Larry Goldstein, Toyseller & Taxi Driver
Larry Goldstein, who sells toys in Petticoat Lane each Sunday, showed me this photograph of his grandfather Joseph Goldstein, born in 1896 in the village of Inyema in Poland. Joseph had two elder brothers and, although there are no photographs of them, they are the true heroes of this story – because at the the time of the pogroms against the Jews, these two brothers realised they had enough money for one brother to escape, so they gave it to Joseph.
In 1915, at the age of nineteen, Joseph travelled to Brick Lane via Hamburg to join an uncle who had a business selling lemonade. Yet when he arrived by boat in the Port of London, Joseph was told he must either enlist or return to Poland. Joseph enlisted, occasioning the photograph you see above, and was sent off to fight in the First World War. He never learnt what became of his brothers and today the village of Inyema does not even exist.
Although these events happened nearly a century ago, they remain vividly in mind for Larry, Joseph’s grandson. “It is amazing that his brothers put him first, so that he could get out of the country and carry on the name Goldstein, when they were murdered or tortured by the Russians. It’s touching when you come to think about it,” Larry confided to me with quiet humility, during his hour’s lunch break from driving his taxi. These events have cast a certain tender emotionalism upon subsequent family history, because all are aware they are the descendants of the brother that survived to begin a new life in Spitalfields.
Having escaped Poland, Joseph was lucky enough to survive the First World War too. No wonder he got married in April 1918, as soon as the war was coming to its end, to Amelia (known as Milly). Milly Viskin was born in Pedley St, Spitalfields, in 1894 and her father was a cabinet maker. At first, they lived with her parents in Hare St (now known as Cheshire St) and he was able to get a job as a presser in Flower & Dean St, off Brick Lane.
Joseph & Milly had five children, Sid, Jack, Cecilia, Janet and Dave. And today it is impossible to look at the wedding day photograph of Joseph with his son Jack, taken in 1955, and not appreciate Joseph’s intense expression of pride upon this special day in the light of his personal history. To my eyes, the picture of Larry with his grandparents Joseph & Milly taken at his Bar Mitzvah in 1970, has a similar quality – it is the visual link between Larry in the present day and the world that Joseph knew in Poland, over a century ago. Larry fondly recalls visiting Joseph & Milly when he was child, “They always made you welcome and they were always there when you needed them, even though they had no money. They died very close to each other, within a year because they were so attached.”
Larry told me his father Jack and uncle Sid ran a stall with Joseph on Saturdays in Kingsland Waste selling photographic equipment. It was a precedent that Larry adopted once he got married, “My wife’s dad had a double-pitch in Church St, off the Edgware Rd, so he said we could have one, selling wooden boxes and china figurines. Then in 1972, we had some friends in Petticoat Lane who said we could sublet a pitch, and we changed our commodity over to Teddy Bears because the stall was licenced for toys. I had a friend who imported Teddy Bears and he said ‘I’ll give you a couple to try out’ and it took off from there.”
Nearly forty years later, Larry is still selling Teddy Bears on Petticoat Lane. His joyous display of brightly-coloured children’s toys is a landmark, and he is one of the very last Jewish traders today in what was once a Jewish neighbourhood.“Coach parties used to be dropped off at the Aldgate end of Petticoat Lane and Christmas clubs came to spend all their money,” he told me, describing the hey day of the market, “You had to get an affadavit from the Rabbi to trade in those days. Before the repeal of the Sunday trading laws, Petticoat Lane and Wembley were the only licenced Sunday markets, but now it’s only just worth my while.”
Larry is a hard-working, self-respecting individual, driving the taxi to make ends meet, as well as trading in the market. Once he had found a parking place in Spitalfields, Larry had less than an hour to tell me his story and drink a cup of tea before had to get back on the road. Yet in spite of whatever challenges he faces today, Joseph’s story sets everything in perspective for Larry Goldstein, who cherishes his childhood memory of his grandfather, “He was a very kind-hearted man. Although he spoke very little English, he always liked to bet on the favourites at the dogs, so my dad used to place the bets for him at the betting shop. His children and his grandchildren were his life. He was so grateful to be alive after what he had been through.”
Joseph at the wedding of his son Jack in 1955.
Larry’s parents, Jack & Phyllis Goldstein on their wedding day, 7th August 1955.
Joseph & Sid selling photographic equipment on the Kingsland Waste in the nineteen seventies.
Larry with his grandparents Milly & Joseph at his Bar Mitzvah in 1970.
Milly & Joseph at the beach
Milly Goldstein in her seventies
Larry Goldstein, one of the last Jewish stallholders on Petticoat Lane today.
Portrait copyright © Jeremy Freedman