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Bethnal Green has always been a friendly place with friendly good hearted people, the heart of London’s true East End. Even those who went on to be rich and famous, including a few rogues' never forgot their roots and always seemed to have to return sometimes.
Unfortunately, the new influx of inhabitants do not have the same feelings for the manor as the “old school” cockneys had and just want to form their own private world with no attempt at integration unless there is financial profit attached.
Changes to both the people and the area are going on at a rapid pace today. At the time the photos below were taken, the Government did not open the doors to floods of asylum seekers, nor were there mosques springing up everywhere and women walking around with their faces covered. Now unfortunately there seem to be very few restrictions and the ever expanding immigrant population seems, to me anyway, to be directed only towards certain areas and is fast becoming out of control. This seems to be leading to the formation of ghettos, separate communities and self imposed religious and racial segregation. I feel that it has gone too far, and apart from what we are told to the contrary, I believe that the strain on the country’s resources is becoming too great to take any more. Certainly the indigenous east end population is dwindling as the younger family members have been forced to move farther afield when thinking of starting a family of their own.
Below, are some old photographic memories, most of which are no longer in existence.
The Ice Cream man was a common sight pedaling their way through each street in 1950's London. The photo shown here looks to be before that time, from Peters’ in Roman Road (formerly Green St.). The one’s I bought my ice cream from were much the same as this. A tricycle with a large insulated box on the front, packed with ice lolllies and bricks of ice cream. They would ride around the streets, stopping whenever they saw a bunch of kids out playing, much the same as the ding dong vans do now. When they ran out they pedaled back to the shop for a refill. The family in the photo were well known in the Roman Road area, their shop being known simply as Peter's.
It’s not there anymore but I remember it well from my childhood. It was the smallest bar you have ever seen. Room for three or four people to stand and drink beer, with two or three hand pumps. Not only was it a bar, but a sweet shop as well. Jars and jars of boiled sweets on shelves along the back wall. Two ounces of pear drops or pineapple chunks carefully weighed and poured into a white paper bag to eat on the way home after getting mums’ spuds in Alice’s fruit and veg shop, a few doors down. Two things I remember very vividly was the smell of the place, and a bind of hops that were always hanging on the wall behind the counter. By the time I was old enough to drink, the whole of Russia Lane had been demolished so I never did sample the ale.
There were two primary schools near me at the time, Mowlem Street and St. Johns in Peel Grove. My first taste of the education system was in the latter. It was a mixed school, but for some reason the photo on the left (class of 49/50) shows girls only. I started there a couple of years after that, and the only teacher I can positively identify from the photo is at the back left, Miss Dobson. I will keep looking to see if my memory can be jogged any more. As for the pupils, are you here? If anyone has a Mowlem photo of the time I would be pleased to include it here.
The Repton Boxing Club was just around the corner from me when I was a child, in Victoria Park Square. I believe it has had several moves since then. We used to go to the youth club which was a part of it but I never fancied getting involved in the noble art of boxing myself. Many famous fighters started here, including quite a few champions. I don’t know the actual date of this photo but I'd guess at the late forties or early fifties. I am sure some of you will recognise a few faces. Please let me know if you do to help age the group more precisely.
Bethnal Green Hospital doesn’t exist any more. They closed it down because the locals stopped contracting illness and having accidents. Some years after that they would close down the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children because kids stopped falling over. Pigs fed and ready to fly! They closed them to save money. Why else?
The back end of Bethnal Green Hospital which was at the junction of Russia Lane and Robinson Road is now new housing, as are the hospital debris’ we played on as kids. The front entrance is still there in Cambridge Heath Road, renovated and used for commercial purposes now. When I look back, I seem to have spent quite a lot of time in the children's ward there. Three broken arms (No I haven’t got an extra one, I broke the same one on three separate occasions), Tonsils out, and many visits to casualty with cuts and injuries picked up while playing out. The last time I broke my arm, I was about nine or ten, I actually had a “Sir” do the operation. Sir John Nicholson was his name. It was a serious fracture and he had to open it up to fix it. If it had been today, I don’t suppose there would be much sign of the operation, but even though he must have been a top man, I still bear the marks of his efforts. The scar is over ten inches long and over a quarter of an inch wide in places. Still, at least he got it fixed! The photo shows a kids party at the hospital in 1957. I am not 100% sure, but I think the boy in the white shirt pointing, could be me!
It's a small family-run cafe on Bethnal Green Road which has become a local landmark. In 2005 it became one of only two cafes in London to be made a Grade II listed building. The same family has run it for more than a century and the decor has hardly changed apart from a partial refurbishment in the 1940's. It became so popular that there is now a canopy and seating outside on the pavement. It is always full of customers. Film crews have used it as a location on several occasions. Some of it's well known customers in the past included the notorious East end gangsters, the Krays. I remember buying ice cream there as a child and when I had a visitor from Germany in 2012 I took her there and nothing had changed.
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