All posts tagged Cockney

Barbara Windsor Header
The young blonde actress looked about her bemusedly. The cold damp field didn’t look very Hollywood to her – even the mud had been painted green to look like grass and she was starting to sink slowly into it.

Although it was a bitterly cold February morning, all her co-actors were wearing nothing but bikinis and swimsuits and were being addressed by the director, Gerald Thomas, on the set of ‘Carry on Camping’.

Barbara Windsor in Carry on Camping

Barbara Windsor in Carry on Camping

‘Right love, we’ll attach some fishing line and a hook to your bra, and Bert, the props man will pull it off’

So with only Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques (and essential film crew) in front of her, a 32 year old Barbara Windsor created one of the most memorable comedy vignettes to have appeared in British film history.

Born Barbara Ann Deeks in August 1937 – in the London Hospital, in Whitechapel Road to parents John and Rose Deeks, Barbara’s family had both East End and Irish connections. Barbara’s paternal great-grandmother had fled from the terrible Irish potato famine and had settled in the East End, eventually finding employment as one of the infamous match girls.

Barbara Windsor was an only child, and her mother made no bones of the fact that she had been hoping for a boy. When John Deeks left to fight in the war, Barbara was evacuated to Blackpool.

Barbara was taken in by Florence and Ernest North, and Florence soon spotted some potential in young Barbara, writing a letter to Rose Deeks asking to be allowed to send her to Norbreck Dancing School with her own daughter Mary.

Once there, Barbara took to singing and dancing like a duck to water, and upon returning to London, her mother paid for elocution lessons and enrolled her in the Aida Foster Acting School in Golders Green. She made her stage debut at 13 and aged just 15 made her West End debut in the chorus of the musical ‘Love from Judy’, a role she continued for two years.

In 1954, aged 17, Barbara Windsor made her film debut in ‘The Belles of St Trinians’, before continuing her stage career with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford East, performing in ‘Fings Ain’t Wot They Use To Be’ and Littlewood’s film, ‘Sparrers Can’t Sing’.

It is probably for her career in the immensely successful ‘Carry On’ series of films that Barbara Windsor became a star. She recalls in her autobiography ‘All of Me – My Extraordinary Life‘ that she had an argument with co-star Kenneth Williams in her first film, where he accused her of fluffing her lines. In a scene which required him to wear a beard, she drew herself to her full four feet ten and a half inches and shouted out “Don’t you yell at me with Fenella Fielding’s minge hair stuck round your chops, I won’t stand for it”.

Kenneth Williams was said to have clapped his hands together and grinned, saying ‘Haaaah – isn’t she wonderful?’ They became lifelong friends.

Barbara Windsor went on to make nine Carry On films, although she is so memorable many people think she actually appeared in a lot more.

Barbara Windsor with Ronnie Knight and Reggie Kray

Barbara Windsor with Ronnie Knight and Reggie Kray

Barbara’s off stage life was complicated as that on screen, with a string of affairs, a total of five abortions (three before she was 21) and three marriages. She lost her virginity at 18 to a ‘flash Arab’. Her affair with her Carry On co-star Sid James has been well documented and she was also romantically linked to Bee Gee Maurice Gibb.

Her first marriage was to small time crook Ronnie Knight, and through him, she became associated with the Krays, initially going out with the twins older brother Charlie (who she described as looking ‘a bit like Steve McQueen’), before sleeping with Reggie Kray. She later married Stephen Hollings, an actor, in 1986 before their divorce in 1995, and is now married to former actor Scott Mitchell.

Barbara Windsor cemented her East End credentials when in 1994, she appeared as Peggy Mitchell in the long running BBC soap opera ‘Eastenders’, admitting when she joined the soap that she had been a ‘scared little lady’.

Barbara Windsor as Peggy Mitchell

Barbara Windsor as Peggy Mitchell

She continued to play a major part in the show, winning the British Soap Award for Best Actress honour in 1999 until a tearful farewell on the 10th September 2010 (although she did make a small comeback for one episode in 2013).

Her awards didn’t finish there however, as she was made an MBE in the 2000 New Years Honours List.

In 2012, Barbara Windsor became patron of the Amy Winehouse Foundation.

Pie Mash and Liquor
Due to the extremes of poverty in the East End, an inexpensive form of a hot nutritional meal was welcome, and supplies of eels was plentiful, right through until the end of the 1800’s – indeed, eels were one of the few types of fish that could survive in the Thames, given the high levels of pollution at the time. Billingsgate Fish Market, a short distance along the Thames from the East End was the usual stopping point for the predominantly Dutch fishing vessels that would moor and land their catch.
Pie and Mash

The chopped eels were baked in a pie, and to make the meal larger, the inclusion of a cheap vegetable, in this case mashed potato, and a sauce (usually made from the water that had been used to cook the eels, and given some taste and colour by the addition of some chopped parsley) would form the basis of a nourishing and inexpensive meal.

Following the end of the Second World War, the supplies of eels rapidly declined – a trend that has continued to the present day (in fact a recent 2010 survey of eel traps along the Thames showed that only 50 eels were captured in the whole twelve months). As beef became more widely available with a growing supply from imports around the world, the nature of the pie changed, and it is likely that asking for Pie & Mash now will result in being served minced beef as a filling.

M Manze Pie and Mash Shop
The longest continuously open pie and mash shop in London is M. Manze, which opened in 1902 on Tower Bridge Road. As the family grew, so did the chain of pie and mash shops, but these have now shrunk back to just three shops including the original in Tower Bridge Road, together with ones in Peckham and Sutton.

Traditionally, pie and mash shops nearly all have white tile walls with mirrors (often heavily engraved), and marble floors, tables and work tops, all of which are easy to clean. They give the shops – (and you will find that they are hardly ever called restaurants) – a late Victorian appearance

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



The East End seems forever associated with jellied eels – but why? Well, one of the main reasons was the setting up of a famous jellied eel stall almost 100 years ago. Tubby Isaacs’s famous jellied eel stall stood on the corner of Goulston Street but, regrettably, is no longer there.

The business was founded in 1919 by ‘Tubby’ Isaac Brenner, who soon gained a reputation as the East End supplier of choice for slippery jellied eels to the masses. After almost 20 years of trading, Tubby emigrated just before the outbreak of the Second World War, settling in the USA.  As a result, the business was taken over in 1938 by his assistant Solly Gritzman.

Tubby Isaac Brenner

Solly had begun working with Tubby on the stall from the tender age of 11.  After almost 50 years association with the famous stall, Solly succumbed and died in 1982 at the age of 73. Solly was succeeded by his nephew Ted, and Ted’s son Paul who started working on the stall in 1989. But, all good things come to an end, and as cockney tastes have changed over the years, the stall has finally been closed down.

So, why were jellied eels so popular amongst the poor of the East End? Well, when eels are boiled, the jelly that exudes during the cooking sets to create a natural preservative. As a result, no jelly is added as it effectively creates its own jelly. And that jelly was a crucial factor before refrigeration as a poor East End family could eat from a bowl of jellied eels and then put the dish in a cold pantry where the jelly would reset preserving it for the next day…


Many people associate the East End with Pearly Kings & Queens.  The Pearlies developed from the ‘Coster Kings & Queens’, who originated in the 18th century. The ‘Costers’ in turn began life as ‘Costermongers’, London’s street traders, who have been around for over a 1000 years

The Costermongers have been an important feature of London life since the 11th century and for most of that time they were unlicensed and itinerant. Like some market traders of today, they would shout out to attract customers to view their wares – although, in doing so, they would often upset some of London’s better off society. The costermongers began to adopt an innovative method of attracting attention to themselves. Many would have a row of pearl buttons, each the size of a penny, sewn to their outside trouser seams from the ankle to the knee. Other went further with more pearl buttons on the flaps of their waistcoat and coat pockets and the front of their caps.


At that time, Victorian London was riddled with social problem. The poor or those too sick to work enjoyed no healthcare provision, and the welfare state was a long way off. For many, the Workhouse was the only way of food or lodgings, but it was considered the last resort among the poor as treatment was harsh and conditions almost as squalid as life on the street.

It was into this environment that Henry Croft enters the story….

Henry Croft was born in 1862 and raised in a Victorian workhouse orphanage in Somers Town Market, Chalton Street, King’s Cross.

Henry decided to go one better and decided to have a suit totally covered in pearl buttons. He then used to wear this to collect pennies and halfpennies to help out the children in the orphanage where he had been raised. He soon became a great attraction, and he was approached by many charitable organizations to help collect money for the poor, or disabled.

Pearly Kings and QueensThe costermongers had always had a tradition of organizing a whip-round for any of their number who had fallen on hard times, and Henry now asked them to help him with his charity work. They adopted the same style of costume, and as a result, the pearly monarchy and its tradition of raising money for charity began.

When Henry died in 1930, 400 pearly kings and queens attended his funeral in their costumes. There are fewer than that now, but the Original Pearly Kings and Queens Association still looks after Henry’s grave – a representation of a top hatted figure of Henry Croft that was originally situated  in the St Pancras & Islington Cemetery – until repeated vandalism caused its replacement…