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Ron Goldstein, Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club

August 11, 2010
by the gentle author

If – like Ron – you were your parents’ tenth child, growing up in a tiny terraced house with a clothing factory on the top floor in Boreham St, Brick Lane, and sharing a room with your three elder brothers, then you might also be impatient to join the Boys’ Club round the corner in Chance St and have somewhere to let off steam and have fun. Even though strictly you had to be eleven, Ron was able to join the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club in 1933 when he was only ten, because his older brother Mossy was a Club Captain and pulled a few strings.

At this moment a whole new world opened up to Ron. For the price of a halfpenny a week subscription, each night he would be in the front of the throng of boys waiting impatiently in Chance St for the seven o’clock opening of the Club, hungry for fulfilment of the evening’s promise. Squeezing past the office where membership cards were checked, he went first to the canteen in the hope of wolfing a tasty saveloy, while others were already getting stuck into a quick game of table tennis, before the photography class started at seven-thirty. This was the primary focus of the evening for Ron – because as you can see from the picture above, he was the proud owner of a box brownie that he bought for two shillings from Woolworths. Harry Tichener, who ran the classes, was a West End photographer who inspired his East End pupils by teaching them how to use and develop colour film before most people had even seen a colour photograph – encouraging a lifelong enthusiasm for photography in Ron. At eight-thirty sharp the photography class was over, and it was time for Ron and the others to enjoy a brisk run down Bishopsgate to the Bank of England and back again without stopping, followed by a refreshing shower at nine-thirty, then a prayer in the gymnasium before going straight home to bed in Boreham St.

And so at ten years old, life acquired a totally new momentum for Ron. It was so special to him that even today, more than seventy years later, he remains close friends with many of the boys he met then and they are still enjoying regular happy Club reunions, celebrating the lifelong friendships that were forged at the Club.

Opened in 1924 by altruistic undergraduates as a Jewish Boys’ Club, the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club had an ethical intent from the beginning, adopting the motto, “serva corpus, cole mentem, animam cura,” - keep fit, cultivate your mind, think of your soul. These lofty ambitions were reflected in the lively range of activities on offer, including, boxing, art, photography, gym, travel talks with lantern slides, dramatics and play reading, harmonica classes, health lectures, first aid lessons, hobbies, science lectures, swimming, shoe repair, philately, essay writing and debating.

In retrospect, Ron fondly appreciates the raising of expectations that the Club encouraged, “Half of the boys would have ended up as the next generation of gangsters and criminals if it had not been for the Club. It was our first time to mix with people who never had to work from an early age and our first chance to consider the ethical side of life. We were a bunch of young tearaways. The Club managers from Cambridge had a very upper class way of talking and we used to take the mickey, but it was different at the weekend camps, everyone dressed the same and we all mucked in together.”

The photographs speak eloquently of the joy engendered by the Club and of the easy affectionate atmosphere, creating a warm playful environment in which the boys were able to feel free and enjoy the respect of their peers. Each weekend there were rambles when the boys took their cameras and enjoyed afternoon hikes within striking distance of London, stopping off at pubs to quench their thirst with half pints of shandy. During Summer weekends there were camps, when everyone travelled down to the country together, set up their tents, cooked meals and enjoyed outdoor pursuits, returning to the East End weary and sunburnt on Sunday night. Once a year, this was extended to a week’s Summer Camp at a more exotic location such as Frome or Banbury or Wimbourne. Ron only attended two Summer camps but he also recalls with delight the year he was disappointed, when he was unable to go due to a strained heart muscle that confined him to the Royal London Hospital. To his everlasting delight, a basket of fruit from Fortnum & Mason arrived from one of the Club’s wealthy patrons and no-one in the hospital had ever seen such a generous gift to a teenage boy.

When the twin Lotinga brothers, George and Rowland took over in 1936, they removed the Jewish prerequisite of membership of the Club, opening it to everyone, as a radical and egalitarian response to the rise of antisemitism, manifested by Oswald Mosley and the fascists in the East End. In this context, the playful Club photographs take on another quality, because there is something noble in the existence of a social space devoted to nurturing human sympathy, created while others are setting out to breed hatred. The boys were not unaware of the value of their freedom either, as evidenced by the seventeen year old lad that Ron remembers, who told his mother he was going on a weekend camp with the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club but ran away to fight in the Spanish Civil War instead.

At thirteen years old in 1936, Ron started in Fleet St as a runner for the Associated Press Picture Agency which required working evenings and limited his opportunities to attend the Boys’ Club. But he remained a member until war broke out in 1939, attending the Camp at Greatstones, Hythe at the age of sixteen, during that famously beautiful last Summer before hostilities were declared. These photographs are especially poignant, recording the final moments of a carefree youthful world  before it was destroyed forever.

When war commenced, Ron’s father moved the family out of London to Hove and before long Ron and many other members of the Club found themselves enlisted. Some achieved heroism in the service and many died, while others came to prominence in post-war civilian life, yet although the Club finally closed in 1990, there are still enough members of the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Boys’ Club around to remind us of this honourable endeavour which set out to encourage the best in people, despite the tyranny of circumstance.

You can read more at  The Cambridge & Bethnal Green Old Boys’ Club

Waiting in line in Chance St on a Winter’s night for the club to open at seven o’ clock.

George and Rowland Lotinga surrounded by members of the club in Chance St, with Harry Tichener extreme right.

On a visit to Parliament in 1935 as guests of Sir Percy Harris, Liberal MP for Bethnal Green, seen on the right. Ron is the second boy standing to the left of Club manager, Derek Merton.

On a Sunday ramble through the outskirts of London.

Fourth from the left in the front row, Ron cradles his camera on this ramble led by photographer Harry Tichener, who ran the Club all through World War II when the younger managers were enlisted.

At Summer Camp, Ron is riding in the rumble seat at the very back of this car belonging to Harry Moss of Moss Bros. Passengers from left, George Lotinga, Harry Moss, Ronny Coffer, Dave Ross, Mick Goldstein, Syd Curtis and Ron.

A happy scene at Greatstones Summer Camp 1939 with Dave Saunders (bending at centre) and Monty Meth, current chairman of the old boys’ club (bottom row, right, in a dark blouson)

Mealtime at Greatstones Summer Camp 1939.

A race in Victoria Park in 1938, with Odiff Fugler making headway on the left and Dave Saunders in the centre.

High jinks at the Greatstones Camp Tuck Shop 1939.

The cook makes dough in a field at Greatstones – note the makeshift stoves in the background.

Cecil Bright, Dave Ross, Sid Tabor, Freddy Oels, Dave Summers, Monty Griver and Mick Goldstein (Ron’s brother).

More recently, Cecil Bright, Dave Ross, Sid Tabor, Dave Summers, Monty Griver and Mick Goldstein.

Ron was part of the Club’s Harmonica group named “The Four Harmonica Kids.”

Ron Goldstein

28 Responses leave one →
  1. R de W permalink
    August 11, 2010

    I can’t tell you how much I look forward to reading these each day; this is another exceptional piece. Thank you!

  2. August 11, 2010

    Every single picture here is a masterpiece and I felt in love right at the top one. X

  3. Peter Ghiringhelli permalink
    August 11, 2010

    What a joy! The whole piece and superb photographs remind me of those that used to appear in the long defunct ‘Picture Post’.

  4. Sarah Ainslie permalink
    August 12, 2010

    Wonderful piece and have only just caught up with all of this weeks ones and they are so varied and the photos are brilliant, very exciting and Ron you took some great photos.

  5. August 12, 2010

    Sarah

    With ref to “the photos are brilliant, very exciting and Ron you took some great photos”
    I have to regretfully admit none of those were taken by me but most of them are owned by me or sent in by other club members.

    When the Club eventually had to close, the secretary, Maxie Lea, distributed the hundreds of photos that resided in the Club’s albums, mainly taken by Harry Tichener, to various members and I was one of the lucky ones. As the director of the club Blog I always welcome more photos that show the club boys.

    Regards

    Ron

  6. August 12, 2010

    What a treasure! Wildflower meadows, short pants, and boys tearing through what probably felt like endless summers. So many photographs are self-conscious — but these were pure joy.

  7. Ray permalink
    August 15, 2010

    Great story Ron and wonderful you have pictures. Unfortunately as with many of us we have the memories but not the photographs to go with them, a great pity.

  8. Catherine L. permalink
    September 23, 2010

    Amazing story, amazing photos, amazing people. I love the harmonica kid!
    Thank you so much for sharing this!

  9. Larry Goldstein permalink
    October 22, 2010

    Ron just read your article on the website is this weird or what? My wife Amanda’s dad is Nat Krieger whose father ran the workshops above Boreham Street. Nat remembers you and your family vividly and even described you, to which we then scrolled down and saw your photo of which was a mirror image. My wife has looked at the amazing photos and she thinks that her dad maybe the 5th person from the left in the photo with Harry Tichener on the right. My wife felt really strange that someone else mentioned Boreham Street something her dad has talked about all his life. What a small world a Goldstein and a Goldstein not even related have a connection !

  10. BARRY GENDLER permalink
    January 27, 2011

    what memories are awakened reading these blogs.I am one of the younger old boys,not quite 80 years old. I too lived in Boreham street at number 14 which was down the far end from Peter st.Also at that time Martin Markey lived at no.1. I look forward eagerly to any news preferably good news. Thanks for the memories, Barry.

  11. February 26, 2011

    I am now 74 also lived at 14 Boreham Street, moved in after 1945 when the war ended, can remember Martin Markey, Rose Markey. Do you recall Leslie and Arnold Fox, Lionel Banks, Philly Bairfelt. I think I remember your sister (from Butler Street club), when your family had a dry cleaners in Bethnal Green road. When I married I lived at no. 4 and then later at no. 5, moved to Redbridge in early 1960′s and now in Southend.

  12. February 28, 2011

    Hi Jacqueline !

    Not quite sure if your questions were directed at me or Barry :)

    Just in case you were addressing me, the only name that relates to MY period in Boreham Street (August 1923 to September 1939) was Phil Bairfelt who was living in Boreham Street around 1939. Your reference to a dry cleaning shop in Butler St. means nothing to me so I suppose that you must have been talking to Barry :)

    Best regards from Ron, now in his 87th year !

  13. Martin Markey permalink
    May 10, 2011

    I also lived in No 1 Boreham Street in 1944, i remember Mrs Pinkes well there used to be a air raid shelter in her end of the street,also the James family,the Hoare family and many more,also my old friend Barry Gendler we did meet up at one of our reunions it was great to go over old times,if it is possable i would like to get in contact with anyone that remembers me or my family. I hope everybody reading this is in good health,will see you all at our next reunion in September 2011. Martin Markey

  14. Arthur&Sylvia Newell permalink
    July 28, 2011

    We lived at number 5 Boreham street from 1961 to 1965 we had two rooms
    on the ground floor with a outside loo Mrs rosie Pinkus had the rest of
    the house we had five happy years there before moving to Basildon.
    We recently did a memory lane of area and sadly no more Boreham street or Linden buildings in shacklewell street.

  15. October 7, 2011

    Julia my 96 year old mother is I believe Ron Goldstein`s 1st cousin. She would very much like to speak to him after many many years. A comment with contact tel number to the website will not be published but will be viewed by me and the number passed to her.

    Thanks to anybody who can assist

  16. December 6, 2011

    Son of Julia Slater ?

    Have replied directly to your Blog

    Ron

  17. BARRY GENDLER permalink
    June 9, 2012

    I HAVE A PHOTO TAKEN IN NAT KREIGERS WORKSHOP.IT INCLUDES MY MUM,SO WHEN I LOCATE IT,I WILL POST IT

  18. Jon Finegold permalink
    October 17, 2013

    Ron, assuming you are still blogging, I was interested to read your early history – my mother’s sister was born in your house, in 1912!
    We also overlapped with your Cliftonville visits, though we didn’t move down there until 1960.

    Your details of Boreham Street, sadly no longer there, are fascinating; thanks so much for adding this bit of colour to my family history!

  19. stephen bairfelt permalink
    March 30, 2014

    This is stephen bairfelt son of philly bairfelt. Unfortunately my father passed away in 2004.

  20. March 5, 2015

    Hello to the people by name of Newell who mentioned linden buildings at shacklewell street. I am so glad to find somebody who has memory of this building. It has been hard to find any info on this building which no longer exists. My dad was born and brought up in number 6 linden buildings and lived there 1920- late 40′s. His grandfather was superintendant 1911-1932 when he died. Some of my dads uncles occupied other flats in the building and his aunt ellen lived at number 3 until she died in 1960. I would.love to hear anyones memories of linden buildings. My dad also boxed at a boys club- I don’t know which one but I have a very early.memory of him showing me a newspaper cutting of him in the ring and that he had won 17 out of 28 matches. I don’t remember my dad ever talking of the large family of Thornes living in linden buildings. I only discovered most of them through researching family history.

  21. Michael Baron permalink
    August 1, 2015

    My daughter drew my attention to this.. and now I wonder what happened to the Bernard Baron Settlement I used to go to between 1952 and 1955 once a week. My peaks of engagement were taking a group of boys rowing on the Lea at Clapton; and producing a playlet which was a scene from Auden and Isherwoood’s The Ascent of F6. My dad was born in Great Prescott Street in 1893; and my grandmother took especial and slightly malicious delight in puncturing the jewelled pretensions of several ladies she met in Bournemouth hotels that she knew their father when he had a barrow on the Mile End Road. Now it seems a world or more away. I read all the entries and loved the photographs which reminded me of some camp in Sussex where the BBS often had summer holidays for the boys.

  22. August 2, 2015

    Looking for information regarding a home/ orphanage for Jewish children.
    While cleaning out my late mothers home after her passing in Cape Town I came across a ceremonial key given to Mrs Jane Gabriel by the architects Joseph and Smithem.
    Inscribed on the key ” Opening of the Arnold and Jane Gabriel Home 16th October 1910. I remember my late father saying that the Gabriel had built a wing on a building housing Jewish refugee orphans.
    I would greatly appreciate any information on the above.
    Sincerely.
    Leonard Neumann.

  23. Peter Manning permalink
    December 21, 2015

    Hi,
    How would I make contact with Sarah Thorne who left a message about Linden Building on March 5 2015?

    Thanks

    Peter

  24. jeff kane permalink
    April 25, 2016

    My mother was born at 17 Boreham St., Bethnal Green. I now live in USA, but curious to know
    if 17 still exists
    thanks

  25. sarah thorne permalink
    May 24, 2016

    Hello Peter Manning – I have just seen your message! Now that I have found this page again I will check it more frequently So please do get in touch. Look forward to hearing from you,
    Sarah

  26. sarah thorne permalink
    May 24, 2016

    Does anyone have any memories of barnet grove boys club and the boxing club that was held there ? My dad, frank thorne boxed there in 1930′s and I believe helped with the running of it. Would be interested in any info. Thanks.

  27. Sheila Price permalink
    February 4, 2017

    What a wonderful collection of photographs…lovely memories.
    My Great Grandad & Great Nan, Herbert Henry and Mary (known as Polly Anne) James, also lived in Boreham Street.
    My great aunties & uncles lived here too. There were 12 kids. Grandad sold newspapers at the junction of Brick Lane. I wonder if you will remember any of them?
    I have a few photographs of them on the street.

  28. Stephen Bairfelt permalink
    May 3, 2017

    My dad was Phil Bairfelt. He lived at 12 Boreham Street with his mother Ruby and his father Abraham. Sadly dad died in 2004. I would love to hear from anyone who knew my dad. My number is 07767 898873.

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