A new regular section in which we explain some of the city’s language. First up, we’re taking a quick look at the word ‘Cockney’.
The word, which has been used as far back as the Middle Ages to describe a ‘cock’s egg’ or weird egg, was apparently once used to refer to “weak” urbanite men (as opposed to the tougher men of the country).
But in more recent times, it was used to refer to someone born within hearing distance of the ‘Bow bells’ – the bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow in the City.
This meant it came to be particularly associated with people from the city’s East End (although the bells can apparently be heard for at least a couple of miles in any direction – legend has Dick Whittington apparently hearing them calling to him more than four miles away in Highgate).
As well as referring to the people, the word is also used for the distinctive dialect, known as Cockney Rhyming slang, of those who lived in the area.
Interestingly, thanks to World War II preparations, the bells of St Mary-le-Bow were silent from 13th June, 1940, and, following their destruction in an air-raid the following year, were not replaced until 1961. This has led some to conclude that because no bells were rung during this 21 year period, no Cockneys were born then.
Cranes above Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. PICTURE: Gabriel Kraus/Unsplash.
Located outside Bow railway station in East London (and not far from the Bryant & May match factory), the Bryant & May Testimonial Fountain was built to celebrate the success of a campaign against the imposition of a tax on matches which had been proposed in 1871.
The proposed tax of half a pence per 100 matches, which had even attracted the attention of Queen Victoria who questioned its wisdom, sparked a march on Parliament by several thousand match-makers which led to clashes with police and allegations of brutality.
The Gothic fountain which featured a steeple topped by a cross and access to water on several side was erected by public subscription in 1872 and formally unveiled in October of that year.
The fountain was demolished in the early 1950s when the road was widened (the factory meanwhile closed down in 1979 when the work was moved to Liverpool). A plaque commemorating the former fountain is located close to the site near the former Poplar Town Hall.
PICTURE: A print of the Bryant & May Testimonial Fountain, printed by James Akerman (1872-1880) © The Trustees of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0/image cropped)
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.
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.
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).
• Queen Elizabeth II opened the new Information Age gallery at the Science Museum this week by sending her first tweet. Following a tour of the new gallery exploring the way technologies – including everything from the telegraph through to the world wide web – have transformed the way we communicate, the Queen tweeted: “It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.” The gallery in the South Kensington museum explores the growth of communications technologies through important events such as the sinking of the Titanic in the Atlantic in 1912, the first BBC broadcast in 1922, the TV broadcast of the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the creation of the first international link on the ARPANET network – the forerunner of the internet – by University College London in 1973. Entry to the new gallery is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.
• In a European first (and only the second time it’s occurred around the world), an East London skatepark has been given heritage protection. Known as ‘the Rom’, the Hornchurch structure was purpose-built in 1978 by leading skatepark designers Adrian Rolt and G-Force. It has been listed as Grade II and is only the second skatepark to in the world to win such protection with the first being the ‘Bro Bowl’ in Tampa, Florida, added to the US National Register of Historic Places in October last year. Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey said the listing is testament to the park’s design. The listing was carried out on the advice of English Heritage.
• The Natural History Museum’s ice rink opens today, the 10th year it’s been positioned outside the stunning South Kensington building. The 1,000 square metre rink has been decorated with 80,000 fairy lights and a 40 foot high Christmas tree, and this year has been joined by an interactive Lindt Christmas chalet where you’ll be able to sample complimentary truffles and join in activities. The rink is open to 4th January. For more, see www.nhmskating.com.
• The works of pioneering Canadian artist Emily Carr are the focus of a new exhibition opening at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south on Saturday. From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia is the first major solo exhibition in Europe dedicated to the modernist artist who lived between 1871 and 1945. It features more than 140 works and indigenous artefacts as well as a recently discovered illustrated journal, Sister and I in Alaska, in which Carr documented her pivotal trip up and down the north-west coast of Canada in 1907. Highlights include Totem and Forest, (Untitled) Seascape and View in Victoria Harbour, one of a number of momentary records left behind in her trunk after her death. Runs until 8th March. Admission charge applies. See www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk for more.
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Located on the north bank of the River Thames in Wapping, East London, this pub owes its name to the infamous mariner who met his end at nearby Execution Dock.
Located in what was originally a warehouse, the pub – one of several riverside pubs in Wapping – only apparently dates from the 1980s but the historic location – and the ample views it provides over the river from its garden area – ensures it still has plenty of atmosphere.
Captain William Kidd himself was a Scot, born in 1645, who took to the seas in the Caribbean where he operated as a privateer. It was during a voyage in the Indian Ocean – he had set off from London in 1696 – that he undertook actions which led him to being accused of murder and piracy, something he discovered upon his return to the Caribbean soon after.
He traveled to the North American city of Boston to plead his case with the governor but was instead arrested and eventually sent to England where he stood trial for piracy and murder. He was found guilty on all charges and was hanged on 23rd May, 1701, at Execution Dock – believed to have been located just to the west of the pub – in Wapping.
It was apparently a messy affair – the hangman’s rope broke on the first attempt and he was only successfully hanged on the second. Kidd’s tar-covered body was later displayed in a gibbet hung over the Thames at Tilbury Point as a warning to other pirates for three years.
Kidd’s fame grew after his death, thanks in large part to rumours he’d left buried treasure someone in the US, and his name has become somewhat synonymous with piracy ever since.
The pub, at 108 Wapping High Street, is operated by Samuel Smith’s.
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
A bit of a harder one this week (so we thought we’d leave a bit longer before giving you the answer!). This is a sculptural figure – aptly named Figurehead for Docklands – which stands at the north-east corner of Poplar Dock in East London. Designed in 1997 by Anna Bisset, it’s made of cast iron and welded steel and was inspired by the idea of ship’s figureheads. Initially put on show at Tidal Basin, Royal Victoria Dock, over the summer of 1995 as part of an outdoor exhibition organised by the University of East London and the London Docklands Development Corporation, it was subsequently purchased by the LLDC and put on permanent display in its current location. For more of Anna Bisset’s work, visit www.annabisset.co.uk.
We’ll post our next Where is it? over the weekend…
The discoveries, uncovered at the Plumstead tunnel entrance site in East London (not far from Belmarsh Prison), also included two wooden stakes that may have been cut by early hunters with an axe and which may have been used in the building of a timber path, part of a network which allowed hunters to access wetland areas about 3,500 years ago.
“Although we haven’t identified an actual track way yet, the timbers are similar to those used to make the track ways and certainly show that people were in the area exploiting the woodland,” says Mr Carver. “This is a promising find as we continue our search for evidence of a Bronze Age transport route along where London’s newest railway will run.”
Previous objects found at Crossrail project sites include human bones from the medieval period, a find of rare amber and a piece from a mammoth’s jaw bone.
The latest finds, which are now being examined by Museum of London Archaeology, were made as a month long exhibition opens at Crossrail’s Tottenham Court Road Visitor Information Centre (16-18 St Giles High Street), displaying previous objects found during the project.
Meanwhile, as part of the exhibition, Mr Carver will also host a Q&A session on Twitter (#BisontoBedlam) today between 2pm and 9pm during which he will answer questions on Crossrail’s archaeology programme and the exhibition.
Crossrail, Europe’s largest construction project, will see the construction of a new rail link running along a 73 mile route across the city.
For more on Crossrail, see www.crossrail.co.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of Crossrail.
A selection of objects chosen by leading designers and architects including Sir Terence Conran, Sir Paul Smith, Zaha Hadid, and Norman Foster were buried within the foundations of the soon-to-be Design Museum in Kensington High Street earlier this month. The objects, which included everything from a miniature model of an 1949 Wish Bone Chair to an iPhone, a Cylinder Line Coffee Pot, a tin of anchovies and Tube maps, were placed within a time capsule which was buried as part of a ground-breaking ceremony for the new museum. Designed by John Pawson, the new Design Museum will be based within the converted interior of the former Commonwealth Institute Building. Expected to open in 2015, it will have three times as much space as the existing premises in Shad Thames, south east London. For more, see http://designmuseum.org.
PICTURE: Dominic French.
It was during the reign of King James I that the first permanent English settlement was made in what was then called the New World (and is now better known as the United States of America).
The ‘discovery’ and settlement of the New World impacted London itself in various ways – here we look at a couple of related sites in London…
First up is Blackwall in East London, from where three small merchant ships of the Virginia Company of London sailed in 1606 under orders from King James I to bring back gold from the New World. The site is now marked by the First Settlers Monument, first unveiled in 1928 and then restored in 1999.
Among those who was on board the ships is Captain John Smith (he of Pocahontas fame) – a statue of him can be found in Bow Churchyard in the City (pictured right, it’s a replica of an original in Richmond, Virginia). Captain Smith was buried in St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, where there is a window commemorating him.
Next we turn to the former, now non-existent, property of John Tradescant and his son, also John Tradescant. Gardeners to the rich and famous and avid collectors of all sorts of artefacts, they are noted for having founded “The Ark” – a house in Lambeth, in they showed off a collection of curiosities that they had gathered on his trips (both were were widely travelled).
These included objects presented to by American colonists including John the Elder’s friend Captain John Smith and those collected by personally by John the Younger (he made several trips to the New World). Among them was the mantle of Powhattan, the father of Pocahontas.
The pair’s name lives on in Tradescant Road in Lambeth (it marks one side of the Tradescant estate). They are both buried at St Mary-at-Lambeth which now houses the Garden Museum.