Aubrey Goldsmith of Shoreditch
Aubrey Goldsmith sits poised in tremulous expectation at the bottom left of this Rochelle School photograph of 1934, ready to reach out and grasp his future – or, as he puts it quite simply, “I was desperate to get on.” Yet the personal trajectory of Aubrey’s life must be set against the extraordinary perspective of his family’s presence in the East End, because Aubrey’s ancestors first came here in the early seventeenth century from Portugual via Holland – and his own story exists as both coda and culmination of their history.
At Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London where records of marriages since the time Oliver Cromwell re-admitted the Jews to England in 1656 are preserved, Aubrey can trace fifteen generations of his family. “The Belinfantes, they were Bankers, Religious Ministers, Lawyers and Courtiers of the Dutch court – but we have gone down hill a little since then,” he admitted to me with a crooked smile. And, as evidence of the social decline of his aristocratic forebears, Aubrey cites his grandfather who grew up as one of eleven children in a couple of rooms in Tilly St off Whites Row, with one of the daughters recorded in the 1860 census as an umbrella maker by profession at eleven and a half years old.
Recent ancestors remain present for Aubrey and, even though they may have died years ago, these characters spring into life when he speaks of them. Aubrey will tell you about his grandmother Sarah Belinfante, a draper in Redchurch St who enjoyed a pint of Guinness and a cigar at McCanns with her sister Edith, much to the disapproval of more recent East European Jewish immigrants. Aubrey will also tell you how Sarah set up a tally business collecting money weekly from the girls in the cigarette factories, paying for towels and sheets from her drapers shop to make their trousseaux – an endeavour that preceded the modern credit industry. Aubrey will tell you about his grandfather Raphael Goldsmith, a modest clerk at the Stock Exchange who invested in rubber shares in 1900, became the proprietor of the London Rubber Company, built a factory on the North Circular and was responsible for bringing the first Indian workers to Southall. Aubrey will tell you about his uncle known as “Kid Millions,” reputed to be the highest-earning taxi driver of all time. Aubrey will tell you about his father’s cousins, a Portuguese family by the name of Elboz, who were once famed gangsters in Petticoat Lane, until their snooker hall was closed down by the police in the nineteen seventies.
Lowering his voice, Aubrey will then tell that you his father Samuel, one of the first pupils at Rochelle School in 1902, used to line up with the other neighbourhood boys to watch Prince Edward arrive at the Blue Anchor, a notorious boxing booth and brothel at the corner of Chance St - where the prince had a weekly appointment with a whore who gave him VD, that he passed on to Princess Alexandra. And nearby was the church in Old Nichol St – he will also tell you – with the famous priest, Father Jay who regularly used to lay his hand on Samuel’s head and curse him as a Jew.
Aubrey had plenty to live up to, but he proved himself worthy of his ancestors – achieving success that took him away from the East End, yet fulfilling the aspirations of his forebears magnificently.
“I was born in Shoreditch in 1928 and my father was the number one tic-tac in Britain, the only one that ever saw a hundred pounds a day in the nineteen twenties,” revealed Aubrey, introducing his story with pride, “But he had two children that died, my brother and sister that I never saw, and he swore that money was unlucky and he gave it up and became a taxi driver, and after that he only earned enough money for our food and clothes.
We lived on the Boundary Estate and I was a pupil at the Rochelle School and, in 1939, Peter Moore and myself took a scholarship exam for two places at the Coopers’ Company School, along with two hundred others, and we were both successful. But then the war began and I was evacuated to Helston and didn’t come back until 1942. I went to Coopers’ Company School in Tredegar Sq when I was fifteen but my education was destroyed. I wanted to be a doctor and you had to have Latin but the classics teacher had been called up.
So, at the end of 1943, unknown to my parents, I left school, I managed to get employment cards at Penton St Labour Office and took a job with a firm of chartered accountants. Even though I was only sixteen, I did tax computations and final accounts for some very important clients. My parents didn’t want me to leave school, but I had to tell them eventually and my father didn’t speak to me in quite a while. One of things I did in my job was to play snooker every Saturday morning with Tommy Trinder – “if it’s laughter you’re after, Trinder’s the name” – because I could play snooker and he liked snooker and he was a client of my boss. He invested all his money and owned half of Sydney.
I was playing soccer with some quite wealthy boys when I was picked for the English Jewish eleven to play in France in 1948, and one of them introduced me to people in my future trade which I knew nothing about then. I saw there was a lot of money in selling furniture on behalf of the manufacturing trade as an agent. After two years, I broke through and got an agency, and then for four or five years I was reputed to be the highest paid agent in the country. And I moved to Scotland where I enjoyed another very successful seven years as chairman of two public companies, and my accountancy skills proved to be a big help. Then I retired at fifty to travel with my late wife, we met some very important people both socially and in my work – we dined with Pierre Trudeau and Imelda Marcos.”
Aubrey Goldsmith left Shoreditch a long time ago, yet when when I asked him if he still has a relationship with the East End he looked at me in surprise, turning suddenly emotional and launching into this eulogy, full of tenderness, and searching for words to complete a story that eludes conclusion.
“I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in the East End. You mix with a lot and it teaches you humility. There’s many a friendship that has endured. It taught me that I could mix with anybody. I am a freeman of the City of London. I consider being a Londoner is quite something. My kids only knew affluence, they only knew two bathrooms, while I went to the public bathhouse when I was child. After school I worked every day, knocking up mirror frames to sell. My parents were never very wealthy or very educated but they were good parents, we were very lucky. I bought my father a house in Cockfosters but he would never move into it. I used to put him in my Rolls Royce and he was relieved to get back to the East End.”
Sarah and Ethel Belinfante, 1912
Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club Summer Camp 1943 – Aubrey stands in the centre
Samuel Goldsmith (1895 – 1981) The number one tic-tac in the nineteen twenties.
Aubrey’s Portuguese cousins, the Elboz family, were gangsters who ran a snooker hall until the police closed them down.
The corner of Chance St and Grimsby St where once stood the Blue Anchor – boxing booth and brothel. As a child, Aubrey’s father saw Prince Edward visit here for his weekly appointment. The new building on the site is aptly named “the dirty house.”
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