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In memory of Victoria Carter
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To be classed as a true cockney was not just about where we were born, or their famous, now universal, accent. Not only about the rhyming slang they used or the jellied eels or pie and mash they ate, or even about Bow Bells. It was about a way of life. It was about the communities they created and the support they gave each other when the going got tough. It was about the way they lived and kept going through hard times as well as good. These were the attributes that helped them pull together through two World Wars and the poverty that lingered on from the Victorian era, improving very slowly until the latter half of the 20th. century. This was part of what it meant to be a cockney, and most of it has been swept aside in the name of multiculturalism.
I was born in an East End hospital in 1948. On leaving there a few days later I was taken home to Bethnal Green and apart from holidays away over the years, have never lived anywhere else. I have never had the urge or the need, to move away from the East End. Now however, I sometimes feel that I will soon be an outsider in my place of birth!. Most of the youngsters born from my generation, including my own three daughters, were forced to move away when it was time for them to marry. This was because of the house building strategy that was employed for a time by the local council. Large dwellings for large (mainly immigrant) families was the order of the day. They only built multi bed-roomed units or knocked two units into one. This made it impossible for a young childless couple to get a flat unless they moved away and split the family up. That's what most did unfortunately, and that is why the cockney is a dying breed.
Unless otherwise stated, all information on these pages comes from my own experiences and knowledge I have picked up along the way. This of course excludes the piece on rhyming slang and its origins (I'm certainly not old enough to have been there when that came into being)! Any additional material used will be accredited to the contributor. I would appreciate any information, comments or contradictions, especially from anyone who can provide original old photos to improve the content contained on the following pages.
London’s East End has always been a place of change. Changing buildings, changing people, changing ways and changing cultures that integrated without fuss or demands. While these changes were taking place, there was one thing that never changed, that was the spirit of the original Cockneys. Their humour, their comradeship, their lively family pubs. There were some real characters about and they all had one thing in common; they loved the East End they were born in and would never dream of leaving it. Today they are a dying breed. Many of the young cannot wait to leave the East End that their families have cherished for generations. At first they were reluctant to go. They were forced out when council homes were not made available to young childless couples. Then as time passed, they began taking the option to leave by choice. I cant go into the reasons behind this on these pages, my opinions would bring the’ politically correct brigade’ out of the woodwork. It just seems that these PC people are happier promoting ghettos and separation of cultures than integration.
All I know is that it's a bloody shame that the true East End Cockneys are heading for extinction in their own back yard! Maybe their wild life counterpart, the feathered variety of the Cockney Sparrow saw this coming when they disappeared too...
Nobody yet has come up with an reliable explanation for the decline in numbers of the Sparrow in London. I have heard that it could be due to the number of Magpies and Crows in London parks. Magpies are a very common site here today. It is said that they eat the young of the Sparrow from the nest. If true, could they possibly cause the extinction of such a vast number of birds in this relatively short space of time (I first became consciously aware of their absence in the early 90’s)? It is a shame that another bit of London life has gone by the wayside. The trouble is; nobody seems to notice until you mention it to them. I personally miss the sight and sound of the little birds flocking around, and wonder if it is too late for anything to be done about it. It is now 2013 as I write this with the Sparrows gone there are other forms of wildlife invading the East end; the Grey Squirrel and the Fox. They are everywhere, like bushy tailed Rats and scavenging dogs! Could the squirrels be destroying the eggs and young in their nests? It is not these creatures fault that they are here, but they do not belong in urban areas. To me they are vermin but to other sad people they are cute and cuddly. As long as these idiots keep feeding them the more they will breed and cause problems. The feeders do not realise the harm they do by encouraging them.
At one time when travelling around London, everywhere you went you would see and hear flocks of Sparrows. There were thousands of them, hopping about on the pavement, sitting on every fence and tree, and every single garden was full of these chirpy little chaps. In fact they were so common that they became part of the cockney language, used as a form of greeting. "Wotcha cock" or "Hello, me old cock sparrow" were quite common phrases among east enders, still in use today for the few of us left. For three decades now they have diminished rapidly in numbers for some reason. It's 2013 at the time of updating this page and it's been years since the Sparrows disappeared. Nobody seems to know why. A handful of bread-crumbs would at one time bring them out in hoards no matter where you were. They were not bothered by traffic noise, or crowds of people, they were always there. Not anymore!
I’ve lost count of the number of traditional public houses that have closed in the East end. Several factors have contributed to this, including religion, government taxes, high priced breweries and low priced supermarkets among others. Also the property boom of the 90’s when prices rocketed. Many East end publicans were struggling to make a living due to the previous reasons so they converted their pubs into flats and earned a fortune. When I mention religion, I mean that there are now so many Muslims in the area that the effect of their non alcohol rules must have had some bearing on it. The only pubs today that seem to be doing well in the area are the ones that cater for the new influx of young graduates, students and artistic genre. I love to see them revive the pubs and markets (such as the Broadway) with the foreign beers and good food. The down side for me, is that they pump the prices up and can afford to pay for it.
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