At the Boys’ Club 89th Anniversary Dinner
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