Everybody has a story to tell, say ‘old boys’ historians

Pair now have two books of Islington history to their names

Friday, 29th July — By Lara Bodger

James Sanderson and Barry Page

Barry Page and James Sanderson

PRESERVING the social history of the borough is not just the task of historians, as two former Islington schoolboys have proved this week.

James Sanderson, a 75-year-old retired cab driver, and Barry Page, 76, a former textbook writer, have become local historians in their seventh decade, and now have two books of Islington history to their names.

“History is not just something historians, academics and libraries preserve – it’s up to all of us to maintain links with the past and learn from it for the future”, Mr Page said.

The men spent their formative years in Islington, attending Laycock Junior School and Barnsbury Boys School during the 1950s.

Islington Boys and Girls is an anthology of stories submitted by local people that grew up during the post-war period.

The book is the second in a series that charts Islington’s history, with the first primarily focused on the stories of former Barnsbury Boys school pupils.

The books chart the rapid changes of the era.

“We were so different from our parents,” said Mr Page.

“For us, there were no boundaries, and once we went to work we had money to spend. My elder brother and sister, born before WW2, had very little, even when they went to work. We broke the mould”.

The Cardinals

The idea was sparked after a class reunion organised via the social media site, Friends Reunited, which led to the sharing of anecdotes about what life was like at the time.

Mr Sanderson and Mr Page then got to work gathering the stories of their former classmates online, later publishing the first edition of the book.

The work brings together historic photographs with the recollections of those who were there. Contributor Paul Lomas formed a pop band ­– The Decoy Boys – with his classmates, rehearsing at his parent’s house in Pickering Street.

The group had a brush with fame after “a black limousine pulled up alongside and I spotted Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones… Brian noticed our group’s name in the side window and put his thumb up to me; a moment I will never forget”.

More musical talent came from Barnsbury alumni Paul Kenealy, who joined The Cardinals in 1963. “We got a residency in a club in Westbourne Grove and the club owner became our manager. We also did a tour of European US army bases,” he said.

Ray Sabini meets Alan Dawson

Jim Smith, who lived on Half Moon Crescent and whose story features in the book, reflects on his dad returning from the war. “In August 1945, my Dad suddenly appeared. We all ran after him and hugged and kissed him. We were a complete family again. A Mum and Dad, and our own rooms.”

Alan Dawson, meanwhile, has spent a lifetime in the horticultural industry and is still in business at the esteemed age of 75.

“I started as a junior salesman in the first Covent Garden wholesale flower market as a dog’s body or general factotum,” he said.

“This was to be my grounding in dealing with my peers, heroes, villains – all and sundry. I moved on to work for my ‘Old Man’s’ company, the City florist who traded under the name of Feltons”.

Life was not always easy for young people at the time. Brian Coombs, who lived at 10 Milner Square, spoke of the poverty he lived in, “it was absolutely filthy, and I mean filthy. The wall was falling apart. It was all peeling off.

“Running alive with bugs, rats and mice. We had all that. We were left in a load of dirt and filth”.

Reflecting on what has changed in the borough since his childhood, Mr Page said “we believe that we are the luckiest generation in history. Safe streets, family ties with generations of families living close to one another, one theme, but so many stories…it’s a different world now, but nothing changes really, just the scenery”.

To purchase the book contact James Sanderson: ironlay@yahoo.co.uk. Available on a non-profit basis for £5.20.

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