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My memories of serving pie-and-mash on the Green

Ahead of its radical overhaul, Sylvia Ware, who was just 14 in 1942 when she started working at the family shop at 38 Clerkenwell Green, tells how square has changed

27 October, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Clerkenwell Green in 1900. Pictures: Islington Local History Centre

IMMORTALISED by Charles Dickens as the busy market square where Oliver Twist is taught how to pick pockets by the Artful Dodger and Fagin, Clerkenwell Green is facing radical change from next year.

A public consultation on pedestrianising the area closes on Monday. This week, the Tribune spoke to a former café worker who remembers when horse-drawn carts filled the square instead of today’s cars and vans.

Sylvia Ware was just 14 in 1942 when she started working at the family shop at 38 Clerkenwell Green – above what is now Scotti’s Snack Bar.

“It was a busy place, the Green, with the factories. We sold pie-and-mash. It was basic, just for the factory workers who worked nearby. Quick and easy snacks,” she said. Cups of tea were sold for a halfpenny each.

The former Hugh Myddelton School pupil was drafted in to work at the family business after the men went off to fight in the war.

Clerkenwell Green in 1898

“My uncle Ernie had a coffee stall on the Green in the 1930s,” she recalled. “He was very well-known on the Green. There were troughs for the horses that came with their carts. They used to pull up and the drivers would come over for tea and coffee.

“His stall was right opposite the telephone kiosks by the horses’ trough. He had to put the stall away every night.”

Ms Ware said her uncle moved into premises on the Green which were destroyed by a bomb in 1941. He then moved his business, Ernie’s Snack Bar, to 38 Clerkenwell Green, where Ms Ware and her family sold hot food above the café.

“Ernie’s Snack Bar sold rolls, cakes and bits and pieces. It was next to a fish-and-chip shop and next to that was a newsagent called Cook’s. He was all right, did a good trade, sold sweets and stuff,” said Ms Ware.

Clerkenwell Green in 1968

“Almost next door to my uncle’s caff was a factory, I think called the Uniform. They made badges for the army. I’m not quite sure but that got bombed as well. The bombs were scary but, touch wood, we got out of them all right.”

Ms Ware’s father served in the RAF while her uncle Ernie’s son, who managed the café, died while serving in the Merchant Navy. Her family all hailed from Clerkenwell, apart from her grandfather, who was from Yorkshire.

Of the plans for pedestrianising Clerkenwell Green, Ms Ware, who lives in Finsbury Park, said: “I haven’t been there for donkey’s years. It sounds quite good to me but I don’t know how it will turn out.”

Clerkenwell Green took its name from Clerks’ Well in Farringdon Lane. The fresh water attracted religious communities to the area, including Carthusian monks and the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.

To view the pedestrianisation plans and to submit feedback go to www.islington.gov.uk/consultations/clerkenwell-green

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