Today I publish the latest in an occasional series about the residents of Treves & Lister Houses in Whitechapel. These dignified modernist buildings designed in 1956 by Architect & Polish Resistance Fighter Count Ralph Smorczewski are currently under threat of demolition by Tower Hamlets Homes.
Portrait of Paul Aquilina by Sarah Ainslie
Paul’s family were the first to move into the newly-built Treves House in 1958 and, half a century later, he cherishes his grandmother’s flat where he lives today enfolded by affectionate memories of his childhood. I visited Paul there to admire the renovations he has recently completely. ‘They were extremely houseproud,’ Paul admitted as he ushered me in to his immaculate flat, ‘that’s where I get it from.’
There was once a strong Maltese community in the East End, centred around Old Montague St which linked Spitalfields and Whitechapel. Paul’s family were among many who came to London to build new lives after the war but, although he often returns to Malta for holidays, he no longer has any relatives there.
Paul’s tender story of his family and upbringing at Treves House reveals why his home means so much him and illustrates the importance of good quality social housing, permitting extended families to lead decent lives.
“My family came to London from Malta in 1955 – my mother Mary, my father Harry, my grandmother Connie, my uncle Julian and my three aunts Esther, Doris & Carmen. They came here because after the Second World War, Malta was very devastated. It was a British colony, so they emigrated to the United Kingdom to get a better life. My dad’s side of the family came about three years earlier. At first, they lived in Vallance Rd, before the railway bridge. There was a big Maltese community in this area then.
I was born in the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. My sister Carmen came to join us from Malta at one year old and my brother Joey at one month old. At first, my father was a lorry driver for a couple of years, then he opened a factory and a shop in Commercial Rd selling clothing. My mother was a housewife, she had five kids – me being the youngest of five.
My nan, my three aunts and my uncle moved from Vallance Rd into this flat in Treves House when they got offered it in 1959. Every weekend and school holiday, I used to be here in this flat visiting my nan. She passed away when I was six. Then, when I was twelve, my parents separated, and me and my mother lived here for five years with my aunts. My aunts and my uncle, they never got married, they just wanted to stay together as a family and they never wanted to leave my nan. When I used to come here for the weekend, I used to come on Friday night and on Saturday they would always go to the hairdressers, Janet’s in Brady St. I would go along with them when they got their hair set.
My aunts worked at the bedding family in Deal St. Then that factory closed down and it moved to Canning Town and they moved with it. Doris was the manageress, Esther and Carmen were machinists, and they all worked together. I used to go along on Saturday mornings to the factory with Doris, when she would work until one o’clock. They had a big spring room and another floor where they made mattresses. I remember it well.
They doted on us as kids. They had a dog called ‘Pauper’ which they loved and everyone knew around here, a black bulldog. When the dog died in the nineteen-eighties, they buried her at Chingford Pet Cemetery with a headstone.
My nan always to sit out front on a chair, and my mum and dad used to bring me. As soon as she saw me, my nan would burst out crying, hugging and kissing me. That is my first memory. She used to make me meals and we used to do a lot of paper cuttings, cutting out shapes with my aunts. My nan cooked a lot of Maltese food, Maltese chicken soup, baked macaroni, meat and potatoes roasted in the oven. Those are very good memories.
I moved into this flat with my mum in 1981. I shared a room with two aunts and my mum shared a room with the other aunt. I liked it because I always was extremely close with my aunts. I felt a lot of love from them and they spoilt me big time.My aunts were a big part of my family, and I used to be with them every weekend and all school holidays. To be honest, this flat is the place I have had the most emotional attachment to in my life.
My grandmother, my uncle and my three aunts, all our family funerals were held here in this flat – even my mother, who had moved away to Romford, she came to stay with my aunts while she was ill and attending the Royal London Hospital. Her funeral took place here in 2006.
When I was nineteen, my mother got a flat in Romford and I moved with her. My aunts bought this flat when the right to buy happened in the eighties and when they died they left it to me, so I came back to live here again last year. I spent all the money I inherited on renovating this flat.
I intend to stay here until the day I die.”
Paul’s grandmother, Connie Magro in her kitchen at Treves House in the sixties
Paul with his Uncle Julian, taken in the Vallance Rd Photography studio in the sixties
Connie Magro sitting in the sun at Treves House
Auntie Carmen & Auntie Doris in the sixties
Auntie Doris with her cocktail trolley
Auntie Doris with her doll - ‘I remember it always being on the sofa’
Auntie Carmen with Elvis - ‘Every Saturday she bought records from a stall in Whitechapel’
Auntie Esther in the front room at Treves House
The three aunts in the park in front of Treves House
Auntie Doris and Pauper at Treves House in the seventies
Uncle Julian in the seventies
Paul and his three aunts in 1981
Connie Magro’s rent book
Treves House, Vallance Rd
You may like to read these other stories about Treves House
Sophie Spielman, Shorthand Typist
Count Ralph Smorczewski In The East End
This post first appeared on Spitalfields Life | In The Midst Of Life I Woke To, please read the originial post: here