… ring the bells at Whitechapel. That’s how the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons used to begin. Yes, I believe a couple of entries ago I said I would conclude telling you about the wondrous things I saw on the rest of my little stroll through the East End on Sunday. So let’s do that.
I believe I had just left the Museum of Childhood in my previous entry. Having some time to kill before a meeting with a friend in Teddington, I had a wander around the backstreets. The backstreets are where you find interesting things.
For instance, while photographing a scrapyard (my definition of “interesting” may vary from yours) I heard what appeared to be some sort of band practice. Closer investigation revealed it to be one of those gospel choir-type church services. The women outside asked if I would be interested in coming in. I had to decline, but complimented them on their enthusiasm. That’s the second time in eight days someone’s tried to save my soul. Guess I must look like a lost sheep or something.
While photographing the building you see on the left there, I was taken by surprised by a loud “CRACK!” Naturally, I assumed it was a concealed sniper – you make a lot of dangerous enemies in my line of work (admin). So I was somewhat relieved when I rounded the corner and discovered it was a young woman practising with a bullwhip on Stepney Green. I would have photographed her as well, but I didn’t want to get too close. I’ve seen the Indiana Jones films.
As you’ve now no doubt gathered (if you know the area), my walk had taken me into Whitechapel. Whitechapel is an area of notoriety. Historically, this is because it’s immediately outside the City and therefore was a good place for putting the things they didn’t want inside the City – industries unpleasant to the senses and the people who worked in them (incidentally, Southwark similarly became a notorious part of London due to its position immediately outside the City).
What it’s most notorious for, of course, is the Jack the Ripper killings. Psychogeographers would claim that the reason brutal deeds tend to centre on certain parts of London far more than others is because of malign influences. This, I think, ignores the more prosaic but more likely explanation that the City of London and its immediate environs remained largely unchanged for centuries. Whitechapel was a poor industrial district in the 17th century and it was a poor industrial district in the 19th century. It’s only been in the late 20th century that these districts have really been allowed to go upmarket.
A psychogeographer would no doubt say that the notorious event that took place at this pub in 1966 is entirely unremarkable in an area frequented by Jack the Ripper and the Elephant Man. Regardless of whether you go along with that, the pub is a landmark for the true crime fanatic.
On 9th March 1966, George Cornell made the mistake of coming in for a drink. Cornell had recently joined the Richardsons, the notorious South London gang. The Richardsons were the great rivals of the Firm, the gang headed by the Krays, icons of the East End organised crime scene. Cornell’s change of allegiance made the Richardsons a little too powerful for the Krays’ liking (he had joined at the same time as the infamous Mad Frankie Fraser). The fact that Cornell had referred to the somewhat highly strung (or psychotic) Ronnie Kray as a “fat poof” sealed the deal – the guy was going down.
It says something about the hold the Krays had over the East End that Ronnie could openly walk into a pub on a main road in broad daylight and shoot a man in front of a bar full of witnesses without fear. Indeed, when questioned, everyone in that bar found themselves unable to clearly recall events, and it looked like the Krays were going to get away with it once again. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1968, when several members of the Firm were arrested in a big push by Nipper Read of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, that the witnesses remembered what had happened.
Despite my best efforts, a hipster wandered into the above photo. My apologies.
Confounding the psychogeographers, though, would be the other event for which the Blind Beggar is famous. It was on the pavement here, 101 years earlier, that William Booth, seen on your right, gave his first Whitechapel public sermon. Booth was your standard fire-and-brimstone Methodist preacher, and chose the poverty-stricken, overcrowded and crime-ridden slums of Whitechapel as the ideal place to start his Christian Mission. Here he and his family ran soup kitchens as well as offering religious services to the poor and needy. This Mission would later become the Salvation Army. Booth is commemorated for his work by two statues within a few yards of each other. I kind of wish I’d used the one that doesn’t have such an unfortunate poster next to it.
Of course, if the psychogeographical folks wanted to confound me, they could point out that an attempt was made to bring me into Christianity just a few minutes’ walk from Booth’s early attempts to do the same. But I’d rather they didn’t.