At Captain Cook’s House In Mile End Rd | Spitalfields Life

Captain Cook’s house, c.1936

Captain Cook’s house, c.1936

Long before the East End acquired its reputation as London’s working-class quarter, it had a different character. Walk along the Mile End Rd today from Whitechapel and, even after so much has been demolished in the interests of supposed urban regeneration, you will spot surviving signs of grandeur. Trinity Green, the last remaining set of almshouses, is still intact, as are a few eighteenth-century private…

via At Captain Cook’s House In Mile End Rd | Spitalfields Life

Meet the matchwomen who paved the way for the suffragettes | The Big Issue

matchwomenOne-hundred-and-thirty years ago this summer, trouble was brewing on the streets of the East End. Management bullying forced 1,400 mostly female matchworkers to walk out of Bryant & May’s factory in Bow. As they picketed the gates, battalions of police were rushed to the area.

This outrage against the status quo horrified polite society: a Victorian woman’s place was in the home, not…

via Meet the matchwomen who paved the way for the suffragettes | The Big Issue

William Morris In The East End | Spitalfields Life

The presence of William Morris in the East End is almost forgotten today. Yet he took the District Line from his home in Hammersmith regularly to speak here through the last years of his life, despite persistent ill-health. Ultimately disappointed that the production of his own designs had catered only to the rich, Morris dedicated himself increasingly to politics and in 1884 he …

Source: William Morris In The East End | Spitalfields Life

Frost Bros, Rope Makers & Yarn Spinners | Spitalfields Life

Founded by John James Frost in 1790, Frost Brothers Ltd of 340/342 Commercial Rd was managed by his grandson – also John James Frost – in 1905, when these photographs were taken. In 1926, the company was amalgamated to become part of British Ropes and now only this modest publication on the shelf in the Bishopsgate Institute bears testimony to the long-lost industry of rope making and yarn spinning in the East End, from which Cable St takes its name….

Source: Frost Bros, Rope Makers & Yarn Spinners | Spitalfields Life.

The Cockney Novelists | Spitalfields Life

Originally posted on Spitalfields Life.

The ‘Cockney’ – that is the born East Ender – has long since been a regular figure in fiction. Originally, in appearances from Jacobean plays to mid-nineteenth century sporting fiction, the type was not working-class. It was the geography not the sociology that mattered. Wealthy merchants were still Cockneys and revelled in the name.

The East End of modernity, which (at least until recently) meant primarily poverty, is a mid-nineteenth century invention. Its citizens emerge, struggling and insecure, via the pages of Henry Mayhew’s pioneering sociological study, London Labour and the London Poor (1851). They are further investigated by Mayhew’s many successors, notably James Greenwood, but not until the nineteenth century was nearly over, were they fictionalised.

Dickens had portrayed Cockneys, but mainly as comic walk-on parts or, as in Oliver Twist, criminals who properly spoke cant. Other novelists, often temperance advocates whose ‘novels’ may as well have been tracts, looked East, but they made no attempt to put flesh on their caricatures. They were all in dreary earnest, propagandizing the proles, permitting neither…

via The Cockney Novelists | Spitalfields Life.

The Bethnal Green Tube Disaster | The East End

Bethnal Green Tube Disaster Memorial Plaque

Bethnal Green Tube Disaster Memorial Plaque

The residents of Bethnal Green in the East End of London had become used to the ‘crump, crump, crump’ of the bombs being dropped on the capital by the Luftwaffe. The Blitz had been almost continuous during the winter of 1940 / 41 – indeed the city had once been hit for 57 consecutive nights, but now, as winter began to give way to spring in March 1943, things seemed to be a bit quieter. However, the population was on its guard, as the RAF had bombed Berlin a couple of nights before, and it was well known that Germany often responded with reprisal bombings soon afterwards…

The East End of London had been a target for German Bombing campaigns for a long time, in an attempt to disrupt the flow of materials and goods through the crucially important London Docks. As a result, people were becoming familiar with the air raid sirens and bombing raids that seemed to form a constant part of their everyday lives.

Many families had built Anderson or Morrison Shelters in their own back gardens, but these prefabricated huts were often…

Source: The Bethnal Green Tube Disaster | The East End

At Toynbee Hall | Spitalfields Life

Originally posted on Spitalfields Life

Arnold Toynbee was the Economic Historian who coined the phrase “Industrial Revolution” to describe the transformation that came upon this country in the first half of the nineteenth century as a result of technological advance. As early as the eighteen-seventies, he recognised that the free market system disadvantaged the poor, and he came to Whitechapel from Oxford to encourage the creation of trade unions and public libraries, as a means to give practical expression to his social beliefs.

When Toynbee died from exhaustion at the age of thirty in 1883, his friend Samuel Barnett, working in partnership with his wife Henrietta Barnett, established an experimental university settlement in…

via At Toynbee Hall | Spitalfields Life.

Happy 100th Birthday, Max Levitas! | Spitalfields Life

Originally posted on Spitalfields Life.

Today we salute Max Levitas, celebrated anti-Fascist campaigner & veteran of the Battle of Cable St who enjoyed his one hundredth birthday yesterday.

Max Levitas became an East End hero when he was arrested in 1934, at the age of nineteen years old, for writing anti-Fascist slogans on Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. “There were two of us, we did it at midnight and we wrote ‘All out on September 9th to fight Fascism,’ ‘Down with Fascism’ and ‘Fight Fascism,’ on Nelson’s Column in whitewash,” he told me, his eyes shining with pleasure, still fired up with ebullience at one hundred years of age, “And afterwards we went to Lyons Corner House to have something to eat and wash our hands, but when we had finished our tea we decided to go back to see how good it looked, and we got arrested – the police saw the paint on our shoes.”


On September 9th, Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, was due to speak at a rally in Hyde Park but – as Max is happy to remind you today – he was drowned out by the people of London who converged to express their contempt. It was both fortuitous and timely that the Times reprinted Max’s slogans on September 7th, two days before the rally, in the account of his appearance at Bow St Magistrates Court, thereby spreading the message.

Yet this event was merely the precursor to the confrontation with the Fascists that took place in the East End, two years later in October 1936, that became known as the Battle of Cable St, and in which Max is proud to…

via Happy 100th Birthday, Max Levitas! | Spitalfields Life.

An East End Remembrance | Spitalfields Life

Yesterday, Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I joined the pupils of Morpeth School at the Alderney, Britain’s oldest Ashkenazi cemetery, for a remembrance upon the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Around thirty senior pupils walked over from Bethnal Green to the cemetery for a modest service. Standing quietly in a semi-circle, they listened while a fellow student who had visited the camp recently gave a bare historical account of what took place there. Then four others read out survivors’ testimonies and there was a minute’s silence followed by the lighting of candles.

It was a group that was mixed in creed and race, yet united in respect as demonstrated by their uniformly subdued demeanour. In the minute’s silence, I looked around at the pupils standing in the January sunshine among the stillness of the tombs in this most ancient of graveyards. It was a welcome moment of peace upon an anniversary that only resonates more painfully in the light of…

via An East End Remembrance | Spitalfields Life.

A la recherche du temps perdu

A beautiful and heartfelt evocation of growing up in the East End of London in the 1950s and ’60s, written with the rose-tinted spectacles removed.


With apologies to Marcel Proust for stealing his title, I confess to a lot of time spent in remembrance of things past. Not just lately, but for much of my life. Even as a man in my twenties, I constantly reflected on my childhood, and my early school years, developing a habit of looking back that I never lost. I was caught up in a chain of nostalgia, from which I found it difficult to escape. When I got to secondary school, I pined for my primary school, and less pressure. Once I left school and started work, I really regretted leaving education, and thought about those last few years at school with great fondness. Every job seemed better than the one that followed it, and I managed to conveniently forget my reasons for wanting to move on in the first place.

During a convivial dinner party that we were…

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East End Soldiers Of World War One | Spitalfields Life

Originally posted on Spitalfields Life.

In the week of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, I have compiled these biographies of just a handful of the thousands of those from the East End who served in the conflict. These photographs are selected from those gathered by Tower Hamlets Community Housing for their exhibition which runs until 29th August at 285 Commercial Rd.

George Gristey was born in Hackney on 13th March 1890. At the time of his death his mother, Laura, lived in Cranbrook Rd, Green St, Bethnal Green. George served as a Private in the East Surrey Regiment and was killed in action in Belgium on 23rd June 1915 and buried at Woods Cemetery, south-east of Ypres in West Flanders.

Read more East End Soldiers Of World War One | Spitalfields Life.