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Alex Pink In Whitechapel

October 23, 2014
by the gentle author

For the past two and a half years, Contributing Photographers Colin O’Brien & Alex Pink have been documenting Whitechapel, recording the changes delivered by the 2012 Olympics and the imminent arrival of Crossrail. Now they are showing this work from the first time and readers are invited to attend the opening of  Whitechapel: A Look Back at the Darnley Gallery from 6-9pm tonight. Here you can see a selection of Alex Pink’s photographs from this project which will be complemented tomorrow by Colin O’Brien’s pictures of Whitechapel.

Photographs copyright © Alex Pink

WHITECHAPEL: A LOOK BACK BY COLIN O’BRIEN & ALEX PINK opens tonight at the Darnley Gallery, 1a Darnley Rd, E9 6QH and runs until 7th November

You may like to look at these other pictures by Alex Pink

Alex Pink’s Spitalfields, Then & Now

Alex Pink’s East End Pubs, Then & Now

More of Alex Pink’s Pubs, Then & Now

Alex Pink’s Fournier St, Then & Now

Adam Dant At Lloyds Of London

October 22, 2014
by the gentle author

Double-click to enlarge and study the details

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside that gleaming steel tower on Leadenhall St which houses Lloyds of London? Thanks to the superlative talent of Spitalfields Life Contributing Artist, Adam Dant, we are now able to reveal this startlingly crowded vision of the hidden dramas that take place, usually concealed from the public gaze by Richard Rogers’ elaborate web of service ducts which covers the exterior of the building.

“I am using similar means to the pamphleteers of the eighteenth century who portrayed the life of the underwriters and brokers,” Adam admitted to me, “and I’ve learnt that many of the characters are eternal – you always had a self-important broker and a bullying underwriter.”

“It’s all observed from life in the three pubs that the brokers drink in, The Lamb, The Grapes & The New Moon,” Adam explained, “I solicited lists of types of people they had known and observed, and incidents from the history of Insurance. They told me that nobody sets out to work in Insurance, they all ended up there by accident – they say they are too stupid to go into banking and too disorganised to go into the army.”

Drawing copyright © Adam Dant

If you are interested to acquire a copy of the limited edition of Adam Dant’s LLOYDS OF LONDON print, email

You may also like to take a look at some of Adam Dant’s other maps, prints & cartoons

Adam Dant’s Map Of The Coffee Houses

The Meeting of the New & Old East End in Redchurch St

Redchurch St Rake’s Progress

Map of Hoxton Square

Hackney Treasure Map

Map of the History of Shoreditch

Map of Shoreditch in the Year 3000

Map of Shoreditch as New York

Map of Shoreditch as the Globe

Map of Shoreditch in Dreams

Map of the History of Clerkenwell

Map of the Journey to the Heart of the East End

Map of the History of Rotherhithe

Map of Industrious Shoreditch

Adam Dant’s Map of Walbrook

Adam Dant’s Map Of Budge Row

Soerditch by Dant (Chapter One)

Soerditch by Dant (Chapter Two)

Soerditch by Dant (Chapter Three)

Soerditch by Dant (Chapter Four)

Soerditch by Dant (Chapter Five)

Soerditch by Dant (Chapter Six)

Click here to buy a copy of The Map of Spitalfields Life drawn by Adam Dant with stories by The Gentle Author

In Old St

October 21, 2014
by the gentle author

Old St

In my mind, Old St is interminably long – a thoroughfare that requires me to put my head down and walk doggedly until I reach the other end. Sometimes, the thought of walking the whole length of Old St can motivate me to take the bus and, at other times, I have been inspired to pursue routes through the side streets which run parallel, in order to avoid walking along Old St.

Yet  I realised recently that Old St is short. It only extends from Goswell Rd, on the boundary of Clerkenwell, to the foot of the Kingsland Rd in Shoreditch – just a hop, skip and a jump – which leaves me wondering why it seems such a challenge when I set out to walk along it. Let me confess, I have no love for Old St – that is why I seek alternative routes, because even the thought of walking along Old St wears me down.

So I decided to take a new look at Old St, in the hope that I might overcome my aversion. Over the last week, I have walked up and down Old St half a dozen times and, to my surprise, it only takes ten minutes to get from Goswell Rd to Shoreditch Church.

Old St was first recorded as Ealdestrate around 1200 and as Le Oldestrete in 1373, confirming it as an ancient thoroughfare that is as old as history. It was a primeval cattle track, first laid it out as a road by the Romans for whom it became a major route extending to Bath in the west and Colchester in the east. No wonder Old St feels long, it is a fragment of a road that bisects the country.

Setting out from Goswell Rd along Old St on foot, you realise that the east-west orientation places the southerly side of the street in permanent shadow, only illuminated by narrow shafts of sunlight extending across the road from side-streets on the southern side. This combination of deep shadow and the ferocious east wind, channelled by the remains of the eighteenth and nineteenth century terraces that once lined Old St which are mostly displaced now by taller developments, can be discouraging.

Of course, you can take a detour along Baltic St, but before you know it you are at St Luke’s where William Caslon, who set up the first British Type Foundry here in Helmet Row, is buried. Nicholas Hawksmoor’s obelisk on the top of St Luke’s glows in the morning sunlight shining up Whitecross St Market, which has enjoyed a revival in recent years as a lunchtime destination, offering a wide variety of food to City workers.

Between here and the Old St roundabout, now the focus of new industries and dwarfed by monster towers rising to the north up City Rd, you can pay your respects to my favourite seventeenth century mystic poet Christopher Smart who was committed in his madness to St Luke’s Asylum and wrote his greatest poetry where Argos stands today. Alternatively, you can stroll through Bunhill Fields, the non-conformist cemetery, where Blake, Bunyan and Defoe are buried. Seeing the figure of John Bunyan’s Christian, the Pilgrim of Pilgrim’s Progress, upon the side of his tomb always reminds me of the figure of Bunyan at Holborn, and I imagine that he walked here from there and Old St was that narrow straight path which Christian was so passionate to follow.

Crossing the so-called Silicon Roundabout, I am always amused by the incongruity of the Bezier Building that for all its sophisticated computer-generated geometry resembles nothing else than a pair of buttocks. Taking a path north of Old St, takes you through Charles Sq with its rare eighteenth century survival, returning you to the narrowest part  of our chosen thoroughfare between Pitfield St and Curtain Rd, giving an indication of the width of the whole street before it was widened to the west of here in the nineteenth century.

The figure on the top of Shoreditch Town Hall labelled ‘Progress’ makes a highly satisfactory conclusion to our journey, simultaneously embodying the contemporary notion of technological progress and the ancient concept of a spiritual progress – both of which you may encounter upon Old St.

Hand & Feathers, Goswell Rd

Central Cafe

Helmet Row, where William Caslon established his first type foundry

St Lukes Churchyard

St Luke by Nicholas Hawksmoor

The White Lion, Central St

At Whitecross St

In Whitecross Market

Mural by Ben Eine

In Bunhill Cemetery

John Bunyan’s tomb in Bunhill Fields with the figure of the pilgrim

John Wesley’s House in City Rd

Old St Gothic on the former St Luke Parochial School

Emerging from Old St tube

The Bezier Building has a curious resemblance to a pair of buttocks

Entrance to Old St Tube

Eighteenth century house in Charles Sq

Prince Arthur in Brunswick Lane

Old House in Charles St

Street Art in Old St

Figure of Progress on Shoreditch Town Hall

You may also like to take a look at

In Old Clerkenwell

In Old Rotherhithe

In Fleet St

In Mile End Old Town

In Old Stepney

In Old Bermondsey

In Old Holborn

At St Dunstan’s Harvest Festival

October 20, 2014
by the gentle author

Angela Hancock, Church Warden

After the recent delights of the Royal Horticultural Society Harvest Festival, I was eager to see what home-grown produce the parishioners of Stepney would bring to their Harvest Festival at St Dunstan’s Church, and I had expectations of a similar display of long leeks and prize-winning onions, but what I found was far more surprising. When I arrived at this ancient stone church and walked down the aisle, I discovered a huge pile of groceries, as if someone had raided the corner shop and stashed their haul in front of the altar.

At first, I was disappointed by the apparent banality of this spectacle but fortunately Angela Hancock, the Church Warden, was there to explain the meaning of this curious sight, and it was a story which proved to be unexpectedly revealing of our times.

“Traditionally, this was when people gave thanks for all the produce at harvest and brought fruit and vegetables they had grown to place them on the altar. That suits a rural community but we are in an urban environment here, and we found it more purposeful to ask the congregation collect supplies that can be distributed through the Food Bank to people here in the East End.

The Tower Hamlets Food Bank gives us a list, so we can be sure we are supplying people with the essentials they need and today, before the service, our congregation brought their contributions and laid them before that altar. Next week, the Food Bank will come to collect them. This is the third year we have been doing this and we also do it at Christmas and Easter, and throughout the year

There is real hardship here in the East End, and it’s not just families that are out of work, but many who are living on low incomes. Just one big bill to pay, such as their heating costs, can take away their money to buy food. We have also found middle class families in need, where there has been redundancy and their savings run out. These people are not used to asking for help.

We have people come into the church who are really desperately in need and we have helped them with food. There always a food box in the church where people can leave contributions and, one day, we found someone helping themselves to it, but we were able to talk to them and help them out.”

Once I heard Angela’s sobering explanation, it became the most poignant stack of groceries I had ever seen and, rather than looking out of place in the church, it became emblematic of the spirit of Charity that you would hope to discover in a sacred place. If readers wish to support this valuable endeavour, you can volunteer, donate groceries or money at the Food Bank website or deliver your contributions direct to St Dunstan’s Church, Stepney.

Harvest Festival at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, 2014

Chris Morgan, Curate, Sarah Edwards, Schools Co-ordinator, and Angela Hancock, Church Warden

Learn more about Tower Hamlets Food Bank

You may also like to read about

Vera Hullyer, Parishioner of St Dunstan’s

Fred Iles, Meter Fixer

Marie Iles, Machinist

Ian Lowe, Blacksmith

A Stepney Remembrance

Bishopsgate Tavern Tokens

October 19, 2014
by the gentle author

The Ship Tavern, Bishopsgate

There are some artefacts that, in their detail and evidence of wear, can evoke an entire world. Although no larger than a thumbnail, these modest seventeenth century tavern tokens in the collection at the Bishopsgate Institute bring alive that calamitous era after the English Revolution when London was struck by the Great Plague in 1665 and then the Great Fire in 1666.

Bishopsgate was one of the few parts of the City spared by the Fire. It was lined with ancient taverns, used as points of departure and arrival for those travelling up and down the old Roman road north from the City of London. The part inside the City wall was known as Bishopsgate Within and the part outside the wall was Bishopsgate Without, and beyond, where the muddy road widened, was known as Bishopsgate St. The taverns served as hotels, drinking and dining houses, breweries and stables, couriers and coach offices, places of business and of entertainment, and were such significant centres of commerce that they issued their own currency for use as change.

There is a vibrant graphic quality in these miniature token designs, delighting in combining hand-lettering and familiar imagery with an appealing utilitarian irregularity. Long before universal literacy or the numbering of London streets, buildings were adorned with symbols and easily-recogniseable images like those graven upon the front of these tokens. The reverse carries the date and initials of the owner that issued the token, who may latterly be identified from the vintners’ records.

As well as those from Bishopsgate, there is one here from Spittlegate, now known as Widegate St, and another from Bedlam, now known as Liverpool St, which was formerly the location of the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem – of all the tokens here, The White Hart is the lone tavern that has weathered the centuries to survive into the present era.

After the Fire, rubble was spread upon the marshy land of Spitalfields, preparing it for the construction of the streets we know today, and, occasionally, charcoal is still uncovered when foundations are excavated in Spitalfields, recalling this distant event. In 1632, Charles I gave a licence for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold in Spitalfields and the market was re-established in 1682 by Charles II, defining the territory with a culture of small-scale trading that persists to this day.

Once, tavern tokens were unremarkable items of small monetary value, passed hand to hand without a second thought, but now these rare specimens are precious evidence of another life in another time, long ago in this place.

King’s Head, Spittlegate, Charles I

King’s Head, Spittlegate, issued by Vintner Thomas Avis in 1658

The Beehive, Bishopsgate Without, issued by Thomas Goss, 1652

The Mitre Tavern, Bishopsgate, issued by Robert Richardson 1644

The Flower Pot, Bishopsgate Within, issued by Ascanius Hicks, 1641

The Helmet, Bishopsgate Without, issued by Robert Studd

At the White Hart, Bedlam

The White Hart at Bedlam, issued by EE, 1637

The White Hart still stands at the corner of Liverpool St, formerly the location of Bedlam

Red Lion Court, Bishopsgate Without, issued by John Lambe

The Black Raven, Bishopsgate Without

The Black Raven, Halfpenny issued by Sam Salway

The Sunne, Bishopsgate Within

Lion Above a Stick of Candles, Bishopsgate Without

Lion Above a Stick of Candles, issued by Ralph Butcher, 1666

At the Sign Of The Boore, Bishopsgate Without

At The Sign Of The Boore, Bishopsgate Without

The Half Moone Brewhouse, Bishopsgate Without

Edward Nourse Next The Bull In Bishopsgate Street, 1666

The Mouth Tavern, Bishopsgate Without, issued by Robert Sanderson, 1638

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to look at

The Inns of Forgotten London

The Gentle Author’s Spitalfields Pub Crawl

William West’s Tavern Anecdotes

The Pubs of Old London

The Language of Beer

The Signs of Old London