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So Long, Lennie Saunders

August 8, 2015
by the gentle author

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 Sanders

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)

Lennie Saunders’ funeral will take place on Monday 17th August at 3:15pm at St Marylebone Crematorium, East End Rd, East Finchley, N2 ORZ

Read my other Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club Stories

Maxie Lea MBE, Football Referee

The Return of Aubrey Silkoff

Ron Goldstein of Boreham St

Manny Silverman, Tailor

At the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys Club 86th Annual Reunion

Aubrey  Goldsmith of Shoreditch

18 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    August 8, 2015

    amor manet. love remains.

  2. Susan permalink
    August 8, 2015

    Yet another of your truly lovely portrayals – thank you. Rest in peace, Mr. Saunders.

  3. Penny Johnstone permalink
    August 8, 2015

    A truly wonderful tribute, that not only captures the spirit and personality of Lennie for those of us who were not privileged to know him, but sums up all that is best about this blog. The Gentle Author somehow manages to encapsulate all that is best and worst about humanity in thought-provoking, clear and sympathetic language.

  4. Carolyn Badcock - nee Hooper permalink
    August 8, 2015

    Would loved to have taken a journey with Lennie as the cabbie! Bless his wonderful heart…….

  5. August 8, 2015

    Rest in peace, dear Lennie…what an amazing tribute to what sounds like a lovely man…

  6. August 8, 2015

    Mr Lennie Saunders — R.I.P. forever!

    Love & Peace

  7. August 8, 2015

    What a gentleman of memory and neighbourhood history. His routine, including the two cheese bagels, makes us realize how the past is never too far away.

  8. Kerry rainbird permalink
    August 8, 2015

    RIP Lennie – reading about the weekly journeys back home bought a tear to my eye- didn’t have an easy up bringing but never forgot where he came from. Wish I had a chance to meet and listen to the memories – thank god some have been captured by the gentle author! Bygone era ……

  9. August 9, 2015

    Many, many thanks Gentle Author for taking the time to pay this tribute.

    The Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boy’s Club will forever be in your debt for preserving these wonderful stories and images of childhood in our city.

    Long may you reign !

    Ron Goldstein

  10. August 9, 2015

    In a celebrity obsessed world, your celebration of ordinary people provides a necessary and beautiful contrast. There is such a sense of a real life lived and a touching and dignified sense of loss and personal veneration of the past here. Your portraits of ‘ordinary’ people contain the genus for so many novels or short stories. But these lives ate not fiction, just the stuff of it. I wonder how many actual or would be novelists are inspired by your blog?

  11. Catherine permalink
    August 9, 2015

    Thank you, I enjoyed reading about this man who I will never meet. RIP Lennie. Beautifully written and with evocative photographs. I am currently reading ‘Shadows of the Workhouse’ by Jennifer Worth. It’s the first book I have read by her, her writings inspired the Call the Midwife series, which I did watch.

  12. david green permalink
    August 9, 2015

    Another fine story of real life and the good and bad times that go to make it. I greatly appreciate this story.

  13. August 10, 2015

    A warm and touching tribute.

  14. Brett Sanders permalink
    August 11, 2015

    A big thanks for the tribute and those that commented. My granddad was an extraordinary ordinary man. He continued these weekly trips right up until December of last year. The bandstand and east end were his favourite places to visit.

    Brett, Grandson

  15. John hayes permalink
    August 17, 2015

    I Grew up in swanfield St Bethnal Green opposite lenny’s beloved bandstand and was a member of the New Cambridge boys club from 1984 -1988 My Dad Alfie Hayes, who was the Branch chairman of the 1/511 T .G.W.U. Which consisted of over 400 licensed spitalfields market porters was a friend of Lenny Saunders and my mum tells me that he and his wife Annie would sometimes pop round to our flat 16 lamb St above spitalfields market in the 1970’s when I was only a baby and I remember Lenny taking badminton classes on a Tuesday night at the Cambridge the other memory of Lenny that I have is of his association with Tottenham Hotspur football club , I believe he was a scout their in the 70’s he definitely accompanied the boys from the new Cambridge club on a tour of White hart lane when such things were uncommon and he was also instrumental in getting footballers such as Spurs player and 1st 1million pound teenager Clive Allen , Man Utd Goalkeeper and ex new Cambridge boy Les Sealy to attended the clubs annual presentation days, He also managed to get hold of four tickets to the 1984 UEFA cup final for my Dad my uncle ,brother and myself , in fact so legendary was his ability to obtain big match tickets that amongst ex Cambridge boys who still go over spurs it’s a running joke when we are struggling for tickets to a big spurs match that someone will inevetibley say to me “Any chance Lenny Saunders can get hold of a couple” Rip Len from John Hayes and family and all other ex New Cambridge boys Cheers!!!

  16. Derek permalink
    August 19, 2015

    R.I.P. Uncle Lennie a true East End Gentleman so proud and lucky to have had you in my life every piece of advice you game was a gem.

  17. Harold Rantor permalink
    October 25, 2015

    I am so very sad to read of the death of Lennie Saunders I grew up on the Council Estate on Stamford Hill. We lived in Sidlaw House. Lennie lived in Quantock House next door. My dad was a cab driver too and he know Lennie very well. I knew Roy from the Estate and at Stamford Hill Club.
    I remember Lennie as a true gentleman. I am very sad. I wish all the surviving members of the Saunders and wider family my condolences and a long life

    Harold Rantor

  18. January 5, 2016

    RIP Lennie you and Annie were a match made in heaven I have wonderful memories of you both x

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