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Filmmaker seeks Custom House tower block explosion survivors

PUBLISHED: 17:00 25 February 2017

Jean and Terry Newton's flat collapsed in the Ronan Point explosion.

Jean and Terry Newton's flat collapsed in the Ronan Point explosion.

Archant

Marrying and moving into your first home together is a dream come true for many, but for one young family the dream turned into a nightmare.

Rescue workers search debris after the collapse of a complete corner of Ronan Point, a 22 storey block of flats at Canning Town in the east End of London. Picture: Newham Archives Rescue workers search debris after the collapse of a complete corner of Ronan Point, a 22 storey block of flats at Canning Town in the east End of London. Picture: Newham Archives

It was 1968 when Jean and Terry Newton moved into their brand new flat in Butchers Road, Custom House.

Like many others, they were excited to be moving in. Future neighbours turned up to the site to see their new homes going up, sitting in their deckchairs watching 22 floors slowly rise from the ground.

The young couple, their two-year-old daughter Amanda and neighbours moved into their new homes on the eighteenth floor of Ronan Point in April. Little did they know that just six weeks later they would be leaving again - in a hurry.

On the morning of May 16 at about 5.45am, Jean and Terry’s neighbour at number 90, Ivy Hodge, went into her kitchen to make a cup of tea. She struck a match to light her stove and instantly sparked a gas explosion which blew out load-bearing walls.

With Terry on a night shift at the Silvertown factory where he worked at the time, Jean was just waking up with her daughter sleeping in her cot when it happened. In moments the 20-year-old mum was fleeing her home with Amanda in her arms.

Speaking to the Recorder, Jean and Terry’s grandson, Ricky, recalled his nan’s own recount of the story.

“Nan always speaks of running down the steps and feeling like they were going on forever. She speaks of the utter desperation to get out and the mystery of what it could be,” he said.

“And in the midst of this huge event, coming down the stairs, my mum looked up to my nan and asked for her weetabix.”

When Terry, 19 at the time, heard the news, he scrambled out of work, got onto a bus and prayed his family would be okay.

“He saw the devestation and just panicked,” Ricky said. “What had happened and were his wife and child still alive?”

But Jean and Amanda had reached the ground where in middle of the chaos people were already speculating about a cause. Was it a plane crash or an explosion in a local factory?

Little did they know at the time that the collapse, which killed four, was the result of bad building and design.

Now 25-year-old Ricky is preserving memories of the disaster by making a documentary and is seeking anyone involved to get in touch.

“It’s narrated by former residents. You don’t see them. It’s filled with shots of the area which has completely changed.

“I want the past event to have a dialogue with the present,” he said.

If you can help Ricky email rickychambers-@outlook.com or call 07429600477.

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