Granddaughters memories of life with Jack Leslie
Guest blog by Jack Leslie’s grand-daughter Lyn Davies.
Our Grandad and Nan always lived with us, so they had a great impact on our lives. They were always there to support us and help when ever they could. Grandad was a hard working man, always on the go. When he retired from football in 1935 due to an eye injury from a lace on the ball, which resulted in him not being able to look into the sun, he and nan ran a pub in Truro called The White Swan. All the locals would bring any animals they found injured or sick to the pub for Nan to look after and Grandad used to invite his mates for a drink “on the house” and nan would complain that he was drinking all the profits away, but it didn’t stop him! Then they moved back to the East End in 1938 to East Ham just before the war broke out.
He was a boiler maker by trade and worked in East India Docks, he could use his left hand to rivet, so was in high demand. He worked there through the war, experiencing the London bombing as the docks were obviously a prime target. He worked there until he retired aged 65.
He got bored with retirement so our mum Evelyn suggested he go to the West Ham Football Ground, not far from where we lived in Wakefield Street, and see if he could get a part time job there. He met up with Ron Greenwood, the then manager, who recognised him straight away, and said “we will find you a job somewhere Jack”. He was given the job of “boot man”, getting the boots repaired and cleaned ready for the game, for the likes of Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Frank Lampard and Billy Bonds to name a few. He never spoke a lot about his football years to his granddaughters, we presumed he would tell the West Ham players some of his stories, and were shocked to find out that he didn’t, he had told us that they would ask him for advice on football, which he gave along with a lot of cheek. Once Frank Lampard came in and said to him he had scored a goal, so Grandad said “ thats good -now go out and score another one”. One of his great grandsons Michael was good at football, so he asked John Lyall, who had become the manager by this time, if he could write to him, which Lyall did, telling the young Micheal about the importance of getting a good education so he had something to fall back on, because football players only have a short career.
He was a very caring, loving Grandad, the rock of the family. When we were young he was our “hair dryer”, he would say “come on me ansome” (part West Country accent mixed with part East End) and we would sit on the floor in front of him and he would towel dry our hair, doing a good job too. In return we would style his hair, it was short but his curls and the texture made it easy to stay in place and we loved making two little devil horns. He would keep us mesmerised with his story telling, “Joe the alligator” was our favourite and he could remember all the weird and wonderful names he would give the animals. When our friends came round they all wanted him to tell them a story. He had huge charisma as we are sure anyone who met him would agree, there was always a twinkle in his eye.
At school I used to have a bad time as the darkest of the three granddaughters, being told to go back to my own country and remarks like that, Grandad knew I was having trouble so when he saw me in the street with my friends he would cross to the other side of the road so I could pretend I didn’t know him. Of course I wasn’t having that and would run across the road to talk to him, or shout out “hello Grandad”, he did the same for Gill as well.
Every Saturday morning he would go early to the Bakers to get a hot bloomer loaf, then we all had “doorsteps” with butter and jam or sugar for breakfast. He brought Gillian lots of comics, she would sit on his knee and he would read every one of them to her, cover to cover. On Sundays he liked a couple of pints before dinner, when he came home be would bring a bag of winkles and a block of raspberry ripple ice cream for tea, he would go for an afternoon nap and always say “if you start on the winkles save some of the big ones for me”.
20 years after leaving Plymouth he was asked if he would go to Home Park for the celebration of the Silver Anniversary of the club getting promotion to second division. Over the loud speaker they were telling the supporters who the guests were at the match that day and when they mentioned Jack Leslie he got a standing ovation, he got very emotional, as he thought he would have been forgotten after all those years.
His poor old knees gave him a lot of pain with “Arthur Itus” (as he called it), but he would never complain, we would see him rubbing in a pain relieving cream every night. He always carried on the tradition of having a hot bath and then a cold one, to close the pores and he polished all our shoes. His teeth were little as they had worn down over the years, so he decided to get some dentures, but the teeth on them were so big, they just didn’t suit him, they made us all laugh, he couldn’t get on with them so never wore them.
We all went on camping holidays together (including the budgie Joey) and had lots of fun. Nan went to the butchers one day and Grandad waited outside, she brought some steak and some sausages, when she came out Grandad said “looking forward to a nice bit of steak for dinner tonight” nan said “the steak isn’t for you it’s for the dog you’ve got sausages”. Grandads face was a picture!
He loved a paddle in the sea with his trousers rolled up to his knees. In his youth he won medals for swimming, but we never saw him swim. He loved an ice-cream when we went to the beach. He also had a lovely voice and a choir master wanted to enlist him in the local choir, but he only wanted to play football. Mum said when she was young he made her cry singing “Danny Boy” with so much emotion. When Nan was in the Kitchen and she wanted Grandad she would sing “When I’m calling you” and Grandad would sing back “Will you answer too”.
A man of many talents, Granddad played cricket for Plymouth a few times, he also boxed, played bowls and played the violin. He is also in the Guiness book of records for the most goals scored by the Inside Left, a position that no longer exists.
Lesleys children, including the youngest who was 7 when Granddad died, remember him playing “Big Bear” chasing them around the house growling like a bear, they usually ended up hiding under the dining table.
Gillian remembers mum putting her to bed, then a few minutes later grandad would call her to come for a hot chocolate, and they would sit and chat. When Grandad took the dog for a walk, Gill aged 7 would go as well, he would walk so far then let Gill take the dog as far as the telephone box, and he would call the dog back dragging Gill behind.
Mum and Dad brought a shop in Essex, so nan and grandad came to live with me as I still lived in East Ham. When I moved to Kent in the 80’s nan and grandad came as well. Living in Kent Grandad started to get an interest in nature and would sit watching the birds for ages, but again he started to get bored and wanted something to do, we had wood burners then, so gave him the job of chopping the wood and kindling, which he did every day come rain, shine or snow, and he wouldn’t let anyone else do it, that was his job.
He and nan liked a little flutter on the horses every Saturday. He loved a fried breakfast, his favourite chocolate was Bournville dark chocolate. He smoked Players cigarettes. His favourite group were the Ink Spots and his favourite singer was Petula Clark.
When nan died Grandad seemed to give up and 7 months later he died (we think of a broken heart).
Grandad was simply the best, when he died he left a huge hole in our hearts, we lost our rock.
Lyn Davies. October 2021
Pictured below: Lyn reading “memories of Granddad Jack” at the Jack Leslie event in the Canning Gallery (Canning Town, Newham) on 18th October 2021.