33 years ago I arrived at the former London infirmary at Whitechapel. This week I decided this would make a good starting point for our trip around the East End.
According to tradition, a true Cockney must be born within the sound of the Bow Bells, referring to the bells at St Mary-le-bow church on Cheapside. Was I able to hear them on my first day? I’ll level with you; my memory is a little hazy. However as they’re less than two miles away I think that officially I’m part of the club, even if I no longer have the accent to prove it.
Coming out on to Whitechapel road I’m right in the heart of the East End. I can’t hear the Bow bells, but, wandering through the Whitechapel Road markets, I can hear ‘POUND-A-POUND….POUND-A-POUND’ being cried out continuously around me. I ask one of the stallholders if he can point me in the direction of Albert Square but he just looks confused and tries to sell me some Okra and a new cellphone charger.
Three bags of exotic vegetables and a Gucci watch later I head off to meet up with my photographer, and Cockney guide, Lenny, on the corner of Brick Lane. No hurry though; according to my reliable new watch I was still two hours early!
I’d had every intention of slinking into a greasy spoon café and starting the day with a full English, but, by the time we met up, we were both craving that most horribly middle class of all meals – brunch.
If you’re in the mood for a Bangladeshi curry crawl or a vintage shopping spree then Brick Lane is just the place. On a drizzly Wednesday morning neither of those appealed, so we kept walking, looking for the first shop that didn’t have either a Nan or a Naan inside.
Eventually we crossed the Shoreditch border and soon found somewhere willing to charge us £10 for a latte and a croissant. As we dried out I began mourning the notable absence of our fellow cockneys. We were still in the East End (just) but were now hip-deep in hipsters. Where were the flat caps, the pie shops, the street-waifs selling a variety of shellfish and singing about it? Then I caught sight of myself in the shop window, wearing brogues without socks, designer jeans and a pin collar shirt, complete with collar stud. OK, I’ll shut up now.
One last thing was needed to complete our East End day trip and that was a visit to a pie ‘n mash shop. Lenny knew just the place, so off we went, along Kingsland road for a few minutes, turning right into Hackney road and then making our way to Broadway market.
‘F.Cooke’s Pie and Mash shop’ summed up the day and the changing face of the East End. In amongst Italian cafes, organic delis and gastro pubs, there sits F’Cooke: Importer’ advertising ‘Hot Jellied Eels’ on its front window. The place is a local treasure, unchanged in décor and menu since 1900. A hearty beef pie, a heart attack’s worth of mash and a hefty dollop of gooey green ‘liquor’ poured on top; a proper East End finish in both senses!
Me with the Pie & Mash shop owner.
Next time I'll ask for the liquor 'on the side'!
Brick Lane E1
Some obligatory East London graffiti...sorry I mean street art!
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