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East London

©Barry Carter 2002 - 2021


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To be classed as a true Cockney it was said that you had to be born within the sound range of Bow Bells, from St. Mary Le Bow church in Cheapside. It is not just about that stipulation, or our Cockney accent; Not just the rhyming slang or the jellied eels and pie and mash we ate.. It was also about a way of life; About the communities they created and the support they gave each other when the going got tough; 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, as it has in many other areas of the country, in the name of multiculturalism. Concentrating large numbers of immigrant families into one place just does not work. It can divide people even more, and in some cases form ghettos.Too late to change this now, the damage has been done. Smaller groups may have found it easier to integrate with local populations but as it is whole areas have been taken over and ethnic minorities have become majorities who cling to their own in the main.
I was born in St. Andrews Hospital in Bow and taken home to Bethnal Green. Apart from trips abroad 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 children 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 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 East London cockney is a dying breed.
Some people may think my views are racist but I can assure you that they are not; they are merely observations. 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. The latter part of the 20th. century changed this. There was too much change in a relatively short time. Even the area in and around Brick Lane was officially named "Bangla Town" and the numbers increased rapidly. Meanwhile, the original Cockneys are on the decline. 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.
At the beginning of this century the gentrification of the East End began and as it escalated it began to brighten up the area. The downside being that most are fairly well off and the prices of the local pubs and markets increase. Although, I'll give them their credit, they have put the life back into markets and bars that were dying out. You have to go with the flow! I only hope the present pandemic (Covid-19) doesn't destroy their good work.

My personal view (and rant)

The Cockneys, the present day East end and what life was like as a child in the 1950’s

The missing Sparrows

At one time when travelling around London 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 2020 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, They have become a bit of a rarity over the past few decades.
Photo by Adamo

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 have been due to the number of Magpies and Crows in the parks and green spaces. Magpies have been a very common sight here for years. 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 over relatively short space of time (mainly the 90's decade)? It is a shame that another bit of London wildlife has gone. The trouble is; nobody seems to notice until you mention it to them. I 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 2020 and as I write this with the Sparrows gone, other forms of wildlife have invaded the East end; the Grey Squirrel and the urban Fox. They are everywhere, like bushy tailed Rats and scavenging dogs!
Could the squirrels have destroyed 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. The same goes for the Pigeons. There are thousands of them, and while people keep feeding them their numbers will continue to increase.
Stop doing it! Please!

Bushy tailed Rats and Foxes

I’ve lost count of the number of traditional public houses that have closed in the East end in the last couple of decades. 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 and so they converted their pubs into flats and apartments to make a smaill fortune. When I mention religion, I mean that there are now so many Muslims living 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 entrepreneurs. Not only have they brought the life back into many of the remaining ones but they have also re-opened a couple that were closed. I love to see them revive the pubs and markets (like the Broadway market). The down side for me is that they pump the prices up but at least they remain open. I only hope this present 2020, Covid -19, lock down doesn't reverse this trend. Pubs are opening but it's hard to get custom in with the social distancing.

The disappearing East End pubs

Many years ago, vagabonds, tea leaves (thieves) and costermongers would sit and discuss their dodgy dealings. They sat in the ale houses of the East End talking, but were always careful in conversation. There were the sharp ears of the police informers eagerly trying to listen to the secrets possibly being discussed. The spies would be paid for information, and punishment for crime was harsh.
Because they could trust no one, the villains began to use a verbal code known only to them, but as the years rolled by it fell into common usage by Cockneys and can still puzzle some people today. Phrases have been added over the years but it is still Cockney Rhyming Slang.
A few of the older generation still use the original slang but there are new phrases coming along with a more modern trend. This has been the case throughout the generations. One that springs to mind, came into being a few years ago due to a young tennis player becoming famous.
"You must be having a Steffi, mate!" (Having a Steffi Graf - laugh). It disappeared as quickly as it came!

Cockney Rhyming Slang

I’ll tell you a tale

Click on the words you don’t understand.

There I was, sitting on my arris in the rubba with a sky full of bread from a win on the cherries. In walked the trouble and strife with the saucepans. Good job I wasn’t sitting anywhere near the old brass in the corner, that would have caused a bull and cow.
I’m having a ball of chalk up the frog to get some shopping she said. “I haven’t got time to bunny, just give me some cash to get little Jimmy a new pair of daisies”, she said.
I gave her the money from my winnings, with a bit of rifle for the kids, and got myself another pigs.
I sat looking at the linen draper when an old china walked in and bought me a Tom Thumb. “Cheers mate” I said, and slung it in me North and South. My farmers started playing  up a bit so I stood on me plates for a while to ease the pain in my Khyber. I asked why he was wearing a whistle and a new Dicky.
He said his skin and blister just got married. That’s why he’d cut his Barnet, had a shave and changed his almonds.

Decorative wall art prints