An East End voice

Oscar Kirk's 1919 diary

The research for Foul Trade really came alive when I discovered Oscar Kirk’s 1919 diary amongst the treasures in the Museum of London Docklands. He was a 15 year-old messenger working in the West and East India Docks. Oscar wrote down the sort of things every boy would find noteworthy – divers salvaging in Limehouse Basin; a chemical works’ fire; watching a Charlie Chaplin film; letting off a cordite cartridge he’d bought; being chased out of the sack sheds by a policeman. But he also included remarkably touching details of his ordinary life:

Tuesday 4 February 1919
Went to the library and changed my library book and also Nanas [sic] (“Strand” for me and “Eternal Love” for Nana). Bought two halfpenny buns as I was coming home from the library.

Wednesday 5 February 1919
Had some fish for supper (cod). Read some of my library tonight. Had some chestnuts today out of the SS Rhio. I found the chestnuts on the quay but I didn’t think that I could be charged with stealing them as I found them. Had some soup for dinner (at 5pm).

Saturday 8 February 1919
It is my half-day today. Went to London Bridge in the afternoon on an omnibus . . . I think that I have lost sixpence out of my pocket but Mother made it up for me. I bought “Gem” and a ginger cake. Nana came this evening and made some chocolate which turned out to be somewhat of a failure.

This young man lived in a time and place I wanted to write about, and through his diary allowed me a glimpse of his world. In gratitude I’ve dedicated Foul Trade to the memory of Oscar Kirk.

May Keaps series

1918 programme for variety show for St Dunstan's front cover

Variety theatre: 1918 show in aid of St Dunstan’s

This remarkable document is a testament to its time. Programme for a 1918 variety show in aid of St Dunstan’s, the Blinded Soldiers’, and Sailors’ Hostel.

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Golders Green Hippodrome variety programme 1914 page 1

Variety Theatre: Golders Green Hippodrome 1914

I’ve kept this battered copy of a 1914 variety theatre programme safe for over 40 years.

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