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Betty Levy Of Petticoat Lane

October 2, 2022
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for my Spitalfields tour throughout October & November




If you walked through the Petticoat Lane Market in the nineteen-twenties, you would frequently have seen Betty Levy with all her sisters playing hopscotch or skipping games in the street. You could easily have distinguished Betty because she was the baby with the mop of curls, and everyone knew Betty’s mother Hannah – famous as the best fish fryer in the Lane.

But maybe you do not remember, because maybe it is just too long ago for you? Yet that was certainly not the case for Betty herself. At ninety-two years of age, she remembered her childhood as if it were yesterday and given any opportunity she delighted to break into the same songs she sang then, accompanied by the ingenious lyrics she composed herself.

Betty left Petticoat Lane in 1954 but occasionally when speaking of the Lane, she said “And I’m still here,” and you realised it was a statement which transcended immediate reality, because while Petticoat Lane has changed almost beyond recognition, Betty still carried a world and a society and an ethos that incarnated the Petticoat Lane she knew, the place she always counted as home.

“I was born here, in Rosetta Place off Frying Pan Alley and my mother Hannah before me. My grandparents, Mark and Phoebe Harris, lived in Rosetta Place too and if we went in their flat, they always gave us something to eat.

My family have been here for generations, I always understood they were of Dutch descent. My father, Isaac, worked in Smithfield Market, he sold sweets to the porters and we never starved, so he must have made a living. They called him ‘Kosher’ and he sold the sweets from a basket round his neck. He got them from a small warehouse in Commercial St run by Mr Sam. If we were well behaved, he gave us one.

I went to the Jews Free School in Frying Pan Alley, it was a good school with good teachers and they treated us well. My grandmother sometimes gave me a plate of roast potatoes and told me to go and give them to the children in the park, and she left fried fish on the window sill for people to take. Nobody starved in the East End.

When I left school at fourteen, I went to work making dresses in Middlesex St, we were taught how to do it at school and I moved from one factory to another to better myself. I made all my family’s clothes, my children and grandchildren, and their bride’s dresses. If you spend your life doing something, you get a talent for it – I got to be as good as anyone at it. And  I miss it now, I wouldn’t mind doing it again, part-time.

I was only seven years married when my husband Danny died aged thirty-nine, I think he had a heart attack. I met him at a dance at the Hammersmith Palais. We met dancing, we were both good dancers, not fabulous but pretty good. We were married at the Beaumont St Synagogue and we lived with my family at first. Then we found a house in Milward St, Whitechapel, round the back of the London Hospital. Although I was one of a large family, I only had two children – a boy and a girl, Irene and Stephen. After Danny died, my family offered to support me, but I wanted to be independent. If you’ve got to do it, you do it. I worked making dresses and I kept us, because I didn’t want anyone else to bring up my children.

I love the East End, there’s something in the East End that’s nowhere else. It is my home.”

Four of Betty’s sisters in Rosetta Place c. 1925

“We played among the doorsteps, for hours and hours
We never had gardens, so we couldn’t grow flowers.

Some kids they never had shoes, ’cause their dads were on the booze
But, we all lived together the Christians, the Jews

And the Jewish Free School was in dear old Frying Pan Alley.

Now there is not any doorsteps, they’ve knocked them all down,
They built a tower block where we played around.

The kids don’t play now like we used to,
On everybody’s doorsteps, in the East End of town.”

Betty’s new lyrics to the melody of  ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep’

The Levy Sisters. Sally, Phoebe, Lily, Carrie, Jennie,  Becky and Betty (in front).

The Mitchell Family, neighbours in Rosetta Place. Betty Mitchell standing with Betty Clasper and little RayRay in front and Anita Mitchell, Barnie Mitchell,  Siddy  Segal and little Jo in line along the wall.

Some of the Levy grandchildren on the steps of St. Botolph’s Church Bishopsgate c. 1945. Alan, Diana, Bobby, Roy, Richard, Sallyann and little David.

Betty’s grandparents, Mark & Phoebe Harris, Spitalfields, c. 1920

Betty’s mother, Hannah Levy, daughter of Mark & Phoebe Harris, and famous as the best fish fryer in Petticoat Lane.

Betty’s father, Isaac in his ARP uniform.

Hannah Levy and friends in Frying Pan Alley around 1940.

Betty as a Land Army Girl in WWII, based at Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire.

Three Bettys (Levy, Cohen and Hyams) and three American airman at Westcliff-on-Sea c. 1945

At the centre (in a headscarf) is Betty with family and friends at the Coronation 0f Queen Elizabeth II. They slept out in Piccadilly to be sure of getting a prime position.

Betty sings at her ninetieth birthday party at Beaumont St Synagogue

Betty dances with her daughter Irene at the party.

You may also like to read these other stories of Petticoat Lane


The Wax Sellers of Wentworth St

Henry Jones, Dairyman

Pamela Freedmam, The Princess Alice

The Dioramas of Petticoat Lane

Laurie Allen of Petticoat Lane

Fred the Chestnut Seller

Rochelle Cole, Poulterer

Saeed Malik, Shoeseller

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Andrew permalink
    October 2, 2022

    Hello Betty,
    I sure hope you get to see this.
    I am sure you remember me, Andrew, of Milward street.
    I shall ever forget you being friends with my Mum Rosie Strowman, nor Stephen and I playing in the street eith Steven Grant.

    You and my Mum washing Rosie Bocher down when she had Cancer and me sitting in Rosie’s house as a little boy and Rosie Bocher saying I could stay.
    Imagine nrighbours doing that now.?

    I got told before the Americans landed on the moon, you invited some kids playing in Milward street in and got them to wash their hands. Then gave them a snsck an a drink and they all saw it.

    I hope the Gentle Author can give you my details. It would be lovely to see you, Irene and Stephen again. Remember my Dad and my Auntie Rae and my brothers Howard and Paul?.
    How I miss the kindness we gave each other then
    Sweet days,
    Andrew Strowman

  2. October 2, 2022

    That’s a really great story. It’s always an adventure to go back to childhood. And it’s amazing that Betty still remembers the days of her curly-headed childhood — very nice the new song lyrics!

    All the best for dear Betty!

    Love & Peace

  3. Sally Hinckley permalink
    October 2, 2022

    Thank you Betty !
    Loved reading this story. My family also lived in the area around the same time and it made me think of how their lives must have been. So many beautiful memories and lots of history shared here. Great pictures too, thank you for sharing.

  4. Mary Gillender permalink
    October 2, 2022

    The clothes are wonderful. Those girls are dressed with real style. They must have turned heads wherever they went.

  5. Adele Lester permalink
    October 2, 2022

    Great article, and especially enjoyed seeing those old photos. I remember walking through Millard Street with my mum as we lived nearby. Be well Betty.

  6. Christine permalink
    October 2, 2022

    What a super life and story Betty has let us share! They certainly don’t make ladies like this anymore x

  7. Susan permalink
    October 2, 2022

    Thanks to you and Betty for this wonderful profile. I especially love her lyrics to “On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep” (which was written in 1925, when she must have been a tot).

  8. Cherub permalink
    October 3, 2022

    Doesn’t Betty look lovely in her Land Army photograph?

  9. October 3, 2022

    Hi, my mum is also a Betty, sister in law of The late Betty Myers ( nee Brandon )
    Who was in the land army with Betty. She sends her love. I also knew Stephen & Irene from the Stepney Jewish School.
    Where is mum living now ? Would love my mum to meet up with her xx

  10. Marcia Howard permalink
    October 6, 2022

    What wonderful photos, and I especially love the one of the young Betty with her head of curls. She sounds like a very special lady.

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