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Memories of the Island from Richard Jones and Ada Kay

Last year I was contacted by David Jones who had written a book about his early life and gives some real insights into a child growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.

The book entitled “Smith of Lambeth,” tells the story of how his family, paternal grandfather, Richard Jones, and his parents, brothers and sisters, left their home in Wales in the 1880s and settled on the Island. His grandfather Richard Jones, and two of his brothers, William and Edward soon showed their sporting prowess playing for Millwall Football Club who were then based on the Island. Richard later gained international honors for Wales.

David’s father’s family kept a green grocery shop on Glengall Road in which his paternal grandmother, née Skeels, worked. His mother’s family, née Draper, lived on Glengall Road. There were 11 children and their father was an itinerant dock worker. David’s parents, aunts and uncles, on both sides of my family, were born on the Island as was David in 1934. Not long afterwards, David’s immediate family moved to New Cross in South London but the Jones family maintained a large presence on the Island.

If you would like to find out more about the Jones family and life on the Island in the early 20th century, I am delighted to report that David and his family have made three videos available on YouTube which feature David’s father Richard and Auntie Ada Kay reminiscing about their life on the Island.

The videos were made in 1992 when the interviewees were in their 80s, in David’s house in Leonia, New Jersey. Richard, and Ada were on a rare holiday for both of them. The interviewer was Louise, a member of David’s family.

David’s father was born in 1904 and even remembered a  Zeppelin being shot down over the Island in the first World War. The interviews cover a wide range of subjects from Ada being run over by an horse and cart as a child to facing the blitz in the Second World War.

Listening to the memories of Richard and Ada was a reminder of how things have changed to a remarkable degree over the last century. Many of their memories of their childhood related to playing outside in the street, it is difficult for people to understand today that the streets of the Island and almost everywhere were a massive playground and entertainment area. The reason why the kids played in the streets was of course there were very few cars and the only dangers were the horse and carts but they were easily seen and avoided (although Ada did have run in with one).

The street was also the source of entertainment with various traders and tradespeople coming down the street selling their wares. Richard and Ada remember the Muffin Man, organ grinders and Aunt Sallies who were men who dressed as women to sell stuff off their barrows.

Richard in particular remembered his family involvement with Millwall Football club and the First World War and the appearance of the first motor cars on the road.

It must be remembered that the early 20th century was a world that generally happened out of doors and in the streets, there was no inside entertainment like television until later in the century. People felt more part of the community because there was constant interaction with your neighbours and people would sit on their doorsteps to keep an eye on their kids and watch the world go.

A very topical subject in the interviews were telephones, Richard and Ada did not know anyone who had a telephone in their house during their childhood and finding a phone and knowing how to use it was a major undertaking if there was an emergency. Generally if you needed a doctor or a policeman quickly, you had to send someone to fetch them.

The videos are a fascinating and entertaining insight into a world long gone and illustrates how listening to memories of the older generation you can learn about what really mattered to people which often gets overlooked in history books.

Many thanks to David and Louise for sending the links, which are listed

Video one here

Video Two here

Video Three here

If you would like a copy of David’s  book, visit Amazon here

Keeping up with the Joneses on the Isle of Dogs

A couple of weeks ago, I published a book review of “Smith of Lambeth” by David Jones, the book was about David’s early life and his family who were from the Isle of Dogs. David has very kindly sent more information that tells us more about the Joneses life on the Island.

David’s paternal grandfather, Richard Jones, and his parents, brothers and sisters, left their home in Wales in the 1880s and settled on the Island. His grandfather Richard Jones, and two of his brothers, William and Edward soon showed their sporting prowess playing for Millwall Football Club who were then based on the Island. Richard would later play for Manchester City before gaining international honors for Wales.

William Jones

One of stories in the book is about William Jones who after playing for Millwall and Sheppey United, signed for Ryde on the Isle of Wight. In 1899, 25 year old William was playing for Ryde in the Isle of Wight Senior Cup final when in scoring the winning goal, he collided with the goalkeeper and died from the injuries sustained.

A newspaper report from the time gives us more information of the tragic event.

At an inquest held at Ryde, Isle of Wight, on ‘William Jones; the professional football player, who died from injuries received at a match, William Jennings, of Southampton,, the referee, said that Jones was dashing with the ball in front of him for goal wherein Reed, the goalkeeper, ran out to meet the ball. The men collided and fell, Reed’s knee striking Jones, who was picked up in great agony. Reed did not break the rules, and had there been no accident he would not have cautioned him. Other witnesses said they considered the affair quite accidental, It was stated that the post-mortem examination revealed ruptured intestines. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and found that no blame attached to any one; They asked the coroner, however, to communicate with the English Football Association, advising .that more stringent be adopted to prevent rough play.

David’s father’s family kept a green grocery shop on Glengall Road in which his paternal grandmother, née Skeels, worked. David’s parents, aunts and uncles, on both sides of my family, were born on the Island as was David in 1934.

David provides more information about his family :

David’s great grandparents, William & Betsy Skeels.

My great grandparents, William & Betsy Skeels. They had 10 children. They lived at 495 Glengall Road, Cubitt Town. They had a greengrocers shop on Glengall Road where my Grandmother, Ada Skeels, and my Dad, Richard William Jones, worked from time to time. They also operated a Fruit & Veg Barrow. William is also reported to have been a fishmonger. One of their sons, Reuben, was killed in World War 1, in 1917.

Ada Skeels is mentioned in an Old Bailey court case from 1900.

19th November 1900

LORENZO MORFINI (33) and GIOVANNI BALDASARI (30) , Unlawfully having counterfeit coin in their possession, with intent to utter it. Other Counts, for attempting to utter, and uttering.

MR. PARTRIDGE Prosecuted, and MESSRS. GEOGHEGAN and SANDS Defended

Baldasari; and the evidence was interpreted.

LUIGI FERANI . I live at 30, Manchester Road, East—I understand English a little—in March I let a second floor back room to the prisoner Baldasari—on September 27th the prisoner Morfini arrived with two portmanteaux, and the two prisoners occupied one room, in which the portmanteaux were till October 14th—on October 15th the police came, and I pointed out to them the room and the portmanteaux.

Cross-examined by MR. SANDS. I keep a boarding-house for Italians, and 10 or 12 live there—Baldasari was one—he went out with an ice-cream barrow—Morfini came as a stranger, but three years ago he had stayed there—Morfini had a friend named Joseppe to see him—he had a fair moustache—I only saw him go out twice—Baldasari came home about 9 p.m.—he went out as usual the morning the police came—I first knew that Morfini was in prison when the police arrested Baldasari.

Cross-examined. There were two single beds in the room—no one but the prisoners used the room—Morfini did a little shoemakers’ work in the house.

ADA SKEELS . I assist my parents in a shop at 85, Glengall Road, Millwall—we keep open all day on Sundays—on Sunday, October 14th, about 8.20 a.m., Baldasari came in for a pennyworth of walnuts—he gave me a penny—he walked away a little distance, and came back and bought another pennyworth of walnuts—he gave me a florin—I gave him 1s. 11d. change—I put the florin in my pocket with two others—I afterwards found one of them was bad—there was another man with him; a shorter man—on October 23rd I picked Baldasari out from 15 or 16 people in the prison yard at Thames Police-court at once.

My parents, Richard William and Ethel Caroline Jones, were married on Christmas Day, 1928, at Christ Church on Manchester Road. A few years back, I visited the church and spoke to Father Tom Pyke. He told me that it was quite common, in those days, for working class people to marry on Christmas Day.

My mother’s family name was Draper. She was one of 11 children, 7 of whom survived to maturity. Her father was an itinerant dock worker, a concertina player, and a heavy drinker. At sometime, he was a soldier, I have a picture of him in uniform, but I don’t know his years of service. He had a violent temper and his children feared him. My Aunt Lily, on the death of her parents, took on the duties of raising the three youngest children. She had to prevent social workers from taking them and putting them in foster homes. She always praised good neighbors for helping her. My mother, and her brothers and sisters, had only warm words for their mother. Both parents died in their 40s.

My fathers family is covered in my book. Apart from the 3 brothers all playing for Millwall, my Uncle Bill played for the reserve team around 1930. He never made the first team.

Among the names often mentioned by parents, uncles and aunts, when talking about their lives on the Island were several Millwall football players. “Tiny Joyce” the Millwall goalkeeper During my Grandfathers playing days. Two 1920s players, Jack Fort and Jack Cock, both capped for England. and Elijah Moore, Millwall’s groundskeeper. They were all family friends. Two boxers were often mentioned, Ernie Jarvis, a flyweight contender, later News of the World boxing reporter, and Teddy Baldock, a claimant to the world bantamweight title. My Aunt Edie remembered him training in the streets and “sparring” with the lamp posts. Teddy was known as the “Pride of Poplar.“

My fathers younger sister, Ada, married Robert Kay, an independent lorry driver. He came from a Catholic family. The nearest catholic school was in Greenwich, so he had to walk through the foot tunnel under the Thames, every morning.

With such a large family, I am sure there are people living on the Island and beyond that have some connection to David’s family.

Many thanks to David for the information.

The Little Brown Bus by William Pett Ridge

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The ship Milverton in Stewart’s Dry Dock, Manchester Road, Isle of Dogs, ca. 1919 Photo (c) William Whiffin

Regular readers will know that I am always on the look out for stories related to the Isle of Dogs and recently came across a humorous short piece by W. Pett Ridge. William Pett Ridge was born at Chartham in Kent 1859, in the 1890s, he began to write humorous sketches for newspapers and magazines and became well known for his ability to write entertaining portraits of working class life. He went on to write a number of novels with Mord Em’ly published in 1898, the most successful. Pett Ridge’s great popularity as a novelist and writer was in the early part of the 20th century and it was at this time that he wrote The Little Brown Bus which involves a character that is familiar to all of us, namely the person who travels on public transport who will not shut up, in this case it is a sailor who meets a variety of characters on the little brown bus.

 The Little Brown Bus by W. Pett Ridge (The Sailor’s Voyage to the Isle of Dogs)

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East India Dock road is half inclined to put up its shutters, but reluctant to do this-albeit the hour is late-because foreign sailors, much more at sea here than when on the ocean, are still loafing on the edge of the pavement. The shops have everything a sea-going man may desire, from bars of hard yellow soap and fur caps and scarlet pocket handkerchiefs to chromos of smiling young women in hats of the early eighties; the job lots of literature tied up with a boot lace are calculated to satisfy nearly eve’ry taste. Outside the long red Asiatic Home and on its broad steps a few melancholy Chinamen stand, with queues carefully twisted up and pinned under their blue linen caps; this because the Limehouse boy has a weakness for pulling a pig-tail when he sees one, crying, “Shawp!” and running away. Chinamen up Millwall way are carrying round baskets of vegetables yoked over their shoulders. By the side of the tram terminus, and near the red eyed fire station stands the ‘bus. A little brown ‘bus, with yellow wheels, there for the convenience of those whom circumstances compel to go the Isle of Dogs.

strangers

Strangers’ Home in the West India Dock Road was also known as the Home for Asiatics, Africans, South Sea Islanders and Others. Date c.1901 ( National Maritime Museum)

THE ‘BUS FOR SINGAPORE

“Right for Singapore, cap’en?” “Jump in,” says the driver from the pavement, making one more attempt to light his pipe. “Change anywheres, cap’en?” “Yes,” replies the driver, curtly; “you’ll have to change a lot ‘fore you get on board your ship.”

“Not ,cross, are you, cap’en?”

“Look here, my lad,” says the driver goaded by this inquiry. “You get into that bloomin’ bus and take your seat and shut your head. That’s all you’ve got to do.”

“I’ve seen your face somewhere before,” says the peak-capped sailor.

“Any relation to old Frank Macey that used to live at Devonport ?”

Sulky reply in the negative. “Then ‘ave a cigar,” says the sailor genially. ” Put your pipe in your hat and have something to smoke. Lor’ bless my soul, I am glad to meet you. How’s the missus?”

Driver, accepting two pale brown cigars from the envelope offered, says that he never had a missus, and expresses a pious hope that, with the help of Providence and his own acuteness, he never may.

A BREEZY ‘BUS FARE

A piano organ starts one of Sousa’s marches, and the sailor, encouraged by the comparative friendliness of the driver, solicits the favor of his hand for a waltz; but the driver draws the line, and with the assistance of a strap cranes himself up into his seat, giving the sailor renewed advice to secure a place inside; which the sailor does, hailing the passengers with a seafaring salutation and lurching into the one vacant seat more by accident than design. The little brown ‘bus turns and goes across the tram lines.

“Well.” says the friendly sailor, “how are we all getting on this voy’ge?” Some of the passengers are sleepy and some are thoughtful; the sailor, closing one eye, selects a quiet, puss-headed Japanese. I’m very’ glad to hear,” he says, laying one hand on the other’s knee, “that me and old Solsbury managed that little affair all right. ‘We’re chums, ain’t we?”

The short Japanese sailor, with N.Y.K. on his collar, smiles and nods. Very well, then!” says the sailor with an injured air, “why not shake hands? Has anybody been telling you anything about me? Because if so–” The Japanese accepts the large hand. “That’s better!” remarks the sailor, restored to good temper. “Now, having gone so fur,

I should like to go a bit further and shake ‘ands with everybody – just to show there’s no ill-feeling.”

A SAILOR’S SONG.

The little ‘bus swerves round between the high walls that border the commencement of West Ferry road.

“There!” Now you can all say you’ve shook hands with a honest seafaring man.”

“I shan’t brag about it,” remarks a stout woman opposite.

“Oh mother! protests the sailor, tearfully. “Don’t be so harsh with your blue-eyed boy.”

‘Blue-eyed nuisance,” amends the stout woman.

“There’s a nice parent for you ! Bring up a mother in the way she should go, and when she grows old.

Anybody got any objection to my singing a song?”

“Yes,” says the other passengers with unanimity, “we have.”

“You ain’t so fond of me as you used to be,” remarks the sailor, regretfully: “Ever since that affair out at Valp’raiso you all seem different somehow. ‘Oh, thou ‘ast changed, my darling,’ ” sings the sailor; ” Thou smilst no more at me, Thou ‘ast no word of fond farewell, As I put out to-Way–ho!’ ”

The little ‘bus rattles across a wooden bridge separating the docks from the river; the passengers find coppers and hand up their pennies through a hole in the roof to the driver.

THE THIN LADY’S MOTTO

Some want change and this makes for conversation. One spare, melancholy woman who has been marketing with a shining black bag, the lock of which has long since refused to perform any of the duties of a lock, deplores the price of bread, and says with determination that she has really made up her mind if it goes much higher ,well (despairingly), she does not know what she shall do.

From which the conversation goes by a rapid stage to the difficulty that the thin lady has with her youngest boy, who has lately been going to theatres; the other beats this with a deplorable story of her Uncle John, who went in for religion.

“It all goes to show,” says this lady, as she pulls the strap and prepares to alight at Glengall road, “that it’s a mistake to go to either extreme; the ‘appy mejum’s my motto. Good night, all! Don’t be late in the morning.”

The Japanese also descends here to disappear in the meagrely-lighted streets, and on the talkative sailor who has been asleep, discovering this, he weeps, and declares that he has not a friend left in the world; that he is forsaken and alone; for two pins he would –

WANTED A WIFE

If only he had some one to love him! if only some, tidy, respectable woman, with a bit put by in the savings bank, would come to him and say, “Jim Allwright, give up seafaring life and settle down on shore and keep an eye on the shop and entertain your friends with a glass now and then,” why, then he would say, “Done with youz” and give the old ship the chuck without the least hesitation.

“I’m the most reasonable, good tempered man alive,” remarks the sailor contentedly. “Nothing ever upset me. I take everything as it comes. What you all getting out for?”

“Because,” explains one of the descending passengers politely, “because we can’t go any further. That’s why!”

“And a dashed good reason, too,” cries the sailor agreeably. “Goo’ ni’ everybody. Goblessye.”

The spare, thin old woman stands on the edge of the pavement watching him as he goes. The driver of the little brown ‘bus announces his intention of utilising the minutes of waiting before the return journey by going into the tavern in order to get the right time; the bystanders ignore the hint, and he goes alone.

“I used to have a son that was that way inclined,” says the thin woman, rather wistfully, “only, he was never funny with it.