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Paul Aquilina Of Treves House

January 8, 2018
by the gentle author

Today I publish the latest in an occasional series about the residents of Treves & Lister Houses in Whitechapel. These dignified modernist buildings designed in 1956 by Architect & Polish Resistance Fighter Count Ralph Smorczewski are currently under threat of demolition by Tower Hamlets Homes.

Portrait of Paul Aquilina by Sarah Ainslie

Paul’s family were the first to move into the newly-built Treves House in 1958 and, half a century later, he cherishes his grandmother’s flat where he lives today enfolded by affectionate memories of his childhood. I visited Paul there to admire the renovations he has recently completely. ‘They were extremely houseproud,’ Paul admitted as he ushered me in to his immaculate flat, ‘that’s where I get it from.’

There was once a strong Maltese community in the East End, centred around Old Montague St which linked Spitalfields and Whitechapel. Paul’s family were among many who came to London to build new lives after the war but, although he often returns to Malta for holidays, he no longer has any relatives there.

‘I wish the council would leave Treves & Lister Houses alone,’ Paul informed me. His tender story of his family and upbringing at Treves House reveals why his home means so much him, and also illustrates the importance of good quality social housing, permitting extended families to lead decent lives.

“My family came to London from Malta in 1955 – my mother Mary, my father Harry, my grandmother Connie, my uncle Julian and my three aunts Esther, Doris & Carmen. They came here because after the Second World War, Malta was very devastated. It was a British colony, so they emigrated to the United Kingdom to get a better life. My dad’s side of the family came about three years earlier.  At first, they lived in Vallance Rd, before the railway bridge. There was a big Maltese community in this area then.

I was born in the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. My sister Carmen came to join us from Malta at one year old and my brother Joey at one month old. At first, my father was a lorry driver for a couple of years, then he opened a factory and a shop in Commercial Rd selling clothing. My mother was a housewife, she had five kids – me being the youngest of five.

My nan, my three aunts and my uncle moved  from Vallance Rd into this flat in Treves House when they got offered it in 1959. Every weekend and school holiday, I used to be here in this flat visiting my nan. She passed away when I was six. Then, when I was twelve, my parents separated, and me and my mother lived here for five years with my aunts. My aunts and my uncle, they never got married, they just wanted to stay together as a family and they never wanted to leave my nan. When I used to come here  for the weekend, I used to come on Friday night and on Saturday they would always go to the hairdressers, Janet’s in Brady St. I would go along with them when they got their hair set.

My aunts worked at the bedding factory in Deal St. Then that factory closed down and it moved to Canning Town and they moved with it. Doris was the manageress, Esther and Carmen were machinists, and they all worked together. I used to go along on Saturday mornings to the factory with Doris, when she would work until one o’clock. They had a big spring room and another floor where they made mattresses. I remember it well.

They doted on us as kids. They had a dog called ‘Pupa’ which they loved and everyone knew around here, a black poodle. When the dog died in the nineteen-eighties, they buried her at Chingford Pet Cemetery with a headstone.

My nan always to sit out front on a chair, and my mum and dad used to bring me. As soon as she saw me, my nan would burst out crying, hugging and kissing me. That is my first memory. She used to make me meals and we used to do a lot of paper cuttings, cutting out shapes with my aunts. My nan cooked a lot of Maltese food, Maltese chicken soup, baked macaroni, meat and potatoes roasted in the oven. Those are very good memories.

I moved into this flat with my mum in 1981. I shared a room with two aunts and my mum shared a room with the other aunt. I liked it because I always was extremely close with my aunts. I felt a lot of love from them and they spoilt me big time.My aunts were a big part of my family, and I used to be with them every weekend and all school holidays.  To be honest, this flat is the place I have had the most emotional attachment to in my life.

My grandmother, my uncle and my three aunts, all our family funerals were held here in this flat – even my mother, who had moved away to Romford, she came to stay with my aunts while she was ill and attending the Royal London Hospital. Her funeral took place here in 2006.

When I was nineteen, my mother got a flat in Romford and I moved with her. My aunts bought this flat when the right to buy happened in the eighties and when they died they left it to me, so I came back to live here again last year. I spent all the money I inherited on renovating this flat.

I intend to stay here until the day I die.”

Paul’s grandmother, Connie Magro in her kitchen at Treves House in the sixties

Paul with his father Harry Aquilina, taken in the Vallance Rd Photography Studio in the sixties

Connie Magro sitting in the sun at Treves House

Paul’s mother Mary Magro & Auntie Esther in the sixties

Auntie Doris with her cocktail trolley

Auntie Doris with her doll - ‘I remember it always being on the sofa’

Auntie Carmen with Elvis - ‘Every Saturday she bought records from a stall in Whitechapel’

Auntie Esther

Auntie Esther in the front room at Treves House

Paul’s mum and three aunts in the park in front of Treves House

Auntie Doris and Papa at Treves House in the seventies

Uncle Julian in the seventies

Aunt Esther, Paul, a cousin and Mary in 1981

Connie Magro’s rent book

Treves House, Vallance Rd

You may like to read these other stories about Treves House

Sophie Spielman, Shorthand Typist

Count Ralph Smorczewski In The East End

17 Responses leave one →
  1. January 8, 2018

    I was born and brought up in Hackney. Now when I go back so much has changed. I read about Mrs Spielman and her neighbours fight to retain their homes. One wonders if the councillors have forgotten that these people like them, love their homes.

  2. January 8, 2018

    Tidy them up and keep them! They’re the right height for another thing.
    Modern classics

  3. January 8, 2018

    Those aunts’ hairstyles! Even the doll! Treves House must have been a groovy place in the 60s.

  4. Venice permalink
    January 8, 2018

    The interior photographs are beautiful.

  5. Georgina Briody permalink
    January 8, 2018

    I did enjoy reading Paul’s story and brought back a time I remember well.

  6. January 8, 2018

    Let’s hope the council see sense.

    Aunty Doris’s beehive must have been legendary.

  7. January 8, 2018

    Auntie Doris: what a legend. A great story of love and family.

  8. frank hadley permalink
    January 8, 2018

    lovely memories Paul of growing up in east london ,
    I knew a lot of maltese people as i went to catholic schools
    st.josephs in gun st. st. gregory in cheshire st.
    remember going with friends to the maltese dance at Elephant and Castle,
    sadly lost touch once i got married and moved away.
    keep well and thanks for posting.

  9. Esther Bloom permalink
    January 8, 2018

    Utterly gorgeous photos!

  10. David Bishop permalink
    January 8, 2018

    Great post and photos. Thanks GA

  11. pauline taylor permalink
    January 8, 2018

    Oh those beehive hairdos, I had completely forgotten them, very much a London thing I think as I cannot remember any friends having such a style here, a bit of back combing maybe but no more than that. But the shoes, now they are very familiar !
    Good luck to Paul, I hope so much the Treves House will be saved.

  12. Helen Breen permalink
    January 8, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a wonderful, heartwarming story about Paul Aquilina and his family. May he live out his days at Treves House.

    Wow, those great hairdos on his aunts in the 60s and 70s! Forgot about those …

  13. Sue Hare (Radley) permalink
    January 8, 2018

    I grew up in Baxendale street near Columbia road. Everyone looked after their houses and flats. Your aunts look really fashionable all my aunts were the same. Great days

  14. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 8, 2018

    What a moving story! And what an amazing collection of photographs. A wonderful example of life ‘indoors’ and those beehive hairdos were something else! I also grew up during that time in S.London, but don’t have anything like the photographic record as Paul and his family kept.
    I’m so sorry to hear his much loved home is under threat, and pretty convinced breaking up or bulldozing close communities is at the heart of many of our social ills.

  15. mark permalink
    January 8, 2018

    Totally fab kodachrome colour pics! Evocative. One can taste the sixties. Stunning women. Thanks.

  16. Tina Gregoriou permalink
    January 8, 2018

    This is a wonderful account of a proud family. It is vital that we support these homes staying put. These are people’s lives and homes and memories.
    The sixties photographs are simply wonderful. Eat your heart out Martin Parr!

  17. Natalie Morris permalink
    January 22, 2018

    Have a photograph of my brothers and sister in the exact same photography studio, taken in the 60s, same flowers, stool and carpet! My great aunt and uncle lived at Treves House and my other great uncle worked at the bedding factory in Deal Street.

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