Stanley Smart: mechanic & poet

Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 10 seconds

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Stanley Smart is a well-known St Thomas’ Road character who you may have seen washing and polishing cars. But his passion for vehicles was nearly his undoing. Interview by Nicola Baird.

stanley.cafeStanley grew up in Trinidad, one of the bigger Caribbean islands, but in 1958 – 10 years after the Windrush* docked in Tilbury, Essex – he arrived in England on an Italian ship, the Ascania. The trip took 13 days (compared to today’s seven hour flight from London to Piarco).

Stanley, then 24, had been working for his grandfather as a stevedore* loading and unloading cargo ships. Back then Trinidad exported three main products – cocoa, copra and sugar – but all sorts of goods were landed at Port of Spain.

It was tough work and Stanley felt lured to Britain for new opportunities, and by “fascination and gossip… (see his poem below & maybe listen to him reading it).

“We were led to believe that Britain was very rich. I expected to stay for a short while, three years maybe. We all thought we’d work for lumps of money and be secure, but it’s not like that at all – – it’s rich for the rich, not riches for the poor. The situation was completely different. Even teachers, lawyers they didn’t get what they expected. You took what you could to survive, and jobs were plentiful. I first worked for £2.10 a week in a factory making headboards for beds and quilted plastic material for handbags.”

Finding a home was hard too.

“Those were the days of ‘no pets, no Irish, no blacks and no children’ but our rescuers were the Jewish people at Stamford Hill. They helped a lot of black people get their own homes. They rented rooms if they felt they could trust someone to collect the rent [from their tenants]. They’d pick up the money on Sundays.

I came solo, but I was married.

My wife stayed behind for a year and then came with our youngest. We left two children behind – we hoped to make a lot of money, be secure and go back… The couple moved a lot, but made it to Islington in 1975. Sadly their marriage broke up in 1976, but Stanley has six children, five boys and a girl. “I’ve got about 11 grandchildren and I’m not sure how many great grands.”


Stanley Smart’s poem 04-04-13

“I write all the time. Not only poems, songs as well. I have so many bags of words.”

Listen to Stanley reading his poem here on soundcloud.

In Search of Wealth

In search of wealth? And an aim for gold…
So many stories I’ve been told
So away I came in search of gold.
I’ve heard that the streets of England is paved with gold.

I have searched in vain over and over again
And again bursting my one and only brain.
But where is it? Gold. No where have I seen any. None at all
Perhaps they meant charcoal way down in Wales
in those mountains and hills. Gee wiz.

Lies, lies and more lies.
Gold rush. Hush! Hush!

A change of life – another country
A different lifestyle. New faces and places.
Oh gee wiz.

An experience to last a lifetime
For sure what’s the score!
Well no gold for sure.
Head for the hills
Stop taking the pills –

Hit the heights
Then look yonder
As far as you can see
And pray to Allah – God Almighty.

Only He Himself and son Jesus Christ
Can help me…

Put faith in him.
And stop dreaming.
It’s all a myth – unrealistic.
My advice. Think thrice.

Boy you are too bareface and bold.
Here there’s no streets
That’s paved with G. O. L. D.

stanley.carwashBuses, lorries, cars
Stanley’s passion is maintaining vehicles.

He’s been a mechanic for years, including a time in the 1970s on the buses based at Pemberton Gardens near Upper Holloway.

“Before you got the job London Transport trained you to drive a bus in case there was a fire and you had to move them. I also had my HGV licence.”

Risky business
“I was nearly killed working for Whitbread in around 1975. I should not be here. I tell God thanks all the time. I’ve had three lucky escapes but that was the worst one – I should have been biscuit. There was lots of pain in my back and my eyes were as red as the chair you are sitting on. They had no white at all,” says Stanley remembering the day a 12 ton lorry rolled on to his face and shoulder at hilly Margery Street, WC1, between Sadlers’ Wells and the Mount Pleasant post office. Here’s what happened.

“At the time Whitbread (the brewers) was based at white Horse Street, Moorgate. They were building the Barbican, it was so dusty. I was part of Whitbread’s fleet maintenance. It was raining and I was working under the vehicle to remove the prop shaft. The u-bolt had collapsed, and we should have made sure the dead man was on to lock all the brakes, but I was new to the job. I removed three of the four and then when I took the last bolt out with the spike bar and hammer I accidentally cut the brake cable. The lorry rolled and I was pinned under it, but luckily the front wheel had been turned to the right and so jammed on the kerb. If it had rolled anymore I would not be here.”

In shock to find he was stuck under the lorry’s wheel Stanley croaked out his foreman’s name – “Bert, Bert” – who super-humanly forced the lorry off his mechanic with the help of the driver, passers-by and staff at the council’s Islington Architecture building opposite.

Two ambulances arrived and Stanley was taken to St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Amazingly no bones were broken and he was discharged that day, with enough time for him to go back to work and drive his Humber Super Snipe home. “The police hadn’t told my wife I’d been taken to hospital so when she saw me with red eyes and black tyre marks on my face she started laughing…”

Driving life
“I’ve had 30 vehicles,” recalls Stanley and my son Marcus and I remember that car. If you asked me to tell you my number plate now I’d have difficulties but the Humber Super Snipe was a 1967 model, it was silver and metallic and its number plate was OMU 175E.”

Stanley’s retired, and the accident was years ago now, but he still has the spike bar that broke the brake cable – as much because it’s a good tool as a memento mori.

  • Stanley was interviewed at 4 Angels café and tea room, 94 Gillespie Road, N4

MV Empire Windrush in brief – the ship docked at Tilbury, Essex on 22 June 1948. It arrived with 493 passengers who boarded in Jamaica intending to start a new life in the UK [not all were Jamaican]. Many West Indians were on board though as a Jamaican newspaper had carried an advert offering cheap transport on the ship [approx £50] to anyone who wanted to go and work in the UK, see more at Info about the BBC2 four-parter about the Windrush, screened in 1998 [5oth anniversary]

Info about the Italian ship, the Ascania, was hard to find, but see this link which suggests she was first known as Florida. Stanley thinks he paid £360 for his ticket. See info below from that thread:

“Ascania [1955-68]  was built as the SGTM liner Florida in 1926. She was bought by Grimaldi-SIOSA in 1955. She was refitted to carry 183 first class and 932 tourist class passengers on services from Southampton, Vigo and Lisbon to the Caribbean and Venezuela. She mainly carried Spanish and Portuguese migrants outwards, and West Indians on the return voyage. In 1966, Ascania became a budget Mediterranean cruise ship.

More about stevedores,

Info about Whitbread,

Over to you
What was your experience of moving to Islington? 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 blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.