Saturday was our day for visiting the market with mother to get supplies for the week. Our local market was in Ridley Road and I have written about street markets before – if you are interested in my meanderings here is the link - Down Memory Lane.
But Sundays we were taken to another market by father and here we discovered Prince Monolulu and his catch cry “I gotta horse”. Prince Monolulu (real name was Peter Mackay) was a huge, larger than life West Indian gent togged out in his finery and offering tips on the horses to anyone who would listen. He made his money selling tips, handed over in sealed envelopes. As there were few immigrants in London at the time, and this flamboyant person in both speech and dress was a figure of great interest to the three little girls and I suppose, most of the other people who came into contact with him. He was a well recognised character at most of the racetracks from the 1930s to the 1950s but of course we never were taken to the racetrack.
Petticoat Lane was where we first came across him and where he was to be found most Sundays. He was easily recognisable in his outrageous clothes and usually sporting a hat of high feathers. All the colours of the rainbow could be seen in his clothing. While Petticoat Lane has become a tourist destination for those visiting the capital, for us it was place to be taken by father while mother prepared the Sunday lunch. The stalls here were full of clothes, shoes etc a delight to three young girls who could look enviously but not buy.
But more exciting for us was the nearby Brick Lane market – often confused with Petticoat Lane. Here were the costermoners selling their wares. Everything from beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables to clothes, china, kitchenware, jewellery etc etc. And there did seem to be a lot of stalls selling bath towels and sheets and pillow cases. Of course the fruit and vegetables were fresh as they only sold what was in season. No transporting of produce around the world then or at least not for those of us who lived in the East End.
There were always puppies and older dogs for sale and in fact when we moved from the flat to the house this is where father bought our first dog – Tex the Alsatian. I am not sure that this was such a good choice at first. Three little girls who were unused to having pets and suddenly we had an Alsatian. But we quickly grew to love him and to realise that he wouldn’t hurt us but woe betide anyone who came too near when we were out with him. He was a very large, gentle animal and while I don’t remember how long we had him it seemed that he was our constant companion while we were growing up.
We must all have been living at home when Tex died because I recall my elder sister going to the Lane and buying Micky a Heinz 57 Variety dog whom we all immediately fell in love with. However Mickey turned out to be Michelle and subsequently had a litter of beautiful pups. There was great consternation when it was discovered “he” was pregnant and many hours spent wondering when this happened as “he” rarely went out without us. So we had to find homes for all these puppies – I think there were 4 or 5. They were so cute that we had no trouble re-homing them but mother declared there would be no more pups and had the dog neutered. But my how mother loved that little dog who was her constant companion when the girls and father were all out all day at work or at the weekends, at play. There was a series of dogs that followed in the footsteps of Tex and Micky after we left home but I don’t think any were as loved as were those two.
I do remember that father had a Dalmatian who was deaf and so was kept on a short lead when father walked him just in case.. And mother had a particularly bad-tempered Corgi who would nip at the children’s’ ankles whenever it had the chance.
So many memories of an East End childhood that I want to share as things are so very different now and if we don’t record our memories they will be lost as are the memories of my parents and grandparents.
“Circumstances or people can take away your material possessions, they can take away your money, and they can take away your health. But no one can ever take away your precious memories.
So, don’t forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories everyday.”
Judith Baxter Mother, sister, blogger and friend
- Open-topped buses, flat claps and bobbies on the beat: Colour video of 1920s London captures the capital in all its pre-war glory (thisismoney.co.uk)
- The Best of London’s Markets (littlelondonobservationist.wordpress.com)