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At the Boys’ Club 89th Anniversary Dinner

October 4, 2013
by the gentle author

Maxie Lea MBE, member since 1941

Maxie Lea, 1941

In recent years, it has been my privilege and delight to attend the annual dinner held by the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club in Russell Sq and this year Contributing Photographer Jeremy Freedman came along to take portraits of some of the boys.

Originally established in 1924 by undergraduates of Cambridge University as a Jewish Boys’ Club in Chance St, the Club opened its doors to everyone in 1936 in response to Oswald Mosely and his fascists in the East End. For the price of just halfpenny a week, boys from the Boundary Estate and the surrounding streets at the top of Brick Lane were able to attend every night and participate in sports and cultural activities that were designed to cultivate an egalitarian sense of decency and raise their expectations of life. As Ron Goldstein, who joined in the Club 1933, put it to me plainly, “Half of the boys would have ended up as the next generation of gangsters and criminals if it had not been for the Club.”

Such was the importance of the Club for its members that they still meet annually to celebrate it, even after all this time – because, rather than turn out as the next generation of gangsters and criminals, many did rather well by staying on the right side of the law, becoming company directors and executives. Most significantly, the bonds of friendship that were established all those years ago in the old East End have endured a lifetime, which renders these reunions as emotional occasions, coloured by sentiment and deeply-held affection and causing the boys to revert to their playful childhood personas.

Manny Silverman recalled how he walked through the blackout in 1944 to join the Club and the first person to greet him was Club Secretary Maxie Lea. Nearly seventy years later, Maxie Lea is still Club Secretary and was the first to greet Manny as he arrived at the dinner this year – such is the astonishing continuity of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club.

Before the meal commences, grace is said and a moment of grave contemplation in silence is always observed as the names of those who have died in the previous year are remembered. Imagine the wonder and joy among so many senior gentlemen to discover there were no names to read out this year! It was a happy overture to yet another lively evening.

At each dinner, I ask couple of people if I may interview them during the coming months and the result is a growing collection of stories that record the lives of the Club members. Those I have written to date are listed below.

Monty Meth, member since 1938

Manny Silverman, member since 1944

Manny Silverman, 1944

Ron Goldstein, member since 1934

Ron Goldstein, 1934

Aubrey Goldsmith, member since 1938

John Platt, member since 1945

Aubrey Silkoff, member since 1951

Aubrey Silkoff, 1951

Des Gammon, member since 1941

Ron Davis, member since 1934

Dennis Frank, member since 1938

Alf Mendoza, member since 1933

Colour Photographs © Jeremy Freedman

Archive Photographs by Harry Tichener MRPS

You may also like to read my interviews with members of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club

Ron Goldstein

Aubrey Silkoff

Aubrey Goldsmith

Manny Silverman

Lennie Sanders

Maxie Lea

and watch

Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club Films

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    October 4, 2013

    These Old Boys look like they can carry on for at least another 10 years. Wonderful

    Melvyn Brooks Karkur Israel

  2. Gina permalink
    October 4, 2013

    Lovely photos showing the strength of true friendships that have endured over the decades

  3. Tom Stokes permalink
    October 4, 2013

    This is fantastic, Long term friendships and acquaintances that have encountered all sorts of joys and woes, Still going strong.
    Thank you for all your unique and interesting stories.

  4. SBW permalink
    October 4, 2013

    Brilliant, thank you again. Your stories each day are a light in my life. s

  5. October 4, 2013

    Echo sbw’s comment. What a treat! Love the juxtapositions with images of unfettered childhood… and especially the previous and wonderful interview stories. Long may Gentle Author continue, person by person, to unite the world :-)

  6. October 6, 2013

    Oh this was a wonderful story! Every time I look at Spitalfields Life, I feel better. Think I will go tweet about it. Thanks again for making my day! :o )

  7. October 6, 2013

    If there was no such person as The Gentle Author we should have to invent one !

    I have always admired the author’s work, since the first time we met and the author has always managed to get it right. I am reminded of King George the VIth’s creed;

    “Teach me to know the difference between sentiment and sentimentality, admiring the one and despising the other”

    More power to your elbow and do keep the stories coming !

    Ron

  8. Jenny Freedman permalink
    October 13, 2013

    What a lovely article and great memories

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