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Mavis Bullwinkle, Secretary

January 21, 2011
by the gentle author

This is the first photo of the remarkable Mavis Bullwinkle, seen here attending a Christmas party in 1932 at the Drill Hall in Buxton St, hosted by Rev Holdstock of All Saints’ Church, Spitalfields – Mavis can easily be distinguished to the left of the happy crowd, because she is a baby in her mother Gwendoline’s arms. In this picture, you see her at the centre of life in Spitalfields and even though this hall does not exist anymore and the church it was attached to was demolished in 1951, and everyone else in this photo has gone now too, I am happy to report that Mavis is still alive and kicking, to carry the story of this world and continue her existence at the centre of things in the neighbourhood.

Mavis’ grandfather, Richard Pugh, was a lay preacher who came to Spitalfields with his wife and family from North Wales in 1898, where he held bible classes at All Saints and spoke at open air meetings and, in the absence of social workers, counselled men from the Truman Brewery in their family problems. His mother paid for him to return alone to Wales to see her for two weeks annual holiday from the East End each year. But Mavis’ grandmother Frances never had a holiday, she said, “Why should people take notice of you when you talk of living the Christian life, when you have an easier time than they do?” Then in 1905, Richard died unexpectedly of pneumonia and Frances was left almost bereft in Spitalfields. She had to leave the church house and take care of her seven children alone. She received a modest pension from the Scripture Readers’ Union until her youngest son, Albert, was fourteen, the Truman Brewery gave her a small grant twice a year and she took work scrubbing floors.

The family moved into Albert Family Dwellings, a large nineteenth century block in Deal St, where subsequently Mavis grew up, living there until it was demolished in 1975 when they were rehoused in a new block in Hanbury St. And today, when I visited Mavis in Hanbury St less than a hundred yards away from the site of Albert Family Dwellings and she described her grandmother who died when she was six, an extraordinary perspective became apparent, connecting our world with that of  Spitalfields more than a century ago.“I remember her shape and her North Wales accent, a lilt.” Mavis told me, conjuring the image in her mind’s eye,” She would always call my father Alfred, when everyone else called him Alf. She was short of stature and she worked hard.”

Mavis’ testimony of life in the East End is one of proud working class families who strove to lead decent lives in spite of limited circumstances. “People like to think that they were all drunks who dropped their ‘h’s, and they were dirty,” she said, eager to dispel this misconception, “Years ago, people were poor but they were completely clean. You can wash without a bathroom, but it takes a lot of work. My father used to put the water on to boil and pour it into the bath. And in the Family Dwellings, it was very well maintained, low rents, strict rules and a uniformed superintendent. When my mother was small and people had large families, if the superintendent saw children playing after eight o’ clock, he’d say ‘Go to bed!’ and you had to do it. I often think of it now when I see children playing outside at eleven at night. Then, everyone used to know each other and help one another. If you were going away on holiday, you’d tell everyone and they’d wave you goodbye.”

Mavis’ story of her family’s existence in Albert Family Dwellings spans the original flat where her grandmother lived with her two maiden aunts, and then Mavis’ parents’ flat that she grew up in. Mavis took care of her mother and the two aunts, who lived to be eighty-six,ninety and ninety-five respectively, even after they all moved out – seventy years after they first moved in as an act of expediency. But by then the nature of the place had changed and it was condemned as part of a slum clearance programme. “It suddenly went down hill in the late fifties when the housing association sold it,” admitted Mavis with a regreftul smile, looking from her living room window across the rooftops of Spitalfields to the space where Albert Family Dwellings formerly stood, a space that holds so much of her family history. If Mavis had married, she would have left Spitalfields but instead she stayed to care for the elderly members of her family and worked for forty years as a secretary in the social work department at the Royal London Hospital, where she was born in 1932. A woman of dauntless temperament, even retired now, she returns one day a week on a voluntary basis to do typing for the friends of the hospital and on another day each week she does reading with a reception class at Christ Church School in Brick Lane where she is a governor.

In Mavis’ personal landscape, Spitalfields’ neighbouring territory, the City of London holds an enduring fascination as a symbolic counterpoint to these streets where she makes her home. “I love the City because I went to school in the City at the Sir John Cass School,” she confided with pleasure, “and my father worked as a clerk in the City, at the Royal London Oil Company for fifty-one years. To go from Tower Hamlets to the City, crossing Middlesex St, was like crossing the River Jordan to the Promised Land. Everyone in Stepney used to dream of living in the City. Before the war, all kinds of people lived in the City, caretakers and such, not just rich people like now.” And then Mavis ran into another room to bring a framed certificate to show me and held it up with a gleaming playful smile of triumph. It read, “Mavis Gwendoline Bullwinkle, Citizen of the City of London.”

Mavis Gwendoline Bullwinkle – Citizen of Spitalfields – is a woman who makes no apology to call herself a secretary, because she is inspired by the best of that proud nineteenth century spirit which carried a compassionate egalitarian sense of moral purpose.

Mavis’ mother’s family, the Pughs of North Wales, photographed in Spitalfields in 1900. At the centre, Mavis’ grandmother Frances holds Mavis’ mother Gwendoline as a baby, with her grandfather Richard at her shoulder, a lay preacher who died unexpectedly of pneumonia four years later.

Handbill for one of Mavis’ grandfather’s bible classes at St Matthew’s Mission, Fulham.

Mavis’ mother Gwendoline and her sisters at All Saints School, Buxton St, Spitalfields, 1904. g – Gwendoline, l – Laura, a – Ada and h – Hilda.

Mavis’ father’s family, the Bullwinkles of Bow in 1917. Her grandmother Lousia sits on the left and her grandfather Edwin on the right. Mavis’ father Alfred stands between his two brothers Harry and Ted, both in Royal Air Corps uniform. The eldest daughter standing behind her mother was also Louisa but known as “Sis.”

Mavis, with her parents Gwendoline and Alfred, and younger sister Margaret in Barking Park, 1939 – before Mavis & Margaret were evacuated to Aylesbury.

Mavis stands on the extreme left of this picture of the All Saints Church Spitalfields choir, 1951.

Mavis sits at the centre of the picnic at this Christ Church, Spitalfields, Sunday School outing to Chalkwell in the late fifties – presided over by Mrs Berdoe (top centre).

Mavis Bullwinkle in her Hanbury St flat today.

23 Responses leave one →
  1. melbournegirl permalink
    January 21, 2011

    My, what an intelligent face. Alive and kicking indeed, and the keeper of so many stories. Thank you for another gem.

  2. January 21, 2011

    Indeed, a marvellous piece – and coincidentally I am probably a distant relation, my mother also being a Pugh. If Mavis is interested, I’d be happy to see if there’s a link somewhere in the chain!

  3. Ruth permalink
    January 21, 2011

    Mavis has the loveliest face, doesn’t she?

  4. January 21, 2011

    Oh I very much enjoyed reading this…

  5. January 21, 2011

    yes, she does, and what poise!

    March 27, 2011

    We are Mavis’s great nieces and found this very funny and interesting! We have sent this to the rest of the village where we live as Mavis is also very well known here as she is a regular visitor to Alderton, Northamptonshire. She helps out at community events like our annual Arts Festival.
    Our mum is Mavis’s niece, daughter of Margaret.

  7. Doris Knights permalink
    April 6, 2011

    What interesting reading. I am an Alderton resident and we count Mavis as ‘one of us.’ She comes to visit her niece and family regularly and joins in with everything in the village. You were very fortunate to meet her and hear her stories first hand. So many of these memories are lost forever. She is a lovely lady.

  8. Graham And Jackie Grundon permalink
    April 8, 2011

    Although we have only known Mavis for 10 years we always think of her as our Auntie Mavis. She has brought joy and laughter to our village every time she visits us . It was great to reed her history and what an inspiration she has been to every one . I particularly remember when she was helping her two nieces on there stall at the village art festival and the wind blow and the rain water which had collected on the roof of the marquee cascaded down all over her.Who laughed first Auntie Mavis…we all are getting on in years and some of us loose the the ability to enjoy life …not our our Auntie Mavis …one of life’s try and lovely ladies….xxxxx

  9. Linda Dards permalink
    April 13, 2011

    I concurr with Doris and Graham and Jackie. We all love Auntie Mavis in Alderton and are always very pleased when she spends time in the village. She always has her handbag with her, no matter what she is doing. She sometimes helps me on my white elephant stall at our annual arts festival – she’s a great saleswoman and always has that bag with her. I don’t think I have ever seen Mavis without a smile. She may be a senior lady but is always young at heart – always interested in what everyone else is doing and how they are. She is always welcome in Alderton.

  10. Pauline Bullwinkle permalink
    July 17, 2011

    My maiden name was Bullwinkle my father born in Bow Alfred William Bullwinkle (deceased) August 1919 His father was Charles William Bullwinkle. I remember the name Teddy Bullwinkle being mentioned. Are we related?

  11. Tracey Langham permalink
    August 20, 2011

    Mavis is related to me, she is my mums cousin. I have been researching the family tree and it seems that Charles William Bullwinkle is in the family tree that i have, please contact if you wish

  12. Avis permalink
    September 15, 2011

    I met Mavis tonight at the event in Fournier Street and it was when we go chatting we realised that we had known each other when we both worked at The London Hospital in 1982! I remember her so clearly. She has not changed one bit, still happy and full of energy, her voice has not changed at all. Still the same chic clothes as well. I have never forgotten her because she was so cheerful. It was so wonderful to meet her again.

  13. IMOGEN permalink
    September 18, 2011

    I’m Alexandra’s bested buddy- and she’s Aunty Mavis’s great neice! Aunty Mavis is amazing, and is my true inspiration! She’s really funny and sweet- and helps at the art festival and stuff! She is really nice, and asks the funniest questions (Alex knows what I’m talking about 😉 ) She’s just wonderful!!! We all love Aunty Mavis 😉 xxx

  14. marie gilbert permalink
    September 18, 2011

    thank you for sharing mavise story with me shes one of lifes treasures and always so happy
    and we always laugh together thank you for being you mavise , kind regards marie

  15. Mathea Johnston permalink
    November 25, 2011

    I came across this article researching Family History for Richard Henry Pugh my great great grandfather. I have not seen ‘Auntie Mavis’ for a long time. I do however have photos and documentation on Richard H Pugh. These came from my mother Laura May Pugh whose father was Albert Edward Pugh, brother of Gwendoline Pugh. I have very vivid memories of the Albert Family Buildings in Deal St which I often visited as a child with my Mother and Father. This was to visit my Mothers close relatives Hilda and Ada Pugh. My mother took great interest in the history that surrounded her upbringing and documented quite alot, from living in Brushfield St opp. Spitalfields Church to her father being church warden, living in the Church Hall at Buxton St and during the war sleeping in the crypt under the Church, being evacuated to Aylesbury, I have great memories of all these stories. Long live Spitalfields!

  16. Pauline Causton permalink
    May 9, 2012

    I have known Mavis since 1994. She is a lovely Christian lady. She has taught me many things concerning the Bible. She is a woman after my own heart and tells it like it is! The world is a better place for her being in it.

  17. Chris Hall permalink
    May 21, 2012

    I see you caught me on a good day!!!! I still have both that picture and the Chior one, with Georgie and Rosie. Not forgetting Nobby Barnby

  18. August 28, 2012

    I grew up in Howard Buildings this was the block opposite Albert i was born at 16 Howard buildings in 1953 and lived there until 1975 as well i remember Miss Bullwinkle . i had a lot of family living there we were the Magraws, pritchards , pearce, and Vanners i dont know if she remembers my mum Nellie Magraw.

    Have great memories of growing up in the buildings there was loads of kids and we had a great time playing in the playgrounds of the buildings.

    Does she remember the Bennet sister two old spinsters who all th kids were frightned of?

  19. August 28, 2012

    Heartwarming! Makes life today seem full of self-interest and indulgence. Although their lives were hard, they had each other and so much more.

  20. william tyrrell permalink
    March 30, 2013

    I looked at the photo of the Rev. Holdstock and i think i saw my mother in the photo also my father could have been in the photo as well. My mothers name at the time was Minnie Matilda Hilton my father was William Diderick Tyrrell.I knew the Rev Holdstock when i was a child i went with my father when All Saints was no more in 1951. The candles,plates and cross are now at St Pauls Church Arrowsmith Road Hainault Essex as they were given to my father at the time for St Pauls Church they were still there as far as i know.In 1945 until 1947 we lived in 15 Howard Buildings Deal Street.From 1947/48 we moved to hainault but my father kept in touch with Rev Holdstock as my Grand parents on my fathers side lived in Howard Buildings.I think it was No 1.

  21. Jean Gould Nee Smith permalink
    August 29, 2013

    I was looking for any pictures of churches that my Ancesters were associated with for my family tree when I came across this page, & read the comments , & I just had to add mine My family lived in Albert & Howard Buildings since the end of the the late eighteen hundreds until 1971 when my Grandmother died. Mavis might remember our family, I certainly remember her lovely family, Our family name was Smith & we lived in No. 39 Albert Bldgs until 1950 above us lived the Yates family & above them lived Mavis’s family if my memory serves me correct. I was Baptize’d by the Rev. Holdstock In All Saints Church 11-02-1940 & attended the School until I was 10. I do remember they used to have tea afternoons at the church house in Buxton St. during the War years, & the children were allowed to play in the lovely back garden. most of the names that have been mentioned in other comments I can recall. If any one remembers the Smith family.My parents names were Alfred & Lily, us children. Shirley Betty Jean & John in that order, apart from my parents we are all still alive, I live in New Zealand now & my siblings in the U.S.A. If any one should have a picture of the Church would love for it be shown.

  22. Michael hardie permalink
    October 17, 2014

    I used to live in no.46 opposite Mavis and her family.they all very nice.i also went to all saints wife(Doreen delaney) used to sing in the Christ church choir which was in the temporary church in hanbury street.mavis used to teach me at Sunday mother in law(Millie delaney) used to cook in the crypt. We had many happy days at the church youth club.we have now been married for 51 years,

  23. Amanda permalink
    September 13, 2019

    Yes, such sparkling poise,
    still pretty and still a natty dresser.

    l came to this page from the GA’s interview with Mavis and Norah Pam.

    What pride Mavis must have to be so well spoken of and her family too.

    So enjoyable to read the praise for Mavis from long lost contacts.

    A worthwhile, inspirational life with a moral sense of purpose, but above all she has always made people feel good and made everybody laugh.

    Many may live their entire lives with ‘acceptance’ eluding them.

    How brilliant to know you will be remembered as a gem.

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