There is a series running on BBC television at the moment depicting the living and working conditions in the East End of London. Episode 1 started in the 1860's and each week, the episode moves on a decade.
No matter how grim the depiction, it is not really possible to convey the horror that London's poor had to endure. The production company also makes the wonderful "Who do you think you Are" programmes where famous people look into their ancestral past. I see that one of the advisors is Sarah Wise, who has written some wonderful books about the same period including 'The Blackest Streets'. I can strongly recommend this book if you have an historical interest in this period or ancestors who lived here in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
I applied to take part in the programme but strangely, my wife baulked at the idea of living in a hovel for three weeks, odd that.
My own family passed through the East End around the time covered by the programme. My great, great grandfather left the Grenadier Guards as a Colour Sergeant and started work as a lodging superintendent for Baroness Angela Coutts at Columbia Market, just a few hundred yards from the infamous 'Old Nicol' slum. He died shortly after of pneumonia. In the 1880's, another branch lived not far away in Mile End New Town near Brick Lane. Howard Buildings was designated housing for the 'Industrious Classes'. Later still, my paternal grandparents arrived in England from Eastern Europe and settled in Whitechapel.
All this helps to explain my fascination for Brick Lane and its immediate surroundings. In 2014, my wife and I helped towards the publication costs of the wonderful 'Spitalfields Nippers' book of photographs taken over 100 years ago by Horace Warner. Horace was a Quaker from an affluent family whose income enabled his photographic hobby. The Quakers were very actively involved in trying to alleviate poverty in the East End and gave their name to Quaker Street that today still runs westwards from Brick Lane. In Horace's time the street would have been a deep maze of alleys and courts, not anymore. On the southern side is a long, blank brick wall, part of the Truman Brewery complex, to the north there are some low level flats and a very creaky old warehouse.
My photo here was taken in Quaker Street, what with Brexit and Trump looming, or maybe not, I thought it a good idea to try to make you smile, with a typical piece of East London humour. It reminds me of the wonderful radio skit about a pathetic bank robbery attempt when Kenneth Williams uttered the immortal phrase 'Hold up your stick, this is a hand up'.
Just when you think you really know a neighbourhood inside out, explored all the nooks and crannies, a special place presents itself. That's what happened to me a few months ago.
Just a few hundred yards from Brick Lane, there as a triangular wedge of land, perhaps a hundred yards long by fifty yards at its widest point. Hemmed in by rail tracks on two sides and a less than beautiful approach, it’s little wonder that I missed it during my previous wanderings.
Populated by tiny gardens created from pallets, shacks made from old doors and discarded timber, a hand-made temple and a mobile cafe that looks like a big Vespa scooter with a cabin attached, this place is different, totally. Then there is the people who maintain this extraordinary spot, you'll be meeting some of them later.
In the meantime, I decided to call this image - "Power to the People", a slogan appropriated from an ancient TV series called Citizen Smith. The graffiti has changed but the last time I looked, the sculpture was still in place.
Curious? With a little perseverance, you'll find the place, I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.