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The Victoria Boys' Club

Vicoria_20230626-102229_1 Isaac London (seated second from left) at a Victoria Boys’ Camp with other managers. (No further details available.)

Its founding and development 1901 - 1906

This account was written by Isaac (Jack) London, one of the first members of the club and a manager for most of his life.

Transcribed by Ruth Taylor

In the early part of 1901, the Bishop of Stepney wrote to the Chief Rabbi Dr Herman Adler suggesting that the leaders of the Jewish Community do something to combat the gangs of young Jewish boys who frequently caused serious disturbance in the Commercial Road district of Stepney. That an effort might be made to direct these youthful energies into useful and creditable channels.

The Chief Rabbi at once agreed that this was necessary and urgent, and called a meeting of some leading Jews together with some managers of the Brady Boys Club, when it was decided to open a Boys' Club in the district as soon as possible. The Chief Rabbi said that he had £300 at his disposal towards opening the Club.

The name of the Club was to be Victoria Working Boys Club, in memory of Queen Victoria who had recently passed away. Ernest Lesser was appointed Hon. Secretary and together with Alec Solomons, Reginald Myers, Ernest Morley, R.H. Leverson, Martin Moseley and Miss Hannah Hyams took premises in Commercial Road, known as the Tee Too Tum. Visits were paid to the local schools by Mr Lesser who outlined the plans of the new club and invited boys of the higher classes to the opening night.

The opening night in March 1901 was treated by the boys of the district, and particularly by the gangs' leaders, with a great deal of suspicion. They were accustomed to the streets - and very dimly lit streets they were - as their playgrounds. Curiosity however, was responsible for a number of them to wait outside the Tee Too Tum awaiting the Club opening.

The welcome that they received, the tea and cakes, the warm well lighted rooms, the splendidly equipped gymnasium, the friendliness of the managers (the news of which) quickly travelled around and a much larger number joined the Club each succeeding evening.

The Club and Clifton Collage

It was very shortly after the opening that an association with Polack House Clifton Collage was established; an association still as strong as ever, that brought to the Club Charles Sebag Montefiore, Reginald Flatau, Julian Lonsada, Robert Waley Cohen, A. Moscatto (sic), Jack Franklin, Gerald Montague, Jack Keysor, Norman Bentwich, and Jack Woolf, young men who threw all their energies into the Club.

The Club's move to Fordham Street

It was quickly realized that the Tee Too Tum premises were inadequate, owing to the greatly increased membership, and steps were taken in conjunction with the London Hospital authorities to build Club premises suitable for the purpose. A site in Fordham St was leased and work was immediately started on the building (at present occupied). It became almost a ritual that after the Club closed every evening, Mr. Montefiore and the boys walked around to Fordham Street to see how the work on the new Club was progressing.

In January 1902 Dr Adler declared the new Club open and gave his blessing to the new home of Victoria, expressing his hope that the Club would be a fountain from which the Community and the Country would derive benefit.

The Club was now well established. A football team had been built up. Sam Harris (Chock) was appointed the first Club Captain and the first outside game was played versus the Hayes Industrial School, (a reform school for offenders, R.T.) many of whose inmates were boys from Stepney, indeed in some cases, brothers of members of the Club, in whose case the forming of the Club had come a year or two too late.

Most important was the fact that the local street gangs had disappeared. The spirit of loyalty that the street gangs had bred was now transferred to the Club in a healthy manner. The boys were quick to sense the friendship and personal interest of the managers.

Outside the Victoria Boys’ Club, the boys and managers leaving for Summer Camp — possibly 1949, the year they went to Normandy. Annie, Ike London’s wife, is seen peering through a side window of the building. She went on holiday with the club, but stayed at a nearby boarding house.

Most important was the fact that the local street gangs had disappeared. The spirit of loyalty that the street gangs had bred was now transferred to the Club in a healthy manner. The boys were quick to sense the friendship and personal interest of the managers.

The First Annual Summer Camp

The announcement that the Club intended to have a week's holiday at Camp did not receive very much favor from the Boys' parents. The Boys had never been away from home. Poverty in the East End of London was of a kind almost impossible to appreciate today. A holiday was something not even thought of, but despite all these difficulties, in August 1902, 15 Boys and as many Managers spent a week under canvas at Bexhill. These boys had never seen the sea before nor had they experience of life under canvas, but the East End youngster was a most adaptable person, and at this Camp (was) laid the foundation of a Camping tradition for which Victoria became famous throughout its life.

The first open air Saturday Service which was addressed by the Reverend J. Polack head of Polack House Clifton is still followed in all solemnity at all Annual Summer Camps. The experience and the pleasure of the first Camp was quickly spread through the Club and over 50 Boys attended the next Camp at Dymchurch in Kent. This was followed by the first Camp held next at Priory Farm, Isle of Wight, attended by over 100 Boys. The Friday night supper at Camp in full Sabbath eve ceremony, which became famous in Victoria's history was inaugurated at this Camp. Throughout the years no event has left a more lasting impression than these wonderful Friday nights at Camp.

Life at Camp served the important purpose of enabling the Managers and the Boys getting to know each other more thoroughly.

The Club was now recognized as (an) important East End institution, with a high reputation for sportsmanship and sports. A great reputation as Gymnasts and Baseballers.

The cultural games were also developed, and for many years the Club won the London Federation Draught and Chess championship. B. Feltz, the Club's Chess captain, became a leading London player and H. Fox, the Draught's captain, a famous England player. In later years the Draught's section produced S. Cohen who became Champion of the World.

Ernest Morley and H. R. Levisohn introduced the Boys to the beauties of the English countryside by regular rambles in the counties around London, and for many years Rambles were a regular and popular feature of the Club.

In 1906 a good number of the Boys left the Club to emigrate and small groups of Victorians were organized in Canada and United States. A year or so later Mr. Montefiore and Jack Franklin paid a visit to these places. A celebration dinner was held in New York attended by 12 Victorians.

N.B. My father's account ends here. After his mother's death in 1904, Isaac aged 15 and his father emigrated to the USA where members of the family were already living. I wonder if he attended this reunion celebration. He does not say, but I think it most likely that he did as he lived in New York at the time

 

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