Chapter 11 - The Hobinstocks (aka the Henrys) as told by Lynne Henry

Hyam Hobinstock

Hyam Hobinstock was born in Poland around the turn of the 1800's and came to England around 1837 with his wife Phoebe and their child Joseph Woolf who was then 13. Joseph married Clara Cohen and they had five sons.

In this wonderful photo of Joseph and four of his five sons, one of the three unidentified was Hugo, my great grandfather. Looking at the sash and the medals Joseph was wearing, he must have been a man of some importance.

Hugo married Catherine Braham and they in turn had three children, Clarlotte, Flora and my grandfather, Edward.

And Hugo's brother Julius married Catherine's sister, Rachel.

Little is known about the Hobinstocks but they were all Furriers. Edward carried on the family tradition with a fur shop in Park Street, Camden Town.

Edward died aged just 40 of Typhoid having caught the disease at a horse race meeting. The eldest of his four children, Hugo was only 11, my mother Catherine was 7, Valerie was 5 and Abbygail, the youngest was only 2.

Hugo Hobinstock or Henry 1908 - 1997

Adapted from Lynne Silver's original version


Hugo Hobinstock was born the 17th October 1908.

His mother, Deborah was a beautiful woman, determined and positive. Edward Hobinstock, his father was tall and slim with a fashionable moustache. He was mischievous and full of fun.

Hugo was born with a club foot. When he was two years old, it was decided that an operation was necessary. On the way to the hospital the hansom cab broke down, perhaps more proof that things were not to run that smoothly for this young chap! Private school, in those days was a must, and at two and a half years old, Hugo was sent to school, at a cost of 8d per week.

Four years later the First World War broke out and Edward Hobinstock became a Special Constable. He was not fit for overseas duty and was attached to Albany Street Police Station. At this time the family lived at 67, Park Street, Camden Town, in a flat above the fur shop which Edward owned.

One evening, as his father was getting dressed he realised his constable's helmet was missing! So he stood in his uniform, ready to help defend his country, in a bowler - the only head covering available! Life improved for the Hobinstocks' and they moved to a large four-bedroom house in Priory Road in fashionable West Hampstead.

A maid Annie and a child nurse Nora Quinlist from Dublin joined the family. Nora had her favourite, and it wasn't Hugo. She hated all the youngsters except for Clarice. Regu1ar beatings took place at bath times with a rather sturdy hairbrush. A hate campaign grew, and before long, Hugo vowed that he wou1d remove the prob1em that had plagued them for so long. When Hugo came home from school for luncheon, Nora accused him of being 1ate, and chased Hugo around the room with a long and sharp wooden stick! Nora was injured and Hugo hid in the toilet until he heard his mother's car arrive. He then spent a painfu1 few minutes scratching his own face. With his skin bleeding, he rushed out of his hideout and accused Nora of violating him! She was instantly dismissed.

Shortly after this, Edward was taken ill with Typhoid Fever that he contracted at a horserace. Within two weeks aged 40, he died. Hugo was 11, Catherine 7, Val 5 and Abbey-Gail just turned 2.

The Hobinstocks were still living at Park Street, Camden Town where the chi1dren wou1d stand at the bus stop and watch people going to the West End on the horse drawn buses. Things became difficult for Deborah so she rented the flat above and spent much of her time dressing the display window. Eventually the house and car were sold and they moved to 29, Sandringham Court, Maida Vale. Deborah ran the business for a few years while Hugo studied at Northdown College and Abigail and Kay were at Southdown boarding both in Brighton.

At this time the sisters and their brother rarely saw each other. On Sundays it was customary for the pupils to go walking and when the two schools passed they would exchange greetings and news.

Deborah was now thirty-six years old and often spent time with her sister Ada and brother-in-law Horace Valentine. She became closer with Robert, Horace's brother. After many months, they married. Uncle Bob, as he was affectionately known, joined the household.

The children never attended the wedding, and they moved back to Camden Town, as Uncle Bob had taken a new lease on the upstairs of 67, Park Street.

Hugo was at Princess Road Council School, Regents Park. He never allowed his deformed foot to deter him in sport, even though it was one and a half sizes smaller than his 'good one'. He became a permanent fixture in the school football team and was delighted when the Director of Epsom Town Football Club asked if he would 'try-out'. He arrived to a room full of grown stocky men who seemed most unimpressed with this little weed! A little initiative was needed, and after stuffing cardboard down his two pairs of socks, his legs took on a completely new impression. As he walked onto the pitch he felt more like a man ready for battle. When the game was over he was lucky to still be alive and was given 10 shillings for his trouble!

Hugo was read his Barmitvah at Barnesbury Synagogue. Grandma Abigail Woolf made a party at her home, and Hugo received lots of presents - especially money! He was never to see his generous cash again. When he questioned his mother, he was told the gifts had paid for the party.

Soon after, Hugo started at his first job. He was employed by Monty Belmont, the furriers in Oxford Street for 5s per week doing odd jobs.

During his second week Mr. Belmont gave him a pile of addressed envelopes and invoices, and was told to hand deliver them. This took several hours and Hugo arrived very late for lunch His lunch ruined, Deborah telephoned Mr Belmont. "My son isn't working for you in order to become a postman." She screamed. Hugo was sacked!

Then he worked for Golanski’s the fur manufacturers, in Hounsditch who had showrooms in Hanover Square. Hugo was asked by his employer, Abe, to fetch a piece of paper from the office five flights of stairs below. Where Mr. Fisher asked if the paper was large or small? Hugo decided small and returned to be told by Abe, "You know what you can do with this - wipe your own bloody arse on it!

"He spent two years at Golanski's but at the age of seventeen Uncle Bob opened a cinema in Raynes Park. Hugo was to assist the manageress who played the piano during the performance. The 4 pence ticket bought two feature films, a cup of tea and two biscuits. That cinema was sold three years later but Uncle Bob Robert opened a second in West Ealing. Hugo was manager.

In 1930 Deborah's brother Mike and his wife Trixie arrived from Wisconsin Rapids, U.S.A. This was to change Hugo's life. Mike convinced Deborah and her son that there were far more opportunities in America. They offered him a job in their factory, which manufactured pressure gasoline stoves and cookers.

They set sail on the Cunard liner RMS Berengaria and arrived in New York on October 29, 1929 the day that Wall Street crashed! The dream of making a quick buck diminished before Hugo’s He witnessed day after day, men sitting outside their houses as businesses collapsed one after another.

Life with Mike was not easy, and Hugo left and stayed with another couple, however, work was impossible.

After many months Hugo saw an advertisement in the Wisconsin Newspaper and read that the 'Pictorial Review Company' was looking for college boys.

He applied and was offered the position of canvasser employed to roam the streets of New York, selling magazines house to house. He excelled at this and it wasn't long before he became a supervisor, with his own team. Hugo's gang was so successful that they were entered for a competition, the prize being on all expenses trip to Europe.

Hugo had to sell ten three year subscriptions in two weeks. This was harder than he had anticipated. As he began waving his vacation goodbye, he spotted a young girl with a small child sitting on the front lawn of her house. The charm began to ooze as the sales talk began. She turned and walked through the front door. Usually salespersons stayed by the porch - usually! Hugo followed and as she paid him he threw his arms around her, kissing her lightly on the cheek! "I’m so sorry," he said, "but l feel like you're my sister giving me a lucky break". She had broken the spell, from now on things would change!

He returned happily to his hotel room but things were about to change! Suddenly the door burst open and two cops entered. They questioned him on his whereabouts that day. "What's the trouble?" he asked politely. "What about the girl you kissed then?" they answered not so politely. "Does she want her money back?" he enquired.

He was taken to the local police station and jailed. The next day from the prisoner's box he stood before the magistrate and realised how clever this innocent-looking girl had been. What was needed was a tough penalty; six months in jail! Hugo was in such a state that as the sheriff led him out of the courtroom he wasn't exactly sure what penalty he had been given! He was taken to Sioux Falls Jail, South Dakota, and was told by an old crony that he could have married the girl for a dollar and a half and saved himself all this trouble! Instead of the six months jail sentence, he had the option of paying a one hundred dollar fine with costs, which was paid by the magazine company.

The local paper printed an article about the sordid case. "How he took her gently in his arms and with passion, kissed her"

The red-hot lover then decided the time had come to move on, forgetting all about the fine he owed. Hugo never won the magical trip to England.

His time in America lasted three years, an experiences that he would never forget.

He returned to England but was life not easy there. It was now 1932 and unable to follow in his fathers' footsteps and with no profession, aged 27; he became a representative for a gown company and an agent for Monickerdam's kosher soups.

He met his future wife, Abigail at a cousin’s wedding. Her father, Alfred Levy made bicycles.

Abigail and Hugo’s friendship grew, and he was invited to Abby's home in Hendon for tea. Few present were impressed, as Hugo arrived in his old banger! However, Hugo liked what he saw. Alfred summoned Hugo into one of the reception rooms and proceeded to tell him of his great love for this daughter who was "the apple of his eye", and the fact that none of his daughters were for sale!

Later he was given a trial period as a sales 'rep' but he was given Hertfordshire, a very small dot on the map. Hugo knew he was being tested and decided to take the challenge on! The Levy boys assumed the task was too great and were totally overwhelmed at his success. Hugo went from strength to strength, and within a year he became Sales Supervisor, covering the whole of England, Scotland and Wales. Hugo and Abby were married on the 25th October 1937.

Life in England was to change. In 1939 War with Germany broke out and production at Aberdale’s ceased. They were now producing bombs and small arms. The sales force was disbanded and Hugo was put in charge of assembly.

In October 1941 the 'Hobinstock' name was officially changed to 'Henry’.

Hugo was exempt from joining the forces and enrolled with the local Home Guard, as had his brother-in-laws Leslie Music, Horace Valentine and Sydney Barnett. One evening when Hugo was leaving the house to take up his guard duties at the barracks he heard a sound. Assuming this to be the enemy, he fixed bayonet and swung round in a complete circle! He soon discovered that the mystery noises were falling acorns hitting his tin helmet. Hugo's duty was to patrol the perimeter of the barracks which were situated next to a graveyard. He was always terrified by the church bells and minutes before the clock struck midnight, he’d rush into the barracks for safety! Once the bells had tolled he once again resumed his patrol!

Hugo was not the only hero in the family. Leslie Levy, A lover of horse riding, decided that the Home Guard needed a horse patrol which would excuse him from the many hours of walking. He was the only member of this section of the regiment and spent his days delivering messages and mail, and fertilising the ground that the soldiers had to march through!

Uncle Bob, by now a well respected tailor in Saville Row, made his own uniform and served in the Home Guard as Sergeant. During the First World War he was posted to the Far East where he lived like a lord, bribing the Arabs with cigar coupons which they believed to be money!

With the war still raging Hugo and Gail and two year old Edward returned to their home in Edgware. Not having an air-raid shelter they were forced to travel to the underground station for protection. One night the siren sounded and they headed for Hendon Tube Station which they discovered was above ground and unprotected from the bombs!

Once at Deborah and Uncle Bob’s home during a game of cards, Hugo suddenly stood up and, panicking, shouted that he could hear the bombs falling! Within seconds three of them made their way to a cupboard only to find Uncle Bob already there!

Hugo was asked what he had actually heard. Nothing!

The house in King's Drive had a shelter in the garden, which Hugo had equipped with radio, heating, tins of biscuits and drinks in case of a siege. However he preferred to stay upside because of the spiders there.

The war ended and he left Aberdales. His break came when he met a friend who was now General Manager of a large Public Company, 'Volkes’. Due to the impending end of the war they company were now looking for a new ideas. Should Hugo have any useful thoughts, Mr. Osborne would be delighted to hear from him.

Even while he lay dormant, Hugo's brain cells worked well that night and he dreamt of a kitchen table with two leaves that opened silently with the aid of felt lining. Previously, kitchen tables were of a fixed size, here was an idea that every housewife would die for! The next morning he was talking to Mr. Osborne, Hugo explained his idea and a prototype was made.

Hugo beamed with pride as he examined his new "baby". Who wouldn't have been proud of the beautiful stove enamelling, in the then popular cream and green. The two leaves were lined in the smoothest of felting which enabled the table to be opened as quietly as Hugo had dreamed. It was two feet square with an optional 12 inches at either end. A real "Space-saver"!

Armed with a photo he called upon 'British Colonial', a branch of Woolfson's, and obtained an order for 500 then Selfridges ordered 150, John Lewis added another 100!
This was almost unbelievable, 750 tables in just three calls!

Lynne, Hugo and Abbey’s daughter, was born in 1953.

Hugo's dream had still not been fulfilled. While in America, he had always visualised producing the ideal kitchen, and he would not rest until he had done just that!

Blue Gate became one of the leading kitchen manufacturers in the country. In 1960, Blue Gate was sold to Beautility, a public company. Although Hugo and Gail received a substantial amount, it was never to change their lifestyle. Hugo stayed with the company for four years but he found it very difficult working for a "Boss", and decided to leave.

Kitchen Units opened its doors in 1964 with Hugo's partner, Ted Jones who was an old associate from the early 'Aberdale' days. Hugo’s son Edward was also blessed with the Henry charm and he the two Jones' boys joined 'Kitchen Units'. Later the company was dissolved and 'Olympic Kitchens’ was born. In 1978 after seven successful years, they sold out to a public company 'Christy Tyler'

One of Hugo's greatest attributes was his humour and there have been many tales about him. Some can be told and some cannot. Here's just one...

Perhaps the one that brings the biggest smile is when he went to Greece with Abbey, Horrace and Jean (Abbey's brother and sister-in-law). The hotel was packed and Hugo decided to spread the word that he was a film director and in 4 days time the film crew would be arriving and he had to recruite people for the chorus.

Twenty middle to old age Jewish families practiced in the searing heat for 4 days. They danced around the pool to "There's no business like show business!" "Legs up!" Hugo shouted! Up those legs went as the sweat poured off the unsuspecting victims!

There were few smiles from those guests for the rest of the holiday! Another prank!

Few people leave their mark forever....... Hugo Henry certainly did.

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