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Graffiti At The Tower Of London

July 14, 2024
by the gentle author

Click here to book for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS next Saturday


Oftentimes, it suits me to visit the Tower of London and study the graffiti. The austere stone structures of this ancient fortress by the river assert their grim dignity despite the crowd-borne hubbub and, even in tourist season, quiet consideration of the sombre texts graven there is still 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

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Nicholas Culpeper, Herbalist Of Spitalfields

July 13, 2024
by the gentle author



It is my pleasure to publish this profile of the famous herbalist of Spitalfields by Patricia Cleveland-Peck, gardener and writer.

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654)

Of all Spitalfields’ past residents, one name stands out above others – Nicholas Culpeper, born on October 18th 1616, a herbalist and medical practitioner operating from Red Lion St (now Commercial St) who devoted his life to healing, and especially to healing the poor.

While apprenticed to the apothecary Francis Drake of Bishopsgate, Nicholas accompanied Thomas Johnson (later editor of the 1633 edition of Gerard’s Herball) on plant hunting excursions. He loved herbs since boyhood and became expert at their identification, essential in those days when almost all ailments were treated with plants. Herbals served as handbooks for doctors in which each plant was named  together with its ‘virtues’ or uses. Nicholas’ skill in this subject, coupled with the fact that he was very caring, meant that the people of Spitalfields flocked to him – sometimes as many as forty a morning – and they commonly received treatment for little or no payment.

This was not popular among Nicholas Culpeper’s qualified medical colleagues who were infuriated by his view that, “no man deserved to starve to pay an insulting, insolent physician.” He also believed in “English herbs for English bodies,” and went out gathering his own herbs from the countryside for free which did not endear him to the apothecaries who often insisted on expensive imported exotic plants for their ‘cures’.

In those days, there were strict divisions between what university-educated physicians, apothecaries and barber-surgeons (who drew teeth and let blood) were allowed to do. Physicians were expensive, so for most sick people the first port of call would be their own herb garden or still room, the second the ‘wise woman’ down the road, the third a visit to the apothecary –  after which, for many, there was no other option but to let the illness run its course.

In 1649, Nicholas inflamed the establishment by producing an English translation of their latin ‘bible’ the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis which included all the recipes for their medicines. Published as A Physical Directory, it not only revealed the secret ingredients but gave instructions on how to administer them – one of his most important contributions, as it provided the first effective self-help book to which people could turn.

Even more galling for the medical fraternity was the fact Nicholas had never completed his apprenticeship, and chose Spitalfields to set up a semi-legal practice because it was outside the City of London and thus not governed by the rules of the College of Physicians. Spitalfields in those days was quite different from today, beyond the site of huge priory of St Mary Spital stretched the farmland of Spital Field. The priory had been dissolved under Henry VIII although parts of the precincts were still inhabited, and it was an area which attracted outsiders like Nicholas who, as well as treating his patients, was  something of a political radical. In his pamphlets, he railed against the king, priests and lawyers as well as physicians. Consequently he was no stranger to controversy and at one point was even accused of witchcraft – just one of the many troubles which accumulated to beset him during his life.

The first of these even occurred thirteen days before his life began, for it was then that his father died leaving his mother without support. She and the new-born Nicholas were obliged to return to the protection of her father, William Attersole, vicar  of the little village of Isfield in Sussex. Attersole was not happy about this arrangement but, although he did not welcome the child, he did see it as his religious duty to provide instruction for him as he grew. Young Nicholas learned the scriptures and the classics, he studied mathematics and, under his grandfather’s guidance, began to take an interest in astrology which later featured in his own works. He even stole a book on anatomy out of the library (where he was only supposed to read the bible) and read it in a barn.

Importantly, he also spent a lot of time with his mother who we know owned a copy of Gerard’s Herball. She was responsible for the health of the household and, from his later works, we can glean the fact that he soon became familiar with all the local Sussex ‘simples’ or wild herbs. We know only little of this period of his life, but it is thought that he went to school in Lewes before – at the age of sixteen – setting off for Cambridge ostensibly to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps by studying theology. Once there, he began to attended lectures on anatomy and, perhaps frustrated that he couldn’t change to medicine, he spent most of his time smoking, drinking and socialising in taverns.

Yet the reason for his dropping out is a sad one. Young though he was, before leaving Sussex, Nicholas had fallen in love with Judith Rivers, a local heiress. She reciprocated his love and thus, knowing her family would never consent to the relationship, they planned to elope. They were to meet near Lewes and marry secretly, but on the way Judith’s coach was struck by lightning and she was killed. Nicholas was devastated and spent months sunk in melancholy. There was no question of his returning to Cambridge to study medicine or anything else. Eventually he chose to come to London and become an apothecary. Socially, this was a step down but he enjoyed his time at Bishopsgate and became very proficient.

Nicholas was twenty-four when he found love again. Called to treat a Mr Field for gouty arthritis, his eyes fell upon the fifteen-year-old daughter of the house, Alice. By a stroke of good fortune, she too was an heiress and it was her considerable dowry which enabled Nicholas to build a house in Red Lion St, Spitalfields from which he conducted his practice.

When the Civil War broke out two years later, the anti-royalist Nicholas signed up with Cromwell. Once his profession was discovered however, the recruiting offer commented, “We do not need you at the battlefield…come along as the field surgeon since most of the barbers and physicians are royal asses and we have use for someone to look after our injured.” Later, during the battle of Reading, Nicholas himself was wounded.

On his return to Spitalfields, he devoted himself to study and writing, and produced a number of books including a Directory for Midwives. Nicholas recognised that this was an unusual topic for a male herbalist, writing in the dedication, “If you (the matron) by your experiences find anything not according to the truth ( for I am a man and therefore subject to failings) first judge charitably of me…” Having grown up so close to his mother, Nicholas had a deep respect of women but this book may also have been inspired by some painful experiences in his own family for, although Alice bore him seven children, only one daughter lived to adulthood.

In 1652, Nicholas published his master work The English Physician also known as Culpeper’s Herbal which became the standard work for three hundred years and is still in print. It was sold cheaply and made its way to America where it had a lasting impact too. By 1665, ten years after his death, Nicholas’ name  was so well-known that the Lord Mayor of London chose to use it alongside that of Sir Walter Raleigh in a pamphlet about avoiding infection from the Great Plague.

Nicholas Culpeper deserves to be remembered. He was always on the side of the underdog, he opposed the ‘closed shop’ of earlier physicians and he promoted sensible self-help. He also tried to offer reasonable  explanations for what he wrote – “Neither Gerard nor Parkinson or any that ever wrote in a like manner ever gave one wise reason for what they wrote and so did nothing else but train up young novices in Physic in the School of Tradition, and teach them just as a parrot is taught… But in mine you see a reason for everything that is written.”

He died in 1654, aged only thirty-eight, of tuberculosis and is believed to be buried beneath Liverpool St Station.

Title page of the 1790 edition of Culpeper’s English Physician & Complete Herbal, published by C.Stalker, 4 Stationer’s Court, Ludgate St.

Plates from the edition published by Richard Evans, 8 White’s Row, Spitalfields, August 12th, 1814.

Red Lion House, Nicholas Culpeper’s home in Spitafields. Becoming the Red Lion Tavern after his death, the building was demolished in the eighteen-forties as part of road widening when Commercial St was cut through to carry traffic from the docks.

“Culpeper’s house, of which there are woodcuts extant, it is of wood, and is situated the corner of Red Lion Court and Red Lion Street, Spitalfields. It is now and has long been a public house, known by the sign of the Red Lion, but at the time it was inhabited by the sage herbalist, it was independent of other buildings. While in the occupation of Culpeper, who died in 1654, this house stood in Red Lion Field and was as a dispensary of medicines (perhaps the first) of very considerable celebrity.” The European Magazine and London Review, January 1812. Red Lion St and Red Lion Court as shown on John Horwood’s map (1794-99) before Commercial St was cut through in the nineteenth century.

Plaque commemorating Nicholas Culpeper installed thanks to a campaign by Spitalfields Life

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Marion Elliott’s Latest Designs

July 12, 2024
by the gentle author

Click here to book for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS this Saturday


Favourite printmaker & illustrator Marion Elliot sent me these wonderful new designs for tea towels, cards and zines that she will be selling from her stall this Saturday 13th July at the Illustrators’ Fair, Granary Square, Kings Cross, N1C 4AA, from 11am to 5pm. Do go along and say ‘hello.’

Jolly Fellows Tea towel

‘I have a great love of folk culture and popular art. I love shop fronts, fairgrounds, hand-painted signage, advertising imagery and typography, tattoos, workers’ guild banners, mottos, catch-phrases, religious iconography and paper ephemera.

I use printmaking techniques to produce densely-textured papers for my collage work and I am very fond of paper cutting, so my collage has developed from experiments with this technique.

I like collage because it offers me freedom to move all the elements around until I feel that the design looks right. I find creating the collages very contemplative, rather like making a large jigsaw puzzle and I can get lost for hours just moving bits around.’

Marion Elliot

Harvest Home Tea towel

Bless this House Tea towel

Make Merry

Toby Jug

Two Cats

Cats First Day Cover

Le Corbusier First Day Cover

Smoking First Day Cover

Stamp Album zine

Superstition First Day Cover

Illustrations copyright © Marion Elliot

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A Flight In A Tiger Moth

July 11, 2024
by the gentle author




What better way could there be to enjoy a warm summer afternoon than taking a gentle spin in a 1939 Tiger Moth over Kent? I took off from Damyns Hall Aerodrome in Upminster where the East End pilots of World War Two did their training in exactly such a plane.

A train delivered me to Upminster, then a bus dropped me at Corbets Tey before I walked a mile along the grass verge towards Aveley. Strolling up an unremarkable farm track, I discovered a number of brightly coloured vintage aeroplanes and there, ahead of me, stretched a wide expanse of grass that serves as the runway.

My pilot Alex Reynier – the model of confident expertise in a sleek flight suit – was waiting in the clubhouse and, once I had signed a one day membership of the flying club, we walked out to survey the bright red Tiger Moth – as jaunty as a model plane.

These vehicles were used for pilot training – with two seats, one behind the other, open cockpits and dual controls. The robust simplicity of the vehicle is awe-inspiring, essentially a large kite with a motor engine attached. The wings are made of cloth stretched over a frame and the light-weight body of aluminium. Alex opened up the hood to reveal the engine, fitted upside-down to ensure that oil always reaches the pistons and it cannot stall.

I pulled the nozzle out of the nearby petrol pump and handed it Alex so he could fill the small overhead fuel tank, situated where the wings met. Wrapped in some extra layers for warmth, I climbed into my tiny cockpit then Alex strapped me in and fitted my headphones and microphone so we could communicate in the air.

The runway was bumpy but fortunately we did not discover any new rabbit holes and the tiny plane took off effortlessly into the sky, spiralling up at an astonishing speed into the rushing wind.

It is impossible not to be overwhelmed at first by the visceral experience of flight when you are exposed to the air without any barrier between you and the sky. You gaze down from the familiar height of an aeroplane, yet without any of the barriers that are designed to insulate you from the reality of flight in commercial airlines, especially the racing currents of wind and the vibration of the motor. In a Tiger Moth, you are seemingly suspended in air, like an insect.

We were high over the Dartford Bridge, so I turned my head right to see London and left to see the Thames estuary. Without direct reference, the sense of speed was indeterminate.

I was delighted and reassured to be reminded how green the landscape is, mostly undeveloped fields and woods, still peppered with fine old houses and castles – picture book England. Alex pointed out Eynsford Castle, Lullingstone Castle, Chavening House and Chartwell. At Chavening, we descended in a cheeky spiral around the house to take a nosy peek at the gardens. But the climax of the flight was to circle over Knole, just outside Sevenoaks. This is one of my favourite places and the house is often described as resembling a medieval city on account of its vast rambling structure, yet it appeared like a model that I could reach out and pick up if I chose.

Indeed I was beginning to feel that – from above – the world looked like a model of itself, the work of a fanatical enthusiast. This realisation engenders a seductive sense of powerful autonomy, encouraging the notion that it is all laid out from your pleasure and you can fly wherever you please upon a whim. Such was my exhilarated reverie, suspended at 1800 feet over Kent.

I discovered that in these tiny open planes, which take you so high into the air so quickly, the experience of flight has less mystique but a lot more wonder.



The Thames

Landing safe and sound at Damyns Hall Aerodrome

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In Itchy Park With Jack London

July 10, 2024
by the gentle author




The churchyard of Christ Church, Spitalfields, was once known as “Itchy Park,” a nickname that may derive from the long-term presence of the homeless sleeping there and the lice that afflicted them. In 1902, at the age of twenty-six, the American novelist Jack London came to Itchy Park as part of seven weeks he spent wandering around the East End that Summer, talking to people and learning as much as he could of their lives. The result was a masterpiece, “The People of the Abyss,” in which London used his talent as a novelist to draw his readers into sympathy with those he described, creating a humane portrayal of a world that had previously been the preserve of social campaigners.

The shadow of Christ Church falls across Spitalfields Garden, and in the shadow of Christ’s Church, at three o’clock in the afternoon, I saw a sight which I never wish to see again. There are no flowers in this garden, which is smaller than my own rose garden at home. Grass only grows here, and it is surrounded by sharp-spiked iron iron fencing, as are all the parks of London town, so that homeless men and women may not come in at night and sleep upon it.

As we entered the garden, an old woman between fifty and sixty, passed us, striding with sturdy intention if somewhat rickety action, with two bulky bundles, covered with sacking, slung fore and aft upon her. She was a woman tramp, a houseless soul, too independent to drag her falling carcass through the workhouse door. Like the snail, she carries her home with her. In two sacking-covered bundles were her household goods, her wardrobe, linen, and dear feminine possessions.

We went up the narrow gravelled walk. On the benches on either side arrayed a mass of miserable and distorted humanity, the sight of which would have impelled Doré to more diabolical flights of fancy than he ever succeeded in achieving. It was a welter of rags and filth, of all manner of loathsome skin diseases, open sores, bruises, grossness, indecency, leering monstrosities and bestial faces. A chill, raw wind was blowing, and these creatures huddled there in their rags, sleeping for the most part of trying to sleep.

Here were a dozen women, ranging in age from twenty to seventy. Next a babe, possibly of nine months, lying asleep, flat on the hard bench, with neither pillow nor covering, nor with anyone looking after it. Next half-a-dozen men, sleeping bolt upright or leaning against one another in their sleep.In one place a family group, a child asleep in its mother’s arms, and the husband (or male mate) clumsily mending a dilapidated shoe. On another bench, a woman trimming the frayed strips of her rags with a knife, and another woman, with a thread and needle, sewing up rents. Adjoining, a man holding a sleeping woman in his arms. Further on, a man, his clothes caked with gutter mud, asleep, with his head in the lap of a woman, not more than twenty-five years old, and also asleep.

It was this sleep that puzzled me. Why were nine out of ten of them asleep or trying to sleep? But it was not till afterwards that I learned. It is a law of the powers that be that the homeless shall not sleep by night. On the pavement, by the portico of Christ’s Church, where the stone pillars rise towards the sky in a stately row, were whole rows of men asleep or drowsing, and all too deep sunk in a torpor to rouse or be made curious by our intrusion.

On August 25th 1902, Jack London wrote, “I was out all night with the homeless ones, walking the streets in the bitter rain, and, drenched to the skin, wondering when dawn would come. I returned to my rooms on Sunday night after seventy-two hours continuous work and only a short night’s sleep… and my nerves are blunted with what I have seen.” In later years, after the success of his great novels “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang,” he recalled of “People of the Abyss,” “No other book of mine took so much of my young heart and tears as that study of the economic degradation of the poor.”

More than a century later, London would be disappointed to return and discover people still sleeping in “Itchy Park” – nowadays they are almost exclusively male and are a mixture of homeless people, addicts and alcoholics, economic migrants and those sleeping it off after a heavy night in a club.

Yet change is imminent, as there is controversy in Spitalfields over the future of “Itchy Park.” Only the section next to Commercial St is open today, to the East are the former Christ Church youth club building and the playground of Christ Church School in Brick Lane. While the school, which is short of space, wishes to build a nursery upon the site of the youth club, there is another body of opinion that would like to see the park enlarged to include the youth club site as a public green space for all.

Meanwhile the sleepers of “Itchy Park” continue their slumber, office workers come to eat their lunch in the shade and tourists sit under the trees to rest their feet, and somehow everybody co-exists amicably enough.

Sleeping in the churchyard of Christ Church, Spitalfields, 1902

Sleeping in the churchyard of Christ Church, Spitalfields, 2011

Jack London

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Terry Smith, Envelope Cutter

July 9, 2024
by the gentle author




There is not much that Terry Smith does not know about envelopes. When I met him he had been cutting them for sixty years at Baddeley Brothers, the long-established family firm of fine stationery manufacturers. “When I tell people I make envelopes, sometimes they look at you and ask, ‘What does it take to make envelopes?’ Terry revealed to me with a knowing smile, “So I tell them to get hold of a piece of paper and a knife and a ruler, and try to cut out the shape – because that is the trade of envelope making.”

Envelopes, especially of the brown manila variety, are mostly mundane objects that people prefer not to think about too much. But, at Baddeley Brothers, they make the envelopes of luxury and the envelopes of pleasure, envelopes with gilt crests embossed upon the flap, envelopes with enticing windows to peer through and envelopes lined with deep-coloured tissue – envelopes to lose yourself in. This is envelope-making as an art form, and Terry Smith is the supreme master of it.

Did you know there are only four types of envelope in the world? Thanks to Terry, the morning post will never be the same as I shall be categorising my mail according to styles of envelope. Firstly, there is the Diamond Shape, made from a diamond-shaped template and in which all four points meet in the middle – once this is opened, it cannot be resealed. Secondly, there is the “T” Style, which is the same as the Diamond Shape, only the lower flap ends in a straight edge rather than a point – permitting the top flap to be tucked underneath, which means the  envelope can be reused. Thirdly, there is the Wallet, which is a rectangular envelope that opens on the long side. And lastly, the Pocket – which is a rectangular envelope that opens upon the short side.

“The skill of it is to make all the points meet in the middle,” confided Terry, speaking of the Diamond Shape, and I nodded in unthinking agreement – because by then I was already enraptured by the intriguing world of bespoke envelope-making.

“I was born in Shoreditch, and my mother and father were both born in Hackney. My dad was a telephone operator until the war and then he became a chauffeur afterwards. My first job, after I left school at fifteen, was at a carton maker but I was only there for three or four weeks when a friend came along and said to me, would I like to work in a ladies clothing warehouse? And I did that for a year until it got a bit iffy. The Employment Exchange sent me along to Baddeley Brothers and I joined when I was seventeen, and stayed ever since.

The company was in Tabernacle St then and I worked in the warehouse alongside the envelope cutters. It was a good thing because as somebody left another one joined and I worked with them, and I picked stuff up. Eventually when one left, they said to me, ‘Do you think you can do it?’ And I said, ‘Oh yes, give me a try.’ At first, I did the easy ones, punching out envelopes, and then I started to learn how to make the patterns and got into bespoke envelopes.

It is something that I should like to pass on myself, but I have not found anyone that can handle the paper. Once you have got the paper under the guillotine, it can be hard to get just the shape you want. And it can be quite difficult, because if the stack shifts beneath the pattern it can be very tricky to get it straight again. After you have trimmed the paper in the guillotine, then you put it in the adjustable press, and set up your pattern to cut through the paper and give you the exact shape of the envelope. I design all the patterns and, if we need a new knife, I design the shape and make the pattern myself. All of this can be done on a computer – the trade is dying, but this firm is thriving because we do bespoke. If a customer comes to us, I will always make a sample and nine times out of ten we get the job. You won’t find many people like me, because there’s not many left who know how to make bespoke envelopes.

I retired at sixty-five after I trained somebody up, but two months later I got the phone call saying, ‘Will you please come back?’ That was two years ago nearly and I was pleased to come back because I was getting a bit bored. It’s a great pleasure producing envelopes, because I can do work that others would struggle with. There’s a lot of pressure put upon you, you’ve got a couple of machines waiting and a few ladies making up the finished envelopes.

I was brought up with sport and I ran for London, I am a good all-rounder. I am a swimming instructor with disabled people at Ironmonger’s Row Baths. Every morning, I do press ups and sit ups to keep in shape – a good hour’s work out. I know that when I come into work, I’m ready to go. I’m probably fitter than most of the people here.

They’ve asked me how long can I go on making envelopes and I answer, ‘As long as I am able and as long as I am needed.'”

Terry at work making envelopes in 1990 in Boundary St.

Terry sets a knife to cut the final shape of a stack of envelopes

Die cutting, 1990

Jim Roche checking the quality of foiling on envelopes

Checking the quality of foiling, 1990

Alan Reeves and envelope machine

Alan Reeves and envelope machine, 1990

Gary Cline

Die press proofing, 1990

Folding envelopes by hand

Folding envelopes by hand, 1990

Gita Patel & Wendy Arundel – “We are the best hand finishers”

Proofing Press, 1990

Alan Reeves, Gary Cline, Terry Smith and Jim Lambert.

Baddeley Brothers at Boundary St in the building that is now the Boundary Hotel, 1990

Colour photographs copyright © Estate of Colin O’Brien

Black & white photographs copyright © Baddeley Brothers

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Crudgie, Motorcyclist

July 8, 2024
by the gentle author




Behold the noble Crudgie!

I have been hoping for the opportunity to catch up with Crudgie ever since we were first introduced at the Fish Harvest Festival in St Mary At Hill, so I was delighted to accept his invitation to meet at that legendary bikers’ rendezvous, the Ace Cafe on the North Circular.

Over six foot six in height, clad head to toe in black leather, with extravagant facial hair trained into straggling locks and carrying the unmistakable whiff of engine oil wherever he goes, Crudgie makes an unforgettable impression. Crudgie’s monumental stature, beady roving eyes and bold craggy features adorned with personal topiary, give him the presence of one from medieval mythology, like Merlin on a motorbike. Yet in spite of his awesome appearance and gruff voice, I found Crudgie a warm and friendly personality, even if he does not suffer fools gladly, issuing fearsome warnings to pedestrians not to get in his way.

“I’m only called by my surname, Crudgington. “Ington” means family living in an enclosed dwelling, and “crud” is a variation of curd, so they were probably cheesemakers. There’s a place in Shropshire named Crudgington, but there’s nobody buried in the church with that name, nobody living there with that name either and nobody that lives there has ever heard of anybody called Crudgington. The shortened version of my name came about when I went to play rugby and cricket where everyone gets a nickname ending in “ie.” I’ve swum for the county, and competed as an athlete in the four hundred metres and javelin, as well.

I grew up in Billericay, famous for being the first place to count the votes in the General Election. My father was builder called Henry but everyone knew him as Nobby. I went into banking for ten years in Essex but I couldn’t get on with it, even though I was the youngest person ever to pass the banking exam. So then I went to work in insurance in the City, I worked for Barclays for ten years and played for their rugby team until they couldn’t afford to fund it anymore. In the nineteen nineties, I felt I was getting nowhere in insurance so I started motorbicycle couriering. I got a motorbike from my parents for fifteenth birthday, so I’ve always been a biker and I do thousands of miles on it every year, going to sporting events, meet-ups and scrambles.

It’s the camaraderie of it that appeals to me, meeting up with your mates, but unfortunately you are perceived as an outlaw. I have been stopped eighty-nine times in twenty-one years by the police. Apparently, couriers are the second most-disliked Londoners after Estate Agents. It’s because people get scared out of their wits when they are not thinking where they are going and a courier brushes by and gives them the shock of their life. People should look where they are going. If you are going to hit a pedestrian, it’s best to hit them them straight on, that way they get thrown over the handlebars. A few cuts and bruises, but nobody gets killed by a motorbicycle. Whereas if you veer to either side to avoid them, the danger is you clip them with your handlebars and it sends you into a tailspin, and you fall off.

I’m a member of the most important biker club – The 59 Club, set up by Father Bill Shergold in 1959. He was a vicar who was a biker, and he wanted to bring the mods and rockers together,  so he opened up in a church hall in West London in 1961 and on the first day he had Cliff Richard & The Shadows performing there. Then in 1985, it moved to Yorkton St, Bethnal Green. It was open three days a week, and you could go in and have a cup of tea after work. They had a bike repair workshop for maintenance, two snooker tables and a stage where lots of bands performed. And once a year, you could go to a church service. They moved to Plaistow now, but everybody that was in it is still in it – it’s the largest bike club in the world.

There’s only a few British couriers left, most are Brazilians now. It used to be Polish until they earned enough money and all went back home. Once upon a time, there was a lot of money in it though it’s gone down thanks to technology, but the beauty is you can work when you like and you get to go interesting places that you’d never go otherwise. I’ve picked up the Queen’s hair products from SW3 and driven into Buckingham Palace to deliver them. I do a lot of deliveries for film companies and quite often I stay around on set to watch, especially if it’s in some interesting stately home that you wouldn’t normally get to visit. If I have to go somewhere on a journey out of London, I always take time to visit the museum or castle or whatever there is to see.

I’ve worked from nine until seven for years, but I’ve decided I’m only going to do nine thirty to six because I’m getting old. If I had independent funds, I wouldn’t be riding anymore. I haven’t missed a day in quite a few years and I’ve only ever had one week off in twenty years…”

When I arrived at the Ace Cafe, I saw Crudgie’s bike outside and I spotted him through the window, head and shoulders above his fellows. Inside, a long counter ran along one wall, facing a line of windows looking out on the North Circular, and the space in between was filled by tables, scattered with helmets to indicate those which were reserved by customers. Once Crudgie had greeted me with a firm bikers’ handshake, we settled by the window where he squeezed every drop from his teabag to achieve a beverage that was so strong it was almost black. A characteristic Crudgie brew.

Like the questing knight or the solitary cowboy, Crudgie has no choice but to follow his ordained path through the world, yet he is a law unto himself and the grime he acquires speeding through the traffic is his proud badge of independence. A loner riding the city streets with his magnificent nose faced into the wind, Crudgie is his own master.

Crudgie at the Ace Cafe on the North Circular. “- Like Merlin on a motorbike.”

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