Home Oral history interview with Alan Simms

Oral history interview with Alan Simms


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CD of oral history interview with Alan Simms

Associated Organisation

Eton Manor Boys Club (Subject of)

Associated Person

Simms, Alan (Subject of)


Digital file (.wav)
Digital file (.mp3)

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MAPPING THE CHANGE: Hackney Museum oral history project

Summary of interview with:
• Alan Simms, 69 – Former member of Eton Manor Boys Club
Alan Simms
Collection Title: “Mapping The Change”
Item Title: Alan Simms interviewed by Tony T
Speaker: Alan Simms
Speaker: Tony T
Recordist: Rebecca Goldstone
Purpose of recording: Interviewed for ‘Mapping The Change’
(Hackney Wick)
Recording Dates: 21st September 2010
Recording Location: Hackney Museum
Access restrictions: None
Recording equipment: Marantz PDM661 & 1 Sennheiser lapel mic - ew112-p
Recording notes: WAV
Documentation: Typed summary
A portrait photograph in jpg format
Disc 1

Interview summary:

[00:00:21] Introduces himself: born, educated and has lived nearly his whole life in Hackney: “And I grew up as a youth – as a teenager – at this club called Eton Manor. [00:00:57] Describes his school days in Hackney: Orchard School in Well St. Grocers School Hackney Downs. Hackney Technical College. [00:01:19] Family background and local changes: “I’m back in the house where I was more or less born now”

[00:02:00] Good explanation Eton Manor Boys Club, Arthur Villiers, and, detailed description of facilities: “From there, from school etc, Eton Manor took up a big part of my life. Which was in Hackney Wick – set up in Hackney Wick by Old Etonians I think. The leading light of those old Etonians, his name was Major Arthur Villiers. He was like an artistocrat, but he actually lived on Hackney Marshes. He had a house next to the Rugby pitch at the sports ground… the size of it was about 4 or 5 times bigger than Wembley Stadium. It was that big. All private with a York-stone wall all around it – everything best top quality. York-stone wall, teak benches, teak window-frames. There must have been about 6 or 8 football pitches, 3 rugby pitches, 2 squash courts, 6 tennis courts, putting green, bowling green, and from Hackney Wick itself where the club started, there was a clubhouse there with gymnasium, camera room, library, snooker room – that was more of an indoor centre. And for all of this… And you could get hot water whenever your wanted, we had an open air swimming pool you could go there 24hrs a day – during the middle of the night if you wanted to. And for all of these excesses that we had, it cost us £1 per year”.

[00:03:40] Good story of how and why Alan joined Eton Manor Boys’ Club: “I joined because my older brother – he was 10 years older than me – he was already a member, so it was already known to me. My Brother was a very good footballer - he was in the first team – he used to take me to watch the football team, we used to get on the coach and go to other clubs in Essex etc. So I was already well-groomed for it really and I just joined when I came of the right age. The only rules as a club really were that you had to join between the ages of 14 and 16, and if you ever left you could never re-join. So it meant that everybody had to join at 14 or 16… Anyone in the bowls team aged 60, they’d all known each other for all that number of years. There was nobody could come in at age 25 or 35 like now. It was totally unique in the world, actually, this club. There’s been no other club like it at all. Totally unique. And it just sort of founded a very good relationship between everybody. It didn’t need discipline, because the discipline came from your own peers, your own mates, your own football team members. If you stepped out of line they’d soon put you straight – someone would put you straight, without… none of the managers had to ever do anything actually. They found it very easy”.

[00:05:18] Good description of Arthur Villiers’ home and lifestyle on the sports ground (now a corner of Olympic site) and his working relationship with the club-members as aristocrat and club benefactor: “He spent his life in this house on the corner of the rugby pitch. And he always used to appoint members of the club to do… like if he needed some brickwork done, he would always use someone from the club, one of the members, to do the work. And he had 4 cars - a London Taxi which used to take him… He was a Director of Baring Brothers Bank, and he used to go to the bank every day in the back of his taxi. And the person who took him up there, like his chaufer, was one of the club members, it was Derek Mayken – and he had that job for life, basically. And he had his own petrol pump inside the sports ground. And he had a little electric van near this rugby pitch, which he used to plug in at night. And he used to drive that around himself because he was getting on a bit. He used to come out and go round Hackney in it…”

[00:07:15] Good description of the Eton Manor Boys’ Club badge and club colours: Letters ‘E’ ‘M’. Dark blue and light blue. For blazer badges, hats...

[00:07:51] Good explanation how the friends who joined the club with him shared his experiences: “…We used to do things together as our group of similar-aged friends”

[00:08:29] Good explanation how Alan developed favourite activities – Tennis and Squash - after initially having to try everything on offer during the first month: “… I’m a qualified tennis and squash coach - I still coach now - as a result of all that. Because if it hadn’t of been for that club, I wouldn’t have known what a squash court was”

[00:09:58] Explains his international career playing and coaching amateur squash.

[00:11:25] Good anecdotal description of the journey he used to make from his home in Cassland Road to Eton Manor Boys’ Club - and what Hackney Wick looked like then. Number 6 or 236 bus, or bike, or walk… [00:13:04] “What Hackney Wick looked like which is different to now is that it was like an all Victorian area, Victorian houses…”

[00:14:53] Good explanation of how Arthur Villiers bought the running track used for the 1948 Olympic events at Wembley, so it could be used as Eton Manor’s running track: “And it was also the first floodlit running track in Great Britain. The first floodlit athletic meeting in Britain was held there…”

[00:16:31] Good explanation of when and how often Alan used to use the Clubhouse in Hackney Wick and the sports ground on the Marshes. “In the winter, used to be the clubhouse in the evenings, because they had snooker, table tennis – that sort of thing, and it wasn’t that far. And it was closed at weekends the clubhouse, you couldn’t go there at weekends. So at weekends, everybody used to use the sports ground and also during the week, because there used to be football training nights, rugby training nights, and in the summer you could play tennis until 9- o’clock at night – you’d do everything while it was still daylight. And there was a canteen where people used to congregate have tea and coffee. And the woman that ran it, she used to serve rolls, cheese rolls, and sandwiches, stuff like that. It was a very popular meeting place. And Sunday morning was also very popular over there. Friday nights at the club was always extra popular because they used to pin up the teams for next week’s football matches. So you could find out if you’d been promoted or gone down a team or what, that was always popular… [00:17:52] We used to go too often most people, we used to go too often because it was such an attraction. I used to go probably 4 or 5 times a week – 4 or 5 days a week. And sometimes, weekends, you’d spend like a whole weekend there over at the sports ground. Because it was a private estate basically. You used to take one of everything, like one tennis racket, one squash racket – swimming sun- bathing, everything. But it took up a lot of time.

[00:18:25] Alan’s mother was happy for him to spend so much of his time at the club

[00:19:39] How felt about Hackney Wick when he was growing up – good description of sights on the walk across the marshes to the sports ground: “Completely at home, nothing ever happened as far as I know. There was no – nothing ever happened as far as I know. Very safe, really safe…”

[00:21:00] He never experienced rivalries with other clubs – they were just another game.

[00:22:13] Describes the Girls’ Club at Eton Manor – ‘Brookfield Manor’: “Because there’s Brookfield Road in Hackney Wick, which is where they started. But they were allowed to used the facilities at the sports ground…”

[00:23:00] Only naked swimming permitted in the open-air swimming pool – swimming trunks were not allowed because they dirtied the water.

[00:24:00] What Eton Manor Boys’ Club meant to Alan personally: “It meant probably the camaraderie of your peers. Had some very good friendships. They’re all together now actually… They keep meeting up all these people”

[00:25:49] How and why Eton Manor Boys’ Club was more than a sports club: “I didn’t have any other friends apart from those I grew up with at Eton Manor… And it got me these trips around the world by the squash-coaching”

[00:27:29] The club enabled natural sporting ability to flourish and compete in various leagues and county levels at chosen sports: “You just tried everything, and I happened to be good at squash. You get to know these things you know…”

[00:32:33] Good explanation of the pub social scene of Hackney Wick during his Eton Manor-days - detailed and anecdotal listing of local pubs the club-members used, and their locations: “The social life of Hackney Wick again, it all revolved around the social life of Eton Manor, and my friends at Eton Manor…”

[00:35:57] Good description of Eton Manor Boys’ Club in its closing phase: “There was an air of inevitability about it. The word used to get around, like ‘Villiers is thinking of closing the club down’. Because he felt… he started to introduce new things. He thought that the club was not being used as much – as he’d like it to be. And he started to introduce new things in there, new sports. He started Judo and Jujitsu and things like that. But none of it caught on. And eventually he closed it one day - I can’t remember the day. But we were all getting used to the idea, over the period of a year or more…”

[00:37:31] Demolition of the clubhouse at Hackney Wick to make way for the motorway that goes to Blackwall tunnel. Activities continued at the Wilderness sport ground on the Marshes

[00:38:44] Good further descriptions of Arthur Villiers’ aristocrat relations and lifestyle – and Alan’s encounters him: “He did what he wanted to do, Villiers. He seemed to do everything right though… The only odd thing about the man that I’ve never really come to terms with is that he had a set of teeth that were all gold, in the 1960s. Where I can see your white teeth, his were all gold – totally gold… And he spoke like a real toff” [00:45:12] Nearest neighbor on the marshes was his gypsy friend nicknamed Bill Goat [00:46:04] Summertime supper parties in the garage where he parked his electric vehicle: “I got an invitation once… Half the people were Eton Manor members, and the other half were people from his other life”

[00:51:44] How Hackney Wick changed at the time of Eton Manor Boys’ Club’s decline and closure (1967)

[00:52:28] Regeneration and booming interest in Hackney now - Alan describes the industrial heritage of Hackney Wick he recently explored on a walking tour of the area: “The artist’s quarters – that was all factories…”

[00:54:36] His thoughts about the Olympics coming, and the changes because of it…

[00:58:05] Describes what has been taken away from Hackney Marshes to make way for the Olympic site.

[00:59:07] How the site of Eton Manor was taken over but unused after Arthur Villiers died – Alan salvaged wood from its abandoned teak benches.

[01:03:32] How few of Hackney Wick’s modern residents seem to have heard of Eton Manor. And how he and former members feel about that

“Copy Material Location: WAV copies held at Hackney Museum:
1 copy stored on a portable hard drive
1 copy stored on a DVD-R (Gold Archive Standard)
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