Obituary: Charlie Burns, 96, ‘king’ of Bacon St, Repton Boxing’s old boss
The paper merchant known as the ‘king of Bacon Street’ in London’s East End who ran the the famous Repton boxing club for 20 years has died at the age of 96.
Charlie Burns, who was born on October 8, 1915, once met the Pope on a delegation with the Mayor of Bethnal Green in the 1960s and was also given the Freedom of the City of London after decades of collecting waste paper from offices for recycling.
He was honoured last year in Bacon Street by urban artist Ben Slow with a giant portrait which has given the drab little turning off Brick lane a splash of colour on the wall of Charlie’s recycling warehouse, and had a chapter written on him in Spitalfields Life published in February.
He staged bouts at York Hall which attracted the famous and the infamous. They included Judy Garland, Liberace and especially the Kray twins.
Charlie was born at 13a Butler’s Buildings in Pedley Street, a shaky start to life when the dwellings were hit in a German air raid in 1915—the day after his birth. The family moved to Bacon Street, where he grew up and later raised his own family of seven children.
Bacon Street is also where he opened his warehouse for the business his grandfather began in 1864 which is still run by the family. At 96, Charlie still popped in every day.
“He loved watching the workers, then sitting each afternoon in my car outside watching people pass by,” his daughter Carol, 59, told the Advertiser. “I picked him up from home each day. He knew everything about the recycling trade.”
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Charlie went to St Anne’s Elementary in Underwood Road, but left school at 13 with no qualifications, working instead for his father collecting paper waste from City offices to take to the old Limehouse mills for shredding.
“Dad always said it didn’t matter as long as you could earn a Pound note,” Carol added.
Charlie married Sarah Phelps, a servant girl from Wales, after they met at a picture house in Shoreditch when he was 18. They were together 54 years until Sarah died in 1987.
He returned to the family business in 1945 after serving in the Army in the Second World War in North Africa and Italy with his brother Ted Burns, determined to do something for the war-shattered East End. He ran a boxing club with his other brother Harry for the kids of Bethnal Green, above the Northampton pub in Headlam Street.
He later took over the Repton as its president, which is still part of the family ‘firm’ with Charlie’s nephew Tony Burns its head coach.
Charlie leaves four sons and three daughters, 17 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and five great, great-grandchildren. His funeral is at St Matthew’s parish church, Bethnal Green, on April 12 at 2pm, followed by burial at City of London cemetery in Manor Park.