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Alfred 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 the railway.

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.

Plumstead Working Men's Club - Cysle section. 3rd from left is James Edward Boon
Plumstead 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.

Plumstead 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 it.

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.

In 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

Jim 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.

Woodville Football Club. Jim Boon, the manager, is back right, with the glasses.
(does anyone know where this club was based?)


Chesters Circus, Elm Street during the Silver Jubilee 1935
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.

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.

Chester's 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 the RAF).

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.

Chapman 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 links).

From 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.

Plumstead High Street, 1882

Click on photos for larger views


Alfred 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.

Link to Alfred John Boon's page: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.boon/Alfred%20John%20Boon.html.htm

Link to Strutt Family: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.boon/strutt%20family.htm

Link to John Boon's site: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.boon/john%20boon%201938.htm

For more historical information on local hospitals go to : http://www.members.aol.com/jdjandsje/index.htm

Many thanks to John Boon for sharing all the above information and his help!

This site is © Copyright Colin Weightman 2006, All Rights Reserved.
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