Posts Tagged East London

Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch, East London

hoxton-street-300x199

Hoxton Market – like much of inner East London – has changed considerably over the years.  

I WAS born and bred in East London.  Despite not living there for many years now, there’s no mistaking my accent.  Like any Cockney, I still drop my ‘h’ when speaking and pronounce anything that starts with ‘th’ as an f.  Thus, thirteen become ‘firteen’ and thirty becomes ‘firty’.  I still use a lot of slang words and whilst I’ve lost a lot of backslang (I haven’t spoken it in around 35 years and would probably need to sit down and write much of it out these days!) talking in double negatives – “I ain’t never going to do that again”– makes perfect sense to me.  To be really honest, I have trouble understanding people with posh or ‘plummy’ accents and really have to concentrate on what they’re saying!

So why am I telling you all this?

The main reason is that a little while ago I came across an excellent Facebook site called Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch which you can check out here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/46495127566/  It has nearly 6,000 members and it encourages them to post ‘memories or photos of growing up in Hoxton’ – although folks are asked not put up anything about football, politics and religion as they often cause arguments!

When I was growing up, Hoxton was only about a five minute walk away from where I lived.  I spent many hours in the general area – and specifically in Hoxton Market where I worked for a couple of years as a barrow boy on an egg stall.

Before I got the job I was very familiar with the market itself.  It consisted of a wide variety of shops (from funeral parlours to pie & mash shops) as well as stalls that seemed to sell everything under the sun.  There was even a Woolworths – remember them?!!

Like many youngsters who grew up in the mid to late 60s, it was more or less obligatory to help my mum with the errands.  (This was way before the weekly shop to a massive out-of-town supermarket became the norm – indeed, from memory, the nearest supermarket at the time was a Tesco’s at Ridley Road Market in Dalston.) Therefore, two or three times a week I accompanied mum down to Hoxton Market.  Here my main job was to carry some of the items that she had bought.

Saturday was the main food shopping day, and most children would have followed their mum around, for what seemed like hours on end.  Although my mum was only really shopping for food, she seemed to look at every other stall as well – and clothes stalls, in particular!  As mum was a seamstress by trade, she’d examine in minute detail the way buttons, hemlines and zips had been sewn.  If something wasn’t to her liking she’d slowly shake her head from side to side, purse her lips and mutter ‘tut-tut.’

Unlike supermarkets, the old fashioned street markets seemed to have a real atmosphere about them.  Many of the sights, smells and sounds have never left me.  In particular, the air always seemed to be full of raucous laughter.  Everyone who owned or worked on a stall seemed to be a real character – the wit and banter were second to none.  Needless to say much of it would now be considered X-rated and most definitely Politically Incorrect – and this was absolutely true of Hoxton Market!

The market was also a place to meet friends, neighbours and relatives.  I always lost count of the number of times that my mum would stop and have a natter with someone.  Luckily, virtually every mum would have been accompanied by a child so at least you had someone to talk to as well.

I got my first Saturday job in Hoxton Market via my mum as well.  She got it through a friend of a friend of a friend – a classic case of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’.  On saying that, I’m inclined to think that there’s no better way to learn any sort of trade other than from the bottom up.  Over many working years I’ve seen many a university graduate put into responsible positions and whilst most of them were very personable many were, to coin a phrase, ‘all brains and no common sense’.

I started working in the market when I was about 14 or 15 (this would have been around 1974/75) and carried on for about two years.  Here I was a barrow boy – aka a gofer or general dogs body – on an egg stall.  As far as I can recall, there were no other egg stalls in the market so we always did a roaring trade.

My job was to basically to help whoever was running the stall.  I helped to set the stall up and both sell & replenish the stock.  I was quickly shown one of the tricks of the trade – placing the eggs at a very slight angle to make them look larger!

I worked with a few interesting characters.  One was a New Zealander who was living and working in London for a while before returning home to help run family sheep farm.  He wasn’t really looking forward to going home to spend the rest of his life working with the “stupidest animals in the world.”  For the life of me I can’t recall his name, but I can remember that he was a very calm, happy go lucky bloke.  He was also as strong as an ox and was a real grafter.

I also recall working with a biker who was in his mid 20s who was just known as ‘Big Chris’ due to him being way over 6’ tall.  He had really long hair and always wore a black leather motorcycle jacket.  He was also the person who introduced me into heavy metal bands like Deep Purple & Black Sabbath.  He had an in-depth knowledge of anything and everything relating to heavy metal and would talk non-stop about the subject.  Big Chris would often recommend different LPs, most of which are still in the roof space!

Apart from bikes and music his other passion was for burgers and bacon sarnies.  He was very generous with his money and one of my main jobs was to go to the local café and come back with these delicacies!  Looking back on it they should have come with a health warning as they were dripping in grease and covered in brown sauce.

After my stint as a barrow boy, I worked for the local library service.  This started off as a Saturday job but I was also able to get plenty of work during the school holidays.  Here I was mainly based at Pitfield Street Library (in Hoxton) but also covered worked Kate Greenaway Library (which was situated in the Fellows Estate) and the De Beauvoir Library which was part of the De Beauvoir Estate.  I love books so this was more a vocation than a job.  I have great memories of the reading room in Pitfield Street where you could spend hours reading all manner of papers, magazines and reference books.

One great difference between working down the market and in a library was the method of payment.  In the market you got paid cash in hand – generally with greasy and stained old banknotes – whilst at the library the wages arrived in a small window envelope.  This contained a small printed wage statement and, more importantly, your wages in the form of both coins and pristine banknotes.  The notes were always stapled together and I always managed to stab my thumb with the staple whilst trying to separate the notes.  You also had to sign for the whole lot in a huge book!

A little while ago, and out of idle curiosity, I posted a question (on the Memories of Hoxton Facebook site) asking how many people worked down the market.  I was absolutely blown away by the response – it seems as if virtually everyone had either worked in the market or knew someone who had.  Many were even related to some of the shop and stall holders.  Indeed, one of those who’d worked in the market was someone I’ve probably known for over 50 years from our early days at Randal Cremer Primary School – in Ormsby Street, Shoreditch – and then on to  Parmiter’s Grammar School, which was situated on the Approach Road in Bethnal Green.  Sadly, we’re probably like many true Cockneys and both now live miles away from the East End.

I’d highly recommend the Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch Facebook site to any Counter Culture reader (who comes from Hoxton or the general Shoreditch area) who like to reminisce about the ‘good old days’ before the area became gentrified.  I’d also like to encourage other Counter Culture contributors and readers to share theirmemories of bygone days, no matter where they come from.  In particular, I feel that it’s very important to chronical the lives of ordinary indigenous working folks – especially those from areas that have seen extensive racial, ethnic, cultural and social changes since the 60s – so that their vital memories are not lost to history.

Reviewed by John Field

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Two Weeks in Spain!

Two Weeks In Spain!

A  crowded Benidorm beach

A crowded Benidorm beach

COMPARED to some folks I’ve not been away on many foreign holidays. Indeed, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really managed to get abroad on a regular basis. As a youngster (which wasn’t exactly yesterday!) we’d always go on holiday in England. Hastings in East Sussex was a real favourite with my mum and dad.

My parents were reasonably interested in history, heritage and culture and I can still recall visiting the likes of Hastings Castle and Battle Abbey. We’d also walk for miles across the Fairlight Glen and take a look at the famous fishermen’s huts.

With all of this exploring to do, I couldn’t really understand why people went abroad at all. I think this attitude came from my mum. She still has a saying that goes along the lines ‘with all of our beautiful scenery, if the British Isles got the weather you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.’

I subscribed to this view for a long time. OK, we don’t get the weather, but what’s wrong with holidaying in Britain? Like my folks, I’m really into history, heritage and culture – and we have it in spades! So what if we had to endure the odd deluge that lasts all ‘Summer’?!

Now I’m much older (but sadly not any wiser!) I can see the attraction of a couple of weeks of unbroken sunshine. It does wonders for my aching muscles and bones. No wonder my grandparents began going on their annual week-long package holiday to Spain during the 1970s. They always had a great time and came back with tales of lovely weather, food and drink.

Therefore, for the last couple of years, Majorca has been our place of choice. But this year we decided to go to mainland Spain. Therefore in early September, some of my extended family and I spent a fortnight near Allicante on the Costa Blanca. The lure of sun, sea and San Miguel was just too much to resist!

Whilst staying near Allicante we decided, on a whim, to visit Benidorm for the day. I’d heard a lot about this popular holiday resort – good, bad and indifferent – and I wanted to see what it was like first hand.

Our snap decision to visit Benidorm put us at a slight disadvantage as we didn’t have any time to find out what the general area was like, look at maps or check out what was on. It meant that we didn’t know the lie of the land or what was where!

Sadly, my first impressions weren’t great. It appeared very claustrophobic – I’ve never seen so many tower blocks in one place in my life! It seemed as if the whole of the front consisted of high rise hotels that were crammed cheek by jowl together.

Whilst I’d admit that one or two large buildings are impressive – and believe me some of these buildings were very impressive – I’m not really a great fan of high rise buildings. I really feel sorry for folks who have to live in them all the time. I regard them as a ‘stack a prole’ experiment gone horribly wrong and prefer a more rural, natural and ‘human scale’ style of living. (And I know some people think that my ‘ideal’ of rural living is extremely bizarre as I’m a proud Cockney from East London!)

Benidorm also appeared very brash to me. To quote my mum again, it would be very ‘Honky Tonk.’ I presume it’s a case of what you see is what you get – something like Blackpool with sun! And talking about the sun, it reached a blistering 38 degrees on the day we visited. Maybe the extreme heat added to my discomfort?

Walking around made me realise how ‘British’ the place was. It might be an exaggeration, but along the front every other bar, café and restaurant appeared to be British (or Irish.) The flags of the ‘Home Nations’ could be seen everywhere. Accents, tattoos and football tops also gave the game away!

There were also several English language papers available – Costa Blanca News, The Weekly Buzz, RTN Benidorm and Round Town Times. No wonder so many Brits feel at home here!

One thing in Benidorm’s favour, however, was the sheer number of places where you could get a bite to eat or a drink. Some streets we wandered along just seemed to be full of outlets selling every drink and dish under the sun. The range of food and drink was impressive to say the least. One thing’s for sure – you’d never go hungry or thisty in Benidorm!

With this in mind, I can see why many folks choose it for stag and hen parties, ‘jollies’ or just going on individual benders. In fact we saw one tourist weaving along just after 1pm who looked slightly (to say the very least!) under the weather. I’m still not too sure what he was ‘under the influence’ of – but he didn’t look like he knew what country he was in, let alone what time of day it was! I wouldn’t have liked to woken up with his headache the next day.

Another thing in Benidorm’s favour was the number of shops which sold everything you could ever need. It would have probably taken a couple of weeks alone just to have a good look around the Old Town. I was also really surprised at how cheap some items were – even in what appeared to be the really ‘touristy’ areas.

Like many people we’d seen ITVs popular series Benidorm and half expected the place to be completely awash with mobility scooters! However, we didn’t see that many. We actually admired some of the double seat mobility scooters and had a good chuckle at some of the ‘driving.’ Indeed, one OAP looked like he was trying to emulate a Hells Angel on a Low Rider!

On the whole we had mixed feelings about Benidorm. To some extent, we got the impression that it was a ‘plastic’ version of Spain. However, it’s easy to see why thousands of ordinary working class Britons head there every year. The familiarity of a Full English breatfast, Ulster Fry or Fish and Chips would be a instant hit with many folks. Combine this with Priemiership football on massive TVs and ex-X Factor contestants providing entertainment in various clubs and bars and you’re onto a winner.

However, much of this was of no interest to us. We’re not fantastically into popular ‘culture’ and usually prefer the peace and quiet of rural areas. Our family is more inclinded towards true history, heritage and culture and love to see – and sample – local ways and mores. To us, Benidorm had just about enough to remind us that we were in Spain.

To be fair, I’d heard it described as Blackpool – what you see is what you get – with blistering sunshine and I think that this is a very apt description. I hope I’ve not been unduly harsh on Benidorm. I realise that you can’t judge a place in one day – and obviously there was much, much more to see. I’d like to go back sometime in the future to explore more of the area and hopefully come across the real (Spanish) Benidorm.

John Field

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