Stories of London

March 22, 2023
Stories of London

Charles Jenkins, memoirist

Story telling is a great skill. The ability to twist and weave through personal histories and memories whilst capturing discrete moments is wonderful. We live in an age where the opportunities to share your stories by self-publishing whether it is through your own website or print have mushroomed. Story telling is flourishing. So too is direct access to your own audience.

Charles Jenkins is an East Ender- a Bethnal Green lad – born in 1943 at 11 Royston Street, which he proudly says, makes him a real Cockney!

Charles has created the Tales of London and East End Memories websites that combines the personal and the historical. He is a mean user of imagery and artwork to accompany his tales. I cannot quite remember how I came across his site though it was probably an ever-deepening web rabbit hole in search for more Oxford House stories. Tales of London is packed to the gunnels with London stories. He also recalls family histories sharing personal memories of family life. His account of the settlement movement features Oxford House (what is not to like!) and Toynbee Hall.

Do visit the site and luxuriate in the cornucopia of stories. Read on to discover Charles’ back story.

Charles’ story

As my father was in the army and my mother worked for British Railways by driving a wagon harnessed with two large Belgian horses and delivering goods throughout the City of London and Docks, I spent my first two years at a Nursery in Victoria Park Square. I spent nights in shelters with my mother where I caught pneumonia and whooping cough twice and was given The Last Rites on one occasion but was saved by being one of the first to be given Penicillin.

Collage of Charles’ parents: Stories of London
Collage of Charles’ parents: Stories of London

Oxford House has been of importance to my family. My mother went to her only party as a child, given for children whose fathers had been killed in the First World War thanks to them. It was given at the Excelsior (part of Oxford House at the time) before it became a cinema. Once it became a cinema, I often went either with friends or my mother to see films there.

Image: Excelsior Cinema by Kevin Whelan
Image: Excelsior Cinema by Kevin Whelan

After the war, my parents ran a Pie ‘n’ Mash Shop on Cambridge Heath Road at Mile End Gate for a number of years. My father made the best pies that I have ever tasted. The crusts were always golden brown and flaky and they literally melted in the mouth! He also cooked eels, for which I never really developed a taste. Their working day began at 6 am Monday through Saturday and ended at midnight. We lived above the shop and I spent my evening listening to the radio, which I still love.

I hated school as a kid. I went to Sir John Cass Foundation School until I was 12. Today, I realise that I was, and am, afflicted with Dyslexia, which was never recognised at that time. I had a really great difficulty reading and stuttered when I was made to read aloud.

We moved out of London in 1956 to Slough since where we were living was to be condemned. We were living at 8 Paradise Road and I note that the house is still there! I hated moving, as I loved the East End: I liked the markets and the various shops. I used to visit many tailoring establishments that were once on Whitechapel Road and enjoyed talking with old men that worked there.

I did not shine at school at all and only passed 3 subjects at O-level when I took my GCEs. I remember my mother told me not to leave school, but to retake my exams. Somehow, I managed to finagle my way into Advance level classes and suddenly I found that I liked Chemistry and Physics. This led to my obtaining a B.Sc. Hons. in Chemistry and then a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of East Anglia.

I spent some twenty years doing research at various Universities, firstly in Toronto in Canada and then Paris and Berne in Switzerland. I also taught undergraduates and directed the work of a number of graduate students. Eventually, I took up a post at the main University Hospital in Amsterdam where I remained for five years.

In 1980, I moved to New York City and was part of the Faculty at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. My position involved hospital service work as well as research activities and the teaching of graduates and undergraduates.

In 1984, the University of London honoured me with the degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) for my work through the years. I was conferred by Princess Anne at a ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall where I stunned the University dignitaries by going to the front of the stage and bowing to my mother. I did this since she had been a great inspiration to me throughout my academic career and deserved some praise. I was also granted Fellowship to the Royal College of Pathologists in the same year. Not bad for an East End boy who is Dyslexic!

In 1985, I decided to change direction of my life and I attended Medical School at the State University of New York at Buffalo and obtained my medical degree in 1989. I trained in Internal Medicine at New York and Columbia Universities in New York City. My original plan was to return full-time to research and teaching, but since I enjoyed the practice of medicine very much, I remained a practicing physician until I retired.

Today, I spend much of my time writing – either article and even a few novels, as well as maintaining two websites where I write about my childhood and any other subject that takes my fancy.

Despite all of my education and travels etc., I am proud to come from the East End, and Bethnal Green in particular, and remain now, and for always, an East End boy!

John Ryan
Author: John Ryan

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