Woolwich & Districts
John Boon, 1910-1998 - His early life in Plumstead
Alfred John Boon
My Grandfather, James Boon, was a dockyard labourer who, I
think, became a waterman or lighterman. I was told that he was
involved in rescue operations of the Princess Alice
pleasure boat, which sank in Woolwich Reach. There is a memorial
in Woolwich Cemetery, Kings Highway, Plumstead.
After their marriage in 1873, James and my grandmother, Amelia
Mead, lived at 54 Burrage Road, Plumstead. By the time of the
1881 census they were living at 3 Orchard Street, Woolwich,
where they remained until at least 1901. They both died at 65
Elm Street, Plumstead. I don't know where they lived between
1901 and 1912. James died in 1912 and Amelia in 1915. Both are
buried in the Kings Highway Cemetery.
James and Amelia had seven children. I did not know John b.1876,
Amelia b.1887 and William b.1889 existed until I obtained the
records. They must have died young. The others were:
Mabel. Married Peter Mortimer, a Scot and
professional footballer who played for Chatham and Woolwich
Arsenal (now Arsenal F.C.) I last saw them in Springburn Road,
Glasgow in 1942, where he worked as a liner (sign writer) on
Lillian. This aunt I knew best, as she lived
with us for some time. She worked as a pastry cook with Chapman
Bakers, Plumstead Road. She had a child, Lillian (Pip). She
later became housekeeper to a widow in Swiss Cottage, and subsequently
married and lived in North London. Pip was raised from birth
by my mother, and of course lived with us.
James Edward Boon, my father. He was born
at 3 Orchard St. 31st July 1877. He went to St. Patrick's School.
He married Helena Downes (then living at 10 Down Street, Plumstead)
at St Patrick's Church, Griffen Road, Plumstead, on 8 April
1901. Helena was the daughter of Martin Downes, a soldier, by
then deceased, and his wife Bridget, and was born in 1876 in
Pendennis Castle, Cornwall. Bridget later lived with her daughter
Ann in Crescent Road, Plumstead. She would visit each of her
locally-based children, who would each give her a shilling a
week. There were no Army pensions for widows in those days.
My father was employed as a labourer in the shell foundry at
Woolwich Arsenal. He later became a moulder. I used to take
his dinner to him in the shell foundry at Woolwich Arsenal during
the First World War. I was only around seven years old or older
and I was always frightened that they might 'blow' a furnace
while I was there. The noise and fire were terrifying.
Working Men's Club Cycling Section. James Edward Boon,
is third from the left.
He was a keen cyclist and one time captain of the Plumstead
Common Working Men's Club Cycling Section. They would go as
far as I.o.W., Margate, Yarmouth, starting Saturday afternoon
and returning by Sunday evening, weather no object. He was a
competitive walker, and also won a few rowing competitions.
A foot-high cup was cemented onto his grave, but was stolen
in a few weeks. He was an excellent swimmer, and would swim
across the Thames as a schoolboy. He told us of the 'floaters',
which he used to blow in front of him, or dive under. He was
a very good ballroom dancer and, I think, won a few competitions.
One of his friends was Charles Buchan, with whom he played football.
Charles Buchan played for Arsenal and England.
Working Mens Cycling Section. James Edward Boon is towards
the left with the striped tie.
My father worked at the Arsenal for over fifty years and suffered
from asthma, caused by the sulphur fumes. On retirement in 1942
he received about £100 and a State pension. He was also
recommended for the Imperial Service Medal, but did not receive
My mother had died on 1 January 1938 of cerebral thrombosis,
and in 1942 my father married Gert McGeary, a widow, who was
the daughter of Frederick and Gertrude Newman, who lived at
69 Elm Street. Fred was an engine driver at Woolwich Arsenal.
Gert had been a supervisor in munitions during the Great War,
and manager of Hewsons Child Clothing Factory, Lakedale Road,
Plumstead. The Hewsons lived opposite us in Elm St, starting
their business there.
My father returned to work at the Arsenal towards the end of
the war, and died on 26 May 1947 from cardiac arrest.
I had two brothers and a sister, James, Helena and William.
the Oliver Pell football team, James Edward Boon's son,
Alfred John Boon is in the centre holding the ball which
suggests he was captain.
Standing L-R: Coulter, Upwood, Ashdown, Althans, Denmain,
Paine, Alderman, Smith
Seated:Crowley, Rainey, Boon, Fletcher, Garland
was an apprentice instrument maker with Siemens Brothers, Charlton.
He was subsequently employed with Brown Bros, Acton, and Colliers,
Burrage Road, Plumstead. Colliers, now extinct, manufactured
the Matchless and the A.J.S. motorbike, and three-wheeled cars.
It started in Burrage Road as a cycle repair shop, where I used
to buy parts. He was also employed at Oliver Pell Control, Burrage
Road. He was manager of a department there during the war, and
was a corporal in the Home Guard. He was a member of the YMCA
and helped a lot at social and athletic clubs. He played football
as a goalkeeper and cricket for Charlton Park. A good swimmer,
he had life saving medals. In later life he was keen on bowls.
He ran a football club, Woodville, two senior sides and a minor.
They were regarded as the youth teams of Charlton Athletic,
and some of the players were promoted to that team.
Football Club. Jim Boon, the manager, is back right, with
(does anyone know where this club was based?)
He was on
the staff of Charlton, unpaid I think. I can't remember the leagues
they played in, but they won many trophies. The minor team was
well known in the London area, together with Woolwich Army Boys
teams, Dockland Settlement, Eton Manor, etc. Jim was a good gymnast
and belonged to St Brides Institute, Blackfriars. He also joined
Chester's Circus as an acrobat for a short time.
Circus, Elm Street during the Silver Jubilee 1935
Bill was a clerk who worked for Wolfe Bros,
power tool manufacturers, Stamford St, Blackfriars, and his
last position was as a submarine cable tester at STC, Woolwich.
He was also a good footballer and turned out for Erith and Belvedere,
in the London League, amongst other teams. During the war he
was a clerk in the R.E.M.E. He married Winifred Smith, from
Norwood, in 1941. They had one son, Michael. Bill died on 10th
September 1974, a couple of weeks short of his 63rd birthday.
Circus - Clowns tumbling in Elm Street, Plumstead
Helena was the favourite with my parents,
living a sheltered life. She had a tubercular elbow as a child,
but it did not affect her in later life. She did a term of employment
as a nursemaid to a Jewish family, and worked for a short period
at Peak Frean's factory at Deptford. She married Sydney Martin
in 1930 at St Patrick's Church, Plumstead. Sid enlisted as an
apprentice engineer in the RAF, and I think he was a Squadron
Leader when he died of thrombosis in Tripoli, in about 1955.
He was a very good athlete, turning out for the RAF at rugby.
He was a Mason and I think belonged to the same Lodge as my
brother Jim. He bunked at RAF Manston with J.H. Ross (the pseudonym
used by Lawrence of Arabia, T E Lawrence, when he enlisted in
At one time I went to stay with my aunt, Catherine Synan née
Downes, in Andover, Hampshire. Her daughter Frances was nursemaid
to Sheila, daughter of Fred Winter, stable jockey for Maurice
Hartigan at Weyhill Stables. As I have been mad on horses from
my infant days, and had quite a lot to do with them, I was more
than delighted to get to know Mr Winter. My ambition had always
been to be a jockey, and my size and weight were just suitable.
I was 70lbs at 14. At every opportunity I would go with Mr Winter
to the stables. The staff would give me a leg-up on the hacks,
and let me mount racehorses at the walk. I can still remember
three of them - Sewing Machine, Clyno and Breeze. I was offered
a chance as a stable lad, when I finished school, at Weyhill,
or I could pick another stable. If I was satisfactory I would
be apprenticed. There had been some racehorse owners around
the Woolwich area, and I had been offered a place in the stables
by them, so had always thought that there I would end up. Nobody
at that time seemed to object.
When I returned to Plumstead my mother would not entertain
it because her brother-in-law, who was then a stud groom in
Devon, had had a hard time as a stable lad. It was useless to
point out that that was in the Middle Ages, when all workers
had hard times.
65 Elm St (later Elmly) was a six-roomed house
with 3 bedrooms, and had elastic sides. Besides the family there
was Lillian (Pip), the daughter of my aunt Lily. My mother looked
after her from when she was a few months old until she left
school at 14.
Another was Violet Bridges, older than me. Her mother, when
she was dying, asked my mother to adopt her. She married a Sydney
Higbee some time before the war. They had two children, Sheila
and Betty. Violet's uncle, John Middleton, also lived with us
for quite some time.
Another inhabitant was Olive Archer, a friend of Francis. She
fell out with her parents, married an engineer from Seimens
and died shortly after.
Kathleen Taylor, was another refugee from parental warfare,
a girlfriend of mine and a workmate of Francis. She married
Terry Paul, an Inspector with United Dairies.
The people living at 67 Elm St did a flit, leaving their lodgers,
the Popes, mother, father and son, stranded in an empty house.
My mother let them have our front room, supplying the furniture,
on the understanding that it was only temporary. It took a year
to get them out; more often than not they didn't pay any rent.
My mother couldn't resist waifs and strays.
We had a good time though. There were always parties from when
I was quite small. Parties went on all night, and sometimes
lasted the weekend. They could be extended into several days
at Christmas, going from house to house.
The last time I saw No 65 it was a hole in the ground, waiting
for a concrete monstrosity to be planted.
I left school at 14 and went to work with Gert's brother Ted
at the old tram yard, Lakedale Road. He was employed by Fred
Williams, who was once goalkeeper for Woolwich Arsenal, about
the same time as my uncle played for them. He owned three public
houses, The Brewery Tap, Plumstead, The Captain Digby Hotel,
Kingsgate, Margate and The Spaniards, Hampstead Heath. He also
had shares in Beasley's Brewery, Cheeseman's Stores, Lewisham
and I suppose much more.
I went to The Spaniards one day with Ted. Tom Mix (old cowboy
actor) was making a film there (Dick Turpin?). I was able to
go into the stable and fondle his rather famous horse; was it
Tony? Made my day.
Another bonus, I used to go into Beasley's Brewery and got
to know the stable manager well. The drays were pulled by shires.
Of course I helped when I could in the boxes, and tried to persuade
the manager to give me a job. He would laugh and say I was too
small; one of the animals might tread on me. His stable staff
being old employees, I don't think there was a vacancy. I believe
he was pulling my leg. Ted's job was chauffeur, driver of the
pub's delivery van, and the general maintenance of the vehicles.
We both helped out in Arthur Hayward's garage which was in the
tram yard. Learned to drive Model-T Fords, but was too young
for a licence. Mr Hayward kept saying he would employ me, until
I thought it was time for a move.
I don't know how I got the employment, but started work in
the Inspection Department of Oliver Pell Control, Cambridge
Place, Burrage Road, Plumstead. After I had been employed there
some time I would go on a Saturday to the Strand, to service
arc lamps. These, I think, were used in the Mall, by the Charing
Cross Electrical Company and manufactured by OPC. This experience
obtained me a 100% mark in searchlights when I was at the Military
College of Science. I learned quickly at OPC, and became quite
adept in the use of electrical test instruments. Charles Fricker,
manager of the test department and I were far from amicable,
although this did not prevent him from instructing me and giving
me the best of the jobs.
One day I was rewiring electrical motors in the machine shop,
assisted by a ‘new boy’. Charlie arrived and accused
the lad of idleness. I stuck up for the boy; it developed; I
challenged Charlie to a bout of fisticuffs. Charlie refused
because of his double hernia. He was the boss, so I departed.
Why I took a job with Addis & Usherwood, grocers, except
that the manager asked me, he being a friend, I do not know.
Hours 8 - 8 Monday to Friday, half day Wednesday from 2 o'clock;
Saturday 8 - 9. No football or cricket at the weekends. I was
soon cheesed off, and when Mr Addiss started criticising me
to the boss, that was that.
I had employment with two other firms, sometime before I entered
the services: Labins, wine merchants of Piccadilly, servicing
their bottling and corking machines in Waterloo, and The Electrical
Apparatus Company, Vauxhall Road, where I worked on electrical
controllers, including trams.
Mr Chapman, in charge of the instrument section at OPC invited
me to return to the fold (it was that kind of firm). Mr Chapman
was one of those persons who seemed to devote their lives to
others. He got some high decoration later in his life; maybe
a knighthood. (If not, he should have). He was a great fund-raiser,
especially for The
Miller Hospital, Greenwich. He chaired all the
committees in the firm; Welfare, Sports, Entertainment etc.
He was an officer in St John's Ambulance Brigade, and got me
interested in First Aid. He was the most genuine gentleman I
ever met. One thing I remember was when I tendered my resignation
from one of the committees, because of criticism. He said he
would accept it, but if everybody was to resign because people
who are incapable of functioning in the job disapproved, nothing
would ever get done. I withdrew my resignation.
I was unemployed for about a year during the Depression in
the early thirties. I eventually obtained employment in Kolster-Brandes
at Footscray, assembling wireless components. A come down, but
I was thankful for any employment. I cycled from Plumstead to
Footscray. This was seasonal, so it only lasted a few months.
The Depression was easing; work became easier. I went to Standard
Telephones Company, North Woolwich, assembling and testing telephone
equipment. Not instrument making, but employment. I eventually
returned to OPC, testing RAF equipment, including parts of Automatic
Pilot. This section was controlled by my old friend, Charlie
Fricker, and he soon got rid of me. Brother Jim was Charge Hand
in the Instrument Shop at this time, so together with Mr Chapman
I was soon back in the Instrument Dept.
Seeing the war coming, in 1939 I “signed on” with
the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, later transferring to the Royal
Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Bakers, on the corner of Griffin Road and Plumstead High Street,
tel: WOO 0388
Orchard Street is the next street on the right, just past the
'New Cross Empire' poster
and in front of the Rose and Crown public house, which is the
last of the darker buildings,
with a large lamp in front. Picture kindly supplied by Helen
Jones. via John Boons web sites (see below story for
the notes of Alfred John Boon: This aunt I knew best, (Lily
Elizabeth Boon) as she lived with us for some time. She worked
as a pastry cook with Chapman Bakers, Plumstead Road.
High Street, 1882
on photos for larger views
John Boon's son, John Boon has a web site where you can see
more about the history of the Boon and Strutt families in Plumstead.
to Alfred John Boon's page: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.boon/Alfred%20John%20Boon.html.htm
to Strutt Family: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.boon/strutt%20family.htm
to John Boon's site: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.boon/john%20boon%201938.htm
more historical information on local hospitals go to : http://www.members.aol.com/jdjandsje/index.htm
thanks to John Boon for sharing all the above information and