Susan Oudot: Corrie writer with a passion for Milner Square

7 Oct

Everyone has a story. Write what you know is advice for new writers – but Susan Oudot, bestselling author and series writer of more than 50 episodes of ITV’s Coronation Street, has used this maxim to explore her family’s memories of growing up in Milner Square just off Almeida Street. The result is an evocative film of Islington life between the 1935-75, called Through The Hole In The WallInterview by Nicola Baird

Susan Oudot: xx

Susan Oudot: outside 49, where her grandparents lived. She grew up in Milner Square and still lives in Islington. © Virginia Sedia

“Both sets of my grandparents moved into Milner Square in 1936,” says Susan Oudot at Cote café on Islington Green. “Milner Square had been built for people with money in the 1840s but as time went on the smoke and coal fires meant the outside of the buildings were black and looked quite sinister. As rail travel expanded a lot of the middle class moved out of London for the clean air,” she explains.

You can watch Susan Oudot’s 51 minute film,Through the Hole in the Wall, for free on Vimeo, see this link. 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/138173028 <p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/138173028″>Through The Hole In The Wall</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user5677390″>Dan Jobar</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>”>

Through The Hole In The Wall from Dan Jobar on Vimeo.

By the 1930s the once elegant Milner Square was a tenement – buildings with many rented rooms, no bathrooms and generally one toilet for four families. Bedbugs and rodents were rife.

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“My paternal grandparents rented four rooms for their five kids,” explains Susan. “My aunt slept in the kitchen initially. People didn’t have bathrooms so they did their bathing in the sink, and the washing up and the clothes washing. They dried clothes in the back garden and hung up above the stove in the kitchen.”

By the time Susan was born conditions weren’t much different in Milner Square – nor were there washing machines or fridges. What tied families to the Square was the nearby factories, the ease of finding rentable rooms with controlled rents and the fact they liked living close to friends and family and the garden in the centre where the children could play.

 Susan Oudot: “Milner Square is very unusual – the architects were the same ones who built what is now the Almeida Theatre (1837), Roumieu and Gough - you either love it or hate it.”

Susan Oudot: “Milner Square is very unusual – the architects were the same ones who built what is now the Almeida Theatre (1837), Roumieu and Gough – you either love it or hate it.”

“I often wished I’d asked Mum and Dad about things, but both my parents are dead now,” says Susan. “But I still have my aunts and uncles around. Then I thought it would be nice to capture when all the family lived in Islington in Milner Square. If you say you live in Islington there’s an assumption that you’ve got new money and have bought an expensive house in a street that’s full of the likes of Tony Blair and Boris Johnson. I wanted to show what the area used to be like.”

Almedia Passage linking Almedia Street and Milner Square inspired Susan Oudot's film's title, Through the hole in the wall.

Almedia Passage linking Almedia Street and Milner Square inspired Susan Oudot’s film’s title, Through the hole in the wall. It’s still known as the hole in the wall.

Susan, who is part of ITV’s Coronation Street writing team and bestselling author of Real Women and All That I Am, decided to make a home movie to share with her family, but the project soon grew. “I thought it would be a shame not to show to others who remembered Milner Square. So I applied for Heritage Lottery Funding together with support from Islington Local Heritage Centre and Islington Age UK, who were interested in showing a film about Islington’s old days to use in oral history workshops.”

The 51-minute film takes us inside some of the Milner Square houses – which have high ceilings, but according to Susan are divided into much smaller rooms than when her family lived at number 41, and extended family at 9, 33, 35 and 49.

The film is like a catalyst for generating oral histories,” says Susan. “That’s why we showed a tin bath, medals and a Ration Book. People see Through the hole in the wall and then say ‘We want to make a film’ and it really helps in reminiscence therapy. It’s also being used to train people to run workshops so they can collect oral histories.”

Milner Square in 1956.

Milner Square in 1956 – back then residents didn’t have cars.

Milner Square timeline

  • 1837 – Islington Literary & Scientific Institute designed by architects Gough & Roumieu (now known as Almedia Theatre)
  • 1841-43 – Milner Square designed by Gough and Roumieu
  • 1897-1957 – British Syphon Company operating in Milner Square, see more here. The company then moved to Eastbourne, Sussex.
  • 1960 – whole square (46 houses) bought by a property developer for £77,000.
  • 1966 – Next door at Gibson Square controlled rents under threat and houses  go on the market for £8,000.
  • 1972 – Council compulsory purchases Milner Square and slowly moves families out.
Susan Oudot: “When I lived in Milner Square rooms were very spacious but conditions were not good. Now the rooms seem tiny. Local landlords who had tenants on controlled rents would use underhand tactics to get people out using winklers.”

Susan Oudot: “When I lived in Milner Square rooms were very spacious but conditions were not good. Now the rooms seem tiny. Local landlords who had tenants on controlled rents would use underhand tactics to get people out using winklers.”

Lights, camera, action
Filming was from 29 June – 5 July (2015) in searing heat. “It was the only hot week this summer, 85 degrees,” she says laughing. “But the trouble with the project growing was that we had to do things properly – get release forms, organise to film in people’s homes, buy in archive film and music. People were so lovely – in Milner Square they were out watching, Angel Studios on the corner of Upper and Gaskin Street gave us a studio to record in, our director Chiara Messineo worked like a Trojan and people like our editor Dan Jobar worked for nothing and tackled the edits after finishing his day job.” http://www.angelstudios.co.uk/

 Susan's uncle Ron Oudot said on film XXX (c) xx

Susan’s uncle Ron Oudot is one of the stars of her film Through the hole in the wall. © Virginia Sedia

On set were Susan’s uncle Ron Oudot and her aunt Pat Cox. Susan’s  husband, sci-fi novelist David Wingrove became the chauffeur. Two of Susan’s four daughters and her sister stepped in as Production Assistants. “It was much more work than I expected – I was producer, narrator and also catering for 14 people every day. I bought a lot of M&S sandwiches!”

Susan is a serious grafter – she had her first paper round at 12, was waitressing by the time she was 14 and reckons as a youngster worked in a number of Islington’s shops including M&S, Clark’s bakery, A&A Shoes, Sybil Richards and William Hill’s. Even now she has a tight cycle of writing which includes pitching Corrie story lines, writing Corrie episodes, working on novels, film and even some writing coaching. Making this film was on the list marked “and other things” – but she had a strong desire to create it because she lived in Milner Square until her parents were offered a new flat in 1972 following Islington Council’s compulsory purchased order.

“I asked on the film what word people would use to describe their time in Milner Square, and all say it was ‘happy’. Things are different when you look back and are not feeling cold or hungry, but outweighing these things was the sense of community. You had all your family around you. No one had any money, and no one had a clue that there was anything different – as your friends lived in similar conditions,” explains Susan who still lives in Islington.

Susan Oudot met Islington Faces at Cote on Islington Green.

Susan Oudot met Islington Faces at Cote on Islington Green “It’s quiet in the morning so a good place to talk.”

Places Susan Oudot likes in Islington

  • I go to Chapel Market for my fruit and veg – I worked in three or four shops as a kid and I’ve got friends who’ve got stalls. My mum shopped at Chapel Market when it was much bigger – stretching from one end to the other, but that was before Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.
  • I love Milner Square.
  • We used to go to Highbury Fields when I was at school to do sports. Then I took my daughters there for Sunday picknicking , to play tennis or swim. I do power walking and go to the gym at Highbury Fields now.
  • 20150929_113523I love Screen On the Green and had the launch of Through the hole in the wall there in September (2015). When I was kid it was The Rex and a bit of a flea pit with flashers, so we’d go to the Carlton – that’s the one that looks like an Egyptian Palace on Essex Road. But we liked it because you could bunk in at the back.
  • I have to include the Emirates – I’ve got a season ticket. Arsenal is a big part of my family.

 

Brain Coombs, former Milner Square resident, had many stories about life Through the hole in the wall. (c) xx

Brain Coombs, former Milner Square resident, had many stories about life Through the hole in the wall. © Virginia Sedia

All change
Life for Milner Square residents changed dramatically in 1972 when Islington Council made a compulsory purchase order and gradually moved people out.

“People had lived in very poor conditions,” says Susan. “When they were offered the opportunity to move into new estates [in Islington or new towns like Milton Keynes and Stevenage], into a new, self-contained flat with a bathroom, boiler and central heating they were happy. People didn’t realise they would lose their sense of community.”

Susan’s mum and dad went to the new estate at Blundell Street opposite Pentonville prison where there was no place for kids to play. Unusually her grandparents took the flat upstairs so she still had family around. But they quickly noticed that “neighbours would come home and go into their flat, that’s when people started to miss knowing everyone and the sense of community that brings.”

Where the factories used to be on the Milner Square/Barnsbury Street end.

Where the factories used to be on the Barnsbury Street end of Milner Square.

 

N1 factories
The film also captures the years when Milner Square provided many local jobs. Susan remembers watching men working molten metal until Richford Iron Foundry closed down. In the film interviewees also talk about the British Syphon Company factory at Waterloo House, just off Barnsbury Street, and shows women on piece work folding greetings cards for the Kardonia Factory, that replaced it. Both factories have been converted to housing – as has Susan’s old school, Barnsbury School for Girls.

Money talk
“With the ridiculous amounts of money being asked for flats it’s hard to imagine who can afford to live in Islington now – how can a two bed flat in Milner Square be £800,000? We’ll be seeing more and more people who’ve got money, but can’t now afford Notting Hill or Chelsea, move here. There’s so much talk about Housing Association places having to be sold off but if we don’t get more social housing built where will people on middle and low incomes in Islington live?”

It’s a question a lot of us are asking.

Given Susan’s track record writing Corrie episodes – you may remember the one where Corrie’s best-loved couple, Ron and Hayley, have to face up to pancreatic cancer and suicide – it should be no surprise that Thorough the hole in the wall manages to simultaneously take a sympathetic look at one-time Milner Square residents; inspire oral history in the borough and take a pot shot at Islington’s over-heated housing market.

Do have a look at the film, there’s a link at the top. Or write a comment below to share with other Islington Faces readers about your memories of Islington between 1935-1975.

  • Through the hole in the wall: life in Milner Square 1935-75, produced and narrated by Susan Oudot, directed by Chiara Messineo, cinematography by Andrew Dearden and edited by Dan Jobar can be watched for free at Vimeo (see link at top).
  • Join the free screening and Q&A at Islington Town Hall on 25 November at 6pm. Call 07890 992073 for details.
  • Susan Oudot has written two bestsellers set in Islington including Real Women and All That I am (Real Women 2) which were both turned into TV dramas. See her Amazon page here.
  • @sudotcorrie

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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