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EAST LONDON and the disappearing Cockneys

My Personal View

To be classed as a Cockney you had to be born within the sound range of Bow Bells, from St. Mary Le Bow church in Cheapside. It is not just that credential, or our Cockney accent; Not just the rhyming slang, the jellied eels or the pie and mash we ate. It was also 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 age, which slowly improved until the latter half of the 20th. century. This was 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 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 in 1948. Apart from trips abroad over the years, I 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 due to the house building policy employed for a time by the local council. Large dwellings to house extended families was the plan. Only multi bedroom units were built or two existing units made into one. Almost impossible for a young childless couple to get a flat, so they moved away and split the family. That's what most did unfortunately, and that is why the East London Cockney is a dying breed. 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. 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 increased it began to brighten up the area. The downside being that most of the new influx seem to be 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!

Disappearing East End


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. Now 2022 and most seem to be running as normal again and now we have a cost of living crisis coupled with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Gas and electric prices set to rise to treble or quadruple the present rate. As if that's not bad enough Today is the day Liz Truss will take over the premiership from Bonking Boris! God help us all.

Cockney Rhyming Slang

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. A couple that spring to mind, Vera Lynn for gin and Steffi Graf for laugh. Here are a few of the older ones. The first word only is used some of the time: Apples = Apples and Pears = Stairs Saucepans = Saucepan lids = Kids Brass = Brass flute = Prostitute Pig’s ear = Beer. China plate = Mate Plates of meat = Feet. Barnet Fair = Hair Hampsteads = Hampstead Heath = Teeth Linen Draper = Newspaper Daisy roots = Boots. Boat race = Face Dog and bone = Phone Here’s a complicated one: Arris = Aristotle = Bottle = Bottle and glass = Arse!

The missing Sparrows

At one time while travelling around East London you would see and hear flocks of Sparrows everywhere. 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 decades now, they have diminished rapidly in numbers for some reason. It's 2022 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. I am pleased to say that in mid June 2023 my garden is once more full of Sparrows! Photo by Adamo

Bushy tailed Rats and


Nobody yet has come up with a reason for the decline of the Sparrow in London. It could be due to the number of Magpies and Crows in the parks and green spaces or even the Grey Squirrels. Anyway, whatever the reason for their disappearance , they seem to be gradually returning. This Spring, (2023), I've seen nests in some very unusual places. Other forms of wildlife have invaded the East end, namely the Grey Squirrel and the 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 lots of people they are cute and cuddly. As long as they 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! The Urban Foxes have a tough time of it and appear mainly at night hunting for food' Some become semi-tame and will visit for food. Others, however are not so lucky, like the one in the photo, which has been shot, probably with an air rifle. Some people class them as vermin. Why these creatures want to leave the countryside and suffer the hardships they have in the cities is beyond me, but I think they sre here to stay.
Saint Mary Le Bow Church The Cockney Sparrow The destructive Grey Squirrel Magpies are quite common to see The Old George in Bethnal Green Road

Different Language?

Us true East Enders, (the indiginous ones), have our own sort of dialect. I’m not talking about rhyming slang here; I’m talking about the actual way we speak. I, was working on an Evening Standard pitch in the City once, when a courier cyclist pulled up and asked for some directions. He had a slight foreign accent himself, but when I gave him the way to where he wanted to go, he looked very puzzled and asked me “are you English? You don’t speak like it!. I don’t understand”. Fucking cheek!

Different Dialect?

We don’t pronounce our H’s for one thing. If you ask for help, we give you ‘elp. We ‘ope the ‘elp we give you ‘elps you out. We also pronounce vowels differently and rarely emphasize the “T” at the end of words. This makes it a bit ‘ard to write down our form of pronounciation. “Out” for instance. If you can imagine the word “Hat” without the “H” or “T” then extend the ”A” to “aaaa”, you are halfway there to understanding, sort of. There are also the shorteners, like “going to” becoming “gonna” in some instances and “have to” or “got to” becoming “gotta”, as in “I’ve gotta go now”.

It Aint Rocket Science!

Some words have several meanings. “Aint” is a good example. Or maybe it aint. It can be substute for “it isn;t” as above, it aint. I haven;t = I aint. I’m not = I aint. He hasn’t = he aint. Havent you? = Aint you? I havent got it = I aint got it. Arent you going = Aint you gonna go? Confused yet? I bet you are. I think that reading it is harder than actually listening to it. Maybe I’ll do a vidio of me talking one day. Anyway, I’m gonna go naaah, cos I’ve gotta do sumfink. Enjoy the site. Another thing is that we don’t say “my”. We say “me”! Where’s me dinner?