An Old Nichol Court

Arthur Harding was born in 1886 at No.4 Keeve’s Buildings, Boundary Street, The Nichol. This area  was the poorest in East London and Arthur quickly had to come to terms with the harsh realities of surviving in a place where the social system failed to provide for basic needs.

A court in the Old Nichol (right)

Flash HarryArthur's father: Flash Harry (left)

His mother was crippled by a runaway milk float before Arthur was born and given no compensation. She ended up working for Bryant and May’s making matchboxes on a daily basis, whilst still finding the time to bring up her kids and tolerate her often drunken and sometimes abusive husband, Arthur’s father: ‘Flash Harry’.

Arthur’s family on his mother’s side moved to Hoxton, East London, which according to Arthur was ‘about the worst bloody place they could have gone to’. Arthur’s father’s family was already established in the area through their trade in baskets and later for their skills in dog breeding.

When Arthur was born, his mother and father were very poor owing to his mother’s crippling, and had to make do with one room for the whole family. This included Arthur’s older sister Harriet, known as ‘Mighty’ (who Arthur remembers to have brought him up more so than either one of his parents).

Arthur’s cot was an old orange box and the room had just one table and a few uncomfortable mattresses. The first and last duty of the family was to pay the rent however they could. As a child, the Church Mission provided Arthur’s breakfast (fresh milk and as much bread as could be eaten), and since the building connected straight into the school, provided a useful way of getting kids from The Nichol to stop truanting.

Lunch would sometimes come from Father Jay’s wife who made big jam puddings, Butcher’s cake shop who provided bags of broken cake, or from the fried fish shop where you could get a ‘haporth’ (halfpennies worth) of fish and a haporth of potatoes. That is, of course, if Arthur was lucky enough to have any money at the time. If he didn’t then he’d have to ask passersby’s for food. Dinner was stew cooked by his mother, made mainly of sheep’s head.

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