Obituary: Toby Beasley

“CEASED MEMBERSHIP” in the E.C. reports can stir the memory and bring back times that once were. Last month it was S. Beasley, Hackney, deceased: Toby!

I first met him at Bloom’s Corner, bomb-site near teeming Petticoat lane where we held Sunday-morning meetings. I was down as speaker, this bony little man arrived carrying the platform. Cloth cap, bright eyes, shrill Cockney voice announcing “I’m the chairman”. When the meeting flagged he cleared off, came back, said “I’m the heckler now!” and launched a furious knockabout dialogue to bring the crowd back.

Everyone who set eyes on Toby thought they had seen him before. There was a reason for that: his living was selling newspapers in front of Liverpool Street Station. In conversation one always wanted to know more about his background. Once in a lecture I mentioned the Victorian poetess Eliza Cook as having doled out opiate philosophy, and at the end Toby bawled cheerfully: “You’ve insulted my great-aunt!”

Until age and ill-health got the better of him, Toby was a dedicated regular at the old Hackney Branch. He was, of course, a ‘character’; he was also a knowledgeable and kindly man, full of fortitude and humour, and many of us will remember him affectionately — his Socialist lifetime enriched our own.

Robert Barltrop

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