A Hoxton Childhood
Terry Jasper, son of A S Jasper, has organised a reading of dramatised excerpts from his father’s celebrated autobiography A Hoxton Childhood at Hoxton Hall next week, on Thursday 16th October at 6pm. Admission is free and Terry will talking about his father after the reading. Meanwhile, you can read my interview below with Terry from 2013.
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. 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.”
“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
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.”