Tuesday, August 01, 2000

Local history month - August 2003

Time for some local history.

Let me be your tour guide round some of the famous locations within 5, then 10, then 15 minutes walk of my house. You can expect chemical poisoning, Votes For Women, organised crime, Murder She Wrote, poverty, Dickens, Shakespeare and Gandhi, amongst others.

Some of it should even be interesting.

Take a Bow

I live in the small leafy village of Bow, a tiny medieval settlement by the river Lea and one of the original Tower Hamlets. Well, that's what the place was once. However, if you've ever driven through East London you probably know Bow better as that concrete wasteland with a church in the middle of the road. This is rather closer to the truth today, but there's still plenty of evidence around here of the old village and what happened as it grew up to become absorbed into the largest city in Europe.

The old Roman Road from London to Colchester crossed the River Lea here, originally at a fast-flowing ford. A stone bridge was built as a replacement about 900 years ago, and its bow-shape provided the name for the new village of Bow that grew up around it. Close by was St Leonard's Priory, a Benedictine nunnery founded in the time of William the Conqueror, and mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer in the prologue to his Canterbury Tales.

"Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,
That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy.
And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly
After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe"

That 'church in the middle of the road' was founded in 1311 and formed the centre of the medieval village. Bow was also home to a number of breweries and riverside flour mills and the village soon became the bakery of London. Fresh loaves were taken by cart into the City each morning and with this prosperity came further growth. Samuel Pepys was a regular visitor to the green fields and great houses of 17th-century Bow, often riding out from inner London to take the clear air.

"It being a mighty fine afternoon; and there we went the first time out of town with our coach and horses, and went as far as Bow, the spring beginning a little now to appear, though the way be dirty; and so, with great pleasure, with the fore-part of our coach up, we spent the afternoon." (diary, March 5th 1669)

Bow grew rapidly during Victorian times, from a population of two thousand in 1801 to more than forty thousand in 1901, as the village was swallowed whole by the ever-expanding city of London. Many fine terraces and squares were built to the north of the main road, but there was also terrible poverty. The railways came, the riverside became heavily industrialised and the whole area tipped slowly into slum conditions along with the rest of the East End. Charles Dickens saw fit to set part of Nicholas Nickleby here, although admittedly not the most exciting of chapters.

`And I think, my dear brother,' said Nicholas's first friend, `that we were to let them that little cottage at Bow which is empty, at something under the usual rent'
There surely never was such a week of discoveries and surprises as the first week of that cottage. Every night when Nicholas came home, something new had been found out. One day it was a grapevine, and another day it was a boiler, and another day it was the key of the front-parlour closet at the bottom of the water-butt.

The Second World War took a heavy toll on Bow's buildings and their occupants, quickening the rebirth of the area as the remaining slums were cleared in a ground-breaking redevelopment scheme. Much of the old village centre round the church was buried forever beneath ugly ill-thought-out concrete, but elsewhere many of the better Victorian terraces have survived. The gentrification on Bow is well underway, and any estate agent will tell you that the area definitely is on the up again. But alas, it's very hard to stand here now and picture rolling fields, lush pastures and Samuel Pepys riding by.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 1 - the Bryant and May match factory

Bow Quarter today - frontBack in Victorian times everybody needed matches, and there was a very good chance that those matches would have been made just down the road from me in Bow. The famous Bryant and May match factory on Fairfield Road was opened in 1861 (in a building previously used for making candles and, before that, crinolines). It wasn't a pleasant place to work, and the tinderbox conditions were to be the spark for a social revolution.

The match factory's 1400 workers were mostly young women, many under the age of 15. They worked in appalling conditions for up to 12 hours a day and for a wage of less than five shillings a week. A system of heavy fines was in place for offences such as talking, lateness, dropping matches or going to the toilet without permission. (Sounds much like working in a modern call centre). Many of the women suffered from 'phossy jaw', a particularly nasty form of bone cancer caused by handling the yellow phosphorous used in match production. First your skin turned yellow, then your hair fell out, then the whole side of your face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus, and finally you died. Workers rights were certainly not top of the management's list of priorities.

In 1888 a journalist called Annie Besant visisted the factory to see conditions for herself. She was appalled by what she saw. She wrote an damning article in her newspaper, The Link, exposing the dreadful conditions in the factory and contrasting these with huge payouts to shareholders. Bryant & May refuted her claims but, when a group of women at the factory refused to back the company, the rebels were immediately sacked. The fiery-tempered matchgirls walked out on strike, and the dispute was aflame.

Bow Quarter today - backStrike action was almost unheard of in those days, but Annie and the matchgirls were not to be intimidated. They formed a union, held rallies in Bow and the West End, set up a system of strike pay and slowly gained the support of the British public through the national press. Influential people such as the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army and George Bernard Shaw lent their support. Within a fortnight the company had relented and agreed major improvements to conditions of service and the removal of unfair practices. They also (eventually) agreed to move over to using the much-safer red phosphorus in match production. A few well-organised working class girls had fought back against their bosses and had won, and this victory ignited the trade union movement.

The Bryant & May match factory in Fairfield Road was rebuilt in 1911 - an enormous building that still stands today. Production of matches finally ceased in 1979. The building then lay derelict for a few years before property developers moved in and transformed the site into a hugely successful housing development called Bow Quarter. There's now a swimming pool, a sauna, a shop, a restaurant, even an estate agent, but many of the apartments are tiny and overpriced. The new inhabitants of the old match factory live in relatively opulent conditions, safely protected behind high fences and electronic gates. I wonder how many of them are aware that their property was once home to sick phossy-jawed girls working in extreme poverty. And don't mention socialist revolution, it might bring the property prices down.

Local links:
The story of the matchgirls strike
All about matches and match-making - from h2g2.
Socialist Worker! Socialist Worker?
Annie - the musical (contains such catchy songs as Phosphorus, Cockney sparrers and Look at that hat)
Life amongst the matchgirls - the Essex Girls of their day.
Bow Quarter - a couple of tasteful photos

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 2 - where the testimonial fountain used to be

Yet another match-based dispute. This one involved an angry march on Parliament which ended with a brutal battle against the police in Trafalgar Square. They don't mention that on the plaque. You can see the marvellously ornate drinking fountain as it used to be here. It was demolished merely so that Bow Road could be widened. Our loss.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 3 - the Gladstone statue

the Gladstone statueWilliam Gladstone (1809-1898) was a very popular Victorian Liberal Prime Minister (think Tony Blair 1997). So popular that in 1882 match magnate Theodore Bryant commissioned a bronze statue of the great man to stand in the middle of Bow Road near the church. Local papers reported that 'the whole of the East End turned out to witness the ceremony.' Gladstone's popularity waned somewhat over the next six years (think Tony Blair 2003), by which time the striking match girls now talked of the statue as if it had been paid for in their blood. Here's how campaigning journalist Annie Besant reported the issue in her ground-breaking article White Slavery in London:

A very bitter memory survives in the factory. Mr Theodore Bryant, to show his admiration of Mr Gladstone and the greatness of his own public spirit, bethought him to erect a statue to that eminent statesman. In order that his workgirls might have the privilege of contributing, he stopped 1s. each out of their wages, and further deprived them of half-a-day's work by closing the factory, "giving them a holiday". ("We don't want no holidays", said one of the girls pathetically, for - needless to say - the poorer employees of such a firm lose their wages when a holiday is "given".) So furious were the girls at this cruel plundering, that many went to the unveiling of the statue with stones and bricks in their pockets, and I was conscious of a wish that some of those bricks had made an impression on Mr Bryant's conscience. Later on they surrounded the statue - "we paid for it" they cried savagely - shouting and yelling, and a gruesome story is told that some cut their arms and let their blood trickle on the marble paid for, in very truth, by their blood.

Gladstone now stands forlorn in the middle of the A11, guarding the approach to the Bow flyover, overseeing a pedestrian crossing and some disused public toilets. The granite pedestal below the statue is still stained by red paint, daubed there in the early 1990s in protest over the conversion of the old match factory to luxury apartments. They still believe in symbolic bloody protest round here. (Further photos of Gladstone's statue here, here and here)

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 4 - Sylvia Pankhurst's campaign headquarters

Sylv was here100 years ago Britain was still an electorally-backward country. No Y-chromosome, no X. This was a scandalous state of affairs, even if the men in power couldn't see it, and so the Suffragette movement was born. Christabel Pankhurst formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, seeking equality in the battle for women's suffrage. Christabel's daughter Sylvia (1882-1960) became increasingly involved in the movement, and increasingly political. When her mother started to take the struggle upmarket, seeing the working women of the East End as a lost cause, Sylvia decided to form a breakaway movement instead. And so it was that, in October 1912, Sylvia Pankhurst and her friend Zelie Emerson rented out an old baker's shop at 198 Bow Road, directly opposite 'that church in the middle of the road'. Sylvia painted VOTES FOR WOMEN in giant gold letters on the front, built a wooden platform outside from which to address the passing crowds and set up her campaign headquarters inside.

"I regarded the rousing of the East End as of utmost importance.... The creation of a woman's movement in that great abyss of poverty would be a call and a rallying cry to the rise of similar movements in all parts of the country."

Bow's MP at the time was George Lansbury, who in 1912 shocked Parliament by resigning his seat and standing for re-election solely on the issue of votes for women. Sylvia led the campaign from the old bakery in Bow Road, organising a huge march and rally in nearby Victoria Park. George was narrowly defeated in the by-election and many in the Suffragette movement were disheartened, withdrawing all financial support for the East End project. Sylvia packed up shop in Bow Road but soon restarted her campaign for equality from a house in nearby Roman Road. Marches and demonstrations became increasingly militant, and the Government reacted by clamping down harshly on this civil unrest. Sylvia risked arrest at every public appearance and spent much time in Holloway prison, often on hunger strike.

The outbreak of war in 1914 caused most Suffragettes to regroup behind the war effort, but Sylvia chose to fight on for women's rights from her Bow headquarters. She set up a nursery and mother-and-baby clinic, provided a cost-price canteen for the poor and established her own newspaper - the Woman's Dreadnought. Her persistence eventually paid off. The 1918 Representation of the People Act gave certain "women of property" over the age of 30 the right to vote, although it was to be another ten years until full equality was extended to all women over 21.

Sylvia Pankhurst spent 12 years living amongst the women of Bow before spreading her wings and seeking to further socialism and women's rights elsewhere. Later in her life she became increasingly involved with the anti-fascist movement in Africa, living in Addis Ababa for the last five years of her life, and there she is buried. George Lansbury, meanwhile, was re-elected to Parliament where he became its most prominent pacifist and was leader of the Labour party in opposition between 1931 and 1935. A huge local housing estate specially rebuilt for the Festival of Britain in 1951 is named after him, and yes, his granddaughter really is Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote fame. As for the old bakery at 198 Bow Road, that has long since been replaced by the nondescript block of council housing you see in the photo above. But it would be nice to see the site commemorated by a blue plaque, preferably one with large gold letters.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 6 - Sylvia Pankhurst's meeting hall

births, deaths and marriagesThis is Tower Hamlets Register Office on the Bow Road. Most Saturday mornings you'll find a wedding party here, spilling out onto the pavement, complete with fresh-faced East End geezers who've clearly never squeezed into a Burtons suit before. Previously this building was Bromley Public Hall, a series of halls and meeting rooms for the use of the local community. Back in 1913 you'd probably have found a crowd of angry Suffragettes inside instead, busy planning their next public demonstration. The increasingly violent nature of Sylvia Pankhurst's protests eventually encouraged Poplar council to ban the women from meeting on their premises, not that this stopped the women from meeting on their premises of course. It wasn't long before the local police turned up in force (exactly 90 years ago last week in fact), breaking in to put an end to the regular gatherings once and for all. Sylvia was forced to hide in a nearby stable overnight, before escaping the following morning concealed inside a sack on the back of a woodcart.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 5 - Sylvia Pankhurst's first target

a stone's throw awaySelby's the undertakers used to trade from the dead centre of Bow, a stone's throw away from the nearby village centre. Literally so, as it turned out. In February 1913 Sylvia Pankhurst climbed up on an old cart down Bromley High Street and made her first public speech for the Suffragette cause. It was a freezing day and very few passers-by stopped to pay her any attention. Not being one to be ignored, Sylvia picked up a stone and hurled it through the window of the nearby funeral directors. Most unladylike. Some of her colleagues joined in by smashing windows on buildings nearby, and soon all the protestors were arrested and locked up at nearby Bow police station. Sylvia and two of her colleagues were later sentenced to two months hard labour in Holloway prison, and so began the series of hunger strikes for which the Suffragettes became infamous.

As for Bromley High Street, some miserable post-war redevelopment has left the place more far more dead than centre, but I reckon it's nothing that a few well-aimed rocks couldn't solve.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 7 - where Gandhi stayed

Mahatma woz ereIn 1912 Doris and Muriel Lester opened Kingsley Hall, a small nursery school in Bromley-by-Bow. The school gradually expanded its services within the local community until soon a new building was needed, four stories high, complete with clubroom, dining room, kitchen, residential units and a space for worship.

Mahatma Gandhi left India only once during the last 30 years of his life, travelling to London in 1931 to attend the Round Table Conference. He refused to stay in a hotel, preferring to lodge among working people, and so chose to make his home at Kingsley Hall for 12 weeks. Huge crowds greeted his arrival, and Charlie Chaplin and the Pearly Queen and King of East London were amongst his many visitors. Gandhi spoke eloquently at the Conference, an international talking shop to discuss Indian independence, but was outmanouevred by representatives of the British Raj and supporters of the caste system.

"....besides doing his work with the Government, he spent a lot of time with us. He visited the Nursery School and all the children called him Uncle Gandhi. At six o'clock each morning, after his prayers, he took his walk along the canal, talking to workmen on the way.... There was something about him that always lives with the people."

In 1964 the famous psychologist R.D. Laing persuaded the Lester sisters to let him use Kingsley Hall for a unique and radical experiment. He established the Philadelphia Project here, a community in which seriously affected schizophrenics were encouraged to live free from medication or restraint. The experiment was not a success, for the locals at least, who suffered regular smashed windows, faeces pushed through their letter boxes and harassment at local shops. When Laing and his community finally moved out, six years later, Kingsley Hall was left trashed and uninhabitable.

In the early 1980s Richard Attenborough used Kingsley Hall as a set for his film Gandhi. During the filming he worked with local people to raise enough funds to carry out extensive refurbishment, and Kingsley Hall was reopened as a community centre in 1985. The building now houses the offices of the Gandhi Foundation, an organisation which continues to promote the peaceful protest and nonviolent action so successfully advocated by the great man himself, right here, seven decades ago.

In that settlement which represents the poor people of the East End of London I have become one of them. They have accepted me as a member, and as a favoured member of their family. It will be one of the richest treasures that I shall carry with me.

(In)famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 8 - the Krays' manor

1933: Identical twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray are born ten minutes apart.
1939: The family move from Shoreditch to 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green.
1951: Both twins appear in a middleweight boxing match at the Albert Hall.
1952: The twins desert their National Service on day 1 after decking the NCO.
1953: They buy the Regal, a run-down snooker club in Bethnal Green. The empire begins.
1956: The Kray's manor stretches from Bethnal Green to Bow and from Stepney to Hackney.
1957: When Ronnie is sent to prison, Reggie opens the 'Double R Club' at 145 Bow Road.
1960: When Reggie is sent to prison. Ronnie takes control of a large Knightsbridge casino.
1964: The Daily Mirror retracts claims that Ronnie has been having sex with a Tory peer.
1965: Reggie marries Frances Shea, who two years later takes an overdose and dies.
1966: Ronnie walks into the Blind Beggar pub and shoots George Cornell dead.
1968: Reggie stabs Jack 'The Hat' McVitie to death in a house in Stoke Newington.
1969: Both twins are found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
1995: Ronnie dies and his funeral cortege brings East London to a halt.
2000: Reggie dies and is buried alongside his brother in Chingford cemetery.

For a few years in the late Fifties the Double R club in Bow was at the centre of the Kray brothers' semi-legitimate business empire. Reggie snapped up a cheap derelict shop here while his brother Ronnie was in prison, furnishing the premises with stolen goods. A gym was built on the first floor and Henry Cooper was invited to officially open the premises in 1957. It wasn't long before the club was attracting a crowd of sharp-suited businessmen, showbiz celebrities and scheming villains. Jackie Collins and Barbara Windsor were regular visitors, and entertainment was provided by cockney songstress (and soon-to-be actress) Queenie Watts. Reggie also opened a gambling club just down the road in Wellington Way, behind Bow Police Garage, and the money came rolling in. All went well at the Double R until Ronnie escaped from prison. He would turn up at the club uninvited, behaving violently and frightening the clientele. In 1960 Reggie was arrested, Ronnie turned his interest to bigger clubs in the West End, and the Double R closed down.

Sadly this notorious building no longer exists. A non-descript prefab now lies on the site, home to a car hire firm, while immediately nextdoor is a secondary school playground. I suppose I should be relieved that my area must be one of the few in London where the crime rate has actually gone down since the 1950s, but I think I may get a couple of extra door locks fitted just in case.
Those Kray Brothers are still held in high esteem in this manor. Dead, but by no means forgotten.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 9 - the Bow flyover

births, deaths and marriagesProbably the most well-known place in modern Bow is the flyover, that gently arching slab of concrete which lifts the A11 over the A12. Perhaps more notorious than famous in fact, as it features in almost as many travel news bulletins as the Hanger Lane gyratory system. One of the most popular times for gridlock is early rush hour on a weekday evening, second only to lunchtime on a sunny summer weekend as everyone in London who owns a car simultaneously decides to head out of the capital for a breath of smog-free air. Many make it no further than the drive-thru McDonalds on the corner before giving up and returning home with a takeaway barbecue.

There's been a crossing over the river Lea here since Roman times, the first crossing being an old ford a short distance to the north. In the 12th century Queen Matilda came riding from London to Barking Forest for a spot of hunting only to get a soaking because the river was in flood, and so she ordered a bridge to be built instead. This first bridge was shaped like a bow, and this is believed to be how the nearby medieval village got its name. The original bridge existed unchanged for centuries, carrying the main highway between London and East Anglia. It was eventually rebuilt with three arches, then replaced in 1835 by a wider structure, and widened further in 1903 as road traffic continued to increase.

In the 1960s a series of new ring roads were planned to ease London's growing traffic congestion. Only small portions of the inner ringway were ever built - one being the Westway and another the East Cross Route, running south from Hackney through Bow to the Blackwall Tunnel. Whole streets and communities were bulldozed for the convenience of the motorist, and a swathe of East London was buried forever beneath concrete and tarmac. The building of the Bow flyover removed all traces of the old bridge, and the River Lea is now barely visible beside the dual carriageway beneath. Some say that the Krays buried the bodies of one of their victims in the foundations, in which case it's highly appropriate that Ronnie's funeral cortege passed over the flyover three decades later.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 11 - Crossrail

the future of rail travel here by 2012This unassuming and unused bridge straddling Bow Road will one day be home to London's newest rail project, Crossrail. In 10 years time sleek new trains will sail over this bridge from the commuter suburbs of Essex, plunging underground just a few hundred metres south of here to speed under Central London and then out again the other side. But I've written about Crossrail before, here, so enough about that.

Bow's first railway arrived in 1843, the Eastern Counties Railway heading through on its way to Norwich, followed soon afterwards by the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway heading instead for the Essex coast. These two parallel lines were connected by the Blackwall Extension Railway, a curved viaduct crossing Bow Road over the railway bridge pictured here. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, the North London Railway carved yet another line underneath Bow Road to link the docks at Blackwall with the cities of the Midlands via the mainline at Camden. Victorian Bow was trainspotter heaven.

A first-class murder took place on the North London Railway in 1864, somewhere between Bow and Hackney stations. An otherwise empty carriage was found splattered with blood on the train's arrival in Hackney, and the body of chief clerk Thomas Briggs was discovered sprawled across the tracks a short distance back. The murderer, a German tailor, was soon identified and later arrested after fleeing across the Atlantic to New York.

The head seemed to have been battered in by some sharp instrument; the clothes were covered in blood; and the broken link or hook of a watch-chain hung to a buttonhole of the waistcoat, the rest of the chain and the watch being missing. On the left side of the head, just over the ear, which was torn away, was found a deep wound; the skull was fractured and the bone driven in. On the base of the skull there were four or five lacerated wounds; there were more wounds on other parts of the head. (Illustrated London News, 16 July 1864)

In 1902 the Underground came to Bow (see my previous rant here), at which point there were three competing stations located along a mere 300 yard stretch of Bow Road. Of these only the tube station still remains. Bow station on the North London Line closed in 1949, although this stretch of line was reborn as part of the Docklands Light Railway in 1987 and automated trains now stop at Bow Church station on the opposite side of the road. As for the old Bow Road station on the Blackwall Extension Railway, that's long since gone to rack and ruin, and the old ticket hall is now a betting shop. Sadly there are no plans to reopen the old station when Crossrail arrives, but maybe we have enough railways around here already.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Number 10 - the River Lea (or Lee)

an oasis in the cityThe River Lea flows through Bow, tracing a path 58 miles from its source at Leagrave (near Luton) to join the Thames at Canning Town, just south of here. The river is navigable for much of its length, and has been for many centuries. It's still debatable whether the correct modern spelling is Lea or Lee, although the historic spelling is in fact Ley. The river used to form the boundary between Middlesex and Essex, until the Essex county boundary was shifted much further out past Upminster in 1963. I spent six months too many of my life living in Essex, and it's unnerving to discover that I still live less than 5 minutes walk away from the place, historically at least.

In the late 9th century the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells how an invading Danish fleet sailed up the river Lea to make camp at Ware near Hertford, then a more important town than London. King Alfred the Great is said to have responded by building weirs and embankments on the river to lower the water-level, so stranding the Danish fleet upstream.

The Lower Lea Valley gradually became heavily industrialised, the river providing a plentiful supply of energy and a useful means of transport. By 1588 large barges capable of carrying five tons were navigating the Lea, transporting local grain and beer upriver from Bow Bridge to Ware in just twelve hours. In the 18th and 19th centuries Bow's traditional mills and breweries were slowly replaced by messier, smellier industries such as soap-making, lime-burning and the odd distillery. Most famous of all was the Bow Porcelain factory, established in the late 1740s, which replicated the popular Chinese crockery of the day using bone ash from local knackers yards.

As the local marshes were drained, so the Bow Back Rivers were formed, a complex set of waterways linking the upper river to its tidal estuary at Bow Creek. These river channels have been restored by dredging and landscaping over the last decade, and the area is now part of the Lee Valley Park, Britain's first ever Regional Park and a haven for wildlife. Bow is also the final destination of the Lea Valley Walk, one of the most varied walking routes in the London area. Major plans are now afoot to completely transform the Lower Lea Valley as the focus of London's 2012 Olympic bid, complete with sports stadia and athletes' village. Welcome though this urban regeneration will be, now is probably your last chance to spot a kingfisher down by Bow Bridge, before the property sharks move in.

Famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house
Numbers 12, 13, 14 and 15

That's about it for famous places within 5 minutes walk of my house. I've been trying to restrict this local history to places that are actually famous, rather than merely historic, so I'm quite pleased to have found so many in such a small area. Matchgirls, Suffragettes, Gandhi and an Olympic village (amongst others) isn't a bad haul for a mere one-fifth of a square mile of East London. I don't know how well you'd get on looking for famous places within a quarter of a mile of your house... (unless you're the Queen, in which case presumably it's quite easy).

Here's a final round-up of a few other vaguely famous places within 5 minutes walk of here, and then tomorrow I'll spread the net wider to 10 minutes.
12) Lord Edmund Sheffield, who used to live a few doors down from me, captained the huge galleon The Bear against the Spanish Armada in 1588.
13) King James I had a hunting lodge in Bromley-by-Bow, called the Old Palace. The ornate state room on the ground floor, complete with Jacobean oak panelling and moulded ceiling, was rescued when the building was demolished three centuries later and can now be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
14) In 1686 King James II established a May fair in central London. You can probably guess where. The revels lasted a full fortnight, complete with boxing, copious amounts of food and alcohol, prostitution and fighting. In 1765, as Mayfair moved upmarket, this drunken fair was moved instead to a new site in Bow, in what is now Fairfield Road. Crime, vice and violence flourished, until Bow moved upmarket too and the fair was closed forever in the 1820s. (More here)
15) The Black Swan pub, on the corner of Bow Road and Bromley High Street, was one of the first buildings in the UK to be destroyed in an air raid. In 1916 the pub was hit by a 100kg bomb dropped from a Zeppelin, killing four people. The landlord's two dead daughters, Cissy and Sylvia, are said to have come back to haunt the pub after it was rebuilt.

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't
Number 1 - Bow Church

Bow Church'I do not know says the Great Bell at Bow'.

As everyone knows, to be a true Cockney you have to be born within the sound of Bow Bells. What most people don't seem to know is that Bow Bells aren't in Bow. Which is a pity. Bow Bells are in fact the bells of St. Mary Le Bow, Cheapside, in the City of London. Nothing to do with the East End at all (apart from the fact that they were cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry).

Back in the 14th century the bells of St Mary-le-Bow rang out a curfew across central London at 9 o'clock to warn the locals that it was time for bed. The church was burnt to the ground in the Great Fire of London and then rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. The BBC used the peal of Bow Bells at the start of every broadcast to occupied Europe during World War II, but that didn't stop the bells being destroyed again in the Blitz of 1941. Recent research has suggested that, given the right atmospheric conditions and an absence of traffic noise, the sound of Bow Bells could have been heard up to five miles away from Cheapside. That would include Bow, just about, so maybe we are really Cockneys out here after all.

Which brings us back to St Mary's church in Bow, 'that church in the middle of the road'. It may not be the official home of Bow Bells, but the local campanologists sure try to make up for that on a Tuesday night. A church was founded here in the time of Edward III to save the locals from having to walk to Stepney every Sunday. The main tower structure is 15th century, the font dates from Henry V's time and the organ from 1551. The upper part of the tower was rebuilt about 1829, being finished with battlements, an octagonal turret and two illuminated clocks. The tower suffered severe bomb damage in May 1941, as did everywhere around here it seems, and so the tower had to be rebuilt yet again. Old Victorian views of the church can be seen here, here and here, a fine modern photo is here, and take a 360° look around inside the church here.

termin8s hereIn 1648 the Civil War came to Bow, which found itself sandwiched between Cavalier forces camped at Stratford and opposing Roundheads at Mile End. The people of Bow took sides against the crown, ill-advisedly as it turned out, and were forced to retreat inside Bow Church. Surrounded on all sides by soldiers the frightened civilians eventually caved in, and were forced to take an oath that they would never fight against the king's men again.

St Mary's church now stands alone in the middle of the A11, isolated on a small island, surrounded on all sides by a sea of traffic. Once the heart of a bustling medieval village, Bow Church has been swallowed whole by the road that created the village in the first place.

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't
Number 2 - the Bow Bells pub

elvis livesSo, if that isn't Bow Church in the middle of the road, then this can't be the right Bow Bells pub either. But here it sits all the same, bright orange and unmistakable, just up from the junction of Bow Road and Fairfield Road. Elvis Presley is a regular visitor on karaoke nights if the posters in the window are to be believed, but maybe he's just a lookalike. I've never dared venture in to ask the locals for their opinions, or their beer.

Apart from Elvis, another ghostly appearance here was the 'phantom flusher' reported in 1974. Women using the pub's toilets were startled by sudden inexplicable flushing and by a strange mist rising from the floor. They held a seance to solve the mystery, but this merely caused the cubicle door to swing open violently and smash some frosted glass. So the local paper said, anyway. Must be true then.

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't
Number 4 - Walford East tube station

Ever wondered where EastEnders is set? Walford E20, sure, but that's merely a fictitious place and postcode. Ever wondered whereabouts in London Walford is really meant to be? Some have said Wanstead, because it sounds a bit similar. Some have said Stratford, because they have an Albert Square there. Even more convincing is the idea that Walford should be a crossing on the river Walbrook, a long lost stream which flowed from Moorgate to the Thames, dividing Roman London in two. But no, it's none of these.

olympic cityThe answer's on the tube map outside Walford East station (and thanks to the Observer for printing a Shane Richie centrefold last weekend to confirm this). Walford East lies on the District Line and it's the station between Bow Road and West Ham, replacing Bromley-by-Bow. Just round the corner from my house then. Not that Bromley-by-Bow looks anything like Albert Square. It's all modern council housing and dual carriageways down there, and one of the most deprived council wards in the entire country. There are some allotments, and there's a Queen Victoria pub across the road, but other than that any illusion of Walford is purely fictional.

Bromley-by-Bow station definitely has more trains than Walford East. We have one every three minutes or so, whereas Albert Square is lucky to see one a year. The EastEnders train is a large model pushed along the viaduct over Bridge Street by stage-hands. It can only go in one direction, and even then the fine details have to be painted in during post-production. We also have less murders and unwanted pregnancies in E3 than they seem to have in E20, and some of us go to work more than 100 yards away from our homes.

E8, not E20The real inspiration for Albert Square isn't in Bow at all, but in Hackney, E8. Fassett Square is a quiet Victorian square tucked away close to Dalston Junction, and it was here that producers Tony Holland and Julia Smith found their inspiration for BBC1's first soap opera. Little did they know when they shot the pilot episode on location here that East 8, as it was nearly called, would soon become one of the biggest programmes in the country.

Fassett SquareAs you can see, the design of Albert Square owes a lot to the architecture of Fassett Square, pictured right. The terraced houses in Fassett Square were built in the early 1860s, with bay windows on the ground floor and the front door set back behind a decorated arch. In the centre of the square (well, rectangle actually) is a communal garden, still well-kept and tidy in a way that Arthur Fowler would have been proud of.

The BBC considered filming all the exterior shots for EastEnders here in Fassett Square, but eventually decided against. Cost and disruption to residents' lives were the main reasons, but also because there was the most enormous modern wing of the nearby German Hospital on one side of the square and it would have been too difficult to keep it out of shot. The BBC built a permanent outdoor set for EastEnders at Elstree studios instead and left the local residents in peace.

Fassett Square itself has gone upmarket since 1985. Now only the odd soap obsessive intrudes on life there, aiming their digital camera at what looks uncannily like Pauline's house, just round the corner from what must be the Slaters' front door. Now you can visit Walford E8 virtually instead thanks to this tasteful and informative website constructed by games designer and local resident Jonathan Boakes. I bet Dot's already logged in and had a snoop around.

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't
Number 3 - Stratford

olympic cityEngland is well known across the world for historic Stratford-on-Avon, home of Shakespeare and ye olde genuine tea shoppes. However, I live just down the road from the other Stratford, home of cheap market stalls and a gridlocked ring-road. Stratford E15 could not under any circumstances be described as a cultural centre, a decent retail centre or even a place worth visiting. It's always amusing to discover lost American tourists who've accidentally headed to the wrong location, hunting in vain for Shakespeare's birthplace or Mary Arden's house. Never mind, only 100 miles and 400 years out.

The one thing that Stratford does have is excellent rail connections. Trains run from here to Liverpool Street, Docklands, East Anglia, Neasden, Ruislip and, when the Channel Tunnel Rail Link arrives in 2007, Paris. It may not be the greatest place to live, but it is definitely a great place to travel away from. Property prices round have risen so quickly that, had I bought a flat in Stratford a couple of years ago, I could probably sell it today at a profit exceeding the gross national product of a small African country. Stratford's new Eurostar station is planned to be at the heart of a billion pound regeneration scheme, bringing new homes and a huge metropolitan, business and retail centre to the area. It's got to be a huge improvement on one Woolworths, one Argos and a Pizza Hut, which is as good as it gets at the moment.

Stratford is now the centre of a UK bid for the 2012 Olympics. In nine years time the whole international world of sport and athletics could be arriving on my doorstep, although quite frankly we have a big enough drug problem round here as it is. The Olympics may only last for a fortnight, if they happen here at all, but those two weeks would etch the name of Stratford into global history forever. And who knows, in ten years time maybe it'll be the American tourists who end up in Warwickshire who'll be sightseeing in the wrong location.

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't
Number 5 - Bow Street police station

not in any way famousBow Street in Covent Garden was home to London's first ever police station and remains the most famous lock-up in the capital. The street had been home to the Bow Street Runners for over a century before the formation of the Metropolitan Police here in 1829 by good old Sir Robert Peel. Historic stuff indeed.

But this isn't Bow Street, it's Bow Road. The police station here (closed Sundays) was built in 1912, just in time for all those Suffragette protests that were about to break out down the road. Sylvia Pankhurst liked smashing the windows of the police station so much that she spent many a night here, but she spent far more nights over at the real Bow Street. So, Bow Road copshop's not really that famous, relatively speaking. They have some nice police horses there though.

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't
Number 6 - Bow Street magistrates court

not in any way famousIt may be London's premier magistrates court, scene of the legendary trials of Dr Crippen and John Leslie, but alas Bow Street magistrates court isn't here either. This doesn't stop defendants, witnesses and jurors turning up at Bow Road tube by mistake though, and then looking very embarrassed when they discover they should have gone to Covent Garden instead. I try very hard not to smile out loud when this happens.

Bow isn't even home to the significantly less famous Bow County Court, because they moved that up the road to Stratford 20 years ago and forgot to change its name. No, we just have the remarkably dull Thames Magistrates Court instead, pictured here. Footballer Lee Bowyer was once fined £4500 here for being very naughty in McDonalds with a chair. Somehow I suspect Bow Street gets all the good cases.

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't
Number 7 - Bow Street

do not pass goOK, so there isn't a Bow Street within 10 minutes walk of my house, with or without four houses and a hotel. There's just a Bow Road. You've probably got the hang of this fact by now, so tomorrow I'll move on to some places within 15 minutes of here that really are famous. In the meantime, here are ten fascinating facts about the board game of Monopoly.

• Monopoly evolved from The Landlord's Game, the invention of Maryland resident Lizzie Magie. Her game was intended to teach players about the property ownership system, the object being 'to obtain as much wealth or money as possible'. Original 1904 patent here, rules here and board here.

• The game of Monopoly was first patented by Charles Darrow in 1933. Folklore tells how, jobless and destitute, he thought up the rules one night in a flash of inspiration, hand-painted the board on a tablecloth and used old trinkets around the house for game pieces. Rather more likely is that Charles already worked for Parker Brothers and merely nicked the idea from homemade versions of Lizzie's original game. Conspiracy theories abound.

• Darrow, who was from Pennsylvania, based his version of Monopoly on the properties of Atlantic City, New Jersey. This supposedly reminded him of happy family holidays he had spent there before the Great Depression. Or else he stole the idea again. The street names in the American version of the game are still based on Atlantic City, from Mediterranean Avenue ($60) right round to Boardwalk ($400).

Monopoly remains the best-selling board game in the world, licensed or sold in 80 countries and produced in 26 languages. Over 200 million games have been sold worldwide, containing more than five billion little green houses.

• The most expensive property on the board? In the USA it's Boardwalk, in the UK Mayfair, in France Rue de la Paix, and in Germany Schlossallee.

• The London version of the game was licensed to Waddingtons in 1935. Managing Director Victor Watson and his secretary Marjorie made a special trip from Leeds to London to decide which streets in the capital would be used on the UK board. They concentrated on the West End, with only the light blues located to the north and the cheap old browns to the east. The story of the London board is well told in the book Do Not Pass Go by Tim Moore, a capital travelogue and one of last year's bestsellers.

• Each UK Monopoly set comes with 20 £500 notes (orange), 20 £100 notes (beige), 30 £50 notes (green), 50 £20 notes (blue), 40 £10 notes (yellow), 40 £5 notes (pink) and 40 £1 notes (white). Total amount of money per game = £15,140.

• There are 16 Chance cards, ten of which move you elsewhere, two of which give you money and three of which take money away. There are 16 Community Chest cards, nine of which give you money, four of which take money away and two of which move you elsewhere. Each pack contains one legendary Get out of Jail free card.

• The most landed-on square in Monopoly is the jail, whether you're banged up or just visiting. The best cards in the game to own are the stations, which players tend to land on roughly one in every ten throws. And the best properties to own are the orange set, including good old Bow Street (or St James Place, to American readers). Orange earns the highest rate of return because it lies, on average, exactly one dice throw further round the board than the jail. All the statistics you could ever want here, here, here and here (in the Strategy Wizard in the Tips and Tricks section).

• As for me, I can't ever remember winning a game of Monopoly. Or finishing one for that matter.

Famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house

And finally for local history month it's famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house. That's nearly two square miles (well, a circle actually) so I'll only be picking out the more important places. Expect medieval rebellion, a couple of gangsters, a line you can't see, two large green spaces and quite a bit of Channel 4.

Famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house
Number 1 - Abbey Mills pumping station

East London's cathedral of sewageJust a few hundred yards away from the old Big Brother House in Bow lies a startling Victorian building, shaped like a cross, topped by an ornate dome. Is it just an extravagant folly, or is there a reason that someone appears to have built a cathedral in the middle of an industrial wasteland? For the answer to that question you have to go back to the 1850s. A cholera epidemic swept London in 1853, spread by the appalling sanitary conditions in the capital. Cesspits emptied into streams that fed straight into the Thames and often overflowed into the streets. Diseases from insanitary drinking water killed thousands each year. Then in 1858 came the 'Great Stink', when the combination of an unusually warm summer and an unbelievably polluted Thames made living conditions in the capital almost unbearable. A solution to this foul-smelling solution was required, and urgently.

The Greenway starts hereThe man who cleaned up London was called Joseph Bazalgette. He was the Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and his solution to London's sewage problems was nothing short of revolutionary. He ordered the building of 85 miles of new sewers to intercept the many smaller sewers that ran into the Thames, redirecting the effluent to East London where it was discharged into the Thames and flowed out to sea. (map here) North London's waste was conveyed to Abbey Mills Pumping Station in Stratford, the magnificent building in the photograph above, completed in 1868. From here the Northern Outfall Sewer continued eastwards to a huge treatment works at Beckton. That huge sewer still exists and still carries North London's effluent to the sea. The embankment covering the sewer is now the 'Greenway' - a footpath and cycle route at roof-top height through east London - although perhaps the name 'Brownway' would be more appropriate.

Abbey Mills pumping stationsThere are now two pumping stations at Abbey Mills, pictured here from the site of the old Big Brother House. The old pumping station (just peeking out to the left) raised sewage between two levels of the Northern Outfall Sewer, and originally housed eight coal-fired beam engines. Nowadays its pumps are on stand-by to supplement the newest ones in the building on the right, its modern replacement. However, there's a more direct connection between Big Brother and Abbey Mills than merely location. The gothic Victorian pumping station at Abbey Mills was designed by Joseph Bazalgette, great-grandfather of Peter Bazalgette, the creative director of Endemol productions who produce Big Brother. Peter is the godfather of reality TV in the UK, and also the brains behind such shows as Changing Rooms, Ground Force, and Ready Steady Cook. And his family's history lies in sewage. So remember, next time someone tells you that Big Brother is basically a load of shit, they may just be correct...
(Click on each picture to see it full size)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

click to return to my main blog

Powered by Blogger
lots of stuff about london

back to front page

my main blog

special features
E3 - local history month
oranges and lemons
olympic park 2007
great british roads
londoners of note
river westbourne
capital numbers
dome of doom
lea valley walk
olympics 2012
regent's canal
museums a-z
square routes
prime movers
silver jubilee
walk london
cube routes
river fleet
tube week

on this site - London places
temple bar
little britain
the Diana fountain
merton; enfield; islington
sutton; lewisham; southwark

on this site - London events
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
olympic torch relay
london marathon
new year's eve
open house
boat race

on this site - east London
olympics 2012
local history month
the real EastEnders
Routemaster farewell
Bow Road tube station
the old Big Brother house
the old Big Breakfast house

read the archive
Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03
May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03
Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04
May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04
Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05
May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05
Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06
May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06
Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07
May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07
Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08
May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08
Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan09  Aug09  Oct09  Dec09
back to main page

twenty london blogs
route 79
mad musings
samuel pepys
richard herring
london rubbish
over your head
rogue semiotics
scorn and noise
in the aquarium
diamond geezer
london bus page
london 2012 blog
the last bus home
london daily photo
random acts of reality
london bloggers tube map

ten london links
poverty map 1899
london map 1827
smoke magazine
urban 75 london
panoramic views
street sensation
london ancestor
hidden london
london pubs
time out

ten east london links
where i live
visit eastside
east end photos
east end history
discover public art
cockney translator
greenwich meridian
tower hamlets history
the real albert square
docklands development

ten london transport links
future transport projects
clive's tube line guides
london underground
abandoned stations
various tube maps
london bus routes
london bus maps
disused stations
london walks