity. She was still digging her vegetable patch untill shortly before her death at the age of ninety-two.
When my beloved mum died several years ago the Campbell Bunk book again came to light among her belongings. We also discovered the first couple of chapters of a novel she'd started that had been inspired by her mothers wretched early life. As a family we became very interested in our geneaology and my youngest brother did some research into the family tree. My dad wondered if my mum's work could be continued and finished as a tribute to her and to my grandmother. I considered it a privilege to take on the task.
The Street is fiction but I have woven some of my grandmother's reminiscences and my mother's writing in to the novel and trust that the end result would make them both smile.