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Remembering A S Jasper

October 1, 2013
by the gentle author

Albert Stanley Jasper

“The initials stand for Albert Stanley, but he was always know as Stan, never Albert,” admitted Terry Jasper, speaking of his father when we met at F. Cooke’s Pie & Mash Shop in Hoxton Market recently. A.S. Jasper’s A Hoxton Childhood is one of the classic East End childhood autobiographies, acclaimed since it was first published in 1969 when The Observer described it as “Zola without the trimmings,” and Terry is understandably proud to welcome a new edition this month.

“In the late sixties, my mum and dad lived in a small ground floor flat. Looking out of the window onto the garden one morning, he saw a tramp laying on the grass who had been there all night. My dad took him out a sandwich and a cup of tea, and told him that he wouldn’t be able to stay there,Terry recalled,I think most people in that situation would have just phoned the police and left it at that.” It is an anecdote that speaks eloquently of Stan Jasper’s compassionate nature, informing his writing and making him a kind father, revered by his son all these years later.

Yet it is in direct contrast to the brutal treatment that Stan received at the hands of his own alcoholic father William, causing the family to descend in a spiral of poverty as they moved from one rented home to another, while his mother Lily struggled heroically against the odds to maintain domestic equilibrium for her children. “My grandmother, I only met her a couple of times, but once I was alone with her in the room and she said, ‘Your dad, he was my best boy, he took care of me.’” Terry remembered.

“There are a million things I’d like to have asked him when he was alive but I didn’t,” Terry confided to me, contemplating his treasured copy of his father’s book that sat on the table between us, “My dad died in 1970, he was sixty-five – It was just a year after publication but he saw it was a success.”

“When he was a teenager, he was a wood machinist and the sawdust got on on his lungs and he got very bad bronchitis. When I was eight years old, the doctor told him he must give up his job, otherwise the dust would kill him. My mum said to him that this was something he had to do and he just broke down. It was very strange feeling, because I didn’t think then that grown-ups cried.”

Stan started his own business manufacturing wooden cases for radios in the forties, employing more than seventy people at one point until it ran into difficulties during the credit squeeze of the fifties. Offered a lucrative buy-out, Stan turned it down out of a concern that his employees might lose their jobs but, shortly after, the business went into liquidation. “He should have thought of his family rather his workers,” commented Terry regretfully, “He lost his factory and his home and had to live in a council flat for the rest of his life.”

“My dad used to talk about his childhood quite a lot, he never forgot it – so my uncle said, ‘Why don’t you write it all down?’ And he did, but he tried to get it published without success. Then a friend where I worked in the City Rd took it to someone he knew in publishing, and they really liked it and that’s how it got published. When the book came out in 1969, he wanted to go back to Hoxton to see what was still left, but his health wasn’t good enough.”

Terry ‘s memories of his father’s struggles are counterbalanced by warm recollections of family celebrations.“He always enjoyed throwing a party, especially if he was in the company of my mother’s family. It wasn’t easy obtaining beer and spirits during the warm but somehow he managed to find a supply.  He was always generous where money was concerned, sometimes to a fault, and he had a nice voice and didn’t need much persuading to get up and sing a song or two.”

A.S. Jasper’s ‘A Hoxton Childhood’ is an authentic and compelling story of survival and of the triumph of a protagonist who retains his sense of decency against all the odds. “He said he would always settle for the way life turned out,” Terry concluded fondly.

Terry Jasper at F Cooke in Hoxton Market

Cover design for the first edition of A Hoxton Childhood drawn by James Boswell

William Jasper - “His main object in life was to be continually drunk”

Lily Jasper - “I asked her what made her marry a man like my father”

Stan (on the right) with his brother Fred

Stan and his wife Lydia

Terry as a boy

Terry in 1960

Terry with his dad Stan

Stan and his sister Flo

Stan

Terry with Stan & Lydia at Christmas

High jinks at a family Christmas party

A S Jasper - “So, out of so disastrous a childhood, I am now surrounded, in spite of poor health, with love and happiness.”

Meet Terry Jasper at the book launch at Broadway Bookshop, Broadway Market, Hackney, Wednesday 9th October 7pm

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Joy permalink
    October 1, 2013

    Love this book! told me so much about my own Dad’s life at the same time in Hoxton and Islington I never knew- he even lived in the house next door. Would love to speak to Terry.

  2. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    October 1, 2013

    “A Hoxton Childhood” is a classic. I have read and re-read it. I bought the book in 1970 at Centerprise which was then in Kingsland Road. Due to overuse the pages are falling out and I welcome the new printing. The book was reprinted in hardback version in 1971 by the Readers Union. I bought my copy for 1.50 in 1994 from a shop in Hay-on-Wye.
    I hope the new edition will be sell out. We can all learn from it. An adaption was performed at Chat’s Palace, Homerton and at the Bethnal Green Museum in June 1999.

    Melvyn Brooks Karkur Israel

  3. Roger Tiller permalink
    October 1, 2013

    A mirror image of my live, brought back many memmories .

  4. Ruth permalink
    October 1, 2013

    I do like A Hoxton Childhood; it’s always such a pleasure to read memoirs which relate to places you know intimately. How nice to know Terry Jasper at F Cooke is a direct descendant. I hope the book launch and reprint goes well.

  5. Ron Pummell. permalink
    October 1, 2013

    I first read this book about 15 years ago and would recommend it all, young and old, who have connections with London.

  6. Barbara permalink
    October 2, 2013

    Like Melvyn, bought my copy at Centerprise in Dalston in the 1970′s…great book. Later, I lived in Hoxton myself for 16 years and still go back to visit my old neighbour who is now 86 and Hoxton born bred.

  7. October 3, 2013

    My goodness, do they really still have Pie & Mash shops? I remember every Saturday morning back in 1949-50 riding my bike from Beacontree to East Ham High Street to pay off my mothers radiogram and being given money to have 2 pies and mash at the Pie & Mash shop. What a treat; never been able to forget that food with a dollop of mashed potatoes covered with parsley sauce. When I think back on it now I sometimes wonder what the meat was, we were still heavily rationed back then :)

  8. Cherub permalink
    October 4, 2013

    Brian, my husband is an East Ham boy living in Scotland now. He cannot visit family in the East End without having pie and mash, it’s like going on a pilgrimage for him I think :-)

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