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Pamela Cilia, Truman’s Bottling Girl

June 26, 2019
by the gentle author

Pamela Cilia

The reputation of the Truman’s bottling girls has passed into legend in Spitalfields. In the course of my interviews, so many people have regaled me with tales of this heroic tribe of independent spirited females who wore dungarees and clogs which thundered upon the cobbles as made their way through the narrow streets en masse, that I have been seeking a meeting with one of these glamorous and elusive creatures for years.

Consequently, I was more than happy to make a trip to Rainham to pay a call upon Pamela Cilia, who proved to be a fine specimen of a bottling girl, full of vitality, sharp intelligence and strong opinions to this day. Illuminated by sparkling charisma and filling with joyous emotion as she recounted her story, Pamela was no disappointment.

“I loved it, I loved it, really loved it. But when my husband discovered I was going to work at Truman’s, he said, ‘I don’t want you working in that *******.’ He called it a certain place. Yet he already worked there, so I said to him, ‘If you give the place such a bad name, why are you working there?’ My first job was at Charrington’s in Mile End Rd until that closed down, then I worked for Watney Mann’s for seven years in Sidney St before they sold it to Truman’s, and that’s how we all ended up in Truman’s.

In the bottling plant, you had the filler, then you had the discharger and the labelling. The boxes came down and we filled them up. If a vacancy appeared on a machine, they did it by seniority – I think there were about seven machines. They had one ‘Galloping Major’ that done pints and quarts, and all the others were little bottles. They also had the canning machine. I was mainly on the canning machine.

We never had all this ‘safety,’ like now.  We never wore glasses, we never had earpieces, so it was really dangerous, especially when the bottles went ‘bang’- especially when you had one in your hand and it exploded. You’d be getting them out of the pasteuriser, then all of a sudden ‘bang, bang bang, bang!’ because they hit against one another and they were hot from the pasteuriser.

I was forty-four and my children were all at school. In those days we lived in two rooms. Two pound a week, that’s what we paid.  And my friend Doris used to take the kids to school and she used to bring them home. I clocked in at half past seven and finished at five.

When we got paid on Thursday’s, we used to go over to the Clifton – Thursday was curry day. My friend Adele said ‘I’ll take you to an Indian restaurant.’ At first, she took me to a restaurant near Middlesex Street, near the old toilets. ‘I’ll take you there for a curry,’ she offered, so I said ‘All right’ but when we ate there, I told her, ‘Oh, I don’t like that, Adele.’ The food was too hot.

The following Thursday we went to the Clifton, and on the tables were peppers. Terry, the engineer – big bloke – he said ‘Pam …’ He was going out with Adele and had a row with her, they weren’t talking. He said, ‘Pam, it’s no good asking her for a roll …’ So I offered, ‘All right, I’ll get one for you.’ He said, ‘I want cheese and tomato.’ I got him two cheese and tomato rolls, but I took a pepper and took the pips out and put them in with the tomato pips.  Then I gave them to him and went home afterwards, because I knew what he would do. I was a bit of a joker. I didn’t worry about anything. Nobody got me down.

My sister was different. She was a worrier. I mean, I went there one day and she was crying her eyeballs out. And they all said to me. ‘Pam, Betty’s crying,’ and I said, ‘What are you crying for?’ So she told me that Yvonne, or whatever her name was, said, ‘We can’t go home in her car if we smoke.’ I said ‘Listen, you don’t need her car. You got a pair of legs. Walk on them. Or get a cab home. Don’t let them get you down.’ Well, all the girls in there, they said ‘Pam, how brave you are, you don’t care.’

I met my partner at Truman’s. He was a student of nineteen and I was forty-eight, they used to take students on at Truman’s at busy times. One day, I was out with Adele and she said,‘Pam, I’m not coming to dinner with you today’ and I went ‘You’re not? Why’s that?’ She said to me ‘A student has asked me to have a drink with him at dinner time.’ I replied, ‘Oh, I see, we’ll see about that’. I went straight over to Bernie and asked, ‘Excuse me, can I speak to you?’ And he said ‘Yes’ and I said ‘Are you taking my friend, Adele, for a drink at dinnertime?’ He said, ‘Yes’ and I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘What?’ and I said again ‘I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘Why’s that?’ and I said, ‘If you take her then you’ve got to take me too.’ He went, ‘Oh, alright then, you can come too,’ and I said, ‘Never mind about alright, I’m coming…’

Later, Adele met a student too. Bernie was only nineteen when I met him and I’ve been with him for thirty-eight years. I’ve got four children from my first marriage. My youngest one is sixty-one now. I got one at sixty-one, one at sixty-two, one at sixty-three and the eldest one’s three years older, she’s sixty-six. So I’ve not done bad, bringing up four kids in two rooms. I may be eighty-three but I’m still as lively as if I was twenty-one.

I was brought up in Malta because my father was Maltese. We used to come back and forth, he was a seaman. In the end, he gave up the sea because he had malaria and he was in Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, where they told him that he could get better treatment in London – so we all moved back to where my mother came from.

There were a lot of Maltese people in the East End then, but they had a very bad name. My husband was Maltese. He was a good husband but he used to hate me talking to bad girls and I’d ask him, ‘Why?’ In Stepney, you’d see the prostitutes, you had them all living in them houses next the hospital where they had furnished rooms. If they saw you with your kids, you don’t say to your child, ‘Don’t talk to her, she’s no good, she’s a so-and-so.’ That’s not me. For me, she’s a human being. Her life is her life. What happened was he said ‘Look Pam, say there’s a crowd of Maltese in Whitechapel’ – which there used to be years ago, they all gathered near the station. He said, ‘You’re not gonna talk to them. I’m being straightforward with you.’ He didn’t want me to get categorised like that or be labelled.

He didn’t want me to work at the bottling plant either, but I done it anyway. See, I’m stubborn. You had every creed, every race. I mean I’m gonna be fair because I have to, I got to swear. When I went in in the morning, I’d say ‘Good Morning, Sweary Mary,’ and she’d say to me ‘F*** off, you Maltese bastard!’

‘You Irish, you Welsh, you Scotch, you Black, you White’ – she’d have a name for every one of one of them. We had Lil, we used to call her ‘Barley-Wine Lil’ because, as soon as she came in, she’d grab a plastic cup. We’d all be thinking she was drinking tea – but she wasn’t! This was seven o’clock in the morning and she was drinking barley wine!

It was very, very good experience for me. I mean, if anything happens to me, I’ve had a good life. I loved the atmosphere, the fighting, and the swearing. And to me, they were straightforward people. Because they’d row with you today and speak to you tomorrow. They didn’t hold it against you. See, I’m a type of person can’t hold rows with people, I just want to be friends, you know.

Once, Me & Adele went down Brick Lane to the market and Sweary Mary was in front of us. We were in our welly boots and our overalls. They had these big stalls down Wentworth Street on a Friday or a Thursday, and we saw Mary – well I tell you what, I’ve never run from nobody. I said to Adele, ‘Look, Sweary Mary’s in front.’ Adele shouts out ‘Sweary Mary!’ Oh, she just turned round and shouted at us ‘F*** off, you Truman’s whores.’ Oh, did we laugh. I mean, it’s not nice really, but that was us. We couldn’t do it today. When you got home you were a different person because you were in your family.

If someone phoned me up and said ‘Pam, there is a permanent vacancy at Truman’s, would you do it?’ The answer’d be, ‘Yes.’ I’d probably go with one leg. You had your ups and downs but there was no violence and – the beer! It was nobody’s business.

Terry, the bloke I gave the peppers to, he was a comedian. It was so hot in the bottling plant that all we had on was our cross-over aprons and our bras and pants. I had a high chair, and I had to grab these cans and pull them forward. One day, he came behind my chair and – this is all because of the pepper in the cheese and tomato roll – I knew he’d get me back, but he didn’t get me straight away. He took my chair and tipped it upside down over a container for old cardboard boxes. He shook me, picking me up and throwing me off my chair into the big container.  I couldn’t get out, my friends had to pass me wooden boxes so I could make steps to get out. Well you know, it was dangerous.

Yes, we had a bad name. Like I told you, my husband didn’t want me to go there because of the bad name. But it doesn’t mean to say you’re all the same. Yes, I had a laugh and joke, I’m not saying I didn’t. As I said, that bloke Terry got hold of me, he turned me upside down, my boobs went over my shoulders, and I didn’t think nothing of it. But my husband – to this day – he never knew. I didn’t see harm in it. But no, it was good, I loved it. Honest, I loved it.  If it hadn’t closed down, I would still be there. I would probably be the sweeper-up!

My husband died after I left Truman’s but I had already met Bernie, and the marriage was already on the rocks. I left him in the end. I always said, ‘Once my children grow up, I’m off.’ And when my children got married, the last one, I was off. And that is how I met Bernie.

At first, they all thought that he was a policeman and I knew that thieving was going on, pinching beer. So he came in one morning and he had navy trousers on, and Adele said to me, ‘Pam, there’s a policeman in here.’ So I said, ‘What do you mean, a policeman?’ I went to him ‘Oi, are you a policeman?’ and he said, ‘No.’ Of course, when we saw him in the morning, we used to shout, ‘Morning, Officer!’ But it’s true, his father was a police sergeant at Chequers and he grew up there. We always said he was a bit of a snob.

I’m eighty-three and Bernie’ll be fifty-eight this year. We just hit it off, age didn’t make any difference. We clicked from that day we met. And he is good as gold. It was fate. I say to myself, ‘It’s fate you meeting Bernie, he wanted a bottling girl.’ He’s been in a lot of places, Bernie. He met Harold Wilson and –  who’s that other prime minister? But that’s another story…”

Pamela Cilia at home in Rainham - ” I’m eighty-three and still as lively as if I was twenty-one.”

Labels courtesy Stephen Killick

Transcript by Jennifer Winkler

You may also like to read these other Truman’s stories

First Brew at the New Truman’s Brewery

The Return of Truman’s Yeast

The New Truman’s Brewery

Tony Jack, Chauffeur at Truman’s Brewery

Derek Prentice, Master Brewer

Truman’s Returns to Spitalfields

At Truman’s Brewery, 1931

A Botch-Up In Bishopsgate

June 25, 2019
by the gentle author

The centuries old White Hart in Bishopsgate has been botched up with a cylindrical office block on top, facaded and the ancient cellars destroyed. It is a development by Amsprop, the company of Sir Alan Sugar, who began his career nearby in Petticoat Lane and for whom this will serve as his monument in the East End.

One of the most popular posts of recent years has been THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM. Now I have written a book which is a gallery of the most notorious facades and a humorous analysis of facadism - the unfortunate practice of destroying everything apart from the front wall and constructing a new building behind it – revealing why this is happening and what it means.

Since I announced it last week, I have raised half the funds for the book – there are two ways you can help.

1. I am seeking readers who are willing to invest £1000 in THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM. In return, we will publish your name in the book and invite you to a celebratory dinner hosted by yours truly. If you would like to know more, please write to me at

2. Preorder a copy of THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM and you will receive a signed and inscribed copy in October when the book is published. Click here to preorder your copy

Please suggest other facades I should include.

The White Hart (1246-2015)

Charles Goss, one of the first archivists at the Bishopsgate Institute, was in thrall to the romance of old Bishopsgate and in 1930 he wrote a lyrical history of The White Hart, which he believed to be its most ancient tavern – originating as early as 1246.

“Its history as an inn can be of little less antiquity than that of the Tabard, the lodging house of the feast-loving Chaucer and the Canterbury pilgrims, or the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap, the rendezvous of Prince Henry and his lewd companions.”

In Goss’ time, Bishopsgate still contained medieval shambles that were spared by the Fire of London and he recalled the era before the coming of the railway, when the street was lined with old coaching inns, serving as points of departure and arrival for travellers to and from the metropolis.

“During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, The White Hart tavern was at the height of its prosperity.” he wrote fondly, “It was a general meeting place of literary men of the neighbourhood and the rendezvous of politicians and traders, and even noblemen visited it.”

The White Hart’s history is interwoven with the founding of the Hospital of St Mary Bethlehem in 1246 by Simon Fitz Mary, whose house once stood upon the site of the tavern. He endowed his land in Bishopsgate, extending beneath the current Liverpool St Station, to the monastery and Goss believed the Brothers stayed in Fitz Mary’s mansion once they first arrived from Palestine, until the hospital was constructed in 1257 with the gatehouse situated where Liverpool St meets Bishopsgate today. This dwelling may have subsequently become a boarding house for pilgrims outside the City gate and when the first licences to sell sweet wines were issued to three taverns in Bishopsgate in August 1365, this is likely to have been the origin of the White Hart’s status as a tavern.

Yet, ten years later in 1375, Edward III took possession of the monastery as an ‘alien priory’ and turned it over to become a hospital for the insane. The gateway was replaced in the reign of Richard II and the date ’1480′ that adorned the front of the inn until the nineteenth century suggests it was rebuilt with a galleried yard at the same time and renamed The White Hart, acquiring Richard’s badge as its own symbol. The galleried yard offered the opportunity for theatrical performances, while increased traffic in Bishopsgate and the reputation of Shoreditch as a place of entertainments drew the audience.

“Vast numbers of stage coaches, wagons, chaises and carriages passed through Bishopsgate St at this time,” wrote Goss excitedly, “Travellers and carriers arriving near the City after the gates had been closed or those who for other reasons desired to remain outside the City wall until the morning, would naturally put up at one of the galleried inns, or taverns near the City gate and The White Hart was esteemed to be one of the most important taverns at that time. Here they would find small private rooms, where the visitors not only took their meals but transacted all manner of business and, if the food dispensed was good enough, the wine strong, the feather beds deep and heavily curtained, the bedrooms were certainly cold and draughty, for the doors opened onto unprotected galleries – but apparently they were comfortable enough for travellers in former days.”

The occasion of Charles Goss’ history of The White Hart was the centenary of its rebuilding upon its original foundations in 1829, yet although the medieval structure above ground was replaced, Goss was keen to emphasise that, “When the tavern was taken down it was found to be built upon cellars constructed in earlier centuries. Those were not destroyed, but were again used in the construction of the present house.” This rebuilding coincided with Bedlam Gate being removed and the road widened and renamed Liverpool St, after the Hospital of St Mary Bethlehem had transferred to Lambeth in 1815. At this time, the date ’1246 ‘- referring to the founding of the monastery – was placed upon the pediment on The White Hart where it may be seen to this day.

“This tavern which claims to be endowed with the oldest licence in London, is still popular, for its various compartments appear always to be well patronised during the legal hours they are open for refreshment and there can be none of London’s present-day inns which can trace its history as far back as The White Hart, Bishopsgate,” concluded Goss in satisfaction in 1930.

In 2011, permission was granted by the City of London to demolish all but the facade of The White Hart and in 2015 the pub shut for the last time to permit the construction of a nine storey cylindrical office block of questionable design, developed by Sir Alan Sugar’s company Amsprop. Thus passes The White Hart after more than seven centuries in Bishopsgate, and I am glad Charles Goss is not here to see it.

The White Hart by John Thomas Smith c. 1800

The White Hart from a drawing by George Shepherd, 1810

White Hart Court, where the coaches once drove through to the galleried yard of the White Hart

Design by Inigo Jones for buildings constructed in White Hart Court in 1610

Seventeenth century tavern token, “At The White Hart”

Reverse of the Tavern Token ” At Bedlam Gate 1637″

The White Hart as it appeared in 1787

The White Hart, prior to the rebuilding of 1829

“When the tavern was taken down it was found to be built upon cellars constructed in earlier centuries. Those were not destroyed, but were again used in the construction of the present house.” – Charles Goss describing the rebuilding of 1829. These ancient vaults were destroyed in the current redevelopment.

The White Hart in 2015

The White Hart

Seen from the churchyard of St Botolph’s Bishopsgate by James Gold, 1728

Seen from the south west

Seen from Liverpool St

The meeting of the old and new in Liverpool St

The development seen from Houndsditch

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

The exterior cover of the book…

…which opens to reveal the title.


Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran, Writers

June 24, 2019
by the gentle author

On the afternoon of Sunday July 7th, Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran – celebrated television dramatists whose work has entertained the nation for the past four decades – will be speaking at Sandys Row Synagogue in Spitalfields, discussing their relationship with the East End.

This side of town has proved a source of inspiration for many of their most popular works, including Birds of a Feather, Frieda & Erich Gottlieb, Shine On Harvey Moon and their films Mosley and Wall of Silence.

It promises to be an enthralling evening of storytelling by two born raconteurs in one of London’s most beautiful synagogues. As a preview, I was granted the privilege of an audience with the genial duo who talked to me about their East End roots.

Click here for tickets

Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran

Maurice Gran - For me, the East End is a place of kinship. My family was a very large family but now it is quite a small family, because so many people have died and all those aunts and uncles in the thirties did not have many children. My father, Mark, always believed that family was all you needed, he did not trust friends – certainly not friends who were not Jewish.

My parents, like most Jewish people who came into this country in the early twentieth century, lived in the East End and I think they migrated to Finsbury Park in the thirties. Debbie, my mother’s family lived in Sydney St and I was told that journalists came to ask if they would let them up on the roof to watch the siege in 1911. When the journalists left, the family found a guinea on the table which was as much as a month’s rent.

My parents relationship to the East End was quite conflicted. They moved out in stages, first to Stamford Hill and then to Finsbury Park. In the late thirties, Auntie Sadie, my mother’s youngest sister, she lived with her husband in a couple of rooms in Mile End, very near to where they were building the new Odeon. One day there was a rap on the door and there was a burly foreman standing there in a leather jerkin and a collar and tie. He said, ‘What are you doing here? All these houses are coming down to make way for the Odeon.’ She said, ‘Well, no-one told me,’ and he replied, ‘If you are not out by teatime, there will be a wrecking ball coming through your front parlour.’ She said, ‘We can’t move at the drop of a hat.’

Someone came round and gave her some money to bugger off there and then. Ten pounds, let’s guess. So she got on the 106 bus and sat on the top deck looking out the window all the way from Hackney to Finsbury Park to see where she could move to. When the bus was nearly at the terminus, she thought, ‘Well, this looks alright.’ She got off the bus, went into the first estate agent and said, ‘I need to rent somewhere today.’ My parents subsequently took over and eventually bought the house she rented, which was where I grew up.

Sadie found the house by lunchtime and spent the afternoon buying a bed and some other bits of furniture with the fiver she had left over. At the end of the day, she waited outside the sweatshop where her husband worked and told him, ‘We don’t live in Mile End anymore, we live in Finsbury Park.’

My father came over from Russia in 1910 and went to the Jews Free School in Spitalfields. He was there for a couple of years, I have got a certificate somewhere. He had nice handwriting and could do his sums on the back of an envelope.

My parents were at the Battle of Cable St, yet my father was not a courageous man. My father and my sister were on a trolley bus once, and some blackshirts got on and my father and his sister jumped off and ran for their lives. I do not know if they needed to run for their lives but that was the shadow it cast.

By the time I was growing up, the East End was a place for occasional visits to Petticoat Lane – which was always a big deal – and very occasional salt beef sandwiches at Blooms, if we were feeling really flush which was not very frequently.

They managed to kill Yiddish as a spoken language in a generation, it was a secret language for me. We never learnt it, it was the language for ‘not in front of the kinder.’ I do not think this was unique to my family, that whole generation did not want us to speak Yiddish even if they used it to have conversations in front of us.

The war was such a massive discontinuity. Before the war was the Shteitel in the East End and after the war was looking forward. They never went to Israel when my father was alive, but my mother went after he died. That was very big thing, the existence of the state of Israel and every Jewish household had a Jewish National Fund collecting tin on the kitchen table which all the spare change went into. I would steal most things but I never thought about robbing that, because I would have died.

My father and my wealthy uncle had sponsored a charity bed in their dead brother’s name in a hospital in the East End. When I was about seventeen, I remember being dragged down to see this bed. I thought, ‘Why are we going on this long journey to see a bed?’

The real old East End I never knew that well. If you put me down there, I would be lost looking for Aldgate East station or Gardiner’s Corner.

Laurence Marks - My uncle said that of you were able to make it beyond Gardiner’s Corner, then you were able to make it to the West End.

Lily, my mother did not come from the East End, she came to the East End. Bernard, my father was born in a flat above a shop in the Mile End Rd and his family lived in that area their entire lives. In 1928, my mother came to London from Cardiff with a chaperone, on a trip organised by the Board of Jewish Deputies, to be show around the Jewish East End. She was taken to the Brady Club where my father was a member. He also played cricket and football for the Peoples Palace. He was a fine cricketer.

My mother and father met at the club and they corresponded through 1928 and 1929. My father’s family were very different to my mother’s, so she was slumming it in many ways but she clearly loved him and his family. They were a family with five children living in two rooms and my grandfather was a bootmaker who worked from home, cutting leather on the kitchen table.

When her father in Cardiff met my father and approved of him, he decided to visit London to see my father’s family in Mile End. He walked into abject poverty. He had never gone up three flights of stairs to two small rooms in which seven people lived. I do not know if he ever said to my mother, ‘Are you sure you know what you are doing?’ but he might well have done. The love must have been very strong. I think it disappeared in about 1940.

Nevertheless, my father courted my mother and they married in Cardiff in 1931. Before the wedding, she had decided to leave Cardiff and come and live in this overcrowded two bedroom flat in Mile End, when she had been brought up in a very nice house in Cardiff. I think she wanted to escape the Jewish circle in Cardiff where her father was the Rabbi and everyone knew everyone.

When they got married, they found a basement flat in King Edward Rd near Columbia Rd. She suddenly realised what poverty was like because he could not get work as furrier. It was a seasonal job. By 1935, they had two child but they could not afford to feed them or themselves, but fortunately grandparents were living nearby who used to fed them every Friday and Saturday. Her life was really horrible, but the man who owned the house was a Hungarian chef and he taught her how to cook. She became a very good cook, domestically.

Eventually, my father decided that work was almost impossible to get and was advised to join the police. It was regular job with regular wages and their life became stable. He was a policeman all through the war when the bombing was heavy and missed death narrowly on at least two occasions. He often spoke about the blitz.

I never lived in the East End and was not schooled there. In the fifties, my father still had lots of relatives there so we would visit them and I remember him taking me to the salt beef bars in Petticoat Lane. One had a large oak beer barrel outside full of pickled cucumbers. The smell of those cucumbers and the salt beef was a big treat for us. He would buy a salt beef sandwich and share it with me. So I knew the East End through relatives of his family and going there most Sundays. He had an aunt who lived near Wentworth St and I would accompany him. My mother never went.

Years later, I met Sue, a girl who lived in Duckett St, Stepney Green, and we got married in Nelson St Synagogue on a very wet Sunday afternoon in February 1972. She was very much an East End girl, so I got to know the East End during the time her parents and relatives were alive. Her family never moved further than two or three streets in their entire lives. They were not typical East End though because her brother went to Cambridge and it was on the front page of the East London Advertiser, ‘Stepney Boy Accepted at Cambridge.’

There was this cloud of the Holocaust hanging over the East End after the war.

In the sixties, my parents took a coach tour to see Europe but when they reached Germany and Austria, my mother would not get off the bus. She slept on the bus. My second wife was German and I do not know quite what my mother would have said about that. I do not know if it would have been possible while she was alive.

I was in Leeds filming once and I rang my mother’s brother to let him know I was there. He said, ‘You must come for Friday night supper,’ which was big deal in his house. I said, ‘The problem is I am with my new ladyfriend. Have you heard I have separate from Sue?’ ‘Then you must bring her to Friday night dinner,’ he insisted. ‘There is a problem, something you ought to know, ‘ I told him. He asked ‘What is it?’ I said, ‘She’s not Jewish.’ There was a pause and he said, ‘Bring her anyway.’ I said, ‘And there’s something else you ought to know, she’s German.’ He said, ‘You bring her.’ So I took her there and he said he had a lovely night because he could talk Yiddish with my German girlfriend. There was this bond. It really meant a great deal to him.’

My last remaining relative in the East End died a few weeks ago. He was ninety-nine, three months off a hundred. He lived off Commercial Rd with my wife’s mother, they used to take in a lot of people from abroad who arrived at the docks and walked down the road with nowhere to go. They took in young people to give them a Jewish home.

Maurice’s mother Debbie is in the middle with his Aunt Sadie on the left and Aunt Debbie in the right, taken at Maurice’s sister Celia’s wedding in 1962

Passport photo of Maurice’s maternal grandfather Morris Cohen from the late thirties

Maurice’s father Mark stands on the right with his brother Hymie on the left and Hymie’s daughter Naomi, c. 1936

Laurence’s parents, Bernard Marks and Lily Goldberg in the twenties

Bernard and Lily in the twenties

Bernard & Lily Marks in the thirties

Click here for tickets for Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran at Sandys Row Synagogue

You may also like to take a look at

At Sandys Row Synagogue

Adam Dant’s Map Of Civil War London

June 23, 2019
by the gentle author

You may recall that Adam Dant & I set out to walk the lines of the Civil War defences from Wapping to Westminster last month, as part of Adam’s research for his map of London in the Civil War which is now complete and published for the first time here.

Adam points out that today is the anniversary of two events which divided the nation. One was the surrender of Charles I’s capital in Oxford in 1646 – concluding the Civil War with his capture, trial and execution – and the other was the European Referendum in 2016. We hope that this account of London in the Civil War will grant our readers a certain perspective and restore a necessary sense of proportion in the current crisis.


Click on this map to enlarge


Adam Dant writes:

“The date of June 23rd will forever mark a key moment in the history of a fractious and divided kingdom - long and protracted vacillation on the part of the powers that be and their favoured agents, a reticent and recalcitrant parliament, and a threat to the status quo triggering any number of schisms, political, familial, religious and regional .

From outside, London was starting to look like a disputed central European town, as if the continent had claimed the island. The people of the capital, men, women and children, took to the streets voluntarily, marshalled and motivated by a fear of omnipotent and conclusive process. Wielding stakes and all manner of  drums and ensigns, they set about digging in and advancing the cause at London. Calculated to divide and defend vested interests, London’s lines of communication were erected as swiftly as they were removed .

As to the great responsibility handed over to parliament in the hope that they would make good and wholesome laws which the people of the nation expected, hopes were abated. Instead of uniting a nation with righteousness and peace (which would have been a glorious thing to have done) what was found was  anarchy, corruption, division and dissatisfaction in what was from the beginning a provisional government, not truly representative of the people.

Enemies of the nation flourished under parliament’s protection. An immovable parliament being as obnoxious as an immovable king, full of drunkards, tricksters, villains, whore-masters, godless self seeking  tricksters, no more capable of conducting the affairs of the nation than of running a brothel. Scum! and a truly elected scum at that. This is no parliament.”


Bibliographical material used in the creation of the map includes, with gratitude and respect -

David Flintham, The English Civil War Defences of London & Civil War

Stephen Porter, London & the Civil War

John Stubbs, Reprobates- The Cavaliers of The English Civil War

The scholarship of Mike Osbourne, Peter Harrington, Donato Spedaliere, Sarah Sulemsohn, Robin Rowles and David Ryan.


Click here to read about our walk

In Search of the Civil War in London


Charles I by Anthony Van Dyck, 1635

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper, 1656





Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND is a mighty monograph collecting together all your favourite works by Spitalfields Life‘s Contributing Cartographer in a beautiful big hardback book.

Including a map of London riots, the locations of early coffee houses and a colourful depiction of slang through the centuries, Adam Dant’s vision of city life and our prevailing obsessions with money, power and the pursuit of pleasure may genuinely be described as ‘Hogarthian.’

Unparalleled in his draughtsmanship and inventiveness, Adam Dant explores the byways of London’s cultural history in his ingenious drawings, annotated with erudite commentary and offering hours of fascination for the curious.

The book includes an extensive interview with Adam Dant by The Gentle Author.

Adam Dant’s  limited edition prints are available to purchase through TAG Fine Arts

Midsummer With The Druids

June 22, 2019
by the gentle author

You can join the druids to celebrate midsummer on Primrose Hill this Sunday 23rd June at 1pm

In the grove of sacred hawthorn

One Midsummer, Photographer Colin O’Brien & I joined the celebrants of the Loose Association of Druids on Primrose Hill for the solstice festival hosted by Jay the Tailor, Druid of Wormwood Scrubs. As the most prominent geological feature in the Lower Thames Valley, it seems likely that this elevated site has been a location for rituals since before history began.

Yet this particular event owes its origin to Edward Williams, a monumental mason and poet better known by his bardic name Iolo Morganwg, who founded the Gorsedd community of Welsh bards here on Primrose Hill in June 1792. He claimed he was reviving an ancient rite, citing John Tollund who in 1716 summoned the surviving druids by trumpet to come together and form a Universal Bond.

Consequently, the Druids began their observance by gathering to honour their predecessor at Morganwg’s memorial plaque on the viewing platform at the top of the hill, where they corralled bewildered tourists and passing dog walkers into a circle to recite his Gorsedd prayer in an English translation. From here, the Druids processed to the deep shade of the nearby sacred grove of hawthorn where biscuits and soft drinks were laid upon a tablecloth with a bunch of wild flowers and some curious wooden utensils.

Following at Jay the Tailor’s shoulder as we strode across the long grass, I could not resist asking about the origin of his staff of hawthorn intertwined with ivy. “It was before I became a Druid, when I was losing my Christian faith,” he confessed to me, “I was attending a County Fair and a stick maker who had Second Sight offered to make it for me for fifteen pounds.” Before I could ask more, we arrived in the grove and it was time to get the ritual organised. Everyone was as polite and good humoured as at a Sunday school picnic.

A photocopied order of service was distributed, we formed a circle, and it was necessary to select a Modron to stand in the west, a Mabon to stand in the north, a Thurifer to stand in the east and a Celebrant to stand in the South. Once we all had practised chanting our Greek vowels while processing clockwise, Jay the Tailor rapped his staff firmly on the ground and we were off. A narrow wooden branch – known as the knife that cannot cut – was passed around and we each introduced ourselves.

In spite of the apparent exoticism of the event and the groups of passersby stopping in their tracks to gaze in disbelief, there was a certain innocent familiarity about the proceedings – which celebrated nature, the changing season and the spirit of the place. In the era of the French and the American Revolutions, Iolo Morganwr declared Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association. Notions that retain strong resonance to this day.

Once the ritual wound up, we had exchanged kisses of peace Druid-style and everyone ate a biscuit with a gulp of apple juice, I was able to ask Jay the Tailor more questions.“I lost my Christian faith because I studied Theology and I found it difficult to believe Jesus was anything other than a human being, even though I do feel he was a very important guide and I had a personal experience of Jesus when I met Him on the steps of Oxford Town Hall,” he admitted, leaving me searching for a response.

“When I was fourteen, I went up Cader Idris at Midsummer and spent all night and the next day there, and the next night I had a vision of Our Lady of Mists & Sheep,” he continued helpfully,“but that just added to my confusion.” I nodded sagely in response.“I came to Druids through geometry, through studying the heavens and recognising there is an order of things,” he explained to me, “mainly because I am a tailor and a pattern cutter, so I understand sacred geometry.” By now, the other Druids were packing up, disposing of the litter from the picnic in the park bins and heading eagerly towards the pub.

I have such a fond memory of that afternoon Colin O’Brien and I enjoyed among the druids on Primrose Hill.

“Do not tell the priest of our plight for he would call it a sin, but we have been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring the Summer in!” - Rudyard Kipling

Sun worshippers on Primrose Hill

Memorial to Iolo Morganwg who initiated the ritual on Primrose Hill in 1792

Peter Barker, Thurifer - “I felt I was a pagan for many years. I always liked gods and goddesses, and the annual festivals are part of my life and you meet a lot of good people.”

Maureen - “I’m a Druid, a member of O.B.O.D. (the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids), and I’ve done all three grades”

Sarah Louise Smith - “I’m training to be a druid with O.B.O.D. at present”

Simeon Posner, Astrologer - “It helps my soul to mature, seeing the life cycle and participating in it”

John Leopold - “I have pagan inclinations”

Jay the Tailor, Druid of Wormwood Scrubs

Iolo Morgamwg (Edward Williams) Poet & Monumental Mason, 1747-1826

Photographs copyright © Estate of Colin O’Brien

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