The Scarbrough family: from postcard collecting to Jedward superfans

Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 25 seconds

Everyone in Islington’s got a story. Settle down for a cup of tea and a biscuit with the Scarbrough family (who’ve lived in Islington for years) and the chat switches from history to celebrity at rapid speed. If you want to know what Superfan Holly and her mother Helen Romero get up to, or see some of Jenny and Don Scarbrough’s fabulous postcard collection of local views from long ago then read on… Pix in gallery of Helen with her Jed Alert top and Jenny and Don with postcards.

Don Scarbrough on the doorstep (he’s on the right). The houses at Dillon Place, N7 have long gone – in their place is the Sobell Leisure Centre.

Helen Romero’s 13-year-old daughter, Holly, is the fifth in her family to be brought up in Islington. Her granddad, Don, who runs the locksmiths at 158 Blackstock Road, was brought up in Dillon Place, N7, a cul-de-sac long ago knocked down. It’s now the Sobell Leisure Centre.  Don’s mum was born in 1904 at Gee Street, near the Barbican, N1, and he also remembers his Nan living at Sondenberg Road, opposite the Rainbow.

“There used to be a bomb site on Isledon Road, just opposite. From about eight to 16 years I played on that bombsite every day,” says Don. His wife, Jenny, 63 – who’s lived in Islington since she was eight – and daughter Helen exchange a glance. They still can’t work out how anyone could amuse themselves all day outside with only the occasional treat to the seats known as ‘the Gods’ at the old Empire theatre (now Vaudeville Court, N4) to watch variety shows. But Don clearly loved his bombsite playground regaling me with tales of a very different childhood to his own daughter’s. All those years ago he and friends were allowed to ride on the fire engines, but if things went wrong the kids had to take themselves to hospital. “I broke my arm when I was nine or 10,” remembers Don, “I went up to hospital on my own because my mum was at work. I used to cut my head a lot and need it bandaged a lot too – once I fell off the bed on to a china potty and had to have a lot of stitches. Then there was the time I was hanging on to the back of a lorry and fell off, and had to have a lot of stitches. And then I got knocked off a bicycle….

“…and had to have a lot of stitches,” laugh Jenny and Helen

There’s a passionate energy to this family. Helen’s 36 now, but before she was born Don and Jenny spent their early married days searching antique and postcard fairs for Islington postcards. They have about 50, many with messages written and posted in the very early 1900s. “Dear Mother, I’ve had an awful day…” reads out Jenny as she chooses local views that are still easy to recognise today.  “You’d look through 100s, and they weren’t cheap, you can see they were about a tenner even then. The ones without the writing were the most expensive. ” And there was competition too – “ It felt like wherever we went there was a postman from Highbury who had been there just before us and bought what we wanted… We never met him.”

Now it’s Helen and Holly’s turn to put the collecting gene to good use as Jedward superfans.

Mum and daughter –sometimes with granny Jenny too – have met Jedward everywhere, Tower Bridge, Greenwich Observatory, Heathrow… At Hadrian’s Wall this summer Holly even had her hair plaited by one of the brothers – all preserved for posterity with video and pictures. The girls even managed to send a message to Jedward when they were in the Big Brother house at Boreham Wood – a 30 second blast of their song, I’m your biggest fan, played on Helen’s sound system from a forest at the rear of the property.

“We heard John and Edward shout ‘I love you guys’ from over the wall. Next thing we knew four cops came out of the trees with guns, but they were soon having a laugh and we took our photo with them. Another time we released 100 helium balloons with the initials J and E on them. They got tangled up in a tall tree so you could see the security men trying to climb it to get to them…”

“It’s not stalking,” says Helen trying to explain the concept of Superfan. “I mean it’s better than being a football fan. Jedward have 700,000 plus twitter followers but they know their fans always find them. They come out and chat when we find out where they are after one of our Jed Alerts. They share biscuits with their fans. How many Arsenal footballers would do that? I even got the go-ahead from their mum who’s always with them, she told me ‘The boys love you fans, it’s what they’ve always wanted.’”

Clearly there’s a lot of truth in the saying that the family who plays together stays together. Stroll down to see some pictures from Jenny and Don’s fabulous postcard collection. Can you recognise these local landmarks?

LEFT: Highbury Park, 1904 – better known now as Highbury Barn

Apologies for the glare – luckily it’s just where Arsenal tube now stands.

RIGHT: Gillespie Road, undated, showing what it looked like before Arsenal tube was built.

Horse-drawn omnibuses, trams and foot were the ways to get around Islington. Perhaps people used to be fitter?

ABOVE: This Highbury Place postcard was bought for £6.10. The omnibus is just on the Highbury Corner roundabout and to your left there is now Highbury Pool.

The row of horse chestnut trees (they produce conkers) are still a wonderful feature of the approach to Highbury Barn from up the hill, away from Finsbury Park.

ABOVE: Highbury Park Terrace, 1905 – the note says “Dear Annie, I hope you enjoyed yourselves at the sea.”

Mabel working in Highbury Park sent this postcard to Maud, over in Putney, using the Christmas post, 1903.

ABOVE AND BELOW: X-marks the spot on this postcard of Highbury Park. It’s to Maud, who lived in Putney, from Mabel who worked here in Highbury. Amazingly the card is stamped 25 December 1903, 12.15am (post offices clearly worked astonishing hours) and says. “Just a few lines to wish you a happy christmas. This is our H (house) where I have put two crosses.” It’s tempting to imagine Maud and Mabel as sisters working hard on Christmas Eve for their respective employers’, but still determined to snatch time to write a postcard.

Highbury Place:The photos show hats, piles of horse poo and space. Now cars narrow Islington’s streets.

Where was this handsome building? It’s the Quadrangle at St John’s Hall, Highbury.

The Quadrangle at St John’s Hall, Highbury burnt down years ago. The Scarbrough’s were unsure where the Quadrangle used to be. Was it where St John’s school is sited or on land behind the Children’s Home* (now converted into flats)? Jenny tells me: “My friend and her two brothers were abandoned on the steps of St Johns’ church. She was put into the Children’s Home. It was a beautiful place, but they kept the area at the back as a field because they couldn’t grow flowers on it because there were millions of bones. That’s why it’s called High Bury – we’ve got all the 1665 plague victims of London.”

Don and family run A Buckenham (locksmiths) at 158 Blackstock Road, N5. Tel: 020 7226 8734

Follow Jedward at  or on twitter @planetjedward


  • The National Children’s Home was founded in 1869, and moved into Loxford House, 85 Highbury Park in 1926, using the building as a children’s home. Through the 1920s NCH added a hospital, hostels and a staff training centre. In 2008 NCH Action for Children, which by now had its HQ in Hertfordshire, sold the building for conversion to flats. These were beginning to be occupied from 2012 onwards – look for the animal topiary hedges in the flower beds near the bus stop.

Over to you
What do you think about a family passion like postcard collecting or being a superfan? By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via Thank you. And yes, this islington people blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.