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Anthony Eyton, Painter

November 5, 2019
by the gentle author

Anthony Eyton’s new show of paintings opens tonight at Browse & Darby, 19 Cork St, W1 S 3LP and runs until 29th November. Click here to see the catalogue

I took the 133 bus from Liverpool St Station, travelling down south of the river to visit the ninety-six year old painter Anthony Eyton at the elegant terrace in the Brixton Rd where has lived since 1960 – apart from a creative sojourn in Spitalfields, where he kept a studio from 1968 until 1982. It was the 133 bus that stops outside his house which brought Anthony to Spitalfields, and at first he took it every day to get to his studio. But then later, he forsook home comforts to live a bohemian existence in his garret in Hanbury St and the result was an inspired collection of paintings which exist today as testament to the particular vision Anthony found in Spitalfields.

A tall man with of mane of wiry white hair and gentle curious eyes, possessing a benign manner and natural lightness of tone, Anthony still carries a buoyant energy and enthusiasm for painting. I found him working to finish a new picture for submission to the Royal Academy before five o’clock that afternoon. Yet once I arrived off the 133, he took little persuasion to lay aside his preoccupation of the moment and talk to me about that significant destination at the other end of the bus route.

“That biggest strangest world, that whirlpool at Spitalfields, and all the several colours of the sweatshops, and the other colours of the degradation and of the beautiful antique houses derelict – I think the quality of colour was what struck me most,” replied Anthony almost in a whisper, when I asked him what drew him to Spitalfields, before he launched into a spontaneous flowing monologue evoking the imaginative universe that he found so magnetically appealing.

“From Brick Lane to Wilkes St and in between was special because it’s a kind of sanctuary,” he continued, “and looking down Wilkes St, Piero della Francesca would have liked it because it has a kind of perfection. The people going about their business are perfectly in size to the buildings. You see people carrying ladders and City girls and Jack the Ripper tours, and actors in costume outside that house in Princelet St where they make those period films, and they are all in proportion. And the market was still in use then which gave it a rough quality before the City came spilling over and building its new buildings. Always a Mecca on a Sunday. I used to think they were all coming for a religious ceremony, but it’s pure commerce, and it’s still there and it’s so large. It’s very strange to me that people give up Sunday to do that… – It’s a very vibrant area , and when Christ Church opens up for singing, the theatre of it is wonderful.”

Many years before he took a studio in Spitalfields, Anthony came to the Whitechapel Gallery to visit the memorial exhibition for Mark Gertler in 1949, another artist who also once had a studio in an old house in one of the streets leading off the market place. “Synagogues, warehouses, and Hawksmoor’s huge Christ Church, locked but standing out mightily in Commercial St, tramps eating by the gravestones in the damp church yard. “Touch” was the word that recurred,” wrote Anthony in his diary at that time, revealing the early fascination that was eventually to lead him back, to rent a loft in an eighteenth century house in Wilkes St and then subsequently to a weavers’ attic round the corner in Hanbury St where the paintings you see below were painted.

Each of these modest spaces were built as workplaces with lines of casements on either side to permit maximum light, required for weaving. Affording vertiginous views down into the quiet haven of yards between the streets where daylight bounces and reflects among high walls, these unique circumstances create the unmistakable quality of light that both infuses and characterises Anthony Eyton’s pictures which he painted in his years there. But while the light articulates the visual vocabulary of these paintings, in their subtle tones drawn from the buildings, they record elusive moments of change within a mutable space, whether the instant when a model warms herself at the fire or workmen swarm onto the roof, or simply the pregnant moment incarnated by so many open windows beneath an English sky.

Anthony’s youngest daughter, Sarah, remembers coming to visit her father as a child. “It was a bit like camping, visiting daddy’s studio,” she recalled fondly, “There were no amenities and you had to go all the way downstairs, past the door of the man below who always left a rotten fish outside, to visit the privy in the yard that was full of spiders which were so large they had faces. But it was exciting, an adventure, and I used to love drawing and doing sketches on scraps of paper that I found in his studio.”

For a few years in the midst of his long career, Spitalfields gave Anthony Eyton a refuge where he could find peace and a place packed with visual stimuli – and then eight years ago, a quarter of a century after he left, Anthony returned. Frances Milat who was born and lived in the house in Hanbury St came back from Australia to stage a reunion of all the tenants from long ago. It was the catalyst for a set of circumstances which prompted Anthony to revisit and do new drawings in these narrow streets which, over all this time, have become inextricable with his identity as an artist.

Christine, 1976/8 – “She was very keen that the cigarette smoke and grotty ashtray should be in the picture to bring me down to earth.”

Liverpool St Station, mid-seventies

Studio interior, 1977

Back of Princelet St, 1980

Girl by the fire, 1978

Workers on the roof, 1980

Open window, Spitalfields, 1976-81 (Courtesy of Tate Gallery)

Open window, Spitalfields, 1976


Anthony Eyton working in his Hanbury St studio, a still from a television documentary of 1980


Pictures copyright © Anthony Eyton

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Viscountess Boudica At The Tower

November 4, 2019
by the gentle author

Boudica wears her talismanic photograph of Guy Fawkes

Back in the days when Viscountess Boudica lived in Bethnal Green, she visited the Tower of London and experienced a supernatural encounter with Guy Fawkes. Since she was evicted from her flat and rehoused in Uttoxeter in 2016, Viscountess Boudica has entered into a mystical union with Guy Fawkes who has accompanied her constantly as her guardian angel through the travails of existence.

Recently, when she made a rare trip down south to visit her mother in Braintree, I arranged to meet with the Viscountess to enjoy an afternoon visiting the Tower of London so that she could recount her story to me in the place where it all began.

Since she has been gone, I have been concerned about her well being and anxious to discover how life has treated the Viscountess after her departure from Bethnal Green in such ignominious circumstances. So I am delighted to report that she appeared to be in the best of health, glowing with colour, and nicely turned out in a powder blue wool overcoat matched by a toning floral blouse.

Once we had wearied ourselves, trudging around the battlements in the drizzle and squeezing through the half term crowds on the narrow staircases, we repaired to the refectory. There Viscountess confided her extraordinary tale – published today with Boudica’s own photographs and drawings.

“Whenever I travelled on the Underground, the lights would always flicker when the train stopped at Tower Hill and I could not understand why. So, back in 2014 on December 9th, it was a Tuesday I remember, I came to the Tower with my friend Christopher, a little Essex boy.

We went into this little room in the Bloody Tower with a painting of an old gentleman wearing a blue tunic. There was no-one else in there, so we took some pictures and all of a sudden it went very cold and I could smell something like burnt matches. I looked at Christopher and he said ‘I’m not having this.’ Later when I looked at the picture there was letters spelling ‘G U I…’ and then they vanished.

We went into the White Tower and, as I was looking at the Armoury, I had this sense that someone was watching me. Christopher said, ‘I’m bored now, can we go home?’ So I said, ‘Fair enough,’ but I thought ‘I am coming back.’

The following week, on 16th December, I returned to the room in the Bloody Tower where the picture had been and there was nothing there. Up the stairs I went to the White Tower and looked in the Armoury. I had the strangest feeling, I was getting pains in my head. I thought, ‘I can’t understand it’ and I smelled the burnt matches again.

Then I came over with this sense of grief. The attendant who was standing beside the door as you go up the stairs asked me, ‘What’s the matter? Have you seen a ghost?’ I said, ‘I have,’ and she replied, ‘It must be Anne Boleyn?’ So I said, ‘No.’ She asked, ‘It must be Richard III?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘The two princes?’ she asked. So I said, ‘No,’ again. She enquired, ‘Who have you seen?’ so I explained her, ‘A man with a tall pointy hat and a beard.’  ‘No-one’s seen him for over four hundred and twelve years,’ she exclaimed. ‘As I went up the stairs, he just appeared,’ I told her.

He had these piercing blue eyes and I was totally captivated. He winked and smiled and vanished. As I climbed down the stairs, I could not help but think about what I had seen.

Then I had a cigarette outside and was looking at the ravens. This bush was moving even though there was no wind and I could hear these words saying, ‘Thou darest not say that one day thee will again be mine.’ I shot out of there and went past where they used to mint the coins. I was looking in the window and it was all blank, but as I took a picture with my camera, he appeared. That is him in the picture.

It was like something had come back to me that I had lost, yet I could not figure out what it was until I went had my tarot cards read in July 2015.

I knew the girls, Tricia and Debbie and her sister quite well, so I paid Tricia the twenty-five pounds and off we went down the stairs. She asked me to pick a card, but all of a sudden the cards started flying about and the lights were flickering. Tricia looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to have to stop this session.’ So I asked her, ‘Why?’

She said, ‘Standing behind you is Guy Fawkes, your husband. Can you feel his presence?’ I said, ‘I can feel a weight on my shoulders.’ She told me, ‘There was a link forged in 1583 when he stabbed his wrist with a knife that had ‘passion of christ’ engraved on the blade. But you got married on Tuesday 5th November 1602. Father Garnet was the priest and you were married somewhere outside York.’

‘He has always been with you,’ she explained. ‘When you went to the Tower of London, he had been waiting for his love to return. He is your protector.’

Later, when I was admitted to hospital with a thrombosis in my leg. They asked me to contact a friend or next of kin but I could not get hold of anyone. The doctor advised me to stay until someone came for me and I thought, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do.’ It was about eleven o’clock at night when the doctor found me and said, ‘I saw your husband sitting beside you when you came in. He’s a bit old fashioned isn’t he, with that tall pointy hat and those piercing blue eyes?’

They gave me my discharge papers and I felt his icy hand on mine but I could not see him. All the way, as we walked home up Vallance Rd to Bethnal Green I could feel his hand in mine and smell the camphor. I thought, ‘This is the strangest feeling, feeling comforted yet I cannot see who it is.’ When I got home, I could see his image like a black mist with a pointy hat kneeling beside me.

I rang up Tricia and told her what had been happening. She said, ‘Guy Fawkes was there, wasn’t he? He will always be there and the love affair will always continue.’

I came from Dublin around 1570 with my parents and we used to work in Yorkshire, as labourers moving from one farm to another. So I never went to school. I remember our first meeting. I was down by the old oak tree when he came along and it was love at first sight. He said, ‘You are mine and you always will be,’ yet he was supposed to return to me on 5th November and he never came back…

I should had been there, I could have warned him. I never understood why they did not have a look-out, but in those days men were secretive. You could not ask too many questions. On 12th April, I bought him a lantern in a shop in Stonegate in York and gave it to him on his birthday.

As Tricia said to me, ‘There is a love that is not diminished in time and it never will be.’

It is a comforting thing. I can feel him at night rubbing my hand.”

Boudica’s photograph of Guy Fawkes

Viscountess Boudica & Guy Fawkes at home in Uttoxeter

Photographs and drawing copyright © Viscountess Boudica

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Viscountess Boudica’s Halloween

Viscountess Boudica’s Christmas

Viscountess Boudica’s Valentine’s Day

Read my original profile of Mark Petty, Trendsetter

and take a look at Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats

Mark Petty’s New Outfits

Mark Petty returns to Brick Lane

Adam Dant’s Synonyms for Drunkenness

November 3, 2019
by the gentle author

There are many reasons to reach for the bottle these days and – recognising the spirit of the times – Adam Dant has made this drawing illustrating synonyms for drunkenness. Click on his picture to enlarge and see how many you can identify from the list below.

Away with the fairies
Dead drunk
Dead headed
In ones cups
Out of ones tree
Beer goggles
Off ones trolley
Drunk as a lord
Drunk as a bishop
Barking drunk
Pie eyed
Tied one on
Three sheets to the wind
Pot valiant
Banging ones head against a brick wall
Peely wally
Tuned in
Jacked up
Falling over drunk
Oliver Twist
Dot cotton
Hair of the dog
Hog drunk
Under the table
Tie one on
Boiled as an owl
See the French king
Barrel drunk
Sick as a parrot
High as a kite
On a campaign
Torn up
Pissed as a fart
Off the wagon




Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND is a mighty monograph collecting together all your favourite works by Spitalfields Life‘s Contributing Cartographer in a beautiful big hardback book.

Including a map of London riots, the locations of early coffee houses and a colourful depiction of slang through the centuries, Adam Dant’s vision of city life and our prevailing obsessions with money, power and the pursuit of pleasure may genuinely be described as ‘Hogarthian.’

Unparalleled in his draughtsmanship and inventiveness, Adam Dant explores the byways of London’s cultural history in his ingenious drawings, annotated with erudite commentary and offering hours of fascination for the curious.

The book includes an extensive interview with Adam Dant by The Gentle Author.

Adam Dant’s  limited edition prints are available to purchase through TAG Fine Arts

Behind The Facade

November 2, 2019
by the gentle author

Book designer, David Pearson

To launch THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM, I am giving an illustrated lecture behind one of the facades in my book, the former Whitechapel Public Baths of 1846, now part of London Metropolitan University.

It is at 7pm next Monday 4th November at The Wash Houses, The Cass, 25 Old Castle St, E1 7NT.

Click here to book your ticket

Presented with the gracious support of The Cass, London Metropolitan University.

12–13 Greek Street, Soho, W1

Built c.1683, this was originally the largest house in the street and known as Portland House. From 1774–97, it was Josiah Wedgwood’s London warehouse, showroom and enamelling rooms with five show- rooms on two floors, where a famous dinner service made for the Empress Catherine of Russia was displayed in July 1774. Repairs were carried out in 1786 by T.Freeman of Great Pulteney Street who made a valuation of the fixtures in 1790 – listing a hall, a counting house and a shop on the ground floor, and a great room, another room, a flowerpot room and a gallery on the first floor.

The White Hart, 121 Bishopsgate, EC2

‘Its history as an inn can be of little less antiquity than that of the Tabard, the lodging house of the feast-loving Chaucer and the Canterbury pilgrims, or the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap, the rendezvous of Prince Henry and his lewd companions,’ wrote Charles Goss, Archivist at Bishopsgate Institute in 1930.

The White Hart was a coaching house and tavern dating from 1246, positioned on Bishopsgate just outside the gate of the City of London. Rebuilt in 1470 and 1827, it retained its medieval cellars and was constantly busy until it was bought by Sir Alan Sugar’s company, Amsprop, in 2010 and reduced to a façade with a cylindrical office block on top, creating a monument to one man’s ego.

Former Unitarian Chapel, Stamford Street, Blackfriars, SE1

Designed in 1821 by Charles Parker, architect of Hoare’s Bank in the Strand, the Chapel was demolished in the sixties apart from the portico and part of the ground floor, which stood in front of a car park for many years.

The Grade II listed Doric hexastyle portico has a triglyph frieze and a pediment over. Its central door has a shouldered architrave and iron gates. Each of the walls on either side has three blank windows with shouldered architraves.

465 Caledonian road, Islington, N7

Mallett, Porter & Dowd constructed this modest yet handsome utilitarian building for their warehousing, storage and removals business in 1874.

Redevelopment by University College London for student housing was turned down by Islington Council in 2010, citing ‘adverse visual impact’ and inadequate daylight, due to the windows of the new building not aligning with those in the façade. This judgement was overturned by the government’s Planning Inspectorate on the basis that ‘due to intensive daytime activities taking place at the university campus,’ the absence of both light and view ‘would not be unacceptably oppressive.’

The development was winner of Building Design’s Carbuncle Cup for 2013.


“As if I were being poked repeatedly in the eye with a blunt stick, I cannot avoid becoming increasingly aware of a painfully cynical trend in London architecture which threatens to turn the city into the backlot of an abandoned movie studio.”

The Gentle Author presents a humorous analysis of facadism – the unfortunate practice of destroying an old building apart from the front wall and constructing a new building behind it – revealing why it is happening and what it means.

As this bizarre architectural fad has spread across the capital, The Gentle Author has photographed the most notorious examples, collecting an astonishing gallery of images guaranteed to inspire both laughter and horror in equal measure.

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George Wells, Able Seaman

November 1, 2019
by the gentle author

There is a training school down Limehouse way,
Where we get bread-and-scrape three times a day.
Ham and eggs we never see,
We get brick-dust in our tea,
And we are gradually fading away!

To Able Seaman George Wells, the modest cluster of buildings next to St Anne’s Church, Limehouse, will always be his training ship, and even today it still sports a cheery enamelled British Sailors’ Society sign as evidence of its former identity.

In 1938, fourteen year old George – a former sea scout from Dover – became a temporary East Ender, training here at the Prince of Wales Sea Training Hostel for Boys for just six months. Yet such was the intensity of this formative experience that George recalls it vividly seventy-five years later, even as he approaches his ninetieth birthday. “I suppose there’s not so many of us chaps left that remembers it?” he suggested to me when I paid a call upon him this week.

“I was fourteen years and five months old when I went up to Limehouse on 3rd January 1938. I always wanted to be in the Merchant Navy. I wanted to see the world and I knew that merchant ships went to many more places than the navy.

You walked into the main entrance where there was a bell and an ensign that you always saluted. You didn’t linger there, you walked straight through. On the left was the secretary’s office and on the right was the Commodore’s office. The two instructors were called Jack Frost and Freddie Painter, Jack was on the port watch and Freddie was on the starboard. They taught us everything to do with boatwork and navigation – signalling, semaphore and morse code – and things you could do with ropes. You had to be able to recite all thirty-two points of the compass from N to NE and back again.Your life depended on it and, if you couldn’t do it, you’d get horrible jobs to do.

We lived in dormitories at the top of the building, sleeping in iron bunks. You were given a horsehair mattress but no sheet, two blankets, one pillow and a counterpane. We got up at six in the morning and you folded your blankets with the pillow on top and the counterpane over it, like a pudding in the middle of the bed. We wore white duck trousers and a blue sailor’s top, plimsolls in winter and bare feet in summer. We would have a mug of tea and then we had to go out onto the signal deck – as we called the yard – for muster, where we were allocated jobs and between us we did all the cleaning. I remember they found one boy had a dirty neck on parade and he was put on report. He was taken below deck and stripped and washed by his fellows, and his skin was pink when he came back. When “Rigging, up and over!” was called, we had to run up the rigging and down the other side. One of us was chosen to be the “button boy,” he had to stand upon the very top. It was scary but we were young and when I got to sea they said, “Go aloft, you’re used to it.” because they knew where I had trained. I was given two pounds and seventeen shillings per month when I started with the corps.

Instructions continued until five daily and then we had homework. Two sideboys were on duty all day to attend the door. Saturdays and Sundays were the only days we were allowed out, and I learnt about the East End. We took the tram down to Tower Bridge, you could pick up girls there, but you had to be back by five. There were no cooks on Sunday, so we ate cold meat, pickles and mashed potato, plus trifle made of bread and jam with jelly and custard on top. We went out into the West India Dock, where we had a whaling ship and a gig. We used to learn to row in the dock, but it was a bit much pulling against the tide in the Thames. We had to carry sixteen foot oars on our shoulders, they were heavy when you got there.

It was very competitive. We had boxing matches under the big tree. It was known as “Grudge Day.” If you had a disagreement with someone, you informed the instructor and they put you in the ring together. They were all different sizes. I remember this big chap Wellham from Norfolk, he caught me with a bad one and split my eye open. Since I was appointed Chief Petty Office, everyone wanted to have a go at me and I’ve still got the scar under my eye from it.

The most embarrassing thing was when you were sent to have baths in the basement and then jump into the cold swimming pool. Captain Faulkner and his wife used to come and supervise us, but then he left and his wife – the matron – she stayed to watch us. All of us young boys in the buff, we had to go and stand in front of her. I think she enjoyed it more than we did.

Most of us were under fifteen, at fifteen you could go to sea. You were sent. The shipping companies funded the school to provide them with boys. I was actually on board my first ship, the Capetown Castle when I had my fifteenth birthday. It was a new ship, one of the biggest cargo ships afloat at 22,000 tons. Of the eight deck boys, there were two of us from the school, me and Alf. It was exciting. We left Southampton, we were going along the Channel and the officer said, “You’ve done signals. Call that ship over there and ask what it is.” It was the SS Beacon Grange, and it sent back the message “Capetown Castle, Bon Voyage!” I’ll never forget the first ship I spoke to on my first night at sea.

We used to go round the Cape on the mail run, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, London. We carried wool, hides, chick peas, wine and fruit. And once we picked up crates of marmalade oranges from Madeira, so pungent they had to be kept stacked on deck. Next year – when the war came – we switched over to troop carrying. Starting as a deck boy, I became an ordinary seaman, then a sailor then an able seaman and a gunner. I stayed with the Capetown Castle until 1946, and I quit at twenty-three because, already, I could see the way the mercantile industry was going.

When I went to sea, I knew I could do it. You had responsibility at an early age in those days.”

Once the war began, the training school moved up to Norfolk, terminating its brief period in the East End. George married three times and enjoyed a very successful career as Supervisor of the three hundred workers at Newhaven Harbour, until he retired in 1986. After being empty and squatted for years, the buildings in Newell St were bought by the squatters and divided into homes with only minimal alteration to the buildings.

As you walk through these atmospheric rooms today, the worn floors and old staircases are reminders of the former life that was here. And if you go down to basement, an old sign that reads “British Sailors’ Society” greets you on the stairs. You will find the swimming pool in the cellar is still there too and was used by all the residents of the street until quite recently.

The Sea Training School in Newell St still stands largely unaltered today. The crown over the front door has gone, but the coloured enamel sign above advertising the British Sailors’ Society remains.

The Sea Training Hostel  in Limehouse with St Anne’s in the background

Sea cadets show off their acrobatic skills in Limehouse

George’s membership card for the Old Boys’ Association as given on graduation in June 1938

Their motto was – “British boys for British ships.”

Daily Routine

6:30am  Turn Out: wash down decks etc.

8:00am  Breakfast: make up bunks.

9:00am  Parade for inspection: daily prayers.

9:15 to 10:45am  Instruction in signalling: physical jerks and organised games.

10:30 to 10:45am  Stand easy: boys have bread and cheese, etc.

10:45 to 12:30pm  Instruction in seamanship: boat pulling, washing clothes, etc.

12:45pm  Dinner: boys have meat with two vegetables and pudding every day. One day each week fish instead of meat.

2:00pm  Parade for kit inspection.

2:10 to 3:30pm  Instruction in seamanship: making and mending kit, kitbag making and other useful subjects.

3:30 to 3:45pm  Stand easy.

3:45 to 4:30pm  Instruction as above.

4:45pm  Tea.

6:30 to 7:30pm  Instruction in swimming, lectures, gymnastics, etc.

9:00pm  Turn in – 9:30pm Light out.

Sea cadets scale the rigging in Limehouse

George graduated as the top top student in June 1938 just before his fifteenth birthday.

The Duchess of York visits the Sea Training Hostel in 1934.

Candidates for admission to the hostel must –

1. Have excellent references as to character.

2. Be between the ages of fourteen and a half and sixteen, and be able to swim one hundred yards.

3. Obtain the Board of Trade Sight Certificate for both form and colour vision. This certificate can be obtained at the Board of Trade Mercantile Marine Offices in London and chief seaports.

4. Have passed a Medical Examination certifying that they are sound and strong and in all respects physically qualified for employment in the Merchant Navy.

5. Be at least five feet one inch in height

In the selection of boys for admission to the Hostel, the orphan sons of sailors have prior claim.

Fees –

Orphan sons of sailors will be trained free of charge.

Boys from Society’s Sea Cadets Units and sons of sailors at a minimum of five shillings per week, but they should pay more if possible.

Boys not from Units and who have no claim on the Society, not less than ten shillings per week.

On parade at Limehouse with the canal in the background

The pool in the basement at Newell St, Limehouse where George had the embarrassing experience

The Capetown Castle

Pals on the Capetown Castle. Front Row – George Wells, Monty Dolan, Alf Everett. Back Row – Jumbo Jingles, Paddy Crawte, Les Harman, Ted Lane, Will Amy.

The Capetown Castle

Alf Everett & George Wells, best pals – Southampton 1939. George later married Alf’s sister.

On Capetown Castle during World War II, George stands on the extreme right

George’s  Sea Training Society Old Boys’ Association badge

George Wells, Able Seaman

With thanks to Cynthia Grant and Prince of Wales Sea Training School for their assistance with this feature.

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The Disappointment Of Historic England

October 31, 2019
by the gentle author

Historic England had no objection to Smithfield General Market being demolished, now it is to become the new home to the Museum of London

Historic England were fine with the Marquis of Lansdowne being demolished, now it is being restored as part of the Geoffrye Museum’s renovations

Historic England are advocating the redevelopment of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a bell-themed boutique hotel


In recent years the government’s heritage agency, Historic England, has been on the wrong side of too many important planning battles in London. Of course, there are also cases where it has behaved laudably, notably in the listing of the eighteenth-century weaver’s houses in Club Row and in objecting to Sainsburys’ tower in Whitechapel that would have overshadowed the seventeenth-century Trinity Green Almshouses.

Yet these examples of Historic England doing its job properly make its failures to fulfil its declared responsibilities – ‘to protect, champion and save places that define who we are’ – appear especially capricious.

Perhaps most disappointing is Historic England’s advocacy of the redevelopment of the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a boutique hotel. On the HE website there is a declaration dated 15th July 2019, announcing ‘We are supportive of the plans that the new owners of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry have submitted.’ This is justified by two statements, ‘Recognising there is no longer a market for large bells’ and ‘it closed as it was uneconomic to continue.’

What is astonishing about this is that Historic England has no remit to comment on business viability and there is no evidence that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is no longer viable as a working foundry. They are simply restating the developer’s case.

No mention or recognition is made by Historic England of the viable proposal to reopen the Whitechapel Bell Foundry put forward by the UK Historic Building Preservation Trust in partnership with Factum Foundation, which would preserve the living heritage of the foundry for generations to come.

Most disappointing of all is that Raycliff, the would-be developers of the foundry into a hotel, paid Historic England for an ‘enhanced service.’ It begs the question of how much money Historic England received for their advocacy of the Raycliff scheme, conveniently restating the developer’s case without evidence.

On 14th November, Tower Hamlets Council Development Committee are due to make a decision on the developer’s planning application for change of use from bell foundry into boutique hotel and the opinion of Historic England will pay a major part in this judgement.

Meanwhile, Tower Hamlets Councillor Puru Miah has submitted a Freedom of Information request to Historic England requesting all communications with Raycliff and asking how much Historic England received for their ‘enhanced  service.’ Until this information is forthcoming, I do not see how the planning meeting can go ahead or any just decision on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is possible.

Here is the text of the letter –


FAO Duncan Wilson

Historic England

10th October 2019


Dear Historic England

Re. Freedom of Information Request: The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road E1 1DY

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 I would like to request the following information:

Confirm whether Raycliff and other owners of the site received advice from Historic England under the Enhanced Advisory Service Scheme for the redevelopment of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry site since January 2016, details of all the fee agreements and service advice by Historic England, amount of fees paid to date for the advice received, the date of the advice given, and the content of the advice given.

A full copy of the pre-application advice that Historic England has provided for this site in 2016, as referred to in your letter dated 1st March 2019 to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, your ref. P01028757

What evidence have you to support the demise statement that a single-use foundry is not viable, referred to in your letter of 1st March 2019 Ref. P01028757, please provide evidence of how this assessment has been reached.

What advice or discussions have you had with UKHBPT since 2016 (not referred to in your letter of 1st March).

Provide all correspondence between Raycliff and Historic England since the first contact

With Regards,

Cllr Puru Miah

Mile End

London Borough of Tower Hamlets



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Henrietta Keeper, Singer

October 30, 2019
by the gentle author

Friday is an especially good day to have lunch at E. Pellicci in the Bethnal Green Rd, because not only is Maria Pellicci’s delicious fried cod & chips with mushy peas likely to be on the menu, but also – if you are favoured – you may also get to hear Henrietta Keeper sing one of her soulful ballads. Celebrated for her extraordinary vitality, the venerable Henrietta (known widely as “Joan”) is naturally reticent about her age, a discretion which you will appreciate when I reveal that she is able to pass as one thirty years her junior.

Henrietta tucked into her customary fried egg & chips last Friday as the essential warm-up to her weekly performance while I sat across the table from her enjoying the cod & chips with mushy peas, and helping her out with her chips. “My husband died fourteen years ago, of emphysema from smoking and he ate a lot of hydrolized fat.” she admitted to me, her dark eyes shining with emotion,“When he died, I threw away the biscuits and I bought a book on nutrition and studied it, and now I’ve got strong. I only eat wholemeal bread, white bread’s a killer. I am keeping well, to stay alive for the sake of my children because I love them. I don’t want to go the same way my husband did.”

“Anna Pellicci makes me laugh, ‘She says, ‘Are you still here?”” continued Henrietta with affectionate irony, leaning closer and casting her eyes around the magnificent panelled cafe that is her second home,“I first came to Pelliccis in 1947 when I got married. No-one had washing machines then, so I used to take my washing to the laundrette and come here with my three babies, Lesley hanging onto the pram, Linda sitting on the front and Lorraine the baby inside.” Yet in spite of being around longer than anyone else, Henrietta possesses a youthful, almost childlike, energy and wears a jaunty bow in her hair. “I’m so tiny,” she declared to me batting her eyelids flirtatiously, “I’m just a little girl.”

As a prelude the afternoon’s performance, I asked Henrietta the origin of her singing and she grew playful, speaking with evident delight and invoking emotions from long ago. “It all started with my dad when I was a little girl, he had a beautiful voice.” she recalled fondly, “He was a road sweeper, but years ago there wasn’t much work – so, when he couldn’t get a job, he used to stand outside the pub singing. And people put money in his hat, and he  took it home and gave to my mum. That was the only entertainment we had in those days. Everybody was poor, so the best thing was to go to the pub and make your own music. When I was sixteen years old, I used to sing duets with my dad in pubs. The first song I sang was “Sweet Sixteen –  When I first saw the love light in your eyes, when you were sweet sixteen…”

Henrietta got lost in the sentiment, singing the opening line of Sweet Sixteen across the table in a whisper, before the choosing the moment to assure me,“I’m a ballad singer, I don’t like to sing ‘Hey, Big Spender!’ even though I think Shirley Basset’s marvellous – that suits her voice, not mine.” I nodded sagely in acknowledgement of the distinction, before she continued with a fresh thought, “But I like Country & Western. Have you heard of Patsy Cline and Lena Martell? I like that one, ‘I go to pieces each time I see you again…'”

Born in the old Bethnal Green Hospital in the Cambridge Heath Rd, Henrietta and all her family – even her great-grandparents – lived in Shetland St opposite. Evacuated at the age of ten to Little Saxham, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, Henrietta found herself with a devout Welsh family who worked on the land and went to church on Sundays. Here Henrietta excelled in the choir and “that’s how I learnt singing. I got to sing, ‘My Lord is Sweet,’ on my own and I loved it.” she confided to me with a tender smile.

Returning to the East End at the time of the doodlbugs, Henrietta was out playing with her friend Doris when they heard the sound of the Luftwaffe overhead followed by explosions. In the horror of the moment, Doris suggested they take refuge in Bethnal Green Tube Station, but Henrietta had the presence of mind to refuse and went instead to join her family sleeping under the railway arches. That night, one hundred and seventy three people were killed on the staircase as they crowded into the entrance of the tube, including Henrietta’s friend Doris. “It’s not for your eyes,” Henrietta’s father told her when they laid out the bodies on stretchers upon the pavements in lines, but she recalls it in vivid detail to this day.

We ate in silence for a while before Henrietta resumed her story.“When my children started school, I joined the Diamond “T” Concert Party,” she told me,”I had a friend who worked at Tate & Lyle in Silvertown and one of the things they did for the community was organise entertainments. We used to go to old people’s homes, churches and hospitals, and I became one of their singers for thirty years. We had quite a laugh. The only reason I left was that everyone else died.”

I understood something of Henrietta’s circumstance, her story, the origin of her singing and how she made use of her talent over all these years. I realised it was imperative that Henrietta continues singing, if she is to seek the longevity she desires, and for one born and bred in Bethnal Green, Pelliccis is the natural venue. Yet there was one mystery left – why does everyone know Henrietta as ‘Joan’ ?

“My mum was called Henrietta, and because I was the eldest I was called Henrietta, but I hated it so I when I went for my first job interview, as a machinist in Mare St making army denims, I told them I was called, “Joan.” she confessed, “They was more cockney there than I am, they said, ‘What’s your name, love?’ and I didn’t like calling out ‘Henrietta’ because it sounded so posh, I just said the first name that came into my head – ‘Joan.’ All my neighbours and my mother-in-law know me as Joan, but my family know me as Henrietta. And that’s how I told a little white lie, in case you might be wondering.”

As our conversation passed, we had completed our meals. Joan ordered a piece of bread pudding to take home to eat later and I polished off a syrup pudding with custard. And then, the moment arrived – Henrietta took her microphone from her bag and composed herself to sumon the spirit of the place, a hush fell upon the cafe and she sang…


“I’m a ballad singer, I don’t like to sing ‘Hey, Big Spender!”


Henrietta Keeper – “I’m so tiny, I’m just a little girl.”

You may like to read my other Pelliccis stories

Maria Pellicci, the Meatball Queen of Bethnal Green

Pelliccis Collection

Pelliccis Celebrity Album

Maria Pellicci, Cook