Walking down Wiltshire Row in July 1942, I intended to join the Army Cadets that during the war was part of the club. Standing at the front door was a tough looking man who happened to be Jimmy Doyle. He asked me what I wanted. Join the cadets was my rather timid reply. How old are you , he asked ? Fourteen, I replied. No,you’re not, he said! Go inside and join the club. That was my introduction to Jimmy Doyle, the manager of the Crown & Manor Boys Club.
The club I joined was a vastly different place to the one that developed after the war and certainly far more unrecognisable to the one that is now re-established in Hoxton Wharf.
By the time I became a member, the two clubs, Hoxton Manor and the Crown Club had combined three years previously. It was shortly before the great London Blitz of 1940/41. Hoxton had been very heavily bombed and the club roof had suffered damage from incendiary fire bombs. There was still a Fire Watching system in place manned by senior members,
which required them to sleep overnight at the club, the reward was supper cooked by Mrs Doyle, a treat in the days of food rationing.
One of the many memories of those fire watching duties was Jimmy Doyle telling the story of “Charlie Manor”, the club ghost who walked the corridors after midnight..
They believed him and were most reluctant to take their turn patrolling the club in total darkness.
Club Administration 1939-1945.
The club, now under the title of the Crown & Manor Boys Club, had lost many of its managers and instructors into the Forces.
It had also lost Arthur Llewellyn-Smith at the Government`s request to organise the Civil Defence throughout India, brother Harold had already departed to join the Scots Guards.
Before he departed Arthur managed to persuade Ian Leslie to take over the job of Chairman. Ian Leslie had been a volunteer helper at the Crown Club for several years and was well known to the boys. Now with Jimmy Doyle, who had become the club manager, they were the only two people left to run the club, with a few Old Boy volunteers who gave as much time their war work would allow.
The specialist activities , such as Drama and Art classes, were run by evening class instructors that were supplied by the London County Council. All other activities were organised by whoever was available. The Club Canteen, the most important room and meeting place in the club, was staffed by Mrs Doyle together with several of the boys mothers.
Through the front door one evening in 1942/3 walked a most remarkable man and enquired if he could help out. He said that he was a Wykehamist that had heard of the club’s needs. The name of this gentleman was Martin Willoughby Parr, soon to be known fondly by the boys as Uncle.
Although Uncle only came into the club towards the end of the war years his contribution and influence on the club was tremendous. Martin Parr had been a scholar at Winchester College, a Scholar at Brasenose College Oxford, a senior civil servant in the Colonial service and the Governor of the Equatorial Province in the 1914-1918 War. Uncle was a commissioned Officer serving in The Highland Light Infantry and was to become a Crown & Manor legend who is still fondly remembered by all the Association members whose lives he influenced.
To join the club you were required to appear before the Chairman and the boys club committee, who questioned you quite closely on why you wanted to join the club and what sport you played. If you managed to convince them that you would become a good club member, you were made a provisional member for six weeks before becoming a full member.
Full membership required another meeting before the committee to confirm your attendance and participation in the various activities that were on offer, most boys were then accepted as full members, given a club enamel lapel badge and assigned to a club house, either Southgate, Bridport, Grange or Wiltshire. The names came from the neighbouring streets and roads around the club area.
Captains of the houses were voted for each year at the A.G.M. Every time you attended the club you were required to place a tick against your name printed in the house list, this enabled accurate information to be gathered about attendance and activities.
Public School influence.
The house system was part of most London Boys Clubs, it was a legacy from the
Public Schools who, pre-war, were very active in the London Federation of Boys Clubs. Our own club had been adopted by Winchester College through the involvement of the Llewellyn-Smith brothers, both College men, who had founded the Crown Club.
Sir Edward Cadogan, an Eton College Man, was the founder and President of the Hoxton Manor .Together they formed a solid foundation for the new Club, the Crown & Manor Boys Club, Hoxton.
Winchester School, through its Old Boys Association, have certainly had the most influence on the life of the Crown & Manor Boys club by its financial support from the very outset. It has provided a succession of most able men to become the Chairman of the governing Council together with many other members of the Council. Fortunately this association continues up to the present time.
Daily wartime club life.
The club remained open 5 days a week, from 6 until 10.30/11pm. The junior members 13 to 16 year olds were allowed to stay in the club from 6 until 9pm ,seniors over 16 year olds until 10.30-11pm. Old Boys, any time they had available to help run activities. From 1940 the Army Cadets paraded on Thursdays until they disbanded in 1943. The cadets were attached to the Royal Berkshire Regiment under Captain Piece, a veteran from the1914/18 war. His 2nd in Command was Lt Jimmy Doyle and the Platoon Sgt was Tommy Ponton..
Saturdays were given over to football. 1stand 2nd teams played in the London Federation League, the other teams played against other Boys Clubs.
Sunday evening was for “Saints and Sinners” No prize for guessing who the Sinners were. If you stayed until the end of the discussions, your reward was tea and cakes provided by Uncle.
Uncle was a very devout Christian who tried his hardest to convert us Hoxton scruffs, but there was one lad by the name of Alf Rogers who would take the opposite view on everything Uncle would try to preach, Uncle could seldom win his argument against Alf. Uncle in jest said that “Alf Rogers was sent by the Devil to curse him.”
There were several Federation competitions each season, Drama, Art, English Literature amongst them.
In the Library, Discussion and Music groups were held quite often. Winter season, Road and Cross Country running competitions were held against other clubs. Cross Country training took place over Parliament Hill Fields every Sunday Morning. Athletics and Cricket matches in the summer were arranged most weekends.
Boxing was a major sport in the club, both the Hoxton Manor and Crown clubs had good reputations for producing champions in the London Federation. Jimmy Doyle the club manager had been a professional boxer in his earlier career and had taken over the training of this section as part of the club`s physical training programme.
All members of the club were asked to learn to box unless there was a medical reason not to.
The Inter House boxing match was an annual event, often featuring club friends against each other. These matches produced some great scraps. Personally, I never represented the club at boxing, but I was thankful I had learned how to box, finding it very useful when I was called into the Army.
When Uncle was looking around the club for something useful he could do, he immediately became aware that the Library, a room that reminded him of Winchester College with its oak panelled walls, was badly neglected. This challenge was obviously waiting for Martin Parr’s
With his influence, he approached Winchester and obtained over 250 books to re-stock the bookshelves. He then persuaded a senior boy to become the librarian with his instructions the books were catalogued and set out ready for use. A list of new library rules were approved by the boys committee, No Noise! No Whistling! No running around. In fact KEEPQUIET. Books could be borrowed freely but had to be returned on time.
He then arranged for Magazines to be placed in the room, monthly, such as the London Illustrated News together with the Daily Express and Daily Mirror .
All at his expense. Some armchairs were gifted by his friends. When the room was ready,
Uncle began to arrange for speakers on all different subjects, to come to the club from time to time. The room soon became very popular for playing Board Games, Chess and Draughts among others.
Friday night club meetings was held in the Library, this meeting was compulsory for everyone if you were in the club, unless you were in the Gym, or about to go road running.
The meeting was to go over the next week`s events or make special announcements.
Uncle had persuaded the local Vicar to take prayers to finish the meeting. It was not compulsory to stay for the prayers, you could leave if you wished, I must say Uncle`s eagle
eye (He only had one, having lost the other in the war) would follow you out!! At some time in the future he would tackle you without malice, on why you did not stay for the prayers. It became a case of staying for prayers! Or facing Uncle’s stern questions!
V-1 Flying Bombs ( Doodlebugs) and V-2 Guided Ballistic Missiles
June 1944 marked the beginning of a further dangerous time for London and the club. On the 13th June, the first V-1flying bomb exploded in Grove Road, Hackney. Once again the club was subjected to disruption and danger, having to adapt to the situation and care for the safety of the boys. Although the majority of the V-1 flying bombs fell on South London, we did have a fair share in the club area.
Regardless of the dangers, club life carried on regardless. If a signal was made by a lookout man stationed on top of the Gainsborough Studios nearby during an attack that a flying bomb was heading in our direction, everyone in the club was required to make their way to the main corridor that was situated between two very strong walls, until the danger had passed.
Among the many memories was one told by George Salmon who was caught in the blast of a doodlebug explosion coming to the club!
He arrived at the club nearly naked having lost most of his clothes in the blast including his shoes. He was kitted out in some old Gym shorts and slippers to be taken home, that’s if it was still there!
A personal experience of the sort of life we all took for granted in those days.
Road running back from Mildmay Park along Southgate Road, Sid Harding who was behind me, suddenly shouted “ there is a bloody Doodlebug following us”( I think the expression was a bit more fruitier than that!).
Fortunately for us, it passed over and exploded somewhere near the Angel Islington. Following on from the Doodlebug attacks, in September 1944,we were then subjected to Hitler’s second gift to London, the V-2s..
There is no doubt that these evil weapons, which were guided ballistic missiles travelling at 3500 miles per hour ,created more concern than his first gift amongst everyone at the club.
You could not see them coming, so there was no precaution the managers could take to protect the boys who were in the club. This situation lasted from September 1944 till early 1945.
The Old Boys contribution in WW2
Both Hoxton Manor and the Crown Club had very strong Old Boy sections, many of their members had pre- war been in the Territorial Army Reserves. As a result they
were the first to be called into the armed forces.
By the end of the war the two Old Boys clubs had between them 230 members who had served in all parts of the war front. 20 were killed, 11 were decorated for bravery, 20 were commissioned, 60 became Non-Commissioned Officers.
Nine managers served with the Forces, of whom four were killed. Two of the survivors were decorated..... Major Michael Holme MC. and Capt. Harold Llewellyn- Smith MC.
The above speaks for itself, silent witness to the qualities of the Hoxton Boy and the gift of leadership that was encouraged by their membership of a Boys Club.
27th of October 2015.