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Happy Birthday Mavis Bullwinkle!

May 18, 2012
by the gentle author

Mavis Bullwinkle

Today we are celebrating the birthday of one of Spitalfields’ best-loved residents, Mavis Bullwinkle. We count ourselves favoured that, apart from her six years enforced exile as an evacuee in Aylesbury during World War Two, Mavis has shown the good sense to spend her entire eighty years here. In this picture, you can see her standing at the door of the church house in Buxton St where her grandfather Richard Pugh lived when he came from North Wales as a lay preacher in 1898 to minister to the people of the East End, and it was here that Mavis’ mother Gwen was born in 1899. I regret that we cannot turn back the wheels of time, so that Richard could step through this door to wish his granddaughter a happy birthday, but the unfortunate reality is that he died of pneumonia in 1905 and left Mavis’ grandmother to bring up seven children alone – an event which created repercussions that resonate to this day for Mavis.

Yet Mavis displayed her characteristic good humour, amplified by her bright red ankle-length raincoat, when I met her outside Christ Church after morning prayers on an especially grey and cloudy morning this week. And it was my privilege to take a stroll around the neighbourhood with Mavis, as she pointed out some of the landmarks on her personal landscape, because after her eighty years, there are few who know Spitalfields as well as Mavis.

Although Mavis remembers Christ Church (or “Spitalfields Church” as she knew it) when her Uncle Albert Pugh was caretaker at during the nineteen thirties, she did not come here regularly until 1951 when her local church All Saints in Buxton St was shut. “I found it very gaunt with all that dark masonry,” she recalled, rolling her eyes dramatically and casting her gaze up to the tall spire looming over us. Then, in 1958, death watch beetle was discovered at Christ Church and this was shut too. “They found it on the Thursday and it was closed by the weekend,” Mavis revealed in a disappointed tone, “My sister Margaret was due to be married on the Saturday and she had to make do with the horrible hall in Hanbury St.”

Already the rain was setting in, so we set off briskly towards the Hanbury Hall and Mavis ameliorated her opinion of the place by the time we got there. “My uncle and his family lived here on the ground floor,” she explained, “the bedroom was on the right of the entrance and the living room and kitchen to left.” Mavis told me there was so much unemployment in the nineteen twenties that young men were encouraged to go to Australia and, eager to relieve the burden on his mother, Albert emigrated at nineteen, only to have an accident in the Outback that left him with a curvature of the spine. On his return, he found it even harder to get work until the rector of Christ Church appointed him caretaker. And when he died young in 1943, leaving a wife and two girls, the Rector arranged for them to have a flat in the market building at the corner of Brushfield St. Mavis taught at the Sunday School here at the Hanbury Hall from 1951 until 1981, while the congregation was in exile, and she stood in the rain looking up at the building in disbelief that so much time could have passed.

Then we set off towards the the north-easterly quarter of Spitalfields, once known as Mile End New Town, to the small web of streets which Mavis counts as home and that remains the focus of her existence. Taking a minor detour down Brick Lane to visit the former Mayfair Cinema – once an Odeon and now Cafe Naz – where Mavis came in her teens with her mother during the nineteen forties, “We didn’t come down here much otherwise,” she admitted with a shrug, “We did our shopping in Whitechapel or Bethnal Green.”

The nature of our odyssey caused Mavis to peer in wonder at her familiar streets. “When you live in a place so long you take it for granted, until it’s not there anymore and then you can’t even remember what was there before.” she confessed as we turned from Brick Lane into Buxton St, approaching Allen Gardens. Before the green field that we know today, Mavis recalls a warren of little streets here surrounding All Saints Church, the centre of her emotional and social universe growing up in Albert Family Dwellings in Deal St. This was the block her grandmother moved into in 1905 and Mavis moved out of in 1979 when it was demolished.

“The Reverend Holdstock used to give wonderful Christmas parties, and I had some of the happiest times of my life in here,” she confided to me as we stood outside the square rectory, one of the few old buildings remaining in the street today. “Around 1913, when my aunt Esther was young, she remembered meeting the cows coming up Buxton St to be milked, each morning as she was on her way to work at a factory in Shoreditch.” Mavis informed me, gesturing back towards the Lane and conjuring an image of the herd. When Mavis’ grandfather died, her Aunt Esther had to give up her training to be a teacher, working first as a nanny in the vicarage and then at a clothing factory. “She never got over it that she never got to be a teacher,” recalled Mavis tenderly, “and when she used to go on about it, I’d remind her that if she’d never gone to work in the factory she’d never have met her husband, Uncle John.”

Then we reached the patch of green where the church of All Saints once stood. “It was a very pretty church, late Victorian,” she told me, “built at the same time as the terraces round here. In those days people wouldn’t live somewhere unless there was a church. It was damaged by the bombing and once, when the rain came in the roof, the vicar made a hole in the floor with his umbrella so that it could drain away.”

From here, we walked down Deal St where Albert Family Dwellings formerly stood on the south corner of Underwood Rd. Only the the iron bollards labelled M. E. N. T. remain today to indicate that this was once Mile End New Town. Yet in Mavis’ mind it all still exists – the Prince of Wales pub on the corner of Buxton St, Davis’ Welsh Dairy on the north corner of Underwood Rd and Mrs Finkelstein’s sweetshop opposite, where for penny you could put your hand in a bran tub and get a little thing to put in your dolls’ house. Standing outside the former entrance of  Albert Family Dwellings, Mavis recalled the evening of 2nd September 1939 when she and her sister Margaret were summoned to the school to be evacuated without being told where, and Mavis’ mother went home alone clutching a card with her daughters’ address in Aylesbury. Today, Mavis is probably the only witness to the former life of these streets that still resides in this location and the empty pavements are crowded with memories for her.

Mavis gave up a career in the City in preference to a lower paid job as a secretary at the Royal London Hospital because she wanted to be of service to people, and she worked there for forty years. Her grandfather Richard Pugh, the lay preacher from Wales, would have been proud of Mavis, following his example. The last of the Bullwinkles in Tower Hamlets, she fills with delight to speak of Spitalfields, and more than a century of striving and thriving in her family in this corner of the East End. Out of almost everyone I know, Mavis could most be said to be of this place. With a self-effacing nature, she has shown moral courage and selflessness in her work at the hospital, and in caring for her mother and two aunts until they died at ripe old ages. After eighty years, Mavis Bullwinkle knows what it means to live, and we salute her example and applaud her spirit.

Gwen Bullwinkle holds up Mavis in Hanbury St in 1933. “Every time my mother saw this picture, she would say, ‘Fancy taking us outside a pub!’”

Mavis by the War Memorial at Christ Church which her father Alf tended. “He used to grow flowers around it and keep it tidy.”

All Saints Sunday School in 1939 – seven year old Mavis is in the second row on the extreme right and her five year old sister Margaret is on her right.

Mavis outside the former rectory of All Saints Church. “I had some of the happiest times of my life here.”

Mavis & Margaret’s evacuation card, 1939.

Mavis stands on the spot where All Saints Church used to be in Buxton St until 1951.

Spitalfields’ celebrations for the coronation of King George VI, 1937.

Mavis in Vallance Rd outside the house of Quaker philanthropist Mary Hughes, daughter of Thomas Hughes. “Mary Hughes came up to my mother pushing me in a pram in the Whitechapel Rd in 1932 and exclaimed ‘Oh you wonderful mother!’ She was a little old lady dressed in black silk, from the nineteenth century, and my mother pulled away in fear. Only later did she learn who it was.”

You may also like to read my original profile

Mavis Bullwinkle, Secretary

and

When Mavis Bullwinkle met Norah Pam

and

Mavis, Henrietta & Joan Chit Chat

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR BIRTHDAY MESSAGES BELOW FOR MAVIS

39 Responses leave one →
  1. May 18, 2012

    A most happy birthday to you Mavis. May the coming year be filled with joy and great health. Best wishes all the way from Portland, Oregon to you on this lovely day.

  2. May 18, 2012

    A very happy birthday, Mavis. (And what a lovely smile she has, too!)

  3. Hari from Canada permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday Mavis!

    You are an inspiration; thank you to you and the gentle author.

    Through your story, I see my family – the gentle author brings it to human life which we all are but sometime forget.

  4. Justin permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy birthday to a lady — a Londoner — who is unparalleled. A great heart and a formidable spirit, the soul of her neighbourhood, truly the prima donna of Spitalfields. We love you, Mavis. More power to your elbow. Long may you roam.

  5. May 18, 2012

    Have a lovely birthday! This was a great post.

  6. melbournegirl permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday from Melbourne, Mavis. I loved reading about your life’s adventures and events. I don’t doubt our Gentle Author’s word – but really – looking at the vibrant, beautiful woman in those photographs I had to go back and triple-check your given age!

  7. Monika permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday to a fantastic lady!

  8. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday, Mavis!!! I wish you many happy returns of the day. I have so enjoyed “getting to know you” through The Gentle Author’s stories. I still remember finishing the first article and thinking, “I want to go there immediately and meet this woman!!” You are truly inspiring. All the best, always, Carol Himmelman-Christopher

  9. May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday Mavis !!! inspirational !

  10. Bill Goodall permalink*
    May 18, 2012

    A Very Happy Birthday to you, dear Mavis.

    I remember you well from my time in Spitalfields in the 1970s, first as an alcoholic derelict who found salvation in the Crypt at Christ Church, then as a regular at worship in Hanbury Street soaking up the teaching of the remarkable Eddy Stride. If you recall me at all – I’m a Scot, by the way – it might be when, on returning to the Crypt to work there, I lived in 47a Brick Lane with my new wife Alice, an Australian Salvation Army officer I met when she was visiting the UK.

    We left for Australia in 1979 and, after many years in Canberra, now live in retirement on the NSW South Coast. We have been blessed with a son and a daughter, both Christians, and – so far – two grandchildren, both boys.

    I thank you, Mavis, for being one of those who made all that possible, for, without you and others who stood firm and faithfully served the Lord in Spitalfields, “a wretch like me” would not have experienced such amazing grace.

    I was in London last year and had the pleasure of catching up with Derek and Tej Stride after attending Sunday worship at Christ Church. If I visit again, I will certainly make sure I catch up with you, too.

    God bless you.

    Bill Goodall

  11. Philip Davis permalink*
    May 18, 2012

    Dear Gentle Author,

    Having no contact with my birth mother and biological brother for their respective birthdays this week here in Oz ensured the proper personal blubbering’s (altogether sweet) just now upon the ‘sensory immersion’ into Birthday Girl Mavis Bullwinkle’s life.

    Thank you & Happy Birthday Mavis.

    X Phil

  12. Jenny Linford permalink*
    May 18, 2012

    Lovely – wishing Mavis a very Happy Birthday!
    Jenny

  13. Adam van den Bussche permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Dear Mavis,

    A very happy birthday to you – what a great story…

  14. Jan Dewhurst permalink*
    May 18, 2012

    happy Birthday Mavis! You are just the best! . where did you get the coat?

    Jan

  15. Susan Devlin permalink
    May 18, 2012

    With all best wishes on your Birthday Mavis! May good health continue to be with you. You look absolutely beautiful. Such a graceful lady. What a great story! I was born in Hackney and still live there today – I’ll be 60 next year.
    Have a fantastic day!

    Susan

  16. Lyn Williams permalink*
    May 18, 2012

    Eighty years young and always with a smile. A Spitalfileds icon! Happy Birthday, Mavis! Love from Alan and Lyn Williams

  17. Gerry King permalink*
    May 18, 2012

    Have a wonderful day Mavis Bullwinkle.

  18. May 18, 2012

    Happy birthday Mavis – I really enjoyed reading this post on this day which also happens to be my birthday.

  19. sarah ainslie permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy birthday Mavis and I love your red coat. Sarah

  20. May 18, 2012

    A very happy birthday from Amsterdam, Mavis. What a wonderful story yours is. Have a fantastic day!

  21. ChiaLynn permalink
    May 18, 2012

    What a wonderful story, and beautiful pictures. Happy birthday from Cambridge, Massachusetts!

  22. Rowena Macdonald permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Dear Mavis
    Happy birthday! Love your stylish red outfit. If I look as good at 80 as you do, I shall be very pleased. Hope you have a lovely day.
    Rowena (a longtime reader of the Spitalfields Life blog)
    Bethnal Green, E3

  23. Dell Watts permalink*
    May 18, 2012

    Mavis what credit to the East End you are. I think they must have got your date of birth wrong or the photos of you were taken 20 + years ago. You are and must have been some looker.

    Regards Dell Watts..

  24. Andrea (in Canada) permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy birthday, Mavis. These stories about you are so interesting, and you sound like an amazing person. I wish you all the best!

  25. May 18, 2012

    Mavis: Happy Birthday!!! This is wonderful of you to share so much about your neighborhood. What a special day. Thanks for doing this post.

  26. Mary Green permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday Mavis! Thank you for sharing your story.

  27. P Mason permalink*
    May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday Mavis

    You are a great lady with a wonderful name.

    Wish there were more like you.

    Best wishes. Jean Matson

  28. Pauline Causton permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday my dear friend Mavis. May the Lord bless and keep you! I do enjoy our prayer/Bible studies especially when you take it. You look lovely in that bright coat and you don’t look your 80 years!

  29. Greg Leigh permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday to you , Mavis , I enjoyed reading your lovely story.

    All my father’s family lived in Spitalfields – (Butler St.) now Brune St.
    and my mother (b. 1923 ) , lived at no. 73 Buxton St.

    A few weeks ago I strolled along Buxton St , taking some photos of the very few
    old houses that are still standing and it brought back memories of her.

    Have a great day and best wishes

    Greg Leigh

  30. Maryellen Johnston permalink
    May 18, 2012

    Many Happy Returns from the Blue Mountains in Australia! How you glow in your wonderful red coat with a glowing smile to match. Remember, eigthy is quite young really (I turned 80 one month ago). Love and all good wishes to you.

  31. May 18, 2012

    Happy birthday to a wonderful lady in a stunning red coat!
    Best wishes
    Clare

  32. Elinor permalink
    May 18, 2012

    A beautiful post, and I wish you many happy returns, Mavis, on your birthday.

  33. jeannette permalink
    May 19, 2012

    happy birthday, beautiful miss mavis. new mexico sends you dust and chiles and cactus flowers and many, many happy returns of the day.

  34. cynthia permalink
    May 19, 2012

    …oh! i’m a day late, but i’d like to add my birthday greetings to you. I hope you had a lovely day Mavis. Not just a beautiful face, but one of the kindest too.

  35. Carmen (from Bishopsgate) permalink
    May 20, 2012

    Dear Mavis,
    Wishing you a wonderful birthday! You are a bright star of Spitalfields!
    I hope you’ve received the cd of our interview.
    All the best, Carmen

  36. Annie permalink
    May 20, 2012

    Thank you for the lovely photos and the good read. Mavis is an inspiration! Happy Belated Birthday!

  37. Henry Watson permalink
    May 20, 2012

    sorry this is late, every good wish and every rich blessing, I will always remember our times together in Spitalfields young peoples fellowship under T C Ralph, of which we were growing in Christ together, Love, henry.

  38. Vicky permalink
    May 23, 2012

    A very belated Happy Birthday, Mavis.

    I wonder whether you’ve noticed that the the photo of you in front of the war memorial at Christ Church, where your father tended the surrounding garden, is also shown in the photographs shown recently in the post about John Claridge. The photo’s title is ‘Hot Dog Van, Spitalfields 1961′. Maybe your father tended the plot as immortalised in this shot. It would be so nice to think so.

  39. Bob Needham permalink
    June 24, 2012

    Hallo Mavis and and I hope you had a very happy birthday.

    I was brought up in South East London (part of Buzz bomb alley) during the war but I have an emotional attachment to the actual east end, particularly Buxton Street. My ancestors lived in the Spitalfields and Bethnal Green areas since the 1500s.

    Your mention of the Prince of Wales pub on the corner of Deal and Buxton streets was of particular interest to me as my Great Grandfather ( James Vincent Needham) was the publican of that pub in the mid 1800s. His Father, George Needham, had the Duke of Norfolk pub in Ivimey Street, Bethnal Green. On my Mothers’s side was the Bay family living in the Norton Folgate area for generations.

    I now live in Australia but would really like to get hold of a photograph of the old Prince of Wales pub. Any thoughts?

    Anyway from one East Ender to another – Many Happy Returns.

    Bob Needham

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