Philanthropic doyenne of Fitzrovia and the West End
FROM HER earliest days Sally Fiber, who has died aged 81, became involved in the charity work of the legendary Fitzroy Tavern in London’s Charlotte Street, once the hub of London’s bohemian society, where she was born and where she lived for the first 17 years of her life. She was the only daughter of Annie and Charlie Allchild, who took over the pub from Annie’s father Judah ‘Pop’ Kleinfeld, its very first licensee.
The Fitzroy had a very illustrious clientele. It was famous from the 1920s to the mid 1950s as a meeting place for London’s artists, intellectuals and bohemians such as Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, Jacob Epstein, Nina Hamnett, Augustus John, Betty May, Lawrence Durrell and Tommy Cooper. It was also the haunt of detectives Bob Fabian and Jack Capstick, public executioner Albert Pierrepoint and occultist Aleister Crowley. The Fitzroy Tavern was renovated last year to bring the tavern back to its golden era of the 30s. Augustus John said of it 1927: “If you haven’t visited the Fitzroy you haven’t visited London.”
In 1923, having seen the loser of a darts match in the public bar throw a dart into the ceiling in exasperation, Sally’s grandfather Judah Kleinfeld hit upon the idea of providing darts to the public with small paper bags attached, which they would fill with small change and then throw into the ceiling for an aptly named charity – Pennies From Heaven.
When the money was collected, it was used to take thousands of underprivileged local children on day-trips to the countryside and later to put on parties at The Scala Theatre. It collected the equivalent of over half a million pounds in its time and provided hundreds of children with the extra support they needed. The charity had a special nostalgia for the family because when Judah first came to the UK in 1886, he brought with him only four pennies (later placed in his grave with him). During the Second World War the Fitzroy became hugely popular with servicemen and women on leave and Charlie Allchild adorned the bar with paraphernalia including badges and cap tallies from around the world. The pub even survived intact when a bomb exploded, destroying the next door property. The photographs throughout the pub chart the history of Sally’s family since Judah first opened the pub doors.
Sally was the author of The Fitzroy: An Autobiography of a London Tavern, and gave all of its profits to The Fitzrovian Pennies Charity which she helped set up and of which she was a patron, and whose aims reflected her grandfather’s — to give London children a party or outing each year. Sally retained a deep involvement in the Jewish community, particularly the Jewish West End. She curated the Jewish West End project with the London Museum of Jewish Life, and formed the Northwood group of the League of Jewish Women in 1960. She was made an Honorary Life member of the League’s Council in 1983. “Sally encouraged voluntary work, increased membership and social issues action at the time”, writes Sheila Kempner Glasman, LJW past president. “Despite her own ill health, she let nothing stand in her way to bring the name of the League into the foreground.
“She devoted much of her time talking to voluntary groups on the story of the Pennies From Heaven Charity, highlighted with music and stories of the famous Fitzrovians who supported the charity.”
Sally suffered her first major illness, ulcerative colitis, while living at the Tavern and coped with the long-term consequences of multiple sclerosis, then cancer, Parkinson’s and delirium in her later years. Her husband Arthur cared for her with the support of family and friends. Sally had an indomitable spirit and a great zest for life. She is survived by her children Jon Fiber and Miriam Kons, her six grandchildren and extended family. Arthur predeceased her in 2009.
Sally Fiber: born May 5,1936.
Died August 14, 2017