In 1907, at the age of 22, Gerald Wellesley came to Hackney Wick and, until the outbreak of the Great War, he resided in the Wick devoting all his time to the founding and running of Clubs for boys and men. His story of those early days, written over 50 years ago, will be of great interest to all Club members, and particularly to those who were members at that time. It is a great joy to his friends that, through the development of Eton Manor, he lived to see the dream of his youth come true.
The Original Boys’ Club over the years 1908, 1909, 1910
It has been suggested that many of the older members would be interested to read some of the Annual Reports published during the earliest days of the Club’s existence, when nearly all the members were working boys.
Except for the alteration of an occasional word, or phrase, they are reprinted exactly as they were written over 50 years ago for inclusion in the Annual Report of the Eton Mission.
It will probably be news to many that the original Boys’ Club in Gains-borough Road (now Eastway), was started by the Eton Mission and was run for some years from there by a few Old Etonians.
About 1908, I realized that it made little sense to accustom boys to club life and ‘team spirit’ if, at the age of 18 or 19, they were to be turned away from the Club ‘base’ around which their lives were centred. Accordingly, during 1909, the Eton Old Boys’ Club was formed—independently of the Mission—and in the Autumn of that year opened its doors at the corner of Daintry Street to former members of the Eton Mission Boys’ Club.
From that moment onwards, can be dated the growth and success of our present Clubs. It soon became apparent that both the Boys’ Club and the Old Boy’s Club were growing so quickly that a new home must be found for them. After protracted negotiations, the land next to the Victoria Park Station was acquired, on which stood the Old Manor House and Manor Farm of Hackney Wick, and on which the present buildings were put up to house both the Boys’ and Old Boys’ Clubs, to be known henceforth as the Eton Manor Clubs. (At the same time, the Manor House itself was rebuilt for the use of those who were giving their spare time to the running of the Clubs.) All these were opened on July 1st, 1913,by the Clubs first and last President—Field Marshal Lord Roberts, v.c.
Gerald Wellesley~ 1960
The Boys’ Club November 1908
The Boys’ Club, which is only one of our many institutions for lads in Hackney Wick, is run for the very roughest class of working boy, and as we look back on the past twelve months, though we have at the same time every reason to be satisfied with the progress made, yet
we find ourselves face to face with the danger that our Club may become so respectable as to keep away the ragged street-arab, with whom we try so hard to keep in touch. It is not so much that the appearance of the boys themselves has altered in any appreciable degree, as that an atmosphere of order and self-respect has grown up in the Club.
This difficulty, which is bound to recur every few years in any club which has continuous supervision, can only be solved by our having some other organisation which members can look forward to joining when they become older.
Probably but few of those who read this report can realise the appalling monotony and drudgery of the work and life of many of these boys, and how little we can understand of the greyness of such a life? It is for these boys, whose spirits might otherwise find no other outlet of an evening than in the streets or at the pub, that we run our Club. Here may be seen any winter~ s evening from forty to eighty boys in warm bright rooms. The two billiard tables are always in use, and bagatelle, draughts, dominoes and chess are all played regularly. Many of the boys are fond of boxing and one or two shape remarkably well. I hope very much that we may this winter have a strong class under some capable instructor. A reading room and library have been opened in the Club, and presents of illustrated papers and books are always most acceptable for the latter. Last winter a committee of boys was appointed for the first time to assist in the management of the Club, and the experiment has answered admirably. The Club ‘Harriers’ go for evening runs one night a week, and are looking forward keenly to their ‘Marathon race’. The nigger-minstrel troupe is still in its infancy, but promises well. Cricket, though not one of our strong suits, was played very keenly throughout the summer, and both our first and second football teams have done extremely well. In point of swimming these East London boys are far in advance of most
public-school boys, and I venture to think that a representative team race—Eton Mission Boys’ Club v. Eton College— would be a very one-sided affair.
Throughout the winter an ‘Urchins’ Club was run on four nights of the week, for the same class of boy under fourteen, and, though there have been many difficulties in the way of reopening it on account of their former clubroom being no longer available, we hope to start it again very shortly.
The top floor of our Club-house, composed of several small and rather dingy rooms, has hitherto been but little used; this is now being knocked into one, and in a month’s time we shall have instead a large and well-lit room, which will add greatly to the attractions of the club.
There are two things for which I would especially appeal, a piano for the big room in which we hold our club ‘sing-songs’, and pictures or prints for our somewhat bare walls. Shorts, shoes, football boots, sweaters, flannel-shirts, etc., are always welcome. Most welcome of all are the visits of Etonians past and present. The boys are always proud to welcome in the Club the present Etonians who come round on Saturday nights, and many a cheery billiard and draught match is keenly fought out between the two parties.
To those old Etonians who have so kindly given up their time to visit us regularly on one or two nights in the week throughout the year are due, not only the thanks of the boys themselves, but also the gratitude of those in whose hands lies the management of the Club.
During the first week in August a most successful Camp for Boys was held at Cuckoo Weir, Eton College.
In all, some sixty-three boys came down, but only about forty-five were able to stay the full ten days, the remainder having to be back at work again immediately after the Bank holiday.
Favored by the most magnificent weather throughout, and with all the delights of boating and bathing at our door, a happier party than ours can hardly be imagined, and it is impossible to exaggerate the good, moral and physical, gained by the lads from that wholesome life in the fresh air. One boy put on 5~ lb. in weight in the course of the ten days.
Each boy paid a fair sum, differing according to the wage earned, towards the expenses of camp, and the total amount paid by them was a very considerable one.
After our success this year I fully expect to see one hundred boys in camp when next August comes round.
The Boys’ Club - December 1909
In submitting the annual report of the above, it is most satisfactory to be able to record steady progress in the development of the Club during the past year.
While the danger—mentioned in these pages twelve months ago—of so raising the standard of civilization as to keep out the rough ‘street-arab’, for whose benefit the club is primarily intended, has been avoided, the general tone of the Club has on the whole greatly improved, and it is clear that personal acquaintance with the boys and the close touch into which the Mission is brought with them in their homes and daily lives have gone far towards exterminating the atmosphere of ‘hooliganism’ which prevailed amongst our members
little more than two years ago.
At the same time the necessity for the Club’s existence is as great as ever. The temptations which beset boys living in a neighborhood such as ours are many, and the influence of drink, gambling and above all ‘street-loafing’ would be bound to prove the downfall of many were it not for the presence of the Club amongst them, where they may spend their evenings in the midst of happy, healthy surroundings.
The system of self-government amongst the members, introduced two years ago, has been continued during the past twelve months with conspicuous success, and besides the General Committee there are now some half-dozen sub-committees of boys managing the various branches of sport connected with the Club. In my opinion, the feeling
of responsibility which these small duties entail, has gone further towards bringing out the fine points in the characters of the members than anything else which we have attempted.
In the matter of sports the Club has more than held its own, and the Harriers, Gymnasium, Boxing, Cricket, Football, and Swimming have all been enthusiastically supported by members—particularly the two latter.
It is for the management of these different branches of Club athletics that the help of Old Etonians is so badly needed; we should indeed have been in a sorry plight by now had it not been for the regular support of those three Old Etonian friends who have been helping us week by week throughout the year, as well as the invaluable assistance rendered us by our old friend, Mr. H. E. Swift, Headmaster of the Berkshire Road School. No one who has mixed with these boys for some time can fail to feel the fascination of such work, and the writer (who came to the Eton Mission for three months originally, and has been here ever since) can assure any Old Etonian who would give up one evening a week to helping with the Club, that the interest attaching to the work will more than repay him for his trouble. At the present moment it is found impossible to re-open the ‘Urchin’s Club’, which was run with such success during the last two winters, owing to there being no one to take the matter properly in hand.
Probably the most serious difficulty with which a club manager has to cope is the problem of obtaining satisfactory employment for his boys.
It is only those coming into constant contact with them who can appreciate the demoralizing effect that unemployment, or unsuitability of employment, has on the mind and character of boys living in the environment in which many of them find themselves.
The rough ‘street-arab’—honest and straight though he may be—is not, as a rule, quite the class of boy for whom these various ‘skilled employment’ agencies and committees seem to lay themselves out.
The ‘top-standard’ lad whom they would select for a job is, more often than not, a boy of exceptional brightness and ability who would probably make his way in the world in any case by virtue of his brains.
‘We must get X a job’, someone says, ‘he was such a clever boy at school’.
This is the wrong system.
Many, I know, will tell me that this is not the case, but I speak from what I see.
Not for one moment would I attempt to belittle the excellent work that is being done by these different committees in finding first-class jobs for first-class boys; but I do suggest that these are not the lads who are most in need of help.
These are not the boys who go later as men to form the ranks of our unemployed.
No! Let us look rather to the boy of average intellect and average ability, perhaps even sometimes to the dullard, for it is they— and not those others
—whose future hangs in the balance.
Of such are our members composed, and with them an effort is made, not so much to obtain the best possible opening for the best boy, but rather to place each and everyone in a situation suited to his individual capacity (limited though it be), and likely to be of a permanent character.
During the last twelve months we have been able to place some forty-five boys in work of this sort, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to the ‘Lads’ Employment Committee’, of Hutchinson Street, F., for the kind way in which they have helped me with a number of these cases.
The great factor in increasing the difficulty is the desire of parents and boys alike to sacrifice the future prospects altogether for the immediate attraction of a few more shillings a week to be obtained by what is known as ‘casual’ labour.
If, instead of allowing their managers to fill a situation from among the applicants of whom they know nothing, and who cannot tell themselves whether they are suited for the job or not, Old Etonian employers of labour would apply to us to recommend them boys for their various vacant situations, they would have the satisfaction of knowing that they have in their
employ boys recommended by someone at the Eton Mission who has had an opportunity of judging as to their character and capabilities.
At the same time the boys themselves would take a pride in the fact that they were working for an Old Etonian, and one of the greatest problems which confronts the Eton Mission Boys’ Club would have been solved.
BOYS’ CAMP -1909
A most successful camp was held again this year at Cuckoo Weir. In all some 80 boys came down, but only 65 were able to stay the full ten days.
With the exception of the first two days the weather was magnificent, and the boys were enabled to enjoy to the full the delights of boating and bathing.
N.H. It is interesting to note that in those days the ‘all in’ total of camp expenses for 80 members 65 of whom stayed for the full 10 days was £70 1 is. 8d. of which members contributed f21 1 is. 6d.
The Boys’ Club — December 1910
It is with the greatest satisfaction that the writer can again report on a year of uninterrupted progress.
Many of those friends who were accustomed to visit us four or five years ago would doubtless be hard put to it to recognise in the present bright and tidy rooms, filled with clean and orderly boys, the same old Club that they knew in days gone by. While proud of the change this is not altogether a result on which we can congratulate ourselves, for the aim with which the Club was started seems now inevitably doomed to recede further and further into the background.
Those of us anxious to help our fellow creatures generally begin by trying to raise whoever appears most in need of a helping hand. In the case of a boy it is the meanest hooligan, the poorest street-arab, the lad most hopelessly degraded by his home surroundings, who excites our pity and enlists our support. Thus it was that our Club was started, like many another, with the declared aim of trying to civilise the very roughest boys of the district. For a time this proved tolerably successful—the street-arabs did come, and—after heroic struggles on the part of the managers—a number could be persuaded to remain in the Club and gradually become cleaner and more cheerful, with a greater understanding of the words ‘honesty’ and ‘self-respect’. No sooner, however, are they civilised than the Club ceases to be a Rough Boys’ Club and becomes one with a standard of respectability such as to scare away prospective new members of the primitive type.
There is no difficulty with which the writer has tried harder during the last three years to contend than this, but—all going well—the automatic process of civilisation is inevitable and the laws which govern such development cannot be resisted.
We no longer draw the larger proportion of our members from the lowest class, and though the writer himself still conscientiously persists in appearing each night with a ‘choker’ muffler round his neck, collars—unknown three years ago—are now the general rule, and on occasions even a ‘pot’ hat (locally termed ‘‘arfa damsey’ has been known to make its appearance inside our doors.
The influence of the Committee of Boys has again played a most important part in the Club’s success, and a very satisfactory development has been the keenness of all members to bear themselves a fair proportion of the cost of any undertaking, and a dislike to being ‘treated’ to any entertainment or outing without paying what they can afford towards the expense. The takings in the Club have almost doubled within the last few years.
In the matter of Athletics we have done well, and have at the present moment no less than three football teams competing for various cups. Cricket, though never so popular, was well supported, and the second year of the ‘Eton Otters Swimming Club’ beat all local records. With a weekly attendance of eighty it was soon found possible to reserve the fine Hackney Bath for one night during the week, and amongst other successes mention may be made of an easy victory (for the second year in succession) over the team of the Eton Mission Men’s Club. Running is practised on two nights a week during the winter, the Boxing Class is largely attended every Thursday, and our latest departure—a Life Saving Class—is working well.
Thanks to our many kind friends at Eton and elsewhere the Summer Camp was again a huge success, and no happier party could have been found anywhere in the kingdom during that short Bank Holiday week than eighty-odd boys who spent their hard-earned holiday under canvas on the banks of Cuckoo Weir. The number of boys taking part in it having risen from fourteen in 1907 to eighty-three this year.
Since the last report was issued I have had to find jobs for fifty-seven boys, thirty-three of whom are now Club members. At the present moment we have no single member out of work, and by far the greater proportion of them are now in situations where the prospects are good and their employment likely to be of a permanent nature. A number of Old Etonians have applied during the year for office-boys and others, and should these lines catch the eye of any employer of labour within reach of the Mission, I trust that he will not forget us in filling vacant situations as they occur.
It would be impossible to conclude this brief report of a year’s doings without thanking those Old Etonians who so generously devote much of
their time to helping a harassed manager with various branches of the Club Athletics, and to the friends at Eton who supply our many wants—notably that of Gymnasium shoes, sackloads of which arrive quarterly on the back of the Hon. Secretary.
In conclusion may I once again repeat what I said last year? Such clubs as ours cannot be carried on successfully without Old Etonians to run them.
Hackney Wick is far from the West End, and Hackney Wick, at first sight, is a grey and dismal place, but the boys of Hackney Wick—when you get to know them—are enthrallingly interesting.
Are there not other Old Etonians willing to come and live here—ready to supply an unbroken sequence of managers who alone can keep the machine working that is turning out true, loyal, self-respecting citizens—healthy alike in mind and body?
The Old and the New
Re-printed from ‘Chin-Wag’, June 1913
It is difficult to realise that on the 1st July, we shall have reached the day to which we have so long looked forward, and be in occupation of our new buildings. The old Club has closed its doors to us; the new is about to open; and now, as we stand at the parting of the ways, it is natural that we should look back and reflect on the rapid growth of what six years ago was one of the smallest Clubs in London.
My first recollection of the Club is of three dirty rooms, about 30 very cheerful members, and a much harassed caretaker who at the moment of my introduction was engaged in combing from his whiskers the mud with which his charges had been pelting him.
Amongst members two sports seemed more popular than the rest; one, the emptying of flour onto the heads of persons ascending the stairs, the other, that of blowing down the gas-pipes and escaping amid the darkness and confusion which immediately ensued. In November, 1907, the first Committee of six boys (four of whom are still with us as Old Boys) was appointed to manage the affairs of the Club, and a change soon made its appearance. The five small rooms at the top of the building were re-arranged so as to form another large club-room, the bathroom was put in, and the Penny Bank started. In August, 1907, was held the first Camp for Club members, some 20 of whom were present that year. The following autumn saw the establishment of the first Boxing Class and the formation of the Harriers Club, while the Eton Otters Swimming Club came into being in the early part of 1909. In the summer of that year, those of us most closely interested in the welfare of the Club, felt it to be essential that some satisfactory outlet should be provided for members as they became too old to remain in a Boys’ Club; this led to the foundation of the Eton Old Boys’ Club which was formally opened in the old Daintry Street coal-shop on November 10th, 1909. From this point dates the gradual establishment of the Clubs as an independent and separate organisation.
It had soon become apparent that a proper club-house would be required to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of Old Boys, and in the autumn of 1911 it was decided to erect one large building which should house both Boys’ and Old Boys’ Clubs; after considerable difficulty the present site was obtained, and to-day—where formerly stood the Old Manor Farm of the village of Hackney Wyke—are to be seen the new Clubs of which we are all so justly proud.
And now—what of the future? In the Minutes of the first General Meeting that we ever held in the old Club I find the following words: ... . if the Club is to be a real success it must rest in the long run with the members themselves...’ and those words are as true to-day as they were six years ago. Magnificent buildings alone cannot make the Club a success. The future is in the hands of our members. Let each one come in order to give as well as to get; to give of his energy, his loyalty and his devotion in return for the privilege of membership.
Such organisations as ours cannot stand still; forward we must go or back, and as our membership increases, so will the responsibility of every member grow to be the greater. Of friends we have a multitude; friends who by their generosity have made it possible for these Clubs to be built. How can we keep these friends except by showing that we are prepared to make the most of our opportunity? In our new home provision has been made for the likes and occupations of every single member and there will be no room for the slacker. We have hoped much, we have worked hard, and now, at last we claim to have the best Club in the world; more than that, we have the best President in the world in Field Marshal Lord Roberts, v.c.
May the future prove that we are worthy of both.