Labour of Love

Celebrating the working lives of East Londoners and Park visitors

Month: October, 2014

Factotum

Factotum – an employee who does everything, a Jack of all trades.

An apt description for the job of one visitor to the shed, a woman who had done many jobs, including being hired as Circus Worker by Willie Smart in the 60s.

“I had a circus job when I was about twenty-one. I saw this job advertised for a mother’s help in the circus. Would you believe it?! This was for the Smarts family. So I went for the interview and the owner of Smarts, an old man then, walked past me during the interview, said ‘hello’, and at the end of the interview they said, ‘Rather than be a mother’s help, would you like to join the circus?’ And I thought, oh, this is too good to miss!

It turned out it was a supporting role for the top acts. You were the person who goes on and takes their clothes, the high wire acts, and you stand at the bottom of the trapeze and catch things they throw you. But you do everything they do, because everyone in the circus in those days, and maybe it’s still the same, did everything. You took all the equipment down at night every few days when you are moving on, sell ice-cream, do all the jobs they do – even riding the elephant.

 I had to do it. Someone was sick, one of the girls, and I had never been on an elephant, so you can imagine when they said you’ve got to ride the elephant through the town… It’s on film in some archive somewhere because the BBC were making a film of the circus at the time. A terrifying experience. It lives in my memory as one of those moments. Absolutely terrifying.

 I travelled with them. I lived in a caravan that belonged to an Arab. You know, they usually have a troupe of tumblers, and I had one of their caravans.

 It lasted less than a year. I got fed up with it because I had been out working and I was used to coming and going as I pleased, but the security in the circus was quite tight. They would want to know where you were, what you were doing. Actually, I don’t like being restrained. It wasn’t free and easy at all.”

parade-of-elephants

First Day & Flies

Opened to the public today. Recorded some great stories.

One of the visitors mentioned how embarrassed he was at bob-a-jobbing as a boy scout. His embarrassment reminded me of something I was reading today in the Shed – an interview with one of the Street-sellers of Fly-papers and Beetle-Wafers in Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor of 1851.

‘I went into the fly-paper trade, ” it’s nearly two years ago, I think ” because a boy I slept with did tidy in it. We bought the papers at the first shop as was open, and then got leave of the deputy of the lodging-house to catch all the flies we could, and we stuck them thick on the paper, and fastened the paper to our hats. I used to think, when I was in service, how a smart livery hat, with a cockade to it, would look, but instead of that I turned out, the first time in my life that ever I sold anything, with my hat stuck round with flies. I felt so ashamed I could have cried. I was miserable, I felt so awkerd. But I spent my last 2d. in some gin and milk to give me courage, and that brightened me up a bit, and I set to work. I went Mile-end way, and got out of the main streets, and I suppose I’d gone into streets and places where there hadn’t often been fly-papers before, and I soon had a lot of boys following me, and I felt, almost, as if I’d picked a pocket, or done something to be ‘shamed of. I could hardly cry “Catch ’em alive, only a halfpenny!”.

Not sure what Beetle-Wafers are… Mayhew leaves that to our imagination.

Shed-First-Day

Shed on the Move

Today the Labour of Love shed was manoeuvred expertly on site in the park by George and the team. The shed is easy to find – near the Podium cafe (sometimes known as East 20 cafe) on the South Park Plaza.  Just head for the Orbit and you will find me under the trees. It’s a beautiful spot.

Open to the public tomorrow!

 

 

Shed-Move

Shed is Almost Ship-Shape

Over the last few days the shed has been scraped, sanded and swept. Fresh paint has been applied. A queen wasp tried to take up residence before me. Happy to report no leaks in spite of the torrential rain. Moving on site in the park in just a couple of days…