A stroll around Shoreditch and Bethnal Green

Friday, April 14th 2017

As the evenings are drawing out and it is still light after work, Tigger fancied taking a look around the Shoreditch area to see if there was any new street art on show. There was very little, in fact. The eight photos that follow show such items of interest as I was able to ‘collect’ during our stroll.

Elvis by Shok-1

Shok-1 specializes in X-ray representations of human and animal body parts. This painting in Dray Walk has a title, written small, at top right, under the artist’s name: Elvis. Do people still remember that when Elvis Presley first burst upon the music scene, his erotic gyrations earned him the soubriquet ‘Elvis the Pelvis’? His later fame and the respect it brought with it tended to push the earlier, slightly denigratory, nickname into the background.

Art by Jay Kaes
Jay Kaes

Pedley Street is a normal street that turns into a pedestrian path along the north edge of Allen Park and emerges at its western end in Brick Lane. On its corner with Brick Lane stands a premises that is currently a Thai restaurant called Kinkao. The Pedley Street façade of the restaurant provides a massive ‘canvas’ for street art. These paintings are hard to photograph because the narrowness of the path does not allow you to step back far enough to include the whole painting in the frame. Consequently, this rendering is formed of several photos stitched together. The artist is Jay Kaes and the work is untitled.

Yumchaa in Brick Lane
Yumchaa in Brick Lane

Brick Lane lies in the heart of an area that has seen successive waves of immigration since at least the 17th century. The Huguenots came here and, more recently, so did people from the Indian Subcontinent, gaining Brick Lane and its neighbourhood the name ‘Banglatown’. The Lane is famous for its Indian restaurants (and their touts who importune passers-by despite the risk of fines for doing so) but the discerning eye may discover other interesting shops and boutiques. We entered number 137 which is the Brick Lane branch of tea specialists Yumchaa. They sell packets of tea on the premises and online but the main attraction is to partake of one (or more) of their teas, served properly in teapots, in their tea rooms.

Yumchaa in Brick Lane occupies what was a Victorian pub called ‘The Duke’s Motto’ (possibly after the book by Justin Huntly McCarthy). It had a rather seamy reputation from what I gather, but closed in the 1980s. After that, the building was occupied by a succession of fashion boutiques and is now the local branch of Yumchaa. We partook of a pot of tea each before continuing on our way.

Paul Kirby's Upholstery Shop and house
Paul Kirby’s Upholstery Shop and house

At the top end of Brick Lane, my attention was caught by this quaint remnant of the past. It stands isolated among modern blocks of flats and it seems impossible that it should have survived on its own. One side has windows to the street while the other is blank and this leads me to suppose that it was originally the last house in a terrace, all of its companions having since been destroyed. The first-floor window comes from a ship, though from what ship I do not know.

A notice in the shop window advertises ‘FOAM’, this being the foam nowadays used by upholsterers to stuff chairs and settees. The owner, Paul Kirby started as an employee of the shop but eventually became its sole owner. The building survives mainly because of Mr Kirby’s stout defence of it against threats of demolition and ‘development’. An account of their intriguing joint history may be found in this Spitalfields Life article.

The Royal Oak
The Royal Oak

On the corner of Columbia Road and Ezra Street stands the Grade II listed pub, the Royal Oak. It was built in 1923 by Truman’s Brewery, long established in this area. Why is the date so prominently displayed? Perhaps because Truman’s were particularly proud of this pub and its position within the philosophy of the time. In order to combat what was perceived to be a problem of widespread drunkenness, the authorities decided, not to ban pubs, but to make them better. The plan was that instead of mean drinking dens, pubs should be spacious venues, perhaps with restaurants attached, which would attract respectable people and their families and thus acting as a disincentive to bad behaviour. The Royal Oak was Truman’s response to the proposal for better pubs.

Church of St Peter with St Thomas
Church of St Peter with St Thomas

The foundation stone for the Church of St Peter (as it was originally called) was laid in 1840. This church was part of a remarkable wave of church building in the area leading to the creation of no fewer than 12 churches, which became known as ‘the Twelve Apostles’. It seems that the area might have been somewhat ungodly at the time and the story is told (A History of the County of Middlesex) that the laying of the stone was witnessed by a jeering crowd who loosed an ox to add to the jollity of the occasion. By the 1950s, what with war damage and the fall-off in attendance, 12 churches were deemed to be an over-provision. Some needed to be closed and so St Thomas lost his own church and must perforce bunk up with St Peter, hence the renaming of the parish church as ‘St Peter with St Thomas’.

St Peter's Mission Hall
St Peter’s Mission Hall

Nearby stands this attractive building known as St Peter’s Mission Hall. Unfortunately, I know nothing about it except that it currently forms part of the borough’s catalogue of premises for hire  for events and conferences. I assume it was built at about the same time as its companion church and for some special purpose of its own.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children

This building appealed to me for its general handsomeness and the decorative motifs shown in the above picture. The large signage left in place along the front shows that it was once the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children. Sisters Ellen and Mary Phillips founded their Dispensary for Women and Children in 1867. The institution grew and became the North-Eastern Hospital for Children. It moved to this site in 1870 and was renamed The Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in 1907. After a number of changes, the hospital was absorbed into the NHS and its services were moved to the Royal London Hospital in 1996. After a period of uncertainty, the building found new purpose as a residential block. For a more detailed history see here.

We didn’t manage to see much new street art – a lot of what there was was either mediocre or had been defaced by taggers – but we had found other points of interest and enjoyed a good cup of tea at Yumchaa.  Pretty much a win, I would say.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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