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So Long, Mick Taylor

September 30, 2017
by the gentle author

Over the past ten days, I visited Mick Taylor three times at St Joseph’s Hospice and I was off to visit him again this weekend, until I received the news that he died last night. An orphan of the Second World War, he was one of the great East End characters and Spitalfields will be the less for his passing.

Mick Taylor (1945-2017)

It was at the end of 2009 that I first interviewed Mick Taylor, known as the Sartorialist of Brick Lane, who spent half a century standing outside the Beigel Bakery and became renowned for his astonishing outfits. One Easter Sunday we sat and drank tea together on Brick Lane, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon and watching the passing show, while Mick spoke about his life’s journey that brought him there.

“If you come down here to Brick Lane somebody always helps you out with a sandwich or something. Sometimes I come here without a penny in my pocket but I get a cup of tea. All it takes is to ask nicely and people will help you out. People want to sell things and I tell them where they can sell it. Knowing how to make a shilling, that’s what it’s all about and I’ve sold anything you care to mention over the years here.

I was a war child, I had no father but I had a mother. On 9th November 1945, I was born in my grandmother’s bed in Maclaren St, Hackney. My mother couldn’t afford to keep me so my grandmother and grandfather, Florence and George Taylor brought me up. I never had anything new, only secondhand things, but they brought me up well. My grandfather was a lovely man, he never hit me. He only had one eye, he was blinded in World War I, and he worked on the barges on the River Lea. My grandmother used to pawn his suit every Monday, buy veg on Tuesday, and get it back again on Thursday when he got paid, so he could wear it at the weekend. She taught me how to cook, and I still cook dinner every Sunday.

One day, when I worked for Truman’s, I got up at seven thirty in the morning and my grandmother had a heart attack and died in front of me. I went to work but I couldn’t work because my mind was falling to bits. So I told the foreman, and then I went wandering all over the place for four days until the police picked me up and took me to Hackney Hospital and, while I was under observation, I cut my wrists. I wanted to die because my grandmother was dead.

The woman in the next bed there was Frances Shea, Reggie Kray’s wife, she had mental problems. It sent her a little crazy being married to one of the Krays, but she was a lovely girl. I dressed up smart for her. Sixteen weeks we were together, she needed a bit of company and I took care of her. Then, when they sent her home, she died at once of an overdose but I don’t believe it. I loved her, and she cured me of the loss of my grandmother.

After that, I worked for the council and I did various jobs, I started my life all over again. I’ve been married a couple of times. I’ve lived my life, I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve had some good times. I’ve two sons but I don’t know where they are. Me and their mother divorced and I’ve never seen them again.

I never had much money but I’ve always made myself smart with a few quid and a suit and shirt – buying the right clothes, the right colour, the right cut. I used to go to Albert’s in Whitechapel and pay seventy five pounds for a pair of shoes, a suit, and a shirt. For my birthday, when I was seven years old, I came down with my grandmother to buy Italian shoes in Cheshire St for two pounds, two shillings and sixpence – pointed black shoes with Cuban heels. I already knew what I wanted at seven years old – you’re born with it, your style.”

Sporting his cap at a calculated angle, dressed in his petrol blue slacks, with a singlet, silk scarf and chain, Mick was in his element that day, and even as we spoke, passers-by interrupted to request photographs with him. Like many others, Mick found a sympathetic community on Brick Lane, where he could present himself as he pleased and be celebrated for it. Neither cynical nor sentimental about his past, Mick was able to inhabit his present with equanimity. Once we had finished our cups of tea, the shadows were lengthening, the stalls were packing up and the market crowds were thinning out, so I asked Mick what his plans were for the rest of that day, and he rubbed his hands in hungry anticipation with a gleam of joy in his intense blue eyes.

“I’m going to buy a bit of lamb at the corner shop and boil it up with some potatoes and carrots and a few seasonal things. That’s cockney food – a bit of boiled veg and a bit of a joint and if you’ve got money left, something sweet like a Spotted Dick. I learnt to make it when I worked in a pie shop when I was a child. Whatever pies was left, I always took them home with me.“Give it to the family,” they used to say. That’s the cockney way of life.”

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Mick Taylor, Sartorialist of Brick Lane

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28 Responses leave one →
  1. September 30, 2017

    A gentle man, a bitter-sweet life.

  2. September 30, 2017

    I’ll wear a neckerchief today in honour of him and his style

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    September 30, 2017

    Only a year older than me!

  4. September 30, 2017

    He was a real character and will be missed. Valerie

  5. Love permalink
    September 30, 2017

    I think I remember him from when I was young. The eyes give it away.
    He was bit of a ‘hobo’ then, but remember him as being so beautiful, and always wondered how he ended up in that position.
    RIP Mick, now I know your name, God Bless.

  6. September 30, 2017

    RIP Mick. What a wonderful man.

  7. David Gibbs permalink
    September 30, 2017

    Great photos – great story. R.I.P.

  8. September 30, 2017

    Brick Lane has many characters Mick the beard is one of many, artistic in nature loved by many in the Lane. One day i would like to visit Brick Lane in the hush of the evening there is spirit of place here. I would like to absorb the lot and go and go away refreshed – yes it is a powerful brand I say of international repute. Mick played his part, keep watching us from up there. John bus stop poets

  9. Michelle permalink
    September 30, 2017

    Lovely tribute, what an interesting man. How nice that you visited him in hospice, thank you.

  10. Paul Loften permalink
    September 30, 2017

    its amazing what you miss in life . As a born and bred East Ender I have been down Brick Lane so many times yet never saw or knew of this interesting man. It’s a real education to read each and every blog. You live and learn , literally !

  11. Pete Tachauer permalink
    September 30, 2017

    A real character gone from our midst. I often chatted with him and gave him “a cuppa tea” outside the bagel bake. A genuine guy, a good guy. What you saw was what you got. I am in Brick Lane tomorrow, I will toast him with a bagel and a cuppa tea. Bless you Mick.

  12. September 30, 2017

    It must have been about ten years ago that I first happened across Mick Taylor on one of my many visits to the bagel shop for a lovely hot cup of steaming tea and a salmon and cream cheese bagel
    There he was sitting on a chair outside the famous bagel bake brick lane
    We immediately clicked as we both dressed in a eccentric manor
    His like is unlikely to grace this earth again
    It a shame that people like him are not in charge of the earth and it politics
    I always on departing him after about an hour’s chat
    Would press a £5 pound note into his hand
    And sometimes I would post some money to his address
    I like many will miss this lovely caricature
    Rest in peace Mick I will miss you lots !!

  13. steve permalink
    September 30, 2017

    What a wonderfully enigmatic portrayal. I don’t remember Mick, despite living in and around Brick Lane and Bethnal Green during the 60s and 70s, but thanks to GA I feel know him a little more.
    It is apparent that we have lost a real character – as some of the other comments have indicated there is a twinkle in his eye, a spirit of life and adventure, a hint of mischief, that few of us are given or will experience. I’m sure he is parading and cadging a cup of tea (!) in a better time and place now.

  14. Mike Levy permalink
    September 30, 2017

    Rest in Peace.

  15. Laura Sheed permalink
    September 30, 2017

    I have just read your today’s edition of Spitalfields Life and learned about the sad passing of Mick Taylor.

    My wife and I have known Mick for around 12 years, having both been long-term residents in E2 ourselves, and when we last saw him, he told us that he had been diagnosed with cancer and didn’t have long to live. But in his always-cheerful manner, he simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Parting with hugs, that was, sadly, the last time that we had the pleasure of seeing Mick.

    Over the years, we had lovely conversations with Mick and were great admirers of his unique dress style. We always stopped to say hello to him and to enjoy his company, and it was always a pleasure to buy him a cup of tea.

    If you know of the arrangements for his funeral, or if there will be a memorial service for him, I would be grateful if you could let me know, as my wife and I would like, if possible, to pay our last respects.

  16. September 30, 2017

    Such a privilege to get to know Mick over the 10 years we’ve had our shop on Brick Lane . He was one of the last remnants of the old Lane and it will be a less colourful place without him,his tales of seven decades of market life and his natty attire . Like many others , we would be keen to know if anything is planned for the passing of our raffish local legend

  17. Sherri permalink
    October 1, 2017

    Fascinating fellow, thank you for sharing!

  18. Celt permalink
    October 1, 2017

    Travel well Mick x

  19. Pauline bugeja permalink
    October 1, 2017

    What a great man may he rest in peace

  20. October 1, 2017

    we will miss seeing you on brick lane, such a dapper , handsome chap. What a life , rest in peace x

  21. Dhyani Kane permalink
    October 2, 2017

    I have known Mick since I was 15
    Years old.
    I loved his style even then. This is how I noticed him. Years later I moved to Brick Lane and we rekindled our friendship…. he had a heart of gold. R.I.P love you

  22. October 2, 2017

    Mick Taylor (1945-2017) — R.I.P.

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  23. Tamsin permalink
    October 2, 2017

    Brick Lane had lost a chunk of its heart.
    A true legend. Forever missed.
    Sleep well Micky.

  24. Steve grain permalink
    October 2, 2017

    Went to brick lane yesterday to buy my beigals and felt a tinge of sadness knowing mick wouldn’t be there! rip mick, god speed fella. May the almighty give you peace, serenity and lots of tea. You’ll be missed fella.

  25. October 2, 2017

    RIP Mick the Lane won’t be the same without you.

  26. Zeynyo Platt yoyo permalink
    October 5, 2017

    I used to have great chats with him when I lived around the lane.
    He would ask how I was. If I’d visited my father recently…I’d read his starsign to him (Scorpio) outside Coffee@…
    Will be missed. Iconic.

  27. Tony Hawkins permalink
    October 10, 2017

    Mick Taylor another old character gone but not forgotten missing him already RIP.
    Thank’s G.A what a nice way to be remembered

  28. October 11, 2017

    R.I.P.

    So sad to hear that he passed. I will always remember the day we met.

    https://www.markbeyermann.com/street-photography?lightbox=dataItem-ipjmshzm

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