Plaque is unveiled in memory of devoted ‘old school’ estate campaigner, Bill Abbs

Thursday, 30th June 2011

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Published: 30th June, 2011
by TOM FOOT

HIS family remembered him as a joker in the pack and for his unbreakable relationship with his wife of 56 years, Daphne. 

But Bill Abbs was primarily known in Camden as an “old school” fighter for tenants’ rights who devoted his life to the Webheath estate in Kilburn.

A special plaque was unveiled on Friday in memory of Mr Abbs and his wife where they lived for more than 30 years. 

He was an “absolute card” and a “true guy”, said his sister, Olive. 

“He was one of 16 children – he had seven brothers and eight sisters,” she added. “He loved Daphne and she loved him. None of us kids’ marriages broke up. My mother used to say to us, ‘once you’ve made your bed, you lie in it’.”

A painter and decorator, Mr Abbs was born in 1917 and grew up in Church Street, Paddington. He was an amateur footballer and supported Queens Park Rangers. He married Daphne, a model with Marks and Spencer, after the Second World War. Mr Abbs was 83 and Daphne, who died a few months before him, was 79. 

Former Swiss Cottage councillor John Rolfe said: “Bill was an old-style trade unionist and he brought that style of energy and aspect of organisation to the tenants movements. I knew him well and he was a one-off, he was old-school.”

DMC (housing district management committee) vice-chairman Bob Miller said: “He knew everyone, and he knew who he had to jump over if he needed to get things done. When he was dying he said to me he wanted me to take on his role. And that’s exactly what I did. 

“When I saw the plaque unwrapped it brought a tear to my eye. It’s something he’d be proud of.”

Speaking in front of a crowd of around 30 people at the plaque unveiling, former DMC chairman Charlie Hedges described Mr Abbs as a “strong person” and a “character”, adding: “If there was trouble, Bill was there. Together, they did a lot of work over 30 years. Normally, with tenants and residents associations, they open and then fold, because people are not prepared to do the work. That ­didn’t happen here. 

“We wanted to do something, and there’s not much else we can do.”

Labour councillor Heather Johnson said: “They just kept on going. Even when it was a huge uphill struggle, as it is when you are dealing with Camden.”

Town Hall district housing manager Angela Spooner said: “He was a gentlemen, even when he was having a go at you. He cared about the estate. Bill was a real ­soldier.”

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