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Eileen Reading, ‘nutty Nanny’ born on pavement

'It was like the three wise men, except born not in the stable but on the street'

03 January, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

EILEEN Reading, who was born on the pavement when her mother unexpectedly went into labour, has died aged 89.

Affectionately known to family and friends as “nutty nanny”, she had been battling breast cancer. Eileen was born near Old Street in the early hours of November 1, 1929.

“My nan and grandad were coming home from a Halloween party,” said her daughter Elaine, who lives in Gospel Oak and works at London Zoo. “My nan had gone into labour and ended up sitting on the floor with grandad just near Old Street. Three men came along and put their overcoats over nan and waited for the ambulance to arrive. It was like the three wise men, except born not in the stable but on the street.”

During the war, Eileen and her sister, Pat, were evacuated to Dunstable, where they lived with Greville Stevens, a cricketer who played for England, and his wife Mary.

“They were nice, kind people,” said Elaine. “They lived a very full life while staying there. Mum was only 10 years old at the time. She developed a love of nature and could tell you the name of any tree.”

Eileen left school at 14 and in the 1940s worked at the Black Cat cigarette factory in Mornington Crescent. “One morning she was on her way to work when a bomb dropped in front of her and blew up a cinema in Holloway Road. Miraculously, no one died. She was in a bit of a state after that and was sent to Margate to convalesce,” said Elaine.

Eileen met her husband when she went with a friend, Rosie, to a party where she met Rosie’s son, Harry Reading.

“He was quite shy and asked my mum, who was 17 at the time, to go to the London Palladium with him,” Elaine said. “He was so nervous he rolled a cigarette with no tobacco in it and nearly set himself on fire.”

They married in 1952 at St Matthew’s Church in Oakley Square. Harry worked for Westminster Council’s emergency services, while Elaine was a cook at the Royal Veterinary College, in Royal College Street.

They lived in Crowndale Road, Fairfield flats, off Camden High Street, and Westerham flats, in Bayham Street, where Elaine was born. Both stoic in their ways, Harry, who was diagnosed with MS in 1989 when he was 63, did not want to know the details of his illness. He died before his 83rd birthday in 2009.

“We told him in the end that he had MS and he just thought it was great he didn’t have Parkinson’s,” said Elaine. Just after Harry died, Eileen discovered she had breast cancer. She told her family only three years ago. “She didn’t want to worry us,” said Elaine.

Eileen is survived by her sister Pat, 86, daughters Elaine, 52, and Aileen, 61, and grandchildren Sean, Robert, Jim, Harry and Kirsty. “We would all giggle together all the time,” said Elaine. “We had a hat made for her from Vegas that said ‘nutty nanny’ on it. She was funny and would always get the names of people messed up and do silly things.”

Eileen died on November 3 last year. The funeral took place on December 7.

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