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A Stepney Remembrance

September 15, 2014
by the gentle author

Jimmy Paige at St Dunstan’s

St Dunstan’s Stepney is the oldest church in the East End and was once the parish church for the entire area that we know as Tower Hamlets. Within living memory, it was surrounded by streets of modest nineteenth-century terraces which were home to a long-established community of inter-related families. Today, although many of those streets are gone, the old church stands as a sentinel of this vanished world and the receptacle of its history, providing a focus for those whose familial traditions are closely woven with this place – such as Jimmy Page whose ancestors have been resident here for generations.

When you step into St Dunstan’s Church, you enter a space that has altered little in the last century, as if time had stopped. For parishioner Jimmy Page, an ex-soldier with the Royal Green Jackets, the side chapel has particular meaning because it is home to the memorial for those of his parish who died in World War One. The long columns of names inscribed upon five wooden panels confronted Jimmy with the scale of the loss that was suffered here in Stepney a century ago, inspiring him to learn more about these former parishioners and rekindle their memory.

Searching these names in the records, Jimmy sought to find out their regiments, the date of their deaths and their home addresses. At once, it became apparent that families in every street surrounding St Dunstan’s Church suffered losses of young men and, soon, as Jimmy grew aware of the former homes of those who were killed, the map of the neighbourhood was redrawn in his perception. The presence of the loss became immediate when Jimmy discovered that one of the parishioners he was researching had lived in a house that is inhabited today by a friend of his.

Today I am publishing the names and addresses from Jimmy Page’s book of remembrance, so that those who know Stepney may be able to place the former homes of those who left a century ago and never returned. The list is far from complete, as I have only included those for whom we have addresses, but the scale of the loss in this small neighbourhood alone may be extrapolated across the East End to give a sense of how many died in the relentless accumulation of fatalities of World War One.

23rd October 1914. Robert Elder, 59 Beaumont Sq

9th May 1915, Stephen Freshney, 35 Ben Jonson Rd

23rd May 1915, Robert Frehney, 35 Ben Jonson Rd

10th August 1915, Norman Winterbourne, 9 Portland St

10th August 1915, William Wittey, 278 Oxford St

10th September 1915, William Fox, 97 Grosvenor St, Commercial Rd

27th September 1915, Percy Stewart, 38 Belgrave St

13th October 1915, Richard Vicat, 7 Lufton Place, Halley St

3rd July 1916, Edgar Watts, 89 Belgrave St

24th August 1916, Thomas Pocock, 127 White Horse St

15th September 1916, Alfred Knowden, 22 Durham Rd

15th September 1916, Sidney Squires, 6 Chaseley St

23rd September 1916, Harry May, 59 White Horse Lane

21st October 1916, George Legon, 32 Copley St

13th October 1916, Richard Bull, 6 Market St

13th November 1916, Henry Turner, 30 Portland St

21st December 1916, George Palmer, 13 Bromley St

2nd February 1917, Frederick Page, 17 King John St

4th February 1917, William Wotten, 5 Wakeling St

9th February 1917, Joseph Ellis,  3 Oley Place

27th March 1917, William Page, Flat 4, 45 Jubilee St

14th May 1917, John Jenkins, 27 Commercial Rd

9th May 1917, Herbert Graves, 78 Diggon St

10th May 1917, Henry Middleton, 82 Old Church Rd

16th June 1917, John Moonie, 85 White Horse Lane

6th July 1917, Thomas Crouch, 21 White Horse Lane

9th July 1917, Walter Page, 63 White Horse Lane

11th July 1917, Robert Kirby, 73 Ernest St

16th July 1917, William Long, Pole St

26th July 1917, William Lynch, 41 Belgrave St

30th July 1917, George Reid, 38 Diggon St

3rd September 1917, Sidney Biggs, 12 Matlock St

20th September 1917, Edward Webber, 16 Dean St

24th September 1917, William Grainger, 49 Diggon St

26th October 1917, Alfred Walmer, 12 White Horse Lane

26th October 1917, Ruchard Tyndall, 3 Rectory Sq

2nd November 1917, John Fox, 3 Oley Place

10th November 1917, Henry Nicholas, 38 Latimer St

25th November 1917, Albert Clarke, Salmon Lane

8th December 1917, Albert Stokes, 9 Louisa Gardens

21st March 1918, Harry Gray, St Thomas St

21st March 1918. Arthur Hallett, 52 Bromley St

3rd April 1918, Horace Vincent, 21 Copley St

1st May 1918, Robert Parlett, 51 Belgrave St

27th May 1918, Albert Mitchell, Grosvenor St

15th July 1918, Henry Smith, 169 Stepney Green

1st September 1918, Walter McMinn, 635 Commercial Rd

19th September 1918, Arthur Murphy, 23 Rhodeswell Rd

17th October 1918, Raymond Smith, 10 Latimer St

18th October 1918, Arthur Reids, 38 Diggon St

2nd November 1918, Charles Legon, 107 Rhodeswell Rd

& 106 more from the parish for whom we have no addresses

St Dunstan’s, Stepney

Portrait of Jimmy Page copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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East End Soldiers of World War One

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A Brief History Of Bishopsgate Goodsyard

September 14, 2014
by the gentle author

Mesolithic tranchet adze discovered at Bishopsgate Goodsyard

Bishopsgate Goodsyard c.1910

There are many continuities that run through time in Spitalfields, yet the most disturbing is the history of brutal change which has been wreaked upon the neighbourhood over centuries.

The Hospital of the Priory of St Mary – from which the name Spitalfields is derived – was established in the eleventh century as a refuge for the homeless, conveniently one mile north from the City of London which sought to expel vagabond and beggars. Then Henry VIII destroyed this Priory in the sixteenth century and seized the ‘Spital fields which he turned over to usage as his Artillery Ground.

In the eighteen-thirties, the Eastern Counties Railway, cut across the north of Spitalfields to construct Bishopsgate Station on Shoreditch High St, pushing families from their homes to seek new accommodation in the surrounding streets. The overcrowded area to the north became known as the Nichol, notorious for criminality. While to the south, in the courtyards beyond Quaker St, old houses built when the silk industry thrived in Spitalfields were rented out at one family per room. Clusters of black streets on Charles Booth’s Descriptive Map of London Poverty vividly illustrate the social consequences of this drastic redevelopment.

The situation was exacerbated in Spitalfields when the City of London objected to traffic from the London Docks congesting their streets and hundreds more homes were demolished when Commercial St was cut through to carry goods directly to the terminus in Shoreditch High St. Finally, in the eighteen-seventies when the railway was extended south to Liverpool St, an entire residential neighbourhood area to the west of Spitalfields was also obliterated.

It was only at the very end of the nineteenth century, when the Boundary Estate was constructed as Britain’s first social housing, that any attempt was made to ameliorate the human damage of this unbridled series of large-scale developments. Upon the cusp of the next imminent wave of violent change, in which tall towers threaten to put the Boundary Estate into permanent shadow, it is sobering to contemplate the earlier history of the area that is now known as the Bishopsgate Goodsyard.

The paradox of redevelopment is that it confronts us with our past, when excavations for new buildings uncover evidence of history – such as the Bishop’s Sq development that resurrected thousands of plague victims in Spitalfields. In Shoreditch, exploratory work for a proposed forty storey tower has uncovered the Shakespearian theatre where Henry V was first performed and, at the Bishopsgate Goodsyard, preparatory demolition drew attention to John Braithwaite’s elegant viaduct constructed in the eighteen-thirties. In both cases, the outcome is an unholy yoking of conservation and shopping, with Shakespeare’s theatre due to become a heritage feature in a mall and the Braithwaite’s arches set to provide retail units for brands, and both serving as undercrofts to gargantuan towers.

Recent excavations by Museum of London Archaeology Service discovered more than seventy pieces of Mesolithic struck flint, mostly to the west of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site, suggesting early human occupation towards the banks of the River Walbrook. Ermine St, the Roman road north from the City of London followed the line of Bishopsgate and Shoreditch High St, and burials of this era have been uncovered upon either side of the roadway, just as along the Appian Way in Rome. While a medieval settlement grew up along Shoreditch High St and around Holywell Priory, the land further to the east lay open until the mid-seventeenth century. Yet prior to this, the brick quarries that gave the name to Brick Lane existed there as early as the fourteenth century.

Between 1652 and 1682, the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site was quickly built over a with a mixture of dwellings and small trades as the city expanded. The brick quarries that created the materials for development were eventually filled in with debris from the Fire of London, as streets were laid out and prosperous middle class suburban dwellings were constructed – coinciding with the rise of the lucrative silk industry locally. Discovery of delft tiles, marbles, wine bottles and clay pipes testify to the domestic life of the residents of this newly-built neighbourhood, while analysis of cesspits tells us they ate duck, chicken, mutton, herring, plaice, flounder and cod. Evidence of small-scale industry reveals the presence of sugar processing, glass and iron working, pottery, distillation and the textile trade.

Thus a whole world grew up with streets and yards, taverns, shops, warehouses and workshops – one that was wiped away nearly two centuries later. Today, it is too easy to look at the empty site of the former Bishopsgate Goodsyard and assume that there was never anything before the railway came through. Yet, as we contemplate the next wave of redevelopment, we should do well to contemplate the society that once flourished in this place and how the previous development erased it, that we may draw lessons from the long-term destructive outcomes of these great impositions upon Spitalfields.

Saxon antler and bone comb discovered at Holywell

Excavation of a brick quarry at the Bishopsgate Goods Yard, close to Brick Lane

On Faithorne & Newcourt’s map of 1658, the site of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard is open fields

By Morgan’s map of 1682, suburban development has filled the site

Pipe bowl depicting Admiral Vernon, who introduced the daily ration of grog to the navy

Pipe bowl depicting Don Blas de Leso, Portuguese governor of Panama kneeling in surrender to Admiral Vernon

Eighteenth century marbles from the Goodsyard

Eighteenth century tin-glazed tile made in London

Mid-seventeenth century Dutch tin-glazed tiles from Bishopsgate Goodsyard, showing a mounted military figure and a man with a cockerel

Eighteenth century tin-glazed tile made in London

Eighteenth century Dutch tile of crucifixion scene

Witch box – animal bones in a wooden box concealed in an eighteenth-century fireplace upon the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site

Unusual post-medieval bone crucifix with sun above, discovered at Bishopsgate Goodsyard, possibly the work of a Napoleonic prisoner of war

Copper plate inscribed ‘Thos Juchau Shoreditch’ – Juchau was a celebrated bare-knuckle boxer born in 1739, said to have been the ‘hero of a hundred fights,’ who became British champion until defeated by William ‘the dyer’ Darts of Spitalfields in the first ever outdoor heavyweight boxing match in 1777. He died in Bateman’s Row in 1806.

Bishopsgate Station, photograph courtesy of National Rail Museum

Charles Booth’s Descriptive Map of London Poverty 1889 courtesy of LSE Library

“The Arches – a long street under a railway which carried the mainline to Liverpool St Station and ran from Commercial St to Club Row … there the pros would practise to mouth-organ acompaniment, night after night, until they had copied the Yanks most intricate steps.” Bud Flanagan, My Crazy Life 1961

Archaeological photographs copyright © MOLA

‘Tracks Through Time, Archaeology and History from the London Overground East London Line’ is available from Museum of London Shop

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The Spitalfields Nippers Are Coming!

September 13, 2014
by the gentle author

Although the publication of SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS - the book of portraits by Horace Warner taken in Spitalfields around 1900 – is not until the beginning of November, today I am announcing the launch on Tuesday 4th November at 7:30pm in the Great Hall at Bishopsgate Institute, so that readers may have first chance to reserve their tickets for this free event which are now available by clicking here.

This will be the first reveal of many of Horace Warner’s pictures taken in Spitalfields over a century ago and, in an illustrated lecture, I shall be introducing the photographs, explaining the circumstances of their creation and giving the biographies of those children we have been able to trace in public records.

It has been my privilege to be entrusted by Horace Warner’s grandson, Ian Warner McGilvray, to publish the definitive book of Spitalfields Nippers which has been funded by you, the readers of Spitalfields Life. Accompanied by an extensive introduction and an index of biographies, this volume reunites those photos sold to the Bedford Institute in 1913 with those in the Spitalfields Albums that remain in the possession of the family and have never been seen publicly before.

This unique collection of pictures revolutionises our view of Londoners of the turn of the nineteenth century, by bringing us startlingly close and permitting us to look them in the eye. Horace Warner photographed some of the poorest people in the East End, creating compassionate images that gave human dignity to his subjects and producing great photography that is without parallel in his era.

I hope you will join me on such a memorable evening to celebrate the work of Horace Warner.

Walter Seabrook was born on 23rd May 1890 to William and Elizabeth Seabrook of Custance St, Hoxton. In 1901, when Walter’s portrait was taken by Horace Warner, the family were living at 24 & 1/2 Great Pearl St, Spitalfields, and Walter’s father worked as a printer’s labourer. At twenty-four years old, Walter was conscripted and fought in World War One but survived to marry Alice Noon on Christmas Day 1918 at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green. By occupation, Walter was an electrician and lived at 2 Princes Court, Gibraltar Walk. He and Alice had three children – Walter born in 1919, Alice born in 1922 and Gladys born in 1924. Walter senior died in Ware, Hertfordshire, in 1971, aged eighty-one.

All Publication Rights in these Photographs Reserved

Click here to pre-order a copy of SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS by Horace Warner

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Pubs Of Wonderful London

September 12, 2014
by the gentle author

As soon as I sense the evenings closing in, I get a powerful urge to seek out a cosy corner in an old pub and settle down for the autumn nights to come. There are plenty of attractive options to choose from in this selection from the popular magazine Wonderful London edited by St John Adcock and produced by The Fleetway House in the nineteen-twenties.

The Old Axe in Three Nuns Court off Aldermanbury. It was once much larger and folk journeying to Chester, Liverpool and the North used to gather here for the stage coach.

The Doves, Upper Mall, Chiswick.

The Crown & Sceptre, Greenwich – once a popular resort for boating parties from London, of merry silk-clad gallants and lovely ladies who in the summer evenings came down the river between fields of fragrant hay and wide desolate marshes to breathe the country air at Greenwich.

At the Flask, Highgate, labourers from the surrounding farms still drink the good ale, as their forerunners did a century ago.

Elephant & Castle – The public house was once a coaching inn but it is so enlarged as to become unrecognisable.

The Running Footman, off Berkeley Sq, is named after that servant whose duty it was to run before the crawling old family coach, help it out of ruts, warn toll-keepers and clear the way generally. He wore a livery and carried a cane. The last to employ a running footman is said to have been ‘Old Q,’ the Duke of Queensberry who died in 1810.

The Grenadier in Wilton Mews, where coachmen drink no more but, at any moment – it would seem – an ostler with a striped waistcoat and straw in mouth might kick open the door and walk out the place.

The Spaniards in Hampstead dates from the seventeenth century and here the Gordon Rioters gathered in the seventeen-eighties, crying “No Popery!”

The Bull’s Head at Strand on the Green is an old tavern probably built in the sixteenth century. There is a tradition that Oliver Cromwell, while campaigning in the neighbourhood,  held a council of war here.

Old Dr Butler’s Head, established in Mason’s Avenue in 1616. The great Dr Butler invented a special beer and established a number of taverns for selling it, but this is the last to bear his name.

The grill room of the Cock, overlooking Fleet St near Chancery Lane. It opened in 1888 with fittings from the original tavern on the site of the branch of the Bank of England opposite. Pepys wrote on April 23rd 1668, “To the Cock Alehouse and drank and ate a lobster and sang…”

The Two Brewers at Perry Hill between Catford Bridge and Lower Sydenham – an old hedge tavern built three hundred years ago, the sign shows two brewer’s men sitting under a tree.

The Old Bell Tavern in St Bride’s Churchyard, put up while Wren was rebuilding St Bride’s which he completed in 1680. There is a fine staircase of unpolished oak.

Coach & Horses, Notting Hill Gate. This was once a well-known old coaching inn, but it still carries on the tradition with the motor coaches.

The Anchor at Bankside. With its shuttered window and projecting upper storey, it enhances its riverside setting with a sense of history.

The George on Borough High St – one of the oldest roads in Britain, for there was a bridge hereabouts when Roman Legionaries and merchants with long lines of pack mules took the Great High Road to Dover.

The Mitre Tavern, between Hatton Garden and Ely Place. It bears a stone mitre carved on the front with the date 1546. Ely Place still has its own Watchman who closes the gates a ten o’clock and cries the hours through the night.

The George & Vulture is in a court off Cornhill that is celebrated as the place where coffee was first introduced to Britain in 1652 by a Turkish merchant, who returned from Smyrna with a Ragusan boy who made coffee for him every morning.

The Bird in Hand, in Conduit between Long Acre and Floral St, formerly a street of coach-makers but now of motorcar salesmen.

The Old Watling is the oldest house in the ward of Cordwainer, standing as it did when rebuilt after the Fire, in 1673.

The Ship Inn at Greenwich got its reputation from courtiers on their way to and from Greenwich Palace and in 1634 some of the Lancashire Witches were confined her, but now it is famous for its Whitebait dinners.

The Olde Cheshire Cheese – the Pudding Season here starts in October.

The Cellar Bar at the Olde Cheshire Cheese

The Chop Room at the Olde Cheshire  Cheese

The Cellar Cat guards the vintage at the Old Cheshire Cheese. Almost under Fleet St is a well, now unused, but pure and always full from some unknown source. To raise the iron trap door which keeps the secret and to light a match and stoop down over this profound hole and watch the small light flickering uncertainly over the black water is to leave modern London and go back to history.

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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The Gentle Author’s Next Pub Crawl

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Happy 75th Birthday Halal Restaurant!

September 11, 2014
by the gentle author

Asab Miah, Chef at the Halal Restaurant, has been cooking for forty-four years

This week, the Halal Restaurant - the East End’s oldest curry house – celebrated its seventy-fifth birthday and so Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I went along to share in the festivities.

We were summoned to the former Hostel for Indian Seaman, situated in an eighteenth century house on the corner of Alie St and St Mark St, at eleven thirty in the morning for a luncheon party attended by the Halal Restaurant’s most loyal customers. The early hour was because – such is the popularity of this beloved institution – there were to be two lunch sittings that day in order to fit in everyone who wanted to join the birthday celebrations.

In 1939, the Halal Restaurant was born when Mr Jafferi opened up the mess of the Indian Seamen’s Hostel to all and, even today, it is still distinguished by plain canteen decor and a small unpretentious menu of favourite dishes. Yet this has proved to be a winning combination, especially among diners from City who have made the Halal Restaurant their home from home.

We were greeted by proprietor Mahaboob Narangoli, all smiles and his eyes shining with excitement to introduce us to his father, Usman Abubacker, who began working here as a waiter back in 1970 before taking over in 1978. The whole family were gathered on this proud occasion to welcome a restaurant-full of customers, all of whom are known by their first names, twice.

Curry-hound Guy Morgan confessed he first ate here in 1965 and never looked back. He recalled those early days when customers walked through the kitchen to reach the tiny dining room. “You could see and smell the pots of curry cooking,” he told me, growing enraptured at the thought. As excited guests filled up the restaurant, all had similar stories to tell and were proud to declare how long they had been coming. For many of these workers, this has been the consistent element in their working lives as, over the decades, they have changed jobs, companies have amalgamated and the City has changed beyond recognition, yet the menu and the food at the Halal Restauarant have remained reassuringly constant.

Eager to set proceedings in motion, Mahaboob made a generous speech of welcome, greeted with affectionate applause from the hungry diners. Then the waiters leapt into action and everyone was tucking in to starters comprising samosas and chicken tikka with popadoms and chutney. Next, one of the long-term customers made a speech of appreciation which culminated in a “Hip-Hip-Hooray for the Halal Restaurant!”

A hush fell as Usman Abubacker stepped forward to give the main speech, recalling with a quiet dignity how he started there in that same room, forty-four years ago, earning thirteen pounds a week. Yet even his involvement was predated by the most senior customer, Maurice Courtnell, who has been dining there for sixty-six years. Usman Abubacker concluded his speech by inviting everyone to return for the hundredth anniversary in 2039 and I, for one, hope to be there.

In the restless city, where restaurants come and go, it is an inspiration to come upon this joyful exception where one family have cultivated an open-hearted relationship with their customers that is reciprocated and enduring – establishing the Halal Restaurant as one of London’s cherished culinary landmarks.

Usman Abubacker and his son Mahboob Narangali

Mahaboob and and his wife Shahina

Mahaboob and the waiters

Mahaboob and the cooks

Asab Miah cooks everything freshly every day

Usman Abubacker makes his speech to the assembly

Three cheers for the Halal Restaurant!

Usman Abubacker began working here as a waiter in 1970 and took over in 1978

Making naan bread

Extricating it from the clay oven

Diners tuck in

Asab Miah takes a moment to relax and enjoy a samosa before the second lunch sitting

Mahaboob and his mother, Aleema

The family behind the Halal Restaurant

Halal Restaurant, 2 St Mark St, E1 8DJ 020 7481 1700

You may also like to read my original feature

At the Halal Restaurant

and take a look at

The Curry Chefs of Brick Lane