Dalston, 9 November 2016.

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Photo © Jody Porter.


The Day They Left.

Surrey Steps, off Strand Lane, north of the Embankment, November 2014.

Surrey Steps, off Strand Lane, north of the Embankment, November 2014.

… by Tim Wells:

The first thing I noticed was that the beigels had gone

and there was a run on fried egg sandwiches.

Katie Hopkins became a nice person.

The free newspaper on the bus had actual news in it.

It turned out there actually was £350 million for the NHS.

Farage said he’d buy those of us left a pint,

which was fortuitous ‘cos Wetherspoons had cut their prices.

No more forelock tugging for us, Squire,

‘cos what with all the empty houses

each and every one of us got a luxury flat,

each of which came with a rent cap.

The radio could have been better. They’d decided no Kate Bush,

no P.J Harvey but there was a hell of a lot of Coldplay.

Employment was a doddle. I’d always wanted to be a doctor,

or a plumber, or have me very own fish and chip shop,

and these days all the education was free so it was

certificates all round. Gilt edged ones with a crinkle cut at that!

At the job my working day had been halved, pay doubled,

holidays extended. The light began to dawn.

© Tim Wells. Written after the United Voices of the World picket of 100 Wood Street, 29 June 2016.

Photo © David Secombe.

Welcome to Britain …

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South Croydon. © David Secombe 2010.


Last voyage of the Princess Alice.

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Steamboat, off Rainham Marshes, Essex. © Bill Pearson.

Bill Pearson writes:

There used to be a pub called The Princess Alice on Commercial Street in Whitechapel. I passed it every morning on my way to work; it intrigued me because it had a weird pub sign depicting a woman in a Victorian outfit – which, on closer examination, you saw was actually a corpse wearing a crinoline dress. I didn’t make any connection between the name of the pub and the significance of the sign until I spent a day walking along the Thames with a friend who is intimately acquainted with the history of London and the Thames Estuary in particular. He told me the story of the Princess Alice, a Victorian paddle steamer at the centre of London’s greatest peacetime disaster, a disaster especially significant for London’s East End.

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Seawall, Canvey Island. © Bill Pearson.

The Princess Alice was a passenger vessel used for pleasure cruises and day trips, opportunities for working class Londoners to visit places like Southend on Sea, Sheerness and Gravesend. On Sunday 3rd of September 1878 she was returning from one such trip, packed with east enders who had paid two shillings each for the privilege of visiting Rosherville Gardens in Gravesend. At about 7.40pm she was almost in sight of North Woolwich Pier, where many passengers were to disembark, when the Newcastle-bound collier Bywell Castle – a 900 ton coal barge steaming with the outgoing tide – came into view. Apparently the skipper of the Bywell Castle, Captain Harrison, had spotted the lights of the Princess Alice and had correctly set a course to pass to the starboard of her. However, the skipper of the Princess Alice, Captain William Grinstead, followed an old seaman’s practice of finding the slack water of an out going tide and this put the two vessels on a direct collision course. Harrison attempted to reverse engines, but to no avail; his heavy iron ship rammed the dainty pleasure cruiser and split her in two.

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West of Grays, opposite Erith. © Bill Pearson.

To compound matters, raw sewage from the pumping stations at Barking and Crossness had been discharged into the Thames just an hour earlier. The Princess Alice sank in less than four minutes, and the hundreds of passengers on board were engulfed in a river of filth. Over 650 died, although the exact figure is unknown. After the disaster a Board of Trade inquiry found that Captain Grinstead, who had drowned in the tragedy, was responsible, although this verdict was widely disputed. The inquiry also found that the Princess Alice was substantially overloaded and offered inadequate means of escape for her passengers. As a result of the disaster a Port to Port regime “with no exceptions” was instigated for shipping on the River Thames, and this stands to this day.

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Wood ship, near Coalhouse Fort, East Tilbury. © Bill Pearson.

A memorial cross paid for by public subscription was raised at Woolwich Cemetery , and there is a stained glass window commemorating the disaster in St Mary Magdalene’s Church in the same borough. An information plaque about the disaster is at Tripcock Point (marked on ordnance Survey map as Tripcock Ness, roughly opposite Creekmouth/Barking Barrier, where the Outfall Sewer walk finishes). And, it would seem, a public house was re-named to commemorate the tragedy. In fact, it seems likely that the name ‘Princess Alice’ may have been chosen due to the supposed Jack the Ripper connection to the disaster. Jack’s third victim Elizabeth Stride had claimed that she was a survivor of the shipwreck, and that her husband and children had been lost in the disaster. The unfortunate Elizabeth was murdered ten years after the Princess Alice tragedy, and was killed just a few yards away from the location of the pub. However, her story was a pathetic fabrication, as her husband had succumbed to TB and the couple had never had children. In any case, the tenuous link to Whitechapel’s most infamous tourist attraction obviously proved irresistible to one publican, and it is not the first time that a Whitechapel hostelry has attempted to cash-in on the area’s grisly heritage. In the 1970s The Ten Bells was re-named The Jack the Ripper which, given the fact that some of Jack’s victims had been patrons of said pub, was in staggeringly bad taste.

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West of Canvey Island, © Bill Pearson.

Before I could take a close-up of The Princess Alice’s sign, the pub was unexpectedly refurbished and re-named  Culpeper; this is after Nicholas Culpeper, a Doctor, Herbalist and radical Republican who had set up a pharmacy in Spitalfields in the 1630’s. The Culpeper link is undoubtedly more appropriate for the 21st Century East End; where once was violence and grinding poverty, now there are designer outlets, stratospherically expensive houses and family-friendly pubs. Anyway, another link to London’s greatest ever civilian disaster seems to be lost, although the new owners of the Culpeper did tell me that they intend to keep The Princess Alice sign and put it on display. My own memorial to the tragedy is the pictures I have taken of the Thames Estuary, of the shores that would have been familiar to those aboard the Princess Alice, ghosts of the routes the doomed paddle steamer once plied.

PrincessAlice cropThe Princess Alice (now the Culpeper), Commercial St, Whitechapel. © Bill Pearson.

 © Bill Pearson. For more detail on the Princess Alice tragedy, see the page on the Thames Police Museum site

 


Oscar Wilde in Bow Street, 1895.

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Bow Street police station, WC2. Photo © David Secombe 2010.

Tying in with today’s post on Wilde’s trials on Baroque in Hackney, we reprise this photograph and extract which were originally published in 2010 on Esoteric London.

From The Life of Oscar Wilde by Hesketh Pearson, 1946:

[. . .] at some point between seven and eight o’clock that evening the police called at the Cadogan Hotel and knocked at the door of Room 53.

‘Mr. Wilde I believe?’

‘Yes?’

‘We are police officers and hold a warrant for your arrest.’

‘Oh really?’ He seemed relieved.

‘I must ask you to accompany us to the police station.’

Wilde got up, a little unsteadily, put on his overcoat, took his hat and gloves, and followed them out. They drove in a four wheeler, via Scotland Yard, to Bow Street. Robert Sherard asked Wilde, in view of his superstition on the subject, whether the cab horse that drove him from the Cadogan was white. ‘I was too much interested to notice’, said Wilde, having chatted away on all sorts of topics with the detectives, who thought him a most amiable gentleman. At Bow Street, the charges were read out to him, after which he was taken to a cell, where press reporters were allowed to peer at him through the grille, and where he paced to and fro all night, unable to sleep. Next day he was removed to Holloway Gaol.


Recessional.

Jack Robinson: 

Mirror (c) Jack Robinson

This is my father driving in the 1940s, before I was born.

He left school at fourteen to work in an iron foundry his own father had helped establish; he eventually became joint managing director. We had a comfortable life without my mother having to work; single-income households were common then. He liked cars: I remember waiting at the front-room window one afternoon, when I was four or five years old, to see him arrive home in a brand-new olive-green Riley. Fifty years on from pressing my face against that window, I know that at no time has my own income been sufficient to raise a family in similar comfort, nor will I ever own a brand-new car; and my children will, if they go to college, be already mired in debt before they even begin to earn their own money.

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The ignorance of the experts concerning the financial  products they were using our money to buy is hardly new. James Buchan, in the late 1980s: ‘In London and New York I met people who invested fortunes in financial enterprises they simply could not describe or explain. No doubt quite soon, a bank would discover it had lost its capital in those obscure speculations; other banks would fail in sympathy . . .’ The politicians were even more ignorant. It’s as if for years we’ve been going with our tummy-aches to doctors who can’t tell the difference between a blister and a cancerous tumour. No wonder we’re ill.

The derivatives market conjured into existence in the 1990s was a virtual world, enabling speculation not in real assets but in the risk of speculation itself. It is addictive: the rush, the buzz, the winning streak. The opposite of which is the losing nose-dive – lose your job and you’re well on your way to losing your (real) house, marriage, health and dog.

An investment banker, quoted in the Standard: ‘In most cases they know their wives despise them for enslaving their lives to money, and they know that the moment they lose their job their wives will walk and take the kids, and their £3 million home, and divorce them.’ A lonely-hearts ad, placed on a literary website at the time the axe started to chop: ‘Ex-banker, 33 . . . Seeking woman not interested in money, fast cars, champagne, holidays, fleecing innocent hard-working gullible twats, whilst telling them you love them. Bitch.’

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The above house in Mayfair, London, was squatted in January 2009 by a group that offered free workshops on welding, yurt-building, bookbinding, song-writing and de-schooling society. Hundreds of buildings are squatted; what made the press interested in this one was the stark disparity between the poshness of the building (alleged to be worth £22.5 million) and the presumed poverty of the squatters.

Bookbinding and yurt-building won’t change the world for the better overnight, but nor will sending out 400,000 repossession orders (Centre for Policy Studies estimate, February 2009) to households that have lost jobs and can’t keep up the mortgage payments.

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I had a dream in which I punched the keys to withdraw money from a cash machine and it paid out in cowrie shells, rattling down a metal chute into the canvas bag I’d thoughtfully brought with me. As I walked to the supermarket the shells clacked satisfyingly in the bag by my side – I felt rich, rich. And then I woke up and went to my real bank and there was nothing there for me at all, they’d completely run out of money. Not a bean.

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Ou sont les magasins d’antan? As well as the big ones, the small ones too. The place at the end of the road where I used to get my shoes re-heeled – where did that go? The café with over-priced food but a garden at the back where I could smoke? The minicab office in the next street? With the deadpan Somali driver who’d stop the car and get out and look up at the sky: he said he navigated by the stars, and I never knew whether he was taking the piss. Even with no office to return to, I hope that somewhere he’s still driving. There are very few recession-proof businesses; here is one of them.

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The intensive factory farming of money makes it prone to many diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans. There are government regulations concerning the application of biotechnology to the breeding of money, and there are also ways around them.In the last fifty years that part of the human brain dedicated to devising ways of getting money away from others and into your own hands has increased in size by 4 per cent.

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He fell down the stairs. He slipped on the ice. He was coming home from work on Friday night when he got mugged – they took his money, his cards, his identity papers. They flung back his wallet, empty except for the photo of his kids – his kids to whom he’ll say, on Saturday morning, that he fell down the stairs, that he slipped on the ice

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Behind this door – which is in a yard in the City of London – is the secret meeting place of a group of underground bankers. (There’s no external handle; you have to whisper the password through the grille on the right.) This group is deeply suspect: they buy books and music, not yachts and ski chalets, and their vocabulary extends beyond that of company reports. They are regarded by the rest of the banking world as heretics – because the whole point of being a banker is to speak in clichés, to have a single-track mind, to buy only the most predictable goods: that way they remain anonymous, almost invisible, and are left alone to get on with their thing.

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God is dead (so can’t bail us out). Or couldn’t afford the heating bills for a place this big, or had had it up to here with the regular early-hours racket outside the lap-dancing club at the end of the street. Whatever the reason, he’s gone. But he left no forwarding address, so the mail just keeps piling up inside the door.

A selection from Recessional by Jack Robinson, published by CB Editions. © Jack Robinson 2009.


The Death of Dalston Lane.

Dalston-Lane-1Dalston Lane, May 2010. © David Secombe.

From Open Dalston, 20 December & 11 February 2014:

Hackney to demolish sixteen Georgian houses in Dalston Lane

Hackney has entered a development agreement with private contractor, Murphy, which now proposes the complete demolition, rather than restoration, of the Georgian houses at Nos 48-78 Dalston Lane. In 2005 English Heritage had declared the houses to be “remarkable survivors of Georgian architecture”, and a “conservation led” project was to be the centrepiece of the newly designated Dalston Lane (West) Conservation Area. Now, due to years of neglect and vandalism, Hackney’s plan is to demolish the houses and redevelop with front facades in “heritage likeness“.
 An independent engineer’s report by Alan Baxter, which assessed the conservation potential of Dalston Terrace’s sixteen Georgian houses, has just now been revealed. It makes grim reading – in summary, there is some potential for repairing some of the houses, but Hackney’s “conservation led” redevelopment scheme would probably require their complete demolition and rebuilding.
English Heritage once reported that the 200 year old Dalston Terrace houses were “remarkable survivors of Georgian architecture“. Sadly, since the Council acquired them in 1984, their chances of survival diminished year on year. Hackney did nothing to preserve them despite its vacuous platitudes about “championing the historic environment” and wanting a “conservation-led scheme“.

Dalston-Lane-4Dalston Lane, May 2010. © David Secombe.

From Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire* by Iain Sinclair:

Dalston Lane

Once a street is noticed it’s doomed. Endgame squatters, slogans. DALSTON! WHO ASKED U? PROTECTED BY OCCUPATION. Torched terraces. Overlapping, many-coloured tags. Aerosol signatures on silver roll-down shutters. Scrofulous rubble held up by flyers for weekend noise events. THIS WORLD IS RULED BY THOSE WHO LIE. They said, the ones who make it their business to investigate such things, that there was a direct relationship between properties that applied for conservation status and arson attacks, petrol bombs. Unexplained fires. Moscow methods arrived in town with the first sniff of post-Soviet money. Russian clubs were opening in the unlikeliest places. We no longer had much to offer in the way of oil and utilities, energy resources, but we had heritage to asset-strip: Georgian wrecks proud of their status.

* Hamish Hamilton, 2009.

Dalston-Lane-3Dalston Lane, May 2010. © David Secombe.

D.S.: The shameful saga of Dalston Lane is a microcosm of the fate of the East End as a whole: a sorry mash-up of corporate and council greed flying under the discredited banner of ‘regeneration’.  The cynical, Blairite language of contemporary urban development expressed by developers and local authorities deserves a study in itself: ‘affordable housing’ (i.e. ‘unaffordable affordable housing’);  councils ‘competing’ with other boroughs for resources (food? water? air?); ‘conservation-led schemes’ (wherein conservation is a synonym for demolition – along the lines of, ‘We had to demolish the terrace in order to conserve it.’). It is language that might have been invented by Orwell. The fact that a Labour council is responsible for such wanton cynicism towards its own residents is deeply depressing and makes one despair for the fate of the city. The death of Dalston Lane is the death of London.

For further reading on this long-festering matter, see Bill Parry-Davies’ site Open Dalston.

Dalston Lane 2Dalston Lane, May 2010. © David Secombe.