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At Victoria Park Model Boat Club

July 26, 2016
by the gentle author

January 3rd 1937

Keith Reynolds, a sympathetic man with an appealingly straggly moustache who is Secretary of the Victoria Model Steam Boat Club, agreed to let me take a look at his photographic collection. So, as the members got steam up on the lakeside, I sat inside the club house and sifted through the archive, listening to all the variously enigmatic whistling and chugging sounds coming from the shore.

Keith told me that the model boat club existed even before the founding of the Model Steam Boat Club in 1904, preceded by a Model Sailing Boat Club that he believes was founded in 1875. The old club house in Victoria Park dates from this period and Keith showed me where the lockers once were, custom-built to store huge model sail boats, before the age of steam took over.

There are just a handful of early black and white pictures, donated years ago by member Olive Cotman. Although the photograph at the top is from January 3rd 1937, the other one is undated. As well as the impressive display of boats in both photographs, the members display a fine selection of hats, and in the top picture, if you look closely, you can see the pennant-shaped club badge pinned onto many of the caps.

The dignity of these men, seemingly so serious in their moustaches and caps, yet so proud to be photographed with their fleet of model steam boats, is undeniably touching. These boats were miniature versions of the vessels that you might see a mile away on the Thames at that time.

By contrast, the 1937 picture shows the crowd who braved the chill wind of Victoria Park in January to admire the model boats and the anonymous schoolboy in his cap on the far right is more interested in the camera than the boats, as he gazes towards us and into eternity.

As I looked through the thousands of colour photographs taken by Janet Reynolds, Keith’s wife, over the forty summers since their marriage, I became fascinated by these idyllic pictures which evoke so many long happy Sunday afternoons. I was looking at images of the younger selves of those members of the club who I had been introduced to that morning. Keith has been sailing steam boats for fifty years, since he was ten, although he had to wait until he was fourteen to become  a full-fledged member in his own right in 1964.

One day Keith’s father stopped by the lake to speak with the father of the current chairman Norman Lara, and that was how it began for the Reynolds family, which has now been involved for four generations. ‘She married into the Boating Club,’ admitted Keith affectionately, referring to the induction of his wife Jan, ‘She took photographs because she didn’t want to boat, but then she decided it was more fun to get involved, and now my daughter and my grandson of fourteen are also members.’ These lyrical images were taken by a photographer who became seduced by this diminutive nautical sport, embracing it as a family endeavour to entertain successive generations.

Out on the shore, Keith introduced me to the engineer Phil Abbott who showed me the oldest vessel still in use, a steam-powered straight-racing boat with the name of ‘All alone’ from 1920, beside it sat ‘Yvonne’ a high-speed steam-powered straight-racing boat from 1947. These boats speak of the different eras of their manufacture. ‘All alone,’ with its brass funnels and tones of brown with an eau-de-nil interior, possesses a quiet twenties elegance in direct contrast to the snazzy red and beige forties colour scheme of the speed boat which raises its prow arrogantly in the water as it roars along.

‘All alone’ was made by Arthur Perkins, who offered it to the club, as many members do, before his demise and ‘Yvonne’ has a similar provenance. When Keith revealed that he had acquired half of the thirty-seven boats he possessed, making the others himself, I realised that the club was the boats rather than the members, who are – in effect – mere custodians, providing maintenance for these vessels, enabling them to sail on, across Victoria Park Boating Lake, over decades and through generations.

Keith pinned a blue and white pennant-shaped enamel club badge on my shirt, just like those in the photo, and confessed that the club is eager for new members. It does not matter if you do not have a boat, anyone is welcome to join the conversation at the lakeside, and guidance is offered if you want to buy or make your own vessel, he explained courteously. All you need to do is go along to see Keith one Sunday in Victoria Park.

It would be the perfect excuse to spend every Sunday boating for the rest of your life and you would be joining the honoured ranks of men and women who have pursued this noble passtime since 1904 on the lake in Victoria Park. These treasured photographs speak for themselves.

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At Doggett’s Coat & Badge Race

July 25, 2016
by the gentle author

Sculling under London Bridge

It might have been the hottest day of the year but that was not going to stop six young apprentice watermen rowing from Southwark to Chelsea in the Doggett’s Coat & Badge Race of 2016. Held annually since 1715, this is the world’s oldest continuously-held sporting event and a fiercely-contested prize among families of watermen who have been working on the Thames for centuries.

Photographer Tom Bunning & I climbed down onto Fishmongers’ Wharf next to London Bridge to watch the apprentices carrying their skiffs over their shoulders down Fishmongers’ Steps and launching them on the river as high tide approached. On the wharf, a large board listed the contestants names and outlined their form, revealing cousins, uncles and grandfathers who had attempted this race before them.

At 10:45am HMS Belfast fired its guns, sending the seagulls into a whirl and signalling that the river was closed to traffic for the duration of the race. The six contestants lined up in their skiffs, with the Umpire’s boat close behind carrying Bobby Prentice – who holds the unbroken record for Doggett’s Coat & Badge of twenty-three minutes and twenty-two seconds in 1973 – resplendent his magnificent gold-braided outfit. Then they were off, skimming across the surface of the water like beetles, and before we knew it they had disappeared under Cannon St Bridge and away into three hundred years of history.

The origin of the race lies with Thomas Doggett, a flamboyant Irishman who became an actor-manager at the Haymarket & Drury Lane Theatres at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Acclaimed as, ‘the leading low comedian of the London stage,’ Doggett began his career performing in a booth at the notorious Bartholomew Fair in Smithfield before graduating to the West End.

The story goes that the race began as a wager in gratitude to a young waterman who rescued Doggett when he fell overboard while crossing the Thames. Doggett offered a traditional waterman’s red coat and a silver badge inscribed with a horse as a symbol of the house of Hanover and the word ‘liberty,’ to be presented to whoever could row fastest between the Swan in Southwark and the Swan in Chelsea.

Originally, the race was held each year on August 1st as a celebration of the anniversary of George I’s accession to the throne and rowed against the tide by watermen in skerries taking as long as two hours to complete the course. Doggett financed it until his death in 1721 when responsibility passed to the Fishmongers Company who have organised the event ever since. In more recent times, the race has been run with the tide and the contestants now row in single sculls. A commentator of 1864 declared, ‘This deplorable decision to go with the flow obviously marks the start of the subsequent sustained decline in the British national character.”

When we saw the contestants of 2016 disappear from view, Benjamin Folkard had already established a significant lead and it was no surprise to see him return in a motorboat an hour later as the victor. Yet this was his third attempt and he received a generous emotional greeting at Fishmongers’ Wharf from Louis Pettifer who won last year, now wearing his fine red waterman’s coat and badge. Up on the terrace of Fishmongers Hall, Sir Steve Redgrave congratulated the winner formally as dignitaries stood round and an enthusiastic cheer went up from a flotilla of corporate hospitality boats on the Thames.

Tom & I observed all this from a vantage point on London Bridge where a small crowd had formed, and a small white-haired woman confided to me that she had come to London especially to see this race which had been won by her ancestor in 1825. The river sparkled, shimmering with sunlight, and it was curious to witness such an elusive event, simultaneously so fleeting but yet so old.

Alfie Anderson

Perry Flynn

Jacob Berry

The finish of Doggett’s Coat & Badge Race at Chelsea by Thomas Rowlandson

HMS Belfast fires a gun to signal closure of the river for the race

Umpire Bobby Prentice sits in the prow

Doggett’s Coat & Badge Race, 1838

Lining up at London Bridge in 1906

T Cole, winner in 1849

Benjamin Folkard embraced by last year’s winner Louis Pettipher at Fishmongers’ Wharf

A trumpeter plays a fanfare to announce Benjamin Folkard as winner of Doggett’s Race

Doggett’s Coat & Badge Winners, 1901

Louis Pettipher presents Benjamin Folkard with champagne on the terrace of Fishmongers’ Hall

Doggett’s Coat & Badge Winners, 1960

Louis Pettipher, Benjamin Folkard, Sir Steve Redgrave

Twenty winners of Doggett’s Coat & Badge, 1905 (click to enlarge this image)

Portraits believed to be of Thomas Doggett by Thomas Murray (left)  and Johann Zoffany (right)

Plaque in Eltham churchyard – Doggett married the granddaughter of the Vicar of Eltham

Colour photographs copyright © Tom Bunning

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George Parrin, Ice Cream Seller

July 24, 2016
by the gentle author

‘I’ve been on a bike since I was two’

Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I encountered Ice Cream Seller, George Parrin, coming through Whitechapel Market on his bicycle last weekend. Even before we met him, his cry of ‘Lovely ice cream, home made ice cream – stop me and buy one!’ announced his imminent arrival and then we saw his red and white umbrella bobbing through the crowd towards us. George told me that Whitechapel is the best place to sell ice cream in the East End and, observing the looks of delight spreading through the crowd, we witnessed the immediate evidence of this.

Such was the demand on that hot Saturday afternoon that George had to cycle off to get more supplies, so it was not possible for me to do an interview. Instead, we agreed to meet outside the Beigel Bakery on Brick Lane on Friday afternoon where trade was a little quieter. On arrival, George popped into the bakery and asked if they would like some ice cream and, once he had delivered a cup of vanilla ice, he emerged triumphant with a cup of tea and a salt beef beigel. ‘Fair exchange is no robbery!’ he declared with a hungry grin as he took a bite into his lunch.

“I first came down here with my dad when I was eight years old. He was a strongman and a fighter, known as ‘Kid Parry.’ Twice, he fought Bombardier Billy Wells, the man who struck the gong for Rank Films. Once he beat him and once he was beaten, but then he beat two others who beat Billy, so indirectly my father beat him.

In those days you needed to be an actor or entertainer if you were in the markets.  My dad would tip a sack of sand in the floor and pour liquid carbolic soap all over it. Then he got a piece of rotten meat with flies all over it and dragged it through the sand. The flies would fly away and then he sold the sand by the bag as a fly repellent.

I was born in Hampstead, one of thirteen children. My mum worked all her life to keep us going. She was a market trader, selling all kinds of stuff, and she collected scrap metal, rags, woollens and women’s clothes in an old pram and sold it wholesale. My dad was to and fro with my mum, but he used to come and pick me up sometimes, and I worked with him. When I was nine, just before my dad died, we moved down to Queens Rd, Peckham.

I’ve been on a bike since I was two, and at three years old I had my own three-wheeler. I’ve always been on a bike. On my fifteenth birthday, I left school and started work. At first, I had a job for a couple of months delivering meat around Wandsworth by bicycle for Brushweilers the Butcher, but then I worked for Charles, Greengrocers of Belgravia delivering around Chelsea, and I delivered fruit and vegetables to the Beatles and Mick Jagger.

At sixteen years old, I started selling hot chestnuts outside Earls Court with Tony Calefano, known as ‘Tony Chestnuts.’ I lived in Wandsworth then, so I used to cycle over the river each day. I worked for him for four years and then I made my own chestnut can. In the summer, Tony used to sell ice cream and he was the one that got me into it.

I do enjoy it but it’s hard work. A ten litre tub of ice cream weighs 40lbs and I might carry eight tubs in hot weather plus the weight of the freezer and two batteries. I had thirteen ice cream barrows up the West End but it got so difficult with the police. They were having a purge, so they upset all my barrows and spoilt the ice cream. After that, Margaret Thatcher changed the law and street traders are now the responsibility of the council. The police here in Brick Lane are as sweet as a nut to me.

I bought a pair of crocodiles in the Club Row animal market once. They’re docile as long as you keep them in the water but when they’re out of it they feel vulnerable and they’re dangerous. I can’t remember what I did with mine when they got large. I sell watches sometimes. If anybody wants a watch, I can go and get it for them. In winter, I make jewellery with shells from the beach in Spain, matching earrings with ‘Hello’ and ‘Hola’ carved into them. I’m thinking of opening a pie and mash shop in Spain.

I am happy to give out ice creams to people who haven’t got any money and I only charge pensioners a pound. Whitechapel is best for me. I find the Asian people are very generous when it comes to spending money on their children, so I make a good living off them. They love me and I love them.”

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

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Adam Dant’s London Riot Map

July 23, 2016
by the gentle author

When temperatures rise in the city, volatile emotions frequently reach combustion – Londoners take to the streets and lawlessness prevails, as it did last week in Hyde Park. Contributing Artist Adam Dant has mapped this venerable London tradition of summer riots in his elegant cartography of public disturbances in the capital from AD60 until the present day, LONDON ENRAGED. A limited edition of fifty hand-tinted prints is available from TAG Fine Arts.

(Click on this image to enlarge it and study the history of urban turbulence)


AD 60      Battle Bridge – alleged current site of King’s Cross station where Boudica’s Revolt resulted in her death

1189         Tower of London - Jews honouring Richard I at the king’s coronation were massacred

1196         St Mary le Bow,  Cheapside -  William Fitz Osbert AKA ‘William of the Long Beard’s’ sermon against ‘The Rich’ resulted in rioting and his being drawn apart by horses and hanged on a gibbet

1221         Westminster – Riots followed an annual London v Westminster wrestling  match

1268        City of London – ‘ A dispute arose between certain members of the craft of the Goldsmiths and certain of the craft of the Tailors ‘

1391         Salisbury Place, Westminster –  The Bakers’ Loaf Riots

1517         St Paul’s Cross – Evil Mayday Riots, A Xenophobic speech by Dr Bell prompted subjects of Henry Vlll to riot against foreigners

1668        Moorfields/Shoreditch –  ‘The Bawdy House Riots/Messenger Riots ‘Dissenters prevented from private lay worship lay siege to illegal brothels in the East End in protest at the King’s tacit approval of such trade’

1710         Lincoln’s Inn – The Sacheverell Riots : The trial of preacher Henry Sacheverell resulted in riots, the destruction of Daniel Burgesse’s Presbyterian meeting house and the passing of the 1714 Riot Act

1719         Spitalfields Weavers’ Riots – weavers riot and attacked women for wearing Indian clothing

1743        Gin Riots – Rioting against the gin act is fuelled by the consumption of gin

1768        St George’s Field’s, Lambeth – Crowds gathered and rioted in protest against the imprisonment of John Wilkes for criticising the king

1769        The Spitalfields Riots – Weavers Riot over rates of piece-work pay

1780        The Gordon Riots – Lord George Gordon called for the repeal of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 and a return to the repression of Catholics

1809       The Old Price Riots,  New Theatre Covent Garden – Riots caused by rising theatre ticket prices

1816        Spa Fields Riots -  Revolutionary Spenceans rioted after a mass meeting in Islington

1830       Hyde Park – Riots for electoral reform resulted in the Duke of Wellington’s carriage  being attacked and his installation of iron shutters at Apsley House

1866       Hyde Park – Members of the Reform League riot after it’s suppression

1886       The West End Riots –  Rioting followed a protest by the Social Democratic Foundation, Britain’s first socialist political party who agitated against free trade

1887       Trafalgar Sq, Bloody Sunday –  Violence erupted between police and demonstrators protesting against unemployment and coercion in Ireland

1907       Battersea Park, The Brown Dog Riots – Rioting started after medical students attempted to destroy an anti-vivisection statue of a dog

1909      The Tottenham Outrage – Deaths and injuries resulted from the fall out of an attempted armed robbery by two Bolsheviks

1911        The Siege (or Battle) of Sidney Street – A violent stand-off occurred between police and the army and two Latvian revolutionaries

1919        The Battle of Bow St – Police clashed with  Australian, American and Canadian servicemen after attempting to stop them playing dice outside the YMCA

1932        Hyde Park , National Hunger March Riot – Police confiscates a petition of a million names from The National Unemployed Workers Movement resulting in riots

1936         The Battle of Cable St – East enders rioted against the police who attempted to protect a march by the British Union of Fascists

1958         Notting Hill – Race riots between White British residents and West Indian Immigrants

1968        Grosvenor Sq – Demonstrations against the US war in Vietnam outside the American Embassy turned violent

1974        Red Lion Sq - Disorder followed demonstrations against the National Front by Anti-Fascists

1976       Notting Hill Carnival Riots – Riots occurred after heavy handed policing of pickpockets in the carnival crowd

1977       The Battle of Lewisham – A National Front march from New Cross to Lewisham resulted in riots after violent clashes with Anti-Fascist demonstrators

1979        Southall Riots – A demonstration against a National Front election meeting resulted in violence and the death of Anti-NF activist Blair Peach

1981        Brixton Riots – Riots on ‘Bloody Saturday‘ resulted from antagonism between the police and residents of an area with a high level of socio-economic problems

1985        Brixton Riots – Rioting and fires followed the wrongful shooting by police of Dorothy ‘cherry ‘ Grose

1985        Broadwater Farm Riots – Tensions between local black youth and largely white Metropolitan Police following the shooting of Dorothy Grose turned to rioting after the death of Cynthia Jarrett of a heart attack during a police search

1990        Poll Tax Riots – Rampaging and looting followed a protest against Margaret Thatcher’s Community Charge or ‘Poll Tax’

1995        Brixton Riots – Rioting occurred after a peaceful protest outside Brixton Police station became violent

1996        England v Germany UEFA cup riot, Trafalgar Sq

1999        Carnival Against Capitalism – A battle ensued between mounted police and protestors who had bricked up the LIFFE entrance and set off a nearby fire hydrant to release the lost Walbrook river

2000        Anti-Capitalism Mayday Riot

2001         Anti-Capitalism Mayday Riot

2002         Millwall FC New Den Stadium – Riot between fans of Millwall and fans of Birmingham FC

2009        G20 Summit Protest Riot – Police ‘kettled’ protestors outside the Bank of England which resulted in a riot and the death of innocent newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson

2009        West Ham FC Upton Park – rioting between fans of Millwall FC and West Ham FC

2010        Millbank - Riots followed student protests against increase in tuition fees

2011         Oxford Circus – Protestors demonstrating against government public spending cuts were ‘kettled’ by the police

2011          Tottenham Riots – Riots followed the shooting by police of Mark Duggan and spread from Tottenham across the country

2010        Brick Lane – American Apparel Disturbances, riots followed after customers were prevented from shopping for cut-price clothes

2016        Brick Lane - The ‘Fuck Parade’ rioting followed a  ’Class War’ demonstration against ‘Cereal Killer’ Cafe

Map copyright © Adam Dant

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Robson Cezar At St Katharine’s Precinct

July 22, 2016
by the gentle author

Spitalfields resident, artist Robson Cezar known as ‘King of the Bottletops’ is currently cycling down to St Katharine’s Precinct at the end of Cable St in Limehouse each day where he is undertaking a mural commission for the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, and Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie followed him down there to take a peek.

All readers are invited to visit the precinct and follow his progress over coming weeks, and you are welcome to bring your bottletops to contribute to the mural or to assist in sorting all the colours. The open air studio is open weekdays and Sundays from 11am – 3pm until August 7th.

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

St Katharine’s Precinct, Butcher Row, Limehouse, E14 8DS

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