Tom Clatworthy, cabinet maker's story
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( TOM CLATWORTHY, CABINET MAKER )

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INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS

THE INTERVIEW

I’m Tom Clatworthy and I’m a cabinet maker. I grew up in Hastings, London and Suffolk. I was in Hastings from 1959, when I was born, until 1971. I lived with my dad for a bit, then I moved to Suffolk with my mother ’til 1977, then I moved in with my dad here. My dad was a sculptor and my mum was a mum.

Did your dad have a good relationship with the area?

Yes, he was here for quite a long time. He moved here because he was a sculptor and in those days rent was very cheap. He had this house and a studio in the railway arch just at the bottom of Park Street, after the cafe. I feel the way places go downhill is artists move into an area because it’s cheap, then you get artists with money. Media people come after that, because they think it’s trendy, and after that you get the rich people who don’t take any part in the community but who like to say they live there. That’s what you’ve got round here now: lots of expensive flats but you don’t know any of the people because they go off to their country houses at the weekends and they’re scared of going to the local pub in case someone says something to them. The community spirit of the area has been killed.

"There was a lot of horseplay at work, it was fun. For example, there was an old boy who used to come and sweep up in here once a fortnight, earn himself a few bob. Someone had the bright idea of cutting off a little bit of his broom handle, a half inch every now and then. By Christmas he had a little hand brush!"

Do you remember your first encounter with the area?

That would have been when I was really quite small. It would have been on the weekends; the market would be very busy when you got up in the morning and then everyone would have been gone by 10 or 11. I remember at that time you could do what you like, like having a whole game of football on a Saturday afternoon, and you wouldn’t see a soul.

This corner of London remained undiscovered until the mid-80s, as it wasn’t on the way to anywhere; now it’s a shortcut to get to the Millennium Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern. When I was a kid, it was mainly disused warehouses all along the river and no one came round unless you lived here, so you pretty much knew everybody you bumped into.

Was the market then just wholesale?

Yes, the market was just wholesale, working all through the night. No one wanted to live here because there were lorries delivering from the afternoon right through until two o’ clock in the morning, after which the market started. In those days, the whole of Park Street was full of market stands. You’d come out in the morning and there’d be fruit and veg stacked up the length of the road with a little pathway to get out of your front door; the men rattling about with their barrows and shouting. It used to be good fun.

So your first memory is a Saturday afternoon?

Saturday afternoons were dead quiet. It would be really busy if you came on a Friday, as there would be lorries arriving all through the night and then the greengrocers would come in the morning. But by 10 or 11 o’clock, it was quiet. We used to sunbathe in the street and have big street parties. That was possible until the 80s, but after that Sainsbury’s killed off all the greengrocers, and once they were gone there was no need for the wholesale market.

Can you remember any particular sounds and smells from back then?

The main sounds were the traders and porters shouting. They all used to use the old market barrows that made rattling sounds. Those eventually went when forklift trucks replaced them. The smells were mainly fruit and vegetables. I do remember one incident when all the dustmen went on strike and there were piles of rubbish for weeks on the corner. There were mountains of rubbish and that didn’t smell too good!

What was your first job in London?

After I came back to live with my dad I worked for an antiques dealer, repairing antiques over in Hampstead for a little while. Then I worked for a neighbour in his building firm when I was nineteen. After that I worked for a firm in the market that did bank fitting; they had a workshop where Konditor & Cook [bakery] is now. We used to do city work like fitting out banks and making reception counters. That was thirty yards from my house yet I was always late!

Where were your colleagues from?

There were some who came in from the East End and some from further south. There were a couple of blokes who lived in Bermondsey, just down the road. But they all lived in London; there was no one coming from far away.

There were two or three West Indian fellas but I think they’d always lived in London, apart from Godfrey. He was quite a lot older than me so he would have come over in the 50s. He was from Jamaica. He was a funny old boy; he liked a drink, like everyone in those days! We used to go to the pub every day from that job at lunchtime.

"I don’t envy kids at all [these days] as I don’t think they are getting the chances I had. I was lucky enough to get a proper apprenticeship, taught by blokes that cared about you learning their trade. But now there doesn’t seem to be any proper apprenticeships."

What’s your most vivid memory from that time?

Work was fun. There was a lot of horseplay. For example, there was an old boy who used to come and sweep up in here once a fortnight, earn himself a few bob. Someone had the bright idea of cutting off a little bit of his broom handle, a half inch every now and then. By Christmas he had a little hand brush and he never actually noticed the joke we were playing on him!

Where’s your workshop now?

It’s on Druid Street, about 20minutes walk past Tower Bridge Road. It’s in one of the disused railway arches. The area is changing fast because every little square foot of space is having flats built on it. Unfortunately they are not for local people to live in; they are flats for rich people to buy for investment. That area is being gentrified as well and it’s probably not for the better. I realise I’m also getting older and becoming less tolerant. If I were 20 again I’d probably think it was brilliant, but I’m well past that so I don’t!

How has that change affected your working life?

Work-wise, it’s not affected me at all – if anything, there’s more work for me because I work on my own now for the new businesses around here. It’s probably made my life easier.

The original cabinet-making firm I worked for went bust in the end after they got too big. I’ve been self-employed most of the time since. For the last 15 years I have just worked for myself or sub-contracted off other firms. It’s what I’ve always done since I left school, since I was 16. It’s the only thing I know: working with wood!

I don’t envy kids at all [these days] as I don’t think they are getting the chances I had. I was lucky enough to get a proper apprenticeship, taught by blokes that cared about you learning their trade. But now there doesn’t seem to be any proper apprenticeships.

What do you think has been the biggest change about the area that you live and work in?

I suppose the biggest change is the large influx of people who don’t seem to have anything to do with the community. Also, there are so many people around here that you don’t get the chance to know anybody. You don’t really see your neighbours whereas before you’d see them all the time. The neighbours that I know now are the ones that I’ve known for twenty years or longer. Although there is still a community here, it’s not as tight as it was.

The pubs have all changed, too. They’re not like proper pubs, really; they’re all themed in some way or too full of people. God, I sound like a miserable old git, don’t I? But you’ve got to realise the whole area was different when I was younger - more Dickensian and much more fun. The pubs round here, like the Wheatsheaf next door, would be [full of] locals in those days and the odd people who’d ventured from the city who knew about it. It’d be a mixture of people but you knew all of them.

What do you hope for the future of the Southbank?

I hope everyone goes home and leaves me alone for about a month, that’s what I really hope for! There are too many people; you can’t fit any more people in this little bit. I think now they’ve opened up bars and restaurants in every little space there is, though, so perhaps it will level off.