The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Apr 29, 2013

Shoreditch Walk

Going to the dentist is a famously hesitant and curiously unfulfilling venture (unless you have cavities, heh), so I figured I might as well take a nice walk around the East End once I was done. I meandered a roundabout course that finished up at Nicholas Hawksmoor's lovely Christchurch Spitalfields where I was waylaid by a buzzing crowd of young 'uns from a local primary school. I had been taking pictures all along but when I got home, I forgot to upload them onto my computer, and days later I formatted the flash card, and whoosh, they all disappeared. Tragic, I call it.

The walk began at Cheshire St., once a hub of the industrial East End, sadly reduced in the 1970s, and then rising phoenix-like to provide accommodations to a burgeoning service industry. Among the bigwigs of the older incarnation of the street was Lipton Tea.

Tea Building, Cheshire Street, 1973. (From here.)

One of the most famous landmarks of the East End and pride of Cheshire Street is the Repton Boxing Club, training ground for many indigent boys in the pugilistic arts. Repton is a public school in Derbyshire which started this club in 1884 to support the poorer members of society. [Since then it has become probably the top boxing club in the country, although when I walked by, there was not a boxer to be seen. The whole place, to wit, was empty of life.] The club only moved to these premises about forty years ago.

Tony Burns, a boxing coach at Repton Boxing Club, said of his youth:
When I was a kid you either kicked a ball or you hit someone. So, when I was twelve, I became a boxer. My mum died when I was a kid and if you lived in a place like this years ago, you was very fortunate to have a loving family. We all lived in Bacon St and Charlie Burns was the eldest, and they was a pain in the arse that family, but when I boxed all the family and friends would come, so I used to have quite a following. [1]
Right next to the club - in fact, they're all in the same building - is the Bethnal Green Bath House. This was built in 1899 as a public bath and laundry. At the time, hardly any of the local houses had baths, so this was in the public interest. The building was part of a complex that included the Ramsay Street School. [2] Currently it's a block of apartments. I wonder if there are still smells from the chlorinated and sulphurated days of yore.

Bethnal Green Bath House
Cheshire Street Bath House
Walking a bit on, I came across a set of warehouses below railway tracks. One of them, Coppermill Ltd., has a Royal Warrant and deals with industrial cleaning cloths. It has been around for about a century. Victorian warehouses have a strange charm about them, especially those beneath tracks. Many of them in other parts of the city have been converted to art studios and cafes and restaurants, but this one retains its original function.
The best thing about this scruffy building is the Royal Warrant sign.
Coppermill Ltd., Shoreditch.

Cheshire Street was also the site of an installation art exhibition by Martin Creed (the chap who turned a light off and on and won a Turner Prize [3]) a few years ago. The Hauser & Wirth Coppermill was the venue; to be honest, I don't think I noticed the building as I walked by.

A little further on, on St Matthew's Row, is a pub: Carpenter's Arms. It is said that it was bought by the notorious gangsters, the Kray brothers, for their mother. Ostensibly the bar surface was a coffin lid - but who knows for sure?

Carpenter's Arms, Shoreditch.
Truman's Pubs owned this and several other pubs all around the East End. Some of the others have been demolished. [4]

The wonders of Cheshire street don't stop here - I came across the wonderfully monickered Duke of Uke. What do you think this is? A ukulele store, no less. Bertram Wooster would be so pleased. Till recently, this emporium used to be on Hanbury Street, a few blocks away; this latest venue should bring in the punters all agog with excitement.

Next, I saw a rather clever sign: The Devil Wears Prada but the People Wear £5 Plimsolls. There were boots and boots galore. This was the Blackman's store.

The Devil Wears Prada, But the People Wear Plimsoles

Then there's a fashion store by Dragana Perisic. I went in thinking I might grab a little something for the wife, and then I walked right out.

Dragana Perisic's fashion store on Cheshire St.
No, this woman was not there at the time.

A few minutes' walk away is Brick Lane, as grotty and edgy a street as you might want. It has some of the most disgusting curries in the world and fine beigels, but also a fascinating multicultural history going back centuries. Huguenots, Jews, cockneys, Bengalis, weavers, streetwalkers, murderers, noncorformists, anarchists, racists - there has been a constant turnover in the social mix here going back to the 1500s.
Brick Lane 1932 © Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives

Just off Brick Lane is Pedley Street, on which I saw a graffito of the Queen reading. Drat, I can't find an image of this - it is a circular picture on the side of a building.

15 & 17 Fournier Street: Mission of Christianity to the Jews (1878-1947)

Next was Fournier Street, on which once Jack the Ripper romped. Today it is the site of the studio of the remarkable artists Gilbert and George, and the renovated 18th century building that once housed a joiner and then became a mission to convert Jews to Christianity at the end of the 19th century. [5] The most famous building here, of course, is the wonderful Hawksmoor Christ Church, which occupies the western end of the street.
Christ Church Spitalfields
Christ Church, Spitalfields, by Mr_Zephyr on Flickr.

  1. "Tony Burns, Boxing Coach", in Spitalfields Life.
  2. Stephen Levrant, "Proposed internal alterations and change of use - Bath House Cheshire Street", Tower Hamlets council.
  3. Hazel, "Martin Creed at Hauser & Wirth Coppermill", Londonist, May 9, 2007.
  4. Duncan Richards, "Truman's East End Pub Archive", Design Department Store, Sep 5, 2011.
  5. "All Change at 15 & 17 Fournier St", in Spitalfields Life.


sakura said...

What a wonderful stroll through Shoreditch. I also happened to go there a few weeks ago, ostensibly to Spitalfields market where I bought nothing but ended up at the Brick Lane Beigel shop where I bought lots of delicious things including their cheesecake. I rarely venture east so enjoyed stumbling across tiny streets with interesting names.

Feanor said...

Beigel place makes cheesecake? Had no idea. Any particular beigel you'd recommend?

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