The East End is, sadly, as famous for its disappeared industries as its existing ones. The dockyards are gone and the shipbuilders of Blackwall are a distant memory.
And of course Tower Hamlets once boasted the biggest ‘manufactory’ in Europe – Bryant and May’s colossal Fairfield Works, now transformed into luxury flats as the Bow Quarter.
But it is matchboxes of a quite different kind that provided one of the East End’s greatest manufacturing success stories – a name that will bring back happy memories to generations of kids but, sadly, lasted less than half this century.
Take a walk north along the River Lea and, just before you hit Hackney Wick, you will see the name ‘Lesney’ emblazoned on the wall of a decaying blue building. Now the Lesney factory is just another industrial relic, but once it produced the Matchbox cars, trucks, buses and more which enchanted post-War British schoolchildren. And it all happened by accident.
Leslie and Rodney Smith were unrelated schoolchums who, in one of those quirks of fate which often spark great events, were reunited during their WW2 service in the Royal Navy. Both were engineers and both dreamed of running their own companies once the fighting was over – so they decided they would go into business together.
On 19 June 1947 they sealed their partnership, taking an amalgam of Leslie and Rodney to form Lesney Products – the vague word product was chosen because, for all their ambitions, the pair had yet to decide what they would be making!
With £600 of combined funds, the two bought an old pub, The Rifleman, further up-river at Edmonton, and kitted it out with Government surplus die-casting machinery. And, joined by expert die-caster Jack Odell, the company joined the scores of other post-War start-ups, as Britain rebuilt its economy and industry for peacetime.
The company would take on any and every job, subcontracting their skills to the major engineering firms who needed precision die-cast pieces. But, as the Christmas of 1948 approached, orders dropped off, and the Smiths decided to cast around for a way to keep the machines busy and the revenue rolling in.
And so the firm decided to produce miniatures of the vehicles Britons saw around them everyday, on the thousands of building sites which were reconstructing the country. A traction engine, cement mixer, tractor and bulldozer were the first off the production line, and Lesney set about selling them to local shops.
Fired by their success, the Smiths decided to pitch the bigger toy stores. They weren’t enthusiastic. The tiny cars were described as “Christmas cracker trash” by one buyer. But children loved them. Lesney, in fact, had difficulty meeting demand and soon 13 Woolworths stores placed orders.
Manufacturing was still tough in the austerity of post-War Britain. From 1950 to 1952, during the Korean War, the Government limited the use of zinc to essential purposes, and Lesney made only the tin Jumbo the Elephant toy.
But as the ’50s wore on, business took off. The company dumped the bigger toys it had experimented with and concentrated all its manufacturing on miniatures. Rather than an offshoot of the business it became the core, and Lesney went into business with an East End firm called Moko. The two firms registered the name Matchbox, and concentrated on building the range.
The idea of a matchbox to put toys in didn’t start with Lesney. Moko’s boss Moses Kohnstam had moved to Britain in 1900 from Germany, where the idea had long been popular. It proved a popular gimmick in Britain, with the first cars in plain boxes with tuck-in ends, with simple printing on the cover. And generations of kids will also remember playing with the firm’s Dinky toys.
Through the ’60s and ’70s, exports grew to the United States and the Far East, and Matchbox became a worldwide name. But the recession of the early ’70s, plus a rash of unsuccessful ventures into dolls and Far East production, took their toll.
After huge losses, Lesney was declared bankrupt on 11 June 1992. The brand names were bought and distribution switched to companies in the US, Macau, anywhere but the East End in fact. The irony today is that the ‘Christmas cracker trash’ is hugely collectable – toys bought 40 years ago with pocket money pennies now change hands for hundreds of pounds.
Archive for: November 2010
The East End is, sadly, as famous for its disappeared industries as its existing ones. The dockyards are gone and the shipbuilders of Blackwall are a distant memory.
Last Sunday, 8 May, saw the sixtieth anniversary of one of the most significant dates in 20th century history. VE (Victory in Europe) Day was the beginning of the end of World War II, as the Allies formally celebrated their victory over the Nazis.
VJ (Victory in Japan) Day would follow three months later, but East Enders, wearied by six years of conflict, could at last begin to look forward.
The celebrations in London that day were a bit different to Sunday’s festivities. Rather than Will Young, Sir Cliff Richard and Katie Melua broadcasting to millions from Trafalgar Square, the focus of celebrations was Buckingham Palace. There, the Royal Family, who had made a decision to stay in the capital during the Blitz and tough it out alongside other Londoners, appeared on the balcony to greet the cheering crowds.
Some of the faces are the same of course. Our present Queen was then the young Princess Elizabeth, who greeted the Palace throng alongside her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother). And one of the stars appearing at Trafalgar Square this Sunday was Dame Vera Lynn. As a young singer during the war, the East Ham girl (known as “The Forces’ Sweetheart”) kept spirits up with patriotic numbers such as We’ll Meet Again, It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow and The White Cliffs of Dover.
For the East End, which had suffered so badly during the hostilities, the real VE Day was to come a day or two later. The East London Advertiser of 11 May recorded a royal visit.
“Their Majesties the King and Queen remembered east London’s rocket blows during the two days of VE celebration and, accompanied by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose, visited scenes of incidents at Poplar and Stepney. At Hughes Mansions, the crowd broke the cordon and surged round them, singing.”
The Royal Family’s visit had a special focus. The Hughes Mansions Flying Bomb strike had been especially tragic, taking 134 lives just six weeks before VE Day: the very last day of the V2 attacks. The King and Queen, who had made especial efforts to visit the East End during the Blitz, then went on a larger tour of east London.
But an East End freed from the fear of bombs was in the mood for celebration as well as poignant remembrance. The Stratford Express of that week noted how the mood, at first unsure, soon burgeoned into a party spirit.
“At the outset there seemed uncertainty among people about what they should do. Then flags appeared and soon the decorations began to grow, until the much-blitzed town was ablaze with colour.”
For a city that had endured six years of austerity, heeding the call to “put that light out”, the urge for a party was overwhelming. Now the fires were not those of burning buildings, but of celebration bonfires. Fuel was raided from bombsites … even the phone directories from call boxes were pilfered for tinder. VE Day itself saw a fly-past of RAF bombers, showing red, white and blue lights. For the first time, the people of the East End could look up to the skies and cheer, instead of running for cover.
The East End docks had been relentlessly targeted by the Luftwaffe, and the British merchant fleet had been terribly hit by bombing and U-boats, but now they could celebrate too. “Ships in the docks were bedecked with flags. Rockets fired from them starred the sky. Lights flashed V-signs from the ships and hooters sounded the mystic V-signal so often heard on the radio,” reported The Stratford Express.
Perhaps the last word should go to the man who popularised that “V for Victory” salute. Winston Churchill would be voted out as Prime Minister just a few weeks later. The people wanted a fresh start, and that was to mean Clement Attlee’s Labour Government. But before taking his leave, Churchill was to firmly make one point: how much Britain owed to its people and their sacrifice.
“God bless you all. This is your victory. It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation. God bless you all.”
Winston Churchill, 8 May, 1945.
The son of a desperately poor Stepney family, Victor Guazzelli – who died last month – travelled a long way in his 84 years.
The golf-loving priest became a major figure in the Catholic Church, a hugely popular local chaplain and a Church emissary around the world. Yet having travelled to Portugal, East Timor and Rome with his work, he capped his career by writing a liberation theology for the East End – the sometime thorn in the side of the Catholic establishment did some of his best work in Poplar. But Guazzelli was an intriguing mix. A mild and conciliatory man, he stirred up a remarkable amount of controversy.
Victor was born in Stepney on 19 March 1920. His family, Italian immigrants, lived in a three-storey house, two rooms on each floor, and a family to each storey. Two of his three sisters died in childhood from pneumonia. Father Cesare, meanwhile, worked as an iceman, delivering blocks of the stuff by horse and cart.
Victor was expected to further the Guazzelli line but, at nine, told his father he wanted to enter the priesthood. Cesare gave his blessing, and in 1935 Victor left for the English College in Lisbon.
World War II broke out and Victor couldn’t return to London until 1945. He was already a priest – Cesare had died during his absence.
Now fluent in Portuguese and Italian, Victor took up a post at St Patrick’s, Soho Square, before being recalled to Lisbon as bursar, and to teach Church History and Scripture. He had no expertise in any of the disciplines, reading up on his subjects, and keeping one step ahead of the auditors and students.
He showed a flair for money management and teaching, and in 1958 came back to the staff at Westminster Cathedral. These were turbulent years for the Catholic Church, as Pope John XXIII and the Vatican Council tried to modernise. It was a movement that would see Vatican II and the replacement of the Latin Mass with English.
Guazzelli was made Bishop of Lindisfarne in 1970 – sees often bear no relation to where the bishop actually has his ministry. But things changed in 1976 when the head of the Church in England, Cardinal Hume, divided the country into pastoral areas. Guazzelli got East London, with the deprived boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Guazzelli came home, making his base in Pope John House in Poplar – not far from where Cesare pushed his ice cart 50 years before.
The bishop’s willingness to support just causes (no matter how unpopular with the Church establishment) came to the fore. In 1975, he discomfited fellow bishops by becoming president of peace movement, Pax Christi (which opposes the current war in Iraq). In May 1982 he condemned the Falklands War and called for British troops to return. In 1983, he backed Bruce Kent, one of his own priests and General Secretary of CND. The Pope’s man in London described Kent as an ‘idiot’, remarks Guazzelli furiously condemned as offensive. That year, Guazzelli was the only English Catholic bishop to join a big CND demonstration in Trafalgar Square.
Now he turned his attentions to an East End in the throes of change. The Isle of Dogs was a huge building site for Canary Wharf, an increasingly bitter strike was being played out at the News International plant at Wapping, and the parties of the far right were mobilising against immigration into the East End.
Guazzelli, from his Poplar base, saw a way to bring together residents and community leaders … and make their voice heard. He invited all to have their say at the new East London Pastoral Area (ELPA). There were workshops, training days, and discussion sheets printed, with cartoons explaining Vatican II. People came up with their own version of the liturgies, and all was mixed in with increased involvement in community groups and trades union activity.
As the physical and social fabric of the East End was stretched to the limit, the role of the parish priest was to change too – with less emphasis on ‘maintaining’ the parish, more on going out on ‘missions’. Guazzelli gathered a ‘hit squad’ of priests to conduct intensive six-week missions in the parishes.
Meanwhile, the tireless bishop was active as a member of the Latin American Desk of the Catholic Relief Agency Cafod, visiting Brazil in 1981. He was also the English representative on the Apostleship of the Sea – the mission to seafarers.
He stayed on at Poplar after retirement age but, after a haemorrhage, his life saved by the nuns at Pope John House, he decided to return to Westminster Cathedral. He kept working to the end – leisure time was filled with stamp collecting, playing Bach on the organ, and a round of golf. The Lindisfarne connection came in handy: he became an overseas member of Shooters’ Hill Golf Club, on the basis that his see was an island!
But if he followed gentle pursuits, his edge never left. Guazzelli predicted the end of compulsory celibacy for priests and despaired of Anglican vicars who went over to Rome because of women’s ordination. ‘If this was their reason … forget it,’ he said in 2000. ‘We can’t tell what will happen in the Catholic Church in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time.’
Victor Guazzelli died on June 1.
Victoria Park may have started life as a much-needed amenity for the poorest of London, yet it owes its existence to the bankruptcy of one of the grandest in the land.
When the Duke of York died in 1827 he left debts of £2million, a legacy of a life of excess, but he also left York House, in St James’s.
Just as the Duke was squandering his fortune the East End of London was experiencing a huge population explosion. Poplar, Stepney and Wapping were being changed beyond recognition.
The old market gardens were being built over with thousands of acres needed for new docks, railways – and arterial roads like Commercial Road and Commercial Street which were driven through the old areas.
And landowners were throwing up cheap housing to cater for the thousands moving into the area, attracted by work on the docks and in the new factories.
By the 1830s around 400,000 were living in the area, in cramped housing and cheek by jowl with sweat shops and factories – pouring pollution into the air and spoil into the waterways.
It was an unhealthy mix, and the middle classes feared that the combination of overcrowding, lack of drains, lavatories and poor water would not only spark epidemics of cholera, typhoid and tuberculosis but – much more worrying – the diseases would be spread into the ‘better’ parts of London.
In 1839, William Farr, the famed sanitary reformer said that: “A park in the East End would diminish the annual deaths by several thousands, and add several years to the lives of the entire population.”
Good, fresh air was the answer then, and it would also stop the unwelcome cockneys coming up West to take the air in Regents and Hyde Park.
A petition drawn up the MP, George Frederick Young, swiftly got more than 30,000 signatures and was presented to Queen Victoria, who gave the go-ahead.
There was only one problem, how to pay for the new park, and that was where the Duke of York came in. On 26 April, 1841, the Earl of Wicklow announced that the funds from the sale of York House, some £72,000, would be used to construct the new park.
The strange source of funding is just one of the fascinating tales thrown up by A Pictorial History of Victoria Park, London E3.*
The latest publication from the East London History Society is a superb, and exhaustive history of one of the greatest Victorian municipal projects.
Philip Mernick and Doreen Kendall have put together a book that will not only reawaken long-buried memories but will also throw up some surprises for local readers.
It includes a detailed map, not just of the the park today, but detailing long-gone features like the pagoda, the Moorish arcade shelter, and the Bronze Boy Fountain.
There is a detailed history of the moves and manoeuvres leading up to the building of the park, including dodgy deals by the then speaker of the House of Commons, who sold land to the new park and received twice as much for his land as anyone else did for theirs.
There is a section of quotes down the years on the park, from newspapers and magazines of the time, including the memories of renowned local politician George Lansbury.
“We did not understand what was on the island, which had, then as now, a Chinese pagoda,” Lansbury wrote in 1928.
“The LCC has destroyed all mystery now by throwing open the island by means of a bridge, but 60 years ago, we children thought that Chinese lived in the pagoda and at night came out to take care of the ducks, swans and waterfowl.”
There are chapters on individual features of the park, some still around, others long gone – the boating lake, the bridges, the old bandstand.
And there are the people and events that make the park special – royal visits, bathing, the sporting activities of the Victoria Park Harriers, and there is a look at the other developments that grew up around the park – the hospitals, railways and roads.
And, with painstaking detail, there is a calendar of dates, listing all the important events in 150-plus years in the life of the park – the constant battles to raise cash to build memorials, the fights to protect the park against development.
Best of all though are the pictures. They show the changes the park has undergone.
But what jumps out of the pictures is something that never changes – the people.
Whether it is a postcard from the 1860s or a photo from the 1960s, the image is of East Enders having a great time in their very own park.
Next Week – Lost Victoria Park.
* A Pictorial History of Victoria Park, London E3. Published by the East London History Society, ISBN 0 950 6258 1 7, price £6.99 it is available from local bookshops or direct by post (£6,99 plus £1.50 post and packing, from Doreen Kendall, 20 Puteaux House, Cranbrook Estate, London E2 0RF.
DURING the 19th century, west London always had an uneasy relationship with the East End. For the MPs who sat in the House of Lords, the areas east of the city were a hotbed of disease, crime, prostitution – an embarrassment to a grand city.
To the nobles who sat in the House of Lords, the East End was more frightening still. If England was to follow France and much of the rest of mainland Europe in deposing its aristocracy, then the East End was the place most likely to mount a revolution. The fact that new people, languages, ideas and politics were constantly flowing into the area through the docks made it impossible for the establishment to know exactly what was going on in Tower Hamlets … and that was more frightening yet.
Still, while the East End boroughs were generating trade, handling lucrative imports, and turning out goods in their dangerous and poorly paid sweatshops, Government showed no great inclination to change things. The feeling was that it was a lack of moral guidance that led to East Enders stewing in corruption, and what they needed were more places of worship. And the social improvements that were to combat the feared revolution came from an alternative establishment – the Church.
They were unlikely benefactors. To the average East Ender, the men of the cloth were just as despised, if a little less distant, than the Members of Parliament they never saw (or maybe briefly once every four years). Working class cockneys saw organized religion as a repressive tool of the ruling classes – often the elder son of the gentry became local MP, while second brother became the local vicar. The new East End middle class, who had dragged themselves up to clerks jobs in the City and a terraced villa in Bow, meanwhile, reckoned they had done it by their own efforts – and with precious little help from the clergy.
The Church embarked on an enthusiastic programme of churchbuilding – but many locals were hostile to this attempt to save their souls. In the 1830s, a local churchgoer, seeking sixpences for the parish fund from some of the more comfortable houses in Bethnal Green was told that while they would be happy to donate a shilling to hang the bishop, there would be no sixpences to build a church.
Still by August 1840 enough cash had been raised to build ten new churches in Bethnal Green, where only St Matthew’s and St John’s served 70,000 souls. The Lord Mayor of London was laying the foundation stone of the first, St Peter’s Hackney Road, when an infuriated cow, released by angry locals, bore down on a line of children gathered to sing hymns. The group scattered – fortunately nobody was hurt – and Bishop of London Charles Blomfield went about his programme of building undeterred.
Numerous enthusiastic young clergy – many of them inspired followers of the Oxford Movement – descended on the East End. The tireless Rev James Trevitt took on St Philip’s, in the notorious streets linking Bethnal Green, Spitalfields and Shoreditch. He helped out the hard-up local weavers and ran two church schools, an infants’ school, two ragged schools and a Sunday school that pulled in an amazing 800 children.
By the middle of the century there were 10 new spires poking above the smokestacks of Bethnal Green. And, spiritual nourishment aside, Blomfield’s programme meant a real difference in the education of local children. For the first time many of them could read and write, and a House of Lords Select Committee of 1857 recognised that the building programme had made children’s lives ‘safer and more civilised’.
And there were churches of every hue. William Champneys, an evangelical clergymen, was drawing an evening congregation of 1500 to his services at St Mary’s Whitechapel, where he preached a mix of religion and social reform – even atheist observer Friedrich Engels approved. There were huge Irish Catholic congregations in Stepney. The Methodists prospered at the former Huguenot chapel in Brick Lane, and at Limehouse, Poplar and Bow.
Within a few years the settlements would take up the mantle. By the end of the century the ‘improved industrial dwellings’ of the Peabodys and Guinesses would start to look to workers’ welfare. But for many years, the Church was all the welfare state the East End had.
These days, most East End children will study at school or college until the age of 18, and more than ever before are going on to university or some other form of higher education.
Extraordinary to think then that, little more than a century ago, most cockney kids wouldn’t have been going to school at all – their only option was to go out to work as soon as they were able.
Until 1870, there were a handful of private and church schools in the East End but most parents couldn’t afford the school fees – especially when the alternative was putting the children to work to augment the meagre family income.
All that changed with the 1870 Education Act, which created the School Boards. Among their powers was the option of making education compulsory in their area – an option the London School Board took up.
The Isle of Dogs was one of the poorest areas for children’s education. The Board set to putting this right by building three new schools. Arthur Joseph Hubbard, born in 1869, was one of the first pupils at Glengall Road School.
“There were vacant fields on the Island, one in Glengall Road… on which I have seen a flock of sheep brought there for pasture. This became the Board School,” he recalled.
The three-storey building – infants on the ground floor, girls on the first, and boys on the second – was a revelation to the poor kids of the Island. Everything was brand new – slates, books, pencils and coat pegs, even the asphalted and shell-coated playground.
3 Rs and the Drill
The new students learned the 3 Rs of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic among other subjects – including the rather military sounding Drill.
The Island’s other Board schools were in British Street (later Harbinger Road) and Wharf Road (later Saunders Ness Road), and these were joined in the 1870s by three new church schools.
Frederick Pearson, born in 1899, went to St John’s Church of England School.
“St John’s School was a happy one,” he remembered.
“My first memory was threading long strips of coloured paper into a kind of small mat.
There were slates, too, with scratchy slate pencils. There was a lot of spitting,
with a rag to clean the slates. Hardly hygienic, but then it was the 1890s!”
“The school was gas-lit, in those days, by a naked flame. Three pineapple-shaped gas-holders hung from the rafters, nine jets to each pineapple.
“In the winter at lighting-up time, I sat fascinated when the school caretaker came in with his long pole on which was a lighted taper. For me it was all very wonderful.”
In 1902, local education authorities were set up to take learning a stage further. All primary education was now free and the LEAS set up secondary and technical schools, evening institutes and adult education.
A different world
Lily, born in Janet Street in 1897, remembers her daily trek to grammar school in Hackney as entering a different world.
“I wore a straw boater with elastic under the chin, which was very uncomfortable,” she said.
“Immediately I arrived home I changed into my usual clothes, as the other children would only play with me when I was dressed in ordinary clothes.”
Lily travelled to and from school by tram, but for most kids it was a long, and in winter very cold, walk.
Dick Waterhouse was born on the Isle of Dogs in 1911, and in his early walks to Cubitt Town School had to contend with Zeppelin raids and foul weather.
And there were no expensive Nike or Adidas trainers to pose around the playground in back in the early 1900s.
“A sound pair of boots was a must,” he recalled.
“In my last new pair, I had walked about a hundred yards in some snow and, by the time I got back indoors, the soles had fallen off!”
To read more about the early years of East End schooling see ‘Memories of Childhood on the Isle of Dogs 1870-1970’, edited by Eve Hostettler, published by the Island History Trust, 1993.
The life of a middle-class businessman in Victorian times had to be whiter than white. In those pre-permissive days, any hint of scandal could prove fatal to the reputation of the bourgeoisie.
Of course, that didn’t mean that all Victorians behaved with propriety. Behind many respectable front doors lurked violence, sexual licence and – in the case of Henry Wain-wright – murder.
Wainwright seemed to be the epitome of hard-working Victorian respectability. He lived in style at 40 Tredegar Square, with his wife and four children, and ran a brushmaking business at 84 Whitechapel Road, with a warehouse opposite at number 215.
Henry loved the theatre. The Pavilion was sited right next door to the brushworks and he often invited performers to Tredegar Square for dinner. Often, they would perform and recite in the Wainwrights’ drawing room.
However, his interest in the actresses went beyond the purely artistic, and he would entertain the younger, prettier ones at a succession of addresses around the East End. When he met pretty hatmaker Harriet Lane he decided to set up a lovenest for the two of them, well away from the grand Georgian facades of Tredegar Square.
First he took an apartment at 70 St Peter’s Street – the street is demolished today,
but ran along the same course as the modern Warner Place. He then moved Harriet to
the West End, before bringing her back to Stepney’s Sidney Square.
But Wainwright soon tired of his lover. Hoping to avoid fuss and scandal, he devised an elaborate plot to be rid of her, asking his brother Thomas to court her. To add to the confusion, Thomas adopted the
curious pseudonym of Teddy Frieake – much to the anger of the real owner of the name, an auctioneer who was a friend of the Wainwrights.
What went wrong with the plan is uncertain. What is known is that Henry killed Harriet, battering her with a hammer and shooting her three times in the head. She was then interred in Henry’s Whitechapel Road warehouse.
Wainwright’s life was rapidly falling apart. His business collapsed and he decided to leave Whitechapel Road for cheaper premises in Borough High Street. The only problem was Harriet. The stench of her decaying body was beginning to drift from the warehouse and into nearby Vine Court.
Henry decided to take the evidence with him. He dug up the corpse, dismembered it and packed it neatly into paper parcels, even enlisting his employee, Alf Stokes, to help him lug the packages into the Whitechapel Road. The smell was unmistakable, but despite Alf’s protests, Wainwright left him guarding the parcels while he went to find a taxi. The suspicious Stokes sneaked a look in the top parcel and was appalled to uncover a human hand.
Wainwright took his cab. Flushed with the success of his plan, he even invited Alice Dash, a chorus girl at the nearby Pavilion Theatre, to share the ride to his new premises. Henry lit a cigar and the two set off for Borough, while the distraught Stokes ran behind, desperately trying to find
a policeman to arrest the
It wasn’t until the procession reached Leadenhall Street that Stokes managed to find a PC. Two coppers dismissed Alf’s tale as the ravings of a madman, and it wasn’t until the cab and Stokes crossed London Bridge and entered Borough High Street that the hapless warehouseman managed to persuade a pair of constables to stop the taxi.
The audacious Wainwright refused to open his parcels. “Why do you interfere with me,” he demanded. “I’m only going to see an old friend.” As the pair persisted, the desperate Wainwright said: “Say nothing about this, ask no questions and here’s £50 for each of you.”
The officers nevertheless opened the parcel to find the year-old dismembered parts of Harriet’s body.
Henry didn’t stand a chance. His brother admitted writing a letter in the name of Teddy Frieake to provide Henry with an alibi, as well as buying the chopping block and spade used in the disposal of the body.
Henry still protested his innocence, only recanting immediately before his hanging, even agreeing that death was a fair sentence.
Stokes received a £30 reward and set himself up in business, while Alice became lead dancer at the Pavilion.
Too many of us spend our time shut away from the history of the East End: stuck inside our houses or offices, in cars, buses or underground. But getting out and walking around our streets is better than a trip to any museum. And there are so many famous places and events peppered around Tower Hamlets that a quick circuit around any part of the borough unearths a host of treasures.
Rosemary Taylor has been telling the history of the East End for years, in numerous books, articles, lectures and newsletters. Now, her new title, Walks through history: Exploring the East End* puts the onus on us to go out and explore for ourselves.
The 12 walks here will not only give you hours of healthy (and entirely free) entertainment – once you’ve completed them you’ll have a much clearer grasp of how the history of the East End meshes with the geography of the place.
Walk 1, like most of the perambulations here, begins and ends at a tube station. From Shadwell Underground (or DLR) you will reach Wapping tube. Within yards you will pass the St George’s Town Hall mural depicting the Battle of Cable Street, when local people routed the Blackshirts; then the former home of Dr Hannah Billig, the ‘Angel of Cable Street’. At the junction with Cannon Street Road you will pass the grisly spot where John Williams once lay buried. Accused of the 1811 Ratcliffe Murders, Williams was found dead in his prison cell and his body was paraded around Wapping. The vengeful mob seized it, drove a stake through his heart and, symbolically buried the corpse at the crossroads. In all, 25 historical hotspots lie along the way, taking in the ancient, medieval and maritime history of this crowded quarter.
Walk 2 puts flesh on the bones of that vanished curiosity, Chinese Limehouse. Fictionalised into infamy by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Sax Rohmer and even George Raft, you can view the real sites – those that haven’t been improved by the bulldozers and wrecking ball.
A walk round Poplar and the East India Dock Road charts the development of an area created by the new London docks. The East India Dock Road itself was built in 1805 (on land bought for £900) to link the new Blackwall dock to the Commercial Road. Next go to All Saints’ Church, the hub of the new parish created to serve the burgeoning numbers of dockworkers in 1823. Then you come to Poplar Baths, built originally in 1856 for workers who had no running water at home. A library, council offices, Coroner’s Court and mortuary were all to follow, along with a multitude of further churches, shops, theatres and pubs, all with stories attached.
Walk 4 takes you further into the old East India and Blackwall Docks themselves. There’s no maritime trade left now of course, but there’s plenty still to see. The waterways are still there of course; and though most of the warehouses have been demolished, the bridges, gates, pubs and many of the fine houses of the 19th century survive. No 1 Coldharbour was built in 1825 as a home for the dockmaster, by that great architect of the docks, Sir John Rennie. And No 3 Coldharbour is reputed to have been where Nelson stayed when he visited Blackwall.
Bromley St Leonard is one of the less-sung corners of the East End, but it has its history. Three Mills is home to the last surviving tide mills in London, while Kingsley Hall in Powis Road was home to Gandhi when he lived in London.
On to Bow, and you can visit the sites where the Pankhursts et al gave birth to the Suffragette movement, while a trip to the easternmost end of Bow Road reveals the hidden curiosity of a surviving 17th century corn chandler’s shop.
For retail early-1900s style, travel down to Whitechapel and you can see the curiosity of Wickham’s department store. It was the grandest store in the East End until it closed in 1969. But look again and you see Wickham’s was built in two halves, with a small shop in the middle. The little shop had been on the site since Mr Spiegelhalter had travelled from Germany in 1820 to set up his watchmaker business in Whitechapel. In 1927, the increasingly successful Wickhams wanted to expand, but the Spiegelhalter family stubbornly refused to sell out. The solution? Wickham’s had to build their new monolith in two parts – with the jewellers in the middle.
These are just a few of the hundreds of familiar and surprising sites to see on a dozen walks. So get a pair of stout shoes, set a few Sundays aside, and do your history.
Walks through history: Exploring the East End by Rosemary Taylor, published by Breedon Books, ISBN 1 85983 270 9, paperback, £9.99.
Many an East End pub has a long and colourful history – the Blind Beggar as a haunt of the Krays, Bromley’s Bun House with its widow’s son legend, the Prospect of Whitby as one of the oldest Thameside houses.
For one Island pub, fame was more fleeting. It came in the shape of a brush with royalty and the glitterati of Soho’s art establishment.
In 1962, the Waterman’s Arms was taken over by Daniel Farson. For a year or so it became a haunt of Princess Margaret, her husband Lord Snowdon, journalist Jeffery Bernard and top painters like Francis Bacon – all friends of photographer and TV presenter Farson.
When Farson died recently, it brought to an end a long and colourful life, fuelled by
large quantities of booze and risky sexual encounters. In a career of heady excesses and expensive failures, the Waterman’s Arms was one of the most costly.
Farson was born in 1927, the son of US journalist Negley Farson – an equally colourful character who would return from abroad with exotic gifts of elephants’ teeth or Ashanti spears for his son.
On one such expedition, the young Daniel was patted on the head by Adolf Hitler. Observing the boy’s clean-cut good looks, the Furher approvingly ruffled his blond hair and called him a “good Aryan boy”.
“He was as wrong about that as everything else,” Farson wryly observed in later years. For Farson never escaped
the guilt he felt at his “taint
Returning from wartime evacuation in Canada, Farson landed his first job, as a lobby reporter at Westminster. He next ended up in the US Army, and discovered his enduring passion for photography, shooting the ruins of the bombed-out Munich.
Back in England, he followed his degree at Cambridge with a return to London. And it was in the Soho of the 1950s that he discovered the career and lifestyle that would make him famous – and often infamous.
In 1951, he joined the Picture Post as a staff photographer. His spare hours were spent in a drunken trawl around Soho with friends like Bernard and Bacon. The morning after, Farson would often appear with cuts and bruises after getting in a fight with a policeman or being mugged by a rent boy.
By the 1960s he had extended his work into the new area of TV documentary. His work included Living for Kicks, Farson’s Guide To The British, and Out Of Step.
The worst thing an alcoholic could do was take over a
pub, but this was Farson’s next venture, taking over the Waterman’s Arms in 1962 and using it as a venue for old-time music hall.
Friends such as the princess regularly came down to slum it, much as West End toffs had done in East End music halls a century earlier.
And the pub found fame when Farson made a documentary about its colourful characters. Time Gentlemen Please! gave the venture a brief boost, but the owner’s boozing and lack of organisation meant it was doomed.
A year later, Farson sold up having lost £30,000 – an impossible fortune at the time. The battered publican retired to his parents’ home in Devon, making periodic drunken forays back to his beloved Soho.
In his later years, Farson maintained his links with the East End, being an enthusiastic friend and supporter of Whitechapel artists Gilbert and George. He was also an enthusiastic researcher into the myths and truths surrounding Jack the Ripper.
Of his Island adventure, all that remains is a much-changed Waterman’s Arms – drinkers today probably never imagine they’re sitting on the same bar stool that once supported royalty
The 19th century wasn’t just the time Britannia ruled the waves – it was when every sea-going trade route seemed to lead to Britain. And no port was bigger or more successful than the Port of London.
The Victorian age’s builders, architects and engineers all played their part in turning Tower Hamlets into the most bustling and successful trade centre in the world.
In the industrial explosion of the Victorian era, no engineer was more famous or more successful than Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Brunel designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a wonder of the age, and the record-breaking Transatlantic steamer, the Great Eastern.
But Brunel left his mark on the East End, too. Working with his father, Marc, in the early 1820s, he designed and built the Thames Tunnel, from Wapping to Rotherhithe.
The young Brunel gained the experience that would later help him become a world-renowned engineer, coping with the terrible loss of life that went with their ground-breaking design and himself saving one man from drowning.
In 1843 the foot tunnel was finally complete, but immediately ran into financial difficulties and was converted into the rail tunnel that carries the East London Line.
In the early 1800s the task began of building the docks that could deal with the huge surge of sea-going trade. With raw materials arriving from all points of the globe, London simply couldn’t cope, and engineers were drafted in to build a port that would be the envy of the world.
John Rennie would one day build Southwark Bridge and Waterloo Bridge – as well as the London Bridge that ended up in the USA. But he built his fame and fortune as consultant and engineer for the West and East India Docks.
Thomas Telford was a Scot like Rennie who also made his name and his money in the East End. After building Somerset House in the Strand and the Ellesmere Canal, in Cheshire, he created his masterwork – St Katharine’s Dock, which finally opened in 1828.
The huge growth of the port in the 1800s didn’t just demand the building of warehouses to serve the docks, but of fine houses for the men who were swiftly making their fortunes. David Alexander left his mark on both.
The London-born architect designed warehouses at the London Dock, but today only the Skin Floor Warehouses at Tobacco Dock survive. An even more striking legacy is the Wapping Pierhead – fine town houses from where the newly-rich merchants could control their businesses and be close to the City.
As the port grew, so thousands flooded into the East End, leaving the poverty of rural Essex and Kent for the promise of plentiful and well-paid work on the docks.
They all had to live somewhere and William Cubitt played his part, building the new area of Cubitt Town. For good measure he also helped meet the spiritual needs of the new Londoners, building Christ Church, in Manchester Road on the Isle of Dogs.
Just as vital in the growth of the port was the construction of the vast network of canals which criss-cross the East End.
Today these canals are a pleasant place to walk the dog or get away from the noise of the city, but a century ago they were as busy as any road.
Boats carried the newly-landed raw materials all over the country, and returned bearing the manufactured goods of the Midlands and the North, to be exported in their turn to all corners of the empire.
Sir George Duckett built the Hertford Union Canal, linking the River Lea and the Regent’s Canal. It was a grand Victorian scheme – and a grand folly. The canal opened in 1830, never turned a profit and bankrupted the unhappy Duckett.