33 Medway St., Westminister London SWIP

I googled to see if an image of St. Louise Hostel, 33 Medway St, City of Westminster, SW1P UK, where I lived as a young adult, could be salvaged. I got lucky with the small one here that was taken directly from street view. If one wants to see fully enlarged hostel image just click on above inserted link. One can see therein a brilliant full view of the five storied building.  Aside from the slightly unvarnished condition of the front hall door, absolutely everything about the hostel would be exactly how it was when I resided there in the seventies. It brings back so many memories. There was an annexe attached to the hostel across the road. I have a photo of a delicate woman called Miriam – who worked for the Sisters of Charity – and myself sitting on the steps outside. The Gibbon sisters and myself had an awful soft spot for Miriam and made a great fuss of her. We always cheered her up when she got bouts of depression.

I never knew anything about myself in all the years living at the hostel. I think it’s amazing how I managed to stay sane amongst all the residents, whom mostly seemed to have had contact with family members and friends, judging from the emptiness of the hostel at holiday periods. It used to eat me up at these specific times when the place became almost deserted and there were only a few odd ones like myself with nowhere to go. The darker side of my nature would take over. I found it so hard, as I never spoke to a single human being about myself, and if I did utter anything, it would have been a concocted story of sorts. I couldn’t keep track of all the invented stories as there were so many. I’m amazed that I was very well accepted by many young people there, who had so much humanity and never asked me personal questions. I now know that my erratic, eccentric giddy behaviour patterns were too apparent and the tell-tale signs that something was amiss. The religious too probably knew by my very institutional demeanour, but never said anything. In hindsight, my life at Goldenbridge would at all times have encompassed voluminous amounts of people, so being used to being swallowed up by crowds of humans would have been an inbuilt thing. One can disappear from oneself most of the time.

I could have had things going for me if I’d been educated at the time. I bluffed my way through what would have been considered really good jobs for a young person of my unmentionable institutional background. One job was in an internalised specialised library in an American International Nickel Company. I liked it very much. It was situated not very far from the hostel – beside ICI – the latter of which was not far from Westminster hospital. It was there that I first saw the Times Educational Supplement and magazines on Metallurgy and books of great similar knowledge. I also got a three course meal every day courtesy of the firm. It was far more valuable than the luncheon vouchers which office workers ordinarily got and saved for a week to get a decent lunch. I stayed one whole year in the job and was dumbfounded to have been made redundant along with everyone else. Mr. Popper – who I now surmise, may have been a Jewish man seemed to appear fascinated because I spoke German. I think that could have been the main reason why I got the job? It was then rather unusual for an average person to speak German, as I think French was the norm with British people in the educational system. I don’t really know, except to say that – if indeed that was the reason he employed me he had some kind of faith in me. Mr. Popper would have been the first Jewish man I’d have ever encountered in my life. Popper is a German name, I think? I felt so at home with the people who worked there. They were very serious, thoughtful and extremely kind to me. They obviously knew I lived in a hostel and was Irish and far from home. I went to work in another specialised library on a temporary basis after I was let go. It was in an amazing swanky environment. It had regal red-carpet going the full length of the massively wide expansive staircase. I felt like a queen going up and down them, besides it was not too far from Buckingham Palace. I remember cutting through St. James Park to arrive there. It was at 1, Carlton House Terrace. The Historical Metallurgy Society. There was a lovely gentleman professor from Russia – who quite reminds me now of our own deceased Dr. Garret Fitzgerald. I loved engaging in conversation with him because he was exceedingly knowledgeable. I remember during lunch-time he would explain the meaning of metallurgy and other technical terminologies pertaining to same, which I was absolutely clueless about before working there. The other young office temps would just snigger behind his back at every given opportunity, because of what I assumed by their actions, was that he looked just like the proverbial absent-minded professor with a strange foreign accent. They used to get on my wick with their continual condescension. I really missed the sincerity of my co-workers and boss at International Nickel company. They never engaged in snide remarks at the expense of others who were very vulnerable.

I also worked at the now defunct Abbey National Building Society that was situated in Victoria St., (opposite Army&Navy House of Fraser, that used to have special early morning opening times allocated to the Queen) but had to disappear off the scene after six months, because of not being able to produce proper educational credentials etc. As I said before, I spoofed yards about my educational background. I know that most of my contemporaries from Goldenbridge did exactly the same. We concocted stories about having the equivalent of so many A levels. When in reality we came out of our respective industrial *schools* with zilch, and were hardly able to write our own names, and were somehow deviously landing in jobs way beyond all expectations. You see, we had no use of learning to write our names, as we mostly were unsure of them, anyway, given that we were called by our numbers in Goldenbridge. We changed our names so often. One day we could be Pauline, the next day, Mary Miller and so on, what ever took our fancy. Our names meant nothing. I get sad when people call me by no name when they communicate with me. Sometimes I find myself projecting the no name back to them that it can spiral out of control.

I still have problems to this day with writing skills. I’m slowly learning though, I think, anyway. It just does not come naturally like it would if I’d have started out learning to read and write as a child. As for punctuation, I just make guesses. I’ve been jeered online for my bad punctuation, but I’m not going to apologise to anyone who was privileged to be educated. I will also pounce on those who were given that privilege, if they dare to mock or make ad hominems to get at people such as us, just because we don’t appear to live up to their privileged educational standards.

After leaving Abbey National I went to work right next door to The Woolwich – I don’t know how I managed to do that considering that I wasn’t able to produce evidence needed to be able to stay on permanently. I really liked the boss at the latter job. He was kindness incarnate. He was gorgeous looking to boot with a big mop of black shiny hair and dimples. He had wanted to make me a chief cashier, but I never lived up to his expectations. I knew that the job was only going to be temporary, as I had told a pack of lies to get it in the fist place, so what was the point in thinking ahead and trying to get on in the job. Admittedly I found that working with figures and money and dealing with people really passed the day quickly. The hardest task was getting the money in the till to tally with the figures on the foolscap paper at the end of the day. It was a skill that developed over time. I’d become very adept at it from experience achieved at AN next door. It was more sociable than the introverted job at the library. But the library was my first preference. I remember making terrible dumb excuses for being late to work at The Woolich, such as the heel of my shoe came off, which would have happened, but in another situation. I would get lectured and given warnings, but it all became futile. I knew my time would soon be up anyway. When I think upon it now, I could have made something of myself, as the opportunity to get a mortgage for a house and look after myself was right under my nose. It never would have happened at the time though, as I was not able to cope with life outside an institutional setting. I was clueless to independent living.

I remember one Sister of Charity at the hostel – who worked in the food area – was very helpful in getting those of us – who had the propensity for lying on in the mornings – up for work. She would come into our cubicles and pull the bed-clothes off us while simultaneously in a loud humorous voice roar at us to Get Up you lazy things. A vastly different set-up of course to the cruel regime at Goldenbridge where minders would reef children out of their beds and pull mattresses to the floor in anger.

I remember visiting Elizabeth Liz, my Polish friend, in a flat in Walthamstow. It was way out at the end of the tube-line. I was so utterly scared stiff out of my wits of flat-life and living on my own. It was like death itself. I feared it more than life. When Medway St. eventually closed I went on a downward spiral, as the world became the most frightening place to me. Even to this day, moving houses is a very scary experience. It brings me right back to the time when I was so lonely and alone in the world. Both those emotions are never far away at the best of times, but having a comfortable known environment takes the sting out of it. Medway St. was very good to me, but there should have been somebody to turn to then to help me to adapt to living in the outside world.

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3 thoughts on “33 Medway St., Westminister London SWIP

  1. Thank you for reminding me. I also stayed there as a young girl in 1968. Made friends. e.g. Antoinette Dowling, but Rose and Ann stayed across the road at the other hostel.

  2. Was Sr. Anthony in charge when you were there? The best friends I ever had were made at the hostel. I remember the annexe across the road very well, as I always went to visit two Irish Gibbons’ sisters who stayed in the first room that had a window facing to the front of building. They were so kind to me and Miriam, a retired vulnerable person, who had a cubicle beside them – who did little jobs for the Sisters of Charity. I’m so pleased to have a photo taken on the annexe steps with Miriam.

    I don’t remember the girls you mentioned. I was there in the early seventies. There was an older Irish woman there who worked nearby in the civil-service. Her name was Mary Manning. I think she’d been there for donkey’s years. She was a very genteel person. Would you have remembered her?

  3. oh this is weird, I remember Mary Manning, JUST, with her silver white hair if I remember rightly, though I never spoke much with her. Probably somewhat in awe of her, as she was older. I was there for my last six months in London, in 1971, sharing a room in the basement with Kathleen B. Thank you for this. Googling, and I found so little…

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