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A London Inheritance

October 21, 2023
by the gentle author

Thank you to our over 300 donors who contributed £35,000 to relaunch Spitalfields Life Books. We will be in touch with patrons, supporters and friends to arrange delivery of rewards in due course.

I am proud to present these extracts from A LONDON INHERITANCE, a private history of a public city by a graduate of my blog writing course who has been publishing regularly for nine and a half years. The author inherited a series of old photographs of London from his father and by tracing them, he discovers the changes in the city.


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Come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches and eat cakes baked to historic recipes, all catered by Townhouse, and learn how to write your own blog.

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My father’s photograph from 1952

My photograph of the same view today



In my father’s photo of 1952, the slogan “No Arms For Nazis” painted on the wall represented a concern about the level of Nazi sympathies still remaining in Germany in the aftermath of WWII. It was taken from the bombed site once occupied by a church, looking southwest towards the Masons Arms which faced onto Watney St and Watney Market.

In 1953, the US government undertook a survey which revealed residual undercurrents of Nazism in Germany needed to be taken seriously. It was claimed the growth of “nationalistic discontent among young men is ominous”. There was mass unemployment in Germany and economic grievances were intensified by the numbers of refugees from Eastern Europe.

This slogan  “No Arms For Nazis”appeared at many sites in London and across the country, and the East Kent Times reported that in Ramsgate “Motorists and residents were startled to see on the parapet of the viaduct, high above the main Margate Road, the words ‘No Arms For Nazis’ painted in large white capitals.”

The southern end of Watney St meets Cable St, well known as the scene of the famous battle in 1936, when there were clashes between the Police, anti-fascists and the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley, who were attempting to march through the area.

In the thirties, this area was the scene of regular provocation of the Jewish community by members of fascist organisations. Watney St and Watney Market frequently appeared in newspaper reports of these events. On 30th of May 1936, the City & East London Observer carried a report titled “Fascists in Watney St.”

“There was great excitement among the many shoppers and stallholders in Watney Ston Sunday morning when about a dozen Blackshirts paraded up and down the market selling Fascist newspapers amid cries of ‘More Stalls for Englishmen’, ‘Foreigners Last and Nowhere’, while from another section of the crowd there were cries of ‘Blackshirt Thugs’, ‘Rats’, etc.

A great crowd gathered, and a Jewish girl, going up to one of the Blackshirts, bought a paper, tore it to pieces and stamped on the fragments. After this the police took a hand but they found it very difficult to keep the crowd on the move owing to the barrows in the market. Somebody picked up a cucumber from one of the stalls, but was prevented from throwing it at a Blackshirt.

A surprising number of the people present appeared to be in sympathy with the Blackshirts. The Blackshirts are, it is believed, about to open a branch in Stepney.”

A few months later, in July 1936, it was reported that the market place in Watney St “seems to be the chief hunting ground for Blackshirts selling their propaganda, who, according to reports, do their best to encourage hatred of the Jewish community.”

Many of the traders in the market were concerned about the lack of action from the authorities, and “rightly or wrongly, are of the opinion that the police are pro-Fascist”.

The traders were concerned that the Blackshirts were having a negative impact on their trade. Their actions and language put off many of the customers of the market, so when they arrived many of the traders packed up and left too. This all came to a head at the Battle of Cable St on 4th October.




When I walked along Cloak Lane in the City a couple of weeks ago, I noticed this foundation stone on the corner laid by a Deputy Chairman of the Police Committee.

Plainly decorated and mainly brick with stone cladding on the ground floor, the building still projects a strong, functional image but the foundation stone is now the only reminder that this was built for the City of London Police and opened as Cloak Lane Police Station.

I cannot find the exact date when the new station opened, however it appears to have been built quickly since by 1886 newspapers were carrying reports about events there, including what must have been a most unusual use for the new police station.

“AN ADDER CAUGHT IN A LONDON STREET. There is now to be seen at the Police Station, Cloak Lane, City, an adder, about 15 inches long, which was seen in Cannon Street a morning or two ago basking in the sun on the foot pavement, although large numbers of persons were passing to and fro at the time.

A constable’s attention was drawn to the strange sight, and he managed to get it into a box and take it to the station. It is conjectured that it must have been inadvertently conveyed to town in some bale or other package of goods. The creature, which is pronounced to be a fine specimen, has been visited by large numbers of persons.”

I could not find any record of what happened to the adder after its appearance at Cloak Lane police station.

The River Thames features in a number of events that involved Cloak Lane police station. These often involved tragedy, due to the nature of police work and the dangers of the river, such as in April 1924:

“POLICEMAN VANISHES – BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN BLOWN INTO THE THAMES. Police Constable Albert Condery is believed to have met with a tragic death by being blown into the Thames during a storm last night.

It is learned that Condery, who has been in the City Police Force for 20 years, left Cloak Lane Police Station last night to go on duty at Billingsgate Market. He was seen there by the sergeant, but later he was missed, and his helmet was found floating on the Thames near the market. The body has not been recovered.”

There were many strange events across the City. In November 1902, papers had the headline “EXTRAORDINARY AFFAIR AT BANK OF ENGLAND – ATTEMPT TO SHOOT THE SECRETARY. A sensation was caused in the Bank of England yesterday by the firing of a revolver by a young man who had entered the library. As he seemed about to continue his firing indiscriminately the officials overpowered and disarmed him. The police were called in, and he was removed to the Cloak Lane Police Station.”

He was unknown by anyone in the Bank of England and whilst at Cloak Lane, he was examined by a Doctor, who came up with the diagnosis that “the man’s mind had given way at the time”.

The very last report mentioning Cloak Lane Police Station was from December 1965 when an article titled “Foolish Driver in The City” . He was arrested on suspicion of being drunk and taken to Cloak Lane Police Station, where he “had to be supported by two officers because he was unsteady on his feet”. And so ended eighty years of policing from Cloak Lane.


2 Responses leave one →
  1. John Woodman permalink
    October 21, 2023

    I am already a fan of A London Inheritance. Not in the least surprised to hear that you were influential in his development.

  2. Lorraine Whebell permalink
    October 21, 2023

    Always look forward to reading this blog.. very detailed and informative.

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