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So Long, Nathan’s Pies & Eels

May 27, 2018
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Andrew Baker visited Nathan’s Pies & Eels in Barking Rd to record the drama of West Ham’s last home game of the season, when – as they have done every Saturday for more than forty years – fans piled in for a hearty meal before the match. Yet this was a poignant occasion because Nathan’s closed for good yesterday, shut down by excessive rent increases that have rendered this thriving business untenable.

Nathan’s was an East End cultural landmark, a community centre and a culinary destination, cherished for its delicious pies cooked freshly each day to the same recipe by generations of the Nathan family. At this moment of the passing of an era, I sat down with Richard Nathan in his beautiful sparkling pie shop to record his family’s story and celebrate their incredible achievement and service to their beloved customers in Newham through the decades.

“We opened this shop in November 1974, my great-aunt Dorrie and her husband Roy. Although he was a Minchin, they put her maiden name ‘Nathan’ on the shop. My grandparents had been in the business of pies before that, it had always been in the family. My parents Christine & David took over in 1983 and they still help out in their late seventies. Finally, I am the fourth generation.

It has always been an Eel & Pie house and we have never changed the recipes. Even though we have been through thick and thin, we have retained a high level of quality. You get a full pie full of meat without any gristle. At other places, you might cut into pie and find it full of gravy but not here!

I am the owner-proprietor which means I do everything from unblocking the toilets to making the pies. I had a good teacher, my father. From the age of five, I would be in the bakehouse standing on a chair with an apron trailing down to my feet, cutting bits of dough off the pies. So I have always helped. I worked as a Saturday boy for a number of years and when I left school at sixteen I decided to come into the business. That was thirty years ago next month. Quite some time even though I am still young.

I work ten to twelve hours a day, five days a week. It has not made me rich but it has provided a comfortable living, through sheer hard work. Everybody that works here has made Nathan’s Pie & Mash shop what it is today.

We are closing now after more than eighty years of our family in the business. There are lots of factors that have led to shutting the shop – the closure of Upton Park football ground, the imposition of strict new parking regulations so our customers cannot park, the new business rates and a threatened 100% rent increase. Rent is a hard fought battle these days. It used to be like a gentlemen’s agreement that every five years it would increase by perhaps a thousand, but all of a sudden a new regime came in. The council is the landlord but they appointed a property management company. It took me four years of court battles to bring their proposed rent of £22,000 per annum down to reasonable £14, 500, from an original rent of £11,000. Meanwhile the business rates have increased and increased. The rent and rates here are over £25,000 a year but I cannot put the prices of my pies to match these increases.

When I look back, it has been fun running this shop. On a football day, it was part of a big social routine – buying your programme, coming in here and having pie and mash, enjoying a pint at the Boleyn Tavern or the Working Men’s Club and then going round the back to the stadium. Unfortunately, all that has now gone and the eight hundred and sixty-six dwellings in the new development that replace the stadium will not be affordable for local people.”

Richard & David Nathan, piemakers

Pamela Balder, Brenda Rice and Shirley Frankland

Brenda Rice – “I started in 1976. I had just lost my daughter so I need to do something and I came to work here. I walked by one day and saw the advert. I said to my husband, ‘There’s a job going down the Boleyn,’ and he said ‘Would you like me to drive you down there in the car?’ and I have been here ever since. Some of our customers have been coming in for years and we all know each other, we are like family. Even if you wake up in the morning and don’t feel like coming in, by the time you come here and get talking to everyone you feel better.”

Shirley Frankland – “I came to work here in 1993. It is walking distance from my home and I enjoy the social life. We go out together and meet up at different places. We have already got three evenings booked ahead including the Brick Lane Music Hall. We cannot tell you what we get up to!”

Pamela Balder – “Like Shirley, I started in 1993. I had been married a little while and we bought a house when prices were sky-high so I needed to look for a job. At the time, my mum Pam worked here and she said, ‘There’s a vacancy.’ Before that, I was a Saturday girl from the age of fourteen.”

Photographs copyright © Andrew Baker

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The London Riot Map

May 26, 2018
by the gentle author

Each Saturday, we are featuring one of Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND from the forthcoming book of his extraordinary cartography to be published by Spitalfields Life Books & Batsford on Thursday June 7th.

Please support this ambitious venture by pre-ordering a copy, which will be signed by Adam Dant with an individual drawing on the flyleaf and sent to you on publication. CLICK TO ORDER A SIGNED COPY OF MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND BY ADAM DANT

Tickets are already on sale for Adam Dant’s illustrated lecture showing his maps at the Wanstead Tap on Thursday June 21st. Click here to book tickets

(Click on this image to enlarge it and study the history of urban turbulence)

Adam Dant maps the venerable London tradition of riots in his elegant cartography of public disturbances from AD60 until the present day, LONDON ENRAGED.


AD 60      Battle Bridge – alleged current site of King’s Cross station where Boudica’s Revolt resulted in her death

1189         Tower of London - Jews honouring Richard I at the king’s coronation were massacred

1196         St Mary le Bow,  Cheapside -  William Fitz Osbert AKA ‘William of the Long Beard’s’ sermon against ‘The Rich’ resulted in rioting and his being drawn apart by horses and hanged on a gibbet

1221         Westminster – Riots followed an annual London v Westminster wrestling  match

1268        City of London – ‘ A dispute arose between certain members of the craft of the Goldsmiths and certain of the craft of the Tailors ‘

1391         Salisbury Place, Westminster –  The Bakers’ Loaf Riots

1517         St Paul’s Cross – Evil Mayday Riots, A Xenophobic speech by Dr Bell prompted subjects of Henry Vlll to riot against foreigners

1668        Moorfields/Shoreditch –  ‘The Bawdy House Riots/Messenger Riots ‘Dissenters prevented from private lay worship lay siege to illegal brothels in the East End in protest at the King’s tacit approval of such trade’

1710         Lincoln’s Inn – The Sacheverell Riots : The trial of preacher Henry Sacheverell resulted in riots, the destruction of Daniel Burgesse’s Presbyterian meeting house and the passing of the 1714 Riot Act

1719         Spitalfields Weavers’ Riots – weavers riot and attacked women for wearing Indian clothing

1743        Gin Riots – Rioting against the gin act is fuelled by the consumption of gin

1768        St George’s Field’s, Lambeth – Crowds gathered and rioted in protest against the imprisonment of John Wilkes for criticising the king

1769        The Spitalfields Riots – Weavers Riot over rates of piece-work pay

1780        The Gordon Riots – Lord George Gordon called for the repeal of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 and a return to the repression of Catholics

1809       The Old Price Riots,  New Theatre Covent Garden – Riots caused by rising theatre ticket prices

1816        Spa Fields Riots -  Revolutionary Spenceans rioted after a mass meeting in Islington

1830       Hyde Park – Riots for electoral reform resulted in the Duke of Wellington’s carriage  being attacked and his installation of iron shutters at Apsley House

1866       Hyde Park – Members of the Reform League riot after it’s suppression

1886       The West End Riots –  Rioting followed a protest by the Social Democratic Foundation, Britain’s first socialist political party who agitated against free trade

1887       Trafalgar Sq, Bloody Sunday –  Violence erupted between police and demonstrators protesting against unemployment and coercion in Ireland

1907       Battersea Park, The Brown Dog Riots – Rioting started after medical students attempted to destroy an anti-vivisection statue of a dog

1909      The Tottenham Outrage – Deaths and injuries resulted from the fall out of an attempted armed robbery by two Bolsheviks

1911        The Siege (or Battle) of Sidney Street – A violent stand-off occurred between police and the army and two Latvian revolutionaries

1919        The Battle of Bow St – Police clashed with  Australian, American and Canadian servicemen after attempting to stop them playing dice outside the YMCA

1932        Hyde Park , National Hunger March Riot – Police confiscates a petition of a million names from The National Unemployed Workers Movement resulting in riots

1936         The Battle of Cable St – East enders rioted against the police who attempted to protect a march by the British Union of Fascists

1958         Notting Hill – Race riots between White British residents and West Indian Immigrants

1968        Grosvenor Sq – Demonstrations against the US war in Vietnam outside the American Embassy turned violent

1974        Red Lion Sq - Disorder followed demonstrations against the National Front by Anti-Fascists

1976       Notting Hill Carnival Riots – Riots occurred after heavy handed policing of pickpockets in the carnival crowd

1977       The Battle of Lewisham – A National Front march from New Cross to Lewisham resulted in riots after violent clashes with Anti-Fascist demonstrators

1979        Southall Riots – A demonstration against a National Front election meeting resulted in violence and the death of Anti-NF activist Blair Peach

1981        Brixton Riots – Riots on ‘Bloody Saturday‘ resulted from antagonism between the police and residents of an area with a high level of socio-economic problems

1985        Brixton Riots – Rioting and fires followed the wrongful shooting by police of Dorothy ‘cherry ‘ Grose

1985        Broadwater Farm Riots – Tensions between local black youth and largely white Metropolitan Police following the shooting of Dorothy Grose turned to rioting after the death of Cynthia Jarrett of a heart attack during a police search

1990        Poll Tax Riots – Rampaging and looting followed a protest against Margaret Thatcher’s Community Charge or ‘Poll Tax’

1995        Brixton Riots – Rioting occurred after a peaceful protest outside Brixton Police station became violent

1996        England v Germany UEFA cup riot, Trafalgar Sq

1999        Carnival Against Capitalism – A battle ensued between mounted police and protestors who had bricked up the LIFFE entrance and set off a nearby fire hydrant to release the lost Walbrook river

2000        Anti-Capitalism Mayday Riot

2001         Anti-Capitalism Mayday Riot

2002         Millwall FC New Den Stadium – Riot between fans of Millwall and fans of Birmingham FC

2009        G20 Summit Protest Riot – Police ‘kettled’ protestors outside the Bank of England which resulted in a riot and the death of innocent newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson

2009        West Ham FC Upton Park – rioting between fans of Millwall FC and West Ham FC

2010        Millbank - Riots followed student protests against increase in tuition fees

2011         Oxford Circus – Protestors demonstrating against government public spending cuts were ‘kettled’ by the police

2011          Tottenham Riots – Riots followed the shooting by police of Mark Duggan and spread from Tottenham across the country

2010        Brick Lane – American Apparel Disturbances, riots followed after customers were prevented from shopping for cut-price clothes

2016        Brick Lane - The ‘Fuck Parade’ rioting followed a  ’Class War’ demonstration against ‘Cereal Killer’ Cafe


Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND is a mighty monograph collecting together all your favourite works by Spitalfields Life‘s cartographer extraordinaire in a beautiful big hardback book.

Including a map of London riots, the locations of early coffee houses and a colourful depiction of slang through the centuries, Adam Dant’s vision of city life and our prevailing obsessions with money, power and the pursuit of pleasure may genuinely be described as ‘Hogarthian.’

Unparalleled in his draughtsmanship and inventiveness, Adam Dant explores the byways of English cultural history in his ingenious drawings, annotated with erudite commentary and offering hours of fascination for the curious.

The book includes an extensive interview with Adam Dant by The Gentle Author.

Adam Dant’s  limited edition prints are available to purchase through TAG Fine Arts

The Hackney Whipping Post

May 25, 2018
by the gentle author

There is a certain tendency to talk about the past as if it were a better place, as if relics automatically speak of our ‘glorious history.’ Yet, occasionally, truth breaks through to remind us that, speaking of the past in this country, it was for many a place of suffering, of want and of violence – an inescapable but far less palatable historical reality.

Thus the emphasis of retelling history can often tend towards the celebratory and so, when the churchyard of St John-at-Hackney was handsomely restored with Lottery funds in recent years, the seventeenth century whipping post was conveniently consigned to the nearby backyard of Groundwork, the organisation which supervised the renovations, where it has been rotting ever since.

Historian Sean Gubbins of Walk Hackney drew my attention to this neglected artefact and took me there to see it. He showed me a photograph of it standing in the churchyard in 1919 and confirmed that it had decayed significantly in the last couple of years. Apparently, Hackney Council owns the whipping post but Sean can find no-one who wants to take responsibility for it and many would prefer if it simply rotted away.

In former centuries, the stocks, the whipping post and the pillory were essential elements of social control, but today these fearsome objects are treated with indifference or merely as subjects of ghoulish humour. Since they became defunct, they have acquired a phoney innocence as comic sideshows at school fetes where pupils can toss wet sponges at popular teachers to raise money for a worthy cause.

Yet the reality is that these instruments of violence and public humiliation were used to subjugate those at the margins of society – to punish the poor for petty thefts that might be as small as a loaf of bread, or to discourage vagrants, or to chasten prostitutes, or to drive homeless people out of the parish, or to subdue the mentally ill, or to penalise homosexuals, or to demean religious dissenters, or to intimidate immigrants into subservience, or against anyone at all who was considered socially unacceptable according to the prejudices of the day.

We need to remember this grim history, which reminds us that the struggle towards greater social equality and tolerance of difference in this country was a hard one, only achieved by those who resisted the culture of obedience enforced by state-sanctioned violence and enacted through instruments such as this whipping post.

Extract from Benjamin Clarke’s ‘Glimpses of Ancient Hackney & Stoke Newington’ 1894

Postcards supplied by Melvyn Brooks

Model of the Hackney whipping post

Tudor stocks and whipping post in the entrance to Shoreditch Church

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Guardians Of The Arches

May 24, 2018
by the gentle author

Our reports about the beleaguered traders under the railway arches in London Fields have become the catalyst for the formation of Guardians of the Arches, a nationwide pressure group campaigning for small businesses in railway arches – many thousands of whom are currently faced with exorbitant rent increases by Network Rail that threaten to put them out of business and destroy their livelihoods. Click here to sign their letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

Bill Waldon, Westgate Motor Centre

‘I used to have five arches but I was priced out and ended up in this dark hole!’

Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I visited the occupants of the railway arches in London Fields where an atmosphere of crisis prevails currently. Thirty years ago, these crumbling old arches were empty and derelict but, over time, a diverse economy of small businesses has grown up here – chiefly car repairs, cabinet-making and secondhand furniture dealing, supplemented more recently by brewers, bakers and coffee roasters.

Yet now the owner Network Rail is demanding 200% and 300+% rent increases which threaten to destabilise this small community and drive out those have been longest established in this location offering invaluable services to local residents.

‘We feel we are the guardians of the arches,’ explained Nivinh Chu whose father started Chu’s Garage twenty-eight years ago, ’Yet we are being driven out by these increases, when small businesses are the heart and soul of Hackney.’ In common with some of their neighbours, Chu’s Garage faces a back-dated rent hike from £18,000 to £40,000 per annum while for others the increases are even higher.

‘Bricks were falling out of the roof for the first twenty years but Network Rail did nothing, so we had to built this temporary roof so nobody gets injured,’ Nivinh admitted to me with a grin at the absurdity of the situation.

In response to these adverse circumstances, the occupants of the railway arches are banding together to challenge Network Rail’s excessive rent increases and we support them in their fight to stay in business.

John Lucien and John ‘boy’ Griffin of Westgate Motor Centre, established twenty-four years under the arches – ‘We do general repairs and we try to look after everybody’

Ben Mackinnon, Founder of E5 Bakehouse

Ben Mackinnon and fellow bakers at E5 Bakehouse

Stephen Maxwell of Maxwell Pinborough, bespoke furniture

Stephen Maxwell and colleagues at Maxwell Pinborough

Vict Anhu Vu of USA Nails Beauty Supply – ‘For fifteen years, we have had three warehouses under the arches and a shop in Mare St’

Noemi Dulischewski, founder of Brunch, a pop-up restaurant in the the London Fields Brewery Tap Room which has been running for two years

Charlie Fox, Proprietor of Poetstyle bespoke furniture and upholstery – ‘We moved in on Christmas eve thirty years ago and now we are facing 250% rent increase’

Ali Sharif of Sharif Auto Services has been operating under the London Fields arches for seven years. Currently he pays £30,000 but Network Rail want £100,000

Charles Woodward and ‘Popsy’ of London Doggies, pet grooming business established six years

Ian Rutter, Company Manager of London Fields Brewery

Simon Clark, Coffee Roaster at Climpson’s Coffee

Ahmet Ozer has been dealing in secondhand catering equipment for seventeen years from his arch

Quang Chu, Nivinh Chu and Jimmy Chu of Chu’s Garage

Quang Chu and Jimmy Chu of Chu’s Garage, opened by their father twenty-eight years ago

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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Lewis Lupton’s Spitalfields

May 23, 2018
by the gentle author

In the spring of 1968, artist Lewis Frederick Lupton came to Spitalfields and submitted this illustrated report on his visit to the Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Newsletter.

Interior of Christ Church, Spitalfields, 1968 – without galleries or floor

On Ash Wednesday 1968, I set off at eleven for Spitalfields to see the Rev. Dennis Downham about his work among alcoholic vagrants. Walking up the road from the Underground Station, I saw a man very poorly dressed, his face a pearly white, obviously ill. Then came a tramp, as lean, dirty, unkempt, bearded and ragged as any I have seen. This was a district where there was real poverty.

The Rectory was a substantial Georgian house such as one sees in many a country village. The study overlooked a small garden and the east end of the church, where plane trees grew among old tombstones.

After lunch, we went out to see something of the parish. The first person we encountered was a fine-looking young American in search of his ancestors, who asked for the parish registers. After directing him to County Hall, we crossed over into a narrow street between tall old brick houses with carved and moulded eighteenth century doorways. Out of one of these popped a little Jewish man with a white beard, black hat and coat.

Round the corner in Hanbury St, the Rector unlocked (“You have to be careful about locks here”) the door of a building in which the church now worships ( “Christ Church itself needs a lot spending in restoration before it can be used again”). The building now employed once belonged to a Huguenot church, of which there were seven in the parish, and still has the coat of arms granted by Elizabeth I carved above the communion table.

Thousands of French Protestants found a refuge from persecution in this parish. The large attic windows belonging to the rooms where they kept their looms may still be seen in many streets and the street names bear record of the exiles – Fournier St, Calvin St etc

Crossing Commercial St, we came across a charming seventeenth century shop in a good state of preservation. Its fresh paint made it stand out like a jewel from the surrounding drabness.

A stone’s throw further on, photographs pasted in a window advertised the attractions of one of the many night clubs in the area.

Opposite a kosher chicken shop, one of a the staff – a Jewish man with a beard, black hat and white coat was throwing pieces of bread to the pigeons.

Round the corner, we plunged into an offshoot of the famous Petticoat Lane which forms the western boundary of Spitalfields.

Turning eastwards, we tramped along the broken pavements of a narrow lane running through the heart of the district. It seemed to contain the undiluted essence of the parish in its fullest flavour, a mixture of food shops, warehouses, prison-like blocks of flats, derelict houses and bomb-sites. “There are twenty-five thousand people living in my parish. It is the only borough in central London which has residential life of its own,” revealed the Rector.

Christ Church stands out like a temple of light in the surrounding squalor. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, its scale is much larger than life and the newly-gilded weathervane is as high as the Monument. “I climbed up the ladders to the top last year when steeplejacks were at work upon it,” commented the Rector.

Were it not for the brave work which has been begun in the cellars, the building would only be a proud symbol of the Faith, no more.

Down the steps, to the left of the porch, there is a reception area with an office and a clothes store.

One sleeping fellow had a tough expression. “False nose,” said the Rector, “he had his real one bitten off in a fight.” The central area is devoted to the work for which the crypt was opened. Except for a billiard table, it is like a hospital ward, mainly taken up with beds on which the patients rest and sleep.

Yet, a crypt is crypt and the lack of daylight is a handicap but, with air-conditioning  throughout, spotless cleanliness and a colour scheme of cream and turqoise blue, the cellars of Christ Church have been turned into a refuge which offers help and hope to  those of the homeless alcoholics who have a desire to be rescued from their predicament. – L.F.L.

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