I have another old book that I haven’t even opened for many years. It is called The Face of London by Harold P Clunn.
The caption on the picture of St Paul’s on the left says “London 1946: St Paul’s Cathedral through the willow herb”. The willow herb was a weed that sprung up on bombed sites following the bombing of the city by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.
‘I have seen the greatest wonder which the world can show to the astonished spirit. I have seen it and am still astonished – and ever will there remain fixed indelibly on my memory the stone forest of houses, amid which flows the rushing stream of faces of living men with all their varied passions, and all their terrible impulses of love, of hunger and of hatred – I mean London”
These words are shown in the preface of the book and were written by Heinrich Heine, who lived in Craven Street, Strand in 1827. At that time apparently, London was the largest city in the world and had a population of 1,500,000.
I wonder how Herr Heine would react to London now. Our friend Wikipedia tells us ” In July 2010 Greater London had an official population of 7,825,200, making it the most populous municipality in the European Union, and accounting for 12.5% of the UK population. The Greater London Urban Area is the second-largest in the EU with a population of 8,278,251, while London’s metropolitan area is the largest in the EU with an estimated total population of between 12 million and 14 million. London had the largest population of any city in the world from around 1831 to 1925.
The book takes us on 25 walks around London and reinforces my feeling that I am a Londoner even though I haven’t lived there for some 50 years. It appears that the book was published in 1957. I still lived in London then and that was the year that I married my dashing young Scotsman. Nostalgia is alive and well in Wellington, New Zealand today. So I shall go away and revel in it.
As you know, I am particularly interested in the East End of London and walk number 17 takes us from The Bank to Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Mile End, Victoria Park and Stepney.
We walk along the roads that are familiar to me from my growing up years. Cambridge Heath Road runs through Bethnal Green to Hackney which is where we lived. We walk past the Bethnal Green Museum which was opened in 1872 by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) as an eastern branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This is now commonly known as the Toy Museum and is a source of wonder and delight to the young. My children were taken there on visits home when they were young and it was always on the list of ‘must visits’.
We pass the Bethnal Green underground station where I used to board the tube for my journey into the centre of London every day. What memories that brings back. Rushing to catch the interconnecting trains that would take me from the East End to the West End, But more on that some other time.
Many tales of nefarious deeds abound in this area. The siege of Houndsditch in 1911 when a group of criminals occupied several houses. A police cordon was set up and two policemen were shot dead and the ringleader of the group was mortally injured and died the next day.
There was a large brewery, Charrington & Sons where the famous Toby Ale was brewed and then past the People’s Palace which stood on the grounds of the Drapers’ Company’s Almshouses.
And on to Limehouse and the West India Docks with the East London Tabernacle which provided accommodation for some 3,000 people at the height of its popularity and into the Mile End Road leading to Victoria Park.
I have waxed lyrical about this park in the heart of London’s East End. Because of the history surrounding this park, often described as the largest and finest in London, it will have to be covered by a separate post.
When my sisters and I were growing up one of our favourite pastimes on Sunday afternoon was to take a bus into the centre of London and then walk home from there. We would take a different route each week and this was one of them.
I have enjoyed my nostalgic walk around London and will return for others.
- More Memories (growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com)
- Queen’s Jubilee visit to London’s East End (itv.com)
- East London transforming into must-see for travelling seniors (thestar.com)
- London Pride (growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com)