East End Underworld

After leaving Oxford, Samuel worked for a time interviewing in East London for the Institute for Community Studies team, Peter Willmott and Michael Young - an experience which underpinned his commitment to the place of oral techniques in social history, of which he made such stunning use in the interviews with the East End criminal, Arthur Harding, which he published in East End Underworld (1981).

Arthur Harding as a boy, c1895




Arthur Harding as a Barnardo's boy, c1895.




He recorded the life story of Arthur Harding in loving and meticulous detail; Harding was not a trade union organiser but a Barnardo's boy from a classic Victorian London slum, the Jago, who became a prince of the East End underworld, a leader of the strike-breakers in 1926, and subsequently as associate of Oswald Mosley and the Kray twins. Always attentive to the unexpected, Samuel explored Harding's friendly relations with Jewish neighbours and partners, and his intellectual interests, notably an enthusiasm for the works, read in prison, of Dickens, Gibbon and Victor Hugo.

Arthur Harding with the 'Hackey Hookers' football team, 1946


Arthur Harding (second left) with the Hackney Hookers football team (1946)


A promised sequel to East End Underworld exploring the techniques and difficulties experienced by Samuel over 80 hours of interviews with Harding in the 1970s was never completed.

Notes on meetings with Arthur Harding, c1978
Notes on interviews with Arthur Harding by Samuel (c1978).

As a result, the yearly recording sessions moved back and forward in time, and from one topic to another, without any serious attempts to draw the threads together. Gradually however the recording sessions changed in character. I grew less and less patient with what I regarded, from the point of view of 'History' of Arthur's irrelevancies, such as his frequent observations of police and penal practices...Overcoming the diffidence which is often the hallmark of the oral historian, I intervened more and more often to say what I wanted to know; interrupting Arthur when he was in full (but as I believed) irrelevant flow, dragging him back to what, from the point of view of 'History', I regarded as the point...