Take a Butcher’s down the old Frog ‘n’ Toad. See how it’s changed over the past century. Would you Adam ‘n’ Eve it?
Enough of the cockney rhyming slang, tell me about the history…
By the turn of the twentieth century the population of Bethnal Green numbered 130,000; today it has fallen to around 25,000. In his semi-fictional ‘A Child of the Jago’, Arthur Morrison depicts the real-life stench, violence and overcrowding in the Old Nichol rookery during late Victorian times. The Old Nichol was swept away through slum clearance, to be replaced by the world’s first council housing in the shape of Boundary Estate. Road widening, under an 1872 Act of Parliament, meant Bethnal Green Road became a main thoroughfare to the City.
The landscape may have changed, but what about the shops? The 1915 Post office Directory reveals Isambard’s Cycle at 145 Bethnal Green Road was a former purveyor of stewed eels; close neighbours included coffee rooms, a wardrobe dealer, milk can maker, surgeon, and birch broom seller alongside various cabinet makers, plumbers, confectioners, butchers, dentists, corset retailers and army clothiers. Many people needed many shops and coffee houses; the dense population of old Bethnal Green liked to sit and chat over a drink as much as the new.
Between Brick Lane and Shacklewell Street, there’s a well-preserved section of Bethnal Green road shops, set in mid-nineteenth century Italianate terrace. I take a look at what’s there today.
Buy rare vinyl at Flashback Records. Turn your gaze to the exhibitions at artists-run gallery Espacio. Skilled with a needle? Visit the beautiful London Fabric Shop at 141, with its exotic selection of tweeds, cottons, silks and velvets. Owner Ciara Jennings is “excited about the new life being breathed into this stretch of road”.
A Victorian Cockney might not know what to make of all this change. But what’s clear, me old China, is that there’s still fun to be had… with a Score, Pony or Monkey in your pocket.
Espacio Gallery is on 159 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 7DG
This article can be found in the East2 Insider’s Guide to Bethnal Green Magazine 2015. – See more at: http://issuu.com/walkeast/docs/east_2_2015_issuu_2
– By Emma Coleman