All posts for the month February, 2014

Just over one hundred years ago, deep in the East End, a pitched gun battle took place in Sidney Street, a thoroughfare just off the Whitechapel Road. The Siege of Sidney Street, which was often called the “Battle of Stepney”, was a notorious gunfight that broke out on 3 January 1911.

It is believed that the protagonists had been responsible for the Houndsditch Murders where, on 16 December 1910, a gang attempted to break into the rear of a jeweller’s shop at 119 Houndsditch.

An adjacent shopkeeper heard the gang hammering to get through the wall, informed the City of London Police (in whose area the shop was), and nine unarmed officers — three sergeants and six constables (two in plain clothes) arrived on the scene. Two officers were hit, and one, Bentley, collapsed across the doorstep. Another officer, Bryant, managed to stagger outside. In the street, Constable Woodhams ran to help Bentley, but was himself wounded by one of the gang firing from the cover of the house, as was Sergeant Tucker, who died almost instantly. The gang then made their escape via the cul-de-sac at the rear of the building.
Sidney Street under Seige

A few weeks later, on 2 January 1911, an informant told police that two or three members of the gang – possibly including the gang’s leader, Peter Piatkow also known as ‘Peter the Painter’ – were hiding at 100 Sidney Street, Stepney. Concerned that their suspects were about to flee, 200 police officers cordoned off the area and the siege began.

At dawn, on the 3rd January, the battle commenced. Although the gang were heavily outnumbered, they possessed superior weapons and a great deal of ammunition. Word was sent to the Tower of London asking for backup, and news of the siege reached the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, who arrived on the spot to observe the incident at first hand.

Churchill gave authorisation for the calling in of a detachment of Scots Guards to assist the police. Six hours into the battle, a cannon that Churchill had authorised turned up at Sidney Street, when it was noticed that a fire was beginning to consume the building. The fire brigade arrived promptly, but Churchill refused to give them any access to the building.

The police stood waiting, with their guns at the ready, expecting at any moment that the men inside would attempt their escape. However, the door to the building remained closed. Instead, the remains of two members of the gang, Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow (both were also known by numerous aliases), were later discovered inside the building. No sign of Peter the Painter was found. Besides the three policemen, a London fire-fighter also died of his injuries.

Whitechapel- The TV Series
Whitechapel, the TV series (a Carnival Films production) was set in 2008 and is based around a group of detectives in London’s Whitechapel district who find themselves dealing with murders which tend to replicate historical crimes.

The initial series was originally broadcast in the UK on 2 February 2009 and depicted the search for a modern copycat killer who appears to have started to replicate the activities of Jack the Ripper. The ensuing series of bloody and seemingly impossible murders are investigated by the shows three main characters: DI Joseph Chandler, a fast-tracked, but flawed OCD Detective Inspector who has been assigned this as his first big murder case; Detective Sergeant Ray Miles, a hard bitten professional copper nearing his retirement, and Edward Buchan, an eccentric and brilliant Jack the Ripper tour guide, author and self styled Ripperologist.

By series two, the action had switched to some other well-known East End villains, The Kray Twins. A series of crimes mirroring those committed by the Krays, leads the Whitechapel team to believe that Ronnie and Reggie Kray have somehow been resurrected and are once again wreaking havoc in the Whitechapel area. This second series was first broadcast on 11 October 2010.
Whitechapel TV Series Characters

A third series was commissioned by ITV in March 2011, which was extended to six episodes as three two-part stories, and dealt with murders in present day Whitechapel that seemed to be paralleling those of Victorian and Edwardian London.

The fourth and ultimately final series was commissioned by the ITV on 24 September 2012. Once again, Whitechapel ran for six episodes, with the first episode being broadcast on 4 September 2013. This time, the team are met with a number of supernatural occurrences that seem to centre round the Whitechapel CID.

On 16 November 2013, Rupert Penry-Jones who played DI Chandler in the series confirmed that ITV had decided not to re-commission the show and had cancelled it.

Despite initial appearances, Dennis Severs’ House is not a museum at all, but a private house that is open to members of the general public and acts as a sort of ‘time capsule’ to The East End of London’s past.

Dennis Severs, an American who sadly passed away in 1999 bought this run-down, and un-modernized Eighteenth century house in 1979. Rather than follow his contemporaries, he decided not to restore the building, but instead to “bring it to life“. Other artists were moving into the Spitalfields area at the time, and given its background as a slum area, was quite bohemian. For example, artists Gilbert & George live nearby.

Severs decided to live here, at 18 Folgate Street, E1, without electricity and other home comforts we now take for granted. Folgate Street is an atmospheric narrow road with tall townhouses and period lampposts. In fact, there’s a gas lamp flickering over the entrance to the house and should you fancy a drink, The Water Poet pub is opposite. Red wooden shutters cover the windows on the ground floor of the building and silhouette cut-outs appear in the first floor windows

Severs set about the house, creating a Huguenot silk weaver’s home for a ‘Mr Isaac Jervis, his family, and their descendants’.

The Jervis family are imaginary – a fiction of Severs – but the attention to detail in the building is incredible. However, Severs was not a historian and never wanted anyone to think of his home as a museum. It was his interpretation of how Eighteenth century domestic life would have been, and unlike state funded museums around the country, was put together on a very limited budget.

Unlike so many museums, a visit to Denis Severs’ House gives us a glimpse into the lives of the fictional inhabitants he created. Before the public are admitted (on strictly limited days, incidentally) fresh food, drink and flowers are added so although you never see them there are plenty of signs that the Jervis family are close by. It’s all lit by candlelight and there’s a real fire burning in the kitchen.


There are ten rooms to explore and each looks like a real home, with full domestic trappings – It’s dark inside – remember it is only lit by candlelight – but there are plenty of hints around to help you find out more about the family. As you move around the home it seems more real as it is not ‘perfect’, and you get to see the rooms a visitor would not normally enter.

By the time you reach the top floor, the scene that opens up before you is as if time has moved on – paint is peeling off the walls, everything is dirty and there are holes in the ceiling. It gives you a real sense of the poverty that would have befallen the ‘family’ in later life.

Try out this hidden gem (the nearest tube station is Liverpool Street) – it’s an unusual London Tourist Attraction – one that is far away from the so called tourist trail.

Joseph Merrick
– who became known as ‘The Elephant Man‘, was not born in the East End, but his involvement with the London Hospital, Whitechapel and with Frederick Treves, one of its surgeons, made him inextricably linked to this part of London.

Joseph Carey Merrick was born in Leicester, Leicestershire, England in 1862 and lived until 1890. He began to develop severe abnormalities during the first month or two of his life, and these manifested themselves as thick, lumpy skin on his body, together with a huge bony lump on his forehead. His lips, feet and one of his arms became grossly enlarged, and following a fall during his childhood, Joseph developed a severe limp.
elephant man

When his mother died in 1873, and following rejection by his father who remarried two years later, Joseph left home. In late 1879, the 17 year old Joseph Merrick entered the Leicester Union Workhouse.

At the age of 21, Merrick himself contacted a showman called Sam Torr and suggested that Torr exhibit him as a freak. Torr, with a number of associates named Merrick ‘The Elephant Man’, and began touring the East Midlands with their sad cargo in tow.

Merrick then travelled to London where he met another showman called Tom Norman who exhibited him in a shop in Whitechapel Road, directly opposite the London Hospital. Incidentally, the shop stands to this day but now sells Indian saris…

Treves discovered Merrick on one of his sojourns outside the hospital and invited him to be examined and photographed. Merrick agreed, and ended up staying in an apartment in the hospital for the remainder of his life.

Treves would visit him daily and the pair developed quite a close friendship. Merrick also used to receive visits from members of London society, which included Alexandra, Princess of Wales.
Joseph Merrick

Despite his atrocious deformities, Joseph Merrick was an intelligent and sensitive human being, and some of that sensitivity shines through in the intricate model of a cathedral he constructed whilst in his apartment, and which remains in the London Hospital Museum to this day.

Merrick died on 11 April 1890, aged 27. The official recorded cause of death was asphyxia, although Treves, who dissected the body, discovered that Merrick had died of a dislocated neck. He said it was his belief that Merrick—who had to sleep sitting up, supported by cushions, because of the weight of his head—had been attempting to sleep lying down, to “be like other people”.

One question often asked in the East End is ‘What is a Cockney’?

Well, a common definition of a cockney is a person who has been born within the sound of Bow bells. This has nothing to do with the suburb of Bow to the east of London but to the church of Saint Mary le Bow, Cheapside, in the City of London.

A study carried out in the Millennium Year 2000 tried to determine just how far the Bells of Bow could be heard, (given the noise levels of today would not have been so prevalent when the term was originally coined!)

The conclusion was that they would have been heard for six miles to the east, five miles to the north, three miles to the south, and four miles to the west. Today, that is an area that covers Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Stepney, Wapping, Limehouse, Poplar, Millwall, Hackney, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Bow, and Mile End, and even Bermondsey which is actually south of the River Thames.

One of the defining features of a being a Cockney, however, is use of the dialect known as Cockney Rhyming Slang.

No quite knows when Cockney rhyming slang originated in the East End of London, but it is thought to have started to be used from around 1840 onwards.

There is some thought that it came into being as an alternative form of dialect – a bit of a ‘code’ between the street traders and costermongers with unsuspecting customers being completely unaware of what was being said about them. Others believe that it may have been used by the criminal fraternity as a way of confusing the Police force of the time.

John Hotton produced a ‘Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant & Vulgar Words’ in 1859 which included, for the first time, a Glossary of Rhyming Slang – some of which are reproduced below. Try it out for yourself.




Adam and Eve


Almond rocks


Apple fritter

bitter (beer)

Apple peeling


Apple tart


Apples and pears


Aunty Lou


Barnet Fair


Beechams pill


Bees ‘n’ honey


Bernard Miles

piles (haemorrhoids)

Boat race




Bottle and glass


Bow & arrow


Box of toys


Brown bread


Bubble and squeak



talk (from rabbit and pork)

Burnt cinder


Butcher’ s hook


Cain & Able


Chalk Farm




China plate

mate (friend)

Coach ‘n’ badge

cadge (get money off)

Cock ‘n’ hen

ten or £10

Currant bun


Derby Kelly


Dicky Dirt


Dig in the grave


Dr. Crippen


Dog and bone


Donald Duck


Duke of Kent


Friar Tuck


Frog and toad


George Raft

daft (crazy)

Ginger beer


Gold watch


Ham and eggs


Hampstead Heath


Harry Lime


Heap of coke


Hen ‘n’ fox


Holy friar


Holy ghost


House to let


Jack ‘n’ Jill


Jam jar


Jam tart




Jim Skinner




Joe Blake


Kate Karney


Lemon squash


Linen draper


Loaf of bread


Max Miller


Mince pies


Mother Hubbard


Mutt and Jeff


Peckham Rye


Pig’s ear


Plates of meat


Pork pie


Pot ‘n’ pan

old man

Rabbit ‘n’ pork


Reads and writes


Reels of cotton


Rocking horse


Rory O’Moore


Rosie Lee


Salmon and trout


Saucepan lid

kid (child)

Sexton Blake


Joe Blake


Six to four


Skin ‘n’ blister


Sky rocket


Taters in the mould


Tea leaf


Tit for tat


Tom and Dick


Trouble and strife