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How Raymond’s shop became Leila’s shop

December 21, 2009
by the gentle author

The top photograph of 15 Calvert Avenue is believed to have been taken one Sunday in 1900 around the time Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra came to open the Boundary Estate, and I snapped the lower photograph last Thursday, more than a century later. One day, Joan Rose visited Leila’s Cafe next door at 17 Calvert Avenue and brought out the old photograph (which she always carries in her purse) to show Leila McAlister,¬†explaining that the little boy standing in the doorway was her father. A copy now hangs proudly in Leila’s Shop, and served as the inspiration for our escapade last week when a class from Virginia Rd School in Arnold Circus turned out to assist and we stopped the traffic to take the new picture.

Joan (unmarried name Raymond) told me that her father Alfred was born in 1896 and is approximately six years old in the picture. The woman beside him in the doorway is Phoebe Raymond his mother, Joan’s grandmother, and the man on the left is his father, Joan’s grandfather Albert Alfred Raymond ¬†(known as Alf), the first proprietor of the newly built shop. They all lived in the flat up above and you can see their songbird in the cage, a cock linnet.

Phoebe has her smart apron with frills and everyone is wearing their Sunday best – remarkably for the time, everyone has good quality boots. I like the sacks with SPITALFIELDS printed on them, indicating produce from the fruit and vegetable market half a mile away, and the porters’ baskets which Leila still uses today. You can see the awning has been taken up to permit enough light for the photograph and then it has rained. We had the same problem with the weather, but were blessed with a few hours between a sleet shower and a blizzard to snatch our picture.

Joan Rose told me she believes her family are of French Huguenot origin and the original surname was Raymond de Foir, which means the people you see in the old photograph are probably descended from the Huguenot immigrants that came here in the eighteenth century. What touched me most was to learn from Joan that Alfred her father (pictured here eternally six years old in his Sunday best on the threshold of his father’s shop), went off to fight in the First World War and, aged twenty-two, was there at the battle of the Somme when so many died, but returned to run the shop in Calvert Avenue carrying on his father’s business in the same premises until his death in 1966. Joan grew up here and attended both Virginia Rd School and Rochelle School on either side of Arnold Circus. Although she now lives in west London, she remains involved with her old neighbourhood today as Honorary Patron of the Friends of Arnold Circus.

I am very grateful to Leila McAlister and to Robert Bradshaw, manager of Leila’s shop (pictured on the left of the new photograph in the same spot as his predecessor a century ago), for kindly organising the picture last week and also to the school pupils for participating with such enthusiasm (their teacher stands in the shop doorway). Leila and Robert handed out chocolate brownies and tangerines on the pavement after the photograph was taken and a spontaneous Christmas party ensued, demonstrating that the exuberant energy of children remains a constant across the span of history defined by these two pictures.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    December 21, 2009

    What a great photo! I love the continuity of the neighborhood that allows for 100 year old shops.

  2. December 21, 2009

    A wonderful photo and post – thank you for sharing!

  3. Anne permalink
    December 21, 2009

    Loved to see the old photo of the shop and how it looks now, such an interesting piece to read.
    Thanks.

  4. Christine Green permalink
    December 22, 2009

    I am the great-granddaughter of the orginal occupants Pheobe and Alfred. I remember the shop and my great grandfather, grandfather, grandmother and mother working very hard to keep a traditional family business going. Unfortunately my grandparents didn’t have a son so the family name of Raymond has not carried on, but I am now a grandmother so thier genes live on in my grandchildren. What a lovely way to remember our family. Thank you Leila.

  5. Leyla permalink
    December 25, 2009

    What a lovely shop. I hope it success will flourish for ever!

  6. Alessandro Vincentelli permalink
    December 26, 2009

    Just great seeing this, Wonderful to see the new photo and read this record of a lovely new gathering. I hope the new view can be seen by all who stop for a coffee; the old next to this new one somewhere within the shop.

  7. Mike Savage permalink
    January 5, 2010

    What wonderful photographs and continuity! This reached South Africa as I’m a friend of Bill McAlister. I love the new cultural mix of the schoolchildren. May I suggest the continuity be commemorated by a re-planting of a tree outside the shop?! A very nice story.

  8. January 12, 2010

    What a lovely idea for the photo – and I wish Leila every success with her new shop. I love the area around Arnold Circus and was lucky enough to film there on two occasions. Most recently I worked with the kids at Virginia School and the lovely Joan Rose on a project about Oranges and Lemons. I want one of those chocolate brownies!!

  9. October 21, 2010

    Lovely idea, beautiful stories.

  10. January 6, 2011

    the multi-culturalism exhibited in the photo of the children eating the browines surpasses expectations

  11. Janice Humpage permalink
    March 24, 2013

    Wonderful family story, thought about the tree too — always think that if a tree dies or is taken, we should replace with two, apparently , we all need three trees each to supply our oxygen for a life-time ! Have planted several over the years with that in mind.

    Leila’s shop is on my must visit list.

  12. Leigh Lawson permalink
    November 5, 2013

    We went to the wonderful Leila’s shop recently, inspired by your writings. On my return home to Sussex I did a bit more research knowing that my father’s family (the Spellers and Sapsteds) had lived in Spitalfields, Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Hackney in the 18th and 19th centuries. I was astonished to find that my great-great aunt Louisa Sapsted, having been an inmate in Shoreditch workhouse in 1898, by 1911 was living as a domestic servant with the Cohen family – and their lodger! – in a 3 roomed flat in Cleeve House, diagonally opposite Leila’s. Louisa must have known Raymond’s shop. History really came alive for me.

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