So Long, Lennie Saunders
I publish my profile of Lennie Saunders today as a tribute to a celebrated East Ender, native of Padbury Court and lifelong member of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club who died last week on 6th August at the fine age of ninety-four
If you were regularly around Arnold Circus on a Sunday morning in recent years, you may very likely have seen Lennie Sanders upon his regular pilgrimage, coming on the 67 bus from Stamford Hill to sit upon the first bench on the left beneath the bandstand, the one donated by the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club. He was born ninety-four years ago in Padbury Court nearby, close to where his wife Annie grew up on the Boundary Estate, and, when they first married, they lived in Cookham Buildings where their son Roy was born. Lennie confided to me that it consoled him – once Annie and Roy were no longer alive – to return to Arnold Circus on Sunday and sit in quiet contemplation of those years which brought him so much happiness.
“My mother was a very religious woman and she used to bring her friends back from church for sandwiches on a Sunday evening,” Lennie informed me, introducing his story, “But my father was quite the opposite, he used to come home when the pub shut on Sunday night and say, ‘You lot, out!”
As we walked over to Padbury Court (known as Princes Court when Lennie was growing up as the youngest of nine) he paused constantly to point out all the things that existed for him but which were no longer there. “I used to know everybody but now I am a foreigner here,” he declared to me, breaking from his reverie,“Everyone I knew has moved to Stamford Hill.”
“I’m always happy when I’m here, because I feel as if I am back home.” Lennie continued, regaining his absorption as we turned the corner from Brick Lane into Padbury Court, halting for a moment of devotion at the site of the terrace on the north side where he grew up, demolished half a century ago. Further along, where the road becomes Gibraltar Walk, and passing the old furniture workshops, we came to the junction with the Bethnal Green Rd where the event took place which Lennie considered to be the turning point in his childhood.
“We were skylarking at the water fountain and someone pushed me and my arm went underneath me and broke. They carried me to the Mildmay Mission who said they couldn’t do anything, so my father took me in a taxi to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, where they were going to cut it off,” Lennie related, rolling his eyes for effect and twisting his arm to demonstrate what happened, “but my father asked his governor, Mr Jackson at the compositing works,”They’re talking about cutting my son’s arm off!” And Mr Jackson sent his surgeon, he said, ‘He’ll patch it up.’”
“To be honest, I never knew my mother because she died when I was eight,” Lennie revealed with a shrug – moving on unexpectedly – and outlining the lengthy rehabilitation that preoccupied his attention in those years. A process compounded by the subsequent discovery that the accident had affected his hearing, which kept Lennie out of school for four years. “When my mother died, my father had a bad heart attack and couldn’t work no more,” Lennie added under his breath, amplifying the nature of the circumstances and lowering his eyelids in regret.
Then, one night in 1932, everything changed for Lennie when met his pal, Willy Greenhough, in the street and he said, “Where are you going? There’s this Jewish boys’ club, but they don’t bar anyone so we could go along there and get some cocoa.” It was a highly significant cup of cocoa because it led to membership of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club and a circle of friendships that Lennie enjoyed for the rest of his life. “The only reason they dropped the word ‘Jewish’ from the name was because Mosley and his fellows used to come along and smash their windows – so they took it off,” Lennie explained to me wryly before asserting gravely, “The Jew and the Gentile were always very close in Bethnal Green.”
As it turned out, Lennie’s rehabilitation encouraged a love of sport and very soon he was leading the boys of the club in nightly runs down to Trafalgar Sq and back. “If they wasn’t very fit, I would let them wait at St Paul’s and join us again on the way back,” he confessed with an indulgent grin, “I was always a very fit boy.” Leaving school, Lennie went to work as one of more than a hundred Western Union messenger boys based in Great Winchester St in the City of London, which further exercised his athletic ability. “Mostly we delivered round the Stock Exchange, but sometimes we had to cycle to Shepherd’s Bush,” he recalled gleefully. In fact, Lennie played football and cricket at professional level for Clapton Orient, the club that became Leyton Orient. “My doctor kept going on about having my arm straightened, but I refused – I never made it a handicap.” he confirmed.
Much to Lennie’s regret, his poor hearing prevented him joining the Navy when the War came along and so, unable to enlist, he worked as glazier and then in demolition upon bomb sites, staying in London throughout the blitz. Memorably, he took his wife-to-be Annie Hiller up to the West End to see a film only to return to Shoreditch to discover an unexploded bomb was stuck in the chimney of the wash house on the Boundary Estate. “Annie couldn’t go home, so I took her back to Princes Court to meet my father for the first time,” Lennie confessed. In 1942, they were married and moved into Cookham Buildings where their son Roy was born two years later.
“I started cab-driving in 1946. My brother-in-law said ‘You already have the Knowledge from when you were a messenger boy.’ When I began, the cab was open, so you had to wear a hat and a big coat in winter. I did it for fifty-five years until I retired in 2000.” Lennie told me. It was in 1951, when Roy was ten, that the family moved to a two bedroom flat in Stamford Hill, where Lennie lived alone after Roy left home and Annie died, yet where seventy people attended his ninetieth birthday party.
Throughout our walk, Lennie cradled a bag of two cheese beigels which he had bought that morning in Brick Lane. Completing his story, he revealed that an old friend had recognised him in the crowd and called out to him, a recurring event on those Sunday visits to the market. “I get off the bus at Shoreditch High St, and I walk through Brick Lane and then back up towards Bethnal Green, and I go down my street, Padbury Court,” he recounted – as much to himself as to me – recapping our journey that morning.
Lennie & I shook hands at the top of Brick Lane before he went to catch the 67 bus for his return journey. “I’ll be alright, I’ll take it slowly,” he reassured me, taking one last affectionate look around, “I’ll go home and eat my beigels.”
Lennie’s father Basil (he called himself George) with his dog Nobby in the garden of 7 Padbury Court.
Lennie’s mother Ellen wore an apron of sacking but put on a white one for this picture.
The north side of Padbury Court (known as Princes Court then) where Lennie was born in 1922.
Lennie in Padbury Court – the northern side was demolished over fifty years ago.
Lennie was the youngest, here aged four in 1926 photographed with (clockwise) Bunny, Eddie, George & Jess in the back garden of 7 Princes Court.
The family in 1928, Lennie stands at the centre aged six.
Lennie (in the white shirt) camping with the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club, 1936.
Lenny is number 87 in the club cross-country team.
Lennie at Cookham Buildings where he lived when he was first married and his son Roy was born.
Lennie and Annie with their son Roy in 1944.
Lennie Sanders, Cab Driver (1922-2015)
Read my other Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club Stories