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Remember When: Misery of damp in pre-fab homes

Welcome to Remember When, which takes a weekly look back through our archives, spanning nearly 150 years, to bring you snapshots from Maidenhead's past.

Martin Trepte

1987: Freezing conditions 30 years ago were driving council tenants in dilapidated pre-fabs at Knowl Hill to desperation.

“People up here are suicidal, there’s no way anybody can live in places like this,” protested mum-of-two Mrs Donna Cloves.

She and other angry tenants from the 1940s pre-fabricated homes in Choseley Road went to the town hall to complain to the council’s housing manager over their appalling living conditions.

The families, many with young children, lived in damp, mildewed rooms where the ceilings were coming away from the walls and carpets were ruined by creeping mould.

The drop in temperature brought further misery as pipes burst, sinks froze and flimsy windows iced over.

Children living in the run-down homes, which were due for demolition, suffered from permanent colds, asthma and cried from the cold, they said.

The council was using the homes for temporary accommodation but some families had been in them for years, suffering every winter.

“My living room is always full of mould,” said Mrs Linda Pratt, whose four-year-old daughter was in and out of hospital with asthma caused by the damp.

Elaine Baxter and her husband had moved into one room with their 11-month old daughter, Tanya, to keep warm. The tot had been admitted to hospital with bronchitis.

“We moved into the living room because the other rooms were too cold and the smell of damp drove us out,” said Mrs Baxter.

The only heating in the pre-fabs was a coal fire in each sitting room.

But their protest at the town hall appeared to fall on deaf ears.

Housing manager Peter Allkins said no immediate action would be taken but he would be visiting the pre-fabs to ‘see for himself’.

He told the Advertiser “We’re getting an awful lot of cries for help from tenants because of the big freeze,” he said, adding the council planned to rehouse the families and demolish the pre-fabs in the summer.


Goodies galore with the Grimm cast

1982: It was a case of the traditional goodies versus the baddies at the town hall 35 years ago (no irony intended) as the Grimm Players staged their production of Hansel and Gretel.

Running for a week and based on the fairy tale, the show was penned by Maidenhead musician Ian Simmons and fitted with the group’s policy of alternating between popular hit shows and original productions.

TV personality Michael Barratt, of Nationwide fame, and his wife Dilys were special guests on the opening night.


‘Super’ new unit opened at St Mark’s Hospital

1977: Maidenhead’s new outpatients department at St Mark’s Hospital finally opened its doors - nearly seven months behind schedule.

The overall cost was put at £400,000 but the first patients through the door seemed impressed with the new Courthouse Road unit. Margaret Dey, who had brought a relative to the unit, said: “It’s terrific. The old place was depressing and you can park when you get here. It’s super.”

Facilities included a special machine for head x-rays, a pharmacy and a pathology lab.

Hospital administrator John Boutall said: “Our worst problem this morning is people not knowing where to go. But we are also getting people coming here for casualty. That department is still at St Luke’s.”


Underage alcohol abuse on the agenda

1977: Increasing problems of teenage drunkenness and underage drinking in the area 40 years ago prompted youth leaders to call a special meeting.

Stories of 14-year-olds using pubs as regulars and of teenagers arriving drunk at youth club discos abounded at the meeting.

Teachers took too little notice if a schoolboy turned up incapable of working because of a lunchtime drinking session, they said.

And they accused pubs and off-licences of turning a blind eye to under-age customers, and even of encouraging them.

Magistrates clerk Alfred Gibbs backed up the suspicions.

He said: “At every annual licensing meeting the justices will say something about drinking by young people but I don’t think it makes the slightest difference.”

And even police revealed there was little they could do. Inspector Brian Titmus said there was no law to stop a child over the age of five having a drink, or anyone over 14 going into a pub – if they did not drink.

A further problem was police were not entitled to carry out routine checks in pubs to see if they were breaking the law, he said.

It was decided to have a public meeting bringing together youth workers a publicans to find a solution.

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