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Tales from the Two Puddings

IN 1962, exactly 50 years before Stratford became the sporting centre of the world, Eddie Johnson and family took on the Two Puddings pub in Stratford. It didn’t augur well. Eddie was less than happy about leaving a solid job on the Docks. Chuck in the fact he had never pulled a pint and that his new boozer was colloquially known as the Butcher’s Shop (courtesy of white-tiled walls to facilitate the hosing off of spilled blood each morning) and it might have proved a brief tenancy.

Cover of Eddie Johnson's Tales from the Two Puddings

Tales from the Two Puddings

Eddie, remembering those far-off days in conversation with Robert Elms at the Bishopsgate Institute last week, also remembers that he immediately felt he’d made a mistake. All the more remarkable that he remained landlord for almost 40 years. “I loved it on the docks: we didn’t make a lot of money but we could do more or less as we wanted.” Just as important to Eddie, he was becoming increasingly immersed in the left-wing politics of the time. Working as a tally clerk (the men tasked with checking the quantities of cargoes moving on and off the ships) he aroused the instinctive mistrust of legendary union organiser Jack Dash and his men. Of course, the tally clerks got their share of the contents of ‘accidentally’ broken cases to take home too, and Eddie soon became a trusted colleague, co-opted onto Dash’s strike committee. He was also being groomed to take over the dockers’ Distress Fund, a cause dear to his heart. Eddie had been politicised young, when George Lansbury visited his school (Smeed Road Infants in Bow) to speak to the pupils.

But with two young sons to provide for, wife Shirley was after something a little more secure for the family. Now Eddie was and is no soft touch. A streetwise East Ender, born in Limehouse and raised in Old Ford, he had done his National Service in the Royal Military Police. Back on Civvy Street, he ruefully recalls that he became: “a bit of a hooligan, getting drunk and fighting in dance halls”. It culminated in a near fatal stab wound to the stomach. During his convalescence he met and fell in love with Shirley, who steered him to safer pursuits. But even Eddie, a tall and imposing figure in his eighties and not a man to mess with in his early thirties, wondered what he’d let himself in for as he stood behind the bar the morning after his first Friday night in 1962.

Back in the docks voracious reader Eddie (favourites Orwell, Camus, Tolstoy and Hemingway among others) had been rubbing shoulders with surprisingly well-read dockers who casually namechecked Congreve, Kafka, Byron and Proust. In the Puddings, he was more likely to be leaping over the bar to nip drunken trouble in the bud with a couple of gentle digs. The older Johnson is sanguine about the violence (“it’s the bit I find depressing even now”) and indulges in none of the glorification of the East End gang scene that non-combatants too often fall prey to.

All the same violence and crime were unavoidable elements of East End life, with the Krays becoming occasional visitors. “I liked them,” says Eddie. “Especially Reggie, who was more the affable and easier to talk to of the pair”. Eddie was touched for protection money by the brothers, but swallowed hard and told Ronnie he could protect himself. The twins, to his relief, politely moved on. Meanwhile, on Monday nights at the Kentucky Club in Whitechapel (where Eddie was always stood a drink by the ever-charming brothers) other non-payers were being sorted out behind the scenes with a cement-encased shovel.

Of course there were all sorts of reasons that kept Eddie behind the bar until the turn of the millennium – and only then was he forced out by the machinations of the brewery. Top of the list was the music. The Johnsons had taken over the Puddings primarily to host music nights run by Eddie’s brother Kenny. The pub saw gigs by some of the biggest names in British music: the Who, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Kinks and the Nashville Teens to name just a few, while the disco upstairs pulled in more punters (including Harry Redknapp who met his future wife there). One day Rod Stewart would be downstairs checking out the bands; another would see a young Van Morrison popping in after a Them gig and confiding to Eddie that he hoped one day to be famous.

Most bizarre of all, on the evening of 30 July 1966, a few hours after England had won the World Cup Final at Wembley, who should walk into the pub, order a pint, and quietly drink by himself whilst leaning against the bar but Jack Charlton. Eddie takes up the story, saying: “Norman was one of my most trusted barmen and never told a lie… [but he was] struck dumb and felt too shy to congratulate him on England’s victory!”

Under Elms’s enthusiastic probing, Eddie regales the packed Bishopsgate audience with anecdotes spanning 50 years, though the Radio London presenter would probably admit that Johnson pretty much interviews himself. There is sadness in the stories of course: Shirley has passed away, and so has the third of their four sons, Eugene. And many of the characters who people the memoir have gone, with Eddie musing that “Every other month seems to bring a dreaded invitation to yet another funeral.” But even there is humour. As the coffin of Jackie Bowers (“a friend and one of the best barmen the Puddings ever had”) rolls slowly towards the furnace, ‘Fire’ by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown began blaring from the crematorium speakers. An echo from the sixties heyday of the Two Puddings.

150 years of the Tube

Londoners have always had a love-hate relationship with their Tube. Alfred Leete’s classic 1927 poster ‘The Lure of the Underground’ shows passengers being sucked magnetically from the London street into a Tube entrance (looking suspiciously Paris Metro-like). Leete  was one of numerous commercial artists that the railway companies serving London, marketing

Classic Tube poster

Lure of the Underground by Alfred Leete

themselves collectively as London Underground, drew on during the early years of the 20th century to promote trips to the Zoo, to the Cup Final, to the British Museum … or just to ride on the Tube.

The earliest of those railway companies, the Metropolitan Railway, which first took Londoners underground in January 1863, even changed the shape of London, building suburbs in its image and along its routes. In 1915,the publicity department of the company dreamed up the name ‘Metroland’ to describe the green fields and hills of Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, through which the new lines snaked. Between the wars, the Metropolitan set up a new company to develop housing, shops and new suburbs along the lines, and that countryside was soon peppered with hundreds of identikit semi-detached-lined streets. It was a peculiarly English vision: a sentimental, tamed and cosy view of where town met country. Of neatly swept streets, roses in every front garden, and father returning home from the Underground station, pipe in mouth and Evening News under his arm.

But modern passengers, squeezed into a London Overground carriage with on room to breathe (how can a new line fill up so quickly?) may have difficulty seeing London metro travel as a leisure activity. And for citizens of the Victorian East End,the construction of the Underground wasn’t remotely idyllic. Viewers of the quasi-historical BBC drama Ripper Street a couple of weeks ago were treated to a fairly accurate take of the East Enders experience during the construction of Whitechapel station in 1876. By the time the City & South London Railway (now part of the Northern Line) was built in 1890, tunnelling technology had progressed to allow deep tunnelling of ‘tubes’ through which the trains could pass. It was swiftly followed by the Waterloo and City Railway (now Line) in 1898 and the Central London Railway (Central Line) in 1900. Disruption at ground level was now relatively slight. But in the early days, all the railways were built by ‘cut and cover’, which was as brutal as it sounded. A railway line would be

London Underground map from 1908

London Underground map from 1908

scoured through the London streets, to below surface level, then a cover put over the top, with buildings atop that. Along the District Line as it snakes out from Whitechapel to Bow Road, houses, shops, offices and roadways sit just a few feet beneath the railway lines beneath.

The disruption was appalling, and the slums of the East End were frequently cleared with little thought as to where the residents would go. As with the clearing of the Jago at the turn of the 20th century, it usually meant their being squeezed into an even-more crowded and noisome rookery just down the road. And the engines, steam-powered in those days of course, had to release smoke and steam into the streets above at regular intervals. To East Enders, it must have seemed that a hell had been created in their midst and beneath their feet.

It wasn’t planned either. Early maps of the Underground show just how lopsided development was – a result of a rash of companies all competing for the best routes. It wasn’t until the early 1930s that an Act of Parliament brought all the lines and companies together under one transport board. So a 1908 map sees the centre of London and the East End poorly served, while the companies are driving ever further north and west, to Highgate, Golders Green and Kingsbury (with the ambitious Metropolitan eventually ending up in rural Amersham). And the East End’s first Underground line originated in similarly haphazard fashion. The Thames Tunnel, built by the Brunels between 1825 and 1843 was, famously, an engineering masterpiece but a financial disaster. But in 1869, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway repositioned the failed foot-and-horse tunnel as a railway to link the docks at Rotherhithe with those at Wapping. The spacious tunnel had plenty of room to run trains through (and no need for new cut-and-cover construction of course). In 1876, the line was driven from Wapping to Shoreditch, running along the bottom of an old dock, with cover put over the top. From Shoreditch a line was run to the Great Eastern Railway at Liverpool Street. New stations were opened at

Classic Underground roundel sign at Westminster

Classic Underground roundel sign at Westminster Underground station

Shadwell and Whitechapel.

But the East London Line was marooned from the rest of the network by the inability of the District and Metropolitan Railways to join their services together in the eagerly awaited ‘inner circle’. City financiers and politicians watched with increasing frustration as the two big companies pushed further into the suburbs while leaving the City and West End underserved: the District Railway ended at Mansion House, while the Metropolitan frustratingly terminated at Aldgate, and no way to get between the two. So in 1874, a group of City men formed the Metropolitan Inner Circle Completion Railway Company and built a joint line to connect the two, with new stations at Cannon Street, Monument, Mark Lane, Tower of London, Aldgate East, St Mary’s and Whitechapel. From St Mary’s, the line curved down to join the East London Railway just south of Whitechapel. The East End was on the Tube map at last.

You see the slightly schizophrenic nature of the early Tube (part Metro system, part suburban railway) in the District Railway extension of a few years after. In 1902, it hooked up with the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway at Whitechapel. Now it ran trains all the way out to leafy Upminster, in the depths of the Essex countryside. The District even ran excursions out to East Enders favourite Southend-on-Sea, with passengers changing at Barking. And in 1946, it was joined by the Central Line. Driving out from its old terminus at Liverpool Street the line (recoloured red from its original blue) ran through Bethnal Green, joining the District at Mile End, before leaving the East End at Stratford. The furious pace of building would now slow, for a half century or so, before the Jubilee Line broke ground at Canary Wharf. And in 2010, the East London Line would be lost to the Underground once more, being subsumed into the new London Overground network.

Building the Metropolitan Railway in London

Building the Metropolitan Railway in London

 

Cut and cover construction building the Underground at Paddington

Cut and cover construction building the Underground at Paddington

The People’s Palace in Mile End … born again

STEP UP to the rebuilt People’s Palace in Mile End and it is like stepping back to the 1930s. A facade of Portland stone and red brick, complete with Eric Gill reliefs. A magnificently recreated theatre within (an art deco confection in mint, cream and red. And a Grade II listed organ, a work of art in itself from the fabled Rutt company of Leyton.

People's Palace 1943

People's Palace 1943

But the £6.3m restoration, while the most sympathetic yet, is just the latest chapter in a story that goes back more than 200 years. The story of the People’s Palace is one of enterprise, belief, disaster and tenacity, and it began with the dream of one man.

Barber Beaumont was born in Marylebone in 1774. A talented artist, he studied at the Royal Academy school. He cannily made his speciality the then fashionable market for miniatures, becoming court painter to the Dukes of both Kent and York. But he threw painting over to make his fortune, founding and running the County Fire Office, which provided insurance to the people of the City and Westminster. The polymath Beaumont then turned his financial skills to helping the poor (or poorer), setting up the Provident Life Institute and Bank of Savings. One of the first friendly societies – a sort of proto building society – it encouraged the lower orders to save their pennies.

Barber in fact seems to have been an interesting bridge between the Georgian and Victorian eras. He had all the swagger of the Regency – fighting a duel in Hyde Park, and putting aside the dusty world of insurance to become a military commander during the Napoleonic Wars. But he was also creative, businesslike and thrifty, and he was about to become that most Victorian of creatures – a self-made, wealthy philanthropist. By the 1830s the East End was yet to become Jack London’s ‘Abyss’, but it was already the most noxious quarter of William Cobbett’s ‘Great Wen’. A million or more people toiled daily without cultural or educational relief or release, and with little entertainment that didn’t come from behind a saloon bar door.

Barber’s first attempt to help the poor was the Eastern Athenaeum in Beaumont Square, Stepney, a combined concert hall, library and museum. But the trust he set up, to build a home for higher education in the East End really bore fruit in 1887, 46 years after his death. Queen Victoria opened the Mile End People’s Palace and Queen’s Hall, dedicated to “the intellectual improvement and rational recreation and amusement for people living at the East End of London”. Additional funds were provided by City livery company, the Drapers. The original building was razed by fire in 1931 but quickly rebuilt and reopened, this time by George VI and Queen Elizabeth. After World War II, Queen Mary College took on the building – the ‘People’s Palace’ legend now sandblasted out, sadly.

Over the half century since, there have been many changes – not all of them sympathetic to the Art Deco original. But the latest, completed in September 2012 is a triumph. And the restoration threw up some serendipitous finds. The pipe organ is back in working order, and the old projection room – high up in the roof – is working once more. The building’s original art deco fire exit signs were found in a forgotten corner of the cellars and, having got the nod from the fire officer, were pressed back into use.

But the greatest find came as the restorers painstakingly chipped away the paint layers of three quarters of a century, carefully working back to the find the original colours. For in a space behind the Skeel Lecture Theatre, Eoin O’Maolalai, Senior Estates Project Manager at Queen Mary, uncovered fragments of a mural by Phyllis Bray (1911-1991) one of the acclaimed East London Group of artists of the 1930s*. He had begun his search after Tate Britain got in touch to ask whether the paintings had survived; Eoin went hunting in the most likely place, a storeroom above the theatre. He takes up the story, saying: “I found the wall and ran my fingers over the painted surface. What I felt wasn’t plaster; it was more like fabric. I looked more closely, found a tear in the fabric, peeled off some of the paint and below it I could see the vague outlines of what could be one of the murals.”

Bray had painted three murals for the theatre: Dance, Music and Drama, and Eoin had uncovered the last of these. Half of the painting had been lost, alas, when a suspended ceiling was installed in the 1950s, and the remaining paintwork was too fragile to be touched up. Instead, specialist restorer Catherine Hassall minutely scalpeled the covering paint off millimetre by millimetre: the canvas now hangs in the foyer alongside pictures of the venue in its 1930s pomp. Dance was found also, but was too damaged to save, and is now incarcerated behind a false wall; Music sadly is lost forever. The People’s Palace, however, lives on, reborn in an era where the delightful vulgarity of art deco is something to be treasured and used … rather than hidden behind false walls and painted over. It’s just the latest incarnation of Beaumont’s improbable dream, and of a building that refuses to die.


View The People’s Palace in a larger map

 

* We’ll be looking at David Buckman’s book From Bow to Biennale: Artists of the East London Group in a few weeks time, and will look in depth at Phyllis Bray then.

References:
Queen Mary page about the venue and the project: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/peoplespalace/aboutthevenue/index.html
From Bow to Biennale website: http://www.eastlondongroup.com/#/from-bow-to-biennale/4568673571
A previous East End Life piece about Barber Beaumont:

http://eastlondonhistory.com/?s=barber+beaumont

Arthur Harding and Raphael Samuel, part two

A WEEK or two back, we read of the desperate early years of Arthur Harding, raised in the Nichol and seemingly fated for a life of crime. His autobiography (and its subsequent adaptation and expansion by Raphael Samuel) certainly doesn’t go easy on its subject.

But though Harding became renowned as a career criminal, and a vicious one at that, what shines through the pages of his first-person

Ronnie and Reggie Kray

Ronnie and Reggie Kray

account is a craving for order, for respectability … for a job. He loved his time at Barnardo’s: he got a regular meal of course, but he also got his education, and enjoyed it. He writes of his envy at the blokes who can land work in the breweries (in the early 1900s there was Truman, Hanbury and Buxton in Brick Lane, and the Watney brewery on Whitechapel Road), but they are all fit, brawny country lads; there’s no place for cockneys from the Jago. He craves the security of working on the railways or being a City Corporation street cleaner (the ‘shit rakers’ or ‘sparrow starvers’). Both of them jobs for life, and neither of them likely to be given to a guttersnipe from the Nichol. And he loves his brief weeks in training in the army, with its discipline and order … before his detested father drags him back to supplement the family income.

They may be the selective memories of an old man (Arthur was well into his eighties by the time he wrote all this stuff down) but a life of crime seems to have chosen him as much as the other way round. On several occasions he is arrested ‘as a suspected person’ – not actually having committed a crime, but looking as if he might be a likely candidate*. Of course Arthur was guilty of plenty of things, but between 1901 and 1922 he achieved 27 acquittals, invariably conducting his own defence. It’s a remarkable tale: a ‘street Arab’ from London’s roughest estate taking on a criminal prosecutor and frequently winning. Building on his schooling at Barnardo’s he became a voracious autodidact. During his many months in prison in his late teens (he unfortunately lost almost as many cases as he won) he taught himself criminal law and devoured novels such as Oliver Twist and Les Miserables, which must at least have reminded him of home.

He was receiving another kind of schooling too. Prison had made him ‘fitter, stronger and taller’. Emerging from one stretch in 1903, he sought out a married couple who had beaten up his mother (now a hopeless drunk) and thrashed them and their son senseless. The educated street Arab was establishing a terrifying reputation for violence. He was also developing a varied criminal repertoire. His gang would pickpocket around Brick Lane, run protection rackets and – equipped with Webley army revolvers, many of which had been liberated by soldiers returning from the Boer War – they would hold up spielers (Jewish social clubs). While many of his gang turned to pimping, Arthur specialised in snide-pinching, buying counterfeit coins from forgers and laundering the currency through local shops.

And when Brick Lane got too hot, the boys would go on tour – taking ferries to Newcastle, to Buxton, Manchester and to Wales – picking pockets and passing Harding’s snide coinage; his sister would post packets of coins to post offices around the country for Arthur to pick up. The one town they avoided was Liverpool, which was famed for having an efficient and ruthless police force.

It was now that Harding and his boys began to run the north end of Brick Lane, with Isaac Bogard running the south. A Brick Lane shopkeeper of the time described how they would operate, saying: ‘My corner is a very convenient corner for them, because they can see four ways. They throw out scouts in every direction, and they use dumb motions, they do not talk to each other. When they steal goods they get small boys to take the parcels away, and they take them in different directions. It is very difficult for us tradesmen to carry on our business. Brick Lane has got a very bad name, and it is the men of Harding’s class that give the neighbourhood a bad name.’

But his own bad name was catching up with Arthur. He spent the whole of the First World War in Wormwood Scrubs; a reformed Bogard joined up and became a decorated war hero. By the twenties Harding had had enough, and resolved to go straight … ish. He settled down and married Milly, 15 years his junior, and the two settled in a cottage in Gibraltar Gardens, off Bethnal Green Road, with Arthur turning out furniture, tables, easels and boards. He still had a fearsome reputation. One day, a younger criminal called Dodger Mullins knocked on his door demanding protection money. Arthur grabbed a loaded revolver and chased the gang up the road. Again, Harding used the courts to his advantage, seeing Mullins sentenced to six years for demanding money with menaces. He also got a bung of £60 from the gang for withholding elements of his evidence and decided to seek the quieter life.

But maybe there was a thirst for confrontation and danger that crime had previously satisfied. In 1926 he was leading gangs scaring dockers back to work during the General Strike. In the 1950s he became a cohort of Oswald Mosley (the Blackshirts called him ‘uncle’) though he professed to detest racism. And he became something of an elder statesmen to the Krays. By now he was comfortably off. In the thirties he had toured the country, knocking on doors and buying gold jewellery at knockdown prices from innocent punters. During World War II and after he had dealt in stolen ration books. After the war he made a mint buying and selling secondhand clothes. Comfortably retired to Leytonstone, he put crime to one side and spent 43 years with his beloved Milly: the pair had six children.

There was an interesting postscript to Arthur’s life. A few years back, Diana Rowbury went along to the Bishopsgate Institute to talk about her extraordinary grandfather. It emerged that she had known nothing of the name ‘Harding’ until Raphael Samuel’s book went into print. In later years, Arthur had re-adopted his original family surname of Tresadern – while his mother had come from Norfolk, his father had been a Cornishman. The retired villain theorised that cockneys had trouble pronouncing the unusual moniker, so shortened it to ‘Adern’ and then corrupted it to ‘Harding’. Perhaps Arthur was trying to go back to a childhood before crime had taken over, but over decades of peaceable retirement, he had buried infamous East End villain Arthur Harding.

[ends]

*This draconian law was still being used with some enthusiasm by the Met 30 years ago, and was one of the factors blamed for the riots that swept English cities in the summer of 1981.

References:

The Life of Arthur Harding http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/content/1196/The-Life-of-Arthur-Harding

East End Underworld by Raphael Samuel:

http://tinyurl.com/a6ezl59

Ripper Street Episode 4

A RATHER timely twist to BBC’s Sunday night offering Ripper Street this evening – with the slums of Whitechapel being cleared to make way for the new Underground railway. Suffice to say, there won’t be any judicial reviews and compensation for the poor souls whose homes lie in the way of progress … the wrecking crew is coming through and there’s little to stop them.

 

Shoreditch station

Shoreditch station

Shoreditch station

Timely, because it’s hard to open a newspaper at the moment without a piece about the Tube;  for it was on 9 January 1863 that the first underground journey took place between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan Railway.

Train travel had come to London in the early 19th century, with rail routes criss-crossing the country and converging on the capital, termini being built on the edges of the metropolis at Euston, Paddington, London Bridge, Kings Cross, Waterloo and (hard by Whitechapel and Brick Lane) at Bishopsgate. Today, of course, these termini are in the heart of a much larger London than that of the early 1800s. Only one terminus was within the City of London itself, at Fenchurch Street. Bishopsgate is long gone, operating as the terminus on the eastern flank of the City only from 1840 to 1874, when it was replaced by Liverpool Street. The station, which still operated for goods trains, was finally closed by a fire in 1964 and the buildings were demolished to make way for the new Shoreditch station on the East London Line extension (which in turn is part of the new Overground line which encircles London, and popularly known as the ‘Ginger Line’ by many Londoners). Incidentally, visitors to Whitechapel should take a detour east off Brick Lane, where they will find the original Shoreditch station, an abandoned shell since it was closed in 2006. Of course you won’t see any of these locations in Ripper Street, which is actually filmed in Dublin, but if you’re in the area…

And of course all this building wasn’t without cost, as Ripper Street suggests. The clearing of slum dwellings to drive the mainlines through London displaced thousands of people, just as new cottages were being raised to house the railway workers (many of them immigrant labour from Ireland). And the fact that the new Underground railway ran, well underground, didn’t minimise disruption on the surface. The construction of new stations at Whitechapel, Whitechapel St Mary’s (another of the Tube’s ghost stations) Aldgate, Aldgate East and the rest, necessitated the demolition of whole streets, even whole neighbourhoods.

Needless to say, unrest about the demolitions and the construction of the new Underground railway is merely a backdrop to yet another grisly event in Ripper Street – the uncovering of a body. But yet again I have to be impressed by the efforts of the writers to weave some genuine East End history into this sensational tale of London circa 1889. Some of the language might be less than accurate in its contemporaneity, but the historical tropes are (give or take things being moved a decade or so) soundly in place.

 

Arthur Harding and the Jago

THE CRIMES of Victorian London seem as popular as ever, with Ripper Street and Sherlock Holmes, and even Dr Who getting in on the act of late. But it was in Edwardian Whitechapel that gang war was to really explode – most famously in the vicious turf wars between Isaac

Barnardos Boys in the East End

Barnardos Boys in the East End

Bogard and Arthur Harding. Many of the accounts we receive are apocryphal, as underworld figures become semi-legendary and grow in the mythology.

But with Arthur Harding we have a rich seam of first-person evidence to mine. For not only was this career-criminal surprisingly long-lived (born in 1885, three years before the Whitechapel Murders, he lived until 1981); he committed that life to paper. And so began a fortuitous sequence of events.

Harding, by now in his eighties, had an extraordinary life to draw upon as he sat down to write in the late sixties. He also had, it seems, almost perfect recall. His memoir My Apprenticeship to Crime was unflinching in its depiction of a brutal and dirt-poor childhood. He sent a copy both to the Cambridge Institute of Criminology and to his local MP, Stan Newens (then the Labour member for Epping). Newens was both an East Ender and a history graduate and he loved what he read. “It was four o clock the next morning before I could tear myself away and retire to my bed,” Newens wrote later. “I was totally hooked”.

Old Nichol or Jago in 1890s

Old Nichol or Jago in 1890s

Newens passed the manuscript on to his friend Raphael Samuel who, crucially, was not only fascinated by East End history (his family had been Jewish immigrants to London) but by “history from below”. The Marxist historian had eschewed conventional academic histories with his endeavours at the History Workshop and at Ruskin College, encouraging ordinary working people to compile their own stories. Samuel was transfixed by Harding’s story of pickpocketing, protection, razor attacks and rubbing shoulders with the Blackshirts. And over a six-year period in the 1970s, sat down with Arthur to tirelessly and patiently commit his story to tape.

The result was the remarkable East End Underworld: chapters in the life of Arthur Harding, which would be published in 1981 (Harding got to read the finished work just before he died). The story is compelling, if not always pretty. Arthur is born in the Jago to a mother crippled by a runaway milk float and shackled to a father (Flash Harry) who is either idle or drunk, and frequently violent. His mother is forced to support the family with piecework, making matchboxes at Bryant and May in Fairfield Road (now the Bow Quarter) and Arthur is mainly raised by big sister Harriet (nicknamed ‘Mighty’). Meals are hit and miss, with Arthur often begging passers-by for food.

The family move to Hoxton (“about the worst bloody place they could have gone to”, according to Arthur). With the family of six now sharing one room, Arthur frees up space by sleeping rough. He is eventually rescued by a policeman who delivers the filthy, starving boy to Barnardos. The next three years are “the happiest of his young life” and provide Arthur’s daily bread and education. How do you escape such a grim existence? Arthur tries on several occasions to join the army, but each time is deemed either too young or too unfit. In 1900 he finally succeeds (he is still only 14 but the army, desperate for troops to fight in the Boer War, are less picky this time). To Arthur’s fury, his father refuses to let him go … the little bit of money the boy brings in is crucial to the family budget. Arthur becomes increasingly sucked into a life of crime.

All young villains served an apprenticeship. He is first nabbed at 14, then arrested at 15 for helping the colourfully named ‘One-Eyed’ Charlie pinch a bail of rags – that offence earning him 12 months hard labour.

In the hands of Samuel, the story becomes a compelling mix of first-person narrative and historical background. Harding’s detail on the Jago is superb – from the Shoreditch Hat Shop located strategically next to the Royal Standard Theatre in Norton Folgate (“owned by a German…He must have made a packet, all the comedians used to buy their hats there”) to the Jane Shore pub in Shoreditch High Street (“where my dad worked, for 2s (10p) daily from 6am to midnight”).

Harding is a less than loveable character at times. He divides the populus into Jews, non-Jews and Half Jews; his criminal rival Isaac Bogard is referred to throughout as “the Coon” (not just offensive but inaccurate); and his stock in trade is to pre-empt any trouble in the pub by smashing a glass into the face of any potential challenger. His criminal pragmatism is perfectly illustrated as he talks about the famous ‘Vendettas’ for which he was eventually jailed. He recalls: “Alf Simpson…wasn’t a thief but a hooligan, stabbing people and all that sort of thing. He didn’t make any money at it, it was just terrorism, the instinct of the savage.” Over the following decades, Harding will mature from vicious young criminal to elder statesman and a pal of the Krays. He will even become an (almost) respectable businessman.

Next week: Fit-ups, prison and respectability

[box]

About Raphael Samuel

 

Raphael Elkin Samuel was born in London on Boxing Day 1934. Although described as “one of the most outstanding, original intellectuals of his generation” and graduating from Balliol College, Oxford he avoided academic advancement, pouring his energies into the History Workshop at Ruskin College. His mature students, largely trade unionists, produced collections such as Village Life and Labour and Miners, Quarrymen and Saltworkers. A Communist who left the party following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, Raphael retained a lifelong fascination with the successes and failures of the Left, in later years writing Theatres of the Left and The Lost World of Communism. He only took a university post in the last years of his life, at the new centre for the study of community in the East End, based at the University of East London: it was renamed the Raphael Samuel Centre after his death in 1996, and is now a partnership between UEL, Birkbeck and the Bishopsgate Institute. You can find more details, and access Samuel’s archive, at /www.raphael-samuel.org.uk. There is a digitised version of Harding’s memoir at http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/content/1413/My-Apprenticeship-to-Crime (Arthur’s wallpaper-bound original is at the Bishopsgate Institute) and of East End Underworld at http://tinyurl.com/arzsu7r .

edwardian petticoat lane

edwardian petticoat lane

petticoat lane

petticoat lane

Thomas Neale: the man who invented Shadwell

THOMAS NEALE was very much a man of the late 1600s. A master of a dozen fields, who could move effortlessly between jobs, he was an MP for 30 years, the Master of the Mint, and set up the first properly organised postal service in the United States. He was also the proud bearer of one of the many arcane posts in the gift of the monarch. As Groom Porter to Charles II he was the king’s gambling tsar, charged with settling disputes at gaming tables and closing down gambling houses; he even developed a fairer and truer die to outsmart gambling cheats.

Thomas Neale

Thomas Neale

By the end of his short life (he lived from 1641 to 1699), this remarkable man had burned through two fortunes (one courtesy of his wife, the richest woman in England) and he died penniless. But as a young man, he was responsible for transforming a benighted and boggy stretch of East End waterfront into a thriving commercial concern. Neale, almost forgotten today, should be as lauded as more celebrated developers such as William Cubitt, who at least got a slice of the Isle of Dogs named after him. For it was Neale who gave us Shadwell.

Until the 17th century, the area that would become Shadwell was bleak marshland. That began to change with an Act of Parliament in the 1660s that authorised the reclamation of 130 acres of Wapping Marsh. Until then, the sole function of the wasteland had been to flood with the rising of the Thames, and then drain water back to power the mills at Ratcliff. And as late as 1615, the riverside from Ratcliff up to Wapping was undeveloped, save for a few houses to the north (one of which, on the site of King Edward VII Memorial Park, was obviously of some importance, having a brewhouse and an orchard attached).

It was land that nobody had bothered too much about in the preceding centuries, but the rise in trade and shipping in the 1600s would change all that. The maritime adventures of the previous century had transformed England from a minor country off the coast of Europe into a genuine seapower, as Willoughby, Frobisher et al set sail from from Ratcliff. Britain’s trading routes had developed alongside, with the Port of London growing in step. In 1615 there were just ten ships of more than 200 tons in the Port; by 1640 that number had grown to 100. First Deptford, then Blackwall and Ratcliff had been developed, now eyes turned to the moribund waste of Shadwell.

Shadwell Basin

Shadwell Basin

For three centuries the land had been in the ownership of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s – nobody was quite sure how, as Shadwell lay within the territory of the Manor of Stepney, but for 300 years it had fallen to St Paul’s to maintain the river walls and ditches. The land had been taken from the Church under Cromwell’s Commonwealth, but with the restoration of the monarchy it passed back to the Cathedral, and to their surprise, they found themselves in charge of a valuable piece of real estate.

Enter Thomas Neale, once again, for among his many other jobs he was lessee of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s. He also already knew the area, as along with friends he had speculatively invested in East India trade and the development of the Ratcliff riverfront. Neale now began a huge programme of draining, reclaiming and laying out roads. It was a skill he would later apply to the development of Seven Dials in Covent Garden (despite the variant spelling, Neal Street is named after our man). He built a waterworks and a mill, with housing fanning out behind the newly developed waterfront. As the shipping business arrived so did the ancillary businesses develop, with ropemakers, breweries, bakies, tanneries, chandlers, smiths and the dozen other businesses of the working port. He even built Shadwell’s own church (it was now a parish) in St Paul’s Shadwell.

isaac newton

isaac newton

All of this was done while Neale was still in his twenties and he had an even more colourful career ahead of him. From 1678 until his death he was Master of the Mint, succeeded by another Stuart polymath, Sir Isaac Newton. Newton apparently complained that the Mint he inherited was a nest of “idlers and jobbers”. He was in charge of a mining company, and set up another to recover treasure from the many wrecks that littered the floors of the world’s oceans. Whatever Neale did, there was one common theme: speculation, and the love of a punt on a scheme that could make him very rich. Him or his patrons – it was Neale who was behind the notorious lottery-loans that poured cash into William and Mary’s Exchequer, boldly labelled “a profitable adventure to the fortunate, and can be unfortunate to none”.

Unfortunately there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to speculation and Neale’s difficulty seemed to be not so much raising cash, as holding onto it. Perhaps it was too much time spent around gambling joints as the Groom Porter, perhaps one grand scheme too many, but by 1694, Neale was struggling financially. Fortuitously he would marry the richest widow in England, and became known about London as ‘Golden Neale’. Alas, it wasn’t to last. He died penniless, having blown another fortune, just five years later.

Ripper Street Episode 3

Some rather good bits on Ripper Street episode 3. None of it looks like Victorian Whitechapel of course, and which bit of the City of London were our Metropolitan Police officers straying into in search of Joseph Lister. What’s interesting is the ragbag of genuinely Victorian tropes.

Ripper-Street-Episode-3

Ripper-Street-Episode-3

The constant visiting of ‘King Cholera’ to the East End of London, and the focusing on the pump delivering poisoned water (or not as it transpired) harkening back to the discoveries of John Snow at the pump in Broad (now Broadwick) Street in Soho, some years before. Cholera had previously been thought to have been transmitted by foul air of course, exactly as malaria (bad air) was believed to be transmitted.

We also had the Lady Bountiful, happy to give alms to the fallen women of Whitechapel, as long as the word of God was thrashed into them, and their sins were bled out. The flour mill heiress’s bitterness at her husband, who had infected her with syphilis picked up from the prostitutes of Whitechapel, thus rendering her sterile, was also a real touch … many ‘respectable’ Victorian women had to cover their shame at just such an event. And the infection via ergot and poisoned flour, common throughout Europe in the Middle Ages and beyond, with victims tortured by ‘St Anthony’s Fire’ and suffering LSD type trips before … well dying, was another nice historical touch. What does next week have in store?

Ten great films of London past … a random collection

London has often looked at its best when film directors have used its bleak and ruined beauty, and in a raft of post-World War II movies, bombsites and often ill-conceived redevelopments featured large. We look at a random selection of ten of the best.

The two young stars of Hue and Cry

Joan Dowling and Harry Fowler in Hue and Cry

1.

Hue and Cry

Shot almost entirely on location, Charles Crichton’s 1947 movie is a triumphant example that forgotten British spirit, making do with what you’ve got. This was a very austere post-War London. Buildings in bombed-out ruin? They’ll make superb backdrops for a film that never goes near a studio. Inexperienced juvenile cast? Just let the camera run and capture their spirit. A standout scene is the little kid miming dive bombers and dogfights. Amid all this you have sterling performances from villainous Jack Warner (an East Ender of course) and Alastair Sim.

2.

Bronco Bullfrog

And just 23 years later we return to an East End that still hasn’t been rebuilt after the war. Anyone growing up in the 1970s remembers the gap sites and the boredom. Director Barney Platts-Mills grabbed a bunch of teenagers from a youth group in Stratford, gave them the bare bones of a script and let the camera run. The tedium, petty crime and pointless, tragic rebellions of the bunch are played out in black and white against an E15 that looks more Communist Bloc Bucharest than the new Olympia. The Swinging Sixties have swung by leaving these kids untouched. If they look miserable now then it’s a good job they don’t know what the 1970s are going to be like. We venerated this movie as a suedehead template in the late seventies, though viewing the clothes now I’m not quite sure why.

3.

Broken Blossoms

http://youtu.be/7_8T82GnC5M

Political correctness was a long way off when DW Griffith adapted Thomas Burke’s book in 1919. Burke was an enthusiastic chronicler, alongside Sax Rohmer, of the supposed ‘yellow peril’, which stigmatised the Chinese in London (mainly in Limehouse) as opium toting fiends, itching to corrupt young white girls and sell them into prostitution. Limehouse’s China Town would disappear within a few years, as racial persecution was writ into law and the area was cleared. But Griffith did make some attempts at verisimilitude, scouting East End locations. And in Donald Crisp, who plays Battling Burrows, the father of heroine Lilian Gish, we have a real, genuine East Ender, born in Bow.

4.

Sparrers Can’t Sing

Possibly the only time you’ll see a writing credit on a major motion picture for Blakey off On the Buses. Stephen Lewis penned this as part of his work with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop (Stratford again). Full of proper Londoners, such as Barbara Windsor and the unfairly forgotten James Booth. Great locations around Bethnal Green, real al fresco pub action (lots of toothless singalongs) and the Krays were on set. Retitled Sparrows Can’t Sing for the American market, though it really needed subtitles.

5.

A Clockwork Orange

Still hard to watch this without feeling queasy. For most of my youth this was a movie of myth,talked about but never seen, as director Stanley Kubrick withdrew it from distribution after a series of supposed ‘copycat’ violent attacks in the early seventies. Thus it wasn’t officially broadcast until after the director’s death in 1999. Largely filmed on location in Thamesmead, a south-east London new town development out of Woolwich that never quite lived up to its Venice on the Thames billing. If you think A Clockwork Orange is scary, spend an afternoon in SE28. No don’t.

6.

Passport to Pimlico

Bombsites, lovely bombsites … where would the British film industry have been without them. A very English fantasy of devolving from the UK, as kids discover an old parchment in a crater which proves that Pimlico is in truth a possession of Burgundy. Cue withholding of taxes and the quaffing of fine wines replacing bitter in the boozer. Margaret Rutherford (Balham Born) is superb as is Manor Park’s own Stanley Holloway. And it’s still funny.

7.

The Lavender Hill Mob

A masterpiece of English restraint in the writing. Stanley Holloway (again) to Alec Guinness as a criminal plan begins to take shape. “By Jove, Holland it’s a good job we’re both honest men.” Guinness: “It is indeed Pendlebury”. But of course they’re not and they recruit two cockney crooks: Alfie Bass (Bethnal Green born and bred) and Sid James (actually South African) to smuggle the gold Eiffel Towers through customs. Does crime pay? Of course not; we are English after all.
8.

A Kid for Two Farthings

You got to have a dream … or how you going to make a dream come true? Unfortunately the dream of Joe, kicking around Whitechapel in Carol Reed’s beautiful slice of 1955 Technicolor, is to own a unicorn. And of course, with the East End full of those wise to a quick buck, he finds someone to sell him one. A beautiful and poignant tale of broken dreams and growing up. This was adapted by East End polymath Wolf Mankewitz from his own novel. A great cast with Diana Dors, Irene Handl and Sydney Taffler, and David Kossoff draws deep on his East End Jewish background for his portrayal of Mr Kandinsky.

9.

It Always Rains On Sunday

1947 film adaptation of Arthur LaBern’s novel, and some would argue the dawn of the British New Wave of cinema – which the press quickly dubbed ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’. It does retain some of the gloss of the studio (this was an Ealing movie) through its stars. Googie Withers (later on TV in Within These Walls) was a bona fide star and even playing drab and downbeat she looks amazing. And Jack Warner is on hand as the copper (but of course). A real attempt at showing the boredom and drudgery of a Bethnal Green which had been bleak before the war but was now bleak with bombsites. You’d have thought we would have wanted cheering up and distraction after six years of conflict but no … this was the best-selling movie at the box office in the UK in 1948.

10.

The Blue Lamp

Evening all. Jack Warner of Bow makes a third appearance in this 1950 Dearden and Balcon movie from Ted Willis’s script. Hard to believe now that this was considered near cinema verite at the time, with location shots around Paddington Green and the White City, and a decent old-fashioned copper coming up against the harsh new London of guns and careless violence (delivered by Dirk Bogarde). A corny Ealing ending (Hue and Cry style) where the ordinary decent villains of London band together to catch George Dixon’s killer (unlikely we think). Gave birth to Dixon of Dock Green, which featured a copper hero even older than TJ Hooker.

Ripper Street … or Jack the Ripper: the franchise

 

AS I watched the trailer for Ripper Street, BBC1′s new Sunday night slice of primetime for stay home round the telly winter’s nights, a succession of troubling and random thoughts cascaded through my mind. But before we get there, let me recap on what happens (or you can simply click the link above – thanks youtube, thanks BBC). We open on a shot of the glistening new Olympic Stadium, artfully retouched to blur out all the nasty grubby bits of East London that stubbornly


Cast of Ripper Street

refuse to disappear, no matter how much Olympic flavoured fairy dust is sprinkled upon the area. The camera pans down through a bank of thickening cloud and when we emerge below we have been transported back to 1889, cheerful guttersnipes run down cobbled streets delivering coal and turnips (be quick lad, Victorian Whitechapel’s life expectancy means you’re unlikely to make it past 14) and the adults occupy that strange ground beloved of Jack the Ripper tourists, where everyone is either a prostitute, drunk or both. Respectability for men is conferred by the wearing of a bowler hat. A voice solemnly intones that, Olympics over, it’s time to go back to a colder, darker, scarier age. Clever stuff – visually grabbing and the BBC manages to yoke its new drama to the back of its hugely successful 2012 Games coverage, while reminding everyone of how solidly the Beeb stands for everything good in British drama and sport, and giving a heads-up to the American audience (they’re hoping Ripper Street plays big in the US) as to where exactly Whitechapel is. (That’s London, England sir).

Except, the pedant in me cries that if you panned down thus-wise you’d be in West Ham, not Whitechapel, as the perspective on the site is from due East. My second random thought was ‘won’t my team look nice playing in there’. I’m a West Ham fan you see – no glory hunting for me. My next was how the cosy Sunday night viewing has changed on the BBC. Crime has always been an element, strangely. But where we once had Hamish McBeth, Pie in the Sky and Lovejoy we now have the ritualistic evisceration of sex workers recast as family viewing. Onto my fourth thought, ie, how the hell are they going to do Jack the Ripper again. It’s a story that’s been, ahem, done to death, and as we all know, he never gets caught, so very unsatisfying as a procedural. But here is where I was derailed, because this isn’t Jack the Ripper, it’s the Whitechapel Murders as a franchise. A year later the East End is still in a state of febrile terror – has he finished, will he be back? And every murder or sex crime (of which the East End of 1889 had its share) whipped the terror up again. So we have Matthew Macfadyen as Inspector Edmund Reid, desperately trying to damp down panic and speculation. We have newspaper reporter Fred Best (David Dawson) excellent as he was in Edwin Drood a year ago, mischievously redecorating murder scenes to make them appear the work of Jack the Ripper. And we have glum Inspector Fred Abbeline (Clive Russell playing the sole genuine historical character) still mightily pissed off that he never nailed Jack, and working with Best to keep the public interest bubbling (the Met and Fleet Street getting over-cosy is obviously nothing new).

And so Jack the Ripper becomes merely a device, a starting point from which to spin off a whole other raft of tales about Victorian London’s surfeit of death, misery and prostitution. Episode 1 was actually rather good. Again, the pedant in me finds it hard to watch Victorian Whitechapel street scenes that don’t look anything like Whitechapel, but then you’d have a hard job filming down Brick Lane these days and maintaining any historical illusions – too many curry restaurants and Shoreditch hipsters in monocles and spats. Ungentrified Victorian Dublin will fit the bill just fine for most viewers, just as Chatham did in Call the Midwife.

Ripper Street trailer from BBC TV

The interesting twist was in pursuing a line from Victorian prostitution to the early days of photo-pornography and thus to snuff movies. Historially accurate? I’m not sure – and certainly the brothel and its staff all seemed suspiciously squeaky clean and jolly. But historically interesting for sure, and tied nicely together with the tech-savvy Reid using photographic evidence, and even knowing how darkrooms work. And our American cousins even get an ex-Pinkerton detective as a medical examiner. Everyone is superbly flawed, as per every detective procedural, though it came as a disappointment to see that Reid wasn’t a bent copper but was merely fixing bare knuckle boxing matches as an elaborate entrapment … He still looks troubled, though that might just be Matthew Macfadyen’s face. But how refreshing, in this post-Sweeney world to see a policeman (Jerome Flynn as Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake) not merely questioning a witness but beating the words out of him till he can barely mumble them. Drake then surpasses this by not simply restraining the guilty man in the final act, but running him through with a sword. None of your namby pamby rehabilitation there. We look forward to tonight’s thrilling instalment.

John Rennie