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Charles Keeping, Artist

November 26, 2020
by the gentle author

The illustrations of Charles Keeping (1924–1988) burned themselves into my consciousness as a child and I have loved his work ever since. A major figure in British publishing in the last century, Keeping illustrated over one hundred books (including the entire novels of Dickens) and won the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals for his superlative talent.

In 1975, Keeping published ‘Cockney Ding Dong,’ in which he collected songs he remembered sung at home as a child. Illustrated with tender portraits of his extended family, the book is an unusual form of autobiography, recreating an entire cultural world through drawing and popular song.

Before the lockdown, I visited the Keeping Gallery at Shortlands in Kent to meet Vicky and Sean Keeping who talked to me about their father’s work, as we sat in the family home where they grew up and where much of his work is now preserved and displayed for visitors. You can read my interview at the end of this selection of illustrations from ‘Cockney Ding Dong.’

Illustrations  copyright © Estate of Charles Keeping

The Gentle Author – So why did your father create ‘Cockney Ding Dong’ ?

Vicky Keeping – We come from a family – he came from a family – where they all got together. They’d have their beer, they enjoyed their beer, and their Guinness – some of the women drank Guinness – and they would all sing and his Uncle Jack would play the piano. And everybody had their own song, so people would give their song and Dad loved that. We still know them all still, because we loved it, and people didn’t say, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to do it!’ They just got up and sang, and it was lovely and the songs were all from the music hall.

The Gentle Author – But he wasn’t a Cockney – where was he was from?

Vicky Keeping – He was from Vauxhall and he was born in Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth. He was very much brought up by the female side of his family. His father passed away when he was ten, he had a burst ulcer. He was a driver on the Daily Star.

Sean Keeping – Before that, his father had been a professional boxer between about 1912 and 1922. He had many professional fights. I know he definitely fought the British champion at the time and won! A chap called Ernie Rice.

His father came from a very poor family and he was orphaned. They had a watercress stall in Lambeth Walk but they died in the workhouse. His mother’s family were also Londoners from Lambeth who came from a nautical background – his grandfather had been a sailor in the Merchant Navy. In the eighteenth century, they had come up to London from the West Country. Like many families, they had not originated in London.

Vicky Keeping – His grandfather was very important to Dad, because he was a great storyteller and would tell stories from his voyages and the different people he met and he was – I suppose – a bit ahead of his time because he was welcoming to all and would speak very positively about the people he met around the world. Dad loved hearing his stories, so he learnt from his grandfather that storytelling was important. That came through to us as well – when we sat round the family tea table we were encouraged to tell stories.

Very sadly, Dad’s dad and Dad’s grandfather passed away in the same year – in 1934 – when Dad was ten. It left Dad and his sister Grace and their mum Eliza very poorly off, but they lived in this extended family with Dad’s granny who was a very strong influence. Dad idolised her and his aunties, and they thought he was the blonde blue-eyed boy and they loved him dearly.

Sean Keeping – They lived in a small terraced house in 74 Vauxhall Walk, which was right alongside the market, and Dad’s early influences were not just his family but also the characters in Vauxhall Market – those often crop up in his books.

Vicky Keeping – One of the things that Dad loved to do in the garden was to look through a little knot hole to see the Schweppes bottling plant and the workhorses and that was something that never left him, that memory of horses.

There was no obvious creativeness in his background, but Dad said his father used to come home – because he worked in print – and bring home paper, and Dad’s sister Grace used to write a story and Dad would illustrate it.

Sean Keeping – He was not a child who would have gone running around the streets, they were children who would sit at home writing a story and drawing. From a very young age, Dad showed a fantastic aptitude for drawing and we’ve got some drawings of his from when he was twelve and thirteen, and they are really fantastic – showing a London of working horses and working people, that’s what he was trying to depict in his drawings.

Vicky Keeping – He was called up in the Second World War but he worked for Clowes the printers when he left school at thirteen. He was not a particularly great scholar at school. One of the things was that he found difficult was that he was left-handed and the teachers would try to get him to write with his right hand.

Sean Keeping – Working for Clowes the printers, he would go around on a horse & cart delivering paper, and that was where he met one of the characters who had a great influence on him – Tom Cherry. Many of the burly-looking men driving a horse through London in Dad’s pictures – they’re Tom Cherry, and usually he drew a little boy sitting next to him which was Dad. Tom had a great influence, telling him stories about London and the people of London.

Vicky Keeping – Dad became a Telegrapher on a frigate and he was on the boat at D-Day. After the war, he tried to get into Art College but that was very difficult, so he worked collecting pennies from gas meters. He worked for the Gas Light & Coke Company and he would go around on a bicycle, with a big sack on his shoulder with all the pennies in it, going from door to door in North Kensington. He used to tell us funny stories. At that time, North Kensington was a poor area and I think he got a lot out of the characters he met there, but he hated working for a company, for a boss, and he decided he wanted to do something better.

He went to night classes at the Regent St Polytechnic but, because he left school at thirteen with no formal qualifications and had been through the war, it was very difficult for him to get in at first. He tried and tried, and eventually he spent time in a psychiatric hospital due to his experiences in the War. I think it was also to do with his father. When his father and his grandfather died in the same year, they were laid out in the front room and – as a ten year old – Dad had to go and kiss them. That had a profound effect on him. He spent six months in a psychiatric hospital and two weeks of those were in a deep sleep. Yet he talked about the great characters he met there and there was a Psychiatrist, Dr Sargent, who knew Dad should go to Art College and he supported him in writing letters – and eventually that’s what happened.

Sean Keeping – When Dad went to Art College, he had to fight hard to get a grant because, at that stage, his mother had been widowed for a number of years and she had a job cleaning, so there was not a lot of money around. But eventually, he got a grant to go to Regent St Polytechnic. Right after the war, there were two types of students – those that had just come out of the forces who were much more mature and those who had come directly from school. So it was an interesting mix of people and mix of cultures.

The Gentle Author – How did he set out to make an income as an illustrator?

Sean Keeping – Dad was not motivated by making a career or making money or even motivated – I think – by success. Dad was motivated by one thing and that was doing what he wanted to do – drawing pictures of things that he wanted to draw pictures of – so he never really thought about a career. But then he got a job on the Daily Herald, drawing the strip cartoon and that started to pay very well, and from that he was able to move out of the council flat that he lived in with his mother in Kennington and buy a small terraced house in Crystal Palace.

When they were looking for houses, once he was making money from the strip cartoon, they looked in two areas – one was Crystal Palace and the other was Chelsea. Now the idea that you might choose Crystal Palace or Chelsea to look for a house nowadays is an strange idea, but they decided on Crystal Palace!

(Transcription by Rachel Blaylock)

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So Long, Pamela Freedman

November 25, 2020
by the gentle author

Pamela Freedman died on Monday at the fine age of ninety-seven

Pamela Freedman at Sandys Row Synagogue by Jeremy Freedman

Pamela Freedman was a West End girl, born in 1923 in The Bricklayers Arms in Berwick St, Soho – the pub managed by her parents, Hetty & Albert Harris, just around the corner from The Blue Posts run by her grandfather. This was the only world Pamela knew, until one fateful day the treasurer of the pub’s Christmas Club absconded with all the savings and her father did the honourable thing, paying back the money to his customers out of his own pocket. It was a noble action that changed his family’s lives forever.

As a consequence, Hetty & Albert lost The Bricklayers Arms and in 1935, when Pamela was thirteen, they started a whole new life in the East End, managing The Princess Alice (now The Culpeper) in Commercial St. “When my mother saw it, she said, ‘Never in a million years! I can’t live in a place like that.’ The state of it was disgusting,” revealed Pamela, when I met her at The Princess Alice on her first return visit since the nineteen sixties, gazing wistfully around at the location that was once central to her life, rendered barely recognisable by alterations now. “The brewery sent the builders in and when they opened up the old counter, the rats ran everywhere. When my mother saw the seamen’s lodging house on the top that was rotten and neglected, she was frightened she might fall through the ceiling – the first thing the brewery was demolish the top floors,” she told me with gleeful satisfaction, explaining the curiously stunted architecture of the building today.

Although it was inauspicious circumstances that brought them to the East End, Hetty & Albert created a vibrant life at The Princess Alice with a large crowd of friendly regulars – as the exuberant pictures testify. But a far greater challenge was to come when World War II brought bombing, setting the East End ablaze, as Pamela recounted to me. “We had one night when the buzz bombs started, Daddy & I saw a buzz bomb catch three hundred people coming out of work from Old St. They all died. A lot of our customers were killed. We made dugouts in the cellar and we slept down there. We lay there listening to the clicking of the tram lines as the bombs hit. We kept coming up to see if anything was left standing. One night I came up from the cellar and everything was on fire. We told the firemen to take the beer and use it to put out the flames.We had no glass in the windows of the pub and the brewers said, ‘Stay open.’ We had no power and the brewers said, ‘Get candles and stay open.’ On the night the war ended, we sold out and we went up to the West End to celebrate.”

In the midst of this chaos, Pamela got married to Alf Freedman who lived across the street, “We grew up together and we were the same age. He was in the RAF for five years as a meteorological officer in North Africa, while I was a firewarden for three years. He came back from abroad and we decided to get married. Both families knew a lot of people and God forbid anyone should be ignored. It was the first big wedding after the war, Sandys Row Synagogue was too small, so we had it at the New West End Synagogue, St Petersburg Place, Bayswater and four hundred people came to the dinner. I was twenty-four when I got married and left the Princess Alice for good. All the draymen turned up early in the morning outside in the street to see me off. After I got married, I lived in a nice flat in Kensington but my husband was still away in the service. We were married nearly sixty years. We had a very good life. We worked hard and we went all over the world.”

Destiny took her back to the West End, her place of origin, and the foray into the East End became a single episode in her long life, but Pamela’s experiences here endowed her with a fearless quality and an unsentimental appreciation of the value of existence that remained with her. On the day in 1964 that her father Albert died at seven in the morning, the brewery expected her mother to open The Princess Alice, and although Hetty technically had a year’s grace as a widow, Pamela and her brother gave notice to the brewery at once.

They departed the East End with their mother in a taxi and never looked back, until forty years later when Pamela returned to pub at the invitation of her grandson Jeremy Freedman. Although, wisely, Pamela did ensure they kept the contents of the cellar from The Princess Alice when they left, which she and her family were still drinking decades later, including bottles of whisky worth over five hundred pounds each. But it was farewell to the East End, as Pamela herself said to me plainly, “We had no cause to come this way.”

Pamela recalled her own time behind the bar for me, outlined her personal method of dealing with troublesome customers, “My secret weapon was a syphon of soda behind the counter. I could let go as well as anybody, because I didn’t care, even though I was the governor’s daughter.” she declared. Describing Hetty & Albert’s style as landlords, she said, “Everything had to be regimented, if you put a bottle the wrong way round, God help you…it was bloody hard work.”

Pamela Freedman was an individual of extraordinary vitality, a charismatic diminutive woman with bright confident eyes, a shrewd yet upbeat generous matter and shrill energetic way of talking, constantly punctuating her speech with phrases like, “You tell people things, they wouldn’t believe you!”, “So many stories, am I boring you?” and her favourite exclamation, “Unbelievable!” This last word served as her personal leitmotif when called upon to consider the events of her life.

Hetty & Albert Harris with the locals the Princess Alice

Hetty & Albert Harris behind the bar

Hetty, Albert & Hetty’s brother Walter

1. Albert taps a keg

2. Albert connects the tap

3. Albert tightens the tap

These are the photographs that Alf & his wife-to-be Pamela Freedman exchanged when they were both twenty-one, before he left for North Africa in 1942 -“with undying love.”

Pamela standing in Wentworth St in the week of her eighty-seventh birthday, looking across Commercial St to The Princess Alice, on the occasion of her return for the first time in forty years

Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman

Moyra Peralta, Photographer

November 24, 2020
by the gentle author

Men sleeping outside Itchy Park

“I felt Spitalfields was my home at one time, even though I was never resident there apart from staying at Providence Row for the occasional night.” admitted photographer Moyra Peralta when she showed me these pictures, taken while working in the shelter in Crispin St during the seventies and eighties.

Every time I look at these, I see myself there,” she confided, contemplating her affectionate portraits of those she once knew who lived rough upon the streets of Spitalfields, “yet it doesn’t feel like me anymore, now that I am no longer in touch and I have no idea how many have died.” Despite its obvious social documentary quality, Moyra’s photography is deeply personal work.

Recalling the days when she and her partner, Rodger, studied under Jorge Lewinsky in the sixties, Moyra revealed the basis of her vision. “It opened up the mental apparatus to see photography not as an amateur hobby but as something fundamental to life. And it was doing the Soup Run that triggered off the urge to record. At first, I couldn’t believe what I saw, because in the day you didn’t see it. At night, you see a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see – hundreds of men sleeping at the back of a hotel in Central London, when there was no sign of them by day because they went to the day shelter.”

Forsaking her chosen path as a teacher, Moyra spent more than a decade working in shelters and on the street, befriending those with no other place to go and taking their pictures. “I started out as a volunteer on the night Soup Run, but once I got to know the men individually, I thought – that’s it, I don’t want to be anywhere else. I realised they didn’t lose their soul, and that spirit was what turned me from a volunteer into a full-time worker at Providence Row,” she confessed.

“Our children were exposed to the scene and spent every Christmas with us at the night shelter where we volunteered. We used to have people home for the weekend as long as they didn’t drink, but I think they found it quite a struggle to stay sober for two days. I could quite understand why people would drink, when it’s so cold you can’t sleep and you’re scared of being attacked by ‘normal’ people.”

Gerry B. in his cubicle at Providence Row – “Gerry sent me a letter containing only a few lavender seeds and a one pound note – the significance of which I shall never know,  for Gerry died a few days later. He always had been so very kind and I never quite knew why. Like many before him, his remains were laid in a pauper’s grave.

I remember, above all, his intervention on my first evening at work, when men in the dormitory had planned a surprise to test the reaction of the greenhorn on the night shift. Forewarned is forearmed, and the equanimity with which I viewed a row of bare bottoms in beds along the dormitory wall stood me in good stead for future interaction.”

“The women’s entrance at the corner of Crispin St & Artillery Lane, where Sister Paul is seen handing out clean shirts to a small group of men.”

Dining Room at Providence Row.

“The two Marys, known as ‘Cotton Pickin’ and ‘Foxie,’ making sandwiches at Providence Row for the daily distribution in Crispin St.”

Providence Row Night Refuge, Crispin St.

Men waiting for sandwiches outside Providence Row Night Refuge, 1973. “Established in 1880, this refuge offered free shelter and food to those who needed it for over one hundred years.”

Market lorries in Crispin St.

White’s Row and Tenterground.

Charlie & Bob outside Christ Church. “Charlie was a well-known East End character and Bob was my co-worker at the night shelter.”

Charlie, Bob & J.W. “Charlie rendering ‘Danny Boy’ to his captive audience.”

Charlie & Bob.

Sleeping in a niche, Christ Church 1975. “The crypt was opened in 1965 as a rehabilitation hostel for meths and crude spirit drinkers.”

Mary M. in Spitalfields.

“In Brushfield St beside Spitalfields Market, Dougie is seen having his lunch at ‘Bonfire Corner.’ Traditionally there had been a fire on this corner since the fifties.”

Sylvia, Tenterground 1978. “This homeless woman slept rough but accepted meals from Providence Row in Crispin St.”

Brushfield St, 1976. “Discarded vegetables at the closing of each market day proved a godsend to people on low incomes.”

Painter, Providence Row.

The bonfire corner at Spitalfields Market, 1973. “There had been deaths here from market lorries reversing. Ted McV., however, died of malnutrition and exposure. “


Old Mary, seventies.

John Jamieson, Commercial St 1979.

John Jamieson smiling.

J.W. with harmonica

J.W. & Pauline in Whitechapel, eighties

Pauline in Whitechapel, eighties.

Willie G. in pensive mood, rolling a fag in Whitechapel, 1976.


Gunthorpe St, 1974

Michael, Cable St 1973

Moyra & her partner Rodger in Spitalfields, late seventies.

Photographs copyright © Moyra Peralta

Signed copies of ‘NEARLY INVISIBLE,’ including these photographs and more by Moyra Peralta plus writing by John Berger & Alan Bennett, are available directly from Moyra for £5 plus £2 postage. Email to get your copy.

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In Old Spitalfields

November 23, 2020
by the gentle author

Catherine Wheel Alley

Bishopsgate Institute has a magnificent collection of nineteenth century watercolours collected by the first archivist Charles Goss, which offer tantalising glimpses of the last surviving tumbledown pantiled tenements and terraces, crooked alleys and hidden yards that once comprised the urban landscape of Spitalfields.

When we think of old Spitalfields, we usually consider the eighteenth and nineteenth century fragments remaining today, yet there was another Spitalfields before this. Before the roads were made up, before Commercial St was cut through, before the Market was enclosed, before Liverpool St Station was built, Spitalfields was another place entirely. Lined with coaching inns, peppered by renaissance mansions and celebrated for its production of extravagant silks and satins, it was also notorious for violent riots and rebellion, where impoverished families might starve or freeze to death.

Sunday Morning in Petticoat Lane, 1838

Old Red House, Corner of Brushfield St by J.P.Emslie, 1879

Paul’s Head, Crispin St by J.T. Wilson, 1870

The Fort & Gun Tavern and Northumberland Arms, corner of Fashion St by J.T.Wilson

Dunning’s Alley showing Lucky Bob’s formerly Duke of Wellington, Bishopsgate by J.T.Wilson, 1868

Bell Tavern, Bell Yard, Gracechurch St by J.T.Wilson, 1869

Bishopsgate at the Corner of Alderman’s Walk beside St Botolph’s church by C.J.Richardson, 1871

House of Sir Francis Dashwood, Alderman’s Walk, by C.J.Richardson, 1820

Entrance from Bishopsgate to Great St Helen’s by C.J.Richardson, 1871

Devonshire House, Bishopsgate by C.J.Richardson, 1871

The Green Dragon, Bishopsgate, coloured by S.Lowell

The Green Dragon, Bishopsgate by T. Hosmer Shepherd, coloured by S.Lowell, 1856

The Bull Inn by T.Hosmer Shepherd, 1856

The Spread Eagle in Gracechurch St by R.B.Schnebblie, 1814

Sir Paul Pindar’s Lodge, Bishopsgate c. 1760

North East View of Bishopsgate Street, 1814

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Insititute

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Charles W Cushman’s London

November 22, 2020
by the gentle author

American Photographer Charles Weaver Cushman (1896-1972) visited London only a couple of times and yet, alongside shots of landmarks such as Big Ben & Trafalgar Sq, he recorded these rare and unexpected images of markets and street vendors in Kodachrome. He bequeathed over 14,000 of his images to Indiana University, where the entire range of his work may be explored in the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection.

Aldgate huckster, April 30th 1961

Bell Lane, April 30th 1961

Petticoat Lane, April 30th 1961

Petticoat Lane, April 30th 1961

Petticoat Lane, April 30th 1961

New Goulston St, April 30th 1961

At St Botolph’s Bishopsgate, April 30th 1961

Liverpool St Station, June 26th 1960

Liverpool St Station, Sunday May 30th 1965

Liverpool St Station, Sunday May 30th 1965

Finsbury Sq, May 30th 1965

St Giles Cripplegate, June 26th 1960

Moorgate, April 30th 1961

Sunday morning on London Bridge, June 26th 1960

Gas lamp cleaners London Bridge, May 29th 1965

Looking east from London Bridge, May 29th 1965

Smithfield Market, May 2nd 1961

Leather Lane, April 28th 1961

Leather Lane, April 28th 1961

Leather Lane, April 28th 1961

Covent Garden, June 26th 1961

Covent Garden, June 26th 1961

Covent Garden, June 26th 1961

Covent Garden, June 26th 1961

Covent Garden, June 26th 1961

Covent Garden, June 26th 1961

Buskers, Leicester Sq, May 14th 1961

St. Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Sq, June 19th 1960

Photographs copyright © The Trustees of Indiana University

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So Long, Tom The Sailor

November 21, 2020
by the gentle author

I have to report the recent death of Brick Lane icon, Thomas Hewson Finch, aged seventy-nine

Let me admit, if I had to choose one person who incarnated the spirit of Brick Lane Market, it would have been Tom – Tom the Sailor, as he was widely known – who was to be found almost every day of the week with his faithful dog Matty, stalling out on the pavement with a few bits and pieces for sale.

A distinguished gentleman of soulful character, yet with indefatigable humour and spirit, Thomas Frederick Hewson Finch had been around as long as anyone could remember, although few were aware of his origins or the extraordinary story of how he came to be there.

“In 1941, when the Germans were at war with England, that’s when I came along. My father wasn’t married to my mother. As far as I know, I was born in Goole in Yorkshire, but I don’t know for sure – no-one knows because it was 1941. I don’t think anybody cared about me, I was just a problem. I say my mother died when I was born but I don’t know, and I don’t want to know because I’ve had my life now, and I was slung in a home then which was natural. All I can remember is me lying on a floor and watching a rocking horse.

That home was St John’s in Ipswich, it’s not there any more. You went from baby to cots and then you went to beds, in other words you went through the stages. It was a big place. Loads of people like me needed somewhere to go. Why this place was picked was because there was Yanks all around. Although it may not be true, what I say is that my father was American. My mother went out with other people. She was part gypsy and she had to take care of herself, and naturally she would go with the Yanks who gave her cigarettes and stockings. Why would a woman want to go with Englishmen that were poor and had nothing?

When you sit there as an orphan and see other people being given presents, how do you imagine I felt? One child had an electric train set and I nicked it and buried it, but I when I went back to get it a year later it was rusty and no good. Why take somebody’s train set? It was how I thought. It was wrong, I know this now. I hid above a toilet for three days when they were looking for me, after they thought I had run away. As I got older, they slung me out because I was too unruly, and they put me in a stronger home. It was in East Grinstead, and the one who run it he was – now he would be locked up in  prison – he was very hard.  He used to love hitting me. He used the birch, he kept it in vinegar. He put you over a bench for six of the best. It was always me.

They sent me to a training ship for orphans on the River Medway – the Arethusa – where I reached Chief Petty Officer Boy. We slept in hammocks and you had to climb the one hundred and seventy foot masts everyday and slide down the lanyards. It was sailing ship from Harwich. From there, when you passed out you went to the Ganges in Suffolk where everyone went to go into the Royal Navy. They were training me in Morse code and typing, and I went on HMS Paladin. But I went deaf, on account of the cold weather in Iceland when I was drilling ice off a boat. I was invalided out with a pension of six shillings and ninepence a week which I sold for two hundred and fifty pounds, and with the money I bought a motorbike – a superflash.

I started working with woodworkers, Hollar Bros in Hull where I met my wife. I went in a cafe in Dagger Lane and the chap was doing no good and he asked me if I wanted the cafe for fifteen pounds a month, so I thought, “I’ll have that.” It turned out to be one hell of a place. All the bikers came down and it was packed out with motorcyclists from Brighton and all over England. I was open twenty-four hours and it was so busy you couldn’t park in the street. From there I ended up with seven nightclubs, and ten other cafes with casinos above them. I had dogs on the door, and I had one dressed as a fisherman because they knew me and I went to sea with them.

After that, I was twenty years on the run. I gave up everything when I left, me and my family, we just walked out. All the others ended up in the nick but they couldn’t catch me and I came down here to East End to get away. In other words, I was a bit of a villain. I’ve had a few premises round here, on Great Eastern St, Boundary St and two shops on Brick Lane, and in Cheshire St. I never paid for any of them. I used to have a partner, me and Terry – they called us “Tom & Jerry,” cat and mouse. Our first shop on the Hackney Rd, we sold the shop window just to get going. We used to sell nicked fireplaces, Victorian ranges and marble, you could get that stuff easy when there was no cameras. We sold them at giveaway prices, even the police came to buy from us. The shop was given to me by a Jew that was going to America, I was sitting in the Princess one day and he came in and threw the keys on the counter and said, “Take it, it’s yours!”

A camera crew came round once and asked me to show them how to sell a fireplace. We had one marked at fifteen pounds, so they filmed me and I asked “Thirty pounds” and they gave me the cash. Each time I asked more until it was seventy-five pounds. And when they said, “Can we have our money back ?” I said, “It’s your fireplace!” You can do anything in a market. Me and Terry closed up and went to the stripper pub on the corner. That’s how you sell a fireplace.

All my family are well off, they all made it. My little boy Andrew, he’s my son, he was always with me. He’s grown up now too, but I just carry on in my own stupid way. Why does a man do it?  I can only do what I’ve always done, I know it better than anything. I’ve done it all my life. Old Tom’s still an orphan, it’s the way I was brought up.”

Larger than life yet of this life, Tom the Sailor was the most charismatic rogue you could meet, with his nautical tattoos, weatherbeaten features, white mutton chop whiskers and an endless supply of yarns to regale. He delighted in ruses and fables. With the wisdom and modesty of one who had lived many lives, Tom recognised that the truth of experience is rarely simple, always ambiguous. And if, like me, you are of a similar cast of mind, then there was almost no better way to pass time and learn about the East End than hanging on Old Tom’s ear.

For years, we exchanged discreet greetings every day when I passed him outside the beigel shop and, now he is gone, I shall think of him each time I reach that spot. Brick Lane will be a lesser place without Tom the Sailor.

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List Of Shops Open For Business

November 20, 2020
by the gentle author

These are the essential shops that are open in Spitalfields and vicinity during the lockdown. Readers are especially encouraged to support small independent businesses who offer an invaluable service to the community. This list confirms that it is possible to source all essential supplies locally without recourse to supermarkets.

Be advised many shops are operating limited hours, so I recommend you call in advance to avoid risking a wasted journey. We will be updating and publishing this list weekly, so please send your amendments and additions.

The accompanying photographs are by Shloimy Alman from the seventies.


The Albion, 2/4 Boundary St
Ali’s Mini Superstore, 50d Greatorex St
AM2PM, 210 Brick Lane
Planet Organic, 132 Commercial St
Banglatown Cash & Carry, 67 Hanbury St
Breid Bakery, Arch 72, Dunbridge St
Brick Lane Minimarket, 100 Brick Lane
The Butchery Ltd, 6a Lamb St
City Supermarket, 10 Quaker St
Costprice Minimarket, 41 Brick Lane
Faizah Minimarket, 2 Old Montague St
JB Foodstore, 97 Brick Lane
Haajang’s Corner, 78 Wentworth St
Leila’s Shop, 17 Calvert Avenue
Nisa Local, 92 Whitechapel High St
Pavilion Bakery, 130 Columbia Rd
Rinkoff’s Bakery, 224 Jubilee Street & 79 Vallance Rd
Sylhet Sweet Shop, 109 Hanbury St
Taj Stores, 112 Brick Lane
Zaman Brothers, Fish & Meat Bazaar, 19 Brick Lane



Before you order from a delivery app, why not call the take away or restaurant direct?

Absurd Bird Fried Chicken, 54 Commercial St
Al Badam Fried Chicken, 37 Brick Lane
Allpress Coffee, 58 Redchurch St
Band of Burgers, 22 Osborn St
Beef & Birds, Brick Lane
Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane
Beigel Shop, 155 Brick Lane
Bellboi Coffee, 104 Sclater St
Bengal Village, 75 Brick Lane
Big Moe’s Diner, 95 Whitechapel High St
Burro E Salvia Pastificio, 52 Redchurch St
The Carpenters Arms, 73 Cheshire St (Open for take away beers)
China Feng, 43 Commercial St
Circle & Slice Pizza, 11 Whitechapel Rd
Crosstown Doughnuts, 157 Brick Lane
Dark Sugars, 45a Hanbury St (Take away ice cream and deliveries of chocolate)
Donburi & Co, Korean & Japanese, 13 Artillery Passage
Duke of Wellington, 12 Toynbee St (Open for take away beers)
Eastern Eye Balti House, 63a Brick Lane
Enso Thai & Japanese, 94 Brick Lane
Exmouth Coffee Shop, 83 Whitechapel High St
Grounded Coffee Shop, 9 Whitechapel Rd
Holy Shot Coffee, 155 Bethnal Green Rd
Hotbox Smoked Meats, 46-48 Commercial St
Jack The Chipper, 74 Whitechapel High St
Jonestown Coffee, 215 Bethnal Green Rd
Laboratorio Pizza, 79 Brick Lane
La Cucina, 96 Brick Lane
Leon, 3 Crispin Place, Spitalfields Market
Madhubon Sweets, 42 Brick Lane
Mooshies Vegan Burgers, 104 Brick Lane
Nude Expresso, The Roastery, 25 Hanbury St
E. Pellicci, 332 Bethnal Green Rd
Pepe’s Peri Peri, 82 Brick Lane
Peter’s Cafe, 73 Aldgate High St
Picky Wops Vegan Pizza, 53 Brick Lane
Polo Bar, 176 Bishopsgate
Poppies, 6-8 Hanbury St
Quaker St Cafe, 10 Quaker St
Rajmahal Sweets, 57 Brick Lane
Rosa’s Thai Cafe, 12 Hanbury St
Shawarma Lebanese, 84 Brick Lane
Shoreditch Fish & Chips, 117 Redchurch St
Sichuan Folk, 32 Hanbury St
String Ray Globe Cafe, 109 Columbia Road
Sushi Show, 136 Bethnal Green Rd
Ten Bells, 84 Commercial St (Takeway beer)
Vegan Yes, Italian & Thai Fusion, 64 Brick Lane
The Watch House, 139 Commercial St
White Horse Kebab, 336 Bethnal Green Rd
Yuriko Sushi & Bento, 48 Brick Lane



Brick Lane Bookshop, 166 Brick Lane (Books ordered by phone or email are delivered free locally)
Brick Lane Bikes, 118 Bethnal Green Rd
Day Lewis Pharmacy, 14 Old Montague St
E1 Cycles, 4 Commercial St
Eden Floral Designs, 10 Wentworth St (Order fresh flowers online for free delivery)
Flashback Records, 131 Bethnal Green Rd (Order records online for delivery)
Harry Brand, 122 Columbia Road (Order gifts online for delivery)
Leyland Hardware, 2-4 Great Eastern St
Post Office, 160a Brick Lane
Rose Locksmith & DIY, 149 Bethnal Green Rd
Sid’s DIY, 2 Commercial St




E1 Dry Cleaners, Cannon Street Rd, E1 2LY
E5 Bakehouse, Arch 395, Mentmore Terrace, London Fields (Customers are encouraged to order online and collect in person)
Gold Star Dry Cleaning & Laundry, 330 Burdett Rd
Hackney Essentials, 235 Victoria Park Rd
Quality Dry Cleaners, 16a White Church Lane
Newham Books, 747 Barking Rd (Books ordered by phone or email are posted out)
Rajboy, 564 Commercial Rd, E14 7JD (Take away service available)
Region Choice Chemist, 68 Cambridge Heath Rd
Symposium Italian Restaurant, 363 Roman Road (Take away service available)
Thompsons DIY, 442-444 Roman Rd


Photographs copyright © Shloimy Alman

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