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Mannie Blankett, Hairdresser/Furrier/Lifeguard

January 31, 2014
by the gentle author

Mannie Blankett

“You can call me ‘Jack Of All Trades’ if you want,” suggested Mannie with a characteristic grin of self-effacement, when I asked his profession, as if he were more concerned to make things easier for me than to assert his accomplishments. Such is the philosophical detachment of one born in 1917, who saw the passage of the twentieth century, who is the last of a family of six children, and is a man at peace with himself.

While the January afternoon light faded outside, I was privileged to spend a few hours with Mannie in the peace of his modern flat looking down upon the Petticoat Lane Market.

“As a youngster, I remember going to the Pavilion Theatre in the Whitechapel Rd and seeing the boxing and wrestling. It was full of people and very popular. That was a long time ago, the end of the thirties, so you can imagine how old I am. The boxing ring was in the middle of the theatre with seats all round and upon the stage. It can’t have been expensive because I didn’t have anything. It must have been pennies. I remember an American boxer came over called ‘Punchy’ Paul Shaffer who knocked out all his opponents in the first round and there was Max Krauser the wrestler, a heavyweight who won all his fights.

I was born in Jamaica St and I left the East End at twenty years old, when the family moved to Stamford Hill in 1937. Jamaica St had all these bug-ridden houses then. We used to call them ‘red bugs,’ and they came out in the summer. Six of us shared a three bedroom house and we had no back garden or bathroom, and we had an outside toilet. Opposite, there was company that did deliveries by horse and cart, collecting and transporting goods. There were few cars around then, very few people had them, just the milkman, the baker and the coalman. I wish I could remember more about the old days. As a kid, my mother used to take me up to Brick Lane to buy clothes and I remember the market in Whitechapel all along Mile End Waste

My parents came from Poland. My father Harry was a furrier who had his own business in the West End and my mother Sarah had six children to bring up. Blankett & Sons had workshops around Oxford St and Soho, and I had a brother who worked there with my father. I went to South St School, then I won a scholarship to Mile End School in Myrdle St and I was supposed to stay until sixteen, but my mother took me out at fourteen. I didn’t want to work as a furrier, instead I worked as a hairdresser all over the East End, before my mother sent me to a hairdressing school to learn my trade for three years but I wasn’t keen on that – the hours were very long, eight in the morning until eight at night – so I went into the family business after all.

I worked there for a couple of years and I learnt all the parts of the trade, making patterns, cutting and nailing. At lunchtimes, I used to go swimming and sunbathing at the Serpentine Lido and I got chatting with the attendant and he said there was a job going as a lifeguard and suggested I apply. I worked at the Lido for five years, it was a seasonal job from Easter until September. At school, I had learnt to swim and won a bronze medal for lifesaving. I was in my late teens and I loved that job. In our English summers, you get weeks of rain and we used to sit and play chess all day.

I always wanted to travel and, one day, I saw an advert in the London Times offering return tickets to India for seventy-five pounds. So I got a ticket and it was to travel overland, so it took a month just to get there! I met this young lady, Pat Evans, and we used to write to each other. When I went to India, I gave up my flat in Blandford St, so she said, ‘When you come back you can stay at my place in Croydon for a night, if you need somewhere.’ I stayed ten years until she died. She used to do a bit of writing, she wrote stories and poems for magazines and had quite a few published. In Croydon, I got a job at the swimming pool in Purley Way, opposite where the old airport and I was there for five years.

I got called up in 1943 for three years and, when I came out, I did a bit of hairdressing and part-time work in the family business to get by. In the sixties, I worked in Housman’s Radical Bookshop in the Caledonian Rd and I was in the Peace Movement. I joined Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and became one of the Committee of One Hundred, including Bertrand Russell, Arnold Wesker, Christopher Logue and Vanessa Redgrave. We had demonstrations and, when they were arrested, we would step in to fill their places – I was arrested a number of times too.

When I was in Croydon, I got friendly with a guy who liked to dress up in uniform and do historical re-enactments, and he told me there was a VE Day Celebration coming up in the East End and they had two big bands playing including one led by Glenn Miller’s brother. So we went along and I met this woman who lived in Petticoat Sq. She was called Rene Rabin and that was twenty-five years ago. That was how I came back to the East End, to live in Middlesex St. Now I’ve lived in Petticoat Lane for twenty years and I like it round here. I have travelled a full circle in my life. “

Mannie with his sister Anne and their parents Sarah and Harry Blankett in the thirties

The Pavilion Theatre as Mannie knew it in the thirties

In his flat in Petticoat Sq, Mannie Blankett looks down upon the Petticoat Lane Market

You may also like to read these other Petticoat Lane Stories

Laurie Allen of Petticoat Lane

Betty Levy of Petticoat Lane

Henry Jones, Milkman of Petticoat Lane

Postcards From Petticoat Lane

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    January 31, 2014

    Wow, that sounds like a wonderful life!
    Another great ‘life’ story GA.

  2. SBW permalink
    January 31, 2014

    Thank you Mannie, for sharing your story. sbw

  3. January 31, 2014

    An awesome and moving life story. All my best wishes to Mr Mannie Blankett !

    Love & Peace

  4. January 31, 2014

    What a life! Great story & portraits.

  5. sprite permalink
    January 31, 2014

    The extraordinary lives of ordinary people! Another fine exemple…

  6. January 31, 2014

    Very interesting story of a great old man. I lived for a time in the house next door to the theatre, at number 189, it was owned by a mission then. Valerie

  7. Suzy permalink
    January 31, 2014

    Wonderful as always.

    I was flying around London with my forefinger earlier today on Google satellite maps. It’s rather mind blowing and one can wile away far too long in such a fashion! But hey, I was amazed at how many roof gardens there are atop mansions, office buildings, flats etc. I’d like to think many of them are private, with their own story, providing peace and calm amidst the chaos of Central London. What a great book they could make: Rooftop Havens of London. There are quite a number above and around Spitalfields too.
    I wonder, could you bring us some stories from these private havens?? Or maybe there are secret tales to be told of office workers who escape to roof tops for a moments sanity? There is something exciting about the thought of these wee green squares in the sky, unbeknown to the hurrying and scurrying of those below.
    Hearty Greetings and Bestest Wishes to ye.

  8. January 31, 2014

    Many blessings and warmest wishes to Mannie Blankett!

  9. Adele permalink
    February 4, 2014

    A few years ago, while on a nostalgic trip back to the East End with a friend, we decided on lunch at a workman’s cafe in Middlesex St.At the next table were two elderly men and two women. We got chatting and one of them was Mannie (also Rene, Ron and an unnamed woman). For an hour they regaled us with stories of how the neighborhood had changed, their pasts and lots of questions about where we were from. It’s a pleasure to see Mannie in print as I think of that summer afternoon often.

  10. Sue permalink
    February 11, 2014

    Having known Manny for around 40 years (I’m Pat’s daughter), I was delighted to see this profile of the lovely man who brought so much happiness to my mother for over 10 years. A gentle soul with a very sharp brain, he has always chosen to live life his way: something few of us actually manage to do. Don’t ever underestimate his intelligence though – he is the meanest chess player out and already a bit of a whizz on the iPad! Great stuff Manny….

  11. sarah- Pats grand daughter permalink
    March 18, 2014

    I am very happy my grandma spent her time with you Manny. We all have lots to learn and I can see clearly you have lead your life with your eyes and heart open. You must have great courage to travel and stand true to yourself. You seem a peace warrior of the greatest.

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