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Some Old London Trade Cards

December 15, 2019
by the gentle author

I discovered this selection of old London trade cards by rummaging down the back of a hypothetical sofa and searching under a hypothetical bed. Especially noteworthy are the cards for Lacroix’s and Peter De la Fontaine which are the early work of William Hogarth.


Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to see my original selection

The Trade Cards of Old London

The Signs of Old London

At Burley Fisher Books

December 14, 2019
by the gentle author

We are delighted to collaborate with our friends at Dalston’s independent bookshop BURLEY FISHER BOOKS to host a festive Authors’ Evening at which Eleanor Crow, Dan Cruickshank, Reuben Lane & The Gentle Author will be presenting contrasted views of London, next Thursday 19th December from 6:30pm.

Eleanor will be showing her watercolours of shopfronts including some in Kingsland Rd from her book SHOPFRONTS OF LONDON. Dan will be celebrating the joys of exploring London on foot, guided by his new book LONDON, A PORTRAIT OF A CITY IN THIRTEEN WALKS. Reuben will be telling the story of six months spent on the edge of homelessness in London from his book FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT. The Gentle Author will be showing some notorious East End examples of THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM.

Schrodinger will be otherwise engaged on Thursday night

Graffiti At The Tower Of London

December 13, 2019
by the gentle author

Once the tourists grow scarce and the trees are bare, it suits me to visit the Tower of London and study the graffiti. The austere stone structures of this ancient fortress by the river reassert their grim dignity when the crowd-borne hubbub subsides, and quiet consideration of the sombre texts graven there becomes possible. Some are bold and graceful, others are spidery and maladroit, yet every one represents an attempt by their creators to renegotiate the nature of their existence. Many are by those who would otherwise be forgotten if they had not possessed a powerful need to record their being, unwilling to let themselves slide irrevocably into obscurity and be lost forever. For those faced with interminable days, painstaking carving in stone served to mark time, and to assert identity and belief. Every mark here is a testimony to the power of human will, and they speak across the ages as tokens of brave defiance and the refusal to be cowed by tyranny.

“The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come.” This inscription in Latin was carved above the chimney breast in the Beauchamp Tower by Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel in 1587. His father was executed  in 1572 for treason and, in 1585, Howard was arrested and charged with being a Catholic, spending the rest of his life at the Tower where he died in 1595.

Sent to the Tower in 1560, Hew Draper was a Bristol innkeeper accused of  sorcery. He pleaded not guilty yet set about carving this mysterious chart upon the wall of his cell in the Salt Tower with the inscription HEW DRAPER OF BRISTOW (Bristol) MADE THIS SPEER THE 30 DAYE OF MAYE, 1561. It is a zodiac wheel, with a plan of the days of the week and hours of the day to the right. Yet time was running out for Hew even as he carved this defiant piece of cosmology upon the wall of his cell, because he was noted as “verie sick” and it is low upon the wall, as if done by a man sitting on the floor.

The rebus of Thomas Abel. Chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, Abel took the Queen’s side against Henry VIII and refused to change his position when Henry married Anne Boleyn. Imprisoned in 1533, he wrote to Thomas Cromwell in 1537, “I have now been in close prison three years and a quarter come Easter,” and begged “to lie in some house upon the Green.”After five and half  years imprisoned at the Tower, Abel was hung, drawn and quartered at Smithfield in 1540.

Both inscriptions, above and below, have been ascribed to Lady Jane Grey, yet it is more likely that she was not committed to a cell but confined within domestic quarters at the Tower, on account of her rank. These may be the result of nineteenth century whimsy.

JOHN DUDLE – YOU THAT THESE BEASTS DO WEL BEHOLD AND SE, MAY DEME WITH EASE WHEREFORE HERE MADE THEY BE, WITH BORDERS EKE WHEREIN (THERE MAY BE FOUND) 4 BROTHERS NAMES WHO LIST TO SERCHE THE GROUNDE. The flowers around the Dudley family arms represent the names of the four brothers who were imprisoned in the Tower between 1553-4 , as result of the attempt by their father to put Lady Jane Grey upon the throne. The roses are for Ambrose, carnations (known as gillyflowers) for Guildford, oak leaves for Robert – from robur, Latin for oak – and honeysuckle for Henry. All four were condemned as traitors in 1553, but after the execution of Guildford they were pardoned and released. John died ten days after release and Henry was killed at the seige of San Quentin in 1557 while Ambrose became Queen Elizabeth’s Master of the Ordinance and Robert became her favourite, granted the title of Earl of Leicester.

Edward Smalley was the servant of a Member of Parliament who was imprisoned for one month for non-payment of a fine for assault in 1576. Thomas Rooper, 1570, may have been a member of the Roper family into which Thomas More’s daughter married, believed to be enemies of Queen Elizabeth. Edward Cuffyn faced trial in 1568 accused of conspiracy against Elizabeth and passed out his days at the Tower.

BY TORTURE STRANGE MY TROUTH WAS TRIED YET OF MY LIBERTIE DENIED THEREFORE RESON HATH ME PERSWADYD PASYENS MUST BE YMB RASYD THOGH HARD FORTUN CHASYTH ME WYTH SMART YET PASEYNS SHALL PREVAIL – this anonymous incsription in the Bell Tower is one of several attributed to Thomas Miagh, an Irishman who was committed to the Tower in 1581 for leading rebellion against Elizabeth in his homeland.

This inscription signed Thomas Miagh 1581 is in the Beauchamp Tower. THOMAS MIAGH – WHICH LETH HERE THAT FAYNE WOLD FROM HENS BE GON BY TORTURE STRAUNGE MI TROUTH WAS TRYED YET OF MY LIBERTY DENIED. Never brought to trail, he was imprisoned until 1583, yet allowed “the liberty of the Tower” which meant he could move freely within the precincts.

Subjected to the manacles fourteen times in 1594, Jesuit priest Henry Walpole incised his name in the wall of the Beauchamp Tower and beneath he carved the names of St Peter and St Paul, along with Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory – the four great doctors of the Eastern church.

In this graffito in the Salt Towerr, the “E” in the heart stands for Elizabeth. Giovanni Battista Castiglione, Italian tutor to Queen Elizabeth.

JAMES TYPPING. STAND (OR BE WEL CONTENT) BEAR THY CROSS, FOR THOU ART (SWEET GOOD) CATHOLIC BUT NO WORSE AND FOR THAT CAUSE, THIS 3 YEAR SPACE, THOW HAS CONTINUED IN GREAT DISGRACE, YET WHAT HAPP WILL IT? I CANNOT TELL BUT BE DEATH. Arrested in 1586 as part of the Babington Conpiracy, Typping was tortured, yet later released in 1590 on agreeing to conform his religion. This inscription is in the Beauchamp Tower.

T. Salmon, 1622. Above his coat of arms, he scrawled,  CLOSE PRISONER 32 WEEKS, 224 DAYS, 5376 HOURS. He is believed to have died in custody.

A second graffito by Giovanni Battista Castiglione, imprisoned in 1556 by Elizabeth’s sister, Mary, for plotting against her and later released.


Ambrose Rookwood was one of the Gunpowder Plotters. He was arrested on 8th November 1606 and taken from the Tower on 27th January 1607 to Westminster Hall where he pleaded guilty. On 30th January, he was tied to a hurdle and dragged by horse from the Tower to Westminster before being hung, drawn and quartered with his fellow conspirators.

Photographs copyright © Historic Royal Palaces

You may also like to read about

Viscountess Boudica at the Tower of London

In the Debtors’ Prison

Graffiti at Arnold Circus

Casting A Bell At Here East

December 12, 2019
by the gentle author


This week, some of us who have been campaigning for the past three years to Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry met together to cast a bell as a symbol of our collective belief that the foundry has a viable future as a proper working foundry.

The event was a collaboration between Factum Foundation, who want to be the operators of the renewed Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and the Bartlett School of Architecture who opened their new workshops at UCL Here East in the Queen Elizabeth Park this year. Photographer Rachel Ferriman was there to capture the drama of the bell casting which took place under the expert supervision of Technical Director Peter Scully.

There was a celebratory atmosphere, after last week’s announcement of a Holding Order by the Secretary of State halting Tower Hamlets Council from granting permission for change of use to the developers who want to reopen the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a bell-themed boutique hotel. Yet a breathless hush fell upon the assembly as the crucible was opened and tilted, allowing molten bronze at 1200 degrees to flow in a narrow golden stream, as bright as the sun, into the ceramic mould to cast a 6 kg bell. There was silence as we witnessed the sacred alchemy of bell casting, a ritual that has been enacted in the East End for at least seven centuries. It is a magic that we will not give up because it is at the core of what defines this place and binds our community.

The Secretary of State’s Holding Order gives him time to consider whether to call in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry planning application and determine it himself by holding a Public Inquiry. While he is deciding what to do, we need as many people as possible to write and ask him to call it in.

If you have not yet done so, please write to the Secretary of State because the more letters we send the better our chance of saving the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Use your own words and give your personal opinions but be sure to include these key points below. Read the guidance and write today, then forward this to your friends and family, encouraging them to do the same.



  1. Ask the Secretary of State to call in the planning application for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and hold a Public Inquiry.
  2. Point out that the hotel planning application causes ‘substantial harm’ to a very important heritage asset.
  3. Emphasise the significance of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and the very controversial nature of this proposal, locally, nationally and internationally.

Anyone can write, wherever you are in the world, but be sure to include your postal address and send your letter by email to

or by post to

National Planning Casework Unit

5 St Philips Place

Colmore Row

Birmingham BP3 2PW


Peter Scully adds an ingot of the raw material

Peter measures the temperature of the molten bronze

The ceramic bell mould is heated to 500 degrees to ensure no moisture remains

Once the mould is ready, the team must work fast

With the mould in place, Melis van den Berg begins to tip the crucible

As Melis begins to pour the metal from the crucible, Peter is ready to push any hardened metal aside from the flow

The molten bronze flows from the crucible into the mould

Melis and Peter chip away at the ceramic mould, revealing the form of the bell

A moment of reflection at the completion of the casting

The bronze bell, prior to finishing

Photographs copyright © Rachel Ferriman

You may also like to read about

The Secretary of State Steps In

The Fate of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Save Our Bell Foundry

A Bell-Themed Boutique Hotel?

Nigel Taylor, Tower Bell Manager

Benjamin Kipling, Bell Tuner

Four Hundred Years at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Pearl Binder at Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Dorothy Rendell at Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Hope for The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

A Petition to Save the Bell Foundry

Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

So Long, Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Fourteen Short Poems About The Whitechapel Bell Foundry


A Couple Of Pints With Tony Hall

December 11, 2019
by the gentle author

Libby Hall remembers the first time she visited a pub with Tony Hall in the nineteen sixties – because it signalled the beginning of their relationship which lasted until his death in 2008. “We’d been working together at a printer in Cowcross St, Clerkenwell, but our romance began in the pub on the night I was leaving,” Libby confided to me, “It was my going-away drinks and I put my arms around Tony in the pub.”

During the late sixties, Tony Hall worked as a newspaper artist in Fleet St for The Evening News and then for The Sun, using his spare time to draw weekly cartoons for The Labour Herald. Yet although he did not see himself as a photographer, Tony took over a thousand photographs that survive as a distinctive testament to his personal vision of life in the East End.

Shift work on Fleet St gave Tony free time in the afternoon that he spent in the pub which was when these photographs were taken. “Tony loved East End pubs,” Libby recalled fondly, “He loved the atmosphere. He loved the relationships with the regular customers. If a regular didn’t turn up one night, someone would go round to see if they were alright.”

Tony Hall’s pub pictures record a lost world of the public house as the centre of the community in the nineteen sixties. “On Christmas 1967, I was working as a photographer at the Morning Star and on Christmas Eve I bought an oven-ready turkey at Smithfield Market,” Libby remembered, “After work, Tony and I went into the Metropolitan Tavern, and my turkey was stolen – but before I knew it there had been a whip round and a bigger and better one arrived!”

The former “Laurel Tree” on Brick Lane

Photographs copyright © Libby Hall

Images Courtesy of the Tony Hall Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute

Libby Hall & I would be delighted if any readers can assist in identifying the locations and subjects of Tony Hall’s photographs.

You may also like to read

Tony Hall, Photographer

Libby Hall, Collector of Dog Photography

The Dogs of Old London

Join The Bottletop Royalty

December 10, 2019
by the gentle author

Robson Cezar, the King of the Bottletops has been making these ingenious bottletop crowns for the forthcoming festive season. Ideal for all celebrations, especially parties, dinners and carol singing.

They are suitable for men and woman who aspire to become bottletop kings and queens, and for younger folk who wish to be bottletop princes and princesses.

A satin ribbon tied at the back of the head means one size fits all.

CLICK HERE to order your bottletop crown and face the festive season with confidence!


Robson Cezar, The King of the Bottletops

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

A pair of bottletop princesses model Robson Cezar’s crowns

You may also like to read about

Robson Cezar, King of the Bottletops

King of the Bottletops at St Katharine’s Precinct

King of the Bottletops in Spitalfields

King of the Bottletops at Spitalfields City Farm

Maria Pellicci’s Christmas Ravioli

December 9, 2019
by the gentle author

Elide Pellicci looks down upon Maria & Nevio Pellicci

If you should spot a light, gleaming after hours in the back kitchen at E. Pellicci in the Bethnal Green Rd at this time of year, it will be Maria Pellicci making the Christmas ravioli for her family as she has done each year since 1962.

Maria originates from the same tiny village of Casciana near Lucca in Tuscany as her late husband Nevio Pellicci (senior). And, to her surprise, when Maria first arrived in London she discovered his mother Elide Pellicci, who came over in 1899, was already making ravioli to the same recipe that she knew from home in Italy.

Elide is the E. Pellicci celebrated in chrome letters upon the primrose yellow art deco facade of London’s best-loved family-run cafe, the woman who took over the running of the cafe in the thirties after the death of her husband Priamo who worked there from 1900 – which means we may be assured that the Christmas ravioli have been made here by the Pelliccis in this same spot for over a century.

Thus it was a great honour that Photographer Patricia Niven & I were the very first outsiders to be invited to witness and record this time-hallowed ritual in Bethnal Green. But I regret to inform you that this particular ravioli is only ever made for the family, which means the only way you can get to taste it is if you marry into the Pelliccis.

“It’s a Tuscan Christmas tradition – Ravioli in Brodo – we only do it once a year and every family has their own recipe,” Maria admitted to me as she turned the handle of the machine and her son Nevio Pellici (junior) reached out to manage the rapidly emerging yellow ribbon of pasta. “My mother and my grandmother used to make it, and I’ve been doing it all my life.”

In recent years, Maria has been quietly tutoring Nevio in this distinctive culinary art that is integral to the Pellicci family. “I was going with the boys to see Naples play against Arsenal tonight, but that’s down the drain,” he declared with good grace – revealing he had only discovered earlier in the day that his mother had decided the time was right for making the special ravioli, ready for the whole family to eat in chicken broth on Christmas Day.

“He’s a good boy,” Maria declared with a tender smile, acknowledging his sacrifice, “years ago I used to stay here on my own making the ravioli until eleven o’clock at night.”

“She’s trying to hand it over to me,” Nevio confirmed proudly.

“Nevio’s good and he’s got the patience,” Maria added encouragingly, as Nevio lowered the pasta carefully onto the ravioli mould.

“I’ve got the rubbish job, I have to fill the ravioli,” he complained in mock self-pity, grinning with pleasure as the two of them set to work with nimble fingers to fill the ravioli. Although the precise ingredients are a fiercely guarded secret, Maria confided to me that the filling comprises beef and pork with Parmigiano and Percorino, along with other undisclosed seasonings. “Everyone does it differently,” she confessed modestly, making light of the lifetime of refining that lies behind her personal recipe.

Already Maria had cooked the mixture slowly for a hour and added a couple of eggs to bind it, and – now it had cooled – she and Nevio were transferring it into the ravioli mould. “We used to do this by hand,” she informed me, turning contemplative as she watched Nevio expertly produce another ribbon of yellow pasta to sit on top of the mould. “We rolled the pasta out on the table before we had the machine. Sometimes, large families used to fill the whole table rolling out enough pasta to feed everyone on Christmas Day. When my mother was small, they were poor and lived in a hut but they had their own flour and eggs, so they could always make pasta.”

It was Nevio’s task to turn the mould over and press it down hard onto the table, binding the layers of pasta together. Then, with intense concentration as Maria waited expectantly, he peeled the ravioli away from the mould, revealing a sheet that looked like a page of neatly upholstered postage stamps. Making swift work of it, Maria wielded her little metal wheel by its wooden handle, separating the individual ravioli and transferring them to a metal tray.

In the kitchen of the empty restaurant, mother and son surveyed their fine handiwork with satisfaction. Each mould produced forty ravioli and, in the course of the evening, they made eight batches of ravioli, thus producing three hundred and sixty ravioli to delight the gathered Pelliccis on Christmas Day – and thereby continuing a family tradition that extends over a century. Yet for Maria, Ravioli in Brodo is more than a memento of her origin in Tuscany, making it here in the East End over all this time incarnates this place as her home.

“I am happy here and I know everyone in Bethnal Green,” she admitted to me, “It’s my village and it’s my family.”

Maria & Nevio rolling out the pasta

Maria sprinkles semolina in the mould to stop the pasta sticking

Maria & Nevio placing the meat filling in the ravioli

Nevio presses down on the ravioli mould

The ravioli are turned out from the mould

Maria cuts out the individual ravioli


Over three hundred ravioli ready for Christmas Day

Elide & Priamo, the Pellicci ancestors look down in approval upon the observance  of making Christmas ravioli for more than a century in Bethnal Green

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

E.Pellicci, 332 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 0AG

You may like to read my other Pellicci stories

Maria Pellicci, Cook

Maria Pellicci, The Meatball Queen of Bethnal Green

Pellicci’s Celebrity Album

Pellicci’s Collection

Colin O’Brien at E.Pellicci

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits ( Part One)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Two)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Three)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Four)