Hoxton Cafe Project
1963 - 1969
Copyright © All rights reserved. Gordon Porter
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Hyla Holden

                                       Memories of Derek Shuttleworth  

 

My memories of Hoxton date back to the early 1950s, when I became, first a volunteer, and later the Leader (unpaid) of the Redvers Club, a Nissan hut on a bombsite at the end of Redvers Street.  (Is any of the street still there?)  On one side of the  road was the flattened school, on the other the remains of a glass factory.   Derek Borboen (as he was then) was, of course the inspiration behind the club, also its their predecessor, the Barge Club (see Merfyn Turner’s “Ship without Sails”), and later the Hoxton Café Project.  

 

Derek was an idealist who looked for, and generally found, the good in everyone (except possibly the Senior Management of the Probation Service), and he attracted similar idealists.  Among the supporters of the Club were Donald (later Lord) Soper, a Methodist minister, well known in his time as a Socialist and Pacifist,  also Lord Longford, who later became famous, or infamous, when he tried to befriend Myra Hindley, the serial child murderer (a film was made about their relationship).

 

I was fairly young and inexperienced at the time, and it was a tough assignment, but so long as Derek was there, and he usually was, I felt completely secure.   I got to know him well; I met his “Aunt” (mother), a sweet woman, in her cottage near Ongar and so also did my family, who every summer were invited to a wonderful children’s party at his cottage in Essex.  It was Derek who later recruited me to chair the Hoxton Café Project Committee, and we remained friends until his death.

 

Derek was one of the finest men that I have ever met.  He was loved by many people, and respected by everyone with whom he had contact.  But he was not an easy person to get close to.  Perhaps he was only really at ease with children (ours loved him) and perhaps also with his probationers.  With colleagues he tended to be stiff and formal, always polite, but the politeness could be icy, especially if he disagreed with you.  With those whom he despised (which included some of his Seniors in the Probation Service) he could be bitingly sarcastic.  Sometime after his death I met the Senior Probation Officer who had been his supervisor (Rosemary Braithwaite).  Of course she liked and admired him, who could not?  But their supervision sessions were a nightmare, because Derek was not really prepared to be supervised.  He always sought – and found – the best in his clients.  And if he thought he was right, nothing would induce him to change his opinion, or his recommendation to the court.

 

The memoir by Patrick Streeter mentions his origins and his illegitimacy.  My daughter Katherine Holden, who is a historian, interviewed Derek shortly before his death for a book that she was then writing “The Shadow of Marriage” which is about “Singleness” in men and women between the two world wars.  Her book is dedicated to Derek Shuttleworth, but in the text he appears as “David”.  The ambiguity and shame of his illegitimacy and the lies that his mother felt obliged to tell, in order to cover it up - and the fact that he had to continue to keep up the fiction, to her and to everyone else that she was his aunt, even after he had discovered the truth - may in part account for his rather spiky personality. Nowadays it wouldn’t matter at all, but then it did.

 

Several people have asked me if Derek was gay.  It wouldn’t have mattered if he was, but he wasn’t.  At heart he was a Romantic. One evening, when he knew that I and my family were moving into a bigger house, he phoned me to ask whether we might have room to take in a homeless young woman and her two small children “for a few weeks”, until she could find permanent accommodation.  The woman was in the throes of a messy divorce, and had come to him for help.  And then he added, “and by the way I’m in love with her, I want to marry her”.  She and her children were with us for the next three years, but Derek never had a chance – she was grateful to him, but she could not return his love.   

 

Throughout most of the time that he was working as a Probationer Officer in Old Street, Derek lived during the week, in a kind of basement hovel, beneath Toynbee Hall, one room with a bed, a table and a single gas ring.  He never drove, so I used to take him there sometimes.  Only at weekends did he go back, by underground to Epping, steam puffer (long gone) to Ongar, and then by bicycle to his mother’s fourteenth century thatched cottage, “Mashams”  in the tiny village of High Laver.

 

Here are a few more memories.  In my professional capacity I learned, many years ago, about a Hoxton family in which two brothers hated each other.  When their father died, both intended to attend his funeral, however the older brother (I will call him James) warned the younger (I will call him Bruce) that if he tried to come to the funeral he (James) would kill him.  Bruce was determined to go, but knew that there would be a fight in which one or other could be murdered.  I decided to ask Derek for advice, and he told me to leave matters to him.   In fact Derek attended the funeral himself.  A fight between the two brothers started over the graveside; Derek personally intervened and fell (or was pushed) into the grave, badly injuring his shoulder.  At that point, I think the two brothers felt that they had gone far enough, and at least there was no murder.  

 

Which takes me to Derek’s own funeral, in the church at High Laver.  It was well attended; he had many local friends, but no close relatives.  All his former colleagues came, also several of his former probationers, Bruce was one of these.  It was a solemn occasion and all the right things were said about Derek during the service, but somehow there was for us something missing - some inner spark which might reveal the Derek whom we knew.   Then, as the coffin was carried to the grave, Bruce started to tell my daughter his own version of Derek’s intervention at his father’s graveside, which provoked much laughter.  Some of the mourners were surprised, but I think Derek would have approved.

 

Finally, there was Derek’s retirement party in 1975, to which he invited me.  It took place at the Old Street Probation Offices and all his colleagues were there.  So also were many members the Senior Management of the Inner London Probation Service.   Derek had never accepted promotion; he remained an ordinary Probation Officer to the end, but his achievements were well known and had to be acknowledged, even though I had a strong feeling that they were relieved to see him go.  The time came for speeches and for a presentation gift (I can’t recall what it was).  Again all the right things were said about Derek; his devotion to duty, his wisdom, his concern for his clients, his work with young people, and all the projects which he had started.  Then it was Derek’s turn.  This was how he started.

 

“Thank you for the present, and for all the nice things you have said about me, but unlike all of you I am going to tell the truth.”

 

He then delivered a ten minute lecture on what he believed to be the shortcomings of the Probation Service.  He criticized its leaders for their lack of imagination and their inability to understand the ordinary problems which families such as those living in the east end of London had to face.  He was sarcastic and incisive.  And all the Top Brass of the Probation Service had to sit there and take it from him!  I don’t think they ever forgave him.  

  

Such was the man that we all remember and love.

 

Hyla Holden

 

There was also a letter that Hyla sent to the Hackney Gazette when he was asked about his time at the HCP which you can see Below.

15th December 2007

Sheenagh McKenzie

News Desk

Hackney Gazette

Hackney.

London

 

                      Dear Sheenagh McKenzie

Re The Hoxton Cafe Project

I have mislaid your Email address, so am sending this by post. I hope it reaches you in time.

You have asked me about my experiences as Chairman of the Management Committee of the Hoxton Cafe during the 1960s. I have decided to write about this, rather than answer questions. The whole experience was complex and difficult, and for me any simplification would be misleading. This may not be what you want, so you will have to extract from it whatever you can I hope you will not unduly distort what I have written

The key person in the whole story, which starts during the early nineteen fifties, was Derek Shuttlewórth (formerly Derek Borboen) who was responsible not only for the cafe project, but also, during the 1950’s, for its predecessors, “the Barge Club” and “the Redvers Club’ Derek was a Probation Officer at Old Street, dedicated to the care of the disturbed and unsettled young people who were his clients and who formed a minority group in Hoxton during a period when the area was renowned for crime and vice

These young people had been written off by the official youth agencies, but not by Derek, who was determined to provide a place where they could be accepted and, if they wanted, could talk to supposedly mature adults. The result was firstly the Barge Club (on a Thames Barge moored at Wapping), and later the Redvers Club (a Nissen hut on the playground of a bombed school off Redvers Street, Hoxton). [ The story of the Barge Club has been written by its then leader, Merfyn Turner as “Ship without Sails” .]

During the fifties I became a volunteer at the Redvérs Club (I was then a medical student). later I became for a year, the club leader. During this period, which was quite a tough one, Derek was my constant support and inspiration. He was not an easy person, he was naturally shy and retiring, but utterly determined to do what he felt was right on behalf of his clients. When up against fools or knaves his icy sarcasm could be devastating.

He never accepted promotion and he never took credit for the many projects that he started on behalf of the young people whom he valued, and who saw him as their friend (several came to his funeral forty years later).

The Redvers Club eventually burned down, but Derek was still determined to meet the needs of its former clientele. It was the era of Espresso Coffee bars and this led to idea of a Cafe. I was by this time a consultant child psychiatrist and Derek asked me if I would act as Chairman of the Management Committee. Derek not only provided the inspiration, but also did most of the donkey work in obtaining premises and setting up the cafe. My tasks as Chairman included:

I. Translating Derek ‘ s vision into words that could be understood by the public, and especially by officialdom.

2. Holding together a committee who came from all walks of life , but who were generally middle class, and introducing them to ideas which were alien to them.

3. Negotiating with the public, many of whom were unsympathetic to the idea of providing a meeting place for young people whom they saw as beyond redemption (a Den of Thieves).

4. Meeting regularly with the cafe workers, giving them support and trying with them to work out what they were supposed to be there for. This meant working with several different sets of workers, all of whom had different personalities and very different ideas about their function. I am grateful to them all.

5. Negotiating with other youth agencies, who were deeply suspicious of our intentions, and with the Police, who would have liked to close us down.

In all of this I could not have survived without Derek Shuttleworth. The whole experience from 1962 to 1970, when I resigned, was for me a great privilege, from which I learned a  great deal It will be very interesting to find out how former users now view their experience. [ see also “Hoxton Cafe Project, report on seven years , “ by Dr H. M. Holden . ]

Yours sincerely

 

 

Hyla M. Holden.