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Oral History Interview - Natalie Gold


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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Natalie Gold, in which she discusses Jewish communities in London and her East European Jewish family.


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Q. Could we start by... Could you tell me where you were born?

NG. I was born in Soho, called Broadswick Street. I think the street has now changed a bit. I was born there and I lived there for about two years and I went to Carnaby Street. And from there, with my .. I had a brother and a sister, of course mother and father. And lived there in Carnaby Street until 30 years ago, which my, I didn’t live there, my parents lived there 30 years ago which is 64 or 65. I moved, at 36 I moved to Finsbury Park and that’s where I got married and I lived there. And I still live in the same district. I mean I moved from one house to another, I live in a block of flats now and that’s...

Q. So where you grew up in Camaby Street...

NG. I grew up in Carnaby Street. I went to Peter Street School.

Q. So were there lots of Jewish families there?

NG. Plenty of Jewish families. Soho was a very big Jewish community there. There was 2 synagogues I think at the time. I belonged to the one that was on Manetti Street, which is now called Dean Street. But that’s where I belonged, which was the Tamla Torah and I now belong to the United in Finsbury Park.

Q. What did your parents do for a living?

NG. My father was a gentleman’s tailor, made waistcoats, and my mother helped him.

Q. Did he have a shop or..?

NG. No, a workroom in Carnaby Street. My mother helped him. In those days you got the flat, or rooms shall we say, below. There was a workshop above.

Q. Do you know where the things that he made went ? Where did they get sold to?

NG. Oh they sold... he was a Saville Row tailor. Yes he was Saville Row tailor, all round the West End. What you say Mayfair. Yes he was a Saville Row Tailor.

Q. So it was high class...?

NG. Yes very high class. And I used to help him. Only I helped him, not for money, for, what you say, what do you call it? You know, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed helping him.

Q. What did you do?

NG. Oh I could fell, sew. And I could do stitching. It was a hobby. That’s what it was. I couldn’t think of the word. I did it more or less as a hobby because I liked sewing and that. I was a milliner, by the way. And I made millinery hats, first class hats for Bond Street. I made the Queen and the princesses.

Q. Really?

NG. Yes we made all their hats for them. Not personally to our shop. But from the stores they brought it, we made their hats for them.

Q. So your parents, were they originally from this country?

NG. No, my parents were from Poland, from Poland. My father never got naturalised. Because his three children were born here.

Q. So when did they come over?

NG. Well my father came over. .my mother came over when she was about 12 or 13 years old. I can’t tell you the date. My father came over when he was 20 or 21. He came over to get away from the army. They were married in 1914, February 1st, 1914.

Q. Did they ever talk much about their life in Poland?

NG. Very, very sad life, in Poland as you can imagine, being Jewish. Wasn’t a very good life and his parents lived there in Poland, in Warsaw by the way, till they died. My grandmother, his father, his mother rather, died during the First World War. And my grandfather, he was over 100 when he died, near enough the Second World War.

Q. Really? So did you have much family still in Poland, many relatives?

NG. I don’t know, I don’t know much about them. I only know what my father told me. He had a brother. Oh he had a brother in London as well. He had 2 brothers in London. And they, we all. .one brother, he was my uncle, I’ve known him and he lived in Broadswick Street.
We all lived together. It was like a little community because we were a very, very close knit family. Very close knit. And I still have one cousin alive and she’s 87 and I go and see her quite a lot. And that’s all. Well family, I’ve got children. I’ve got grandchildren I should say. I had a son, he died 3 years ago, 52. And 3 grandchildren and I’ve got a greatgranddaughter.

Q. So when, at home, when you were a child, did your parents speak Polish?

NG. No, my parents didn’t speak Polish at all because my mother couldn’t speak Polish. Because she came over when she was young. But my father spoke a little Yiddish to, not to us so much, because we had, my mother was in business with my father. So they had to have someone to look after the three children and we had a maid. And having a gentile, a Christian maid, my father didn’t think it was right to speak Jewish in front of somebody that didn’t know the language. My father was very, very diplomatic like that. He was a very broadminded man. And of course that’s the reason why we never could speak Jewish. Only you pick up when you’re amongst other people.

Q. So did you go to a Jewish school?

NG. No I went to an L.C.C. [London County Council] school in Peter Street as I said. And that’s just off Berwick Street also Soho. No we didn’t go to Jewish schools. I went to Jewish, what we call ‘Heyda’, to learn Hebrew. And I went to the synagogue every week. So I was brought up, I shouldn’t say very orthodox, but we were brought up orthodox in a mild sort of way.

Q. So your friends at school they would be mainly..?

NG. No mixed. We had mostly Jewish friends of course. Because that was being, living there it was more Jewish than Christians. We had all Jewish holidays which is unusual for a Christian school. Because there was…if the Jewish holidays came out, we took time off, we had to have time off, there was only a few Christians there so they shut up the school. So we had two holidays, we had Jewish holidays and we had the Christian holidays. Which was very lovely for us youngsters.

Q. What can you remember about school ? Was it strict?

NG. No, I can’t remember much about it. Not really what you call strict. We were good and well behaved. And I think it’s not like it is today. I mean the teachers were entirely different. And the headmistress... We were a mixed school by the way. And then of course, later on, it went from girls school to boys school, you know it was parted. When I first started it was a mixed school, but later on it was parted. And there was Jewish boys as well as Jewish girls. Today’s different because they’re all moved out.

Q. When did you leave school?

NG. 14

Q. And you went straight into millinery?

NG. More or less yes. I didn’t really, I’m telling a lie. I worked two weeks in a, that’s what I told the other lady, I worked two weeks in a shop to be a sales lady, and they didn’t call it sales lady, they called it showroom lady. And because I had to do the teas and sweep the floor, I said, ‘That’s enough I don’t do it at home and I’m not likely to do it in there.’ And from there I went into millinery.

Q. Did you like it?

NG. Oh very much so. I worked with one firm, until the war, until this war. And then I had to go into... I had, I got married then I went back to work. I had a child six months before the war. And about a couple of years later I worked in a factory, a tools making factory. Just where I lived, where my parents lived, I should say. I lived in Finsbury Park. Where my parents lived, because my husband was in the army.

Q. So how did you meet your husband?

NG. I met him at Covent Garden Opera House, but it wasn’t an opera house - dancing.

Q. Did you go to lots of dances?

NG. Twice, three times a week or more dancing, I went a lot dancing. Yes. I met him, I was 17, got engaged at 19. Because he was 7 years older than me. And married, I wasn’t quite 21 when I got married. My father had to sign the dotted line for me to get married ‘cos in those days it was 21.

Q. So where did you get married?

NG. I got married in London. I got married in, it was called the Haymarket Synagogue, which wasn’t in Haymarket, it was in Alfred Place. It did belong years ago it was in Haymarket so they still called it the Haymarket Synagogue. I can’t tell you what the other name was. And I got married in Tavistock Hotel which was Covent Garden.

Q. So why did you end up in Finsbury Park?

NG. Well, Finsbury Park, a cousin of mine lived there, and my husband worked in the East End and I worked in the West End and the underground could take you both ways. And also, going out late in the evening, from the West End, I could get an all-night bus to Finsbury Park. And that’s why I lived there in the first place.

Q. For the nights out?

NG. For the nights out.

Q. Did the fact that Finsbury Park, Stamford Hill, has lots of Jewish people, did that influence you?

NG. No, not really, no. Because I believe in mixing with all sorts. No, that never did interfere with me at all. Maybe I’m the black sheep of the family because my sister, bringing my sister into it, my sister lives at Mill Hill and she only mixes with Jewish people. But with me, I was always broadminded. And my father, I take after my father, he’s broadminded and he used to mix with people - because there’s good and bad in all walks of life. And I had English friends, I had Jewish friends. I had friends that suited me, majority of them.

Q. So did you ever come across any prejudice?

NG. Oh yes, we all do don’t we? I mean it’s a thing that you do and if anybody says something to me, well I tick them off but I don’t think they do because when we’re young they say,’ I don’t mean you ‘You see what I mean? See but I say, ‘I’m Jewish’, ‘Oh but you’re nice, I don’t mean you’. So you don’t take any notice.

Q. Didn’t it ever interfere with getting a job?

NG. No. As it happens it worked out I worked for a Jewish firm but the only time it got me from getting a job was during the war. I went to the Labour Exchange and my child was in the nursery up at Crewe out of the air raids and everything. And I had to go to work. I went to work because I was only young, I was 25, 26. And they sent me to an ordnance factory and I filled in the forms. Labour Exchange sent me there knowing what I was and I filled in the forms. And when it comes down to the bottom it says ‘Where did your parents come from?‘ And I said from Poland. And they rejected me.

Q. Really?

NG. Even though my brother was in the army, my husband was in the army and my father did air raid warden. I was rejected and I refused to work for the war effort at all. I was very, very bitter, extremely bitter. And one day I found a job for myself and it was only around the corner with Carnaby Street and Ganton Street and the Labour Exchange was very thrilled that I took the job on. I earnt good money and worked there until well after the war.

Q. So what did you do?

NG. I was a tool maker, I worked a lathe. I don’t know if you know what it is. I worked on a lathe, small lathe and I was a tool maker. I worked two weeks day and two weeks night.

Q. So was it heavy work?

NG. No, nice work, easy work. Well I was very interested because, being a milliner, I worked on, what you call it ? Measurements. And being a toolmaker, you still worked on measurements. So once you learned the trade, we always had a charge hand to help us. I was alright then.

Q. After the war, what did you do then? Did you carry on working?

NG. After the war, I had to work a bit because my husband... I went back to millinery and I couldn’t take to that because it was a bit too…it was changed a bit. I didn’t fancy being indoors like I was. I, when my husband died, I had to go to work because I wasn’t getting any pension. And I had a cousin in Finsbury Park, had a separate shop for ladies wear, a fashion shop. And once over Christmas she says to me would I like to come and help her. Said, ‘I’ve got no idea what to do’. I couldn’t even write a what’s its name out, couldn’t do anything, a bill out. I said I couldn’t even touch it, wouldn’t know how to fold a blouse or a jumper. Anyway, she said I’ll teach you’. And I went to work there for a couple of days a week which was very nice. I was earning my money. And I ended up, blowing my own trumpet, I ended up a first class sales lady. Then I left there, I worked there 2 or 3 times.
Then my brother has a stall, a shop you could call it, open air shop in Shepherds’ Bush. And I went to work for them – I was nearly, I wasn’t quite 70 when I finished. That was my lot.

Q. I should think so!

NG. Well I drive my own little car. I’ve got a little car outside here. I drive my own little car up to now