by John Leo Waters
Working for the Government….
By now I had come to rely purely on the proceeds of crime to fund my mod lifestyle. Inevitably this led to several run ins with the forces of law and order. I was arrested and remanded in Stamford House in West London. It was quite amusing at first – various tests and interviews with psychiatrists and psychologists, but this soon became boring so, along with a lad from Acton, I legged it. We were free for a few days before somebody recognized him and we were back but this time in a cell. I was sentenced to a term in approved school. This could last up until my nineteenth birthday! The approved school was up in Northamptonshire and had been a manor house at one time. It took me three days to realize this was not the life for me! Rising at 6.30am to scrub flagstones just did not agree with me. Along with a couple of lads from Somerstown and one from Finsbury park we broke out one night, stole a jeep from a nearby farm and headed back to London.
Now I was on the run and had to live on my wits. I was available for any ‘work’ that was on offer and was kept very busy ducking and diving. I kept out of the West End initially as it was far too easy to get picked up by the police in Soho but soon the lure of the clubs drew me back. By now I was living life as if there was no tomorrow. I had a flat in Highgate and had acquired a nice Mini Cooper (a ringer of course!). I was making quite a reputation for myself locally and so it was inevitable that sooner or later I would ‘come a cropper’. Needless to say that is exactly what happened. I was spotted driving through the West End, the police gave chase and I crashed along the Strand. I was well and truly ‘nicked’. The police came up with a catalogue of offences and the next thing I knew I was up before the judge at Number 2 court in the Old Bailey and sentenced to Borstal training.
First port of call was Wormwood Scrubs – a stinking Victorian slum would have been a good description. The cells were cold and damp and many were infested with cockroaches. The clothes we were required to wear were ill fitting and uncomfortable. Two pairs of woolen socks per week and two pair of underpants (always a couple of sizes too big or small). Grey trousers and navy blue blouson. Everything was marked and stained including the mattresses! Then there was the obligatory haircut!!
The only saving grace was the fact that there were quite a few familiar faces around. There were two of the Archway mob on my landing and a couple more lads from the Flamingo so we were able to share our sorrows! I was in a single cell being NOC (nature of charge – e.g. violent crime dictated a single cell) so that was a small mercy. I was put to work in the woodshop chopping firewood – somewhat incongruous as the crime I had been convicted of involved the use of an axe!!
Eventually I was assigned a Borstal - Wellingborough in Northamptonshire. This was a ‘maximum security educational establishment’ which meant little to me. The Borstal had only been open for a year and was purpose built. The single cells were small, modern and spotlessly clean which suited me down to the ground! The first month was ‘induction’ and was the equivalent of ‘boot camp’. Rising at 6.00am we were made to run around the internal perimeter wearing only vest, shorts and hobnail boots – very bracing!!
The Mod group
Days were spent carrying out cleaning duties or circuit training in the gym. After a month we were allocated to the wings and in my case this was ‘B’wing. There were already strict divisions among the wing inhabitants. The main group were what we called the ‘plebs’. Then there were the Mods and finally the weirdo’s and nonces.
The Mod group on ‘B’ wing numbered around 15 members. Most were from London with a couple of Brummies including two West Indians and a lad from Nottingham (he never shut up about the Dungeon Club!!). The Mods included a couple of London lads who were well connected through family with the serious side of London gangland. The Mods had various scams on the go. One of our members was a ‘trusty’ working on visits at weekends. His job consisted of supplying tea and biscuits to visitors and cons. The visitor would leave an inch or two of tea in the cup when finished into that would drop a couple of half crowns. Our trusty would remove the coins and split the amount with the con. This was a very profitable little scheme bearing in mind that a half a crown was about half a weeks wage and would be enough to buy a weeks ‘burn’ (tobacco).
I applied for a job in the laundry where a couple of the other lads worked. This was a prime job for a Mod. Even inside the Mods stood out from the crowd. Whereas all the ‘plebs were dressed in scruffy, ill fitting clothes we had sharply pressed perfectly fitting trousers and smart starched shirts. Working in the laundry we were able to take our pick of clothes and were responsible for the pressing and washing of such. If another inmate had a visit coming up we could swap clothing in the morning and then ensure he was supplied with a smart outfit for his visit. Of course there was a charge for this service!
Another one of our firm worked on the Borstal farm. He found a nice little earner supplying the glue used to repair tractor inner tubes to several inmates. Drugs were extremely difficult to obtain and the glue was the only resort (apart from a little weed again dropped in teacups!) for many. I found another source of accumulating a little extra cash by writing letters. The idea behind the ‘educational’ aspect of the Borstal was to mix poorly educated youths with those considered to be of a higher intelligence (I am not sure which category I fell into!). We had to attend classes three evenings a week. Whilst the slower inmates attended basic reading and writing classes I was required to attend classes in Politics and Economics! So when I charged a small fee for writing letters for some inmates I was merely following the guidelines laid down by the ecomomics lecturer!!
We were soon accumulating a nice little pot of money. We had the look but we needed the music! The common room had an old radiogram that someone had donated so I had the bright idea of forming a record club! The idea was that all the Mods donated a small percentage of their weekly wage – in this case a shilling - and we asked a screw if he was willing to purchase the records we required. The idea was mooted to the governor who wholeheartedly gave his approval. Of course he was not to know that the money was in fact coming from the illegal pot we had stowed away! So every week we bought a couple of singles and the occasional Lp. So whilst the plebs were in the TV room watching The Move and Dave Dee on TOTP we were in the common room listening to Jimmy Smith, The Four Tops and Temptations.
Occasionally there would be a ‘bit of bother’ between the various factions but we were more than capable of holding our own and went relatively unchallenged within the borstal.
The other spare evenings I spent in the gym. The PE instructor had been a member of St Pancras Boxing Club when he was younger and as I had boxed for the same club we had something in common. It was good to be able to work out the frustrations that inevitably crop up when incarcerated by hitting the heavy bag. The alternative would have been to hit out at somebody and end up in the chokey block with a good hiding to boot!
John is very kindly sharing this tale of his very eventfull Mod years. The first part of his story can be found here. In the next part John finds himself free once more but the mod world he had left behind has all but disappeared...
The work is the copyright of John Leo Waters. The views expressed are purely those of the author and are not attributable to any other person or institution.
I know John would love to hear any feedback on this article. You can discuss it with him in the forum here or I will pass on any messages to him using the contact address.