Smugglers, Battles, Film Stars, and Eels

English: Whitechapel Road, East London Taken f...

English: Whitechapel Road, East London Taken from outside Aldgate East station, we see that a very long articualated lorry has attempted a right turn but got into difficulties. So fer several minutes traffic came to a standstill until it was sorted out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

, Shadwell, London.

, Shadwell, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A short while ago we went back to East London to walk the other half of a walk we had been on before. This time the walk led us through the streets and markets past famous buildings and landmarks along initially Shoreditch Street. The walk goes along Whitechapel Road turning off  down to Commercial Road, then Cannon Street and Earle street in the area know as Shadwell – now very smart and full of old warehouses converted into expensive flats, and onto the Dockland area. Firstly Tobacco Dock and then alongside the river – which at least point has beaches you can walk on at low tide and some areas of paved walks; along to Shadwell Basin and the pub, The Prospect of Whitby.

The walk comes from the Time Out ‘London Walks’ series and is called Walk like a Huguenot. I don’t know if many people realise that the Huguenots came to London to escape persecution and set up silk weaving workshops here.

“The East End developed rapidly during the 19th century. Originally it was an area characterised by villages clustered around the City walls or along the main roads, surrounded by farmland, with marshes and small communities by the River, serving the needs of shipping and the Royal Navy. Until the arrival of formal docks, shipping was required to land its goods in the Pool of London, but industries related to construction, repair, and victualling of ships flourished in the area from Tudor times. The area attracted large numbers of rural people looking for employment. Successive waves of foreign immigration began with Huguenot refugees creating a new extramural suburb in Spitalfields in the 17th century. They were followed by Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jewsand, in the 20th century, Bangladeshis. ” []

‘The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church during the 16th and 17th centuries. French Protestants were inspired by the writings of John Calvin in the 1530s, and they were called Huguenots by the 1560s. By the end of the 17th century and into the 18th century, roughly 500,000 Huguenots had fled France during a series of religious persecutions.’ []

50,000 of these came to England and many settled in Shoreditch and Spitalfields and some of their weaving lofts still survive and and at least one is open as a museum. Of those not involved in silk weaving some went to the Midlands to start lace making, and others set up market gardens in Battersea across the river.

Starting the walk from the East London Mosque you are opposite the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and as you walk you will see the London Hospital where the Elephant Man lived – Joseph Carey Merrick (1862–1890), was known as “The Elephant Man” because of his physical appearance caused by a congenital defect – but no-one is quite sure exactly what combination of factors caused him to be so deformed. He lived a very short life however, dying at 27 here in the hospital.

This area during the 1960s was a notorious crime area run by the Kray Brothers and their gang which they called ‘The Firm’. The Kray brothers were notorious twins – Ronald and Reginald.  They were involved in all sorts including protection rackets, arson, armed robbery and murder and still managed to mix with many show business stars in their nightclubs!

You now come to one of the oldest buildings still left on Whitechapel Road, the Trinity Almshouses built by Wren in 1695 with amazing stone ships on the entrance. Built for the Royal Navy of course as much of Wren’s work was.

20130106_154747 20130106_154559 20130106_154438 20130106_142642 The Almshouses, and old church in the East End.

There is a plaque commemorating the house where Captain Cook, the famous explorer lived and then you turn off into a passageway called the Assembly Passage. Don’t what the name signifies but I can tell you that one of the old warehouses is now a wonderful vintage clothing shop – not a cute and expensive one but full of great clothes. Unfortunately the summer dresses I coveted were all size 8 or 10 and so not yet for me.. just wait though I’m still losing weight so one day maybe..

From here you end up in Sidney Street which is famous for its Battle….and Seige!

The East End was where people with little money and also strong political convictions went to live so Eleanor Marx, Sylvia Pankhurst and Lenin all lived here. You may recall dickens and the poor little match girl, where this is where the match girls all went on strike.

In 1911, 3 fugitive Jewish radicals were ‘holed up’ in a lodging in Sidney Street and were attacked by first the Police and then the Army all intent in capturing these radicals and sending them to prison. The house was eventually set on fire and 2 were burnt in the flames but one radical escaped.

After this you walk down Commercial Road and onto Cable Street where there was another famous battle – with Mosley’s Blackshirts matching into the East End against Communists, Dockers, Jews and anti-fascists who barricaded the street and formed a human mass to prevent the march. The police charged, horses and all, there were arrests and much blood, but the march was prevented and there is an excellent mural that commemorates this event.

The final part of our walk was at Wapping where we found the Thames again. Wapping was once the Dockland area of London and home to very poor people. It has been settled for hundreds of years by families who made their livings from the Thames and its commerce or through fishing in the river – especially eels.

We were rather tired by this time and made our way to The Prospect of Whitby pub.  Now this is a very interesting pub indeed, not just in setting – you can sit looking out over the river, nor even its internal decorations – the old wood, the flagstone floors, the low ceilings – but also for its history. As far as records can tell, it is the oldest riverside pub in London. How old? Well records indicate that in 1520(!) it was known as The Pelican and then renamed as the Devil’s Pub and became the Prospect in the 18th Century.

This pub has clearly been popular through the centuries and by such diverse characters as smugglers; thieves; pirates (both those that were ‘official’ see Queen Elizabeth 1 and Raleigh) and those that were less official, of which there were plenty; Judge Jeffries of hanging fame; Pepys the Diarist; Dickens the author; and the artists Whistler and Turner who painted wonderful pictures of the Thames. Their skies were lurid as there had been a large volcanic eruption at this period, and the ash cloud affected particularly the colours of the sunrise and sunset.

Later well know visitors to the pub include current(ish) filmstars and royalty such as Kirk Douglas, Paul Newman, Glenn Ford, Rod Steiger, and Princess Margaret.

We ate really excellent battered fish and chips – except mine was battered halloumi instead of the fish, and drank coffee and watched the sun set…

Two excellent books to read about the history of the Docklands are:

Wapping 1900-1960: Couldn’t Afford the Eels by Martha Leigh who was a GP in the area; and

English: This is a photo taken, by me, at nigh...

English: This is a photo taken, by me, at night of the whitechapel bell foundry on Whitechapel Rd, London, on 17th January. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by WJ Fishmore.


4 thoughts on “Smugglers, Battles, Film Stars, and Eels

  1. Pingback: London Pub Walks (CAMRA hiking guides) · WWW.MINFOWIZ.COM

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