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Tony Garrett, Porter, Postman & Chauffeur

January 26, 2015
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I returned to the New Era Estate in Hoxton to meet Tony Garrett who lives there with his daughter Lindsey Garrett, Chairman of the Tenants Association and leader of the successful fight to save the Estate from corporate property developers.

A thoughtful man of quiet dignity, I was fascinated to hear Tony speak of his family history which reflects the dramatic changes in Hoxton over the last century. Today, several members of the extended Garrett family live in the New Era Estate as part of the long-established and closely-woven community that proved to be so resilient in the face of last year’s threat.

Tony is a proud father and fierce supporter of Lindsey and her achievements. His account reveals the origin of her political beliefs and sets the recent conflict into a wider perspective of social history – explaining why Estates like New Era came into being.

“Here at the New Era Estate, most people have lived in Hoxton all their lives and their families have always lived in Hoxton. I was born in Hoxton in 1949. At that time, it was one of the poorest areas in London and we lived in Essex St which was one of the worst streets in Hoxton. There were four families in each house – one in the basement, the ground floor, the first floor and the attic, where we lived in two rooms. There was our front room which was furnished with just a table and three chairs, and a back room with two double beds. My mum and dad slept in one and we three kids slept in the other. There was a toilet in the yard shared by all four families, and we had a gas ring on the landing and a cupboard which we called a larder, no refrigerator.

At ten years old, it was my job to take my brother and sister to the Public Baths in Haggerston each week. It was called a slipper bath. I got in first, then my brother and sister. It was just rows of baths with curtains round them and everybody used to go there. We had a tin bath but it wasn’t really practical, heating the water and carrying it upstairs. There was sixty houses in Essex St and everyone was poor, they kept their door keys on a string so you could reach through the letterbox to get it and open the door. Because nobody had anything, there was no jealousy.

My dad wasn’t there. He was a crook and he was in prison, but I didn’t realise that at the time. It was only later we found out we were poor. There was no social security or benefits then, and I wish I’d asked my mum how she survived, because she always got money to feed us – though we never had enough to eat and we were hungry all the time. Everyone was the same. My mum was always ill, she had pleurisy that became pneumonia which was quite a serious thing then. She was in hospital and they sent her away to a convalescent home out of London, so we couldn’t see her. We had to go into foster care – our grandparents couldn’t take care of us, there were already six of them living in their home in Falkirk St – they had eleven children.

When I was eleven, Essex St was demolished as part of ‘Slum Clearance’ and my father was released from prison. I remember coming home from my first day of secondary school and my mum said, ‘We’re moving.’ We moved into a newly-built three bedroom flat and it felt like Buckingham Palace to us. That was 1960 and I can still remember walking through the door. We had no furniture but people lent us bits and pieces. We had no blankets, in the old place we slept under coats on the bed in winter. It was full of bugs and fleas. Once a month, we went to this place where you took all your clothes off and they painted you with blue unction. You were blue for days, it was under your nails and in your hair.

The new flat was in a building called Touchard House and things seemed better for us there. We had a bit more comfort and a bit more food, until my dad went into prison again for another two years. My mum got ill again too, so the three of us went to my gran and we lost the flat, but later the council rehoused us in Queenhythe House.

When I was fourteen, I left school and got a job. I got in trouble with the police, just petty offences but after four or five times I was committed to borstal at seventeen years old. All my friends’ dads were either in prison or had been in prison, there was no-one I knew that didn’t have that. The justice system was different then, more severe and disciplinarian. After three offences, you were automatically sent to borstal – the minimum period was nine months and the maximum three years. It was like a boot camp and you had to work your way out. When you arrived you wore a red tie for three months, but then you could earn a blue tie and finally a green tie which meant you were due for release. You were assessed every month, and I was labelled anti-establishment and anti-authority. I did two and a half years, so it proves I could have been more sensitive. We had to get up at five and march in all weathers before making your bed pack. Your boots had to be shiny. It was like the army and all the officers were ex-military. It certainly worked for me though, because I was never in trouble again.

I was sent to a place called Moreton Hall in Lincolnshire. I was one of only two from London there – me and Johnny Hughes – and because we were this pair of Cockneys among all these Northerners, we got it harder than the rest. Every day was a battle. There was a lot of violence and if you were soft your life was hell. A lot of people used to abscond because of bullying.

I came out at nineteen and got a job as a porter down at Smithfield Market. Then I met my wife Christine and got married when I was twenty, and at twenty-one I had my first son, Nicholas. We had a flat about above a chemist in Blackstock Rd, Highbury, but it was terrible cold place with mice and we was rehoused in Sutton Dwellings, Old St. Times got better for us with Christine working and I got a job a at the Post Office. I worked long hours, and we built up a bit of money and got a three bedroom council house in Broadway Market which we managed to buy under the right-to-buy, and we lived there for a few years. We had two sons Nicholas and Simon, and then twin daughters, Anne and Lindsey.

We sold that house and used the money to pay the fees for Lindsey to go to university. It funded four years at university. That’s when we moved back here to the New Era Estate in Hoxton. You had to be recommended but I had an aunt who had lived here her whole life, so she spoke to the caretaker. It was means tested and we had to fill in a form. We met the criteria and we moved in, and we’ve been here twenty-six years.

Over the years, I worked as a porter at Smithfield, Billingsgate and Spitalfields, then a postman and finally as a chauffeur for Islington Council. I liked that job but I got knocked over by a car and was ill for years, and was given a pension and a lump sum. So I left at fifty-five and haven’t been able to work since.

I’ve always been interested in politics and I’ve always been in the union and been shop steward. I’ve always been to the Left of everything. At the Post Office, I was asked if I’d ever been a member of the Communist Party and I used to be – because I believe in equality for all – so I said, ‘Yes,’ and they sacked m for that.

Lindsey is a fighter. I think she gets it from me. In her public speaking, some of the things she says, I can hear myself. She belonged to the debating society at the University of Northumbria. She just gets up and it comes to her. She was brilliant on the steps of Number 10. It’s confidence.”

Tony aged five standing in Hoxton Market with his father John Garrett and pals in 1953

Tony Garrett

Portraits copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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Adam Dant & The Budge Row Bibliotheque

January 25, 2015
by the gentle author

Contributing Artist Adam Dant has installed a life-size replica of a cabbies’ shelter as the centrepiece of his new exhibition at the Bloomberg Space in Finsbury Sq. Adam’s proposition is that these cherished landmarks are reliquaries which contain the collective unconscious of the city, where only those initiates possessing ‘the Knowledge’ may enter. Yet at the gallery all are invited to step inside the shelter to hear a litany of archaeologists’ dreams recorded by Adam as manifestations of the urban imagination at work.

Complementing the cabbies’ shelter, the walls are hung with a series of the vast intricate drawings for which Adam is celebrated, rivalling Piranesi and Hogarth in their audacious scale and overwhelming detail. The largest of these is entitled ‘The Budge Row Bibliotheque’ which envisions the hole that comprises the largest building site in the City of London at present, filled with a surreal sequence of simultaneous events selected from the last two thousand years of history and lore.

Adam Dant at the Cabbies’ Shelter in Warwick Avenue

The Budge Row Biblotheque (Click image to enlarge)

Post debt crisis restructuring: Fleet Place (Click image to enlarge)

Effigy at Ludgate Circus (Click image to enlarge)

The Abandoned City: Guildhall (Click image to enlarge)

Dismantling the printing presses at Paternoster Square (Click image to enlarge)

An Anecdotal View of Walbrook (Click image to enlarge)

Drawings photographed by Dave Morgan

You can visit the cabbies’ shelter and view The Budge Row Bibliotheque at Bloomberg Space, 50 Finsbury Sq, EC2A 1HD – Monday-Saturday 11-6pm until 15th March 2015

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The Cabbies’ Shelters Of Old London

January 24, 2015
by the gentle author

Inspired by the life-size replica of a cabbies’ shelter that Contributing Artist Adam Dant has installed as the centrepiece of his new exhibition at the Bloomberg Space in Finsbury Sq, I set out to photograph those still to be found on the streets of London.

Created between 1875 and 1914, sixty of these structures were built by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund established by the Earl of Shaftesbury to enable cabbies to get a meal without leaving their cabs unattended and were no larger than a horse and cart so they might stand upon the public highway.

Today, only thirteen remain but all are grade II listed and, on my chilly pilgrimage around London in the winter sunshine this week, I found them welcoming homely refuges where a cup of tea can be had for just 50p.

Thurloe Place, SW7

Embankment Place, Wc2

Wellington Place, NW8

Chelsea Embankment, SW3

Grosvenor Gardens, SW1

St Georges Sq, SW1

Kensington Park Rd, W11

Temple Place, WC2

Warwick Ave, W9

Russell Sq, WC1

Kensington Rd, W8

Pont St, SW1

Hanover Sq, W1

The shelter attendant at Wellington Place has special spoon-bending powers

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East End Entertainers Of 1922

January 23, 2015
by the gentle author

Given that this is officially the most depressing week of the year, I thought it was high time we brought on some entertainers to banish those January blues and cheer us all up, so I consulted the Concert Artistes Directory of 1922 in the Bishopsgate Institute to see what local talent was on offer.

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Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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John Hall, Accordionist & Ambulance Man

January 22, 2015
by the gentle author

John Hall

Contributing Artist Lucinda Rogers took me to visit her friend John Hall, the Piano Accordionist, in Haggerston and she drew this portrait while John and I enjoyed a chat. We sat in John’s new flat, replacing his former home in Samuel House that was demolished last year when the Estate was cleared, to be replaced by a much larger development including a significant number of private flats.

From John’s flat in the completed building, housing the former tenants of Samuel House, we looked across to the construction site where another building will rise, eating up almost all the green space of the old Haggerston Estate and we wondered what the future will bring. All around, John was surrounded by musical paraphernalia attesting to his remarkable talent that has brought him new friends and enlivened his social life over the last forty years.

“I was born in a prefab in the Old Ford Rd in 1947. They were built as temporary accommodation after the bomb damage in the war, and they had everything you needed – even gardens. My dad was given one when he came out of the Navy, though I don’t remember it too well because we moved when I was small to Reginald Rd E7. Originally he had been a furniture van driver but he took over a little corner shop. A lot of people had the idea that we had it easy  because my dad ran the shop, but it was hard work, we always came home from school and had to work behind the counter. The shop was open from seven until nine every day. I was the third of four children – Lesley the oldest, Linda my elder sister, then me and Peter, my little brother.

When I was at school, I was good at metalwork and I had no trouble getting a job because in those days you had all this manufacturing in the East End. For a spell, I was in the services and I went to Berlin but they found I had bronchitis and I got discharged in 1968.

My grandmother was a classical pianist but I didn’t discover music until my teens when I saw Allodi’s Accordions in Finsbury Park. I just remember looking in the shop window and seeing these piano accordions and deciding I wanted to learn to play one. I went to have lessons above the shop given by Mr Allodi’s son, and I took to it naturally. This was in 1971 when I was working as an ambulance man, after joining the service in 1968. I played the accordion at The Talbot in Englefield Rd and I used to play at the Ambulance Service Social Club in Highams Park in variety shows. In the early seventies, I had a significant social life. I wanted to try busking, so I went down to Ezra St next to Columbia Rd and I was there for ten years. That’s where I met David Bailey. He told me to look in the lens and he snapped me. Then he came back the next week with an autographed print. I like his pictures because they are very clear.

After eleven years in the ambulance service, I went into anaesthetics and I worked at the East London Chest Hospital, it was a very homely place in those days. In 1980, I moved into Samuel House in Haggerston. They had some flats that were described as ‘hard to let’ and it was quite run down in those days with lots of broken windows, although it wasn’t too bad. Four flights of stairs is no problem when you are thirty but I couldn’t make it now. I was having trouble getting up there.

These days, I am in a wheelchair and I live in a flat on the ground floor of the new building. The old flats were very draughty and the double glazing here helps enormously. But it’s sad in a way, I miss some of those people, those that died. They went through a lot but they never got a new flat.

I still play the accordion occasionally.”

Customers at John’s family corner shop in Reginald Rd

John and his younger brother Peter

John in a sharp suit in the sixties

John experimented with sideburns in the seventies

An early photo of John with his piano accordion

John as an ambulance man with John Rose (standing) and David Komble (right)

John plays piano accordion at Pellicci’s in Bethnal Green

John in the Samuel House days

John shows David Bailey’s photograph of him playing the accordion in Ezra St

Drawing copyright © Lucinda Rogers

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