Oral History Interview - Mick Goldstien

image w2019-1_mick_goldstien_supporting_image


Audio file


Oral History Interview - Mick Goldstien


Cassette Tape
Digital file (.mp3)
Digital file (.wav)


Audio recording of an oral history interview with Mick Goldstien. In this interview, Mick describes Jewish youth clubs in London (e.g. the Hackney Boys Club), their employment in the local tailoring industry (Simpsons) and their experiences in the Second World War.


Q. OK. I think the best way of kicking off is, I'm going to ask you to say your name, date of birth and place of birth

Mick Goldstien (MG). Well my name is Goldstein, Mick Goldstein, and I was born in Mile End on the 5th of April 1919.

Q. And can you tell me about your family background, where did your family come from?

MG. My mother's family came from Holland. My father's family had been in the north of England, possibly for fifty, sixty years prior to my birth, and I think it was Hull, his own background. I don't know the circumstances which led to their ending up in Mile End. Family-wise, there were seven brothers and sisters, I was the youngest. At the time we moved away from Mile End I was the only one at home, and we moved away, my mother remarried, at that stage we moved to Hackney, to Wetherell Road, but shortly after moving to Wetherell Road, which is near the park, we moved.., near Victoria Park, we moved into Caughley[phonetic] Road which was a road which was literally almost inside the park.

Q. Can I just go back and ask you to tell me your parents', your father's occupation, and their names as well?

MG. My father's name was Henry, he died when I was seven. He was a cabinet maker by profession, but unfortunately in the First World War he suffered from gas poisoning, developed TB, and like so many of his contemporaries, ultimately died of that. Most of my brothers with one exception... No... Yes, most of my brothers and sisters were in various aspects of the rag trade I suppose one would call it. One brother who had a very good singing voice became a professional, this was my eldest brother, but had mainly worked [INAUDIBLE] for the rest of his life. Another became a window dresser, still connected with the rag trade indirectly. In my own case, I left school at fourteen, I went to work at Simpson's in Stoke Newington, ostensible to learn cutting; I learnt very little, but that was down to me, not to Simpson's.

Q. Do you know why the family moved from Mile End to Hackney?

MG. Well as I say, by the time we moved to Hackney, my brother and sisters were either married or living away from home; my mother remarried. The area which we lived in Mile End wasn't all that salubrious, and it was appropriate that we bettered ourselves, I think that's how it would be looked at, by moving to Hackney, which was not regarded then as part of the East End in the same way.

Q. And what... how did you notice that?

MG. Well I would have been, round figures, roughly fifteen when I moved to Hackney, I had no... this would have been in the early months of 1935. I had no Jewish background, and in those first few months my time was spent partly between the three cinemas in Hackney, I think it was the Empress half-way up Mare Street, the Pavilion at the other end, and then there was the largest one at the junction of Mare Street and Well Street; between those three, the library in Mare Street, and Victoria Park.

My real introduction to the Jewish side came almost by accident. I didn't really know any other youngsters in Hackney at that time, and one early summer evening I walked over to a place called me Well Street Common, where there were some boys playing cricket on a gravel area, with three stumps in a wooden base, and they saw me watching and said, 'Would you like a game chum?' and I said, “Yes”. And it so happened they were Jewish boys. It was as coincidental as that.

Oh this went on for some months during the summer, and the father of one of the boys, a man named Barney Rosenberg, who became Barney Roland [H.B.Roland], called us into his home one evening, which was just, Meynell Crescent - no Meynell Gardens, yes, Meynell Gardens, which was just on the comer of Well Street Common, you may know it. And he called us in and asked us if we would like him to form a boys' club. And we said yes. And he gathered in some younger boys from the local Hebrew classes in King Edward's Road, and then, that's how Hackney Boys Club started.

Initially we met for a few months in, behind a sweet shop-cum-grocery shop in Well Street, opposite the school, the South School I think it was called, in a large room at the back. But then after just a month or two we moved into, met on Sunday afternoons only in what was then Devonshire Road Synagogue, almost opposite what was then the well-know Devonshire boxing hall. It was called Devonshire Hall actually. And that really was my introduction to it.

Q. Was there any sort of Jewish youth groups in Hackney at that time that you could have joined?

MG. Well as far as I can recall, one or two of the movements, for example I think Habonim had started a group of, I think Habonim only started about 1926 or thereabouts, but they had formed a group in Hackney, because I know that we had a little bit of a battle with them at the old Brenthouse Synagogue hall, who should use it, Habonim or us. There were... there were one or two other clubs nearby, Jewish clubs, I think the Harmony Club may have still been going in Upper Clapton Road. I don't...can't... I can't think of another Jewish club that was about. There may well have been one associated with one or other of the smaller synagogues, but I can't recall that.

Q. Yes, just going back, one thing, you mentioned about, you didn't have very much of a sort of Jewish background. Why was that?

MG. Well I think it's one of the old...one of the repetitive stories that happen so often, the father dies when the family is young, there is no other immediate family beyond the brothers and sisters, and it just didn't happen. Oh, obviously I knew I was Jewish, and to some extent we observed the festivals and so on, but there was no sense of, real sense of community; I didn't know many other Jewish people for example. But, I owe a lot to the Hackney Club.

Q. Just to get a kind of, a comparison, because obviously fourteen, fifteen is a, you know, you're sort of entering your adolescence. Just as...I'd like to get a sense of what it was like being in Hackney as opposed to the East End. What sort of things, what impressions the area gave to a young boy, as com...you know, was there a comparison, were you making comparisons, were there different, noticeable differences about living in Hackney as opposed to the East End of London?

MG. I think I found it quieter. Having immediate access to Victoria Park, I found myself using open. spaces very much more. And I found myself becoming more aware of the sporting activities if you like, not in the overall sense, the sporting activities that one associated with a place like Victoria Park, I remember before the war for example all the cricket pitches. There was one cricket pitch which was known as the special, it was set apart from the main area of the tables, it was almost like a private ground, and I would often sit home in Caughley Road, we could just look out of the window at the games going on at the special pitch. Then of course there was the Lea there, there was the ponds, the gardens: it was quite, rather a different atmosphere. It used to be an effort to go from Mile End to Victoria Park when I lived in Mile End; being there was quite different.

Q. Can you tell me about the home, your own home? Can you describe it to me? I'd love to get a sense of what the house would have looked like.

MG. Well, we lived in Mile End in buildings, I say buildings, they were regarded as the buildings, in that the boys across the street, well we shouldn't really play with the boys from the buildings.

Oh, it really was an area of want. I can remember that a lot of people in the building, my own family included, had in those days to, if they wanted some help they had to go and see the relieving officer. As you know, things were very heavily means tested; if I recall the relieving officers' offices was in Bancroft Road in Mile End, and they would send somebody round, and if there was five in the family and you had six or seven chairs, you had to sell one chair first. The money lender in the building was known as Blind Shine [phonetic], and to give you the kind of atmosphere, opposite the building there was the billiard hall, where the leader of the gang was known as the Angel.

Then there was a mews, and then there was a workhouse. And these men in grey suits would go out during the day from the workhouse, and at the risk of sounding cynical, the next, a little bit further than the workhouse was the graveyard.

This sort of joking story, life in the buildings. I say everyone was short; the story I like to tell, I was only a kid at the time, but I still recall it being recounted to me, as I say my father died when I was young, and a friend of the family was a local councillor named Jerry Lyons [phonetic], and if anyone in the buildings had a problem, they would come to my mother and say, 'Can you ask Jerry Lyons to advise us?' And on this occasion the rent collector had been round, and he had collected from twenty or so people, taking their books to write them up, and then he had scarpered you see with the money, and the rent book. So they came to my mother and said, 'Look, can you ask Jerry Lyons to advise us what to do?' So Jerry Lyons came round, listened, said, 'It's easy. Everyone in the building, you all destroy your rent books, you've all paid.' And, you ask what life was like. Gives a little bit of an idea I suspect.

Q. How did your family afford to move to Hackney from the buildings, you know...?

MG. It was just rented accommodation. It was just a flat in a house.

Q. And tell me about the house in Hackney, just, as a sort of comparison?

MG. Oh, it was very very much better than the buildings in Mile End. It was...there were three flats in a terraced house overlooking, the corner overlooking Victoria Park.

Q. Can you describe your room? I'm just trying...I'm asking... I just want to get some details.

MG. I don't think I remember it that well. I had a room, that was the difference I think.

Q. And tell me about school.

MG. Well I went to a church school initially, and then to a school called Knapp Road in South Grove. I left at fourteen, and then went to Simpson's [INAUDIBLE), and I was a slow learner, I wouldn't...it wasn't really my scene.

Q. How did you get a job at Simpson's?
MG. Oh as so many did in those days, one of my brother knew one of the foremen. And a lot of people... Simpson's was actually founded by Alec Simpson, who was an old Oxford & St. George's boy, and a lot of the senior people at Simpson's were either from Oxford & St. George's, O. & St. G., or Keynes [phonetic] in Bethnal Green, And if you were a member, you didn't...sometimes I suspect, I don't know, it helped if they knew you were a member of a boys' club.

Q. So where exactly was Simpson's?

MG. Along Kingsland High Road, opposite the old, what was then the old Alexandra, I think it was called Theatre. About half-way between Dalston Junction and Church Street.

Q. Do you remember your first day?

MG. Well, frightened out of my wits. Moving into an adult world, my word!

Q. What did you have to do?

MG. Well they... I'm no giant now, but I was much smaller then, and there were machines in which you had a ticket and you had to put the sleeve of a garment in and pull a treadmill, press until the ticket was sewn on. It was all very complicated.

Q. So how did you learn how to do this? Was someone teaching you or were you just...?

MG. Well, that didn't take a lot of teaching.

Q. So how long did you survive at Simpson's for?

MG. Well I stayed there until the war broke out. Before the war there was a Militia Act. When it was realised war was coming they introduced an Act whereby anyone who was 20 on the 1st of April '39, I was on the 5th, registered for six months. I registered for six months but they kept me rather longer. But I wasn't called up till October.

And then after the war I went back to Simpson's just for a few months, and like again lots of ex-servicemen, milled around for a couple of years trying to make up my mind what to do, and what opportunities there were.

Q. And going back to Simpson's, could you describe the work environment, you know, as a place to work, and the sort of things you were doing and how many people you would be working with?

MG. It's a large factory, I mean, there must be, must have been hundreds of people working there. I worked in the cutting room; I don't know, I'm guessing to some extent but I would have thought there would have been a hundred or more people working on that floor. There was a fairly happy atmosphere I think. It had the cutting room on the top floor and then the machines and others down below. I was too young to really appreciate when you asked me what the atmosphere was there, but I had no unhappy memories of it.

Q. Did you have to join a trade union?

MG. It wasn't compulsory, but I did join, yes. But again, I didn't really know much about what I was joining.

Q. And what about social life at that this point? What sort of things would you do after work? Can you sort of describe... What would be nice is, describe a week, a sort of typical week in your life at that time.

MG. Well by the... if you've talking about the time for example when the club was formed, things became very different, not just for me but for, over the years thousands of Jewish boys, and ultimately girls, in Hackney.

The club initially as I say just met Sunday afternoons, and after a while they moved to a school in Well Street, I think it was called the Southborough School. We met there two or three times a week, and for most of us, if it met two or three times a week, then two or three nights a week you went to the club. And when they had their own building, by London Fields, that was the only, the latter part of 1939, it was five nights a week, most of us went there five nights a week, it really was the major factor in our lives.

It was initially a boys' club only, and then they amalgamated with, not amalgamated, another club, North London Girls Club which met in Amhurst Road I think, they came in, and in theory you then had twin clubs. The theory was, the girls were on one floor, the boys were on another, there was an intermediate floor which boasted a canteen and another room, and after all activities finished you met in the middle. It never quite worked that way as you can imagine. But, most of us, we spent four or five nights a week at the club, and friendships of those days exíst still now. And whereas when I first moved to Hackney my time was spent between the cinemas, Victoria Park and the library; cinemas became less frequent, the library, perhaps still so, but most of the leisure time at the club and in activities, and sponsored and arranged by the club. Again in those days, I mean you had the annual club camp, and most of them, if they didn't go to the annual club camp, they didn't have a holiday.

Q. Where was the camp?

MG. We joined with, it was at Swanage, we... Stepney Lads Club, which was, that was formed in 1901 – 1900 I think actually, on the first of January 1900. Stepney Lads Club started the camp, and as years went by Northwest Boys Club was formed and they joined with Stepney to the Swanage camp, then Stamford Hill Club, and Hackney, our first year we had one tent only, and the four clubs joined in this camp at Swanage. I went there from 1935 to 1939 inclusive. And the camps continued until well after the war. But when the war broke out, or about to break out, the girls' club was formed, and then over the years the club became a mixed club, in other words no longer trying to segregate us, and we had an all boys and girls club, became Hackney Associated Clubs. I can take you on from there but I...I think it would probably bore you.

Q. The Hackney Boys Club when it first started, could you describe the activities, when you first got together as a group of boys?

MG. Well when we first got together, forget the first month or so with the room behind the store; when we first met at Brenthouse Synagogue it was Sunday afternoons only, so you tended to have one main activity and then another area in which you had table-tennis, socialising generally, and, the members were gradually given them more and more responsibility. But once they moved into their own building, then it became, as most clubs of those days, activity-orientated, and you joined, you were expected to take at least two activities a week, and you pledged to do so, you signed to do so.

And then there was the social life attached to the club, the various sports activities, the social activities. Going back to the early days in Hackney, a lot of people of my generation and perhaps a further I suppose ten, fifteen years younger, when they all, when they tried to learn ballroom dancing, I never succeeded, but I tried, and there was a place in Hackney, in Hackney Narrow Way there was a Montagu Burton's, and above Montagu Burton's there was Barry's Dancing Classes, and if you speak to people of my generation and a little later in Hackney, you are almost bound to find that a great number of them learnt their ballroom dancing at Barry's.

Q. How did Barry's work, what would you do, you know, from a novice, how did you go from a novice to an accomplished dancer?

MG. I have to tell you I was a novice then and I'm a novice now. You paid so much for an evening session, and I think, my memory's not all that good, but I think a dozen of us would lined up, and a couple would show us the steps, and then fraught with fear we would try them, sometimes failing. I think Barry in his own way played an interesting role over a short period in a lot of youngsters' lives in Hackney.

Q. And did you dance to a live band, or...?

MG. No no no. Usually to records. It wasn't as sophisticated a dancing class as that.

Q. And obviously it was essential to learn ballroom dancing.

MG. Oh yes, it was ballroom dancing in those days. I was never any good.

Q. Where would you go for your dancing? Were there any particular clubs?

MG. I have to tell you the only place I ever went dancing was occasionally if at club we had a dance, but a lot of them would go to places like the Royal in Tottenham, or they'd chance their arm at the Hammersmith Palais I suppose, but, I played cricket.

Q. In 1935 when the Hackney Boys Club started, you know, was it important that it was a Jewish club, rather than joining a, you know, joining a Boys' Brigade or something like that or a non-Jewish...?

MG. Oh yes, it was, it was started as a Jewish boys' club. It was not a closed club, there were a handful of non-Jewish members. There was no quota or anything like that, that would have been dreadful. No, you had a small number of non-Jewish boys who joined, almost certainly because they were friends with a Jewish boy at school or otherwise, and they spent their leisure time together. I can never remember any real problem with that at Hackney. But you know, that Hackney club is digressing a little I suppose. I say Hackney, the Hackney Boys Club, then Hackney Boys and Girls Clubs, then Hackney, when the old boys and girls' club was formed, Hackney Associated Clubs.

And the next main change was, there was a club in Bethnal Green, Keynes[phonetic] in Bethnal Green, which was formed in 1924, but with the movement of the Jewish community away there was no longer a need for a Jewish boys' club there, and so Keynes in Bethnal Green amalgamated with Hackney, this became Keynes & Hackney Associated Clubs. They left... the management of Keynes, Bethnal Green was almost entirely Jewish; they left a non-Jewish club at...at the site, they met in a school, and most of the management stayed with the club, and it continued until about ten years ago. So you then had Keynes & Hackney Associated Clubs, and the last move of all was with the continued movement away from the East End, the Stepney Jewish Lads Club, which as I say was formed, I think it was the 1st of January 1900, it was gradually losing its Jewish character. And so they joined with the Keynes & Hackney Association of Clubs to form a new club in the borough of Redbridge, which was initially called the East of London Jewish Youth Club, but that obviously in no way indicated what the club was truly about. It subsequently changed its name to the Barkingside Jewish Youth Club, which is now about thirty years old or thereabouts.

Q. Was there, do you think, a particular role of the club, you know, for the youngsters, was there a... did it have a motto, did it have a vision of any sort?

MG. Oh yes, it firstly gave very much more responsibility to lots of youngsters than we had ever experienced. It broadened our outlook in all sorts of ways. As well as having to discharge the responsibility with our peers, we developed relationships through the management structure with a wide variety of adults, if you like you can say the local bank manager and the local dustman, from all fields, and that itself was an education. The various activities in some cases led to people taking up professions in the field that the interests of the club had brought to them.

In those days, and one couldn't get away with it now, because it would be looked upon I suspect as politically incorrect, the club managers would keep a record of when boys were due to, or girls for that matter, were due to leave school; they would make a point of having a chat with them six months before to see if there was any way the club could help in a field they wanted to go. As I say, that might not be deemed appropriate now, but it was very much...and it was very valuable.

It also, not so much in my case but in some of the other boys who had no, very little contact with the wider community, as I say I didn't have that kind of background, all the Jewish clubs of those days were encouraged to belong to the appropriate non-Jewish organisation in London, you would have the London Federation of Boys Clubs, which was originally the London Federation of Working Lads Clubs, and you had a counterpart in the girls' side, the London Union of Girls Clubs. Hackney was affiliated to those, and so you came into contact with a wide, non-Jewish community as well, which was healthy, and you took part in, mainly festival type of activities, which were held mid-week, because a lot of the Fed's activities would have been held on Saturdays, and so you took part in a wide number of activities, which was broad in itself.

Again I jokingly say that the first time I ever met an alien was through the club; the club was formed in 1935, and we were affiliated to the London Fed, and through them... no, through the A.J.Y., to the National Association of Boys Clubs, we had an annual four-or five-day camp, and a couple of boys from each federation were invited to this camp and I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the Fed, London Fed boys. And in my tent there was somebody from the Channel Islands, there were somebody from Edinburgh, there was somebody from Yorkshire. I had never met anyone outside London, it was quite an experience. So it served a great purpose.

Q. And the building, the purpose-built building, was it purpose-built, the building in London Fields, or...?

MG. Not purpose-built; it was converted. It was a hostel where, hostel-cum-warehouse I think, which belonged to Wickham's in the East End, and the building itself was purchased with the aid of an organisation called the Jewish Youth Fund, you may have heard of them. The Jewish Youth Fund make capital loans to, and gave others support as well, to Jewish youth organisations, mainly clubs and the brigade, to enable them to move into their own premises. In most cases the freeholder remained with the Jewish Youth Fund, so that if there was no longer the need for a club in that area they could encourage and help them to move to a more appropriate area.

It was a luxurious building compared...I mean we had only met in the synagogue, or in a school room remember, you had the three floors, and you had classrooms and offices on one floor, you had the canteen, and lounges. Not luxurious but enough. And those classrooms, oh it was a home to... There must have been at its peak, three or four hundred, probably more, several hundred members of the various clubs meeting there, and most evenings you would probably have 150, 200 from the various clubs.

Q. Where actually was... I'm trying to...

MG. By London Fields.

Q. Whereabout, where... What was the actual street called?

MG. Something Terrace is it? Martello, Martello Street.

Q. How did you recruit, how did youngsters get to know about the club?

MG. Well there was a large Jewish community in Hackney in those days. Bearing in mind we started at what was then Devonshire Road shul; the synagogue made it more and more known, and word of mouth through school and other places, and they just flooded in. There had been another club formed, I think a year before, at Stamford... Well no, not formed, they had moved into their own premises, the Stamford Hill Club, which had attracted some people from Hackney, but they weren't really in competition with each other. There was Northeast London, Maccabi, and the Upper Clapton Road, but I'm not sure when they... I don't think they were going at the time.

Q. And the Jewish Lads Brigade I presume.

MG. The Brigade had units in various, in a variety of synagogues mainly and schools. And there was a close relationship between the AJ.Y. and the Brigade.

Q. And you talk about the Jewish community in Hackney at that time. I suppose I'm just asking a general question, so it's mainly, mainly for people who aren't familiar. But in what..,can you just give me a sense of the community?

MG. Well let me relate it to club again if you like. The annual club camp, you always had your services, and for some youngsters I suspect it was the only services. At club you always had, you ended the evening with an assembly, you always had your Jewishi prayers, you had your non-denominational prayer as well. But there was... the festivals were all celebrated in a variety of ways by the clubs, and indeed overflow services were often held in the club. Many people broke their fast in the club, as years went by. And it became on a par with many of the major East End clubs, like Brady, Oxford. Stepney and so on.

Q. What synagogue did you go to? Did you...?

MG. No, I was never a synagogue-goer. I'm a member of a synagogue in Clapton. I go to Brenthouse Road, because of club functions, and I know most of the senior wardens and others there at Brenthouse, and I know a fair amount about what went on at Brenthouse, but again through the club.

Q. Actually just going back a bit, because I didn't actually get your mother's name and what she did.

MG. Her name was Kate. I don't know what she did before she married, I only knew her as a mother and a housewife.

Q. And did you know... And her surname, original?

MG. Her original name was Hilson [phonetic], a good Dutch name. There were a number of aunts and uncles, I didn't know all that well, also Hilsons, mainly.

Q. And there's a question about the Jewish community itself. You talk about the club, but also, I suppose, can you take me through a main thoroughfare, like Mare Street or Dalston or Kingsland Road, just to get me a sense of how Jewish those would have been in the 1930s, you know, as far as the sort of, the shops, the sort of, the flavour of the community itself. Were there any parts of Hackney that had a very Jewish feel, whether it was sort of Ridley Road or whether it was parts of...?

MG. Not so much Ridley Road. As you moved towards some of the roads leading into Stoke Newington, Richmond Road and others, and there was the Richmond Road shul, there was the Dalston shul which would also I think have come under Hackney. Within the, not the immediate areas, but in...you could almost draw circles I suppose, you'd find the Jewish community, but by and large I think it was fairly interspersed. Places like King Edward's Road and Victoria Park Road, and Lauriston Road to a lesser extent. Victoria Park Road, the part going towards Mare Street, not the part going towards Hackney Wick; Victoria Park Road, King Edward's Road, there were a substantial Jewish communities in those particular roads, indeed they were the common walks for the Jewishi boys when club was closed.

Q. Tell me about that,

MG. Well, if the club was closed for some reason then you always knew you would meet some of the club boys or club girls if you walked along King Edward's Road or Victoria Park, it was as simple as that. If you knew club was closed and you'd had your cricket or football matches or netball matches on the Sunday, and so, when you left club and you were walking down King Edward's Road, you would be discussing the matches that were going to be played the following week, who shouldn't be chosen and so on and et cetera.

Q. What would you do, you know, as, I suppose the word teenager hadn't been quite invented yet, but what would you do at that time when you were walking up and down, and... was there any other activities?

MG. Oh no bear in mind that so much of our time, our leisure time was spent at the club(you know, you really have to get the feel of this. Imagine yourself (if you like belonging to a club which had a wide variety of activities, social and otherwise, five nights a week, and you went five nights a week. Most of your interests are going to be based on those, your friends are going to be based on them, you're going to leave club together, if you want to go away somewhere for the day you go away together it was almost a complete world in itself, like so many of the other older clubs.

Q. And what time did it finish in the evenings?

MG. Usually about 10 I would think. 10, later if there was a dance, or a social.

Q. Did you have dinner at the club or at home and then go to the club?

MG. No, but you could, they had a canteen and a lot of the boys and... I can't speak for the girls because they came in as I say during the war years really. They would bring their homework back to the club, and over something in the canteen they would do their homework, probably much easier than if they tried to do it at home.

Q. And at that time, 1930...you know, in the late 1930s, who was running it?

MG. The full-time club worker was hardly known in those days, in any field, in any community. You usually relied on two or three key people who would take the major responsibility, and they would be supported by, the term was club managers.

Q. All adults?

MG. All adults, but often what happened with... You got a... we got a great deal of support from the old East End clubs. As some of their members reached the leading members reached the age of eighteen or nineteen, they would encourage them to go to new clubs as junior managers, was the term. And so you had a fairly wide range, age range, of people who arranged the activities, who thought up the activities, who administered the club, who dealt with the local education authority, who dealt if necessary with the then Ministry of Education. Many of them became quite complex organisations which needed a considerable administration. But it was almost all done on a voluntary basis. I can't recall, certainly not in A.J. Y. circles, a full-time paid leader. There may have been one or two part time, that was about it; and it wasn't until the Albemarle Report came in in 1959 I think, that the youth service as a whole became professional, but that's another story.

Q. I'm trying to get an image of all these adolescent teenage Jewish boys in the late 1930s. What would they be able to get... You know, obviously there was table-tennis, but what else would you do, how would you keep from being... how do you keep discipline, what other things did you do? I'm trying to think of the activities that would keep you there all evening, you know,

MG. Let's try a few. Talking out of the top of my head now obviously. Photography, arts and crafts, drama, concert party, PE as we would call it. Music. Painting. You name it, there were dozens of activities going on. And as I say you were expected to, you booked on a, rather like an evening class, you booked for two activities for that term, and you were expected to do them. And then there was the ordinary social life [INAUDIBLE]. In some ways a club canteen was one of the most important cu activities of any club, not because of the food I assure you, but the camaraderie that arose from it.

Q. And the people who would be teaching these, would be the boys themselves or would you bring in specialists?

MG. No no no no. Occasionally you had club managers or volunteers, other voluntary helpers who were able to take an activity. You know it's a truism that if you had a club manager who had a particular interest, it may be in stamp collecting, it inay be in road-running or whatever, if they were enthusiastic enough with the blessing of the club management, they could get a group of boys and start a class. But most of the instructors came through the adult evening institutes, through the local authority. If I recall we had in theory to guarantee sixteen, an average attendance of sixteen to justify a class; I think that went down over the years to ten, but most evening institutes were happy to take an overall, if you had ten classes through them, an overall average of ten. And obviously you would get more than ten for ballroom dancing, than you would say for photography, although that was quite a popular activity. I don't know if I'm giving you a fair picture. It's all very sketchy.

Q. And at this time, you know, obviously, while being at the club, was there any other things that you were personally interested in? Was that your full time activity?

MG. It was almost my, almost my full-time. From the beginning I was involved in the running of the club. We had members' committees. I was the first club captain actually. We had members' committees, and we were given a fair amount of responsibility, and... As years went by, members' committees took a greater responsibility, they were allowed to, but it was a different approach to some extent in those days, but we...often we had to take responsibility for collecting the subscriptions, a member of the committee would work with an instructor to ensure that all went well. We would come up with the social programmes ideas. We would be expected to take a responsibility in relationship with outer clubs. It was...those of us who were closely involved, it really was almost a full-time recreational scene. I'm talking about membership days, not anything beyond.

Q. Did you...obviously the war must have changed a lot of things. Did you expect to stay at Simpson's, you know, if...?

MG. Not really, no.

Q. Did you have any idea what you...?

MG. I don't know. If the war, if there had been no war, who knows? But I was away for six-and-a-quarter years, six-and-a-half years, and it wasn't really what I wanted. I had no clear idea what I wanted to do, but I almost instinctively moved into full-time youth work. That was from 1949, and I stayed in that field until I retired.

Q. And tell me about going to war. I won't go through your whole wartime reminiscences.

MG. Well let me tell you my first two experiences in the Army. I was called up on the 20th of October 1939, there were about twenty of us. I was posted to a field ambulance, a Welsh Territorial Field Ambulance, and we had to report to Bridgend in South Wales. And the sergeant-major gathered these twenty recruits round him, we all had tickets in our facings
low with our name on in case we forgot who we were. And the first words I heard in the Army were, 'Is there anyone here who doesn't swear?' And one of the lads, Tony Grace from South Wales, slowly put up his hand. He said, 'Well son, you're about to learn.'

And the next morning the CO inspected the new troops, and I was 20. I describe myself as 20, getting on 16. I looked very young as well. And he looked at me and said, 'Get a shave,' and I said, 'I don't shave. They were my early experiences in the Army. The first two days. I came out in February 1946.

Q. Was that the first time you had been away from home?

MG. Other than going to club camp, yes. I think the experiences of being in the club community helped lots of people like me when they were called up. And one was used to large numbers. One was used to things happening all the time. Used to meeting with people, some of whom you obviously you could get on with easily, others not so easily. I think it served a lot of people well, belonging to clubs when they were called up.

Q. What about being Jewish?

MG. No problems with that, if that's what you meant. I always found them very supportive of anything, if festivals or anything of that sort came round, they were always very helpful, whichever unit I was with. I didn't come across very much anti-Semitism or anything of that sort.

Q. What about in Hackney itself, was there much anti-Semitism in the area, did you encounter it as a youngster growing up?

MG. Very little actually. I don't recall ever meeting it singly. I only recall meeting it on a few occasions if I would be walking out with some friends, and a group would approach us and you would get the unfortunate remarks or unkind remarks. But I can only remember two or three occasions at best over the years there

Q. How would other gangs of boys be able to recognise the fact that you were Jewish boys?

MG. Often by...to some extent by sight I suppose. When I say we all began when we played cricket on Well Street Common, if I remember rightly there was Gainsbury's crowd, there was a group of non Jewish boys who played. We never had any problems, but it was recognised, they were Gainsbury’s people and this was the Jewish boys crowd.

Q. And who are Gainsbury?

MG. That seemed to be the leading light amongst them. They usually beat us.

Q. Did you play on Well Street Common itself?

MG. It was part of Well Street Common. It is Well Street Common actually, that's where it all started, that and in the Hebrew classes,

Q. It's amazing isn't it.

MG. But it's interesting actually, when I say, you look at a club like Barkingside, and that all originated from Stepney, from Keynes [phonetic] & Bethnal Green, from Hackney. So, you know, although the clubs have gone, their history can be seen if you really look at those clubs.

Q. Yes, that's absolutely true. Going back to the park as well, because obviously that is a central focus of Hackney life, communal life, you know, sort of social life.

MG. Well it was. I mean, particularly for those members who were into sports activities. Victoria Park track, and the Victoria Park Harriers, you know, the groundsman in a place like Victoria Park track, they became friends with a lot of the boys. If we had the...the club sports would always be held there. the club road races round the perimeters of Victoria Park, the A.J.Y. road races were held round the perimeters of Victoria Park for many years. The tennis courts were used by Jewish boys as well as others, the rowing lake. Some of us even went into the rose garden.

Q. When you were in Hackney, you say that your mum was a housewife. And your brothers had moved out. So, were you...

MG. I was the only, there was just the three of us, my stepfather, my mother and I, they were the only ones at home.

Q. Oh right, OK, What did your stepfather do?

MG. Well he was a civil servant, non-Jewish. Now what else can I tell you?

Q. So when you were at Simpson's, were you...did the money go towards the home, how did it work in those days, you know, as far as housekeeping, what...?

MG. Oh whatever you... I think I started on 7s.6d. a week, which is what, 35, 37p, and I think two-thirds of that went towards housekeeping, and the rest were fares. You see when you first joined the Army in those days as the war broke out you were on 42 shillings a day, and almost everyone allowed 7 shillings home, so you had the 7 shillings, 35p to last you the week. And in fact I say I was 20 going on 16 in those days, I was, if I remember right I was the only boy in our, or young man, in our movement who didn't drink and didn't smoke, so the boys would come to me on the Friday with their pay, and their 7 shillings they had left, they used to give me 3s.6d., so if they went out with their 35.6d., they knew I would have their balance for them the next day.

Q And at home you say, when did your mum marry your stepfather, was that when you were in Hackney or...?

MG. Just before we moved to Hackney, round about 1934, 1934 edging 1935.

Q. I suppose in those days that was less common.

MG. Unusual.

Q. Unusual, especially marrying a non-lewish person.

MG. Mm, mm.

Q. How did you find that, you know, what was that like for you growing up?

MG. No stranger than having any other stepfather, or step-parent. I wasn't very conscious of the religious aspect of it very closely.

Q. Yes, because it's...yes, as you say, in those days, it's less common isn't it. How... did that have any effect on her within the Jewish community, or was she associated...?

MG. No, she was never close to the Jewish community. This was, when I explained at the very beginning, that's why joining Hackney Club was very important for me, as it turned out. And let's face it, it could have been Gainsbury's crowd who asked ine, “Would you like a game of cricket?! [Laughs] I haven't thought of that name for fifty years I don't think. Perhaps longer.

Q. So you met your wife-to-be at Hackney Club? How did it come about?

MG. Well I came on a week's leave, and like most of the club boys who had gone into the forces, obviously I paid a visit to the club, and there were girls all over the shop. And I went into this room to read a book, and there was this quite attractive young lady making a hell of a lot of noise. I nearly threw the book at her, because I wasn't used to having girls in the club you see, they only just came in when I went into the forces. But, there you are, that was 50...now that would be 54 years ago, we've been married 52 years. So the club has a lot to answer for.

Q. What's her name?

MG. The young lady I married? Her name, Mona. I have to make the point, it's not a characteristic. It's a name.

Q. And where did you get married?

MG. We got married through Clapton Synagogue, and the actual ceremony was in the Rembrandt Hotel, we took the chupah there, the canopy there.

Q. Where was the Rembrandt?

MG. The Rembrandt Hotel in Kensington. That was in 19...I remember the date, the 7th of September 1947. Heaven forbid if I didn't remember the date.

Q. Why did you get married in Upper Clapton Synagogue?

MG. I was a member of Brenthouse. I had become a member of Brenthouse at that time, but my wife's family were members of Clapton, of Lea Bridge Road Synagogue, and so, in deference to my wife's family, we chose that synagogue,

Q. And where did you live?

MG. When we first married we lived in two rooms in a house off Mount Pleasant Lane, Clapton, a road called Muston Road. And we were there for some years, then we moved into a flat in a house in Brook Road, Stoke Newington. And we've been here in Woodford for 36 years, which we like very much.

If I had to sum up the situation with regard to Jewish youngsters in Hackney, certainly say from 1937 on, there weren't that many involved in the club perhaps in the first year or so, it was undoubtedly a major service for Jewish young people, and for the community at large, in the area. The people involved with the club, all of whom were voluntary, did a magnificent job. I'm not sure all of us as youngsters were as appreciative as we might have been, but they really did, looking back, do a magnificent job, and there are still many of us who meet together regularly; friendships from those days, they just stay on.

Q. Yes, I think it must be true, you know, the... What else would teenage boys in the 1930s have been doing, Jewish teenagers, if they weren't members of the club, what would their lives have been like?

MG. In those days, cinema was major factor, in common with the wider community I suppose, most would go a couple of times a week to one or other of the cinemas. Homework took care for most of them for another night or two a week. I can't remember any of my contemporaries, say at the age of seventeen or eighteen, going out drinking, although we would have the occasional beer for one reason or another, and we would find the occasional reason. But none of us were really into that at all. Perhaps half my contemporaries would go dancing or a social of some kind once a week; as you will have gathered it wasn't really my scene.

But by and large that was the picture. And there's a lot of, I don't think people really recognised sufficiently that now as then people simply meeting together and walking along together and talking and being friendly together, is a major activity. We generally say of some of the more deprived areas these days with regard to youth work, that some of these little villages, the only meeting place for youngsters is the chippy and perhaps the bus shelter, but the bus shelter is important, it's the meeting place. And in its own way, all right, on a Saturday, you just reminded me of this, Saturday evening of course when club was closed at Hackney, a lot of us would go along Mile End and we would walk along Whitechapel Waste with the sarsaparilla sellers and whatnot, and go into Johnny Isaacs for our bag of chips. So although Hackney, the East End was very important to us.

Q. Would you get a bus or a tram or you would walk?

MG. Usually we could afford the bus, but there have been occasions when I walked. And again that's been, in recent years the situation has shown itself in other areas. You had the crowd of youngsters a few years ago gathering out at Golders Green station, Edgware station, the same principle in a way, although we weren't out anything like as late. And neither were we as affluent either.

Q. Did you have to be home by a certain time?

MG. I think most of us were expected home by a reasonable hour. Sometimes we would even play solo together. I haven't played that for 50 years either.

Q. How do you play solo?

MG. Shame on you! Solo, it's a form...I don't know, I suppose you'd call it a form of whist, but nothing like as complicated as bridge. But it was a very...pre-war, particularly within the Jewish community, solo was one of, probably the best known card tame. Now you're showing you don't know that part of history at all.

Q. I was just interested to...yes, solo, whist, I've never heard...

MG. Solo, whist, oh it's the same...

Q. And kalooki obviously.

MG. Oh yes, kalooki really came later, kalooki came later. Often you played in one of the boys' houses, had no club on a Saturday night, so you'd go socialising, and you'd sit down and you'd play solo. There might be five of you and it's, solo is for four people, so we used to call it one-in-one-out, and at the appropriate time when we felt a little hungry the one who was out, we couldn't afford salt beef sandwiches in those days, but there was, I think it was called Goids [phonetic] at the top of King Edward's Road, and they sold very good savaloy sandwiches, and [INAUDIBLE] savaloy sandwiches, a new green cucumber. What did we do in our spare time!

[End of Interview]

Object number


On display?


Back to top