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

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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

Now one of the world’s largest long distance running events, the first London Marathon was held on 29th March, 1981, and saw some 6,255 people lead across the finish line by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, who finished in a dead heat. The first woman to finish was the UK’s Joyce Smith.

The idea of holding such an event in London arose after John Disley and the late Chris Brasher (a former Olympian), both members of Richmond’s Raneleigh Harriers running club, decided to enter the New York Marathon in 1979. Returning to London exhilarated by their experience, they began investigating the possibly of holding such an event here and, meeting with a positive response from authorities, pushed ahead with it.

About 20,000 people applied to enter the first London Marathon but only 7,747 people were accepted to run. The course, which is still roughly the same, starts at various locations in Blackheath and passes through Charlton, Woolwich and Greenwich before crossing the Thames at Tower Bridge, looping around through the East End and Docklands before following the river into Westminster.

While the first race finished at Constitution Hill, between Green Park and Buckingham Palace, the race now finishes in The Mall (although for many years in between it finished on Westminster Bridge).

Such was the success of the first event – which was covered by the BBC – that the following year more than 90,000 people applied to run in the race from all around the world. Slightly more than 18,000 were accepted to run.

At the end of this year’s event – held on 22nd April (a runner from which is pictured) – more than 882,000 people have now completed the race. Now formally known as the Virgin London Marathon, a record high of 37,227 completed the run this year.

This year’s men’s race was won by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang who completed the race in  2:04:44 – the second fastest time over the London course – while the women’s was also won by a Kenyan – Mary Keitany – who, in taking back-to-back titles, completed the course in 2:18:37.

Since its inception, one of the key aspects of the race has been its fund-raising for a variety of charitable causes. Key among these is The London Marathon Charitable Trust which, established at the race’s outset, helps fund community sports facilities and develop recreational projects around the city.

For more on the Virgin London Marathon, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.

PICTURE: © photocritical/istockphoto.com

London’s oldest manufacturing company is the same as Britain’s oldest and is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

The company was established in 1570 (although founders have been discovered operating in the area as far back as 1420) and, according to its website, still concentrates solely on the manufacture of bells and their fittings with large church bells accounting for 80 per cent of the company’s business. The remainder of the business is involved in manufacturing handbells and other smaller bells.

The foundry’s current buildings, apparently originally used as a coaching inn named The Artichoke, date from 1670 and are presumed to have replaced structures consumed in the Great Fire of London. The foundry had earlier been located in smaller premises on the other side of Whitechapel Road.

The foundry has typically operated under the name of the master founder and owner but since 1968 has apparently operated under its current name.

The most famous bells cast at the foundry include the Liberty Bell (1752) – the symbol of American independence which cracked when first rung and was recast in Philadelphia, the Great Bell of Montreal Cathedral, ‘Great Tom’ of Lincoln Cathedral, and, of course, Big Ben (1858) – at 13,760 kilograms, the largest bell ever cast at the foundry.

Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral also feature bells cast at the foundry and replacement bells for St Mary-le-Bow and St Clement Danes made here following their destruction in World War II and bells from the foundry have been sent as far afield as Australia and India.

Among the most recent bells to be cast at the foundry are the Royal Jubilee Bells, used in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and now housed at St James Garlickhythe in the City of London (each of the bells, which bear the Royal Arms, is named after a member of the Royal Family – Elizabeth being the largest with others named Philip, Charles, Anne, Andrew, Edward, William and Henry.)

There is a small exhibition on bell-making in the foundry shop looking at the history of the foundry and bell-making in general, and one-and-a-half-hour tours of the foundry run Saturdays (booking well in advance is usually required). Additional tours are being held every day during the Olympics.

WHERE: 32/34 Whitechapel Road; WHEN: Tours are usually held on Saturdays when no work is being undertaken – see website for dates – but special tours are being held daily from 10am to 5pm, 28th July to 12th August, 2012; COST: The exhibition/museum is free but tours are usually £12 a head for over 14s (Olympic period tours are £10 a head/£25 a family – children under 14 not admitted without adult supervision) – see website for more details on purchasing tickets; WEBSITE: www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk.

An area of the East End of London which has become synonymous with the Jack the Ripper murders of the late 1880s, the origins of the name Whitechapel actually lie much further back in history.

The name dates back to the 14th century when the church of St Mary Matfelon (or Matfelun) was built on what is now the corner of Whitechapel High Street and Adler Street. The church, which was known as the “white chapel” apparently thanks to the white stone used in the walls, was apparently first constructed the mid 13th century and is said to have been named after a prominent local family. It became the parish church of Whitechapel in the 14th century.

Rebuilt and extended several times over the ensuing centuries – including in 1673 and the 1870s, it was bombed during the Blitz in 1940 and ultimately finally removed in 1952. The site where it once stood is now the Altab Ali Park, named after a young Bangladeshi man who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in Adler Street in 1978.

Whitechapel originally stood along the road, which from Roman times ran from London to Colchester. The fact it stood outside the city walls meant it to became home to some of the city’s more undesirable businesses including slaughterhouses, tanneries and breweries.

Greater numbers of poor came into the area from Middle Ages onwards and by the mid-1800s it was one of London’s most crowded, poorest and disease ridden areas, known for its immigrant population and for its rising levels of crime.

This reputation was only solidified in 1888 when the killings of the so-called murderer Jack the Ripper garnered worldwide attention for the brutal slayings of at least five women (some believe the figure should be much higher). Speculation still surrounds the Ripper’s identity.

These days, Whitechapel – along with many inner city areas – is undergoing a gentrification process and is now known as something of a hub for art and music as well as home to a street market in Brick Lane.

Ripperology aside, other notable landmarks include The Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel Road (it was here gangster Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell in 1966; its sign is pictured above) and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (described in the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, it was founded in 1570 and among the most famous bells cast there are the US Liberty Bell (1752) Big Ben (1858) – stay tuned for our upcoming ‘London’s Oldest’ entry).

The area is also home to the internationally renowned Whitechapel Gallery on the corner of Brick Lane and Whitechapel High Street and the East London Mosque, one of the largest in the UK.

Tower Bridge opens up to allow a boat to pass up the Thames. The bascule bridge (the word ‘bascule’ is taken from the French for ‘see-saw’) was completed in 1894 and was built to cater for East End traffic while minimising disruption to boats moving up and down the rive. It was the first bridge built to the east of London Bridge (a bridge which many often confuse it with!). For more information, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.