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David Robinson, Chairman of the Repton Boxing Club

May 26, 2013
by the gentle author

David shows a bit of action with the punchbag at his stoneyard in Ezra St

“I’m nothing, I’m nobody, I’m David Nothing,” declared David Robinson, Chairman of the Repton Boxing Club in Cheshire St, by way of introducing himself, when Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney & I turned up to meet him last week. Tony Burns, Head Coach, chipped in too, suggesting to me helpfully, “You don’t have to say ‘David,’ say ‘Ignore it!’” Such high spirits were an indicator that the Repton has enjoyed another successful season and now, following the usual pattern of the year, the officers will retire on 30th May until they are re-elected in September – “Whether we like it or not!” chuckled David, rubbing his hands with glee.

“I’m an immigrant, I’m not an East Ender – but it  took a boy from the West End to show them how to run a boxing club in the East End !” he continued, bragging to counteract his initial modesty and waving his hands around excitedly as we entered the Club, housed in a glorious former bath-house lined with boxing memorabilia, where David has been Chairman for the last quarter century.“We’ve been here forty years and we’ve got a thousand year lease which I personally negotiated myself,” he added with a swagger.

Once you are inside the Club, the humidity increases suddenly as you enter a space where dozens of figures are in motion, punching the air, or punchbags, or each other, with balletic grace and insistent rhythms. The energy and movement creates a volatile spectacle, illuminated by dramatic rays of sunlight from a glass lantern high in the roof and intensified by a cacophony of sound bouncing off the tiled walls pasted with old boxing posters.

Over the course of one practice session at the gym and a rainy afternoon next day at his stoneyard, David told me his story. It led me to understand something of his motives in nurturing the extended mutually-respecting family that exists at the Repton and which has been key to its ascendancy, becoming Britain’s most famous boxing Club.

“I’m not an East End boy, I was born in Old Compton St into a close Soho community composed of Irish, Italian, Cypriots, Maltese and English, and I went to St Patrick’s School in Soho Sq. Then we moved to Cleveland St, north of Oxford St, where I grew up. The house was derelict, it was bomb-damaged, no running water or power, and there was a tarpaulin in place of a roof.

I had no parents, my dad was an abusive alcoholic and my mum had left, so I had to take care of my younger brother Leon alone and protect him from my dad. I remember going down to the Kings’ Cross Coal Depot on a Saturday to get half a crown for helping out. The coal merchants would load up from the coal mountains at the rear of the station and then, as the trucks drove out, they’d pick the biggest boy from those waiting outside for a day’s work carrying sacks of coal. For half a crown, you could go to the pictures and out on a Saturday night, and have a few bob left for Sunday.

We made our own scooters from planks of wood and cut out a little groove for a ball-bearing at either end, they were the wheels. We used a tarry block from the street to secure the whole thing together and nailed beer bottle tops on the front – as identification to show which street you were from and which gang you were in, blue for this street or green for that one. Once you’d cleaned up the tarry blocks from the street, you could stand on a corner in Great Titchfield St, which was the nearest market, and sell them for a penny a bundle. We’d go down to Covent Garden Market with a sack at five in the morning and help ourselves to carrots, all the poor kids in the West End did that. It was what everyone did. You didn’t take strawberries, just vegetables. The drivers had driven through the night from Kent, and they just wanted to have a nap and drive back. You’d ask them, and they’d let you climb on top of the lorry and help yourself.

My wife Carol is from Bethnal Green and, when I met her in 1960, I was only a lad of fifteen and she was sixteen – and I had never been to the East End. I got out of the tube in Bethnal Green and I thought, ‘So this is the East End.’ We got married here in 1965 at Our Lady of the Assumption, opposite York Hall in Old Ford Rd. When I took her to the West End, she said, ‘This is fantastic, they’ve got more community spirit here than in the East End.’ It’s true. There’s twenty-two boys that I was at school with at St Patrick’s in Soho that I’m still in touch with. We meet in a cafe at the back of Holborn on the last Friday of every month, and have breakfast and a chat about life.

I got an apprenticeship as a plumber and, after Carol & I got married, we ended up living in one room in Southgate Rd where we had our first baby Terrence. We were moved by Greater London Council to Camberwell which I didn’t like but we had a bathroom with hot water and a room for my boy – so you took what you were given. We lived there five and a half years, and that’s where I started my company Rominar, Stone Restoration. It took us two years to save the deposit on a house, by then I had two more children, Jamie and my daughter Karen, and we moved to Wanstead, where I’ve remained ever since. I moved my business to Ezra St, Bethnal Green, from Camberwell where I’d been working out of a garage.

My second son, Jamie, was a bit of a boisterous lad. He got in scuffles in the playground and became generally unruly, so I took him along to the Repton Boys’ Boxing Club one Saturday. The coach Billy Taylor said, ‘He’s fat,’ I said, ‘He’s just not getting enough exercise.’ He went every Saturday and he worked his way up from the juniors to the seniors, and won the National Schoolboy Championship twice. The Repton boys have won seven National Schoolboy titles in a day – twice – in 1980 and 1983. We are the only Club to have ever done that!

Jamie went pro in the mid-eighties. I was fully involved, I was not a boxing trainer but I was very strict with the boys. I took seven boys to Liverpool once and they all lost, they gave up. I said to them, ‘What’s the matter with you? You’ve got no guts and no glory.’ I couldn’t say anything to them on the bus coming back and I didn’t speak to them for three months after.

In 1988, Bill Cox from the Amateur Boxing Association asked me to join the committee. He said, ‘I need to see you, I’ve got lung cancer and I’ve got six months to live. I want to you to come in as Vice-Chairman and when I die I want you to take over.’ I was very sad to see him go and I was at his bedside on the day he died. I put in place ways to make the club financially stable – boys need medical examinations, we have to pay for trips, accommodation for the boxers and the trainers. When I took over there was fifteen hundred pounds in the bank but we are on a much stronger basis now, and my West End contacts have proved a great support to the Club.

I say to the lads, I’ve always worked since I was fourteen because I had no mum or dad. But it’s hard for lads to get work nowadays because there’s all this paperwork, even to get a job on a building site. Once I got my apprenticeship, I could go to any site and get a job.

I’m the spokesman, I explain to people what the Repton is all about. I love it, it’s my life. I’m sixty-seven and I’m sure I’ll be here until I’m seventy . Some of these lads, I know their background and if they weren’t in the Club, they’d be out on the street, doing drugs and getting involved in crime. All we ask is, we expect respect.”

David contemplates the photo of his brother Leon, now deceased.

David sees off his brother Leon on the train to Cornwall from Paddington, 1962. “I sent him to stay with our mother, he was better off being with her than with us. I was trying to protect him from being beaten up by our drunken abusive father.”

David with Carol, his wife-to-be, on their first holiday together, Falmouth 1964. “We saved up a lot of money and took a coach from London, it seemed like a hundred hours to get there. Carol said to me, ‘It’s nice but I prefer the West End of London.’”

“When Carol met my mother Constance,” Falmouth 1964

David with his son Terry, Southgate Rd, 1966

David, Terry & Carol.

David with his sons, Jamie and Terry , and brother-in-law Johnny in Camberwell, 1970

“Me and my brother Ronnie, when we had a stoneyard up the Holloway Rd.”

David with his son Jamie who won the National Schoolboy Championships twice.

“My West End pals” David with David and John Grosvenor , childhood friends who grew up in Bedfordbury, Covent Garden.

David with Sugar Ray Leonard and one of the trainers.

David welcomes Prince Philip and the Mayor of Bethnlal Green to the Repton Boxing Club, 2004

David with some of the Repton Boys at the Dockers’ Club, Belfast 2003

David contemplates Amir Khan’s signature upon the wall of fame at the Repton.

David scrutinizes the boxers at practice.

David with head coach Tony Burns.

David at his stoneyard in Ezra St, Bethnal Green. “This is where it all happens – where you get the swearing in the morning and then swearing in the afternoon.”

“I prefer doing jobs in the West End, then I can drop in and see my pals.”

David and his son Jamie work together in the family business.

new photographs copyright © Simon Mooney

You may also like to read these other boxing stories

Tony Burns, Boxing Coach

Ron Cooper, Lightweight Champion Boxer

Sammy McCarthy, Flyweight Champion

Sylvester Mittee, Welterweight Champion

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round One)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Two)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Three)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Four)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Five)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Six)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Seven)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Eight)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Nine)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Ten)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Eleven)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Twelve)

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Ron Pummell. permalink
    May 26, 2013

    Thank you David for your contribution to society.

  2. Sarah Taylor permalink
    May 27, 2013

    Yes , indeed , thank yo for your contribution to society, David . You who started out with so little and have given so much . An inspiring story .

  3. andrea permalink
    May 28, 2013

    An interesting story, and I really love the old photos. Thank you, David and Gentle Author.

  4. March 3, 2014

    nice one dave

  5. harry dodds permalink
    May 19, 2014

    I boxed for repton boxing 1949 52 , won London feds 3 years ,1949–51 great times. living now spain. are any old boys out there?

  6. seamus johnson permalink
    November 7, 2014

    hello mate yes its sham great story.first time i read it all some of the photos brought back good memoreys we go back a long way and what you done is great .i am only a beginer with my little charity but with the same goal giving some thing to other pepole in need.ok mate see you christmass.no comments on the spelling mind how you go sham

  7. Lee Arthur permalink
    November 6, 2015

    I have no connection with boxing or The Repton Boxing Club other than I enjoy watching the sport, visit Brick Lane every now and then – oh, and once got my car towed away outside the club in Cheshire Street.
    But wow, what a well written, fascinating insight into Dave’s interesting life from which emerges a totally dedicated man who has clearly worked hard protecting and supporting his family and others.
    Just loved reading about Dave’s life which delves so deeply from his humble beginnings through his struggles to ultimate success with his champion boxer son and the Repton Club.
    Totally awe inspiring accompanied by a lovely collection of photos that enhances his story. Beautifully done and a great lesson for everyone. Keep up the good work Dave – you’re a gem!
    I’m sure that your family and friends are really proud of you…. I certainly am!

  8. Harry Dodds permalink
    November 16, 2015

    Great to see that the club has gone from strength to strength and become one of tbe best boxing clubs in England. Do you have a schedule for your shows? I come over to England from time
    to time and would like to come and see one.
    Harry Dodds

  9. Peter McHugh permalink
    February 5, 2017

    Met Dave Robinson on the train to Newcastle via London did not know any thing about the guy but he talked passionately about Reptonboxing club what a character really enjoyed talking to him , at least we had something in common him being a stonemason, and me being a humble Bricklayer

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