It was on 7th September, 1940, that the German bombers raided London in what was to be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombings and the start of the air attacks on the city known as the Blitz (short for ‘Blitzkrieg’ meaning ‘lightning war’ in German).

Almost 350 German bombers, escorted by more than 600 Messerschmitt fighters, were involved in the raid on what became known as “Black Saturday”.

This first wave of bombing, which ended just after 6pm on what had been a hot day, largely targeted London’s docks in attempt to destroy the city’s infrastructure and industrial sites including the munitions factories of the Woolwich Arsenal, gasworks at Beckton, West Ham power station and oil storage tanks at Thameshaven.

A second wave, which lasted eight hours and involved another 400 bombers, arrived from 8pm striking Millwall, commercial docks at Tilbury and Thameshaven, and the heavily populated slums of the East End in localities including Silvertown, Canning Town, East Ham, Poplar, Stratford, Wapping, and Whitechapel.

Hundreds of tons of bombs were dropped in the raids during which some 448 of London’s civilians were killed and 1,600 injured. Some of the fires started in the bombing burned for five days with the flames visible for miles.

While the attack was the first day of the Blitz, it was actually the 60th day of the Battle of Britain in which the German Luftwaffe had targeted air fields, oil installations and other war-related infrastructure.

While Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had gone on radio on the day of the raid, describing it as an “historic hour, in which for the first time the German Luftwaffe has struck at the heart of the enemy”, the strategy shift – to target London instead of the air defence-related installations – proved to be what Hugh Dowding, chief of Fighter Command described as a “mistake”, giving the defences time to rebuild.

But at the time, the attack on London was believed at the time to herald the start of a full invasion. It’s known that as the Luftwaffe attacked the East End, the military chiefs of staff were meeting in Whitehall – at 8pm that night, just as the second wave of planes was starting to bomb the city, they issued the code word ‘Cromwell’ which indicated that invasion was imminent and defending troops need to prepare.

The planned invasion – Operation Sea Lion – never eventuated but the Blitz was to continue until May the following year.

PICTURE: The London docks ablaze during the Blitz on 7th September, 1940. Palls of smoke rise in the docks beyond the Tower of London with the Surrey Docks to the right of the bridge and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. PICTURE: © Port of London Authority Collection / Museum of London. For more on the ‘Docklands at War’, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/permanent-galleries/docklands-war.

Cranes above Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. PICTURE: Gabriel Kraus/Unsplash.


This east London district was recorded as far back as the 13th century when it was a rural area. The name comes from the obvious – it was located on the old London to Colchester Road about a mile east of Aldgate.

Its location so close to London – and the fact it was common land – meant Mile End was favoured as a recreational space by Londoners eager to escape the confines of the city.

It was here in 1381 that Jack Straw camped with the men from Essex during the Peasant’s Revolt and it was here that, even as Was Tyler and his men murdered Simon of Sudbury in the Tower of London, King Richard II famously met with the leaders of the revolt.

The area, which became known as Mile End Old Town (an unconnected area to the west was known as Mile End New Town), was gradually developed from the 16th century and attracted working class housing and, thanks to its affordability, a relatively high number of immigrants. The Mile End Tube station opened in 1902.

The area suffered in the Blitz during World War II and the first V-1 flying bomb to hit the city landed next to the Grove Road railway bridge on 13th June, 1944, killing eight civilians and injuring 30.

Famous figures connected to Mile End include explorer Captain James Cook, who lived in a now demolished house on Mile End Road between 1764-76.

Landmarks include the Trinity Almshouses (built in 1695, they’re the last survivors of several almshouses built in the area) and the Frederick Arthur Walters-designed Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church which was built 1903 by Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, as a memorial to his youngest sister, Lady Margaret Howard.

The People’s Palace – a five acre entertainment and educational facility which included a library, swimming pool, gym and winter garden – was completed in 1892 on Mile End Road. Destroyed by fire in 1931, it was rebuilt but finally closed in 1954.

The two halves of the 79 acre linear Mile End Park, which bisected by Mile End Road, is joined by The Green Bridge over the road.

PICTURES: Top – Mile End Road featuring The Guardian Angels Catholic Church on the right and Mile End Park on the left (Matt Brown /licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Mile End Tube Station (Chris Jones/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

PICTURE: Robert Bye/Unsplash

A new exhibition charting the history of Henry Moore’s sculpture, Draped Seated Woman (known affectionately as Old Flo), has opened at Canary Wharf. Indomitable Spirit features traces the creation of the 2.5 metre high bronze sculpture in 1957-58, its placement in 1962 on the Stafford Estate in Stepney, and, in 1997, its removal to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where it has spent the last 20 years before returning to the East End – this time Cabot Square – last year.  It also explores the artist’s life, career and legacy and the reasons as to why Old Flo – part of an edition of six sculptures – became such an important feature in the East End. The exhibition can be seen in the lobby of One Canada Square until 6th April. Admission is free. For more, see www.canarywharf.com. PICTURE: Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Woman’, Canary Wharf.

The first of two Peter Pan-themed weekends kicks off at the Museum of London Docklands this Saturday. Adventures in Peter Pan’s Neverland features a series of interactive events film screenings and performances across the weekend with professional character actors leading workshops and re-enacting short scenes from the story. There will also be “sightings” of Captain Hook’s pirates and other characters and two screenings of the classic animated film Peter Pan each day. Money will be raised for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity through donations on ticket sales and other fundraising activities during the event. Runs from 10.45am to 4pm this Saturday and Sunday and again on 3rd and 4th March. Tickets start at £4. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

On Now: Winner-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic. This exhibition at the V&A, which is closing on 8th April, features original drawings by EH Shepard – on show in the UK for the first time – created to illustrate AA Milne’s classic tale and, as well as examining Milne’s story-telling techniques and Shepard’s illustrative style, takes a look at the real people, relationships and inspirations behind the bear’s creation. Around 230 objects are featured in the display and as well as original manuscripts, illustrations, proofs and early editions, they include letters, photographs, cartoons, ceramics, fashion and video and audio clips, with the latter including a 1929 recording of Milne reading Winnie-the-Pooh). Other highlights include Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh manuscript and pages from the manuscript of House at Pooh Corner as well as Shepard’s first character portraits of Winnie and Christopher Robin nursery tea set which was presented to then-Princess Elizabeth in 1928. Admission charge applies. For more see, www.vam.ac.uk/winniethepooh. PICTURE: Line block print, hand coloured by E.H. Shepard, 1970, © Egmont, reproduced with permission from the Shepard Trust

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London’s Docklands Light Railway – the DLR as it’s better known – is celebrating 30 years of operation. The railway was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in the summer of 1987 and then had just 11 single carriage trains serving 15 stations. Extended six times since and now including some 38 kilometres of track, it now serves 45 stations using mainly three carriage trains. Carrying some 6.7 million passengers in its first year, it now carries a massive 122 million people annually. To mark the occasion, Transport for London has released a Destination DLR travel guide featuring 30 attractions across east and south-east London all easily reached by the DLR, ranging from the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and the Tower of London to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Wilton’s Music Hall. Transport for London have also released a new diagram of the DLR system (pictured below). PICTURES: Transport for London.

st-katharine-docksThe name for this dock, located just to the east of Tower Bridge, comes from a 12th century established to help the poor known as St Katharine’s Hospital which was once located in the vicinity.

The hospital, which was named at St Katharine – whom tradition holds was martyred in the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Maxentius – was founded by Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, in 1147, for the maintenance of 13 poor people.

It was supported by various English queens over the ensuing centuries, including Eleanor, beloved wife of King Edward I, who granted it a new charter in 1273, and Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward III, who drew up new regulations for the running of the hospital in 1351.

Having survived an attempt to have the hospital abolished by Puritans in the 17th century and an attempt to burn it down during the late 18th century Gordon Riots, in the early 19th century demand for new docks brought about the old hospital’s final demolition.

In 1825, the hospital relocated to Regent’s Park. Now known as the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, it is currently located in Limehouse, having moved there in 1948 (we’ll take a more in depth look at the history of St Katharine’s Hospital in an upcoming post).

The docks, meanwhile, was opened in 1828 following the removal of more than 1,200 homes and a brewery as well as the old hospital – works carried out despite a public outcry and, apparently, no compensation. Designed by Thomas Telford (of the Iron Bridge fame – this was apparently his only London project), the docks occupy a 23 acre site and featured a central basin opening to two docks lined with brick warehouses.

The docks were closed in 1968 and in the years since, the warehouses have been converted into shops, eateries, offices and residences while the waters are now used as a marina for luxury yachts.

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
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Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Christmas tree in Waterloo Place. PICTURE: William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Carnaby Street. decorations PICTURE: Roger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Oxford Street under lights. PICTURE: Paolo Braiuca/Flickr/CC BY 2.0  (image cropped).

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A floating Christmas tree at St Katharine Docks. PICTURE: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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September is the month of ‘Totally Thames’, London’s celebration of its mighty river, so we thought it only fitting that we look at one of the city’s riverside treasures.

Located to the east of the City at Trinity Buoy Wharf on the north bank of the Thames can be found London’s only lighthouse (pictured left). No longer operational, it was built between 1864-66 for what became known as the Corporation of Trinity House, an association of shipmen and mariners.

trinity-wharf-lighthouseGranted its charter by King Henry VIII in 1514, in 1573 it was given the authority to erect and maintain beacons, mark and signs to help sea navigation. It’s since been the provider of buoys, lighthouses and lightships and, while headquartered at Trinity House in the City of London, established Trinity Bouy Wharf, located at the confluence of the Bow and Thames Rivers, as its Thames-side workshop in 1803.

The wharf was originally used to make and store wooden buoys and sea marks and as a mooring site for the Trinity House yacht which laid and collected buoys.

The lighthouse is the second on the site – the first was built in 1854 by the then chief engineer of Trinity House James Walker. The second, existing, lighthouse was built James Douglass – Walker’s successor – and as an “experimental lighthouse” was used for testing equipment and training lighthouse keepers.

The wharf, meanwhile, continued to be used until 1988 when it was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the site is now leased to Urban Space Management who have developed it as a centre for art and cultural activities. The area around the wharf also now features two prototype “cities” made out of shipping containers.

The first of three weekends celebrating the creation of the world’s longest double herbaceous borders – known as the Great Broad Walk Borders – will be held at Kew Gardens this weekend. Made up of 30,000 plants, the borders run along 320 metres of the Broad Walk which was originally landscaped in the 1840s by William Nesfield to provide a more dramatic approach to the newly constructed Palm House (completed in 1848). The spirit of the formal colourful beds he created along either side of the walk have been recreated using a range of plants. To celebrate, Kew are holding three themed weekends, the first of which, carrying a history and gardens theme, is this Saturday and Sunday. As well as talks and drop-in events, there will be a range of family-related activities as well as craft workshops, tours, and shopping. Further weekends will be held on 13th and 14th August (around the theme of the excellence of horticulture at Kew) and the bank holiday weekend of 27th to 29th August (around the theme of a celebration of beauty). For more, head to www.kew.org.

A new exhibition centring on the experiences of UK citizens and residents suspected but never convicted of terrorism-related activities and the role of the British Government in the ‘Global War on Terror’ opens at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth today. Edmund Clark: War on Terror, Clark’s first major solo show in the UK, looks at the measures taken by states to protect their citizens from the threat of international terrorism and their far-reaching effects, exploring issues like security, secrecy, legality and ethics. Among the photographs, films and documents on display are highlights from five series of Clark’s work including Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition, created in collaboration with counter-terrorism investigator Crofton Black, and other works including the film Section 4 Part 20: One Day on a Saturday, photographs and images from the series Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out and Letter to Omar as well as the first major display of the work Control Order House. Runs until 28th August, 2017. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-london/edmund-clark-war-of-terror.

The only English football captain to win a World Cup, Bobby Moore, has become the first footballer to be honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque. The plaque was unveiled at the footballer’s childhood home at 43 Waverley Gardens in Barking, East London, this week. Moore is best remembered for leading England to a 4-2 win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The camera is the subject of a new photography display which opened at the V&A in South Kensington last weekend. The Camera Exposed features more than 120 photographs, including works by more than 57 known artists as well as unknown amateurs. Each work features at least one camera and include formal portraits, casual snapshots, still-lifes, and cityscapes. Among the images are pictures of photographers such as Bill Brandt, Paul Strand and Weegee with their cameras along with self-portraits by Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander and André Kertész in which the camera appears as a reflection or shadow. The display includes several new acquisitions including a Christmas card by portrait photographer Philippe Halsman, an image of photojournalist W Eugene Smith testing cameras and a self-portrait, taken by French photojournalist Pierre Jahan using a mirror. Runs in gallery 38A until 5th March. Free admission. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/the-camera-exposed.

Sixty years of fanzines – from the development of zine-making back in the 1940s through to today’s – go on show at the Barbican Music Library in the City on Monday. FANZINES: a Cut-and-Paste Revolution features zines including VAGUE, Sniffing’ Glue, Bam Balam, Fatal Visions, Hysteria and Third Foundation among others. The exhibition, which runs until 31st August, is being held in conjunction with this year’s PUNK LONDON festival. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/libraries-and-archives/our-libraries/Pages/Barbican-Music-Library.aspx.

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The world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide opened at the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the UK’s tallest public artwork – in London’s east last week.
Standing 178 metres high, the slide wraps around the sculpture 12 times as it descends toward earth, providing a 40 second ride of speeds up to 15 kph through a series of twists and turns including a tight corkscrew section known as the ‘bettfeder’ (named after the German word for ‘bedspring’). The slide, which was designed by Belgian artist Carsten Höller at the invitation of Sir Anish Kapoor, designer of the ArcelorMittal Orbit (constructed for the 2012 Olympic Games), is open until 30th December. For more on the Slide and to book, see http://arcelormittalorbit.com/whats-on/the-slide/. PICTURES: Supplied.

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Westminster Abbey is to remain open all night next Thursday (30th June) for a vigil in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It’s the first time the abbey has been open for an all-night vigil since the Cuban missile crisis more than 50 years ago. The vigil around the Grave of the Unknown Warrior will be mounted from 8.45pm next Thursday, 30th June, through to 7.30am on Friday, 1st July (last entry to the abbey is at 7.15am). The public are invited to attend the vigil following an evening service at 8pm on Thursday which will be attended by Queen Elizabeth II and broadcast live on BBC Two. The vigil, which will end with the firing of World War I guns in Parliament Square by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, will see a series of 15 minute watches kept by service personnel and community groups representing those involved in the battle and there will also be readings from contemporary accounts. No tickets are required and entry, which is free, is via the abbey’s visitor entrance at the North Door. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

CorotEver wondered what attracts artists to collect particular paintings? Answers abound at a new summer exhibition opening at The National Gallery today. Painters’ Paintings’: From Freud to Van Dyck features a series of ‘case studies’, each of which is devoted to works gathered by a particular ‘painter-collector’ including Lucien Freud, Henri Matisse, Hillaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Frederic, Lord Leighton, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Anthony van Dyck. The display was inspired by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s work Italian Woman which was left to the nation by Lucien Freud following his death in 2011. “It made us start considering questions such as which paintings do artists choose to hang on their own walls,” explains Anne Robbins, curator of the exhibition. “How do the works of art they have in their homes and studios influence their personal creative journeys? What can we learn about painters from their collection of paintings? Painters’ Paintings’: From Freud to Van Dyck is the result.” The exhibition features works from the gallery’s own collection as well as loans from public and private collections. Admission charges apply. Runs until 4th September. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Italian Woman, or Woman with Yellow Sleeve (L’Italienne) about 1870/© The National Gallery, London.

The East End Canal Festival takes place at the Art Pavilion, Mile End Park this Sunday. The programme, being run by the Friends of Regent’s Canal, includes boat trips as well as guided canal history walks and a range of performances, films, stalls, exhibitions featuring historic photos and locally made artworks, children’s activities and food. The festivities at the Clinton Road site are free. For more, see http://friendsofregentscanal.org/events/eecf.html.

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V1-flying-bombNot all of the plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme commemorate people, some also commemorate places and events – the saddest of which is no doubt the landing of the first deadly V1 flying bomb on London during World War II.

Located in Bow in the East End is a plaque commemorating the site where the first flying bomb fell on London on 13th June, 1944, a week after D-Day and several months since the last bombs had fallen on London in what was known as the “mini-blitz”.

Carrying some 850 kilograms of high explosive, the unmanned, fast-moving bomb dived to the ground at about 4.25am on the morning of the 13th, badly damaging the railway bridge and track, destroying houses and, sadly, killing six people.

It was to be the start of a new bombing offensive which would eventually see around 2,500 of the V1 flying bombs reach London between June, 1944, and March, 1945.

They were responsible for killing more than 6,000 people and injuring almost 18,000 and were followed by the even more advanced V2 long range rockets – the world’s first ballistic missiles – in September, 1944. These were responsible for another 2,754 deaths in London before the war’s end.

The current plaque on the railway bridge in Grove Road was erected in 1998 by English Heritage and replaced one which was erected by the Greater London Council in 1985 and subsequently stolen.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/CC BY-SA 4.0

There’s quite a few whose London residence (or otherwise) is commemorated by more than one blue plaque. So, breaking away from our usual ‘one plaque’ format, here were listing five of those who have made the grade…

William-Wilberforce-blue-plaque1. William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The late 18th century and early 19th century politician and anti-slavery campaigner tops our list with three English Heritage blue plaques. The first is at 111 Brookwood Road in Battersea – the site of Brookwood House where Wilberforce resided during his anti-slavery campaign. The second is on Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common, the church where Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect with whom he is associated worshipped. And the third is on a property at 44 Cadogan Place in Chelsea where Wilberforce died.

2. Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Like Wilberforce, the 18th century lexicographer Dr Johnson has three English Heritage blue plaques to his name. The first, on his famous Gough Square property in the City of London we’ve already mentioned (see our earlier post here), while the second is on a property at 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden, then occupied by bookseller Thomas Davies, which was where Dr Johnson famously first met James Boswell in 1763. The third time Dr Johnson’s name appears, more unusually, is on a plaque commemorating Essex Street – Dr Johnson is among a number of names listed on it for his role in establishing an “evening club” at the pub, the Essex Head, in the street in 1783.

3. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703): The 17th century diarist seems to pop-up everywhere in central London so it’s not surprising there are two plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme dedicated to him (although both are located in the same street – one he apparently liked very much). The plaques are located at number 12 and number 14 Buckingham Street in Covent Garden and both mark the site of a Pepys residence.

4. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): The writer, publisher and literary critic’s name appears on two properties – at 29 Fitzroy Square in Fitzrovia where Woolf lived between 1907-1911 and on Hogarth House at 34 Paradise Road in Richmond where she and Leonard Woolf lived between 1915-1924 (and also where they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917).

5. William Morris (1834-1896): The poet and artist has two English Heritage blue plaques to his credit – the first on 17 Red Lion Square in Holborn where Morris lived in a flat from 1856-1859 with Sir Edward C Burne-Jones, and the second on Red House in Bexleyheath where he and his wife Jane Burden lived from 1860-1865.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0 (image cropped)

The final in our series looking at London ‘battlefields’, this week we take a look at the so-called Battle of London, the air war fought over London during World War II which, along with the bombing of other British cities, is best known by the phrase The Blitz (it forms part of the greater Battle of Britain).

Blitz-memorialTaking place from the afternoon of 7th September, 1940, until May, 1941, the Blitz saw London sustain repeated attacks from the German Luftwaffe, most notably between 7th September and mid November when the city was bombed on every night bar one.

The night of 7th September, the first night of the Blitz (a short form of ‘Blitzkrieg’ – German for ‘lightning war’), was among the worst – with more than 450 killed and 1,300 injured as wave after wave of bombers attacked the city. Another 412 were killed the following night.

One of the most notorious raids took place on 29th December when  incendiary bombs dropped on the City of London starting what has been called the Second Great Fire of London. Around a third of the city was destroyed, including more than 30 guild halls and 19 churches, 16 which had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The city was only attacked sporadically in the early months of 1941 but the night of the last major raid of the Blitz – that of 10th May, a night subsequently known as The Longest Night – saw the highest casualties of any night with almost 1,500 people reportedly killed.

The Blitz killed almost 30,000 civilian in London, and destroyed more than a million homes with the worst hit districts poorer areas like the East End.

The battle wasn’t one-sided – the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies and did have some wins – on 15th September (a day known as Battle of Britain Day), for example, they shot down some 60 aircraft attacking London for the loss of less than 30 British fighters.

It was this victory which led the Germans to reduce the number of daylight attacks in favour of night-time raids which, until the launch of the RAF’s night-time fighters in 1941, meant they met little effective resistance. This included that of ground defences – throughout December, 1940, it’s said that anti-aircraft fire only brought down 10 enemy planes.

Yet, the Blitz did not lead to a German victory. For the Nazi regime, the purpose of the constant bombing of London (and other cities) was aimed at sapping the morale of its residents to the extent that they would eventually be forced to beg for peace. But the plan failed and Londoners, digging deep, proved their mettle in the face of fear.

Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in  Civil Defence working in a range of jobs – everything from air raid shelter wardens to rescue and demolition teams – and worked alongside firefighters whose numbers were supplemented by an auxiliary service. Naturally all suffered a high level of casualties.

As the weeks passed, the carnage mounted in terms of the loss of and damage to life, destruction of property and psychological toll. And yet the Londoners – sheltering Underground, most famously in the tunnels of the Tube – survived and, as had been the case after the first Great Fire of London, the ruined city was eventually rebuilt.

There are numerous Blitz-related memorials in London, many related to specific bombings. But among the most prominent are the National Firefighters Memorial, located opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, which pays tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in the war (as well as in peacetime), and a riverside memorial in Wapping honouring civilians of East London killed in the Blitz.

We hit the 20th century with this London ‘battle’, a confrontation in Stepney between police and a range of anti-fascist and fascist forces in the lead-up to World War II.

Battle-of-Cable-Street-red-plaqueThe ‘battle’ took place on a Sunday – 4th October, 1936 – following a summer of anti-Semitic violence and was sparked by a decision by the British Union of Fascists, led by Sir Oswald Mosley , to march through the East End, then the heartland of London’s Jewish community.

Incensed at the plans (and faced with government inaction despite calls for the march to be called off), anti-fascist protestors – which included large numbers of Jewish and Irish people as well as trade unionists, communists, socialists, anarchists and local residents – gathered initially at Gardiner’s Corner (named for a department store which once on the site at the junction of Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Road) to prevent the march.

The protestors were chanting and carrying banners which read “No Parasan” (“They shall not pass”, a slogan taken from anti-fascist forces who used it during the Spanish Civil War).

Estimates as to how many people turned out in protest vary widely – from 100,000 people up to as many as 250,000 or even 500,000 – but it’s clear that whatever the actual number, the crowd was huge and vastly outnumbered the up to 3,000 fascists – known as Blackshirts – who turned up to march and the 10,000 Metropolitan Police officers, some of whom were on horseback, sent to prevent the march from being disrupted.

With the path blocked despite police charges into the crowd, Mosley and his Blackshirts were advised by authorities to head south to Cable Street but there they encountered road-blocks made from furniture, paving stones and even apparently overturned lorries which appeared at the street’s west end, around the junction with Christian Street.

Police again attempted to clear the road but were blocked by the makeshift barricades and a wall of protestors while residents in houses lining the streets threw rubbish and even the contents of chamber pots at them. Police responded by sending in squads of men to snatch the ringleaders of the protests; protestors responded by ‘kidnapping’ some police officers.

Faced with continuing violence, Mosley was forced to abandon the march and the BUF were dispersed back through the City of London. The protestors meanwhile were said to have turned the event into a giant street party in celebration of their victory.

More than 100 people were said to have been injured in the violence and some 150 of the demonstrators were arrested. Most of the charges were of a minor nature but some of the ringleaders were given up to three year terms of imprisonment.

A large mural depicting the battle was painted on the side of St George’s Town Hall in Cable Street in the 1980s and there’s also a red plaque in nearby Dock Street (pictured) commemorating the incident.

Aside from a victory in itself, the battle was the catalyst for the passing of the Public Order Act of 1936 which meant the organisers of marches would henceforth have to seek permission of the police before holding them. It also banned demonstrators from marching in uniform.

PICTURED: A plaque commemorating the ‘battle’ in Dock Street which runs off the west end of Cable Street. Via Richard Allen/Wikipedia

The-Dickens-InnOK, the first thing to note here is that despite the name of this pub, located in St Katharine Docks, it has nothing to do with the famous 19th century novelist Charles Dickens. Well, not directly, at least.

That said, it still has an interesting history – dating back to at least the turn of the 19th century (although there is the suggestion it may be older), it is thought to have formerly been used as a brewery building or a tea warehouse and stood on a site about 70 metres east of its current location.

A brick ‘skin’ was built over the top of the timber building in the 1820s to bring it up to modern standards. It survived the Blitz but was slated to be demolished in the 1970s when the site was to be redeveloped.

But help was at hand and in 1976 the building was saved when it was painstakingly moved to its current site. The building was reconstructed to resemble what the inn’s owners called a “three storey balconied inn of the 18th century” (although there is something doubt whether such buildings ever existed like this in the 18th century).

Ah, and to Dickens. While the writer himself is not known to have visited the building, he did know the area well and its likely he would have frequently passed by it during his lifetime (in fact, when his grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens, formally opened the inn in May, 1976, he is quoted on the inn’s website as saying that: “My Great Grandfather would have loved this inn”.)

Spread over three levels with balconies on the upper two, the inn originally featured a sawdust covered floor and candlelit dining on the balconies. Both practices have since come to an end but the building does offer some great views of the dock and nowadays contains several different facilities including a tavern, pizzeria and restaurant called The Grill. There’s also a suite of function rooms.

Among the famous the establishment claims as visitors in more recent times are the late Joan Rivers and singer Katie Melua.

For more information, see www.dickensinn.co.uk.

Sundial

In honour of the sun and the heatwave it’s brought this summer, here’s the giant “equinoctial” sundial on the north bank of the Thames, just east of Tower Bridge. Known as Timepiece, it is the work of London-based sculptor Wendy Taylor and was installed here, beside the lock that leads into St Katharine Docks, in 1973. Measuring more than 3.5 metres across, the dial is made from stainless steel and is supported by three chunky chain link cables. According to the plaque, it was commissioned by Strand Hotels Ltd. It’s now a Grade II-listed structure.

This former City church – now part of the parish of St Helen’s Bishopsgate – once stood on the corner of Threadneedle Street and Bishopsgate (the site is marked by a blue plaque).

St-Martin-OutwichA medieval church which was apparently rebuilt in the 14th century in the Gothic style, it was dedicated to St Martin while there is some discrepancy over the use of the name Outwich – some sources say it comes from a corruption of the name of the family who paid for its reconstruction – the Oteswich family – while others say the family in fact took their name from the church and that ‘outwich’ simply means the outer side of the wich (one of a number of Saxon words for a town).

It survived the Great Fire of 1666 but gradually fell into disrepair and in 1765 was badly damaged in another fire which destroyed some 50 houses.

In 1796, Parliament passed an act allowing the parish to raise money for its building – the donations included some from the powerful City livery companies – and after a couple of years of construction, it was consecrated in November, 1798.

Designed by Samuel P Cockerell, the church was unusual in that it featured an oval interior. Medieval stained glass from the original church was placed in a window over the altar while some of the monuments that had been present in the old church – including one commemorating John Oteswich and his wife – were transferred to the new. The dead buried at St Martin Outwich, meanwhile, were reburied in the City of London churchyard (where a memorial to them can now be seen).

A painting from 1838 shows a curved interior with high semi-circular windows, some intricate medieval monuments and closed in box pews.

Thanks to a falling population and pressure to widen the streets, the church was eventually demolished in 1874 and the parish amalgamated with St Helen’s. As had previously happened, a number of monuments – including the Oteswich memorial – which were in the old church were moved to St Helen’s before its demolition.

Proceeds from the sale of the church grounds were used to fund the construction of Holy Trinity Church in Dalston. Built in the late 1870s to the designs of Ewan Christian, it is perhaps best known as the Clown’s Church and is where the clown service is usually held each year.

PICTURE: sleepymyf

Sidney-Street

Sir Winston Churchill will be forever associated with this now rather nondescript East London street, thanks to a series of events that occurred when he was Home Secretary.

Known as the Siege of Sidney Street or the Battle of Stepney, the event was sparked when, on 16th December, 2010, a gang of Russian and Latvian exiles attempted to break into a jewellers in Houndsditch by tunnelling from an adjacent property in Exchange Buildings.

Tipped off by a neighbour, the police arrived and in the series of events that followed, a number of officers were shot and three – Sergeant Charles Tucker, PC Walter Choate and Sergeant Robert Bentley – were killed (Sergeant Tucker died at the scene and the latter two later that day in hospital). The event became known as the Houndsditch Murders.

The gang members largely escaped – although one gang member, George Gardstein, was later found dead of wounds he had received during the gunfight – and an intensive manhunt commenced for the gang.

Some two weeks later, on 2nd January, 1911, police were informed that several members of the gang, including the alleged mastermind known as Peter the Painter (who may not have even existed or who may have been a Polish decorator Peter Piaktow), were hiding at a property at 100 Sidney Street.

Expecting fierce resistance, several hundred police officers moved in to surround the property the next day and, at dawn – after encountering heavy fire from the building, the siege began.

When the then 36-year-old Churchill received word of the siege (apparently while taking a bath), he made his way to the site, already attracting crowds of onlookers, to observe and apparently offer advice.

At the scene he authorised the use of the military – including a detachment of Scots Guards from the Tower of London and 13 pounder artillery pieces. These, drawn by the Royal Horse Artillery, had just arrived when a fire began to consume the building (it may have been sparked by a bullet hitting a gas pipe). The fire brigade attended but Churchill apparently refused them entry until the shooting stopped.

The gang members inside the building never attempted to escape the building and the remains of two of them – Latvians Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow – were subsequently found in its ruins.

Along with the thee policemen killed at the attempted burglary, a firefighter – Charles Pearson – was also killed, struck by falling debris. There is a memorial plaque to him at the former site of 100 Sidney Street.

Seven supposed members of the gang were eventually captured by police but all either had the charges dropped, were acquitted or had their convictions quashed.

Churchill’s role at the six hour siege was the matter of some controversy and former PM (and then Opposition Leader) Arthur Balfour was among those who accused him of acting improperly and risking lives.

There’s a famous photo of Churchill – who was recorded by one of his biographers saying the event had been “such fun” – peering around a corner at the scene (there’s a story that a bullet tore through his top hat, almost killing him, during the siege) while the event was also one of the first news stories to be captured on film (by Pathe News).