Bug Woman & A London Inheritance
With another of my Spitalfields Blog Courses coming up on March 4th & 5th, it is my pleasure to present recent work by two of my unashamedly favourite alumni – Bug Woman and A London Inheritance. Click here for more information about the Course
BUG WOMAN, ADVENTURES IN LONDON, Because a Community is More Than Just People
Dear Readers, When I visited St Pancras & Islington Cemetery after Christmas, there seemed to have been an eruption of artificial poinsettia. It was the first choice of those who had come to visit the graves of their loved ones during this poignant season. And now, as the wind shook the bare branches and the sun shone indifferently, the red ‘flowers’ imparted an incongruously festive air.
Although January is the middle of winter for us, the starting gun has already sounded for many birds. The trees and bushes were full of robins singing, blackbirds chucking and great tits making a right old racket. The width of the band of black on the chest of a great tit is related to testosterone levels, as is the black bib under the chin of a male house sparrow. The wider the band, or the bigger the bib, the more aggressive and dominant the bird is. I shall leave you to decide on the possible nature of the little chap above.
At this time of year, there seem to be large gangs of young magpies about. There was a group of four or five in the cemetery and they were a noisy, rambunctious lot, harassing a pair of crows and then turning their attentions to terrifying some jays. I once watched twenty magpies in an Islington square forcing some crows to abandon their nest. Fortunately, the crows had not yet laid any eggs and the magpies soon departed to annoy someone else. I imagine this is pre-breeding behaviour which will cease once everyone is paired up and has their own eggs to worry about.
One of the cemetery kestrels watched serenely. I first spotted this bird on top of a hawthorn bush. It has endless patience, making the occasional reconnaissance flight across the gravestones and then returning to sit and watch. I know there are lots of small rodents here and the fact the cemetery supports a pair of kestrels means they are good at finding them. I always get a thrill when I see a kestrel, they may be small but they have the enigmatic nature of all predators, a self-assurance that I find very moving. Kestrels also eat small birds and so the superabundance of berries and rose hips this year, which will attract thrushes and other small avians, helps too.
And so I turned for home, stopping only to wish ‘Happy New Year’ to a very under-dressed man clutching a can of beer. He was shivering with cold but strolled off briskly into a wooded area to finish his drink. The cemetery is a magnet for lost souls of all kinds and my heart went out to him. No one is born to end up in a cemetery in a tattered shirt with drink as the only solace.
At this time of year, there are gangs of young magpies about
The cemetery supports a pair of kestrels
A superabundance of berries and rose hips this year
A LONDON INHERITANCE, A Private History of a Public City
One of my father’s books is stuffed full of pages and cuttings from professional journals, including a complete copy of an Architects’ Journal dated 9th January 1972 with a lengthy feature titled New Deal For East London. The feature reported on the challenges facing East London which had been in continuous decline since the end of the war, along with the future impact of some of the early plans for major developments.
• The impact on the London Docks of large cargo ships coming into service
• The lack of any strategic planning for the area and the speculative building work taking place, mainly along the edge of the Thames.
• The location of a possible Thames Barrage.
• The impact of the proposed new London Airport off the coast of Essex at Foulness.
• The need to maintain a mixed community and not to destroy the established communities across the area.
Architects’ Journal gives an example of what happens when prosperous families arrive: “Some well-to-do families moved into a small terrace of new houses by the river, and were approached by the small boys of the neighbourhood with offers of ‘Guard your car, sir?’ for some trifling weekly sum. The car-owners brushed these knowing offers aside, but soon found their cars, if left in the street, being persistently vandalised, scratched and mucked about by those they had casually frozen out.”
The article paints a depressing picture of East London at the start of the seventies: “This is the poorest part of the capital with the greatest need for all the social services provided (or permitted to be provided) by the local authorities, and – not surprisingly – with the highest rates. Today this is a going downhill area in which neither the growing tourist industry, nor the entertainment industry, nor the new light industries show any interest. Such industries prefer to expand near the prosperous West End or in some part of the country, such as the new towns, where they will be eligible for an industrial development certificate and all the financial assistance that implies.
The rag trade may still flourish in the east, but its best products will be sold in the boutiques and department stores of West London, none of which consider the East End area worth opening up in. Even the great chain stores seldom open up a new branch in this area, while there are obviously more profitable sites to be found to the west. The entertainment industry, too, takes little interest and one reason for this may well be the very poor public transport system in those parts, which must inevitably limit both the catchment area and the enjoyment of an evening out.
There is no comparison between the provision of public transport in the west and the east. The Underground provides a fast network of frequent trains, north, south, east and west – on the west of the City of London. No such network serves the East End, and even the newly proposed Fleet Line only touches north-east London at Fenchurch St.”
A key focus of Architects’ Journal was a concern that, should there be comprehensive development of the area in the coming years, a range of pre-1800 buildings should be preserved. When I see an old map – such as this – with locations marked, I always wonder what is there now, so there was only one thing to do – to visit the locations in Whitechapel and see if the buildings identified in 1972 as worthy of preservation have survived the development of East London over the past forty-five years.
Site 1 – Pair of Early-Eighteenth Century Buildings
Turning off Aldgate High St, I walked down Mansell St to where site ‘A’ should be according to the Architects’ Journal map, on Mansell St at the junction with Little Somerset St. There was nothing to be found that resembled an early-eighteenth century pair of buildings and the site is now occupied by an office block. Not a very good start!
Site 2 – Pair of Eighteenth Century Buildings
The next location was further down Mansell St, on the opposite side of the road where I found a pair of well-preserved buildings. These are from the seventeen-twenties with possible Victorian updates to the facade. The doorways would originally have been symmetrical but the one on the right has lost its pedimented Doric doorcase and cornice. The photo in the Architects’ Journal shows the state of the buildings in 1972 and they continued to crumble into the eighties when the ground floor housed an Indian take-away. I am not sure when they were restored but it was good to see the second location in fine condition.
Site 3 – Group of Eighteenth Century Buildings
To reach site these, I walked to the end of Mansell St and turned left into Prescot St. Here I was looking for a group of eighteenth century buildings on the south side at the western end of the street. Looking along the street, I could only see one building of the appropriate architectural style and age, squashed between a Premier Inn and an office building. Architects’ Journal described this location as a group, so I assume that originally there were similar buildings on either side of this lone survivor, possibly once part of a terrace. It was strange to see this old building sandwiched between two very different and much more recent structures.
Site 4 – Single Large House of 1760
At the end of Prescot St I turned left into Leman St and walked along the to where the map showed the location of a 1760 house. In the expected location, I found this cluster of three buildings. I assume that the single large 1760 house is the building on the right.
Site 5 – House over Half Moon Passage
I continued along Leman St and turned left into Alie St. Walk along Alie St to where I found the house over Half Moon Passage. I have found a couple of references to the origin of the name ‘Half Moon Passage.’ One that refers to the graphic representation of an unpaid sixpence on a customer’s tally used in pubs and ale houses, while the other refers a tenement that stood here in Tudor times called the Half Moon. The photo from Architects’ Journal shows Half Moon Passage and the building around the passage in 1972, but the buildings on the left have been replaced by an office block. The pub on the right, The White Swan is still there, although it is impossible to get a pint of Double Diamond today.
Site 6 – 1710 Terrace in Alie St
Opposite The White Swan is a terrace that runs along Alie St, on either side of St. Mark St, with a pair of symmetrical, four-storey buildings standing on each side of the junction with St. Mark St. Although extensions to the edge of the pavement obscure the lower floor, the upper floors of this terrace are visible.
Site 7 – Seamen’s Chapel of 1760
Just past the junction with Leman St, still on Alie St, is the German Lutheran Church of St. George dating from 1762, the “Deutsche Lutherische St. Georgs Kirche.” This is the oldest German Church in the country, originating from when Aldgate and Whitechapel was home to a large population of German immigrants. In the nineteenth century, this was the largest number of German-speaking people living outside Germany.
Site 8 – Seventeenth Century Hoop & Grapes Pub
The final site on Architects’ Journal’s map of buildings in Whitechapel is The Hoop & Grapes, with foundations going back to the thirteenth century. Due to the the way buildings evolved rather than being built new as a single construction, parts of the building could well date to the sixteenth century with additions to the facade added in the seventeenth century.
Forty-five years after the original Architects’ Journal article, I was pleased to discover that seven out of the original eight buildings that the article proposed should be considered for preservation have been restored and survive into the twenty-first century.
HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ - 4th & 5th MARCH
Spend a weekend in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Spitalfields and learn how to write a blog with The Gentle Author.
This course will examine the essential questions which need to be addressed if you wish to write a blog that people will want to read.
“Like those writers in fourteenth century Florence who discovered the sonnet but did not quite know what to do with it, we are presented with the new literary medium of the blog – which has quickly become omnipresent, with many millions writing online. For my own part, I respect this nascent literary form by seeking to explore its own unique qualities and potential.” - The Gentle Author
1. How to find a voice – When you write, who are you writing to and what is your relationship with the reader?
2. How to find a subject – Why is it necessary to write and what do you have to tell?
3. How to find the form – What is the ideal manifestation of your material and how can a good structure give you momentum?
4. The relationship of pictures and words – Which comes first, the pictures or the words? Creating a dynamic relationship between your text and images.
5. How to write a pen portrait – Drawing on The Gentle Author’s experience, different strategies in transforming a conversation into an effective written evocation of a personality.
6. What a blog can do – A consideration of how telling stories on the internet can affect the temporal world.
The course will be held at 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields on 4th & 5th March from 10am -5pm on Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday. Lunch will be catered by Leila’s Cafe of Arnold Circus and tea, coffee & cakes by the Townhouse are included within the course fee of £300.
Accommodation at 5 Fournier St is available upon enquiry to Fiona Atkins firstname.lastname@example.org
Email email@example.com to book a place on the course.