Stanley Smart’s passion for vehicles – he’s had 30 cars during his lifetime – was nearly his undoing.
Stanley Smart grew up in Trinidad, one of the bigger Caribbean islands, but in 1958, the 24-year-old Stanley made the 13-day journey to England on the Italian ship, Ascania.
He had been working for his grandfather as a stevedore loading cargo ships with cocoa, copra and sugar at Port of Spain. It was tough work and Stanley felt like a change.
“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. We thought the streets were paved with gold. But it was not like that at all – there were no riches for the poor. Even teachers and lawyers didn’t get what they expected. You took what you could to survive.”
However jobs were plentiful says Stanley who, “first worked for £2.10 a week in a factory making headboards for beds and quilted plastic material for handbags.”
Finding a home was beset with problems. “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.” That’s why he says, “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, adding “I’ve got about 11 grandchildren and I’m not sure how many great grands.”
Stanley worked as a mechanic in Islington for years, including a time in the 1970s on the buses based at Pemberton Gardens near Upper Holloway. “Before you got a mechanics 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.”
“I was nearly killed working for Whitbread (the brewers) as part of their fleet maintenance team 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.” That was when a 12-ton lorry rolled on to his face and shoulder on the steep hill of Margery Street, between Sadler’s’ Wells and the Mount Pleasant post office.
“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.”
Shocked 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.
Stanley was taken to St Bartholomew’s Hospital. “There was lots of pain in my back and my eyes were red, they had no white at all,” says Stanley but amazingly no bones were broken and he was discharged that day, with enough time for him to go back to work and drive his favourite vehicle, a 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…”
Even though Stanley’s accident was years ago he still has the actual spike bar that broke the brake cable – as much because it’s a good tool as a memento mori. Now retired, Stanley’s often to be seen polishing his car. He is also well-known in the Arsenal area for his poems and fine singing voice.