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An Old Tin Badge

October 18, 2014
by the gentle author

Over recent months, I have spent a lot of time studying the photographs of the people who lived in the yards beside Quaker St that Horace Warner took around 1900, in order to write my introduction for the book of Spitalfields Nippers which is to be published on 1st November. The sharp focus of these pictures permits me to examine them closely and they reward attention because the plethora of detail can reveal unexpected things.

I especially like this photograph of a girl holding scrap timber. It fascinates me that her clothes and jewellery demonstrate such pride in her appearance, even while her hands are dirty and she is collecting firewood. It is obvious that Horace never asked his subjects to smile, instead he granted them the space for self-possession and she presents herself on her own terms, with composed equanimity and preoccupied in her world.

James McBarron who grew up in Hoxton in the thirties and, as a child, knew Celia Compton – portrayed in another of Horace’s photographs – explained to me the practice of wood-chopping for pennies. “We kids chopped firewood to make money. The boys and girls used to go around collecting tea-chests and packing-boxes from the back of furniture factories, and say ‘Can we take it away, Mister?’ We chopped it up into sticks and made bundles, and we’d sell them for a penny or a ha-penny.”

I am fascinated by the variety and individuality of clothing in Horace’s photographs, which belong to an age before the industrialised mass-production of clothes we know today. These were garments that went through many owners, handed down through the family, altered, patched and refashioned until they fell apart. The ancient Houndsditch Rag Fair existed just a mile to the south, until it was closed permanently to prevent the spread of smallpox, and this may explain the presence of so many elaborately-detailed garments in antique designs – such as the dress in this photograph – which could have been acquired cheaply in the market and cut down to size.

In particular, I grew curious about the badge that this girl wears upon her decorative collar and, in close-up, I could see that it was King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra. Another of Horace’s photographs show boys holding up newspaper hoardings announcing the end of the Second Boer War in June 1902 and, since the Coronation of Edward & Alexandra took place in August 1902, this gives us an indication of the date of this photograph.

Imagine my surprise, when walking through Spitalfields Market, to see just such a badge – slightly different because it shows Alexandra without Edward, but in all other respects the same and around the size of a pre-decimal penny. My pal Bill, whose stall it was, told me that they were given away free at the time of the Coronation. “It’s such a cheap thing, just a scrap of paper stuck on a piece of tin, that it’s amazing it has survived,” he said, holding it up to examine it. When I told Bill the story of the badge in the photograph, he presented me with it as a gift and I agreed to bring him a copy of the book in exchange in a few weeks time.

When I read about Alexandra, I discovered that she had a scar on her neck from an operation that happened when she was a child, which led her to wear high collars and elaborate necklaces. Consequently, this style became a fashion and, when I looked back at the photograph of the girl, I wondered if she was trying to emulate Alexandra in the way she wore her necklace over the dress with its decorative collar.

If it were not for Horace Warner, I should not have looked twice at this old tin badge in the market but, thanks to his photograph, it has become a wonder to me.

Tin badge from 1902 given to me by my pal Bill, dealer in the Spitalfields Thursday Antiques Market

Tin coronation badge of King Edward & Queen Alexandra

The reverse of the badge.

This is my pal Bill, a dignified market stalwart who deals in coins, whistles, badges, gramophone needles, souvenir thimbles, magic lantern slides, trading tokens, small classical antiquities and prehistoric artifacts. “I sell quite a few things, but on a low margin because it’s more interesting to have a quick turnover.” he admitted to me, speaking frankly, “I’m here more for enjoyment really – quite a few friends I’ve made over the years. I was a shy person before, but it’s made me confident having a stall. I’ve become an optimistic person.” Bill comes to Spitalfields each week with all his stock in a backpack and large suitcase – practical, economic and an incentive to sell as much as possible.

(Pen portrait with photograph by Jeremy Freedman originally published July 22nd, 2010)

All Publication Rights in these Photographs Reserved

Click here to pre-order a copy of SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS by Horace Warner

My SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS lecture at the Bishopsgate Institute on 4th November is sold out. I shall also be showing the photographs and telling the stories at WATERSTONES PICCADILLY on WEDNESDAY 19th NOVEMBER  at 7pm. Admission is free to this event and tickets are available but must be reserved

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At The Lion Sermon

October 17, 2014
by the gentle author

Door knob at St Katharine Cree, Leadenhall St

Each year the Lion Sermon is preached upon 16th October at St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall St in the City of London. This ancient church was established in 1280, emerging from the Priory of 1108 founded by Queen Matilda, and is the only neo-classical church to survive the Great Fire. Its lurching arcade in the nave, embellished with Corinthian capitals, is indicative of the unlikely blend of classical and gothic which characterises this appealingly idiosyncratic structure of 1628-30, traditionally ascribed to Inigo Jones.

Yesterday I attended the 365th Anniversary of the Lion Sermon, commemorating the life of Sir John Gayer (1584 -1649). A Cornishman who became Lord Mayor of London, he was a Governor of the East India Company and briefly imprisoned in the Tower for his Royalist sympathies. The story goes that he became separated from the caravan while travelling on a trading mission in Arabia – modern-day Syria – and was stalked by a lion. Yet  the creature spared him, on account of his devout prayers and vows of charity, and his friends discovered Sir John sleeping in the desert next morning surrounded by the footprints of the lion.

I arrived in Leadenhall St to discover the porch of Katharine Kree unexpectedly occupied with bellringers, summoning the congregation, and walked around to the other entrance in Creechurch Lane. To my surprise the church was full with the curious and the devout, waiting in expectation of the Lloyds Choir and Rev Oliver Ross, who processed into the church with Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the preacher designated to deliver this year’s Lion Sermon.

The event would seem no more than a quaint custom celebrating a remote myth, if it were not for the presence of James Gayer – the current descendant of the Gayer lineage – who attended the service on behalf of his family and read the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Afterwards, James told me that he came to read every year and that it was a duty passed down through his family, undertaken by the eldest son of each generation.

Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin was formerly Vicar at the Church of  Holy Trinity in Dalston where they have the Annual Clowns’ Service and has now graduated to become  Chaplain at the House of Commons. Her sermon explored the notion of deliverance – as Sir John was delivered from the Lion’s clasp – and she gave us an account of her personal journey from a childhood in Montego Bay, revealing the obstacles she had overcome which shape her character today.

Just as we all began to ponder the lions that we had each overcome, metaphorically, we were brought back to the Jacobean church by an anthem of Henry Purcell performed by the Lloyds Choir which Rev Oliver Ross informed us had been composed by this greatest of English composers, inspired by a visit to St Katharine Cree and the musical possibilities of its organ of 1686.

Once the service was concluded with spirited versions of some favourite hymns and the congregation was tucking in to a hearty buffet lunch, I took the opportunity to visit Sir John Gayer, whose memorial brass is concealed behind the altar. He looked at me askance, frustrated perhaps to reside eternally in such an obscure location yet grateful to be remembered still after all these years – delivered from oblivion by a lion.

Bell ringers in the porch

The organ played by Handel  and Purcell

Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin preaches the 365th Lion Sermon

Memorial brass to Sir John Gayer behind the altar

Sir John Gayer, as portrayed on his memorial brass

Thomas Bewick’s Lion

Rev Oliver Ross & Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin

Counting the collection after the service. The font is embellished with the Gayer arms

St Katharine Cree, on the corner of Leadenhall St and Creechurch Lane

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David Hoffman Down The Roman Rd

October 16, 2014
by the gentle author

Tonight, Contributing Photographer David Hoffman opens an extraordinary exhibition, happening in four Roman Rd cafés simultaneously. You are all invited to attend the opening from 7-9pm this evening at Muxima café and you can also join David for a cafe crawl on Saturday at midday. Here is a selection to give you a flavour of this exuberant work and David introduces the show in his own words.

“I took these photographs thirty to forty years ago – they are all from the East End, mostly around Whitechapel and Spitalfields.

I was born in the East End, but my parents’ upward mobility whisked me out to suburbia and it was only in my twenties that I gravitated back to my roots. I was immediately entranced by the atmosphere of joy and dilapidation. It was the spirit of the people you see in these pictures that lifted my spirits and showed me the direction which my career has followed ever since.

These café exhibitions are my thank you to all the people who have made life in this part of London so interesting, exciting and always rewarding.” - David Hoffman

Photographs copyright © David Hoffman

David Hoffman’s Roman Rd Café Crawl is at  The Roman Rd Art Café, 357 Roman Rd, The Zealand Coffee Bar, 391 Roman Rd, Vinarius, 536 Roman Rd, & Muxima, 618 Roman Rd until 27th November. Private View tonight at Muxima.

David Hoffman will be at The Roman Road Art Café on Saturday 18th October at noon, talking about his photographs, and you can join him on the Roman Rd Café Crawl.

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B Lambert’s Spitalfields, 1806

October 15, 2014
by the gentle author

Let us take a brief stroll around the neighbourhood in the company of  B Lambert, author of the ‘History & Survey of London’, 1806. This is the latest in my occasional series of antiquarian surveys that includes John Stow in 1598 and John Entick in 1766.

To the south of Shoreditch is Spitalfields, which derives its name from having been built upon the fields and grounds belonging to St Mary’s, Spital, which stood on the east side of Bishopsgate St. When, by revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Louis XIV compelled his Protestant subjects to fly to foreign lands, for shelter and protection, a considerable number of them sought refuge in this country – the greater part of whom settled on this spot and established here the manufacture of silk in all its branches – and the neighbourhood is still, in a great measure, peopled by their descendants.

Spitalfields was originally a hamlet belonging to the parish of St Dunstan, Stepney, but from the great increase of the inhabitants, it was, in the year 1723, made a distinct parish and the church is one of fifty ordered to be built by Act of Parliament.

This building is situated on the south side of Church St. It was begun in 1723 and finished in 1729, and, from being dedicated to our Saviour, is called Christ Church, Middlesex.

It is a very handsome edifice, built of stone with a very high steeple, in which is a fine ring of bells. The body of the church is solid and well-proportioned. It is one hundred and eleven feet in length and eighty-seven in breadth. The height of the roof is forty-one feet and that of the steeple, two hundred and thirty-four feet.

At the west end of the church is a neat brick building in which are two charity schools, the one for girls, the other for boys, erected in 1782 and supported by voluntary contributions.

A short distance to the north-west of the church is Spitalfields Market, for the sale of all sorts of provisions, but principally vegetables.

To the east from Spitalfields is Bethnal Green, which was also one of the hamlets of St Dunstan’s, from which it was separated by an Act of Parliament passed in the thirteen year of his late Majesty. The church which is dedicated to St Matthew was erected in the year 1740. It is a neat commodious edifice, built with red brick, coped and quoined with free stone.

The old mansion at the south-east corner of the Green, now called Bethnal Green House, and traditionally reported to have been the residence of the celebrated Blind Beggar, was built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, by a citizen of London, named Kirby and is called in writings belonging to it, Kirby Castle. It has long been appropriated to the reception of insane persons.

The old Roman way from London led through the hamlet and being joined by the military way from the west, they pass on together to the ferry of the River Lea at Old Ford.

At Mile End, is an hospital belonging to the corporation of Trinity House. It was found in 1695 for twenty-eight decayed or ancient seamen who have been masters or pilots of ships and for their widows, each of whom receive sixteen shillings a month, besides twenty shillings a year for coals, and a gown every other year. This is a very handsome edifice, consiting of two wings with a chapel which rises considerably higher than any other part of the building. Within the gate is a fine area covered with grass and in the centre is a statue of Captain Robert Sandys with a globe and anchor at his feet and his right hand upon a bale of goods.

In this parish is one of the most extensive charitable foundations in the kingdom. The building is situated on the south side of Whitechapel Rd and was formerly called the London Infirmary, but now the London Hospital. This excellent charity ws instituted in the year 1740 for the relief of all sick and diseased persons, particularly manufacturers, seamen in the merchants’ service and their wives and children. It was at first kept in a large house in Prescot St, Goodman’s Fields, but that being found too small, a more capacious edifice was erected in the present airy situation.

At the west end of the hospital was a considerable hillock called the Whitechapel Mount, which owed its origin to rubbish deposited there after the Fire of London. This mount has been lately removed for the purpose of forming a row of houses on the site of it.

The parish of St Mary, Whitechapel, extends as far as Goodman’s Fields and Rosemary Lane. Goodman’s Fields was actually a farm belonging to the nunnery of St Clare, or Minoresses, who gave their name to the adjoining street, called the Minories. Rosemary Lane is better known by the name of Rag Fair, from being the grand mart of the metropolis in old clothes, which however contemptible the trade may be considered is a source of immense wealth to those who embark upon it.

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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A New Home For Old Photographs

October 14, 2014
by the gentle author

Photograph by O. Baumgard, 12 Little Alie St

It fills me with dismay to see old family albums for sale. And boxes of loose family photographs, all mixed up together, are one of the saddest sights you could encounter in the market.

Countless times, I have leafed through these books of photographs, often painstakingly captioned, that were once cherished and are now discarded, and I find it hard to resist the urge to buy them all just so that I can keep them safe on behalf of their former owners. I stand and pay my respects to the tender images of the holidays and family celebrations of strangers, as if my close attention might revive the lonely spirits of these lost souls. Yet, as much as I would like to, it is beyond my capacity to become the guardian and collector of all the stray photographs in the world, and so I must pass them by in regret.

So you can imagine my delight when Stefan Dickers, Archivist at the Bishopsgate Institute, told me that he is offering a home to all the unwanted albums and family photographs, where they can be kept safely for perpetuity and take their rightful place in the grand narrative of history. It is to be called the London Family Photo Archive and the beauty of it is that you can also contribute digital copies of photographs if you wish to keep the prints.

“We are looking for family and personal photos of everyday life, no matter if you have lived in London since birth or are a recent arrival to the city,” Stefan explained to me, “We are also looking for photos that depict Londoners on day trips and holidays outside of the city.”

If you might wish to contribute albums or pictures and would like to know more please contact

Stefan Dickers’ grandparents Win & Doug enjoy a drink at Dirty Dicks’ in 1958

Lucy feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Sq in 1981

Stephen with mum & dad, c.1955

Stephen with dad in the backyard at Canning Town, c. 1965

Joan & Bill Naylor celebrate in Bellevue Place in the sixties

Joginder Singh in 1968

Photograph by Oscar Baumgart, The Empire Studio, 118 Commercial Rd

A family Christmas in Elder St 1968 – Neville Turner sits next to his father at the dinner table

John & June getting married in Ealing in 1953

Bob Mazzer & his dad ‘Mott’ in 1950

Michelle at a party in Peckham in 1991

Family portrait at a studio in Vallance Rd, 1980. From left to right – Arful Nessa (mother), Haji Abdul Jalil (father), Hafsa Begum (sister), Rahana Begum (sister), Faruk Miah (cousin), Shiraz Miah (cousin) and Delwar Hussain.

Marie & the girls from McCloskeys on a beano  in Strype St in 1955

Gwen Bullwinkle holds up her daughter Mavis in Hanbury St in 1933

Dolly & pals on a day trip to Brighton, c. 1950

Lesley & Linda Keeper (on left) playing with friends in Cranberry St, c. 1955

Mohammed, Deena & Elizabeth Omar on holiday at Land’s End in 1974

Susana on a day trip to Wimbledon in 2013 by Jorin Buschor

The Gentle Author’s mother Valerie in 1933

Photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute