The subject matter for this week’s publication on to the ‘London Shoes’ website, is to be the first of what will be a series of blogs on the topic of London’s “Historic & Notorious Alleys & Passages”
To kick-start this series I made my way down to the Spitalfields/Aldgate/Whitechapel districts of my good old East End, to seek out 5 “Historic & Notorious Alleys & Passages-of London E1”.
First up was a small alley tucked away in the streets of Spitalfields called White Rose Court.
“White Rose Court”
White Rose Court first appears on a London street map of 1720.
Today, the alley is nothing much to write home about – but a couple of centuries ago, when Spitalfields was a notorious slum area, inhabited by mainly Jewish immigrants – White Rose Court was the location of 2 of the oldest and iconic Jewish bakeries in London – Levy Bros and Matzo’s.
To commemorate the fact that these famous bakeries operated from there, 4 wonderful statues of bakers going about their business, are embedded in an external wall – sadly above a burger bar.
Also located in the Spitalfields district – Artillery Passage first appeared on a London street map way back in 1677, and is very close to where ‘Jack the Ripper’ murdered his last victim Mary Kelly.
Back in Tudor times, the entire Spitalfields area was just open fields sitting just outside the City Walls.
Henry VIII commandeered the land and turned it into a military training ground for his troops (hence the ‘artillery’ reference).
The streets Georgian houses and shop fronts were built in the early 1700’s, and some of these original properties with their door and window structures and shutters, still remain.
At the very end of Artillery Passage is ‘No.56 Artillery Terrace’ – which is London’s ‘oldest’ shop front. It was built in 1670 and renovated in 1756 when it was occupied by immigrant Huguenot silk weavers – and this is the very same building which stands today. It has been granted Grade 1 listed status, which means that both its interior and exterior have to be preserved for future generations.
This alley is also located in the Spitalfields district, and first appeared on a London street map, way back in 1677.
Historically, it is famous for being the location of the wonderfully preserved “Liberty of Norton Folgate Almshouses” – a collection of Victorian cottages built in 1860, for the purpose of housing the poor amongst the fruit and wool workers who traded in the area.
The actual term ‘Liberty’ in this instance, is an old medieval word for ‘parish or area’.
These lovely old houses are still occupied today – but now sit within a ‘gated’ area. However, I was fortunate enough to gain access inside the ‘gates’, when a maintenance man working at the site, very kindly allowed me inside to take some photos.
Interestingly, ‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate’ was also the title of the last album released by the well-known London group ‘Madness’.
“Little Somerset Street”
This alley in the Aldgate district of E1, appears way back on a 1792 street map of London when it was known as “Blood Alley”.
It was named ‘Blood Alley’ because the alley and the area beyond, was full of ‘butchers shops‘.
The reason that these butchers located themselves there was because it was just outside the City Walls, and therefore they were able to avoid paying the extortionate tariffs that were charged by the authorities, for driving cattle through the square mile of the City.
Records and accounts from that time reveal that the alley was constantly flowing with blood from the livestock being slaughtered and butchered there.
‘Little Somerset Street’ (formerly Blood Alley) is also the location of the “Still & Star”, London’s last surviving ‘Slum Pub’ – the description that was given to a licenced premises that was once a private residential house.
The ‘Still & Star’ pub was opened in 1820 on a site where there were 8 butchers’ shops.
However, when I was there (during opening hours) it looked very much like the place was unoccupied and abandoned – so sadly, there was no chance of a necking down a ‘cheeky’ one there.
The final of the 5 alleys I sought out for this blog, appears on a London street map as far back as 1676 – when it was known as ‘George Yard’.
It was located in one of the poorest and roughest areas of Aldgate, London – with appalling slum housing occupied by the poorest of the poor – and an area where there was constant criminality such as muggings-stabbings-prostitution.
Some of the alleys old cobbled street still remains in situ – and today the brick arched entrance to the alley is decorated with glazed tiled murals (which could seriously do with a good old clean up) depicting the old Aldgate and Whitechapel areas.
Ironically, one of the surviving Victorian buildings in Gunthorpe Street – was once the “Sir George Residence for Respectable Girls” which was built in 1886 – and for an area that was rife with crime, violence and prostitution, it seems a strange place to site a ‘Respectable Girls’ residence.
It was renamed ‘Gunthorpe Street’ in 1912, after a previous rector of the nearby St. Mary’s Church in Whitechapel.
This alley runs alongside the infamous “White Hart” pub, which was first opened back in 1721.
In 1888, just along the road from the pub – it was the site where ‘Martha Tabram’ was murdered by the infamous ‘Jack the Ripper’.
At the time of the ‘Ripper’ murders, one of the main suspects was Severin Klosowski (aka George Chapman), who ran a barber shop in the cellar of the White Hart.
So – having been an ‘alley cat’ all day – it was only right that I neck-down a couple of ‘cheeky’ ones in this infamous ‘White Hart’ pub.
Today the ‘White Hart’ understandably cashes-in on its ‘Ripper’ associations, with a number of decorative plaques and signs referring to old ‘Jack’, scattered throughout the bar and its exterior walls.
Hope you found this first ‘edition’ to what will be an on-going series of London’s historic “Alley’s & Passages” interesting and enjoyed the accompanying photos.
The entrance to the ‘Gunthorpe Street’ alley is decorated with glazed tiled murals depicting life back in the day in the Aldgate and Whitechapel areas.