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Roy Reed At Billingsgate Market 1975

July 24, 2014
by the gentle author

Roy Reed took these pictures of Billingsgate Market when he was a twenty-three-year-old documentary photography student at the London College of Printing in 1975 and they are seeing the light of day for the first time now.

Roy’s enthusiasm for the subject was greater than the interest of the student-journalist who asked him to take the pictures for a project on London’s dying markets. “When I suggested we get there early, she said, ‘See you there at eight,’” Roy recalled, rolling his eyes significantly. In the event, Roy got there at seven-thirty on a February morning and took his pictures just here as business was winding up at the nocturnal market. Forty years later, any disappointment Roy might harbour that the project was never written up and published is outweighed by his satisfaction in having taken these rare photographs of a lost world.

“It was nice chatting with the porters,” Roy remembered fondly, “No-one seemed to mind having their photograph taken – except maybe the guy in the tweed hat, you can see him looking at me suspiciously in the picture.” Taken at the time the market was already due to leave its ancient location next to London Bridge, Roy’s lively photographs comprise a fascinating record of a seemingly recent era in market life that grows increasingly remote.

Photographs copyright © Roy Reed

You may also like to read about

The Last Fish Porters of Billingsgate Market

At the Fish Harvest Festival

Charlie Caisey, Fishmonger

Around Billingsgate Market

The Markets of Old London

Music Hall Artistes Of Abney Park Cemetery

July 23, 2014
by the gentle author

When the summer heat hits the city and the streets get dusty and dry, I like to seek refuge in the green shade of a cemetery. Commonly, I visit Bow Cemetery – but last week I went along to explore Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington to find the graves of the Music Hall Artistes resting there.

John Baldock, Cemetery Keeper, led me through the undergrowth to show me the memorials newly restored by the Music Hall Guild and then left me to my own devices. Alone in the secluded leafy glades of the overgrown cemetery with the Music Hall Artistes, I swore I could hear distant singing accompanied by the tinkling of heavenly ivories.

George Leybourne, Songwriter, Vocalist and Comedian, also known as Champagne Charlie (1842 – 1884) & Albert Chevalier (1861- 1923), Coster Comedian and Actor. Chevalier married Leybourne’s daughter Florrie and they all rest together.

George Leybourne -Champagne Charlie is my name, Champagne Charlie is my name ,There’s no drink as good as fizz, fizz, fizz, I’ll drink every drop there is, is, is!”

Albert Chevalier – “We’ve been together now for forty years, An’ it don’t seem a day too much, There ain’t a lady livin’ in the land, As I’d swop for my dear old Dutch.”

G W Hunt (1838 – 1904) Composer and Songwriter, his most famous works were “MacDermott’s War Song” (The Jingo Song), “Dear Old Pals” and “Up In A Balloon” for George Leybourne and Nelly Power.

G W Hunt

Fred Albert George Richard Howell (1843  - 1886) Songwriter and Extempore Vocalist

Fred Albert

Dan Crawley (1871 – 1912) Comedian, Vocalist, Dancer and Pantomime Dame rests with his wife Lilian Bishop, Actress and Male Impersonator. He made his London debut at nineteen at Royal Victor Theatre, Victoria Park, and for many years performed three shows a day on the sands at Yarmouth, where he met his wife.They married in Hackney in 1893 and had four children, and toured together as a family, including visiting Australia, before they both died at forty-one years old.

Dan Crawley

Herbert Campbell (1844 – 1904) Comedian and Pantomime Star. The memorial behind the tombstone was erected by a few of his friends. Herbert Campbell played the Dame in Pantomime at Drury Lane for forty years alongside Dan Leno, until his death at at sixty-one.

Herbert Campbell, famous comedian and dame of Drury Lane

Walter Laburnum George Walter Davis (1847 – 1902) Singer, Patter Vocalist and Songwriter

Walter Laburnum

Nelly Power Ellen Maria Langham (1854 – 1887) started her theatrical career at the age of eight, and was a gifted songstress and exponent of the art of male impersonation. Her most famous song was ‘The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery.” She died from pleurisy on 19th January 1887, aged just thirty-two.

Nelly Power - Vesta Tilley was once her understudy

The Music Hall Guild will be hosting a free guided walk through Abney Park Cemetery to visit the Music Hall Artistes next Sunday 27th July – meet at the cemetery gates at 2pm

In Old Rotherhithe

July 22, 2014
by the gentle author

St Mary Rotherhithe Free School founded 1613

To be candid, there is not a lot left of old Rotherhithe – yet what remains is still powerfully evocative of the centuries of thriving maritime industry that once defined the identity of this place. Most visitors today arrive by train – as I did – through the Brunel tunnel built between 1825 and 1843, constructed when the growth of the docks brought thousands of tall ships to the Thames and the traffic made river crossing by water almost impossible.

Just fifty yards from Rotherhithe Station is a narrow door through which you can descend into the 1825 shaft via a makeshift staircase. You find yourself inside a huge round cavern, smoke-blackened as if the former lair of a fiery dragon. Incredibly, Marc Brunel built this cylinder of brick at ground level – fifty feet high and twenty-five feet in diameter – and waited while it sank into the damp earth, digging out the mud from the core as it descended, to create the shaft which then became the access point for excavating the tunnel beneath the river.

It was the world’s first underwater tunnel. At a moment of optimism in 1826, a banquet for a thousand investors was held at the bottom of the shaft and then, at a moment of cataclysm in 1828, the Thames surged up from beneath filling it with water – and Marc’s twenty-two-year-old son Isambard was fished out, unconscious, from the swirling torrent. Envisaging this diabolic calamity, I was happy to leave the subterranean depths of the Brunels’ fierce imaginative ambition – still murky with soot from the steam trains that once ran through – and return to the sunlight of the riverside.

Leaning out precariously upon the Thames’ bank is an ancient tavern known as The Spread Eagle until 1957, when it was rechristened The Mayflower – in reference to the Pilgrims who sailed from Rotherhithe to Southampton in 1620, on the first leg of their journey to New England. Facing it across the other side of Rotherhithe St towers John James’ St Mary’s Rotherhithe of 1716 where an attractive monument of 1625 to Captain Anthony Wood, retrieved from the previous church, sports a fine galleon in full sail that some would like to believe is The Mayflower itself – whose skipper, Captain Christopher Jones, is buried in the churchyard.

Also in the churchyard, sits the handsome tomb of Prince Lee Boo. A native of the Pacific Islands, he befriended Captain Wilson of Rotherhithe and his two sons who were shipwrecked upon the shores of Ulong in 1783. Abba Thule, the ruler of the Islands, was so delighted when the Europeans used their firearms to subdue his enemies and impressed with their joinery skills in constructing a new vessel, that he asked them to take his second son, Lee Boo, with them to London to become an Englishman.

Arriving in Portsmouth in July 1784, Lee Boo travelled with Captain Wilson to Rotherhithe where he lived as one of the family, until December when it was discovered he had smallpox – the disease which claimed the lives of more Londoners than any other at that time. At just twenty years old, Lee Boo was buried inside the Wilson family vault in Rotherhithe churchyard, but - before he died – he sent a plaintive message home to tell his father “that the Captain and Mother very kind.”

Across the churchyard from The Mayflower is Rotherhithe Free School, founded by two Peter Hills and Robert Bell in 1613 to educate the sons of seafarers. Still displaying a pair of weathered figures of schoolchildren, the attractive schoolhouse of 1797 was vacated in 1939 yet the school may still be found close by in Salter Rd. Thus, the pub, the church and the schoolhouse define the centre of the former village of Rotherhithe with a line of converted old warehouses extending upon the river frontage for a just couple of hundred yards in either direction beyond this enclave.

Take a short walk to the west and you will discover The Angel overlooking the ruins of King Edward III’s manor house but – if you are a hardy walker and choose to set out eastward along the river – you will need to exercise the full extent of your imagination to envisage the vast vanished complex of wharfs, quays and stores that once filled this entire peninsular.

At the entrance to the Rotherhithe road tunnel stands the Norwegian Church with its ship weather vane

Chimney of the Brunel Engine House seen from the garden on top of the tunnel’s access shaft

Isambard Kingdom Brunel presides upon his audacious work

Visitors gawp in the diabolic cavern of Brunel’s smoke-blackened shaft descending to the Thames tunnel

John James’ St Mary’s Rotherhithe of 1716

The tomb of Prince Lee Boo, a native of the Pelew or Pallas Islands ( the Republic of Belau), who died in Rotherhithe of smallpox in  1784 aged twenty

Graffiti upon the church tower

Monument in St Mary’s, retrieved from the earlier church

Charles Hay & Sons Ltd, Barge Builders since 1789

Peeking through the window into the costume store of Sands Films

Inside The Mayflower

A lone survivor of the warehouses that once lined the river bank

Looking east towards Rotherhithe from The Angel

The Angel

The ruins of King Edward III’s manor house

Bascule bridge

Nelson House

Metropolitan Asylum Board china from the Smallpox Hospital Ships once moored here

Looking across towards the Isle of Dogs from Surrey Docks Farm

Take a look at

Adam Dant’s Map of Stories from the History of Rotherhithe

and you may also like to read

In Old Clerkenwell

In Fleet St

In Mile End Old Town

In Old Stepney

Calling All Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club Members!

July 21, 2014
by the gentle author

Boys’ Club Summer Camp Banquet 1942, Max is on the far left

My pal Maxie Lea rang to convey the sad news that this year’s Cambridge & Bethnal Green Old Boys’ Club Dinner, celebrating ninety years since the founding of the Club in 1924, will also be the last. Numbers have been dwindling in recent years but - understandably – Maxie wants the final dinner to be a bumper.

So please spread the word. If you were once a member of the Club and you would like to attend the Sixty-Eighth Annual Reunion to be held on Monday 1st September at the Imperial Hotel, Russell Sq, please give Maxie a call on 020 8954 0708.Monty Meth, who joined the club in 1938, will be the Speaker.

There has been an unbroken run of these reunions since the first, held in 1946 by Cecil Bright & Sydney Tabor with over three hundred and fifty Old Boys in attendance. It was my pleasure to attend one of these dinners for the first time in 2010 and I have joined the Old Boys each year since then, and you may look forward look to my report on this poignant final dinner in early September.

Operating from its headquarters in Chance St, the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club succeeded in raising the aspirations for generations of boys from the Boundary Estate and surrounding streets. As Ron Goldstein, who joined in the Club 1933, put it to me famously, “Half of the boys would have ended up as the next generation of gangsters and criminals if it had not been for the Club.” Originally founded as an exclusively Jewish boys club, they opened their doors to all in response to the rise of Oswald Mosley and his black shirts in the East End in 1936. It is a measure of the significance that the Old Boys place upon their experience at the Club that they still choose to meet all these years later and rekindle the friendships of long ago.

Maxie’s phone call inspired me to look back over the stories I have written about members of the Club and collect together these joyous evocative photographs by Harry Titchener – known to the boys as “T” – who, as well as being Club manager, was a professional photographer and member of the Royal Photographic Society.

Tea in the orchard 1942, Max sits on the right drinking a mug of tea

On Herne Bay Sands, Max stands in profile on the right

Boat trip, Max raises his fingers to his chin in the centre left of the picture

Maxie Lea (second from left) does the dishes at summer camp

Looking down on Dover, Max is on the left of the group

High jinks at the Greatstones Camp Tuck Shop 1939

The cook makes dough in a field at Greatstones – note the makeshift stoves in the background

Treasure hunt, Max is centre left beneath the tree

The treasure hunt continues, Max is on the right

Mealtime at Greatstones Summer Camp 1939

Max & Stanley go boating

France 1959, Max is seen in profile, waving at the centre left of this picture

Harold goes for breakfast while Paul & Max look on

Max peels the spuds at the centre of this picture

On a Sunday ramble through the outskirts of London

Max is in the centre right, paddling with his pals, Stanley, Manny, Butch & Ken

Photographs by Harry Titchener MRPS

You may also like to read my interviews with members of the Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club

Monty Meth

Ron Goldstein

Aubrey Silkoff

Aubrey Goldsmith

Manny Silverman

Lennie Sanders

Maxie Lea

and watch

Cambridge & Bethnal Green Boys’ Club Films

Eliza Begum, Bridal Florist

July 20, 2014
by Delwar Hussain

The seventh of seven stories by Writer & Anthropologist Delwar Hussain, author of  Boundaries Undermined, who grew up in Spitalfields

Eliza Begum looks like she is buried under flowers. There are large bundles of roses, gerberas, pink lilies, gypsophila, hydrangeas and chrysanthemums everywhere. This is nothing new. For the last eight years she has been making wedding bouquets from the dining room of her house just off Brick Lane.

This time, however, the order is slightly different. A secondary school in Plaistow is organising a prom night for its final year students and they want flowers – a lot of them. Eliza explains that the theme of the prom is “summer” so everything has to be colourful and bright. They have ordered one hundred and thirty-seven buttonholes, wrapped and pinned with foliage – one hundred and five single red roses, wrapped and ribboned – ten large bouquets and three massive table arrangements.

“I usually make bouquets, corsages, buttonholes, garlands, large displays with fresh flowers, bedroom decorations and headdresses. Holidays and weekends are mental and the main wedding season is obviously spring and summer. It is particularly buzzing then because everyone wants to have their weddings at the same time. I have bookings three months in advance, but then there is always a surge and I often have to refer clients to other bridal florists. Someone will always call me up and say that they need something ASAP. Or two days before an event, I will receive a message saying that they want to add ten more buttonholes to their list. They don’t understand that I have to pre-order the flowers, so then I have to find them somehow. When things get really chaotic, I enrol my husband into it as well. He has become quite nifty at putting the flowers together for buttonholes.

I like working with a client to create the overall look. I work from pictures, ideas or themes that they bring to me. Mostly people tend to want red and white colours. Carnations are durable, so I use them if someone has a particular sort of colour theme. I use celosia, which look a little like velvety brains. At the moment, I am using a lot of peonies and gerberas. The latter come in bright colours, but they don’t last very long. Orchids are my favourite. Each plant is different, unique. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes. They take a lot of skill to grow. I had a white orchid shower bouquet for my own wedding some years ago.

I do an in-house service which involves making fresh flower canopies, draping them around the matrimonial bed. Someone recently wanted me to decorate their horse-drawn carriage. The vehicle itself was like the glass one Cinderella had in the fairy tale. The bride had an image of herself being totally immersed in flowers and emerging out of the carriage with the flowers tumbling out with her. But I couldn’t do it because she called me only a week before the event. I told her that I needed to pre-order the flowers which would take some time and that the carriage hire company may not even give permission for such a thing. In the end, she settled for strings of flowers instead, which I think looked much better.

Since the recession, the price of flowers has gone up and they are much more expensive than what they were. I think it has become harder for people to weigh up the costs and benefits of them. Having said that, people tend to spend quite a lot of money on their weddings anyway and the recession hasn’t changed that. I’ve noticed that people want their flowers to look standard and uniform. They don’t want them to look natural. They don’t want their flowers to smell either. They say it may clash with their perfume, or that they suffer from hay fever.

I got started in it when I was eighteen years old and my older sister was getting married. She wanted a particular design for her bouquet and we went to a florist for a quote. They were asking for eighty pounds. I was shocked and thought I could make it myself. So I did and continued to do so.

I was working as a youth worker at the time and started teaching the young people how to do flower arranging. I was then hired to do various different youth projects related to flowers. From that, people began asking me to do their weddings. It was around then that I also did a professional training course as I wanted to know what I was actually doing.

Afterwards, I would get my flowers delivered directly from Holland. I was young and new to the business and got a little nervous by the large amounts of flowers coming in. I didn’t know how to store them all. I decided to change my flower dealer and to go to the New Spitalfields Market in Leyton and Columbia Rd Flower Market instead. It is much more expensive buying in such a way, but it is less wasteful and I can get the precise numbers that I need.

I have built up a great rapport and relationship with the sellers at Columbia Rd. I have been going there for years now. I can call them before hand and ask them to get me something, or some of them even save me flowers that they think I would like. The advice they give me is really useful too – information on storage, cutting, dying roses blue for example, how to make them last longer, that sort of thing…”

Buying flowers at Columbia Rd Market

To commission flowers from Eliza Begum email

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

You may also like to read about

Joanne Ross, Florist

Finty Chester,  Flowerseller


“I would like to thank you, readers,  for allowing me to bring to you some amazing stories from East Enders. I really look forward to the next installment.”

Portrait of Delwar Hussain copyright © Lucinda Douglas-Menzies