Mick Taylor’s Walk
Almost every day, I exchange greetings with Mick Taylor who has been sitting outside the Beigel Bakery – off and on – for nearly fifty years. Over all this time, Mick has become famous for his personal style, emerging as a star player in the street life that he loves so much, celebrated as the Sartorialist of Brick Lane.
With the recent spell of fine weather – that Mick terms “a cockney summer” – we have been discussing taking a stroll together, and this week, over two days, Mick and I enjoyed a ramble round those streets which hold most meaning for him. Coming directly to the top of Brick Lane by bus each day, it was something of an adventure for Mick to walk south down the Lane to the familiar places of long ago. As he confessed to me, “When you have known an area so long, you begin to forget where you are.”
Leaving the environs of the Beigel Bakery which is Mick’s customary habitat, one afternoon, we turned left just before the railway bridge into Grimsby St where the newly constructed East London Line bridge of steel girders has replaced the shabby nineteenth century railway arches that stood here until recently. “You could find old things in the street and bring them down here and sell them, and people would always buy them and that way you were never without anything.” Mick assured me, casting his eyes affectionately over this former source of livelihood and screwing up his eyes in bewilderment as if somehow he could conjure it back into existence my focussing his attention. “They used to call me Mick the Finder.” he said, as we walked on.
Round the corner in Cheshire St, we paused outside the squat brick building that is Blackman’s, where the redoubtable Lee Knight sold shoes for years at rock bottom prices in a business continued now by his son Phil. This is a location of pleasure for Mick. He told me his beloved Gran bought him the pair of Italian pointed black shoes with cuban heels here, that he wanted for his seventh birthday, at a cost of two pounds, two shillings and sixpence. “My mother had twelve sons and two daughters, she didn’t have time to take care of us, she was too busy trying to find a husband,” he revealed, raising his eyebrows humorously, in partial explanation of why he came to be brought up by his grandparents.
Next day, we set out in the morning to venture further, walking down to the Truman Brewery where Mick worked as Drayman in 1963. “At half past seven in the morning it was busy here,” he recalled, rolling his eyes to evoke the chaotic drama as we passed the old iron gates. We turned the corner into Dray Walk where Mick arrived for work each day at quarter to seven. “You saw all the lorries backed up here,” he said gesturing to the invisible line of vehicles that once occupied the space where the shops are now,“We loaded them with barrels, hogsheads, firkins and crates.”
Yet before he started work Mick had to clock in and enjoy the two or three pints of maturing brown ale with his workmates, as was the custom in the brewery. “All the time I worked here I never saw any of the workers drunk,” Mick insisted,“You couldn’t afford to be drunk. You had to take it easy, because it was dangerous manhandling the kegs.” The foremen sent out the lorries making deliveries around London and by eleven o’ clock in the morning the draymen were finished. “We all met in the car park of the Ace Cafe on the North Circular. I’d be sat on the back of the lorry drinking pints from the keg.” Mick admitted to me with a delighted grin, “You lay the keg on its side and eased in the pointed handle of a file, and the beer poured out.”
“You had poor people here then, in those days most people wanted to get out of here,” he whispered to me as we moved on, pushing our way through the fashionable crowd,“Funny old world we live in isn’t it?” Glancing around conspiratorially as we passed the Spitalfields Market, “The villains used to come down here, and it wasn’t to buy fruit & vegetables,” he confided,“They used to do their business over a cup of tea and a sandwich, sit in a cafe and have a bit of a firm. They wore traditional gear, coat and scarf and a cheese cutter, and no-one paid any attention.”
Passing Burger King in Whitechapel High St, site of the legendary Blooms Restaurant, we arrived at the climax of our journey, Albert’s men’s clothing shop, still with its fascia of marble and red neon gothic lettering. A cut-price joint today, yet still charismatic for Mick as the place where he first cultivated his sartorial elegance. “I used to come down here when I had a bit of money, on Thursdays at three or four after I got paid. It was like going to the West End, I felt like I was famous.” he eulogised, “They sold cashmere suits and silk shirts. In those days, you had a lot of villains and benders came here, smart people. They all showed respect for each other.”
Walking back up the Lane towards the Beigel Bakery, Mick ruminated over the journey, thinking out loud, “It’s good that the young people are coming in and bringing money,” he suggested to me, “but I don’t think they care very much about the people who are here, they’re a bit selfish in that way.” And then he qualified the thought quickly, lest I think him ungenerous “People always treat me with respect and say nice things, they’re polite to me.” he confirmed with a weary smile. Both our energies were flagging now after this emotional odyssey through space and time, and we made for the nearest cafe to seek a perspective. “I haven’t had a walk like that in a long while, I think it’s done me good.” Mick concluded thoughtfully as we sat down together.
In his usual spot outside Brick Lane Beigel Bakery.
In Grimsby St - “You could find old things in the street and bring them down here and sell them, and people would always buy them and that way you were never without anything.”
At Blackman’s, Cheshire St – where Mick’s Gran bought him the pair of Italian pointed black shoes with Cuban heels that he wanted for his seventh birthday, at a cost of two pounds, two shillings and sixpence.
At Dray Walk, Truman Brewery – the doorway where Mick clocked in each morning and enjoyed two or three pints of maturing brown ale with his workmates at eight in the morning before commencing work.
At Albert’s, 88 Whitechapel High St - “I used to come down here when I had a bit of money, on Thursdays at three or four after I got paid. It was like going to the West End, I felt like I was famous.”
Mick Taylor - “You had poor people here then, in those days most people wanted to get out of here.”
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