Skip to content

The Auriculas Of Spitalfields

March 27, 2020
by the gentle author

An auricula theatre

In horticultural lore, auriculas have always been associated with Spitalfields and writer Patricia Cleveland-Peck has a mission to bring them back again. She believes that the Huguenots brought them here more than three centuries ago, perhaps snatching a twist of seeds as they fled their homeland and then cultivating them in the enclosed gardens of the merchants’ grand houses, and in the weavers’ yards and allotments, thus initiating a passionate culture of domestic horticulture among the working people of the East End which endures to this day.

You only have to cast your eyes upon the wonder of an auricula theatre filled with specimens in bloom in Patricia’s Sussex garden to understand why these most artificial of flowers can hold you in thrall with the infinite variety of their colour and form. “They are much more like pets than plants,” Patricia admitted to me as we stood in her greenhouse surrounded by seedlings,“because you have to look after them daily, feed them twice a week in the growing season, remove offshoots and repot them once a year. Yet they’re not hard to grow and it’s very relaxing, the perfect antidote to writing, because when you are stuck for an idea you can always tend your auriculas.” Patricia taught herself old French and Latin to research the history of the auricula, but the summit of her investigation was when she reached the top of the Kitzbüheler Horn, high in the Austrian Alps where the ancestor plants of the cultivated varieties are to be found.

Auriculas were first recorded in England in the Elizabethan period as a passtime of the elite but it was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that they became a widespread passion amongst horticulturalists of all classes. In 1795, John Thelwall, son of a Spitalfields silk mercer wrote, “I remember the time myself when a man who was a tolerable workman in the fields had generally beside the apartment in which he carried on his vocation, a small summer house and a narrow slip of a garden at the outskirts of the town where he spent his Monday either in flying his pigeons or raising his tulips.” Auriculas were included alongside tulips among those prized species known as the “Floristry Flowers,” plants renowned for their status, which were grown for competition by flower fanciers at “Florists’ Feasts,” the precursors of the modern flower show. These events were recorded as taking place in Spitalfields with prizes such as a copper kettle or a ladle and, after the day’s judging, the plants were all placed upon a long table where the contests sat to enjoy a meal together known as “a shilling ordinary.”

In the nineteenth century, Henry Mayhew wrote of the weavers of Spitalfields that “their love of flowers to this day is a strongly marked characteristic of the class.” and, in 1840, Edward Church who lived in Spital Sq recorded that “the weavers were almost the only botanists of their day in the metropolis.” It was this enthusiasm that maintained a regular flower market in Bethnal Green which eventually segued into the Columbia Rd Flower Market of our day.

Known variously in the past as ricklers, painted ladies and bears’ ears, auriculas come in different classes, show auriculas, alpines, doubles, stripes and borders – each class containing a vast diversity of variants. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, Patricia is interested in the political, religious, cultural and economic history of the auricula, but the best starting point to commence your relationship with this fascinating plant is to feast your eyes upon the dizzying collective spectacle of star performers gathered in an auricula theatre. As Sacheverell Sitwell once wrote, “The perfection of a stage auricula is that of the most exquisite Meissen porcelain or of the most lovely silk stuffs of Isfahan and yet it is a living growing thing.”

Mrs Cairns Old Blue – a border auricula

Glenelg – a show-fancy green-edged auricula

Piers Telford – a gold-centred alpine auricula

Taffetta – a show-self auricula

Seen a Ghost – a show-striped auricula

Sirius – gold-centred alpine auricula

Coventry St – a show-self auricula

M. L. King – show-self auricula

Mrs Herne – gold-centred alpine auricula

Dales Red – border auricula

Pink Gem – double auricula

Summer Wine – gold-centred alpine auricula

McWatt’s Blue – border auricula

Rajah – show-fancy auricula

Cornmeal – show-green-edged auricula

Fanny Meerbeek – show-fancy auricula

Piglet – double auricula

Basuto – gold-centred alpine auricula

Blue Velvet – border auricula

Patricia Cleveland-Peck in her greenhouse.

Patricia Cleveland-Peck’s book Auriculas Through the Ages, is available here

You may also like to take a look at

My Auriculas from Columbia Rd Market

Thomas Fairchild, Gardener of Hoxton

Eleanor Crow’s Chemists

March 26, 2020
by the gentle author

These days, chemists have become the heroes of the High Street and what better way to celebrate them than with this gallery of paintings by Eleanor Crow, including examples as far apart as Belgravia and Woodford Green.

“Some of the most successful and long-lasting small shops are chemists. It is significant that strict rules govern location and competition, protecting an existing viable pharmacy business from the arrival of a new competitor. It is a policy that results in a chemist within a short distance of most residential areas and everyone benefit from this as well as the shopkeepers. Longevity is a marker of success in the world of shops and I was delighted by the large number of chemists retaining their historic frontages.” Eleanor Crow



W & CK King, Amwell St, Clerkenwell

W & CK King has been on Amwell St since 1843, retaining its Victorian fascia and Edwardian fittings. Most of the shops in this row, known as Thompson’s Terrace, were purpose-built in the eighteen-twenties as part of the New River and Lloyd Baker estates. Like Lloyd & Son, just down the street, they are a rare survival.



Chrystall, The Broadway, Woodford Green

Chrystall has been a chemist for over a century. Situated close to the Edwardian Monkhams Estate in Woodford on the border with Essex, the surrounding suburb grew up as the railway extended from London in the nineteenth century. This is now the last Edwardian frontage left in a run that originally contained all the necessary small shops including a fishmonger and an ironmonger.



Walden Chymist, Elizabeth St, Belgravia

EstablIshed in 1846 and serving this quiet corner of Belgravia for over one hundred and fifty years, Walden Chymist is still an independently-run pharmacy. The shopfront is Grade II listed and Lata Patel, who has run the business since 1980, is proud of her splendid facade with its old gilded letters and original architectural detailing.



Allchin & Co, Englands Lane, Belsize Park

The shop was opened by Alfred Allchin, a nineteenth-century pharmaceutical chemist and creator of Allchin’s Smelling Salts. Still an independent pharmacy, the current owners retain the name of the business but have recently chosen to conceal the original signs with their elegant gilded lettering behind new plastic ones.



A Maitland & Co, Piccadilly, St James


Chemist, Vallance Rd, Whitechapel

ThIs curIous single-storey shop on the corner of Whitechapel Rd was the site of a three-storey building that housed an apothecary and a surgeon in the nineteenth century, reflecting the proximity of the Royal London Hospital. Rebuilt as a chemist after bomb damage in the Second World War, it acquired large shop windows on both sides in the fifties. Chemists J. Liff traded here until the sixties when another chemist, Beck & Sherman, took over. They boarded over the windows on the Vallance Rd side and installed the mosaic tiling that first caught my attention, creating a dynamic contrast with the bold type and arrow pointing around the corner to the Whitechapel Rd.


Click here to order a copy for £14.99

At a time of momentous change in the high street, Eleanor’s witty and fascinating personal survey champions the enduring culture of Britain’s small neighbourhood shops.

As our high streets decline into generic monotony, we cherish the independent shops and family businesses that enrich our city with their characterful frontages and distinctive typography.

Eleanor’s collection includes more than hundred of her watercolours of the capital’s bakers, cafés, butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, chemists, launderettes, hardware stores, eel & pie shops, bookshops and stationers. Her pictures are accompanied by the stories of the shops, their history and their shopkeepers – stretching from Chelsea in the west to Bethnal Green and Walthamstow in the east.

Samuel Pepys At St Olave’s

March 25, 2020
by the gentle author

I am currently reading Samuel Pepys Diary for 1665 as a diversion

Do you see Elizabeth Pepys, leaning out from her monument and directing her gaze across the church to where Samuel sat in the gallery opposite? These days the gallery has long gone but, since her late husband became celebrated for his journal, a memorial to him was installed in 1883 where the gallery once was, which contains a portrait bust that peers back eternally at Elizabeth. Consequently, they will always see eye-to-eye even if they are forever separated by the nave.

St Olave’s on the corner of Seething Lane has long been one of my favourite City churches. Dating from the eleventh century, it is a rare survivor of the Great Fire and the London Blitz. When you walk in from Hart St, three steps down into the nave immediately reveal you are entering an ancient building, where gothic vaults and medieval monuments conjure an atmosphere more reminiscent of a country church than one in the City of London.

Samuel Pepys moved into this parish when he was appointed Commissioner of the Navy Board and came to live next to the Navy Office at the rear of the church, noting his arrival at “my house in Seething Lane” in his journal on July 18th 1660. It was here that Pepys recorded the volatile events of the subsequent decade, the Plague and the Fire.

In Seething Lane, a gateway adorned with skulls as memento mori survives from that time. Pepys saw the gate from his house across the road and could walk out of the Navy Office and through it into the churchyard, where an external staircase led him straight into the private Navy Office pew in the gallery.

The churchyard itself is swollen above surrounding ground level by the vast number of bodies interred within and, even today, the gardeners constantly unearth human bones. When Elizabeth and the staff of the Navy Office took refuge from the Plague at Woolwich, Pepys stayed behind in the City. Countless times, he walked back and forth between his house and the Navy Office and St Olave’s as the body count escalated through the summer of 1665. “The sickness in general thickens round us, and particularly upon our neighbourhood,” he wrote to Sir William Coventry in grim resignation.

The following year, Pepys employed workers from the dockyard to pull down empty houses surrounding the Navy Office and his own home to create fire breaks. “About 2 in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cries of fire, it being come to … the bottom of our lane,” he recorded on 6th September 1666.

In the seventeenth century vestry room where a plaster angel presides solemnly from the ceiling, I was able to open Samuel Pepys’ prayer book. It was heart-stopping to turn the pages. Dark leather covers embossed with intricate designs enfold the volume, which he embellished with religious engravings and an elaborate hand-drawn calligraphic title page.

Samuel and Elizabeth Pepys are buried in a vault beneath the nave. Within living memory, when the Victorian font was removed, a hole was exposed that led to a chamber with a passage that led to a hidden chapel where a tunnel was dug to reach the Pepys vault. Scholars would love to know if he was buried with his bladder stone upon its silver mount, but no investigation has yet been permitted.

If you seek Samuel Pepys, St Olave’s is undoubtedly where you can find him. Walk in beneath the gate laden with skulls, across the graveyard bulging with the bodies of the long dead, cast your eyes along the flower beds for any shards of human bone, and enter the church where Samuel and Elizabeth regard each other from either side of the nave eternally.

St Olave’s at the corner of Seething Lane

“To our own church, and at noon, by invitation, Sir W Pen dined with me and Mrs Hester, my Lady Betten’s kinswoman, to dinner from church with me, and we were very merry. So to church again, and heard a simple fellow upon the praise of Church musique, and exclaiming against men’s wearing their hats on in the church, but I slept part of the sermon, till latter prayer and blessing and all was done without waking  which I never did in my life…” SAMUEL PEPYS, Sunday 17th November, 1661

Samuel Pepys’ memorial in the south aisle

Samuel Pepys’ prayerbook

Engraved nativity and fine calligraphy upon the title page of Pepys’ prayerbook

Door to the vestry

The oldest monument in the church, 1566

Memorial of Peter Capponi, a Florentine merchant & spy, 1582

Paul Bayning, 1616, was an Alderman of the City & member of the Levant company

A Norwegian flag hangs in honour of St Olave

The gate where Pepys walked in from the Navy Office across the street

Sculpture of Samuel Pepys in the churchyard

You may also like to read about

Spires of City Churches

In City Churchyards

The Oranges & Lemons Churches

The City Churches of Old London

At Home With My Mother

March 24, 2020
by Delwar Hussain

Anthropologist & Writer Delwar Hussain sent me this account of recent weeks of self-isolating, alone with his mother in the family house in Spitalfields

Portrait by Patricia Niven

I went out for a run this morning. It was a mild spring day and the sky was the blue-and-white of china plates with one side of the road in shade and the other bathed in warm sunshine. It has been nearly two weeks since my mother and I have been isolated together at home. Though neither of us has any symptoms of the coronavirus, she is over seventy and last year was hospitalised with a chest infection, so we decided we needed to retreat for her protection.   

I ran down the middle of empty roads following the sunlight through the City, along Liverpool St, and headed towards Holborn. It felt good to be outside with the wind on my face, the changing temperature on my skin and my body, active after being indoors for so many days. Following government advice to avoid public places, the streets were deserted yet, here and there, life continued. Builders worked, the noise of their machinery reverberating around. South American cleaners had just finished their shifts and chatted between each other at a distance. African security guards sat statue-like at receptions in glass and steel towers. Those finding themselves in the gig economy ferried around bags of food and parcels. A few people queued outside a branch of Boots the chemist, waiting for it to open with a look of despondency on their faces. 

Along Cheapside, opticians were open but Church’s shoe shop was closed. The plinths in the windows lay empty as though an industrious robber with refined taste had swiped them. The clothes shop next door had its doors shut too, displaying a familiar sign about needing to protect their staff and customers. 

I sped past, narrowly missing a delivery man who was packing his car with bouquets of flowers. He flinched as we were about to brush against each other, not just because he carried flowers in his latex-gloved hands but because these are times when any bodily contact is a potential threat. I was close enough to see that the cards he held were for Mothers Day. 

Initially, my mother’s routines did not change. She would wake up, have breakfast, feed Styger our cat, look at her plants – the beans and gourd seeds are in, the coriander is already growing, the onions are coming up, as well as the mula – then prepare lunch for any family passing through the house. In the afternoons she speaks to her sister in Bethnal Green, has tea, settles down to watch Hollyoaks, the Channel 4 News and then Eastenders before getting started on supper. 

Once the virus hit, siblings, nieces, nephews and her grandchildren stopped coming. With fewer people around, she cooks less. Her trips to Whitechapel market or to the grocery shops on Brick Lane came to an end. She stopped seeing her sister but she is on the phone more often and has learnt to use the video function on WhatsApp. 

One of the biggest changes in our routines is that we watch telly together in the evenings. This is something we used to do when I was younger but, as my siblings and I grew older and found other sources of interest and entertainment, we stopped watching with her, except perhaps the odd thing – the Olympics 100-Metre Dash, the World Cup and Eurovision.

Despite not speaking English, my mother is a wealth of knowledge on British popular television from the Two Ronnies, Tommy Cooper, Dane Edna – fixtures on television when she moved to London in 1978 – to contemporary films, game shows, serials, football and sports, and music and talent shows. As the technology has grown more and more complex, defeating me, she still manages to find her way around the remote control. 

So now in the evenings, as she sips her glass of hot water and lemon and I flick through the stream of messages about the virus on my phone, we watch Arabic and French detective series, pottery competitions and the recent adaptation of ‘The Pale Horse’ by Agatha Christie, which I liked and she thinks is merely adequate. She enjoys Masterchef. She is more interested in the contestants and their back-stories than she is in the food they prepare, which she considers to be monotonous and usually undercooked, even if the judges find it magnifique. 

As I approached Holborn on my run, there were fewer people on the street. Another runner passed me in a face mask and protective gloves, making me feel I transgressed by not wearing them. The virus is an existential matter, bringing our collective and individual fears about mortality and frailty to the fore. At this stage, rather than the virus being a source of alarm, my mother’s worry is about food. This is exacerbated by the news, and what friends and family are telling her about empty supermarket aisles. 

My mother was born in Bengal which has a history of famine, including the 1974 famine soon after Bangladesh was founded, as well as the more well-known Bengal Famine of 1943 when Winston Churchill diverted food to feed British troops stationed in East Asia. An estimated three million people perished from starvation, malaria and other associated diseases. These histories have become embedded in the identity of Bengalis, including those – like my mother – who have lived in London for over forty years. Want, shortage and scarcity are facts that I and my siblings had instilled into us. As a result, we always bought in bulk, in spite of our embarrassment, remonstrations and complaints as we were made to lug home sacks of rice, lentils, spices, salt, sugar and tea, and drums of oil.   

I turned back at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, aware that my energy would not stretch any further, passed the High Court and then headed towards St Pauls where there were more people on the street. On closer inspection they were tourists, with the city to themselves, taking photographs without any competition now. They all wore face masks and gloves. Finally, I turned into Bishopsgate and sprinted home through the empty Spitalfields Market. 

Outside our front door, one of my younger brothers was standing with a bunch of flowers and a box of doughnuts for my mother which, in all likelihood, would once have been eaten by him. He did not want to come inside and risk infecting her. Would I take them to her?

That evening, my mother and I watched a scientific documentary about birth. One of the questions scientists have been asking is how babies and mothers bond from the moment of birth. I did my best to translate this for her into Sylheti, a language I am growing increasingly rusty with now that my mother is one of the few people I use it with. Yet she understands without me having to say anything. ‘It’s like asking why we breathe,’ my mother says, matter-of-factly. ‘If babies and mothers don’t bond, then there is no life.’

From Delwar’s window

Empty Spitalfields

You may like to read these other stories by Delwar Hussain

Arful Nessa, Gardener

Arful Nessa’s Sewing Machine

The Plagues Of Old London

March 23, 2020
by Gillian Tindall

Distinguished historian Gillian Tindall sent me this fascinating history of the Plague in London from her self-isolation

‘Bring Out Your Dead,’ A Street in London 1665, by Edmund Evans, 1864

Inhabitants of modern developed countries too easily lose sight of the essential fragility of human life. If you are fortunate enough to live in a society with a decent health service, effective drugs readily available and an average life-expectancy well beyond the Biblical three-score years and ten, you may accept this state of affairs as normal. Until just recently …

Yet our ancestors, for centuries and centuries, knew better – or perhaps I should say ‘knew worse’ ? Their common experience was that life was fragile and easily destroyed. Epidemics of fatal sickness were not exceptional events of once a century but frequent scourges lasting years, better at one time then suddenly worse at another, and never really going away.

So much was made of the Black Death of the fourteenth century by chroniclers a generation later that their estimates of how many died, in London and elsewhere, are now believed to have been exaggerated for dramatic effect. What is more significant is that the Bubonic Plague stayed around for the next three centuries. Consequently, the history of London through the Tudor period and into the Stuarts’ had a great many ‘plague years’.

Nor was this plague the only major affliction. A ‘sweating sickness’ appeared which no one today has yet satisfactorily identified. Dean Colet, the founder of St Paul’s School, died of it in 1519 in the midst of an otherwise healthy life – though this might, in retrospect, have been a blessing. Colet’s younger friend Thomas More, sharing the same religious and political views, was beheaded fifteen years later for disagreeing with Henry VIII. The sweating sickness appears to have disappeared by the following century as mysteriously as it had come. Malaria which had been an endemic nuisance and destroyer of health, as it still is in some parts of the world today, also declined, probably because many of the mosquito-haunted marshes and fens were drained.

But Bubonic Plague returned to London, on a regular basis, in the troubled times of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, finally reaching its zenith in the Great Plague of 1665, which has become our bench-mark for all other epidemics.

Recently, a neighbour of mine, contemplating the notion of social isolation, emailed me, saying `Our niece has just brought us some soup! She never normally visits us. Do you think that if we painted “Lord have mercy upon us” on the front door other people would bring us free food?’

In the Great Plague, whole households were shut up to die together because the infection was believed to be airborne. There was indeed an airborne version of pastorella pestis and the earlier Black Death may have been that, but it is now evident that the Great Plague was a visitation of the common plague, passed by the fleas, lice, rats and mice that lived in close proximity with Londoners. The angry inhabitant who declared ‘As soon as any house is infected, all the sound people should be out of it and not shut up therein to be murdered,’ actually got it right.

The illusion that Plague was transmitted from person-to-person has created myths of heroism, in particular relating to the village of Eyam in Derbyshire. Although it was understood at the time that the Plague arrived in flea-infested cloth ordered from London by a tailor, the wrong conclusion was drawn. When the tailor’s assistant became ill, not only were his family shut up to die but the entire village as well. Encouraged by a high-minded Vicar,  they incarcerated themselves, thinking to save the neighbouring villages. As a result, over half – or possibly more- of the population of Eyam died.

Yet almost everywhere else in country districts the Plague died out quickly – a natural consequence, as we now recognise, of people living in less-crowded and less-infested conditions. In the summer of 1665, a stonemason who had been working in London, rode home to his village in the Cotswolds with the Plague upon him. He died and so did the rest of his immediate household.  Their deaths are marked ‘plague’ in the burial register but no one else died in the parish that August, except for one very old man.

Meanwhile in London, a few intelligent and observant people got the message. In the parish of St Giles in the Fields where the Plague first manifested itself (infested cloth again, from Rotterdam), William Boghurst, a local apothecary, stayed on duty throughout, ministering to his customers. As he wrote later in his book on the sickness (entitled Loimographia but actually quite readable), he had been at bedsides taking pulses and blood, holding up the choking and dying, even dressing sores. Like the doctors and surgeons far grander than he, he had no cure to administer yet he remained plague-free himself, having accurately recognised the conditions that exacerbated the problem as –

‘thickness of inhabitants, those living as many families in a house, living in cellars, want of fitting accommodations as good fires, good dyett, washing, want of all good conveyances of filth, standing and stinking waters, dung hills, excrements, dead bodies lying unburied and putrefying, churchyards too full crammed …’

He added, ‘exceptionally hot weather,’ and remarked how there had been, ‘such a multitude of flies that they lined the insides of the houses… and swarms of ants covered the highways.’

Boghurst’s remedy? He advocated keeping a clean house, disposing of human waste at a distance, consuming only the freshest meat and milk, and being particularly careful about clean water. More than two centuries before it was generally accepted that diseases came from microscopic organisms, he was already practising the correct methods. He was also in favour of eating fresh fruit and vegetables, of which many of his contemporaries were unaccountably wary. He was also, beyond any doubt, a great advocate of hand-washing.

(The Dance of Death that follows is by Luke Clennell 1825)

The Desolation

The Queen

The Pope

The Cardinal

The Elector

The Canon

The Canoness

The Priest

The Mendicant Friar

The Councillor or Magistrate

The Astrologer

The Physician

The Merchant

The Wreck

The Swiss Soldier

The Charioteer or Waggoner

The Porter

The Fool

The Miser

The Gamesters

The Drunkards

The Beggar

The Thief

The Newly Married Pair

The Husband

The Wife

The Child

The Old Man

The Old Woman

Gillian Tindall’s new book The Pulse Glass and the Beat of Other Hearts is published by Chatto & Windus 

You may like to read these other stories by Gillian Tindall

The Bones of Old London

Wenceslaus Hollar At Old St Paul’s

Memories of Ship Tavern Passage

Gillian Tindall’s Wartime Memories

At Captain Cook’s House in Mile End

In Stepney, 1963

Stepney’s Lost Mansions

Where The White Chapel Once Stood

The Old South Bank

Leonard Fenton, Actor

In Old Deptford

Lifesaving in Limehouse

From Bedlam To Liverpool St

Smithfield’s Bloody Past

The Tunnel Through Time

The Lives Of The Spitalfields Nippers

March 22, 2020
by the gentle author

This boy is wearing Horace Warner’s hat

I often think of the lives of the Spitalfields Nippers. Around 1900 Photographer and Sunday School Teacher Horace Warner took portraits of children in Quaker St, who were some of the poorest in London at that time. When his personal album of these astonishing photographs came to light five years ago, we researched the lives of his subjects and published a book of all his portraits accompanied by biographies of the children.

Although we were shocked to discover that as many as a third did not reach adulthood, we were also surprised and heartened by the wide range of outcomes among the others. In spite of the deprivation they endured in their early years, many of these children survived to have long and fulfilled lives.

Walter Seabrook was born on 23rd May 1890 to William and Elizabeth Seabrook of Custance St, Hoxton. In 1901, when Walter’s portrait was taken by Horace Warner, the family were living at 24 & 1/2 Great Pearl St, Spitalfields, and Walter’s father worked as a printer’s labourer. At twenty-four years old, Walter was conscripted and fought in World War One but survived to marry Alice Noon on Christmas Day 1918 at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green. By occupation, Walter was an electrician and lived at 2 Princes Court, Gibraltar Walk. He and Alice had three children – Walter born in 1919, Alice born in 1922 and Gladys born in 1924. Walter senior died in Ware, Hertfordshire, in 1971, aged eighty-one.

Sisters Wakefield

Jessica & Rosalie Wakefield. Jessica was born in Camden on January 16th 1891 and Rosalie at 47 Hamilton Buildings, Great Eastern St, Shoreditch on July 4th 1895. They were the second and last of four children born to William, a printer’s assistant, and Alice, a housewife. It seems likely they were living in Great Eastern St at the time Horace Warner photographed them, when Jessica was ten or eleven and Rosalie was five or six.

Jessica married Stanley Taylor in 1915 and they lived in Wandsworth, where she died in 1985, aged ninety-four. On July 31st 1918 at the age of twenty-three, Rosalie married Ewart Osborne, a typewriter dealer, who was also twenty-three years old, at St Mary, Balham. After five years of marriage, they had a son named Robert, in 1923, but Ewart left her and she was reported as being deaf. Eventually the couple divorced in 1927 and both married again. Rosalie died aged eighty-four in 1979, six years before her elder sister Jessica, in Waltham Forest.

Jerry Donovan, or ‘Dick Whittington & His Cat’

Jeremiah Donovan was born in 1895 in the City of London. His parents Daniel, news vendor, and Katherine Donovan originated in Ireland. They came to England and settled in Spitalfields at 14 Little Pearl St, Spitalfields. By 1901, the family were resident at Elizabeth Buildings, Boleyn Rd. Jeremiah volunteered for World War I in 1914 when he was nineteen and was stationed at first at City of London Barracks in Moorgate. He joined the Royal Artillery, looked after the horses for the gun carriages, but was gassed in France. In 1919, Jeremiah married Susan Nichols and they had one son, Bertram John Donovan, born in 1920. He died in Dalston in 1956 and is remembered by nine great grandchildren.

Adelaide Springett in all her best clothes

Adelaide Springett was born in February 1893 in the parish of St George-in-the-East, Wapping. Her father, William Springett came from Marylebone and her mother Margaret from St Lukes, Old St. Both parents were costermongers, although William was a dock labourer when he first married. Adelaide’s twin sisters, Ellen and Margaret, died at birth and another sister, Susannah, died aged four. Adelaide attended St Mary’s School and then St Joseph’s School. The addresses on her school admissions were 12 Miller’s Court, Dorset St, and then 26 Dorset St. In 1901, at eight years old, she was recorded as lodging with her mother at the Salvation Army Shelter in Hanbury St.

Adelaide Springett died in 1986 in Fulham aged ninety-three, without any traceable relatives, and the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Social Services Department was her executor.

Celia Compton was born in 11 Johnson St, Mile End, on April 28th 1886, to Charles – a wood chopper – and Mary Compton. Celia was one of nine children but only six survived into adulthood. Two elder brothers Charles, born in 1883, and William, born in 1884, both died without reaching their first birthdays, leaving Celia as the eldest. On January 25th 1904, she married George Hayday, a chairmaker who was ten years older than her. They lived at 5 George St, Hoxton, and had no children. After he died in 1933, she married Henry Wood the next year and they lived in George Sq until it was demolished in 1949. In later years, Celia became a moneylender and she died in Poplar in 1966 aged eighty years old.

Click here to order SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS by Horace Warner for £20

Women Of The Old East End

March 21, 2020
by the gentle author

I have selected these portraits of magnificent women from Philip Mernick‘s fine collection of cartes de visite by nineteenth century East End photographers, arranged chronologically to show the evolving styles of dress and changing roles of female existence





c. 1870


c. 1870












c. 1890



c. 1900

c. 1910

c. 1910  Theatrical performer by William Whiffin

c. 1940 Driver

Photographs reproduced courtesy of Philip Mernick

You may also like to take a look at

Portraits from Philip Mernick’s Collection

Thomas Barnes, Photographer