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Chris Miles’ East End

August 19, 2019
by the gentle author

Chris Miles contacted me from Vancouver Island, where he describes himself as a Londoner in exile. ‘In the early seventies, I lived as a recently-graduated student in the East End, firstly on Grove Rd and then on Lauriston Rd above a supermarket,’ he explained and sent me his splendid photographs. Most were taken around Bethnal Green, Roman Rd and Mile End, and Chris & I welcome identification of precise locations from eagle-eyed readers.

George Davis is Innocent, Mile End Rd

Linda ‘n Laura

Getting a loaf, Stepney Green

S Kornbloom, Newsagent & Confectioner, Jubilee St

Corner Shop Groceries & Provisions, Stepney Way

Ronchetti’s Cafe, Piano’s & Kitchen Chairs Wanted

Snacks & Grills

The Bell Dining Rooms, Lot 63 Buildings at back

Leslies Restaurant, Fresh Up with your Meal

Harry’s Cafe, Teas & Snacks, Breakfasts & Dinners

Valente’s Cafe, Hackney Rd

Cafe Restaurant

Dinkie

Station Cafe

Fish Bar

J Kelly, No Prams or Trollie’s, Please

G Kelly

Charlie & Mick’s Cafe

Menu at Charlie & Mick’s Cafe

John Pelican

Joe’s Saloon – ‘We cater for long and short hair styles’

M Evans & Sons, Garn Dairy

Marion’s, Blouses, Trouser Suits, Smock Dresses, Ect.

Sunset Stores

N Berg, Watch & Clock Repairs

S Grant, High Class Tailor, Seamens Outfitter

Littlewood Brothers Ltd, Domestic Stores, Grocery & Hardware

J Galley & Sons, Established 1901

Henry Freund & Son, Established 1837

Rito for Better Roof Repairs

Common Market NO

Alan Enterprises Ltd, L & R Ostroff Ltd, Brick Lane

Photographs copyright © Chris Miles

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Eleanor Crow’s Cafes

August 18, 2019
by the gentle author

Years have passed since we first featured Eleanor Crow’s beautiful watercolours in these pages and Spitalfields Life Books is now publishing a handsome hardback collection of them SHOPFRONTS OF LONDON, In Praise of Small Neighbourhood Shops in collaboration with Batsford Books.

You can preorder to support publication and you will receive a signed copy in the first week of September. Click here to preorder for £14.99

An exhibition of Eleanor’s watercolours opens at Townhouse Spitalfields on 3rd October.

Eleanor will giving an illustrated lecture at Wanstead Tap on Wednesday 9th October, showing her pictures and telling the stories of the shops. Click here for tickets

Syd’s Coffee Stall, Shoreditch High St

Eleanor made this set of watercolour portraits of cafes as a tribute to those cherished institutions which incarnate the essence of civility in the East End. “It’s because they’re individual concerns, often owned by families across generations who get to know all their customers,” admitted Eleanor, revealing the source of her devotion to cafe culture ,“I like the frontages because each is designed uniquely for that café with wonderful sign-writing or lettering and eye-catching colours. Some of these cafés have been here for a very long time and everyone in the area is familiar with them, and is very fond of them. They make the streets into a better place and are landmarks upon the landscape of the East End.”

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E. Pellicci, Bethnal Green Rd

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Savoy, Norton Folgate

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Time for Tea, Shoreditch High St

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Dalston Lane Cafe

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Paga Cafe, Lea Bridge Rd

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Lennies Snack Bar, Calvert Avenue

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Marina Cafe, Mare St

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Kingsland Cafe, Kingsland Rd

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Grab & Go, Blackhorse Lane

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Gina’s Restaurant, Bethnal Green Rd

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Copper Grill, Eldon St

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Billy Bunter’s Snack Bar, Mile End Rd

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Beppe’s Cafe, West Smithfield

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B.B. Cafe, Lea Bridge Rd

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Savoy Cafe, Graham Rd

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A.Gold, Brushfield St

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Arthur’s Cafe, Kingsland Rd

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Cafe Bliss, Dalston Lane

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Cafe Rodi, Blackhorse Lane

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Rossi Restaurant, Hanbury St  (Gone but not forgotten)

Eleanor Crow at E.Pellicci

Drawings copyright © Eleanor Crow

Portrait copyright © Colin O’Brien

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At Gina’s Restaurant

At Mister City Sandwich Bar

At Arthur’s Cafe

At City Corner Cafe

At E.Pellicci

At Regis Cafe, Leadenhall Market

At Dino’s Grill & Restuarant

At Syd’s Coffee Stall, Shoreditch High St

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CLICK HERE TO ORDER A SIGNED COPY FOR £14.99

At a time of momentous change in the high street, Eleanor’s witty and fascinating personal survey champions the enduring culture of Britain’s small neighbourhood shops.

As our high streets decline into generic monotony, we cherish the independent shops and family businesses that enrich our city with their characterful frontages and distinctive typography.

Eleanor’s collection includes more than hundred of her watercolours of the capital’s bakers, cafés, butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, chemists, launderettes, hardware stores, eel & pie shops, bookshops and stationers. Her pictures are accompanied by the stories of the shops, their history and their shopkeepers – stretching from Chelsea in the west to Bethnal Green and Walthamstow in the east.

John Thomas Smith’s Ancient Topography

August 17, 2019
by the gentle author

Bethelem Hospital with London Wall in Foreground – Drawn June 1812

Two centuries ago, John Thomas Smith set out to record the last vestiges of ancient London that survived from before the Great Fire of 1666 but which were vanishing in his lifetime. You can click on any of these images to enlarge them and study the tender human detail that Smith recorded in these splendid etchings he made from his own drawings. My passion for John Thomas Smith’s work was first ignited by his portraits of raffish street sellers published as Vagabondiana and I was delighted to spot several of those familiar characters included here in these vivid streets scenes of London long ago.

Bethel Hospital seen from London Wall – Drawn August 1844

Old House in Sweedon’s Passage, Grub St – Drawn July 1791, Taken Down March 1805

Old House in Sweedon’s Passage, Grub St – Drawn July 1791, Taken Down March 1805

London Wall in Churchyard of St Giles’ Cripplegate –  Drawn 1793, Taken Down 1803

Houses on the Corner of Chancery Lane & Fleet St – Drawn August 1789, Taken Down May 1799

Houses in Leadenhall St – Drawn July 1796

Duke St, West Smithfield – Drawn July 1807, Taken Down October 1809

Corner of Hosier Lane, West Smithfield – Drawn April 1795

Houses on the South Side of London Wall – Drawn March 1808

Houses on West Side of Little Moorfields – Drawn May 1810

Magnificent Mansion in Hart St, Crutched Friars – Drawn May 1792, Taken Down 1801

Walls of the Convent of St Clare, Minories – Drawn April 1797

Watch Tower Discovered Near Ludgate Hill – Drawn June 1792

An Arch of London Bridge in the Great Frost – Drawn February 5th 1814

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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Sophie Spielman, Victorious Campaigner

August 16, 2019
by the gentle author

Sophie Spielman led the residents’ campaign to save Treves & Lister Houses in Whitechapel

Portrait of Sophie Spielman by Sarah Ainslie

I had the pleasure of visiting ninety-five-year-old Sophie Spielman at her immaculate flat in Treves House, an elegant modernist block at the Whitechapel end of Vallance Rd, designed by Ralph Smorczewski and built by Stillman & Eastwick Field in 1956.

As the most senior resident in the building, where she has lived longer than anyone else, and at such a venerable age, you might expect Sophie to be taking it easy. Yet she has reluctantly found herself the focus of recent national media attention as the spokeswoman and figurehead for the residents of Treves House and the neighbouring Lister House, who were confronted with the prospect of losing their homes as part of Tower Hamlets Council’s plans to demolish and redevelop the properties. Thanks to the residents campaign led by Sophie, this week the council abandoned their redevelopment plans and the estate is saved.

Blessed with natural dignity and possessing a innate sense of decorum, Sophie is an heroic figure who faced these recent troubles with fortitude, viewing her situation from the perspective of one who has lived a full life and experienced a great deal. In particular, I was fascinated by the pleasing irony that Sophie who was born into an Iranian Jewish family, resident in India, should find herself at home in Whitechapel for the last half century, living among Jewish and Asian neighbours.

Sophie clasped her hands and gave me a world-weary smile, casting her mind back over the long journey which led her to the domestic happiness she found in Whitechapel, before confessing her disappointment that anyone could be so petty as to challenge her right to live out her days in her home of fifty-seven years.

“I was born in Bombay but my parents were Iranians. My grandmother was called Rachel and my mother was Leah, they were born in Iran. When my grandfather died, my mother was still very small and so my grandmother brought her to Bombay. Those children that were married stayed in Iran but those that were young came with her to Bombay, where there was a Jewish community known as the Sassoons who were from Iraq. They came to Bombay and they were like the Rothschilds of the East, so there was help there. We stayed there and I went to a Jewish school that was founded by the Sassoons.

When I was older, I worked in the Bombay Telephone Company for about twelve years. I joined as a shorthand typist, but I preferred to work with my hands because that is what I like to do. So I went into the Inspection Department checking all the different parts that go into a telephone.

At that time, India was under British rule and I had very good English. Although I had an English and a Jewish education, I felt closest to the English. My brother went to Canada for a while. When he came back, he said, ‘I’m going to England, do you want to come?’ So I said, ‘Oh I’d love to!’ That was my dream to come to England.

When I came here in 1957, I was first in Stamford Hill but, when I met my husband Nathan Spielman and got married, he already had this flat in Whitechapel. He was moved here in 1959 from Anthony St which was demolished and the residents were all given new flats. He worked in the railways, as a ticket collector at Liverpool St Station. He told me had been involved in the anti-fascist movement and was at the Battle of Cable St in 1936. He passed away in 1982 when my daughter Gloria was nineteen. I only had one child, my one and only – but she has five children!

I worked in Nortons, the suitcase factory, as a secretary in the office. I worked there until I got married and Gloria was born. At first, I took her to nursery and, when she was bit older and went to school, I worked part-time in Hatton Garden, in an office where they received and sold jewellery.

When I first moved into Treves House in 1962, it was all new and modern and I thought it was very nice. Now it is different, the council has neglected it for years, but I do not want to move from here. We had very good neighbours. Most of the original residents have died or moved away, apart from me. There is one tenant still living in the flat that was his grandparents, who were the very first to move in. I have Nora, an Irishwoman next door who is a very good neighbour. She always comes and visits me and asks, ‘Are you alright?’ I still walk down to Whitechapel every day, I have done it since I moved in. It is the only place I know now.

Sophie in Bombay in 1950

Sophie as a young woman

Nathan & Sophie Spielman

Sophie with her daughter Gloria

Treves House, designed by Ralph Smorkczewski and built by Stillman & Eastwick Field in 1956

Treves House seen from the garden

Treves & Lister Houses Are Saved

August 15, 2019
by the gentle author

In an extraordinary reversal of policy by Tower Hamlets Council – delivering a landmark victory in the fight against redevelopment of council housing in London – Mayor John Biggs announced on Tuesday night that plans for the demolition of Treves & Lister Houses have been abandoned. The residents came together and waged a brave campaign to save their homes and they won.

Below I tell the extraordinary story of the heroic life of the architect Count Ralph Smorczewski.

Treves House, Whitechapel

I doubt if passers-by give a second thought to Treves House or its neighbour Lister House as they hurry up and down Vallance Rd between Whitechapel and Bethnal Green. Yet these two understated modernist buildings with clean lines and elegant proportions – one a long terrace and the other a tall block – were designed in 1956 by the architect Count Ralph Smorczewski, a man whose astonishing story connects to the very essence of the history of Whitechapel.

Until this week, these buildings faced an uncertain future. In recent years, the council failed to maintain them properly, encouraging decay and neglect. Tenants and leaseholders, including long-term resident ninety-five year old Sophie Spielman, feared they would be evicted and their homes demolished. Now these buildings are saved, perhaps they will be better appreciated, especially in the light of the architect’s heroic life and altruistic ambitions.

Ralph Smorczewski (1925-2009) grew up on his family’s estates in Tarnogóra and Stryjów, in the province of Lublin, Poland. Under the Nazi occupation, transports of Jewish people arriving from Germany and Austria began in 1942. In the summer, Ralph’s father realised these people were dying of starvation and applied to the Nazis for the maximum number of farm workers, as a means to feed and keep alive as many Jews as possible. Yet in the autumn, they were rounded up and packed into trains, bound for the death camps.

Ralph was just seventeen years old when this happened. It was a formative experience that informed his actions for the rest of his life. At eighteen years of age, he contacted the Polish Resistance and was sworn into their ranks. As the Red Army invaded, he and his family moved to Warsaw. When the Red Army arrived in August 1944, Ralph fought heroically with the Resistance in the Warsaw Uprising and worked as a surgeon’s assistant in a military hospital, before being arrested and interrogated by the SS. Despite torture and confinement, he gave no information and even convinced them he was Hungarian, leading to his eventual release.

Fleeing Warsaw, Ralph rejoined the Resistance in the forests near Czestochowa and was appointed second-in-command of a troupe. They killed a group of Nazi soldiers who had perpetrated some of the worst atrocities of the Warsaw Uprising, before taking part in a four-day battle against SS near the village of Krzepin.

In 1945, Ralph and his family obtained passes taking them by train to Vienna where they joined a refugee convoy fleeing west. When they reached Italy, Ralph joined the Polish II Corps, part of the Eighth Army. Posted to the 7th Horse Artillery Regiment, he graduated from the Officers’ School in June 1946 and, that autumn, arrived in England with the Corps, possessing little more than his uniform.

Ralph graduated from the Architectural Assocation in 1951 at twenty-six years old and worked at Stillman & Eastwick Field, one of the most notable practices contributing to idealistic post-war reconstruction of schools, hospitals and public housing.

Among the first buildings Ralph designed for Stillman & Eastwick Field were Treves House and Lister House in Whitechapel. This project served as the natural outcome of his experiences in the war. Certainly, it was no accident that he undertook this assignment to provide better homes for Jewish people. One such was Nathan Spielman, who was moved from a slum dwelling in Anthony St to Treves House in 1958, before marrying Sophie in 1962. Thus it is that the story of Sophie, the last of the original Jewish residents, connects to that of Ralph who designed the buildings, and both stories co-exist as part of the story of Whitechapel itself.

Yet Treves House and Lister House do more than reflect an historical moment. In the generosity of their accommodation, they embody the humane values that led to their creation. These fine buildings deserve to be cherished because we need them to remind us of their origin and serve as an inspiration for generations to come.

Lister House, Whitechapel

Residents of Treves & Lister House: (From left to right) Tasahood Choudury, Ashraf Choudury, Hasan Zaman (behind), Muhammad Noor, Usama Noor, Nabiha Haque, Sophie Spielman, Mr Kamal, Ziaul Syed, Ayman Syed (in front), Syed Hass (behind), Muhammad Khan, Mahrisa Khan (in front), Syed Ali, Ayaan Ali, Satyendra Roy, Elif Ozturk, Ismigul Osturk, Mjibur Rahman & Khayrun Begum (in front).

Count Ralph Smorczewski, Architect of Treves House & Lister House

Photograph of residents © Sarah Ainslie

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