Last week, I was poddling about on my bike (as I do) and I noticed two rather lost looking women, consulting a map near Old Street. It turned out they were trying to find The Geffrye Museum (museum of the home), so I was able to point them in the right direction, which as it happened was reasonably fortuitous, as they were about to go the wrong way. So, for this reason, I thought I'd write a brief post about the museum. If you have a spare hour or so, have an interest in how our ancestors lived or are researching old interiors or furniture, then it's well worth a visit. It's also free (donations obviously welcome).
We've popped in there a few times on my Sunday east London walk, and suffice to say, approaching The Geffrye Museum through the council blocks of Hoxton, traversing the busy Kingsland Road brimming with Vietnamese restaurants, then stepping through the museum gate, first time visitors are usually quite astounded to find themselves plunged in to the garden of a long row of lovely 18th century almshouses. It seems like you've unwittingly stepped in to another time and place.
The main part of the building (which you can see above), dates back to 1714 and was formerly almshouses of the Ironmongers' company, left by a guy called Sir Robert Geffrye, who was himself Lord Mayor of London in 1685. After the Ironmongers' pensioners moved to greener pastures at the beginning of the 20th century due to the encroachment of the Victorian east end and all that entailed, the building became a museum.
Upon entering The Geffrye Museum, you will be taken on a journey through the living rooms of the English middle classes, or what I believe Samuel Pepys referred to as 'the middling sort', from 1600 to the present day. The long row of almshouses have effectively been turned in to a time machine, giving you a glimpse of furniture, style, fashion and taste throughout the ages. If you happen to visit in the run up to Christmas, you'll also be treated to the added bonus of seeing how houses were decorated during the festive season and the types of food that would typically have been eaten. Aside from being able to gawp at the rooms, you're provided with bits of historical context that help set the tone and allow you to understand a bit more about the people who lived in such rooms and what life was like for them.
The more recent annexe makes room for 20th century inclusions, and if you get a bit peckish, there's a cafe. During the summer months, you can also visit the gardens and walled herb garden. The museum also have loads of special events, do lots of educational work with kids and for a very small fee you can join a tour (Saturdays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays) of one of the restored almshouses and see how it would have been for the pensioners living there in the 18th and 19th centuries.
My only minor qualm, is that having walked through the museum, you then have to scuttle back through the oncoming visitors along the narrow walkway to get out. However, it's not really that important and anyway, it would seem that changes are afoot. In their quest to fulfill their vision of becoming the 'Museum of the Home', The Geffrye Museum are embarking on an ambitious £18.9m development programme, turning the already excellent museum in to an even better one, which includes another door right next to Hoxton Overground Station which is directly behind. So remember that too ... if you're going there via the overground, Hoxton station couldn't be any nearer if it tried.
The Geffrye Museum, Kingsland Road, E2 8EA - Tue-Sat (10am-5pm), Sun (12-5pm)
It snowed for most of the walk on Saturday morning, so as you can imagine, was pretty cold. Still, five people ventured out with me for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's, including Keith (from Canada) who came on the east London walk a year ago. He was joined by Natasha and Cerys and also Thomas and Charlyne from France.
They're standing in a little courtyard just off Carter Lane called Wardrobe Place. As you might be able to see from the plaque behind them, it was the site of something called the King's Wardrobe which was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The Wardrobe, originally housed within the Tower of London was where (as the name might suggest) King's kept their clothes, and also armour and treasure. It was moved in 1311 by Edward II to Lombard Street, then later to the site where the group are standing, by Edward III. It's currently a quiet little space populated by a few trees, offices, a hotel and enclosed largely by 18th century houses. If you have ever read any of Samuel Pepys' diary, the name might sound familiar, as 'The Wardrobe' was the generic name given to the surrounding area and one he mentioned quite frequently.
As I mentioned, Keith came on the east London walk previously. One of the first things he said when he met me on Saturday morning was 'I don't suppose we'll see quite so much street art today'. He was quite correct in this assumption, but at the end of the walk, as we were standing outside St Paul's cathedral, I noticed two pieces of painted chewing gum on the floor, that unless I'm mistaken, look suspiciously like the work of Ben Wilson (who I've mentioned before). He's a prolific street artist, who (if you hadn't already guessed) uses pieces of discarded chewing gum as his canvas. The ones we saw outside St Paul's cathedral looked like this:
Sunday was a nice compact group of Vix, Matt, Mary and Helen for the wander around the east end. Here they are at Columbia Road Flower Market, where I seem to quite often take group photos.
After the walk (again, bitterly cold) I noticed that Eine has re-painted his two well known pieces on Ebor Street. In fact, they were so well known, I'd wager that people just call it the 'Anti & Pro' street (I know I do), as it was emblazoned with the words ANTI and PRO. It now looks like this:
He kept one of the 'PRO's' which were on the Tea Building, so it now says PRO TAGONISTS.
Most French - Thomas & Charlyne
Most Canadian - Keith
Most Welsh - Cerys
Best moustache - No Winners
Most likely to have eaten Kendal Mint Cake - Helen
If you were to visit the Tower of London (which as I mentioned in my last post that about 2.5million people do each year) and also fancied popping along to the museum housed within Tower Bridge, then you'll walk through a rather eery looking cobbled archway. To add to the eeriness, you might notice that you're being directed towards a place called 'Dead Man's Hole'.
You see ... I wasn't kidding! You'd be forgiven for thinking twice about making the short journey and no doubt your head will become filled with various macabre thoughts as to why you're even going to a dead man's hole, what it might be and what will happen when you get there. The short answer is ... not much. Dead Man's Hole actually refers to a mortuary that at one time was housed beneath the north tower of the bridge. It's still there, but you'll be pleased to hear, no longer used. As you'll probably be aware, the Thames is tidal, and for one reason or another, corpses that found their way in to the murky river; either suicide jumpers, by accident or dumped, often found their way to this particular part of the river. Once 'fished' out of the Thames, bodies could be laid out to await identification ... if possible. The area is now closed off, but still perfectly visible as you take the steps up to the main part of the bridge.
So that's Dead Man's Hole very briefly explained. Now, the thing that never ceases to amaze me about London, is that I spend a lot of time wandering around its streets, but constantly discover things I've never noticed before. I've walked through the cobbled archway I just described loads of times, but last week was the first time I noticed that hanging on the wall is a huge pole, I'm guessing about 8 feet long, and on the end is a series of hooks.
Due to the proximity of this pole to the mortuary I just mentioned, built expressly for the purpose of taking in dead bodies retrieved from the Thames, this pole would seem to me, to be the perfect bit of equipment for pulling those corpses ashore. However, there was no explanation that I could find, no little plaque, so being an inquisitive sort of chap, I went to ask the security guard sitting in his little cabin about 10 feet away. He looked rather perplexed, mildly uninterested and admitted that he'd never actually noticed it himself, but agreed it sounded very much like the sort of thing that at one time, might have been used for the aforementioned reason.
So, if anyone is able to corroborate my theory, or indeed disprove it, then I'd be delighted to hear from you. Either way, it has added another layer of intrigue to the short walk through the archway to Dead Man's Hole.
(Incidentally - Dead Man's Hole is situated within the arch to the left on the above photo, and the pole I just mentioned is fixed to the wall, behind the door on the right hand arch behind the guy with the red jacket).
Each year, the Tower of London apparently has something in the region of over 2.5million visitors. Most of these people will have either passed or certainly seen a church perched next to Tower Hill, quite literally a stones throw away from the Tower, one of London's most popular tourist attractions. I'd be quite intrigued to know how many of them also visit the much over looked church whose name actually acknowledges its more famous and popular neighbour. It's called All Hallows-by-the-Tower, but funnily enough pre-dates the already ancient Tower of London by about 400 years and comes with the tag line 'oldest church in the City of London.'
Founded in 675, it was originally called All Hallows Barking, as it was built by the Abbey of Barking who owned a small plot of land on the most eastern edge of the City. In the intervening years, All Hallows has undergone many changes, and seen so much of London's history and its characters come and go. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and Samuel Pepys who lived nearby climbed the spire to view the destruction 'and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw' but finally succumbed to German bombs in 1940. Like many churches, it was rebuilt, but the damage caused, opened an intriguing window in to the church's past, revealing a 7th century Saxon arch and what is now considered to be one of the most perfectly preserved Roman pavements in the City, which belonged to a domestic house in the 2nd century.
All Hallows is a veritable Aladdin's cave of London throughout the ages, with pretty much every century of the city's existence represented in one form or another, not to mention forming the backdrop to a 'who's who' of famous personalities. I've already mentioned Pepys, but visitors from the USA might be interested to know that John Quincy-Adams (6th President of the United States of America) was married there and William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania was baptised there.
Aside from a great crypt museum where you'll discover the Roman pavement, a model of Roman London (made in 1928) and numerous pieces of Roman and Saxon pottery and curios, the church itself is littered with fascinating artifacts. Due to its close links with the Port of London Authority there's loads of models of ships and coats of arms of shipping companies. The screen to the Mariners Chapel has a crucifix made with wood from the Cutty Sark and the ivory figure is said to have come from the flagship of the Spanish Armada. There are 17 memorial brasses on the floor, the earliest dating from the 14th century and a quite incredible font cover, carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons, Christopher Wren's 'go to' man where wood carving was concerned.
All in all, you could make numerous visits to this church and still not see all there is to see or absorb in full its amazing history. What I've mentioned here is just scratching the surface, but one thing remains, and for me, it is encapsulated by the huge Visscher panorama of London (made in 1616) that greets you as you walk through the main door. The church itself features on the print, and although on the photo below you can clearly see what is now Southwark Cathedral in the foreground and the old London Bridge, All Hallows is actually hidden behind the door, much like the church itself is hidden in the shadow of its more famous neighbour.
You'll find All Hallows-by-the-Tower on Byward Street, EC3R 5BJ, but basically, if you head towards the Tower, you'll find it. I'll leave you with a few other photos to whet your appetite.
On my Saturday morning walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's, I've often mentioned the Hawks employed by Westminster Council to deter the pesky pigeons, which until a few years ago numbered in their thousands ... probably tens of thousands, mainly on the square itself. I'd never seen this particular form of pest control in action, then, on my way to meet Dan, Liz and Josh who came on Saturday morning's walk, I bumped in to 'Chengeta' and his handler. They looked very much like this:
Quite an impressive specimen, I think you'll agree, and the Hawk looked pretty cool too. The handler told me that he was from Zimbabwe, and in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, Chengeta means 'to take care of', so basically Chengeta the Hawk is taking care of the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. He said I could also call him Harry if I wanted (which I figured the other handlers probably do), and although Harry the Hawk has a nice ring to it, I quite like Chengeta.
The walk on Saturday basically involved lounging around drinking coffee or sitting in a pub, punctuated by a brief stroll through Covent Garden and Fleet Street. Here are the group in the Charles Dickens Coffee House, situated on the ground floor of a building in which Dickens himself had an office and produced a literary magazine entitled 'All The Year Round'.
'All The Year Round' was founded and edited by Dickens and published between 1859 - 1895, and as well as being a platform for many other writers, Dickens used it to serialise his own novels including 'A Tale of Two Cities' and 'Great Expectations'. Also, thanks to Dan for the coffee and chocolatey treats.
Sunday's 'My neck of the woods' east end walk saw the return of Maria and Emma who came on a Saturday afternoon walk in April last year. They were accompanied by Rosalia, Steve and Conor, and also John, Ryan and Anna all joining a walk for the first time. Here they are outside one of street artist Eine's shop shutters.
Shortly after we'd stopped off at Columbia Road Flower Market, I noticed a piece by French street artist C215. His real name is Christian Guémy and works primarily using stencils, similar to Banksy and a host of other artists. The 'C' stands for Christian, and the 215 part of his name was apparently the number of the hotel room he was staying in when he decided that painting portraits of beggars, refugees, orphans and animals on streets all over the world, was to become his vocation.
Funnily enough, ages ago, I took the below photo of another of C215's cats, which was on the side of a bin just behind Leonard Street. I noticed not long ago that the bin has since disappeared. The work of a collector perhaps?
Most appropriate shoes (for a change) - Maria
Most likely to have played a gig in every venue in Shoreditch - John
Tallest - Ryan
Best moustache - No winners
Most beardy - Josh
Most rural - Dan & Liz
Most New Zealand-ish - Anna
If you've ever been down (or up) Clerkenwell Road, you would have passed a big gate way just up the hill from Farringdon Road, and if you'd spied it, would have probably thought 'Jeepers ... that looks like it's straight out of a film set ... of a period film of some sort ... like a film that's set ages ago, maybe one that Cate Blanchett's in.' You would be quite correct in this assumption, because it's been there since 1504 and for me is just the tip of the iceberg. The metaphorical iceberg is formed of the rich history of the area that has so many stories, so many facets and such a wide reach spanning centuries, that to write about it here would do it an injustice. Instead, I shall furnish you with a few bits of information and leave it up to you whether you visit or not. Oh yes, the gate is called St John's Gate and looks like this.
So, in an unsatisfactory nutshell ... up until the point when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and began taking away land that belonged to them (often referred to as the Dissolution of the monasteries) much of London (and the rest of the country for that matter) was dotted with huge swathes of land that belonged to various monastic orders. The area around Clerkenwell belonged to the Order of St John, the Hospitallers, whose origins date back to the late 11th century in a role caring for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. The gate I just mentioned was a later addition, which lead in to a Priory that included a couple of large halls, dormitories, buttery, refectory, counting house, kitchen, stables, orchards, gardens, fish ponds and unusually for a monastic precinct, an armoury (those pilgrimages often got violent). After the Dissolution, I think Henry VIII used the Priory as a store house before giving it to his daughter Mary, who used it as a private palace.
The Order of St John, the Knights Hospitallers, had an unexpected renaissance in the 19th century, when it became apparent that there was little or no provision for the aid of injured people in civilian life, particularly those succumbing to fatal injuries in the work place, at public events or indeed at home. For this reason, in 1877, the St John Ambulance Association was founded, continuing the same ethos that the original order begun, all those centuries earlier. As you know, St John Ambulance still very much exists today, continuing to carry out what the Victorian's called rather aptly 'Ambulance Crusades'.
You can uncover this fascinating history over two sites. St John's Gate houses a museum (free to enter, and free to exit) detailing all of this stuff, and if you cross over the road you will find hiding beneath the facade of a reasonably modern building, the 12th century Priory crypt, one of London's few remaining Norman structures along with another small museum, garden and church, which was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in WWII.
Also, just as an aside, William Hogarth (well known pictorial chronicler of debauched 18th century London) lived for 5 years in the east tower of St John's Gate, as his father ran a coffee shop there. Samuel Johnson wrote parliamentary reports there long before anyone approached him with the idea of compiling a dictionary, Charles Dickens visited the Jerusalem Tavern which popped up there in 1760 (of course he did) and the west tower currently houses one of the few remaining Tudor spiral staircases in England (although you can only see this if you join one of their tours at 11am or 2.30pm on Tuesdays, Fridays or Saturdays). Also, if that's not enough name dropping, in the 16th century, the Priory housed the office of the Master of Revels (which sounds like a pretty cool job) responsible for licensing and organising all court entertainments and plays, and 30 of William Shakespeare's plays were licensed there.
The museum is open from Monday to Saturday (10am - 5pm), so if you're in the area or work nearby then why not pop in.
If you wander around London and in particular Mayfair, St James's Street and Piccadilly (or indeed many other parts of the UK), you might notice a particular shop displaying a small, or occasionally large coat of arms with a bit of blurb saying 'By Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen'. It basically means that they supply goods or services to the Royal Family. This one belongs to H. R Higgins, specialist supplier of fine coffee and tea.
It's not just The Queen though, it could be for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, or HRH The Prince of Wales ... AKA 'The Big Three'.
About 800 individuals or companies hold prestigious Royal Warrants and it could be an individual practicing traditional crafts or a massive computer company. Either way, it is supposed to signify a mark of quality and they can apply for Royal Warrant status after they've been supplying any one of 'The Big Three' with whatever it is they supply, for five years. However, if you're a fan of 'After Eight' mints (like me), or Jacob's Cream Crackers (can't say I'm a massive fan), then you might have noticed that the Royal Warrant has been subtly omitted from their product packaging in recent years. It seems that some companies just aren't feeling the prestige as much as they once did.
That aside, you can pretty much guarantee that many of the companies and shops that are proud owners of a Royal Warrants have been around for donkeys and in some cases continued to serve the Royal Family for centuries. H. R Higgins (above) on that note are pretty new to the game, only receiving there's in 1979 I think.
The earliest record of a Royal Charter dates back to 1155 and was granted by Henry II to the Weavers' Company. Also, perusing lists of Royal Tradesmen over the years, shines an intriguing light on how things have changed. Henry VIII for instance employed a guy called Thomas Hewytt to 'Serve the court with Swanes and Cranes', whilst Charles II, in 1684 couldn't possibly survive without his Sword Cutter, Operator for the Teeth and very importantly, his Goffe-Club Maker. The whole operation was formalised by Queen Victoria in 1840 and Royal Warrants are now granted and overseen by what is now called the Royal Warrant Holders Association. Here are some of my favourite holders of Royal Warrants (in no particular order):
Lock & Co - Hatters
Lock & Co have been making hats since 1676, which makes them the oldest hat shop in the world. They have provided hats for Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. In fact, you can see drawings they still have inside the shop of Nelson's hat measurements. They also are responsible for bringing about the once ubiquitous 'bowler hat' although, they'd call it the Coke (I might tell you why another time). To give you an idea of the kudos they have in the world of hat making, they once received a postcard from overseas, addressed simply to 'the best hatters in the world, London.' Enough said.
Berry Bros & Rudd - Wine & Spirit Merchants
Although they sell alcohol, confusingly, Berry Bros & Rudd have a picture of a coffee grinder on the sign outside their 315 year old shop. The reason being that when they started off at the end of the 17th century, they sold coffee to the reasonably newish coffee houses that had been popping up. They have some huge coffee scales, and the likes of Lord Byron and William Pitt have sat on them to be weighed. They still have all the leather bound volumes of various people's weights inside the rickety shop and until recently boasted the largest wine cellars in London; a whopping 8,000 square feet over two floors. They began their Royal connection back during the reign of King George III.
Floris - Perfumers
I really like Floris on Jermyn Street. I very much doubt that when people meet me, they think, 'this guy likes to buy luxury fragrances' but I've always found the staff in Floris to be incredibly friendly and helpful, despite my obvious lack of interest in smelly water. Founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris, as a perfumers, comb maker and purveyor of shaving products, they received their first Royal Warrant from George IV in 1820 as his Smooth Pointed Comb Maker. Aside from an amazing array of fragrances, they have a tiny little pseudo museum in the back room, which among other things includes a letter from Florence Nightingale to Mr Floris thanking him for his 'beautiful sweet-smelling nosegays'.
Paxton & Whitfield - Cheesemonger
Despite the name, which could almost be bywords for 'quality' and 'cheese', the seed of the business was actually sown by a bloke called Stephen Cullum who had a cheese stall in Aldwych Market back in 1742. His son Sam, moved the business to west London where many of his wealthy customers were based and took on two new partners, Henry Paxton and Charles Whitfield who somehow in 1797 managed to join their two names to become what is still today Paxton & Whitfield. They received their first Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1850 and have had mixed blessings over the years, as the popularity of cheese has waxed and waned, not mention rationing in the 1940's when they were forced to become a regular grocery shop. I'm very pleased to say they seem to be doing pretty well at the moment, with shops also in Stratford Upon Avon, Bath and the Cotswolds.
Hatchards - Booksellers
Hatchards, started by John Hatchard in 1797 has the distinction of being London's oldest bookshop. Based on Piccadilly, just next to Fortnum and Mason and opposite the Royal Academy of Arts, it's famous for the myriad of authors and politicians that have done book signings there and is crammed with books over five floors. They also hold Royal Warrants for all of 'The Big Three' and if you're a bit worried that Waterstones just a hop and a skip down the road might be stealing their business, then in fact, Waterstones bought Hatchards, but kept the much older and more prestigious name. It does mean though that if someone buys you Waterstones vouchers, you can use them in Hatchards too. Bonus.
And last but not least ...
John Anderson Hire Ltd - Portable Toilet Hire
Pretty much every Sunday I visit Columbia Road Flower Market on my east end walk. Every Sunday, there is a guy asleep in a land rover, behind which he has towed (for the use of visitors to the market) a portable toilet. Emblazoned on the doors of his vehicle is the Royal Warrant (which you can see above). Every time I use the toilet, which I do every Sunday, the emptying of my bladder feels that little bit more special, knowing that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II might have used the very same one ... albeit probably not the gents. So thank you very much John Anderson Hire Ltd for the wonderful service.
Just a quick little roundup today. It rained pretty much non stop during the east end walk on Sunday. On top of that it was also pretty incredibly cold, grey and miserable, so I'd like to say a massive thank you to Jay, Christine, Ashley, Adam and Dina for not only turning up (there was also major tube disruptions) but sticking around right until the bitter, cold end.
Here they are in a random, non descript car park. You see, it was so cold and wet, that I didn't put too much thought in to framing a wonderful, picturesque photo. However, if you look carefully, you might might notice one of street artist Roa's large black and white animals just behind Adam's head.
However, not sticking to the same route does has its advantages, as we stumbled across a couple of other bits of street art just near Hoxton Square. This one by Stik (no pun intended), who I've mentioned on multiple occasions.
And another one of Christiaan Nagel's ubiquitous mushrooms.
Most energetic - Dina (walked all the way from St James's, before we started the walk)
Most Irish - Christine
Most male - Adam
Best moustache - No winners
Whilst cycling through Old Street on Saturday, I somehow managed to notice this rather discreet film poster, almost coyly strapped to the side of the old Foundry building.
It is of course advertising the new film 'Hitchcock' starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren (who seems to have caused quite a stir at last nights BAFTAs ... for having pink hair). Anyway, it made me realise I've never really mentioned Alfred Hitchcock in relation to east London, but if you were to turn left at this poster (where Old Street and Great Eastern Street collide), head down Pitfield Street and nip across Shoreditch Park you'll find yourself standing in front of a block of 'luxury' flats that look like this.
If you look carefully, you might be able to make out that it says 'Gainsborough Studios' across the top on the right hand side. Previously on this site stood a power station, which, in the 1920's was turned in to a film studio, known as The Gainsborough Studios. A guy called Michael Balcon took it over and also took under his wing, a young lad from Leytonstone (also in east London) who was employed at the studios and supported him in making his first films, a silent black and white suspense thriller called 'The Lodger' was one and two other notable pre war efforts were 'The Lady Vanishes' and 'Rope'. This local lad, the son of a greengrocer was called Alfred Hitchcock.
With the advent of World War II, production wound down and the large chimney (a relic of the building's power station days) was taken down due to concerns of bombing damage. These concerns seem entirely justified, as at the time, the now open space of Shoreditch Park on the otherside of the road was a dense patchwork of narrow terraced streets, obliterated by V1 and V2 rocket attacks. In fact, parts of the park were excavated by the Museum of London in 2005 and 2006 as part of a community based archeological project.
Hitchcock took himself off to Hollywood to make 'Psycho', 'Vertigo' and other now well known films and the Gainsborough Studios languished for the next 50 years until the fortunes of Hoxton changed and eagle eyed property developers realised that the former studios overlooking the Regents canal could provide much sought after accommodation. The site was turned in to flats in about 2001 I think.
The flats are built around a courtyard, and upon entering you'll come across a quite startlingly massive sculpture (not visible from the street) of Hitchcock's head. It was made by Antony Donaldson and unveiled by the late film director Anthony Minghella in 2003.
The idea is that it's apparently depicting a young Hitchcock looking towards Hollywood where he would of course end his illustrious career. You could be forgiven for thinking upon first site (if you didn't know the Hitchcock connection) that it depicts Buddha or perhaps Chairman Mao. However, not to take anything away from Donaldson's impressive feat, it's certainly imposing; so much so, that if you walk around the back that you'll discover that there are offices inside. It must be quite a claim to fame to tell people you work inside Alfred Hitchcock's head.
Most people on both sides of the Atlantic are usually familiar with the nursery rhyme, children's song and one time music hall ditty 'Pop! Goes The Weasel', but does anyone actually know what on earth it is about? I shall start by answering this question, by saying ... I have no idea. The good news for me though, is that it seems that no one else does really either.
Whilst I was waiting for the group to turn up for Sunday mornings walk around the east end, I nipped across the road to a pub called The Eagle. It's right on the corner of City Road and Shepherdess Walk. It looks very much like this.
The majority of people will also know the first verse:
'Half a pound of tuppenny rice, half a pound of treacle,
Mix it up and make it nice. Pop! Goes the weasel'
And undoubtedly a flicker of recognition will occur at the point when you hear that another verse is:
'Up and down the City Road, in and out the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes. Pop! Goes the weasel.'
That's right. I did just tell you that the pub is called The Eagle and that it's on City Road and no, it isn't a complete coincidence ... they've even got the words emblazoned on a huge board on the side of the pub.
To cut a reasonably long story short, back in the 18th century, the site was what was known as a Pleasure Garden, a rural day out to enjoy gardens, concerts, balloon ascents and various other activities. In the 19th century, it had become a music hall known as the Grecian Theatre (or Eagle Tavern) where a local lass, later known by her stage name of Marie Lloyd made her stage debut at the age of fifteen. In 1882, the building was acquired by General William Booth for the Salvation Army, and from that point on there would cease being such an abundance of wrestling matches, bawdiness and general revelry. However, after being demolished in the early 20th century, The Eagle once again returned as a public house, which is the building you see today.
There are various schools of thought relating to the meaning of the words now inscribed on the pub and immortalised in a nursery rhyme, but as, in the Victorian period, the area was clogged with textile and hat making industries, a 'weasel' is sometimes considered to be a piece of machinery or tool that was used and prone to breaking, or a type of iron used by tailors. Another, and perhaps my favourite is that the weasel in question relates to 'weasel & stoat', Cockney rhyming slang for coat, and 'pop' is another word to pawn something, so in essence, guys working in the area would drink away their earnings in The Eagle and then have to pawn their coat in order to get a bit of money.
As I mentioned though, there are numerous differing thoughts on this, and in fact just a couple of weeks ago, Richey who came on a Sunday walk, had heard a completely different story about it which I never had, so if you have any other suggestions on the meaning of 'Pop! Goes the weasel', please feel free to let me know. I'd be delighted to hear them.
For a lovely little post, displaying some of the old play bills and pictures of the Grecian Theatre, I would like to direct you to Spitalfields Life.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.