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Roy Wild, Loving Son

May 29, 2017
by the gentle author

Roy with his Mum & Dad in the forties

Previously in these pages, I have reported Roy Wild’s stories of working at the Bishopsgate Goodsyard and his family’s hop-picking adventures, but the last time I visited him Roy wanted to talk to me about his beloved parents and tell me their stories.

“My father Andrew Earnest Wild was born in 1907 in Clerkenwell, within the sound of Bow Bells, and he lived in Bastwick St (known as ‘the Bass’) off Central St. His father was Andrew Benjamin Wild and his mother was Ellen Leach. He was the eldest of four brothers and two sisters – Emmy and one he lost – and another half sister, Maggie.

When he was sixteen, he falsified his age and joined up with the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent, based in Maidstone. The Ministry of Defence sent me his pay book and what have you. It says, ‘A hardworking clean and sober man, of smart appearance, he can be trusted to carry out his duties without supervision, intelligent and reliable, a good type of man.’

He put down 1906 but he was actually born in 1907, on 13th of September. He was shipped to India and was there for the whole of his service, which was I think eleven years, in Madras and Calcutta. He took up boxing there, became regimental champion and fought in the all-India finals. I have a solid silver medal that he won in Madras for bayonet fighting. It is my most prized possession, upstairs in my jewellery box.

My Dad was a bit of a rough handful before he mellowed. One of my relations who knew my Dad when they were young told me, ‘I saw your Dad have a fight down the Bass, he knocked the guy out and grabbed him by the back of his neck and dragged him across the tramlines for the tram to run over him.’

I do remember once we were on a bus, Dad and I, sitting on the long seat next to where the bus conductor stood. On the seat was one of those paper bags for copper coins and I picked it up, and was looking at it when the conductor came along. He asked me, ‘What are you doing with that?’ I did not know what to say so the old man said, ‘What’s the matter?’ The conductor asked, ‘Does he usually pick up things that don’t belong to him?’ So Dad told him I was only a child and grabbed him by the throat. He almost threw the conductor off the bus, that was the type of character he was. When it came to protecting his children, he would not stand for anything.

When he first came home from India, my Dad worked on the underground, laying lines, but then he left that and went to be a Hoffman presser in Putney. He was there for some years and became foreman until he was called up in 1939, when I was two years old. His guvnor contacted the authorities and said that he was needed because of his job –  as well as being an ARP warden, looking out for overhead bombers, so he got exempted from the Second World War. But then they brought somebody in and gave him a higher position than my Dad. Now, he was a no-nonsense guy my Dad and a lot of it I have inherited from him. This guy had never been in the cleaning business, so they put him under my dad’s wing, yet gave him a higher position than my Dad and more money. Dad was a foreman at the time, he said, ‘You expect me to teach him and when I’ve taught him, he’ll be ordering me about.’ So there was a dispute and after years there, ‘That’s it, I’m out of here,’ he said – simple as that.

Instead, he went and worked as a Hoffman presser for a Jewish guy in Victoria St, SW1. My Dad was good at what he did, he used to press all my clothes when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties. It was quite a prestigious shop, by the name of Jones, and lots of stars would go in. Dad used to tell me that, when you press a suit, you always go through the pockets first, in case there are any matches in there, especially red top matches, which could start a terrible fire with the cleaning spirit. In one pocket, Dad found a gold ring which belonged to the Bishop of Westminster and he gave it to his guvnor and received some sort of commendation for it.

After he left the pressing job, Dad did various jobs before he went on the railway, working for London & North Eastern Railway at Pedley St off Vallance Rd. He was there for quite some years, became the official for the National Union of Railwaymen and organised the annual beanos with all the guys he worked with. I used to take friends of mine from Bishopsgate depot where I worked and we had a jolly boys outing down to Margate. When he retired, my Dad did night work and a couple of cleaning jobs in the City. He was very fastidious and he enjoyed good health. He was always down Columbia Road Market. My Dad, he loved the flowers yet he never really had a garden. When we were in Northport St, there was a backyard, where he had a few chickens and his garden consisted of no more than a window box.

He was never out of work and always provided for us. Those years that we lived in Northport St were the years of the parties at our house, where people would come out of the pubs, carrying the booze home, having a ‘Moriarty’ as it was known. In those days, we had nothing else other than a piano. Across the road from us was a pub called the Rushton Arms. All the street and surrounding streets used to drink in there on a Friday and Saturday night, and the kids sat outside with a packet of crisps and a glass of lemonade and an arrowroot biscuit. They used to get hold of a pint glass and rub that on the pavement keep rubbing it until a hole was formed and, you can imagine what happened, when it was refilled – all the beer ran everywhere. Then, one night, there was an almighty bang when it took a hit from a bomb, and there was not much left of the old Rushton Arms.

My Mum, Rosina Florence Wild, was born in 1911 in Clerkenwell, in Galway St and grew up there. She knew Dad’s family in Bastwick St and when Dad went to join up for the army, she was just twelve. But when he was demobbed and came home from the army aged twenty-four, she was a young lady and a good dancer. My Mum was a ‘Charleston girl’ as they say, ‘a real flapper.’ They hit it off, and started stepping out together and got engaged. A year later they were married at St Luke’s Old St, and I was born the next year at Barts Hospital and christened in the same church. My Mum saw in the paper a house was going in Northport St, so she applied for it and we moved to Hoxton when I was a year old.

During the war years, Mum worked at Arthur Burton’s in Old St, making bandages and dressings for wounded soldiers. Mum did piecework – we pushed the pram from Northport St along New North Rd into City Road and left onto Old St. Arthur Burton’s was a big building next to Moon’s Motors, where we loaded the pram with rolls of bandages, big long strings of them. We would have bags and bags of them to be packed. I would help Mum while Dad was on night work, we would sit there during the evening by the radio, packing bandages. One load would keep us going for a couple of days, then we pushed the pram again over to Arthur Burton’s and received a pittance. It was much like hopping, but we needed the money in those days plus we were helping the war effort.

When the war came to an end, I was going to school in Whitmore St School. At eleven, some of the brainier boys went to Shoreditch Central School in Hoxton. You were considered a little bit ‘like that’ if you went to Shoreditch Central, us we went to the original Blackboard Jungle, Pitfield St School.

During those years, Mum was an early morning office cleaner at a bank in Gresham St in the City. She would start work at half past five, cleaning, dusting and emptying the waste paper baskets, and then she would come home in time to see me off to school. She would be home by about eight in the morning and would do me a packed lunch. She continued doing early morning cleaning until I started work. I said to Dad, ‘It’s not right that mum goes out the early hours of the morning,’ and he made her pack up mornings and just do evenings.

My Mum was not necessarily strong in stature but in resolve. She continued with the evening cleaning job for years – by then she must have been in her fifties I would think – until she packed up completely. We did not need the money anymore. Dad was still working and I was working and giving her a little bit out of my wages every week, so we coped fairly well. My Mum’s fridge was a bowl of water on the windowsill with a bottle of milk in it. That was how we kept the milk fresh. My Mum’s vacuum cleaner was a dustpan and brush, and my Mum’s washing machine was a copper in the scullery. In the little back room where we used to eat, there was a range and Mum used to cook on that. She would put Zebo all over it and then polish it. She worked hard on scrubbing the front steps, and she would whiten it or use red ochre, so the front steps always look nice.

One day, when he was seventy-five, my Dad went upstairs and was a bit breathless, so he saw the doctor. The doctor sent him to the hospital but they could not find out what was wrong with him. He started to lose weight and he got so frail he could not get up the stairs, and Mum had made a bed up for him downstairs. I used to come round on his appointment day and carry him out, he would only let me carry him. I put him in the car and Tony my brother, myself, and my Mum, we would take him to Bart’s Hospital. They wanted to open him up and see what the problem was. By then, he was on oxygen  – a little mask he had and a canister by the bed. Dr Bennett, the consultant, he said to my dad, ‘The nurse is going to take you into the other room and I want you to blow.’ But that was just to get him out of the room, the consultant said to Tony and me, ‘We don’t know what’s wrong with your dad and he will not let us open him up to see what’s wrong, so I can only tell you your dad is going to die – and I suggest you take him home and let him die among the people that love him.’ My Mum was in the other room with him, she did not know, only his two sons. We took him home and he went downhill.

I went away to the Isle of Sheppey for the weekend with my two children. My wife and I, we came home and I called my Mum’s place, and Tony picked up the phone and I knew. I knew because Tony was there and he said, ‘Dad took a turn for the worse and he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.’ That was when the problems began really because Mum asked ‘They won’t cut him open will they, Roy?‘ and I said ‘No mum, of course they won’t.’

I tried to stop the post mortem. I went to Golden Lane to see the pathologist who was going to do it. He asked me, ‘Mr Wild, you seem adamant that you don’t want your father to receive a post mortem, why is that?’ I said ‘Well, he was terrified of going under the knife when he was alive and it would upset my mother terrible.’

‘I can understand that but there’s a time when the law has to be applied,’ he replied, ‘because your father died en route to the hospital, we have to do it.’ So they did it and on the death certificate it said ‘Sarcadosis.’ We did not know what that meant, so my brother got a medical dictionary and it means the complete breakdown of the lungs, that was why he could not breathe. Dad was buried at East Finchley Cemetery in a double plot in 1983 and the plot was held for when Mum joined him twenty-seven years later, just before her ninety-seventh birthday. You know, she was a good Mum, both of them were good parents.”

Transcript by Rachel Blaylock & Nicola Kearney

Rosina Wild – ‘My mum was a ‘Charleston girl,’ as they say – a real flapper’

Andrew Wild – ‘My Dad was a bit of a rough handful before he mellowed’

Roy Wild

At Northport St, Hoxton – (Rosina Wild is on the left)

Andrew Wild plays spoons

Rosina Wild at her flat in Old Market Sq, Bethnal Green

You may also like to read my other stories about Roy Wild

Roy Wild, Van Boy & Driver

Roy Wild, Hop Picker

9 Responses leave one →
  1. May 29, 2017

    Lovely blog of lives gone by

  2. May 29, 2017

    Wow 97 years

  3. May 29, 2017

    This is a loving family of the East End well documented here with a fascinating background. Dad Andrew Wild was born within the sound of Bow Bells so he was a true Cockney. Pic shows flapper Rosina a true Charleston dance girl, she is wearing a pot-hat to prove it – a fashion statement of the time. Roy and family are on three good blog here on this site. I liked the previous Hop Picking one. Here is a typical East End family working/holiday visit to the hop fields of Kent for picking and having fun in the short season. This is a fascinating past way of life for Londoners worth reading, all gone with the introduction of the picking machine. All good book worthy stuff. Poet John – PS the wise picking families packed their Hopping Box with their possessions and sent it on ahead by train.

  4. May 29, 2017

    “having a Moriarty……..”. To my American eyes/ears, your language is full of music and
    can’t-stop-thinking-of-it phrases. Probably quite ordinary and colloquial to you — but captivating and unique to me.
    The telling details in this story were lovely……the gold ring discovered in the pocket, the
    musical spoons, the scent of hot iron on heavy wool, that strand of pearls, etc.
    Wonderful! Daily enchantment.

  5. May 29, 2017

    Always love your blogs. Wonderful site, I read it and love it everyday. Thank you.

    In the photo in Northport St., Hoxton, the girl on the right looks more like Roy’s mother, Rosina (you indicated the girl on the left was Rosina). Also, which of the two boys is Roy?

    Thank you very much for all your fascinating stories!

    Kind regards from Ipswich, Massachusetts (north of Boston),

    Dorothy V. Malcolm.

  6. May 29, 2017

    Lovely memoir. Thanks, from Columbus, Ohio

  7. May 29, 2017

    So much like my life as a child. Wonderful family!.

  8. KENNETH WILD permalink
    June 29, 2019

    thats brilliant roy loved all the family, so remember our life down hop picking and growing up,loved uncle andy and aunt rosy bless em, love to all xx

  9. Kevin Russell permalink
    June 18, 2021

    Lovely story and full of nostalgia.

    I am thrilled to see the B&W photograph of Roy and his Mother, brother and another lady. I knew Northport Street well and was born 5 minutes away in Gopsall Street. The image was taken from the Mintern Street end of Northport St looking north. The streets that can be glimpsed receding in the background are Rushton Street, with the Rushton Arms visible mid left of picture, Newton St, Grange St and Gopsall St. The Church in the background is St Saviours, where both my Grandfather was christened and also the Kray twins Grandfather. This is the first photograph I have seen of the church which was destroyed during WW2.

    Despite much bomb damage, many of these houses and streets escaped the luftwaffe but didn’t fare so well against the L.C.C. All these streets are now swept away replaced by open park and sports fields.

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